In and Out

It was a truly wonderful weekend here in New York. Spring has been taking its sweet time to fully arrive, but it sure made an appearance over the last few days.

Weekends like this seem to last forever, creating a refreshingly long escape from the workweeks on either end. We fill up every possible minute of the two days, whether dashing outside to catch the last hours of sunshine or ducking back indoors to avoid the cool night winds, trying to forget that real warm temperatures haven’t been hit yet. I spend my weekend doing my fair share of both, and had a great time both in and out.

Friday followed up an especially gorgeous Thursday, so I decided not to take a jacket to work with me. By the end of the day, however, with the setting sun settling behind some clouds, the winds had picked up and I was regretting my decision. Lucky for me, Michael and I had a date that evening which brought us inside, to a place called Milk & Honey. After reading about M&H in the Times, we made a last-minute reservation. Cozied into a candlelit corner by the bar, we watched the bartender whip up custom cocktails for us and our fellow patrons of this modern-day speakeasy. Michael opted for bourbon drinks while I chose gin. With drink names like the “Bee Keeper” and the “Sunflower,” Spring was channeled into liquid form inside Milk & Honey that night. Old time jazz played as we sipped our drinks of choice and made friends with our waitress. I dared not take pictures, though, for fear that it is a faux pas to bring out a camera inside a speakeasy.

On Saturday, my parents and youngest sister came to pay a visit to Brooklyn. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day! It seemed all of Brooklyn bolted outside, happy to feel the sun on our faces, to finally be free of winter’s grip (or at least we all hope we are). We strolled through the neighborhood over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. The garden’s paths were filled with admirers, ogling at the colorful beauty and taking the air on the Cherry Esplanade.

We walked on to Prospect Park, where the Long Meadow lawn was full of sun bathers, kite flyers, picnickers, runners, and ball players all enjoying the glory of the day. After lunch we tried to treat ourselves to some cones of salted caramel ice cream from Ample Hills, but the line of folks who already had the same idea trailed out the door, sadly preventing us from doing so. When my family had left, I ventured back to the park to join the people reclining in the Long Meadow grass, perfectly at leisure to soak in the last rays of the day’s warmth.

Today was the perfect Spring Sunday for splitting time in and out of doors. Sunlight streamed through the cracks in the curtains to wake us up and the breeze filled the apartment with a crisp, fresh feeling. Michael and I went, yet again, to the area between the park and the Grand Army Plaza Arch. Every Saturday, all year round, this space is filled with the farmers and vendors of the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. And now that the warm weather months are upon us, the Food Truck Rally has returned. On the first and third Sundays of each month food trucks from around the city converge to serve up delicious meals and treats. Today Mike had a cheesesteak from Phil’s Steaks and I had one of my all-time favorites, a falafel sandwich from Taim. There’s no better way to start a day than to delight in an outdoor meal, in my opinion.

After a long stroll back through the neighborhood to take in the early part of the day outside and try a second time for an Ample Hills treat, we headed to MoMA PS1 in Queens for a bit of time indoors. A contemporary and experimental art space and affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, today PS1 was showing a performance arranged by an Icelandic artist called A Lot of Sorrow inside a large, domelike tent. This piece consisted of one of our favorite bands, The National, playing their song “Sorrow” in a loop for six hours straight, from noon to six. It may sound unconventional or “out there,” but it was an extremely interesting experience. The song itself is calming and hypnotic, with a driving beat that kept the band going as the song would end and start right back up again. It didn’t at all feel tiring to hear one song again and again (though I can’t say with certainty that the band felt the same way). It speaks of the title word pervading the narrator’s life – from “when [he] was young,” to the present, in his honey and in his milk. It was soothing and poignant and light-hearted all at once. The band members had high spirits and must have had legs of steel as their music swayed the crowd and mingled with the breeze from the open doorways.

