Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Retail Elves

Can we talk for a moment about people who work retail?  Over the years, I've envisioned myself doing retail - the hours, the holidays, the customers, and can say with a good bit of confidence that I could never do that job.  Never.  This may be surprising to some because superficially at least, retail and restaurant work have some strong similarities.  They obviously both involve customer service and money and not necessarily 9-5 hours, but, for me, they are incredibly different jobs.  I mean, seriously, being a librarian is way more like being a server in a restaurant than I imagine working retail would ever be.

I did a little shopping over the weekend and was unbelievably impressed with the level of service I received, both in person and over the telephone.  And I was one of those annoying people - you know, the kind of person you typically get stuck behind in a line.  My first shopping expedition was a telephone order to Best Buy.  I couldn't find my Best Buy account number (because I cut up most credit cards and use my driver's license to access my account), but, wanted to enjoy the 18 months interest free financing they offer.  Have you seen the price of an XBox 360 w/Kinect?!  I had a frustrating time on the phone because apparently Best Buy and the bank they use aren't allowed to share information, so my account number was inaccessible.  I resorted to phoning the Saratoga Springs location (which had the item I needed) and spoke with a woman who was amazingly helpful - she found the items, put them aside for me and then took care of the transaction for me.  And did all this with patience and competency - what more can you ask?

Later in the day, my friend and I took a painting break - we needed to get out of the house to sober up, to be honest.  Painting does mean indulging in substances which may cause mild intoxication, right?  Anyway...we headed to (the good) Macy's and spent a couple of quality hours shopping.  There were some good deals, the crowds were bearable and the service was excellent.  I made a couple of purchases in different departments and was consistently taken care of with pleasant capableness, even with my coupons and rewards tag. 

My final shopping experience of the weekend took place at the Best Buy in Saratoga when I went to pick up my previous day's purchase.  The place was busy and the lines were lengthy, but the cashier was friendly, did her job well and didn't make me feel rushed and that was despite the fact that I wanted to return the 3 items I had purchased the day before only to re-purchase them using a store account.  Yes - I was that person.  And then, when my transaction was completed, I inquired about the extended warranty available for my purchase and there wasn't even an eye roll.  Remarkable.

I don't know if it is a function of the economy making jobs harder to come by thus people are working harder to retain their positions, or if the tightness of the job market has compelled more qualified people to take previously less desirable jobs, but the end result is a retail workforce that has been an unexpected pleasure to deal with as a customer.  The jury may still be out on whether Santa exists, but, I for one, know that there are elves helping to make the holidays brighter.  Thank you, retail workers.  I value your assistance and will try to match your competence by being effusive in my praise and appreciation. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Friday Frittata

Since I had made a commitment to host brunch post-Thanksgiving shopping was not an option Friday.  Particularly since I needed to drive back to NY from CT Friday morning in time to prepare for guests arriving at 10 a.m.

This group of girls is pretty fond of my Eggs Benedict, but we were expecting an additional guest - a  beau was being introduced to the gang...someone perhaps not worthy of my breakfast specialty.  I decided trying something new should be the theme for the day - hello, Frittata.  Now, I've had a frittata before, but I've never made one, so it was off to the cookbook shelf and then to epicurious.com.  From what I was able to gather from all of those sources, a frittata just seemed like a baked omelet, to me.  So, here's what I did:

Using an awesome pan with sloped sides, I melted a teaspoon of bacon fat in a 375 degree oven.  When the fat was melted, I tossed in a bunch of asparagus seasoned with salt and pepper.  While they roasted, I beat 9 eggs (we were 6, If 6 Were 9*) with about 2/3 of a cup of whole milk.  When the asparagus were tender, I removed them from the oven and wiped the pan out with a paper towel.  I melted a teaspoon or 2 of butter in the pan (in the oven) and then poured in my eggs.  I probably baked the frittata for about 8 minutes or so - until the eggs were set and pulling away from the sides of the pan, but not dry.  I topped the eggs with my asparagus and some roasted red pepper Rondele Cheese and then put it back in the oven (with the heat now turned off) for about a minute or 2.  That was it.  I served the eggs with some fantastic rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes and a gorgeous Caesar salad, along with some bagels from the Midtown Tap & Tea Room.  Shopping schmopping -  we got the best deal of the day at my dining room table.

*random Jimi Hendrix reference.


