Give Thanks

Snow started falling early this morning, steadily came down throughout the day and has slowly turned into freezing rain.  I’ve been happily getting snowed in at the ol’ homestead, thankful that I did not have to brave a crowded and slushy commute this evening. The snow is much better enjoyed from my vantage point in my parents’ kitchen, accompanied by the scent of pies in the oven.pumpkin

It has become my own little tradition to travel home a day early to bake Thanksgiving desserts. I do my thing before my dad and the turkey take over the kitchen and the oven, respectively. I like the peacefulness of puttering around a quiet house before a holiday. It’s warm and calm, and today the snow outside makes it feel extra special in here. Tomorrow the house will be a hubbub of activity, rushing to get things done before the big meal, but tonight is calm.

cranberry pie

For this quiet evening respite, and for far too many things to list here, I am thankful.

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Milk & Cookies

I think about writing here much more often than I actually write here. I have vague ideas of what to write about. I am inspired by new recipes I’ve made and loved (like this toasted sesame ginger salmon), by local food joints we’ve patronized and can’t rave about enough (like Clinton Hill’s Emily), or by all sorts of random thoughts that fuel my musings. But so often I find excuses not to see posts through, not to fully recognize those ideas. I want to be better about that.

Life has been so all over the place lately. Work is busy, wedding planning is in full swing, and we’re barreling towards the holiday season. It is, of course a dear season to me. It means lots of time surrounded by loved ones, no shortage of good food, and this year it also brings an engagement celebration for me and Michael. I look forward to every minute of it. But I also treasure weekends at home, when we have to travel nowhere, have hours to hang out in our neighborhood, and also have time to make special treats just because. I am truly relishing these pre-holiday weekends in Brooklyn.

Today we ventured out into our favorite BK stomping grounds to take engagement pictures. I think we caught one of the last truly autumnal weekends, and it was beautiful. Tonight, anxiously waiting to see how those photos turned out, we’re relaxing, going about our Sunday evening routine, and enjoying some good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies. Here’s to hoping the week ahead is as sweet as they are.

Choco chip

All Shining Through

“I look at the side of your face as the sunlight comes
Streaming through the window in the autumn sunshine
And all the time…I’m thinking,
Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?” – Van Morrison

Fahnestock 1

Lovely weather we’ve been having lately, innit? Autumn is off to a great start, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.

It’s no secret that I am a lover of fall. As I’ve written before, there’s something about this season that makes me feel alive. It makes me want to gather all of my loved ones by me for an endless day of golden sunshine, laughter, and love. I picture a day of warm apple cider and cold, crisp beer; of savory roast pork and sweet, fragrant pies; of storytelling around toasty fires. Good craic. Togetherness at its finest.

fahnestock trees

Well, next fall that day I imagine just might come to fruition. Next October, Michael and I are getting married. We’ll stand side by side, surrounded by our nearest and dearest, in the season that I adore, and begin another new chapter together.

I can’t think of anything better.

Mike at Chimney Hill

New Digs

This weekend, over the long Labor Day holiday, when smoke from grills around the neighborhood is sure to fill the air as the West Indian Day Parade rolls along Eastern Parkway, Michael and I will be moving. We’re packing up the apartment we’ve called home for the last three years and moving a whopping half a mile down the road.

It’s certainly bittersweet to leave this place, our first shared home where many memories were made (where this blog was created!). But I’m looking forward to this new chapter, to filling the new rooms with our furniture, knick-knacks, and the comings and goings of our life. I’m sure it will feel like home in no time.

So in the spirit of new beginnings, my blog is also moving to a new home and a revamped site: bklynbridget.wordpress.com. I plan to spruce it up with some additional enhancements as time goes on and I settle into the new virtual space. For now it’ll have a cleaner layout and an updated URL, sans the “Bikeless in Brooklyn” moniker.

Please take a peek here and remember to visit the new site for future posts!

Smells Like Home

“Distance means nothing when your kitchen smells like home.” – Luisa Weiss, My Berlin Kitchen

I just started reading Luisa Weiss’ book, My Berlin Kitchen, last night and already I am nearly done. Luisa, better known online as The Wednesday Chef, is a Berlin-based food blogger I began following a few years ago after my own visit to the German capital. A combination of a piqued interest in German culture and a desire to find good blogs to read on a regular basis led me to her site. Her posts are thoughtful and honest, and her passion for cooking is apparent in her writing.

