Saturday, January 30, 2010

The times they are a changing

The last few weeks have been full of big life decisions and somewhat scary changes. I've made the decision to go back to school in the fall, and frightening grown up thoughts like health insurance and bank accounts have been dominating my thoughts. I know no matter what it will all turn out ok, but for now it feels like I'm closing my eyes, holding me breath and taking a giant leap into a dark pool of water. I can't tell how deep it is or see the other side yet, but I know I'll make it through.

Last night, however, was not about work or money or loans. Last night was about three of my favorite things: friends, steak, and french fries. It's my favorite season to be in NYC, it's restaurant week. The brief period of time where dining in Manhattan doesn't create a deep feeling of loss in the wallet. Last night three of my friends and I spent a lovely evening at Steak Frites, indulging on a prix fixe special. To start I had a mushroom bisque, finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. (since my experience with the truffle focaccia my palate has been craving the rich, muskiness.) It was comforting and earthy, full of cream I'm sure, but light and almost fright. It was the perfect starter to warm you from the soul outwards on a frigid evening. Then, for the main course I had the steak frites. Now I never order steak at a restaurant, mainly because my father's a butcher and anything he brings home is probably going to be better quality and perfectly cooked. However, this meat was perfection, and the fries crisp on the outside, light on the inside.

For dessert I will have to continue under separate be continued!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A sight, a taste, a sound

The other night, wandering through the city, I came across a memory. It was an old, but strong one, that some how seemed to pop into my head quite often, but I could never quite place it. For a long while I thought maybe I had imagined the whole scene.

It was a restaurant, dimly lit, with red leather booths, worn with age. Atop each table was a checkered red and white cloth and a caddy for oil and balsamic. I can't ever quite place exactly how old I was, but I know I was happy, sublimely, simply happy. It was a dinner after some play or art gallery my uncle had taken me to, and we had met my aunt for dinner. It was perhaps before she was even my aunt. When she was just the beautiful woman my uncle was crazy for.

And we sat. We sat and ate in this big, chushy red booth, happily together. I can't recall what was said or even what was served. It was one of those instances where it didn't matter. My adoration growing for my aunt and uncle with every second. There they were, everything I could ever want to be. Living in Manhattan, being in love, eating good food -- and even not so good food. But still, living.

Perhaps the reason this memory has stayed so strong within me is to keep me on that path, the wide and winding one. And this happenstance, this stumblance upon the very restaurant I have visited so many times in my mind, was meant to slap me across the face, Christina, get to it already.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When there's nothing to write about

I've been going through a bit of a dry spell on the writing front. A lot has been happening personally and at work lately that have prevented me from putting together an entry I could be proud of. Nearly every night this past week I've stared at my empty blog space, my curser blinking accusedly at me. I started and stopped, started and stopped, all the while the words of my prose professor ringing in my ears "don't rewrite the beginning, until you get to the end." But I just didn't have a solid ground to stand on. This Thursday night, however, I had a life changing experience with a truffle focaccia. This was the kind of dish that inspires symphonies.

My cousin and I were sitting at the bar in the cozy wood and exposed brick room as we waited for a table when suddenly, the woodsy, rich scent of truffles tickled our noses. We turned to feast our eyes upon the most beautiful focaccia we had ever seen, and resolved to order it the second we sat down. When it finally arrived before us it was perfection in its purest form. The focaccio was set atop a long wooden cutting board, as though it had arrived directly from nonna's kitchen. The dough was light and airy, crisp on the bottom, everything focaccia should be. The top was covered in tangy cheese, perfectly balancing the rich, earthyness of the truffles and mushrooms. Finally, it was finished with9 a dash (or several dashes) of truffle oil glistening in the soft candle light.

I did not undestend the truly mystical power of food until this encounter. Truffle oil is currently on my grocery list.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Honey on a Plane

In the papers today was an article about several gatorade bottles filled with honey found in a man's suitcase that caused an uproar at an airport. The quote that really got me was the Sheriff's reaction "Why in this day and age would someone take a chance carrying honey in Gatorade bottles?"

Now, I happen to know WHY in this day and age someone would carry honey in Gatorade bottles. Because when you find someone who can give you real honey, honey that has not long been separated from its bees, you don't ask questions, you take it in whatever vessel it comes, and you hang on to it. I can almost guarantee that if he were allowed to take more than an eyedropper of liquid on the plane, he would have put those bottles in his carry on. If you've ever had real, fresh honey, you know exactly what I'm talking about. There is really nothing like it, the rich golden color, the pure, sweet, flowery taste that coats and soothes your entire body as it goes down.

Through the years, my grandmother in Europe has always sent chocolates, candies, cotton undershirts, and cards for our birthdays or Christmas, but now she knows better. Now she knows any time someone is coming back to New York from Vacation, to send them here with jars of honey for me. My love affair with real honey began when I was 15. My Nona Lina had a neighbor who kept bees. We first tasted it in her kitchen with little spoons, dunking them into the wide mouthed jar and trying to get as much of the golden honey onto the spoon as possible. We pulled out spoons out as it glistened in the sunlight that beamed through the small windows of her tiny apartment. It was such a different flavor, distinct, but delicate, untainted. I felt a camaraderie to the bees. Those little critters that I so furiously dreaded, who would sneak into my soda can at family picnics or make hives under our deck. They were now maestros of the comb, bringing pure happiness in thick, golden streams.

