Slightly OT: Dr. Steve Brule Wine Tasting

A friend of mine sent this to me, and I couldn't help but share it with all of you on a Friday afternoon. Drink and be merry!

A Nibble of This and That

I was a tad more eager than usual for this week’s NYT Dining section because I was really curious to see the Letters section re: last week’s “The Fat Pack Wonders if the Party’s Over” by Kim Severson. Alas, no Letters section in the physical paper and no section in the online version. Not one that I could find, anyway. No one had anything to say, that was printable, about that article? Really? I was hoping for some great discourse and was totally disappointed to not get it.

Once again I find that combining food and children’s literature in a single blog isn’t entirely random. Check out Allison’s post over at Shelftalker about Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls written by Marjorie Winslow and illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Allison has included a couple of the “recipes” in her post and it sounds so “completely and utterly charming.” I’ve put a hold request on the one single copy at Queens Library.

As part of the prerequisites for NYU’s Food Studies program, they require you to have some hands-on experience that extends beyond your own home kitchen. So I’m looking through the course schedule at the Institute of Culinary Education (aka ICE) with absolute delight. A Greenmarket cooking class! A knife class! A “Fine Cooking” class! A salt class! Where to start???? I’m thinking of the knife class – it’s only a 3-hour class I can take after work so I don’t have to worry about too much commitment at this point. If it goes well, I can do the “Fine Cooking” class, which is much more money and five 5-hour classes. Between those two classes, I will have satisfied the prerequisite. I’m on my way!

I recently heard about the journal Gastronomica and thought a subscription might be in order. So I went to the website to check it out and read an intriguing letter from the editor that is in a similar vein to our earlier discussion about NYT’s “Fat Pack” article. She discusses the juxtaposition of providing healthy, delicious, affordable food to disadvantaged families and communities with the idea that good food – or any food, really – should cost more. Those ideas seem completely contradictory to each other. She’s right, though: I live in a lovely part of Queens with decent restaurants, a fish monger, a cheese store, and a great market for my other needs. And I spend a significant portion of my income on food. But I work in a disadvantaged neighborhood, right across the street from the bus depot, and it is incredibly difficult to find healthy food around here. I usually bring my lunch to work but, occasionally, I’ll forget and need to buy lunch here. You wouldn’t believe the difficulty in doing that. There’s a market nearby, but the produce is sub-par and comes from everywhere but New York. Forget good bread or any unprocessed cheese. Everything comes frozen, in a can, in bulk, or vaccuum-packed. Not surprisingly, you’ll see a significantly larger number of overweight and obese people in the neighborhood I work in as opposed to the one I live in. During my info session, the director of the Food Studies program repeatedly threw around the term “food crisis in this country” and I don’t think that’s stating it too strongly. Darra Goldstein’s letter just added one more voice to the dull roar.

On that note, the Sustainable Table has a wonderful blog and they posted about a curriculum package by Equal Exchange. It teaches kids about fair trade, food production and sustainable living. This seems as good a place as any to start turning this thing around.


Simon and Schuster's Summer 2008 Preview event

Last Thursday was the summer preview event at Simon and Schuster and, like the last one, the editors shared some exciting upcoming books and invited a hilarious author to speak. The last time was Jon Scieszka – not too shabby! – and this time was Alan Katz, author of Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs (S&S, 2001) and the newly published poetry collection, Oops (McElderry, 2008). Well, I can tell you that Mr. Katz is one of the funniest authors I’ve had the pleasure of listening to – he just had the whole room in stitches, telling such fantastic stories. It was the perfect way to start off the morning.

Demi has a new book coming out, The Magic Pillow (6.3.08). Demi’s work is visually stunning and does not disappoint here. My only concern with Demi’s style is that it lacks some accessibility with children; that’s been my impression, anyway. Has anyone encountered any kids that were really drawn into Demi’s books? Or able to use her books in programs? Just curious… Nevertheless, it’s always a treat to pore over the details and beauty in her books.

What are two things that are sure things to grab kids’ attention? Pirates and penguins, of course. Put them together in one book and you have Uncle Pirate by Douglas Rees, illustrated by Tony Auth (6.3.08). I didn’t get to look at the interior of this one but, at 112 pages, I’m thinking it’ll be a good “boy book” recommendation. According to the editors, a sequel is already planned.

When I saw the cover for Bees, Snails, and Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (6.17.08), I sort of felt nonchalant. My initial impression was “there they go again.” Then I mentally kicked my own rear because that’s really no way to think. How can you be blasé about so much talent and gorgeousness? So they’re at it again and there’s nothing ordinary about its fabulousness.

Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman have another “Bear” book coming out, Bear Feels Scared (8.5.08). There really isn’t much else to say about that. The books are enormously popular, and there will definitely be multiple copies purchased for my library system.