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  I can't imagine ever growing tired of waking up to the smell of roasting turkey and linen napkins being pressed.  The cranberry sauce with diced orange peel, the mashed potatoes with gravy made rich by drippings and the lemon meringue pie that marked the course between turkey dinner and turkey sandwiches... Despite being a holiday of tradition, over the years our family has stepped away from the expected and celebrated in assorted ways - Peking Duck in Montreal's Chinatown, the Macy's parade followed by a drive upstate with the stuffing on ice to be enjoyed with the family, delivering meals for those who need some assistance... Diverse yet, consistent with the theme of being together with loved ones and sharing.

I was uncertain where I would be this year - emotionally, mentally and physically, so I delayed making any decisions until absolutely necessary.  I cooked a banging dinner on Wednesday and ate turkey with my brother for the first time in many years.  As we finished our dinner, there was a semi-surprise visit from some hungry friends who certainly came to the right place, at the right time, for a bite to eat.  There were festive cocktails out to follow our feast, and Thanksgiving dawned without stress or pressure.  Tom and the boys packed up for Connecticut and I enjoyed some peacefulness alone at home before joining them for a delicious family holiday.  The remainder of the weekend was filled with painting and eating and very much being in the moment - and not angry.

Like opinions and oft-cited body parts, we all have them; choices.  To move forward or continually gaze over our shoulder, to hold onto anger or release it to the universe, to make internal room for resentment and distrust or to simply forgive...  

Right now, choosing to believe is an option made even more appropriate by the next page turn of the calendar.   The meal has been prepared, consumed and thoroughly cleaned up after... 

Now comes the what's next. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cooking w/Q

If ever there should be a new cooking show on PBS, it should definitely be Cooking w/Q.  Trust me, this child could rival Julia and Jacques when it comes to repartee.  As we prepared Sausage-Apple-Mushroom Stuffing for tomorrow's mock-Thanksgiving, he offered all sorts of bon mots - including the following gem: cooking is "really boring, but kind of fun."  Exactly, Q, exactly. 

During a bathroom break, he asked me why his penis always pointed in a different direction.  Of course, it took him about 3 minutes to phrase it the way that truly described his query - there was a good bit of stuttering as he tried to put his words together in a very thoughtful fashion.  After 3 boys you'd think I would have answered every  single penis question imaginable, but, damn them, they always have another one to trip me up with when we're home alone... 

I wasn't really sure where Q was going with this question, so I gave him my best answer - "penises go in different directions because wouldn't they be bored going in the same direction all the time?"  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I immediately saw the irony in what I said.  Ha. I'll always have my sense of humor and, on the days when I'm more inclined to be negative than positive, it can fortunately be the ultimate bad mood deal breaker.  Laughter can save you, for sure. 

Speaking of laughter  - listening to Q sing along with Lucinda William's lament about how someone "took her joy" and how she "wants it back," I knew that moments like this, in the kitchen preparing for a holiday, would always play within my head and heart even if a single episode of Cooking w/Q never aired for a  national audience. And I smiled.

The recipe below originated in The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Guide to Cooking, in my opinion, one of the best cookbooks for the novice cook.  I've had a copy of one edition or another on my kitchen bookshelf for more than 25 years..

Sausage-Apple-Mushroom Stuffing
~  2 lbs loose Italian sausage - a mixture of sweet and spicy, pork or turkey
    8 small or 6 large apples, peeled and chopped
    2 or 3 onions diced
    a mess of sliced mushroom (3-4 cups) - any combination or variety
~ 10 cups or more bread cubes - whatever, whole wheat, corn, seasoned, etc.
    any herbs or spices you like in stuffing - sage, rosemary, etc
    chopped celery if you like it - I don't, so I skip it.
    a couple of cups of chicken or turkey broth or unsweetened apple juice
    2 eggs - optional