As such, it comes as no surprise to me that her book is a joy to read as well. My Berlin Kitchen is a lovely story of Luisa’s life so far, interspersed with recipes that recall specific times or people. It is entirely real and relatable; filled with personal struggles, triumphs, and memories, many of which revolve around her experience in the kitchen. What I identify with the most is the author’s spot-on sentiment that cooking certain foods can make you feel like your loved ones are right there with you, even when they are not. Whether it be a meal shared with friends or a recipe passed down to you by family members, these foods have an extra special something to them: our nostalgia.

I’ve written about this at least once before, but it bears repeating. Food and good meals are inextricably linked with friends and family, with yearly traditions and impromptu get-togethers, with all the care and joy that go into each dish. Each time you make a recipe that has been shared with someone you love, even if you are alone, you are comforted by the familiar aromas and reminders of your shared experiences around it.

As I gear up for our move at the end of the month and prepare to settle into a new space, it’s nice to think back on all of the meals I’ve made in this wonderful kitchen of mine. So many of them were transplants from kitchens past. And of course many of them bring back vivid scent memories. Apple pies fill the apartment with cinnamon and sugar and all of the warmth of Granny’s laughter and hugs. Simple roast chicken calls to mind cozy winter nights at home as a child, doing homework and watching the front windows fog up due to the bitter cold outside. And strawberry rhubarb pie never fails to make me think of my wonderful trip to Maine with Mike and our friends, where we cut our own rhubarb and made multiple pies, and I became smitten with the tangy-sweet dessert.

One meal that my Dad made throughout my childhood is his famous shrimp and rice, which has a distinctive and delicious aroma. It is a dish that makes me think of family dinners around our white tiled kitchen table, of Grandmother coming over for visits, of large trays balanced over sternos to keep it warm at family parties. It is also the first meal my dad made for my mom. I’ll admit I wasn’t keen on it in my younger years due to the shrimp, but I always did love the smell. Thank goodness I realized in early adulthood that I like shrimp so I can enjoy this time capsule of a meal.

Shrimp and Rice
Instead of using the normal liquid to rice ratio to have all of the liquid absorbed, you want to use more liquid so that you end up with a nice sauce.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups rice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups hot chicken stock (or water)
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
2 lbs. raw shrimp, shelled & deveined

  • Saute the onion in the butter until translucent. 
  • Add the rice, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook 5-10 minutes until the rice is translucent.
  • Add the white wine and bring to a simmer.
  • Add the chicken broth, mushrooms, green pepper, bay leaf, and thyme.
  • Cook 10-15 minutes until rice is cooked but still firm, adding the shrimp 7-8 minutes before end. The shrimp will not take long to cook. It is done when it turns pink.

Summer Snippets

Even though Midsummer was a month ago, July feels more like an true midway point in the summer action. This summer has been chock-full of activities and dizzyingly busy with work, so it has felt very whirlwind. Labor Day will be here before we know it, and with it the craziness of moving day (thankfully followed by vacation).

But before looking forward to an escape from the city, I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect on all of the fun things we’ve been up to around the city so far this summer and share some of my favorite places to check out.

In no particular order…

  • Brooklyn Grange – An acre-sized farm atop a warehouse building in Long Island City, this place takes urban planting to a whole new level. Row upon row of vegetables and fruits, seedlings, chickens, an apiary. Volunteers hard at work harvesting and tending. A farm stand selling the produce grown feet away from it. All juxtaposed against the skyline of New York City. It was really tremendous to see. Before exploring the roof, we ate at COFFEED in the bottom floor of the building, which sources some of its greens, honey and other produce from the grange as well. As the name may suggest, it also serves up a mean cup of coffee. A cool way to spend a weekend morning.