Okay, so let me tell you the book I am most excited about. Seriously, this sounds so cool. It’s called Acting Out (6.17.08) and it’s a collection of one-act plays. Every library needs more plays, right? Okay, maybe it’s just Queens… Anyhoo, wait for it…you won’t believe the line-up of Newbery stars: Avi, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and Richard Peck. Shazam! All edited by Justin Chanda, publisher extraordinaire. Justin explained to us that he and the authors wanted some way to unify the whole work. So each author picked a single word – six words total – and each author had to incorporate each of those words into their own play. Justin shared the six words, but I don’t remember all of them. I can tell you one of the words, though, because it’s a hard one to forget: “Justin.” Funny, right? I’m real excited about this one.

Yay, another middle-grade graphic novel! More of them, publishers! More! This one is called Chiggers by Hope Larson (6.17.08). It’s a summer camp story centering on female friendships and the growing pains of adolescence.

Andrew Clements book about twins, Lost and Found (7.1.08). He’s a master. Enough said.

Delight! A picture book illustrated by Mark Siegel and written by Lisa Wheeler, Boogie Knights (8.5.08). I love Mark’s style, for one thing. For another thing, having listened to him speak to groups of librarians a couple times, I have no problem admitting I have such a crush on him. He’s incredibly eloquent, artistic, wrote a book with his wife, handsome, and brings graphic novels to all us librarians starving for them – how could you not love him?

The Reminder by Rune Michaels (8.26.08) is possibly the oddest novel I’ve heard of. A girl’s mother dies. She hears her mother’s voice. Then she hears her dad talking to her mom behind a closed door. Yeah, so she finds out that her dad has constructed a robotic head in the likeness of her mom, and he’s been conversing with her! Wha?! So the dad starts dating again and the head disappears…naturally, the girl has a chance to save her mother this time. Totally out there, right? Which naturally means I’m intrigued and longing to read it.

The Fartiste by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (6.3.08). Need I say more? This will crack kids up.

Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner (6.3.08) looked fantastic. Can’t wait to have it in the collection.

Doing a happy dance! Tony DiTerlizzi is coming out with a new middle grade fiction, Kenny and the Dragon! (8.5.08)

Got a galley of Dan Gutman’s new one, Nightmare at the Book Fair (7.29.08) How must it feel to be so universally popular among kids?

S&S is also publishing an intriguing series: 10 Days That Shook Your World (7.1.08). The concept is almost like time travel where you take a single historical figure (Thomas Edison, Anne Frank, and Benjamin Franklin) and you zoom in on the 10 most important days in their life. And on the front of the covers that S&S showed us, it states in big numbers how many days each person lived. Obviously, Anne Frank’s cover is incredibly poignant. This appears to be an exciting addition to the biography genre.

Unfortunately, I can’t report on the Simon Pulse presentation because I had to leave early to get to another meeting. Alas, perhaps next time!

The photos are thanks to Baker and Taylor. Keep in mind that all the covers, pub dates, titles, etc. are based on the information given to me at the time. All subject to change.


Information session update

This is where I demonstrate what a good writer I am not because I'm feeling at a loss for words to describe how fantabulous the Master of Food Studies info session was at NYU.

First off, my worries were unfounded. I was running late (I got lost!) so I didn't have to sit through the whole why-are-you-here small talk with the people around me. Second, I found out that the program is actually designed with working professionals in mind. Nearly every class takes place at night (there is the occasional exception, but the daytime class is always an elective). Not only that, but they actually encourage you to go part-time, and we were told that it's usually only international students that go full-time. So no worries there!

There were about a dozen people at the session, which was headed up by the program director, and it appeared that I was probably the second or third oldest person in the room...at 32 years old! But that was going on appearances alone, and we all know how reliable that is! The director told us that only about 50% of the students in the program have previous culinary experience (phew!) and there are only 85 or students total in the program at a time. Sounds like my kind of program!

Then she talked about the classes. Oooooh, the classes!

Food and Culture - how we define and identify ourselves individually and as a culture through food

Water, Waste, and the Urban Environment - study water as a commodity and as a food. NYC's history with waste disposal and the acquisition of water.

Comparative Cuisines - discusses how cuisine changes history. The example the director gave was how the Irish Potato Famine didn't alter Ireland's history, but it changed America's history forever. Those are the sorts of things discussed.

Research Applications - this is essentially your thesis. You pick a topic, either based on an earlier project in your coursework or a new one, and spend the semester researching it. The director called it a "passion project" which, naturally, made me feel woozy with joy immediately. The idea is that it's cumulative and, hopefully, will end with a publishable product. The school makes a whole day of it, starting with breakfast, then the presentations, break for lunch, then more presentations, and then dinner out to celebrate, of course.