In a small amount of olive oil in a deep pot, cook onions until soft.  Add sausage, apples and mushrooms in small batches.  Rotate which ingredients you add to provide a  layer of depth of ingredients - a chef I once worked with claimed it was a very Paul Prudhomme way to cook, using only a handful of ingredients but developing different degrees of texture as the items are cooked for varying lengths of time.  Whatever - I cook it as fast as I can cut/chop it so it seems a natural way to do it.  Cook over medium heat until the sausage is cooked through.  There should a pool of liquid in the bottom of your pot as the apples and mushrooms release their juices, this is good - those dry bread cubes are really thirsty.  In a large bowl combine half of the of contents of your pot with about 2/3 of your bread cubes.  Repeat with remaining ingredients, stirring well.  Taste for seasonings and adjust to your own liking.  If the stuffing seems dry, add some liquid (broth or apple juice or a combination of both).  Eggs can also be added at this time, but I would definitely skip the raw eggs if you're cooking the stuffing inside of the bird, which is my preference. Place stuffing in an oven-to-table casserole or serving bowl and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes,  covered if you like it extra moist, uncovered if you're going for some of those crunchy bits on top.  Alternately, live on the edge a little and loosely stuff the turkey, then roast for the recommended amount of time.  Makes great sandwiches, too!

Beans and Greens - Take 3

Following Saturday night's crowd favorite meal (Breakfast for Dinner!!), I had about 6 strips of cooked, thick-cut bacon leftover which I needed to use it before the children found it hidden in the vegetable drawer.  By the way, the question here isn't "Who ever has leftover bacon?"  The real question is "Why would anyone ever cook less than the entire pound of bacon?"    Since you know I love me some pork product in my otherwise vegetarian Beans and Greens, I decided to change things up (who me?  inconsistent?) and make a Beans and Greens dish that was prepared in the oven rather than on the stove top.  Here's what I did:

Chopped onion and potatoes
I placed a generous tablespoon of bacon fat in my roasting pan and heated it up in the oven at 400 for about 5 minutes.  Next, I added about 4 chopped potatoes and 1 diced onion to the bacon fat and roasted the vegetables for about 20 minutes, tossing the vegetables every 5 minutes or so to brown evenly.

The beginning of something good

Getting roasted and crunchy
Once the vegetables were where I wanted them to be, I added about a quart of chicken stock to the pan and let things get a little steamy. 

Steaming with bacon fat and chicken stock

Bacon which I eventually tore rather than cut
While that was happening, I attempted to chop the bacon, but was unsuccessful due to the dullness of my knife - a knife sharpening gift certificate would really be the perfect holiday gift, now that you mention it... Instead of chopping, I finally tore into it bare handed - hello, bacon fingers. Can you say finger-licking good?  I added 2 coarsely chopped, beautiful bunches of broccoli rabe to my roasting pan and turned off the oven, allowing the rabe to wilt in the still hot oven for a few moments.

A generous crunchy bacon garnish 
Ladle into a bowl, garnish with some crunchy bacon and grated cheese and yet another triumphant Beans and Greens pairing to add to your repertoire.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hudson Afternoon

Nice doors
I apologize for being so late to the game on Hudson, please forgive me.  I haven't been there in years, only through lack of opportunity, certainly not disinterest.  The lure of a free lunch (and they say there is no such thing) finally got me there this weekend.  The plan was to meet at the (last of the season) Farmer's Market and then walk down Warren Street to Swoon Kitchen Bar.  Naturally, I wasn't familiar with parking and the location of the market, so I wandered around a bit as I headed on foot in the "wrong" direction.  Not a problem at all as I was happy to walk alone for 20 minutes - it seemed quite an inexpensive indulgence.  
420 Warren Street - Really
Hudson is really cool and fully deserves to be put in the rotation as a rendezvous spot for a meeting with the girls.  We'll always love Woodstock and New Paltz and Rhinebeck, but adding something new to the mix is always a bonus, right?  Ok - maybe not always, but...  Warren Street is filled with antique stores, independent cafes and restaurants and specialty shops.  I can't begin to claim to have explored every spot, but, what I experienced was impressive and definitely worth the drive.  And the drive?  It is the perfect road trip, which I define as one which is able to be done as a loop - I'm not into going back and forth using the same route.  Amateur psychologists - analyze away!

I stopped into a thrift store on Warren St and a vintage store, on Columbia Street and immediately became infatuated with articles of clothing with keyhole cutouts and bias cuts, but, alas nothing worked quite well enough for me.  I'll be back.

Next up was lunch at Swoon.  My friend apparently dines there frequently.  That fact, along with his neon orange baseball cap, made us immediately recognizable to the female server who greeted us.  She subsequently  took care of us at the comfortable bar seats and handled my friend quite deftly - no small feat. 