Back outside, in the fading daylight, The National’s song continued to run through my head. I expect that it will for some time, perhaps even until I see them again in June. But that’s how all good weekends should end, with their events replaying in your mind as you wind down on Sunday night, lulling you into a contented sleep. The past week is long gone, the week ahead will come in due time. The weekend has given you its all. For now, everything is perfect.

My Deer Friends

Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking part in my uncle’s long-planned and much-anticipated venison feast. Having scored two large deer late in the Fall, he had a bounty to share. So he invited us all, friends and family, to share his good fortune and his passion (both for hunting and for cooking), and to taste a bit of the good life.

Artwork by M.P.W.

The menu was outrageous, with venison shepherd’s pie, venison sausage and peppers, a venison roast, venison chili, venison jerky, even venison egg rolls! But the crowning achievement of the night was the venison tenderloin that was saved until last. As we all stood around the fire pit, Pat grilled up thin slices of venison in the style of a beefsteak and then dipped them in a bath of warm butter and garlic. It is exactly as delicious and decadent as it sounds. Bathed in the glow of the fire, with the smell of wood smoke and cigars and the sound of laughter hanging in the cool Spring air, I felt profoundly lucky and happy to be alive. 

Last night I had the pleasure of going to see a concert, one that showcased 5 different bands whose careers are now beginning their third decades, at the Bell House in Gowanus. The stage was a revolving door of different acts, often sharing and trading members, all of them friends who came together to support each other. Ida, fronted by a husband and wife duo, was mellow and sweet. Haunting harmonies and poignant lyrics. M Shanghai String Band packed the stage with all sorts of instruments – standing bass, banjo, two violins, harmonica, saw and spoons! – and with energy, sheer electricity. Babe the Blue Ox, whose release party this whole thing was, rocked the house with two drummers, a guitar and larger than life female bassist. The night passed from slowcore, to Americana, to indie rock, but with no break in the good vibes, no loss of the crowd’s enthusiasm for each new group. It was so clear to me that these people truly enjoyed every moment that they were performing, and I couldn’t help but feel their joy.

Watching Babe the Blue Ox play through their first new album in 15 years, I was struck by the same sort of profound feeling I had leaving the venison dinner. Perhaps it had something to do with the lead singer’s uncanny resemblance to Pat, but more likely it was the trait that they have in common: pursuing the things that they love throughout their lives. And beyond that, they recognize that the best part of having a hobby or a talent is to share it with others, to bring it to full fruition.

The venison dinner would not have been the same without Pat opening his house to friends and family, to showcase his successful hunt and keen abilities in the kitchen. The show was made even better because it was clear that the bands were there to play alongside each other and to invite us all to feel that support and exuberance with them.

It’s so true of all things in life: they are made better, more fulfilling, by joining with others to experience them. So eat! Drink! Run, jump, hunt, sing, play, cultivate your talents! And do so with an openness to celebrate each moment with others.

Artwork by K.E.H.

Check out some of last night’s acts!

…And the Craic Is Good

‘Tis the season. The season of parades and pipe bands, of sweaters and shillelaghs, of smiling Irish eyes. It’s such a beautiful time to me, when good friends and family meet in good cheer and revelry to celebrate our Irish roots.

 West Orange Parade Through the Years

There is such a feeling of togetherness at these gatherings. Everyone is jovial and spirited, simply happy to be alive. We rejoice in good health, good times, and good fortune to be Irish Americans!

In addition to the parades, a corned beef and cabbage dinner has always been a staple for our family, along with Irish soda bread. Throughout the month of March, Granny would bake loaves and loaves for each one of our homes. She even would make a special loaf for me, free of caraway seeds. I decided to try out Granny’s recipe for the first time today as a test-drive for our family’s feast tomorrow afternoon.

This is one recipe that I never actually watched Granny make, so I was not sure what to expect out of the dough. I sure do wish I had her around to ask her advice! Since I only have one loaf pan and was running low on all-purpose flour, I cut the recipe in half and used 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. I, of course, left out the caraway seeds. Made with buttermilk and shortening, it is a very thick dough, much like a scone or biscuit. It took a bit of muscle to come together and had to be spread out into the pan.