Guys, I can't even tell you how good this is sounding to me. The director said it is a very rigorous program, but not a competitive one; given the vast range of food studies, there are plenty of jobs out there to suit the multitudes of interests. She also talked about how close all the students become since it's a group of people that all share a singular passion for food. Not to mention the school isn't too large. I'm just a bundle of energy, nerves, and excitement right now because I know in my heart of hearts this is right for me.

Now, in the back of my head, I have that quiet little voice, saying, "Laaaura...what about that little Newbery committee you want to serve on? What about that ALSC committee you just got invited to...your second committee invite? Are you ready to let some of that drop? Are you?"

But you know what? I'm not worrying about it right now. I just had a whole world open up to me today so I'm just going to sip the flute of prosecco I have next to me and urge the rest of you to pursue whatever interests you, whatever keeps you excited and energized about life. What's stopping you?

Embarking on yet another adventure


It’s a gorgeous, breezy, sunny day here in NYC, and guess who has the day off work. And why do I always make you guys guess? Well, I have the day off work. I wasn’t initially sure if I should share why I have the day off….but then I said, “What the hell!” I’m going to an information session today for NYU’s Masters in Food Studies program! I know, it’s not really that big of a deal. I mean, it’s not like I’ve actually applied or anything. But still… This is an important step for me.

So I’m just hanging in the apartment, dressed up all fab, waiting until it’s time to go. I’m incredibly nervous because 1) I’m concerned that I’ll find out I can’t keep working at the library 35 hours a week and do the Masters at the same time, thus killing the dream, and 2) I’m freaked that I’m going to be completely “over-chic’d”, meaning that I’ll be sitting in a room today with serious foodies, with people that have already completed culinary school, with people that have been published. And I’ll introduce myself and say, “Well, I’ve blogged about food for about 8 months – like every 3rd person in the world – and…um…well, I’m really passionate about food.” That’s about all I have to recommend me at this point. That and I’m incredibly scrappy and persistent. But I can’t very well tell people that today, can I?

The good thing, though, is that the info session is over at 2 p.m. Which means I’m heading to Union Square for a couple hours before picking up the kiddo after school. Can’t wait to pick out something deliciously adventurous to eat! And it’ll certainly help me recover from whatever goes down at NYU.


Apparently, I can't be trusted

The NYT Dining section this week had an article that, quite frankly, irritated me. Don’t believe me? Just ask the husband, who got the full brunt of my tirade. The article, “The Fat Pack Wonders If the Party’s Over” by Kim Severson, talks about foodies with weight problems and, thusly, health problems. These hedonistic, blogging, obsessive food addicts have diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure…you know, all the usual problems that come with overindulgence. Obviously, I don’t have a problem with the general subject of the article – it’s true, there’s an obesity problem in America; let’s address it.

Here is my problem: I hate the word "dieting". Dieting means restrictions, limitations, denial, forced physical activity. The article states that Joseph Bastianich’s recipe for weight loss is “run a lot and try not to eat after 6 p.m.” Really??? “Run a lot”??? Now, I know lots of people that truly derive pleasure from running, and that may be the case with Mr. Bastianich. To each their own. But I am not a fan of running if its sole purpose is to allow you to eat more. Heaven forbid, rather than running for your life, you simply eat slightly less than you normally would have had you run. Heaven forbid, rather than take the elevator up three floors, you walk up the stairs instead. Sounds much more pleasurable (and sexy) to me than running.

The article states that, instead of chili dogs, Jason Perlow now blogs about “lentil soup and The Big Salad.” Why stop blogging about chili dogs? Chili dogs are soooo good! Perhaps instead of eating the whole thing, as Mr. Perlow might have done previously, he only eats half. He derives enormous pleasure from it, yet doesn’t get the weight gain from overindulgence. Why deny oneself the pleasure of a chili dog? It is also said that “though [Mr. Perlow] is still in mourning for his old loves, especially pizza and burgers, he says his pleasure receptors are better tuned to the joys of vegetables and legumes.” Well, I’m enormously pleased for him; his “pleasure receptors” should be more in tune with veggies and legumes. But why deny himself “old loves”? Please tell me that he still allows himself joyous nibbles of these foods occasionally! Please! They both can’t cause harm…in moderation. Or try those delicious vegetables on a thin pizza crust. Why must anyone deny themselves anything? Eat consciously and learn moderation in all things…that way, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Ultimately, I resent the implication that people who are food-obsessed and truly passionate about gastronomy must be overweight. Don’t think that’s true? Perhaps I am overreacting – it wouldn’t be the first time – but with books like Never Trust a Skinny Cook by Iain Hewitson and Mo’Nique’s Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted, I can’t help but feel we’re completely misguided in our belief that one must eat everything on one’s plate to demonstrate and derive enjoyment. Why must this be about fat versus thin with a side dish of mistrust? I argue that, in my case, I’m a better cook for being a thinner one. Why? Because I make smart choices in my eating. I’m not going to waste my time with anything less than fantastic. I’ve had one bite of a piece of cake and pushed aside the rest because it was dry and too sugary. I’ve thrown out entire dishes right into the trash because I don’t want to waste the calories, fat, and sugar on something sub-par. I make conscious, smart choices about what is going into my body. I stop eating when I am satisfied, not when I’m full. I eat small portions of a bunch of different foods so that I’m able to enjoy everything. I never skip a meal, and I never eat low-fat, non-fat, low-cal, low-carb anything. Since when has moderation been equated with deprivation?