We arrived fairly early for lunch and had the spacious bar to ourselves.  Note to the tall: my freakishly tall friend (FTF) couldn't express his satisfaction enough with the generous amount of allotted leg room at the bar.  The menu was succinct - a mix of creative takes on classic breakfast items, as well as some more substantial plates.  I went with the smoked salmon cake with fennel salad and remoulade.  The portion was satisfying in a way that made you both wish for one more bite, yet chew leisurely so as not to finish too soon.  FTF had a lamb dish which was delicious - beautifully medium rare and tender, paired nicely with roasted vegetables.
Smoked Salmon cake
More pictures below of my plate as well as the space.

Amazing ceiling
Bread service - unsalted butter, natch

Nice, right?

crazy mocha-chocolate-crack cookies

3 ways - (of cauliflower)

Virgin cauliflower - Source: Hudson Farmer's Market

Roasted with olive oil and sea salt, then dusted with curry powder

Right up in there.

Snacky McSnack

The absolute perfect pre-chicken wing delivery snack.  One half of an avocado topped with a tablespoon or 2 of salsa.  Vegetable protein at its most tasty.

Albany Muni aka Capital Hills*

We've (that would be myself, Yas, Cassidy and Iris) made the transition from the Normanskill to the public golf course for dog walking purposes.  I love the golf course, but I enjoy it most when it is blanketed by a foot of snow and I've got my cross-country skis on.  That's right - not a golfer.  It is a lovely place, however,  to take a walk, snow or no snow.  Here's a few snapshots to prove it:
Cool trees on the first hill

The remains of summer

Riot of color

Berry sky


Nest available for sublet

Oak leaf beauty
* I prefer Albany Muni to Capital Hills and will probably always call it that.  Kind of like the Knickerbocker Arena.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Songs to get you in the mood.

image from picasaweb.google.com
As I was driving south towards Hudson today, with my iPod on shuffle, a song came on that got me thinking... Are there songs which have a Pavlovian effect on you and cause you consistently to think about, shall we say, skin-to-skin contact?  The song that pushed my mind in that direction, embarrassingly enough, is a bit of a cliche: Erotica by Madonna.  I don't think that song has that effect on me purely because of the lyrics or the groove, it's more of an accumulation of reasons, like where I was when that album came out (living in Chelsea), and what was going on in my life (newly graduated from college with a terrific sense of personal accomplishment) and the hotness that is Madonna, of course.  After listening to Erotica, (really loudly), I started mentally compiling a list of other songs that have a similar impact on me.  As an exercise which could feasibly end in seduction,* I offer you, in no particular order,  my top 20 list.** 

  1. Erotica - Madonna
  2. Glory Box - Portishead
  3. Amy, Amy, Amy - Amy Winehouse
  4. You Shook Me - BB King & Johnny Lee Hooker
  5. Crush - DMB
  6. Next Lifetime - Erykah Badu
  7. Ain't No Sunshine - Eva Cassidy
  8. Since I've Been Loving You - Led Zeppelin
  9. Justify My Love - Madonna
  10. I'll Take Care of You - Mark Lanegan
  11. The Girl from Ipanema - Nouvelle Vague
  12. Hearts and Bones - Paul Simon
  13. Sign Your Name - Sheryl Crow
  14. Can't Get You Out of My Mind - Sonya Kitchell
  15. All I Want is You - U2
  16. Fisherman's Blues - The Waterboys
  17. I'm on Fire - Bruce Springsteen
  18. I've Got You Under My Skin - Diana Krall
  19. #41 - DMB
  20. Come Undone - Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

How about sharing your own mood music?  We could create a master play list which just may come in handy someday...

*Not of me, obviously, but feel free to try your luck with your current love interest.

** I originally thought a list of 10 would suffice, but I was wrong.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Love and Anger, They Come as a Pair

image from www.wgrg.co.uk
I've had this tune kicking around in my head for the past couple of days - Aimee Mann's Real Bad News.  Are you familiar with Aimee Mann?  Do you know this song?  Here are the lyrics and, for those of you disinclined to click on a link, here's an excerpt:

You don't know, so don't say you do --
You don't.
You might think that things will change,
But take my word --
They won't
You paint a lovely picture,
But reality intrudes
With a message for you
And it's real bad news

While the song has only been repeating in my brain for 50 or 60 hours, the Love and Anger has been present internally for quite a few weeks and, I must say, I'm more than a little tired of the anger part.  I've seen what fury can do to people and I absolutely refuse to allow myself to become pickled in it.  Instead, I do my best to purge the rage, with mixed results, made even more difficult with the continued medical moratorium on strenuous, head-clearing activities such as running and cycling.  I really don't like being angry - it kind of pisses me off. Trust me - I'd much rather be filled with love than anger, unfortunately however, choosing how to feel is an absolutely unobtainable luxury, kind of like a Birkin bag.