That summer, before the 9/11 tragedy, before Osama bin Laden, before the man on the plane with a bomb in his shoe, that summer when I turned 15, where I sat outside my uncle's house late at night, in the cool Adriatic air, and spoke to the stars. We packed up our bags and put the unmarked jars of honey in our backpacks and carried them on to the plane. I remember checking on the jars all throughout the flight. Making sure they were secure, unharmed.

I have some right now, sitting on my counter top, in an unlabeled jar. In its previous life, the jar was probably home to a plump stash of pickles or perhaps even roast red peppers in olive oil. Now, it sits in a bowl (those jars can get sticky) and every night I take a little honey, one spoon for my tea, and one for my tummy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Soup, soup, soup, soup

It seems as of late, my entries have mostly been about comfort food and soup, and finally what my subconscious was trying to tell me has materialized. I'm not feeling too peachy today. I'm not sure what I've got, but I've definitely got something. I bundled myself up, and trekked out to work this morning, only to almost faint on the bus. So after a few hours of vigorously emailing, I bundled myself up and trekked it back home. It seems like everyone I talk to seems to be getting over something. So in an effort to help all the sickly, here's a recipe for minestrone soup.

My mother made this soup yesterday in an effort to nurture us all back to health. You start by making the "odoro"

1 onion chopped
A few cloves of garlic chopped
a few tablespoons olive oil (to coat the bottom of the pot)

Coat the bottom of the soup pot in olive oil, then add the chopped onions and garlic. Sautee them until they're transparent and smell sweet. Do not let them brown. Fill the pot with water (be careful, water + hot oil = high potential for splatter). Then add any vegetables and beans you have lying around the fridge or pantry.
I like:
1 Bag frozen vegi medley (corn, carrots, string beans)
1 Bag frozen spinach
1 Can corn
1 Can chick peas
1 Can Kidney beans

You can really add anything else you have around! I hope you enjoy, please share any of your favorite comfort food recipes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The faraway isles

Sometimes on a lazy sunday afternoon all that is needed is a few hours, the isles of a supermarket, a grocery list, and cheesy 90's music playing over the speakers. I often find myself singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" aloud as I browse the selection of teas. When I'm grocery shopping I find myself in a completely relaxed state. Maybe its because I'm among good friends, Chiquita Banana, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Quaker Oats. My breaths fall deeper, my shoulders lose their tension, my head clears, and a for a few hours, I browse and fill my little cart. I'm a master mathematician, comparing prices, clipping coupons, checking carton sizes, seeing which sale ends up better ounce for ounce. While browsing the shelves, the possibilities are endless. I can head over to the produce and make sauteed spinach with caramelized onions. I can dash to the butcher counter and have juicy Kobe beef burgers. I can head down the baking isle and pick up oatmeal, cinnamon and raisins for some gooey cookies. There seem to be fewer and fewer areas of life where the future seems limitless, and strolling through the automatic sliding doors with an empty shopping cart gives the promise of boundless potential.

On today's particular outing, I ventured towards the deli counter for some turkey. The sound of the blade of a meat slicer, with its clean metallic roar always brings me back to my childhood. It reminds me of all the things I've learned when it comes to preparing food. I know that sandwiches don't come prepackaged and saran wrapped and tomato sauce is not manifested in glass jars. I know that these things can be made by my hands, and should be made by my hands. As I left, the supermarket, half a pound of thinly sliced Thumann's Turkey in tow, I knew that for lunch this week I had all I needed for a week's worth of delightful lunch creations.

Just so you all know, tomorrow I'll be having a turkey breast sandwich with brie, honey mustard and slices of apple. Reclaim the brown bag! If you'd like to try it, all you have to do is buy some turkey mean, some good bread (I like to use whole wheat rolls), honey, mustard, (or ready made honey mustard) and a green apple. (Making honey mustard is easier than you'd think, I like equal parts honey and mustard, but you can pretty much use any ratio you like, you just literally mix honey and mustard together, and that's it!)

So go forth, get to the supermarket, pack your brown bag, and start realizing the possibilities.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Beef soup for the soul

Happy 2010 to all! I hope you all are abided by superstition and ate your lentils and avoided anything that flies, for fear of fleeting fortunes in the new year. I'm hoping for a lot of change in life for the new year. 2010 has a lot to live up to, and how did I spend the first day of the new year? Making a 16 quart pot of beef broth. Beef broth, to me, is the mother of all comfort foods, a little more complex and hearty than chicken or vegetable. Its warm, and simple, and doesn't need chopped up carrots or even pasta, in my opinion. I strain it out and take it straight up. Its even better the next day after you let it cool and skim the filmy layer of fat off the top.

I thoroughly enjoy making simple broths. Its such a great way to use the cooking scraps you have lying around. On thanksgiving, I save little scrap of celery, carrot, onion, tomato and put them aside to boil the next day with the turkey bones. Turkey stock, is another great alternative to chicken, its definitely a more complex flavor. I always find it exciting though, to go through the freezer or refrigerator and find a celery heart, a few limp carrots, half of an onion, a piece of tomato, and a piece of meat, throw it into a pot, and a few hours later...voilĂ ! Liquid comfort. The only way to improve upon it, would be to get a nice piece of day old crusty bread, toast it and you'll have the perfect accompaniment to any soup you make.

I hope you all are starting the year off right with your comfort food of choice. I just need 2009 to be cooed away, like a lullaby for my tummy.