The implication is that, because I’m a healthy weight, I somehow deprive myself of pleasurable food. And that just isn’t the case with me and I’m certain you’d find that to be true of other cooks with healthy weights. I only live by the credo: all things in moderation. Eat consciously. Respect your food and your body. Avoid processed foods. Be healthy. Be comfortable in your skin, whatever weight that may be. That is how I lost 25 pounds and have kept it off for the past 2 years. And I’ve never eaten so well with such variety in my life.

For heaven's sake, bon appètit

Photo by Getty Images


First Spring Visit to Union Square

Guess who went to the Union Square Greenmarket this morning! Yep, ME! I haven’t been in months – I hate to admit that I’m a fair-weather market-goer. But I was glad I waited because, instead of the sparse winter offerings, I was greeted by flowers and purveyors galore. Which naturally also meant people galore. I don’t know what it was about today, but there seemed to be very few accent-less Americans there – I heard lots of French, lots of Brits, lots of Swedes and Germans. Where did all the Americans go? That’s right – I heard quite a few of them saying they were going to Trader Joe’s a few blocks away. ACK! Why go to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods when you have everything right here?! Bread, fruit, eggs, meat, jams, honey, syrup, cheese, flowers, herbs. Is there anything else? Curse corporate America for setting up so close to the market!

Please indulge my amateur photography…

The first hydrangeas of the season! Swoon!

Potatoes a-plenty...the fruits of late-spring and summer will have to wait a bit longer. Months ago, my mom-in-law, Adam, and I actually bought several different varieties of the potatoes and did a taste test. Not surprisingly, the delicate fingerling was our favorite.

I'm over parsnips - I've had way too many this winter. But I was happy to see Jerusalem artichokes. See, I have lots of recipes that call for them...but up until today I had no idea what these looked like uncooked and no idea where to find them. So I bagged a half-dozen of them and I'll experiment.

These guys are the best: Elk Trails Ranch. They carry beef and bison products, including doggie treats and jerky. The guys are super-friendly (which, surprisingly, isn't always the case at certain market stalls) and they'll answer your questions. Today I wanted to change up from the usual bison sirloin and flatirons I normally buy. So I bought a "delmonico", which I was told is akin to a beef ribeye. Can't wait to try it!

In addition to the bison ribeyes, I also stopped by Flying Pigs Farm's stand. Based on the Amateur Gourmet's recommendation, I bought a HUGE pork shoulder and I'm hoping to braise it tomorrow and serve it with my new gratin Dauphinois recipe from My French Kitchen. Not exactly spring-y, I know, but it just sounded so darn gooood. I also bought Apple Sage pork sausage for breakfast tomorrow.

Here are the rest of my treats: celeriac (again, never tried it, will experiment), eggs, mozzarella, ricotta, a loaf of olive rosemary walnut sourdough (!), Idared apples, Jerusalem artichokes, and cocoa powder-covered chèvre.

And here was the best lunch ever. The mozzarella was substantial with a melting quality, and the ricotta spread like cream cheese on the olive rosemary walnut bread. Those two other pieces of bread were organic cheese sticks I bought as well - they were a tad on the dry side, but the tang of the cheese struck the perfect tone. The apples were a tad overripe but, given the perfect sweetness, I happily overlooked it. The cocoa chèvre was okay: they mixed the cocoa into the cheese, along with powdered sugar so it was verrrry sweet and dark brown throughout. I might buy some goat cheese and try to make my own with just balls of cheese rolled in cocoa powder. That way you'd get the contrast of the white cheese with the chocolate exterior. And it wouldn't be so sugar-sweet. Nevertheless, can you imagine a more perfect lunch than this on the first weekend of a new season?

Happy spring and bon appètit!


Indulging in a classic

Have you ever felt so excited about a Friday night that you just didn’t know what to do with yourself? The world is about ready to burst into bloom and you have a weekend ahead of you, full of promise. I don’t have plans this weekend and I’m just tingling with the excitement of doing everything and nothing.