My finished product was pretty good, but definitely could be improved. Next time I will make the entire 2 loaf recipe and use all-purpose flour alone. Hopefully I can turn out a decent couple of loaves for dinner tomorrow.

Granny’s Irish Bread

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
5 cups flour
caraway seeds
Mix together – ( 2 loaves)
Grease pans
Bake at 350º – 1 hour

Make a loaf, don some green, get your Irish eyes to smile and have a great weekend!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Sláinte! 

Just Passing Through

This weekend is basically just an extended layover in New York for me. Last week I traveled to Miami for work and early tomorrow morning I will be flying out to Irvine, CA. Luckily both of these trips provide escapes from the bitterly cold weather we’ve been experiencing in town lately. Unfortunately they have made my life very hectic. There has been a lot of eating out, eating late, eating poorly due to limited options. I am very much looking forward to getting back to the East Coast next Saturday and settling back into a normal rhythm and routine. 

I feel especially reinvigorated in my love of cooking by a lecture I attended Friday night. My dad and I went to see Jacques Pépin at William Paterson University’s distinguished lecturer series. What a fantastic couple of hours! Accompanied by his daughter Claudine, the world-renowned chef demonstrated his immense skill in the basics of cooking techniques and tricks. He also whipped up salmon tartare and “instant” gravlax. Within a matter of 15 minutes he had a simple, elegant spread that would be admired at any dinner party or buffet. Very fitting for the self-proclaimed “short cut cook.”
The seventy-seven-year-old didn’t miss a beat. He was cheerful and funny, a true delight to watch and to listen to. His experiences in the realm of cooking and of eating inspire the joy and care with which food should be treated. One of his last answers to a question asked of him by an audience member was summed up in this way: “It is more than food. It is comfort. It is life.” How beautifully true.
While I may not have hours every day to spend in the kitchen as Mr. Pépin does, I want to try harder to make that time to create real, nutritious, and worthwhile meals. Now and throughout my life. So as I jet off for another week of running around, I already look forward to my return, to some quiet time, and to more experiences in the kitchen. 
For today, to get through the chilly, snow-dusted Super Bowl Sunday in Brooklyn, I made a batch of cookies to take to our friend’s party. These “Mexican hot chocolate” cookies are rich little treats full of warming flavors: cinnamon, chocolate, almond, espresso and cayenne. They may not be a piping hot mug of steamed milk and cocoa, but they are the next best thing. Stay warm, New York. I’ll be back soon.

Good Bread, This

Work has been busy lately. Oh, very busy. The later part of 2012 was quite hectic in the office, and the early days of the new year are off and running on the same track. Long days and never-ending to-do lists have been taking their toll on me. At the end of a day, there’s not much more I’ve wanted to do than head straight home to my spot on the couch. Curled up in my blanket, fending off the cold and dark outside, hoping to prolong the hours between work days, I started watching the HBO series “Rome.” I started and I did not stop. In the span of about 2 weeks (not counting the holidays at the family homestead) I watched all 22 episodes and relished every minute! It was what I call true entertainment: beautiful costumes and scenery, tremendous acting, relatable characters, rich storylines, British wit peppered with Roman jargon, and a plot that doesn’t stray far from the true course of events. Historical fiction. Can’t beat it with a stick.

The interest I had in the ancient world as a young student of history – fueled by reading books, watching documentaries, and translating Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico and Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin class – was reignited. I promptly bought a new book on the subject of the Roman Empire and am plowing my way through it now, remembering things I once knew, learning new things I did not. But seeing this beautiful tableau of Rome sparked another curiosity in me, beyond the historical personalities and events written in the annals of history. The vivid portrayal of this people made me begin to wonder how the Romans lived and, among other things,  how and what they ate.