  • Pickle Shack – This little place in Gowanus partners with both Brooklyn Brine Co. and Dogfish Head to serve up tasty pickled fare from the former and a good selection of craft beers from the latter. It’s an all veggie menu that is both fresh and satisfying. When we visited a couple of weeks ago, Mike had for the second time their fermented tofu bahn mi and I had an over-the-top veggie burger topped with the works: avocado, heirloom tomato, cheddar, house made ketchup. We also shared the fried hop pickles with preserved lemon aioli. They pleased even me, not normally a fan of pickles.

  • Videology – Now the story of a couple who watch a lot of Netflix. And one bar that made it a social event. It’s Arrested Development…bingo! Every Wednesday. Go for the bingo, stay for the “Lucille’s lunch” dirty martinis and frozen chocolate-covered bananas. Maybe even rent a DVD or two from this video rental holdout. Get there early to claim a seat!
  • Shake Shack (Dumbo) – Newly opened this summer, there is one notable thing that makes this Shake Shack location different (and in my humble opinion better) than all of the others. That is pie. Pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, to be precise. The “Brooklyn Pie Oh My” concrete at the Dumbo Shake Shack blends their frozen custard with a seasonal pie flavor from the Gowanus-based pie shop. When I visited on its second day in business the pie of the moment was strawberry balsamic. It was quite delicious. Essentially pie a la mode in a cup, this treat is worth making the trip for, even if you don’t get a burger. Or you could always skip the middleman and visit the Four & Twenty shop itself for a slice of pie and a cup of coffee, a la Special Agent Dale Cooper.
  • Xixa – We stopped into this South Williamsburg restaurant briefly last fall for a drink while waiting for a table at neighboring Traif but didn’t stay for very long. It was Saturday night, and the place was packed. I’m glad we went back to eat (this time on a quieter Wednesday night) – the food was outstanding! Highlights include braised duck lettuce wraps, pork belly & cheek carnitas, crispy brussels sprouts with strawberries, and roasted queso fresco burrata served with mangoes, masa cakes and jalapeño honey. Another cool thing they do is mezcal “cocktails,” which are just a mezcal flavor of your choice poured over flavored ice cubes. Lime and watermelon cubes melted to give me a margarita, while a cube of orange bitters, jalapeño and sugar created Mike’s mezcal take on an Old Fashioned. 
  • Brooklyn Brewery – Despite having lived in Brooklyn for years now, we had never visited the headquarters of this Brooklyn institution. Judging by the makeup of our recent tour group, people come from all over the world to see the space yet we, a mere bus ride away, never crossed it off of our to-do list. Luckily my friend Rose and her husband Nick both wanted to come to BK to check it out, which finally prompted us to go. While waiting for the next available tour time, we sampled some of their brews in the giant tasting room. On the tour we were regaled with some interesting anecdotes from the brewery’s early days, and had our blurry picture taken under the “B” logo. We then ended the day by sitting in the relaxing backyard at Spuyten Duyvil before taking heading back to Crown Heights for dinner on Barboncino’s patio. A splendid day, if you ask me.

  • Die Stammkneipe/Der Schwarze Kölner & Beast of Bourbon – DSK in Fort Greene continues to be our favorite German bar around, and this World Cup we did watch the Germany matches against both Ghana and France there. It was a lively atmosphere full of lots of German fans (ex-pats and Americans alike) and fueled by brats, brezels, and bier. However for the final against Argentina, we ventured to the bigger space at Beast of Bourbon in Bed-Stuy. This BBQ joint finally started serving its full menu for lunch and not just dinner, which – paired with one of their frozen whiskey sours or peach bourbon teas – makes a great pre-game meal (provided you are a spectator, not a player). 

Here’s to hoping the rest of July and all of August are full of sunny weekends, long outdoor evenings, and plenty of late summer adventures! Prost!

Saturday in the Park with Mike

Summer is in full swing. The heat and sunshine, so foreign to us just weeks ago, are once again familiar companions. With the 4th of July in sight, the season seems to be barreling along. I feel like it’s just getting started!

Every summer Michael and I come up with an ambitious list of all of the activities and adventures we’d like to accomplish during the fairer months of the year. First and foremost on the list is the agreement that we’ll spend as much time out of doors as possible. We also try to maximize nighttime, especially on weeknights, hoping to extend each warm day into its own mini-vacation. Beyond those requirements, we try to put together a combination of new experiences and places with a healthy dose of our favorite haunts and pastimes, while factoring in some inevitable lazy, relaxing days. This year we have no trips planned and we are moving out of our apartment at the start of September, so we are really trying to make the most of the summertime.