In our house, Friday night is “TV Dinner Night”. We usually ban eating meals in front of the TV, but we do allow it on Friday nights and have made a ritual of it. Naturally, my dinners reflect our change of venue. Tonight, I brought back an old favorite from my childhood: grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My dad used to make them all the time when I was a kid, and I have the fondest memories of eating them. Then I went through a binging-dieting phase from about 14 years old through 30 years old…and, sadly, never had a grilled PB&J during those years because, you know, peanut butter was evil. But no longer. Tonight I had my first grilled PB&J in 18 years…and it was every bit as satisfying and rich and pleasurable as I remember it.

And, no, I didn’t document it with a photo. Some moments really shouldn’t be interrupted by a clicking camera and worries about the lighting.

So I entreat all of you to indulge a bit this weekend with a forgotten classic from your childhood. Remember that the week starts fresh on Monday – get back on track then. For now, though, enjoy.


Miss Erin's Novel Challenge June 2008

I’ve been enjoying Miss Erin’s blog for a couple months now – her voice is fresh and friendly, and her posts have a lot of variety. So am I the only one who realized, when she posted about herself and her family, that she’s so darling…and so friggin young?! Wow. Puts my own life in perspective when I see a teenager with so much eloquence and with a successful blog to boot. On the upside, it helps restore my faith in America’s youth. I don’t know what her future plans entail, but I certainly hope an education and career in NYC are included in them...we need her!

To top it all off, she’s posted a Novel Challenge June 2008.
Aspiring writer? Then go check it out. I’m half-tempted to accept the challenge myself… As Miss Erin says, “We all have a novel somewhere inside of us.” Indeed, I do. But who has the time to actually write it???

Color me way impressed with Miss Erin.


The One with the Recipe Reorg

For a couple years now I've been saving recipes from the Rachael Ray mag, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Food and Wine, and Cooking Light. I've been hole-punching them and dumping them all into a single 3-ring binder. Then when I try a recipe and like it, I mark it with a sticky tab. That's it. So there's been no organization, no point of reference, and messy sticky tabs cluttering it all up.

Well, no more. Check this out:

Now they're in three binders, alphabetically starting with Appetizers and ending with Vegetables. And it's difficult to tell from the photos, but I also bought a crapload of those plastic sleeves and when I try a recipe and decide it's a keeper, I'll put it one of the sleeves. Thus ridding my notebooks of the cluttery tabs. It looks all organized now, and now I'll actually have a prayer of finding what I want when I want it. And it wasn't without effort after three trips this weekend to Staples to get the supplies I needed...

I'm so pleased with my work that I'm going to pour myself a glass of the delectable Sauvignon Blanc I opened last night...


The One About Wines Under $15

Go check out the latest issue of Food and Wine (April). Among many interesting things, there was an article about the 67 Best American Wines under $15. I'm a big believer in wines under $20. I'm not cheap, it's just that I have tasted so many fresh, delightful, pleasant wines at such affordable prices that I just don't feel motivated to regularly drink more expensive wines. I do have more expensive bottles - in the $60 - $80 range - that I keep in a separate wine cooler to age a couple years. Not to mention that Adam and I did indulge in a bottle of Veuve Cliquot's La Grande Dame to celebrate our move to NYC. But that was a rarity - you won't see me pretentiously sipping $500 bottles anytime soon.

What pleased me enormously was reading about Oregon's wines. As a longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, I always enjoy reading positive articles about the area that don't center on the amount of rain. Food and Wine had an article focusing on the Pinot Noirs alone.

I've tried 19 wines listed in the top 67, which isn't too bad. And I actually have a couple of them sitting in my wine rack and in my wine fridge right now. I can highly recommend the 2005 Bogle California Petite Sirah. We actually drank it with braised duck legs, which wasn't a good pairing. You need a big-flavored, super rich steak to go with this wine. The flavor is complex and bold. I also love the 2006 A to Z Wineworks Oregon Chardonnay. It's unoaked, and I normally like the flavor of oak in my wine. Nevertheless, this wine is light and creamy; it's rich and earthy enough that it doesn't need oak in the background.

I'll actually search out some of the 48 bottles I haven't tried - finding an affordable, interesting gem of a wine always thrills me!

Eat, drink, and be merry!

The One Where I Make Breakfast Sandwiches

Some of my favorite meals are the ones I come up with off-the-cuff, no premeditated planning, totally based on what I have in the kitchen. Which is funny because I’m actually a BIG planner. I feel lost without a plan. In the kitchen, though, I’ve become real comfortable with just throwing stuff together in a very unplanned way.