A quick search led me to a number of books on Roman gastronomical history, which I am sure I will dive into soon, and to a handful of recipes, which I wanted to employ immediately. From the little I’ve read so far, everyday Roman cooking was simple and used basic ingredients available to the inhabitants of Rome – bread, cheese, honey, and wine seem to have been staples. These cookies capture that simplicity perfectly. Made with only 8 ingredients and sweetened with honey instead of sugar, the little treats are not too sweet, not too heavy…just right.

Ancient Roman Honey Cookies with Sesame Seeds
courtesy of Eating Places 
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a larger bowl, beat the butter, honey, and eggs with an electric mixer until well blended, or about two minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture, a third at a time, and beat until the dough comes together. Cover and chill for about an hour or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease two baking sheets. Form chilled dough into 1-inch balls and place balls on prepared baking sheets. Pat the top of each ball down to flatten slightly.

Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove cookies from baking sheets and roll in sesame seeds while still warm. Cool on a wire rack.
I had a bit of trouble getting the sesame seeds to stick after coming out of the oven, so I brushed just a bit of water on the top of each before rolling in the seeds and that worked like a charm without affecting the cookie or its flavor.
I imagine these biscuits would pair very well with a cup of tea or coffee. Or with hot spiced wine, a la Romani.

To Kids from One to Ninety-Two

Although it’s been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.” – Nat King Cole

The chestnuts have been roasted and the open fire has burned to embers. The turkey has been eaten and dishes are being done as the sound of Yuletide carols float away in the frigid air. Another Christmas has come and gone, more quickly than any before it. I am still getting used to this phenomenon called “growing up,” which seems to send time speeding by at an accelerated pace. I do wish the march of time would slow a bit around this special time of year.

While I did not get to try every cookie recipe I had been planning, I did do some Christmastime baking with the help of my lovely sisters. We made peanut butter kiss blossoms, a family favorite long made by Granny, and lemon bars, upon the youngest sis’s request, which turned out to be crowd-pleasers as well. On Christmas Eve morning I arose early to try another recipe that had been queued-up since September when my younger (not youngest) sister brought it back from Ireland with her: buttermilk scones. After her trip to Ireland where she first ate these in a thatched cottage at tea time, she heralded them as the best scones she’d ever had. So on Christmas Eve morning we ate scones with blackberry jam, fresh whipped cream, and Irish breakfast tea. A new tradition was born!

In the grand scheme of things, running out of time to bake cookies is not a big deal. Spending time with family and loved ones, however, certainly is, and I was fortunate enough again to spend Christmas, both Eve and Day, surrounded by the people that mean the most to me in the world. No matter how quickly the days pass, when Christmastime comes we gather together and celebrate the most important gifts in life: one another. This year, in the wake of senseless tragedies around the country and the world, I feel especially blessed and lucky to have my health, my family, and my life, and to be surrounded by such love.

Christmastime presents a reminder of the true, meaningful parts of life: giving, sharing, loving. As Jack Frost continues to nip at our noses through the winter months, let us carry the Christmas spirit of joy, love, and cheer to keep the whole season bright.

Peace on Earth and mercy mild. Merry Christmas season, friends.

Oak Leaf

And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.” -Joni Mitchell

I may have recently spoken of the melancholy that settles over the world at the end of summer, but anyone who knows me also knows that the end-of-summer blues do not trouble me for too long. For autumn is a’coming! I can feel it in the evenings, smell it in the breeze, hear it in the trees. It is a magical time of year. It brings crisp air, fresh apples, spiced drinks, orange hues, and cozy feelings. Fall always puts a little spring in my step. As the lyric above from Ms. Mitchell captures perfectly, I relish the days of soft golden sunlight, deeper in color than the summer sun: marigold and amber. I think of it setting, piercing through the thinning trees, warming my cheeks just enough to counter the cool gusts of wind. Oh! What a magical time, indeed.

I cannot claim to be the only person in the world who loves this season. I can’t even pretend to think that I am the one who loves it best. But I can most assuredly say that I come alive in the fall.