One of the best places in our neighborhood to visit in the summer (in any season, really) is Prospect Park. It is a truly beautiful space; a massively sprawling urban oasis. Every time I visit I am reminded how fortunate we are that our city’s planners had the foresight to arrange this bit of green for future Brooklynites to take a break from the city sidewalks and gently remind ourselves of the beauty of nature. Michael and I often take weekend strolls on the same path around the Long Meadow, on occasion run along the winding paved roadway, and have attended several concerts at the Bandshell. But until this past Saturday, we had never really made it down to the Peninsula that extends into the magnificent Prospect Lake. It was there that we had the pleasure of doing something new and taking part in a “popup” dinner, a benefit for the Prospect Park Alliance, the group that works with the city to maintain the park and keep it as gorgeous as it is.

This dinner was unique in that all the guests were asked to wear white and bring their own table settings, decorations, food, drink, and dinner party. From groups of two to full tables of 16, folks came out by the hundreds to fill the Peninsula and enjoy the wonderful summer night. The white outfits made the evening feel almost like a Gatsby-era soiree, against the backdrop of lush green trees and the perfectly still water.

Keeping with that theme, I tried to prepare a meal for the two of us that felt fancy (we were, after all, using cloth napkins) yet laid back: an elevated picnic. To start we had bruschetta, made with Jersey tomatoes fresh from the greenmarket. Say what you will about New Jersey, but my home state really does produce outstanding tomatoes. We followed that with spicy lemon and garlic shrimp made with my favorite spice, red pepper flakes, and a kale salad with carrots, yellow peppers and peanuts with cider vinaigrette. Finally, after a walk down by the water, we ended the meal with personal strawberry rhubarb cobblers. I never grow tired of that good, old-fashioned, ruby red combination.

We shared a meal, surrounded by members of our community doing the same, as we drank wine, listened to Ben Folds perform, and watched our candles burn low. The park, with its fresh smells of grass and slow, cool breezes, enhanced the whole experience and evoked a summer of old.

Luckily, when we do move at the end of the season, we are only moving a few blocks away, so I will still have Prospect Park as my backyard.

Spring Awakening

It has been a long time since I have written last, friends. Since that time we’ve braved a brutal winter that seemed as if it would never end. It was tiring and wearisome. Snow was admittedly enchanting on December 14th as it covered the city in its first blanket of the season and we gallivanted, ice skated, and filled ourselves with good winter cheer. But by the morning of April 15th when we awoke to find a sheet of ice on the sidewalks and neighborhood’s cars, winter had overstayed its welcome. The drudgery had gotten old. Fast.

Luckily, the weather bounced back from last week’s fluke freezing rain storm to the pleasant Spring temperatures and clear skies that I hope will endure.

The newness of Spring is a beautiful thing. We yearn for it, wait eagerly for it, chit chat about it at water coolers around the world once it finally arrives. The air feels new and clean, the sunlight better than any we remember before. The world renews itself and new life sprouts everywhere. Even people come alive again, venturing out of doors, facing the breeze instead of cowering from it, and collectively walking with a spring in their step.

This past weekend we celebrated Easter, and it could not have come at a more perfect time this year. Easter is, of course, full of symbols of new life, and the holiday’s position near the start of Spring enhances its significance of renewal. Yet to celebrate this holiday of newness we look to the past, as with most holidays, for a little help from tradition.

One of my family’s most treasured traditions is going together in the days before Easter to an old, family-run Polish market in Irvington, NJ to pick up our kielbasa for Easter Sunday and some kruschiki, a simple fried cookie dusted with powdered sugar, for a treat. The kielbasa is smoked in-house and is the real deal. The deli has barely changed in the decades we have been making our yearly pilgrimage, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s a bastion of Polish-American culture in northern New Jersey and helps us maintain the special Easter traditions of our heritage.