The husband has been out of town, which always leaves an interesting challenge to me because he normally deals with the kiddo while I fix dinner. So when he’s gone, I need to deal with the kiddo’s nightly routine…and avoid takeout and mac n’ cheese. I was at work on Thursday, pondering what the heck I was going to make us for dinner that night. Here was my thought process:

I’m tired of grilled cheese, but it’s the easiest. Is there a variation on it I can put together?

Crap, I don’t have any bread. Wait, I have those parbaked butter croissants in the freezer…

I bet that Taleggio would taste good melted on the croissants…with scrambled eggs! A breakfast sandwich!

Wait, what meat do I have? Hmmm…proscuitto! I can put that on mine! (The kiddo really can’t stand any meat…except Central Park hot dogs…and it’s debatable whether that’s meat or not)

And imagine my pleasure when I got home and discovered that I did in fact have all the ingredients…and I even had bacon in the fridge! Huzzah! So here’s what we had (forgive my totally unprofessional photos - I'm working on it...):

The kiddo declared it was the “best dinner ever, better than clams” and I didn’t realize how comfort food-esque this sort of meal is. Adam could go on trips more often – it forces me to be really creative and I have to admit I feel like a pretty rad person when I get home with the kiddo at 5:30, do her homework, get her a bath, put together dinners like this, and still get her in bed by 8:00 p.m. You can't see it, but I'm doing my Bad Ass dance right now.


The One Where I Stop Worrying About Pizza

I’ve been reading a lot about pizza lately – lots of bloggers (For the Love of Food and Lobster Squad, as examples) are experimenting with it and trying to make the perfect pie. But I don’t know – I just feel awfully uninspired to give it a go again and again. Why? Because I have tasted, to me anyway, the perfect pizza. Crust, toppings, everything. And it’s at Grazie in Scottsdale, Arizona. People who have even tasted the best in Italy (alas, not me) swear by Grazie. I’ve tried time and time again to replicate their crispy, thin, light-as-air, charred-in-all-the-right-places crust. I’ve made about a dozen attempts. All failures.

My friend Steve makes a stellar pizza. I won’t say that it’s not as good as Grazie’s…it’s just very different. The glorious, and most important, thing about Steve’s pizza is that it is a flavor explosion. He has perfected the right mix of herbs and toppings, and there are several flavors in there you can’t identify but desperately wish you could. I’ve tried another dozen times to make his pizza too. All failures. And that’s after sitting in his kitchen, watching his every move like a hawk!

I’m out. Especially since I bought Nigella Express and discovered using naan for pizza crust. It’s damn near Grazie’s crust. No more rolling out pizza dough and failing over and over again. I’ll stick with my naan and pine away for Grazie and Steve, thank you.

Note: Is this ever going to turn back into a children’s literature blog? I don’t know any more than you do. Stay tuned…

The One Where I Wish I Worked for Google

So I may have mentioned this before - I'm not sure if I have - but Adam works for Google. I don't know if I should share that, and I'll have to check with him later - this post may disappear later today. Nevertheless, I'm telling you all now. And you may have heard about the free, amazing food that Google prepares for their employees each day. All the rumors you've heard? Totally true. The other day Adam ate lobster stuffed steak wrapped in bacon and grilled. Can you believe it?!?! And it's all organic, mostly local food...while I'm stuck with my CAFO-ham and grilled, perfectly-square-orange-cheese sandwich in the cafeteria at Queens Library (never fear, dear readers, I bring my own food to work).

So add Google's stellar food to the fact that they're across the street from Food Network headquarters, and you can imagine that they're going to get some major players stepping into Google's kitchen. Unfortunately for me, Adam is horrible with names and can never remember a single chef's name. Morimoto was there, I know that.

Then, the other day, guess who did a lecture for Google employees:

The great Jacques Torres!

Now you all know I don't really like baking, and I don't even indulge in dessert very often. But I still recognize greatness when I see it. Adam and I used to watch his show a couple years ago and giggle over his fabulous accent declaring that "even zee gelatin mold ees edible!" And Adam stood right next to him in line for food. Adam said he was quick to laugh and very nice; apparently he made fun of his own accent and the way French people talked. I loves me a self-deprecating man who can cook!

I just wonder why the husband got so lucky to work in such a fabulous office and I have to see mauve-colored tomatoes in plastic tubs and smell people's tater tots every day at my workplace. Where's the justice?!

The One Where I Re-Create Fig and Olive's Fennel Dish

My soul twin/BFF/partner-in-crime came for a visit last weekend, and we had a proper night out on the town: a 3 ½ hour dinner at Fig and Olive, drinks at The Campbell Apartment, dancing down the street and curtsying to passers-by after one cocktail too many, the Chrysler building (or “the chandelier building”, as my BFF calls it) twinkling in the background. Completely fabulous.