You and I know (and love) pumpkin spiced breads, coffees, cookies, cream cheeses, caramels, doughnuts, and ales. We breathe deeply to take in cinnamon scents of baked apples from a kitchen window and smokey wisps of wood fires in the distance. We all share in these things and delight in their return each year.  But there is something more to this bewitching season, something that entwines itself in between each one of these delights. What is it?

Fall has always been more of a beginning for me than New Year’s Day has ever been. I’m sure that has a little something to do with the school year cycle that has prescribed the majority of my twenty-five years of life. With school days beginning in the fall, how could the season not hold a promise of new things? But in a more natural sense, it seemed to me to mark a period of renewal. That may seem counterintuitive, considering the harvest celebrates the end of a growing season and the Autumn heralds the hibernation of many plants and animals. Even humans, by and large, prepare for the long, gray winter ahead, sad to see the warm weather go. We stock our shelves, pull on our sweaters, shutter our windows, and huddle inside. We cling to each other and gather around the hearth. And how! For those very reasons, fall is not a time of sadness and melancholy. It is such a beautiful start for us humans.

We spend the first half of the year running around, making plans for fun and adventure. The summer comes and we go far and wide. Fall is what beckons us home. It is the voice that reaches us in far off lands, sunburnt and weary, ready for familiar people and places, tastes and smells. At home in the fall, we relax and regroup. We get back to the root of it all, the very beginning of it all – our own lives, the lives of our predecessors – and we are made humble. We begin again.

As a sophomore in college, I got my first tattoo. It was one that I had planned out in my head for some time, and when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it. The tattoo is of an oak leaf, done in black shaded outlines. It is simple and it is beautiful. Of course, it was chosen as a symbol of my affinity for the season. But it also stands for more. When asked by my Pop what the leaf symbolized, I told him ‘Home.’ For all that fall is (see: every trick and treat listed above), it is above all else a connection to home. Each fall holds the treasured memories of falls past….

I take a breath…

…they all come rushing back to me in an instant, and I smile.

The heart and soul of fall growing up was Granny’s apple pie. It was there at Thanksgiving. It was there the day after bringing a bushel of apples from the orchard. It was there after school with a cup of tea. It was there on your 21st birthday when you knew it would be better than any cake in the world.

I’ve tried my hand at apple pie many times in my life. I followed a recipe at age 10. And another recipe at age 12. I did away with the recipe at many other ages. Today, I follow the memories of how Granny made her pies: cutting the apples directly into the bottom crust already in the pie dish, sprinkling layers of cinnamon and sugar at just the right dusting intervals, chatting cheerfully as she stood at the counter. No rush, no stress. Perfection without even trying.

This weekend I made my first apple pie of the season, using these techniques and touches. And, by golly, it tastes almost as good as Granny’s. Almost. Almost will have to do.

Lemon Lavender Shortbread

From the first time I saw a recipe for lemon lavender shortbread, I was excited to try it out. The combination of lemon and lavender sounded like a refreshing, warm-weather take on classic shortbread.   I had never baked with flowers before and was a bit wary of how it would taste, especially if I was to be sharing these with others. I was concerned that the aromatics of lavender would overpower the delicate cookie. But I picked up a bag of dried culinary English lavender from Lavender By the Bay, which has a stand in Union Square three days a week, and made my first batch at the beginning of July. I cautiously submitted them for the approval of my taste-testers, my entire family, at the Montclair 4th of July parade. The verdict? Hey, Mikey! They like them! My mom even recently dubbed them her favorite cookies… ever. These little, buttery treats turned out to be the runaway hit of the summer.

Summer In Review

Summer comes, and summer goes. Almost as soon as one becomes settled into a wardrobe of airy fabrics, a sense of freedom, and a haze of sweaty commutes, Labor Day arrives with a gentle reminder that the seasonal gallivanting can’t last forever. The fleeting nature of summer is part of what makes it summer. Sure, every season is fleeting. But there is something especially bittersweet about summer’s passing. For a few months we are all reminded of the days when summer meant no responsibilities, just endless possibilities.  The days grow longer, warmer, lighter and all that there is to do is to make the most of every free summer moment to be had. We are instantly transported back to childhood, when the season stretched out in front of us – seemingly endless.

