Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Tree Is Up!

Need I say more?

It is officially Christmas time at our house! The roof may be in repair, the basement gutted, the ceiling in this very room has yet to be painted but our new house is a home, no matter the state of repair, when our family traditions are kept and our connections to each other are made more important than our circumstances.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Fog of Thanks

Slowly finding my way out of the fog of the holiday food coma is like coming to after a long night of drinking. I have vague memories of a general giddiness and bits and pieces of specific memories triggered by the photos below...

The plan

Everything went off without a hitch, on schedule.

Simultaneously, Mike made his his famous lasagna and tiramisu.

By 2pm, the house was cleaned. The table was set. Everyone had arrived on time with their assigned dishes intact (This Thanksgiving, we decided to go pot-luck.) . All was well. 

Dani, la donna of design, helped me to set the table 
I'd put out the appetitivi and amuse bouche, smoked rainbow and lake trout over creme fraiche and chives on chips.
I clearly remember putting out the butternut squash soup...

...but then it's all downhill from there...

I know that we ate in courses but each succession overwhelmed and erased all impressions of the last...

Jess and Dave brought out a beautiful radicchio salad with cranberries and walnut, perfect in color and texture and flavor for the day. 

Mom, enjoying said salad 

Then Michele upped the ante and knocked us all out, literally, when he put out his incredible lasagna. I remember perfectly al dente noodles and a creamy meat sauce and the wonderfully crisp texture of the slightly charred cheese on the top layer of the pasta. (No one had time, or the presence of mind to take of picture of it, unfortunately. The photo below is the best that I could do, and as you can see from the shaky quality and Michele's expression, we were all already high and disoriented from the food and the wine and the flavors and each other and the knowledge of all that was still yet to come.) 

This is literally the last clear impression I had before I was overcome by the wave of pure gluttony that we call Thanksgivng...

Papa Irv getting ready to go in on the turkey and ham. 

Ellen, Papa Irv, Ma, me, Mike, Ty, Eddie, Dani and Edna 



My plate of rice and beans, mac and cheese, yams, collards, potato salad, kale salad and a dollop of ham atop turkey in the center of it all.

Even Sylvester was like, "Say what?!"

And the dream ended with red velvet...

...and sweet potato pie and tiramisu and banana pudding and cupcakes...

..and an earnest, "Good night!" from Ryan.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Shout Out to Gold Star

Prepping for Thanksgiving is mundane; lists and such are a bore, especially for the tried and true dishes made over and over again every year. The highlight of our mad dash around Bk for the holiday was a personal, and professional, trip to Gold Star in my hometown, Red Hook.

Gold Star lives in an indescript building in an industrial area, in the cut off of Court Street and on the other side of the Gowanus Expressway.

If you can find it you will be rewarded with the best smoked fish in the borough.

We picked up some rainbow trout for the restaurant this weekend and a purchased few whole fish for our festivities tomorrow. Can't wait.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How to Make Fried Calamari

There's a lot of mystery surrounding squid. We had it as a starter for dinner last night, with a group of friends, and everyone "ooh"ed and "ahh"ed and talked about how they only eat it out at restaurants. I think that this is the case for a lot of people. And the adventurous ones who try to make it at home follow recipes that ask them to use all kinds of extraneous concoctions and combinations of condiments like cornmeal, rice flour or sugar to re-create the classic, crispy dish found in many Mediterranean restaurants. 

My man has the simplest, most straightforward approach that I can show in you two pictures, demystifying this process forever: 

Toss the squid in flour, salt and pepper 

Then, fry on "high" until golden brown, less than 2 mins: 


Friday, November 16, 2012

Garlic Soup!

When you have nothing in the fridge, make Julia Child's garlic soup!

The recipe is so simple, it's crazy. It's amazing how so few ingredients can pack such a big punch. My take on it, a much simpler version of the soup, literally consisted of:

garlic cloves
olive oil
one bay leaf

After simmering for thirty minutes, Julia suggests straining the liquid and leaving only the clear broth behind. I opted to leaved the boiled garlic in. I liked the soft flavor and texture. Then, I threw in some diced potatoes, but some pastina would be just as good. I finished it with some fresh pepper, fresh parsley and parmesan cheese. 

This is one simply luxurious, aromatic and flavorful dish that cannot be aptly described. Try it! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inheritance or Imitation?

It's amazing to watch a child's preferences and idiosyncrasies reveal themselves. Jada is two now and she is becoming more herself every day. She likes Cheerios for breakfast and broccoli with every other meal. She loves music and movies. She doesn't watch cartoons. She likes stuffed animals but not dolls. She always wants to go to the zoo and talks incessantly about "jumping in the water in Hawaii", especially when it is cold outside.