At Fig and Olive, we had the Grilled Fennel with Lemon and Rosemary and I truly don’t know if I can find the words to express its wondrousness. The texture was perfection – cooked through but still resisted a bit when we bit into it. The flavors were complex – the anise, obviously, was predominant, as was the rosemary, but there was something else in there. What was that flavor? What is that? And the fennel was sliced super thin with that pale cream color. Where were the grill marks? It drove us to the brink, trying to figure out how it was done. We asked our adorable server, but he said, “Maybe the chef grilled it whole and peeled away the outer layers.” Hmm…perhaps. But then how did it get sliced so thin once it was cooked? Our server also told us there was “a touch” of grapefruit juice. Hmm…really? Intriguing… Analysis aside, there were gorgeous moments when my BFF and I would take a bite, close our eyes, and sit in orgasmic silence. Wow.

Naturally, I had to try to make it on my own. Last night, I made Nigella Lawson’s Potato and Mushroom Gratin. It was so simple and so delicious, especially since I was able to improv a bit with the ingredients I had on hand: I used red new potatoes instead of the “baking potatoes” Nigella calls for. I also couldn’t find any cremini mushrooms so I used baby portabellas instead. Now the dish was fine on its own, but it could be fabu with bacon. Or maybe even a blue cheese crumbled on top before serving. I dolloped some crème fraîche on it, and that was perfection.

So the fennel…well, I put the whole bulb in a baking dish, rubbed it with oil, salt, and pepper, and baked it at 425 for 40 minutes. I had to do it for only 40 minutes because that’s how much time I had left for the gratin. When the fennel came out, I peeled the outer layers away and did a pretty decent job of slicing it thinly. But it definitely was underdone. So I sauteed it in olive oil and lemon juice for about 20 minutes (while my gratin just sat in a 200° oven. Unfortunately, that still wasn’t enough time, and it was definitely too crunchy still. And I forgot the rosemary. So I’m chalking this up as a failure, even though I still enjoyed it and ate every bite. I consider it a failure because I didn’t have the outcome I was trying for. It’s back to the drawing board.

I just wish I was somebody in the food world, and I could go into the kitchen at Fig and Olive and find out how it’s done! Anyone know anyone who can get me in?

Another One Where I Talk About the NYT Dining Section

The NYT Dining section has been doing this sort of annoying thing lately (to me, anyway) where they’re reviewing the best restaurants in the country. Naturally, I find it annoying because it doesn’t interest me and everyone knows it’s all about me, right? Nevertheless, you should know about this so you can check it out, if you want. For now, though, onward…

The Letters section was actually pretty interesting. Last week there was an article on MSG that almost accused MSG-related migraine sufferers of imagining the whole thing. Of course, a couple of letters grumbled about that. And two letters were related to the octopus article – you know, the octopus recipe that I was dying to try. One person actually spent time in Mykonos so, of course, he had had the real thing off the boat, beaten against a rock, and grilled on an open fire. Well, dur! Of course that’s going to taste better than octopus prepared in my crappy NY kitchen! Then another letter was from a woman who had seen the gorgeous creatures while scuba diving in the Caymans and questioned whether octopus was worth eating when it was so beautiful...not to mention that, if you have to do that much to a thing to make it suitable for eating, isn’t that a sign that maybe we shouldn’t eat it? I don’t know, perhaps I have no conscious, or perhaps I’m too simple-minded, or perhaps I’m cavalier…but I just don’t really care. For the most part, I have had an immensely enjoyable experience every time I’ve had squid. And that’s enough for me. Environmentally, ethically irresponsible? Sure, I suppose you could argue that. But isn’t nearly everything we parasitic humans are doing these days environmentally irresponsible? Oh goodness, I am so digressing…

I’ve been trying for months to get a decent reservation time at Blue Hill to no avail. Apparently now, thanks to TableXchange, I can purchase one! They cost anywhere from $15 to $40, sort of like eBay without bidding. There’s another website, PrimeTime Tables where you pay a $500 annual membership fee (!) and even then you play $45 per reservation. This is irking the restaurateurs because now they’re getting more no-shows and, probably more importantly, they can’t manage the quality of people getting into their restaurant. Now anybody can get in! The most popular restaurants in the country are now open for the masses! Hell, it’s anarchy! I can see where the restaurateurs are coming from but, on the other hand, this is American enterprise and capitalism at work. It’s the nature of the beast. Now some restaurateurs are saying that, if they know a reservation was made by a TableXchange customer, they won’t honor it. I do find this whole issue interesting, but it’s also part of the reason why I prefer home cooking to going out. I want an experience. I don’t want this cutthroat, bragging rights, showing off, competitive part. Or if I do want to go out, I’d rather go to a mid-level restaurant where I can manage a decent reservation time if I call on a Tuesday or Wednesday beforehand: Fig and Olive, Home, Gaby (in the Sofitel Hotel and some of the best food I’ve had in NYC). That’s much more enjoyable and less pretentious to me. I loathe pretension.