Another beloved part of Easter is the cake my Grandma used to make each year. Simply called Yum Yum Cake, it is a confection that lives up to its name. I have made it for the last few Easters since Granny passed away and I am so proud that I can contribute to the holiday table what our wonderful lady had in the past. There is nothing like bringing smiles to the faces of my loved ones by making them treats, but it’s even more pleasing when it is a dessert so close to all of our hearts and one which brings back so many sweet memories.

So I’d like to share this recipe with you, with the hope that it will bring some of that same joy to your table. Enjoy this cake throughout the Spring while reminiscing about the warm people and loving moments that have graced your celebrations in the past.
Yum Yum Cake (Hawaiian Wedding Cake)
1 box yellow cake mix
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup milk
1 12 oz. container of Cool Whip
2-3 bananas
1 can crushed pineapple
sweetened coconut flakes for sprinkling
  • Bake the cake in a 13×9″ pan according to the instructions on the box. Let cool completely.
  • Cream the cream cheese, pudding mix, and milk together with an electric mixer and set aside. 
  • Mix the Cool Whip with the cream cheese mixture.
  • Slice the bananas on top of the cooled cake. 
  • Put the cream cheese/Cool Whip icing on top of the banana slices, spreading evenly and smoothing out.
  • After draining the canned pineapple for any excess liquid, spoon evenly on top of the icing.
  • Sprinkle the top with sweetened coconut flakes. 

A Year in Music

Looking for a roundup of 2013’s best tunes? Head on over to the Stafford music blog for his lists of the Top 20 Songs and Top 15 Albums of 2013.

I was invited to contribute the latest post for the #1 album, Laura Marling’s Once I Was an Eagle, a personal favorite of mine. Give her a listen below.

Happy New Year, everyone! May the year ahead be full of good health and cheer, great company and food, and excellent music throughout it all!

An Instrument of Peace

As 2013 draws to a close, I find myself in a position very similar to that of two years ago, facing the new year ahead with a renewed sense of purpose. At the end of 2011 my dear Grandma passed away, leaving a legacy of tenderness and grace, and a family deeply devoted to the wonderful woman who made our lives special. At the head of this family was Pop, Granny’s husband, partner, lifelong love, and best friend. In observing Pop in the time that followed Granny’s death I learned a great deal about love, how it truly carries on even beyond death.

I also saw a living testament to the human spirit in Pop. Although he was grieving the loss of his other half, he continued to be a man full of humor and optimism, determination and courage, generosity and kindness, faith and wisdom. He carried the torch he and Grandma tended for 60 years together, full of all the goodness they built in the world, including our family.

In November of this year Pop passed away, joining his wife at rest. He fought an extremely difficult battle in the last months of his life, but again did not lose who he was. His humor shone through his pain and his primary concern continued to be not himself, but the well being of the others around him. He was the epitome of a class act, and demonstrated how to live with honor, humility, and selflessness until the very end.

These times of remembering our grandparents put things into a stark light, reminding us of what the important life pursuits are. Surrounding yourself with those whom you care about and who care about you. Filling each day with love. Giving of yourself to others. Living with honesty and dignity. Working hard to build a happy, simple life.

The past year has been full of many events in my life: some happy and some sad, some trying and some uplifting. There is no shortage of personal lessons or a list of things to improve. But I feel that the most fitting and important lessons I can take into 2014 – and all new years to follow – are those examples imparted to me by Pop’s life.

Pop was a man of extraordinary character. A humble, patient man who treated all people with respect and justice. He was a living, breathing history book, conveying detailed accounts of his life and the stories of generations who came before him. And he did it all with a smile, spreading joy to us listeners with his countless jokes and unending good humor.

I remember Pop telling me once that every day, going to work as a police officer, he would repeat the Prayer of St. Francis in his head. It was the example by which he wanted to live, the way he wanted to model his life when interacting with people he encountered. I believe that whether you are religious or not, these words are beautiful and humbling and provide an unerring guide to follow in life. They remind one to pause and think before one acts, to put others before oneself, and to act with purpose. The words capture perfectly how Pop lived his life and, as such, are a perfect place to begin with new resolutions.

Make me an instrument of peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

.

E.A.G., September 10, 1929 – November 5, 2013