The nature versus nurture question arises. How many of her affinities are her own and how many are influenced by beach-loving parents or a mom who works in the music business? Does she impulsively "write" with paper and pen because she sees me using them all of the time or does she have a natural affinity for words?

Jada loves playing drums too, as does her father. Is this inheritance or imitation? This video of her at The Guitar Center makes me think it's a little bit of both.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Countdown

It's on. Two weeks out from Thanksgiving and I am already beginning to panic, internally of course. I smiled graciously when Mike invited the family (twenty people!!) over in the first flush of excitement upon moving in to the new house. Three weeks later and we have only successfully finished painting one room. Countless unpacked boxes are laying in random places. A new stove sits in the foyer waiting for construction to be completed in the second kitchen upstairs.

Slowly but surely we are making progress but making this house a home is going to take a long time. Adding a major holiday to the drama of it all is daunting. I'm tempted to call it all off. But that's not the spirit of Thanksgiving. It is about celebrating the paint splattered floors and the piles of belongings yet to find their place in this new space. It is about gratitude for all that we have and sharing all that we have with the people we love most and inviting them to be a part of the process. No one on our guest list is coming here to judge us. I should take my ego out of this situation and all of the grandiose and unrealistic ideas about how things should be and just go with the flow. Doesn't mean I can't be just a little neurotic about the schedule of tasks I'd like to see completed by the 22nd. It just means that it's not the end of the world if we are not watching the Macy's Parade in a house that looks like a Nate Berkus ad. All will be well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Perfect for a Snowy Day

Michele and I shacked up again on Wednesday, in preparation for the nor'easter. We had no idea that it would snow that much but when it started, I decided to make a soup. The ribollita recipe from An Everlasting Meal immediately occurred to me because we had some leftover bread from the infamous braised rabbit meal last week and a lot of odds and ends in the pantry.

A little background info here: Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan soup made with stale bread, winter greens, beans, cheese, tomatoes and herbs. It is simple, heavenly, healthy, rich and decadent using very few ingredients. It is also perfect for a snowy day.

It all starts with a base of diced onions, garlic and celery sautéed in the best olive oil that you can find.

Add whole, peeled tomatoes 

I chose collards for this dish. You can also use kale or any other hearty green. 

Cannellini beans went in with leftover broth from the can, sauce from the tomatoes and some chicken broth. I also threw in the rind from a hunk of parmesan cheese.

The final step is adding the stale bread. 

After that, you put a lid on the pot and wait. Check periodically, seasoning and stirring, until the bread dissolves in to the broth.

The finished product should be silky in texture. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese and some fresh pepper over the top and buon appetito! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Night

Four years ago, I was watching a live feed of the election in the middle of Q-Tip's album release party   at Santos. The night was emotional, triumphant, sexy, fun and totally unforgettable.

A lot has changed this time around. I was not sipping champagne with celebrities. And I was not having a quiet night in with my man or any intellectual friends. The day started with the realization that our cable TV and internet service were out because of the storm. My sister had no problem letting me watch the election results at her apartment, but could I babysit Ryan? Ok, fair deal. I could handle two kids. No problem. I packed a bag full off groceries to make the patriotic meal that I'd planned days in advance, cheeseburgers and homemade fries, and headed down to her house.

In hindsight, boiling hot oil in the tiny kitchen of a studio apartment with two toddlers running around while trying to pay attention to the election results was probably not the smartest idea. My mother walked in at 7pm to ketchup-covered kids running back and forth on oil-splattered, slippery floors peppered with pieces of meat and half-chewed slider buns and what seemed like hundreds of tiny cars and crayons.

By the time we dealt with the piles of dishes and the oily floors and the sticky kids it was 9pm and I was only paying attention to the tube peripherally. I could only see that Barack was behind in electoral votes. By the time the kids went down under blankets in front of the TV at 10, it was clear that Barack had the edge. Mike walked in from the restaurant at 11 with a bottle of wine, God bless his soul, and he waited up with me until 1:30am for the president's speech. This was probably the best part of the day, an unexpected bit of time together like the old days.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Goes Down When Mama's Not Around

Since our recent move in to our new home and all of the Hurricane Sandy drama, I have spent very little time at Va Beh' during dinner service. Saturday night, I decided to go in. Michele opted to stay home with the kids. Cool. 

Now don't get me wrong. I am not a jealous person and I don't covet much. I have been cooking like crazy every night that I have been home, some pretty elaborate meals, whether it was just Jada and I or our extended family coming through. But, my husband and kids had a party without me! Look at the grins on these two girls over braised rabbit, fried branzino, polenta and my butternut squash soup to boot!

Look at Jada unapologetically going in on the "bunny rabbit"!

And this shot of Asia is just plain mean! The relish and the joy on this kid's face!

I think it was this last photo that sent me over the top. I replied back to my husband's smug photos and text, "Oh. This is what goes down when Mama's not around??" 

":)", is all I got back.