What do you do when conflicting emotions are duking it out within your head and heart?  Have you developed a tactic for quieting the negative voices and concentrating instead on the amplification of the optimistic?  It has been a challenge for me to remain focused on the positive half of a twosome of emotions when there were more than two people involved in creating the situation, know what I mean?  Aimee does:
And baby, let me tell you
You can get some things confused
Like whose secrets are whose
And that's real bad news.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pizza for grown-ups

The Lilly males recently enjoyed some pizza from Andriano's in Delmar - if you go there, I strongly recommend their white pizza.  In their absence, I took the opportunity to make a completely self-indulgent, throw-on-whatever-I-want kind of pizza for myself.  I started with purchased dough simply because it was BOGO at the Chopper and I had some on hand.  I really have no skills in manipulating pizza dough - if anyone has tips to share, or better yet, will provide me with a brief internship in a pizza shop to learn how to toss dough in the air with panache - I'm in.  Lacking dough talent, I've concluded that leaving the dough in a bowl draped with a kitchen towel on the counter for a few hours makes it easier to manage.  That's my best suggestion - sorry, but that's all I've got. 

I like to crank the oven to 450 and I  lightly coat the baking sheet with olive oil and a dusting of coarse corn meal.  After stretching and spreading the dough on the baking sheet, I ladeled on homemade tomato sauce with peppers and sliced meatballs, and then dropped on some hunks of fresh mozzarella.  I baked the pizza for about 10 minutes, then tossed on a mound of arugula and returned the pizza to the oven which I had turned off.  After about 90 seconds, the greens were beautifully wilted and I finished my pizza with a scattering of sliced jalepenos.  I only ate about a quarter of the pie, leaving plenty for late-night leftovers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Irish Girl Matzo Ball Soup

I have a friend who insists that I'm Jewish (she claims that my brisket is solid evidence that I am a tribe member). I must confess to a fondness of chicken liver pate, gefilte fish and religious services followed by cake - and Matzo Ball Soup.  I came to matzo ball soup a little later in life, the first time I remember ordering it was in a diner on the Upper East Side.  The broth was yellow with chicken fat and ceremoniously plopped in the middle of the shallow white bowl was a baseball-sized matzo ball flecked with parsley flakes.  Since I am all about the carbohydrate, the ratio of matzo ball to broth was like a dream come true and I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to this classic soup.

A few weeks later, I decided to try my hand at making this simple soup.  I always have a few quarts of chicken stock in the freezer (don't you?), so I pulled out a couple of containers and thawed them at low heat.  I planned to use the basic recipe on the back of the matzo meal canister, however, I ran into a problem when I opened the brand new container only to observe a family of crawly creatures having their own party already - abort mission!  I replaced the canister and Take Two went off without a hitch - delicious comfort in a bowl of yumminess.  Since that time, I've pretty much stuck with the standard suggested recipe, but today, taking into account the beautiful kale (grown in the DelSo) I had been given from my awesome neighbor; as well as the first cold(s) of the season, I really kicked it up a notch.  Here's how it went down:
So delicious!
Doesn't this look incredibly healthy?
To begin, I cut the top off of a head of garlic, wrapped it in foil and roasted it at 400 until soft.  While that was in the oven, I heated up 2 quarts of chicken stock, adding some baby carrots since I like those to be a little soft, which takes some time.  I made the matzo ball batter (? dough?) and allowed it to firm up in the refrigerator as suggested.  The kale was coarsely chopped and added to the simmering broth along with the softened garlic cloves, which I kept intact.  

When you roast garlic it becomes wonderfully mellow - go ahead - eat it squeezed on a piece of bread.  You will love it!  The only thing left to do was add the matzo ball mixture.  I used a teaspoon and scooped a heaping measure for each ball, kind of putting them in the same size range as a golf ball.  I cooked the soup for another 20 minutes or so, adding salt, pepper and a tablespoon or 2 of fresh rosemary.  An aside - I keep waiting for my rosemary plant to turn brown and drop all of its needles, but, knock wood, so far so good.  