And so we take advantage of every spare moment and head to parks, beaches, lakes, gardens, fields, concerts, cookouts, restaurants & bars (and sit outside, if possible) – or to anywhere! – to revel in mini, everyday vacations. I enjoy having little things and casual events to look forward to, making each week special in its own right. Summer’s collective carefree air makes that easy to do. It is a lovely mentality and a way of life that should be sustained throughout the seasons.

This summer I hoped to make the most of each evening, to get outside as often as possible, and to explore my surrounding neighborhoods. As I sit here with the summer drawing to a close, I feel satisfied with what I’ve done with the warm weather months. Of course, there is always more that could have been done, but I’ve enjoyed each moment to the fullest. Quite a number of my outings and jaunts began with, surrounded, or concluded at meals shared with others and with the season’s glory. Here are just a few of my noteworthy summer dining experiences.

  • Barboncino – I knew when this restaurant opened, not long after I moved into the neighborhood, that it would quickly become my favorite local establishment. Every day I walked by and inspected the progress it was making, anxiously awaiting a grand opening. And a year later I do not have enough good things to say about this wood-fired (Neapolitan) pizza place. The space is casually cool: casual enough to frequent, cool enough for a special date night. You can enjoy beer on tap, wine, or one of their cocktails as you wait for out-of-this-world-good pizza. The crust is thin and chewy, the toppings well chosen and paired with delicious fresh fior di latte (mozzarella) cheese. My favorites include the Neapolitan meatballs pie, the eggplant and zucchini pie, and the special potato and rosemary pie. The atmosphere is relaxed yet vibrant, and their newly opened backyard patio is perfect for the summertime nights. The waiter would be remiss if I didn’t advise you to try the house made tiramisu. 
  • Chavela’s – It took us nearly six months after moving here to actually get to Chavela’s, but since then we’ve hit it hard. Three dollar tacos, six dollar margaritas (two and five during happy hour, respectively), tortas, guac – this place has really gotten us into our Mexican. Chavela’s has become one of our go-tos, and judging by the constant line out the door, it has become the same for our neighbors. Fifteen check-ins left for that free pitcher of margaritas…
  • Black Tree Sandwich Shop at the Crown Inn – This is a relatively new local bar [read: newer than I], which is a great addition to the block. Not only does it provide a perfect place to sit and get a drink while waiting for a table at Chavela’s, but also a super nearby hangout. There is a backyard patio with wooden tables and strings of lights; inside, the best place to sit is at the table right by the front windows that open to Franklin Avenue. The Crown Inn added to their libation offerings when they started serving food from the Black Tree Sandwich Shop. Michael and I ate here the night before we left for Maine and I had the “Pig”sandwich: white wine braised pork belly with brown butter applesauce. Need I say more? It was the perfect dinner for a chilly, rainy eve in late May. 
  • James – Michael and I shared our anniversary dinner here back in June. In the fashion of many a small Brooklyn restaurant, James does not take reservations, so we meandered our way over there on the early side to make sure we were seated. The early bird special crowd was wrapping up, and before our food arrived, Mike alerted me to the fact that at that very moment, immediately to my right, Michael Showalter had just sat down. Everyone I’ve told this story to since it happened has not been nearly as excited as the two of us were, which clearly means no one watched Stella as much as I did. But lest you think that Michael, who I gathered was there celebrating his birthday and talking about his cats (see his Twitter feed for supplemental reading on the latter) commanded all of our attention, I must mention the food. The black kale and red quinoa salad topped with a poached egg, ricotta salata and almonds was light and hearty all at once, and the pressed chicken with green garlic puree was crispy yet moist. Perfection. The fruits de mer, a garlic shrimp and polenta appetizer and an entree of seared sea scallops with horseradish potatoes, were to die for. Topped off with a blueberry rhubarb slump and some good ol’ eavesdropping on a celebrity, it was quite a lovely Prospect Heights dinner. 