This soup was the ultimate penicillin in a bowl - between the garlic, the greens and the black pepper, I seriously felt my chest start to expand as the liquid magic flowed through my previously congested body.  Paired with a hunk of bread from Sunday's baking adventures and I was completely pleased with my lunch.  Have some fun - make some soup.  It really will cure what ails you.  Trust me on this one - because I know.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perhaps the best cookies ever -

If you're making one loaf, you may as well make two.
While I was dusting my counter with flour this morning in preparation of resting some No-Knead Bread, I noticed a recipe on the back of the Gold Medal bag:  "Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies" I immediately decided to add another round of baking into the day.  The recipe was super easy - and I've finally grown comfortable enough with baking that I can improvise and have fun just as if I were roasting or sauteing.  I've come to understand that things like seasonings and spices can be tweaked without adverse results, so I had my way with this recipe below:

1.5 c packed brown sugar
1 c butter or margarine, softened
1 t vanilla (I used 1.5t)
1 egg
2 c quick-cooking oats
1.5 c unbleached flour
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1.5 t cinnamon (my own addition)
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 c chopped nuts, if desired (skipped these)

Probably yielded about 3 1/2 dozen cookies
Heat oven to 350 F.  Beat brown sugar, butter, vanilla and egg with electric mixer, or by hand, until well-blended.  Add oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.  Refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes (my own suggestion) then drop by tablespoonfuls about 2" apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.*  Cool slightly, then remove from baking sheet onto cooling rack.

What could be bad about putting these two together?
I was so inspired by the baking frenzy today that I created a new cocktail: the Arcadia.  1/5th limoncello to 4/5ths Prosecco - bellissimo!  These were the perfect addition to the festive holiday (isn't every Sunday a holiday?) kind of day it was today. 

* The "doneness" of these cookies prompted a discussion about how cookies should be baked enough - until the sugar and butter begin to caramelize and things get a bit brown and crunchy.  Watch them closely, know they will bake a bit more if you're cooling them first on the baking sheet, and try them a bit crunchy - delicious!

Veteran's breakfast @Victor's

After an evening of great food and wine, we headed out for breakfast and shopping.  The plan was to head to the Meat Packing District to grab some food and then shop and sight see our way to Macy's.  In my experience any eating establishment with the word "Diner" in the name, usually satisfies, and Victor's was no exception.  The location was handy (Little W 12th and Washington), the prices were fair, the food was solid and thoughtfully prepared, and the service was stellar.  I can't remember our server's name, but she was dynamite - funny, considerate and invested in her job. 
View NE
We ordered a variety of items including a Florentine omelet (spinach and feta), eggs sunny side up, well-done home-fries, crispy french fries, toasted bagel, coffee... We were sharing some stuff (how tiresome we must be to the restaurant servers who so indulge us!) and we were given share plates without a request being necessary.  The food was hot and appropriately proportioned to give us a good foundation for a day's shopping without weighing us down. The coffee was rich in flavor, if only a little poor in body.  Not a real complaint, just an observation. 
The ideal shared breakfast.

Although I didn't think of it during the meal, as I'm writing now, I'm thinking about what a lucky group of people we Americans are.  I imagine the only thing better than living in a country which honors its patriots and warriors, would be living in a country in which veterans and war were unknown.  If everyone in the world could start their day with a breakfast as yummy as ours, maybe we could celebrate 11/11 for entirely different reasons. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ladies' Weekend

Okay, so maybe it wasn't really a "weekend," merely a Wednesday afternoon until Thursday evening, but nonetheless we crammed enough fun stuff and food into that window of time that it felt like a weekend.  If there was a theme to our brief jaunt to Manhattan it would be something which involved estrogen, wine, shopping, Mario Batali and bourbon.  Sounds good, right?

The gods completely conspired to make catching the 3:00 train in the realm of possibility by scheduling the annual "Go Home Early" drill for Wednesday.  Couple that factor with an Amtrak weekly special fare ($27 bought me a one-way ticket to Penn) and I was on that train, on the river side, of course, by 2:50.  By 3:05, the first of the entertaining ladies had joined the party - the widow Clicquot, in a perfect train-sized portion.  I'm sorry, but there is nothing like relaxing on the train, while swigging champagne right out of the bottle, watching the scenery roll by.  This particular afternoon involved an epic sunset, which I ended up taking about a million pictures of as I juggled the Nikon and the champagne.  No worries - I didn't spill a drop.

Heading south
Love the blurriness - it wasn't just my eyes!

Pretty spectacular, huh?
The Amtrak dropped me at Penn Station where I rendezvoused with Lisa and we shot downtown on the subway to meet up with our number 3 - she was waiting at the bar.  Do my girls know how to have fun or what?!  We stayed in a new place - the Hilton Garden Inn on Avenue of the Americas (lower 6th) and I have to say, the location (TriBeCa) was perfect!  There's a subway stop for the ACE on the block, an adorable little park area, and the West Village is within easy reach.  The room was comfortable and, hopefully without bedbugs, we'll definitely stay here again.  
image from missbeliever. com

After cleaning up a bit, we headed out for dinner.  I hadn't made reservations anywhere so we dropped in on Lupa.   What can I say?  I'm always happy when I leave this place.  We sat in some familiar seats at the communal table and dug into a variety of tasty items, including the broccoli rabe with ricotta, a salad of local fall greens, and a hangar steak.  All delicious.  We even had a genuine NYC celebrity sighting (x2) when the Olsen twins joined us (not literally) for dinner.  I can't vouch that they ate anything, but, had they been interested in eating, they were certainly in a good place to indulge. 

Post-dinner was a controlled bourbon binge and a walk to keep us from melting into alcoholic puddles.  Just kidding!!  We had a couple of nightcaps and were back to the hotel before midnight, satisfied by a good meal, some quality beverages and the luxury of being with good friends away from home and family.  Sure seemed like a weekend to me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Grey Street

She feels like kicking out all the windows
And setting fire to this life
She could change everything about her
Using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together - to grey

Maybe it's the weather - it seems like a while since I've seen the sun light up the sky to blue.  Or, perhaps, it's the near constant hum of people around me demanding that I see things more clearly; in a more black and white fashion, but, I find myself completely unable to step far away enough from my present circumstances to gain true perspective.  I understand that there are in fact "deal breakers" in life - last week's therapy appointment reminded me that I would never tolerate physical or emotional abuse for instance, however, I am generally incapable of viewing the world in absolutes.  There are far too many exceptions and variables to walk through life with foregone conclusions to situations which have only as yet been mental notions. 

Things that I never imagined doing, or being done to me, have occurred and now I need to determine the direction in which I will travel.  Looking out the window, I see that the sky is brightening, holding the potential to erase shadows which have been obscuring my perspective.  I'll be hopping a train later in the day for a quick overnight to the city, so distance is also achievable, if only for a day.  Yet, I am convinced that ultimately, the only way I'm going to find my way off of Grey Street to a place where all the colors are "bold and bright," is by taking a careful, slow trip fully around the block. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greens and Beans Riff

I've had a bunch of  broccoli rabe patiently waiting to receive some attention in my veggie drawer for maybe 2 weeks - tonight was finally its lucky night.  I felt like making something a bit different from my usual Greens and Beans and took my inspiration from a package of chicken sausage I found in the freezer.  These are just about the only sausage I can eat without feeling totally like a stuffed intestine myself - perhaps not the tastiest, most flavorful sausage, but they are fairly low in fat and have some interesting available flavors.  Tonight I was working with the Roasted Pepper and Asiago with mesquite smoke variety and they were perfect for my purpose - a reasonably healthy meal guaranteed to keep me healthy during my upcoming NYC debaucheries. 

Chipotles in adobo add kick and color
This was seriously one of the easiest meals ever - pour a splash of olive oil in a deep pan to brown the sausage (which I had sliced into rounds) and add some minced garlic ~ 4 small cloves.  While these cook, get your greens rinsed and chopped.  Pour in some chicken broth, maybe get a little crazy by adding some chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, or perhaps a spoonful of that bacon fat you've been hoarding in the fridge.  Live a little, people.  
A little freshly grated Parmesan is always a good idea.

Finish by throwing in your greens and a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans. Cover, turn to low and about 5 minutes later you'll have an awesomely delicious meal faster than you could have gotten takeout.  And, if you're lucky like me, leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.