  • Forgtmenot – We were tipped off to this eclectic little hole in the wall shortly after its opening by Mike’s friend Adam, who is friends with the owners. Forgtmenot served up a mix of simple, good comfort food – feta fries; orzo salad; mixed grill of chicken, shrimp, and halloumi; a sirloin burger on English muffin; skirt steak sandwich with edam and garlic shallot mayo. We three ate more than our fill, and well, in the tiny space that has been decorated with the owners’ personal knick knacks and belongings (really, their apartment is now mostly bare). It was an awesome experience to eat there, subsequently speak to the owner/chef and owner/bartender, and feel the passion and dedication they put into the place. LES. Check it out.
  • Bar Corvo – Chickpeas. Oh, the chickpeas! This kitchen, serving northern Italian comfort food, knew exactly the right way to swoon me. As if their grilled calamari salad with orange zest and almonds; the squid ink pasta with hot pepper, lemon, and pieces of grilled octopus; the gnocchi with smoky oxtail ragu and cheese… As if all of that wasn’t delicious enough, out come the spicy crispy chickpeas. Eat these and you will never want another snack food again. Crunchy, hearty, satisfying, they were covered in a combination of paprika and cayenne. Baked to perfection and served hot to your table to dirty your fingertips à la cheese doodles – only better. The portion was so great that we even got to bring some home with us, which we used in an egg scramble the next morning. Molto bene!
  • Prospect Park Food Truck Rally – For the second year in a row, from April through October on the third Sunday of every month, food trucks have gathered near the Grand Army Plaza arch for a day of eatin’ and hangin’, a real Brooklyn gathering. This year I attended in April and in August. Somehow, both times, I managed to keep myself from making the usual beeline for Wafels & Dinges (not for lack of wanting a waffle), and instead opted for savories. The Milk Truck has made a name for itself as having some of the best grilled cheeses on the streets of NYC. Way back in April, I had a grilled three cheese and caramelized apple on rosemary pullman. It was fantastic. No wonder this truck always has one of the longest lines. Then, just two weekends ago, I had the most authentic cheesesteak this side of the Delaware, from Phil’s Steaks. Known to Philadelphians as just “steaks,” these must be ordered in true Philly fashion: “whiz wit.” Translated, that means “one cheesesteak, made with cheese whiz, with sautéed onions.” Boom. That’s my jawn. 
  • Ample Hills – And last, but certainly not least, ice cream. What is summer without ice cream? I shudder to think. Ample Hills makes all of their ice cream on premises and offers a long list of both unique flavors and perfected classics. On my first visit, I tried their nanatella (banana + nutella). Yes, it is as good as it sounds. But what I liked even more was a double scoop cone of vanilla bean and Mexican hot chocolate. Vanilla with Madagascar bourbon vanilla, chocolate laced with cinnamon and chili flakes… the spiced chocolate was an unusual delight and the vanilla a comforting familiar taste. Lucky for me, ice cream still tastes good in the fall, winter, and spring, so my trips over to the corner of St. Marks and Vanderbilt will not be ending soon.

While the summer hours fade into night a little earlier each day, relish the cool nights and think back on all that the season has meant, all that you have done, and all the possibilities that the future holds – not only in next summer.

Summer: Swimming in a Lighter Shade of Blue

Like a babbling brook
The magic is lighter shade of blue
Dab it, stab it, reach out and grab it
There’s really nothing else that you can do”

Blueberry jam: a treasure from Maine

Last duck eggs of the season from the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket

Fresh English peas!

Strawberry rhubarb, homemade crust
Beer tasting cruise around the harbor…
…and a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge

Anniversary dinner at James – rubbing elbows with Michael Showalter 
Morning drive on the GWB
Pop, riding in style in the 4th of July Parade
Sisters on the road
The happiest place on Earth

Barboncino cappuccino

View from my Toronto hotel
Lake Ontario in the morning

A Philly excursion on the Reading Viaduct

Walking home after Sigur Ros in Prospect Park