I am going to go back to the whole restaurant thing, very briefly. The restaurant reviewed on the first page – Fearing’s in Dallas – has a dish that looks and sounds like a plate of heaven: Buffalo marinated in maple syrup and peppercorns. Not bad, eh? I’d pout that I have to go to Dallas to try it, but the Union Square greenmarket has a guy who sells really good buffalo. I might have to try to create my own recipe…

And that’s the news this week. Stay tuned for more next week!

EDIT: I have to rescind my comment that "I just really don't care." That's totally inaccurate, and I feel bad for saying it. The truth is that I care very much. However, there are a lot of battles to be fought out there in the search for sustainable, organic, and local food...and this is just one I don't feel like fighting. Certainly not enough to compel me to write the Times. Not to mention that I made such a fuss over this woman's letter...and I see they didn't even include it in the online version of that section. So this is all a moot point anyway...


One of Many Where I Discuss the NYT Dining Section

Now I’m all for getting ready for spring, which hasn’t truly arrived in NYC yet. I’ve whined here about not having peaches and tomatoes…but at the heart of it, I’m willing to wait. That’s half the fun! The anticipation, the excitement, the impatience, the drama! And to be really frank, I find all that so sexy! So I felt all grumpy when I read a recipe in last week’s NYT Dining section for Rum and Chili Roasted Chicken Thighs with Pineapple. I mean, come ON! They so crossed a line! Pineapple?! However, to be fair, they did title the article “Rushing Spring with a Dash of the Tropics.” They seem to recognize their own desperation for warmer weather!

On the other hand, I just swooned over the Octopus, Gallician Style recipe. It has the lightness that spring and summer cuisine calls for, but this recipe still has some of that winter earthiness by way of the potatoes. Oh lordy, how I love octopus/squid/calamari done to perfection. Likewise, I’ve gone so far as to spit out octopus that has been criminally overdone. I’ll definitely try this super simple recipe.

I read a wonderful article about the Spanish wine Rueda in this Dining section. I had never heard of it before, and I am one of those people who enjoy white wines in the summer so I was intrigued about a white that would spruce up my collection (no more Sauvignon Blanc, for god’s sake!). Then I was checking Bloglines today (those of you who regularly read this will know all about my love of Bloglines), and read one of my faves, Appellation Feirling. And as part of a larger post, she said:

…almost all whites I see from Spain are yeasted avec beaucoup de fruit tropicale or primed with grassy sauvignon blanc yeast like they do in Rueda to the poor verdejo grape, the wine that the sommelier suggested.

I felt all sheepish because I think Alice knows her stuff, and I love her blog. Regardless, being fairly new to wine appreciation, I still want to try a Rueda to make up my own mind. And on a side note, I do encourage you to read the rest of Alice’s blog post: it’s proof positive why I don’t put too much weight on and don’t spend too much time thinking about those pretentious wine places – you can still encounter idiots that don’t know what they’re doing in those sorts of places, too.

Bon appétit!

The One Where I Review From Here, You Can't See Paris

From Here You Can't See Paris: seasons of a French village and its restaurant
Michael S. Sanders
Harpercollins, 2002

I'll state outright that I got everything I wanted out of From Here, You Can't See Paris. I wanted to do a little armchair traveling, and I wanted to feel, by the end of the book, that I had soaked up some French culture. On the other hand, I didn't want Mr. Sanders to sell out a village in order to sell a book. The book was successful on both counts.

Several years ago, Mr. Sanders, his wife, and their 6-year-old daughter moved to rural France for a year in order to write, experience the food and culture, and immerse themselves in the language. They moved to "the Lot", which is an area in the middle of France. Specifically, they lived in Les Arques, an area with a ridiculously small population in the off-season (I can't find it in the text now, but I believe it's only about 50 people in winter). Mr. Sanders does state in the text that his wife is a very private person so there is actually very little about her or their relationship; additionally, there isn't too much about his daughter. No, he focuses on the people of Les Arques and the one restaurant at the center of it all.

Sanders captures the loveliness, the simplicity, the richness, the complexities, and the beauty of village life - there are moments of description that just soar. Likewise, he carefully balances these moments with realistic, poignant descriptions of how village life is dying out, how elderly the permanent population of Les Arques is (the young ones having left for a more urban life, of course). In particular, I found his writing style to be beautifully nuanced and complex - the reader is truly left to do lots of reading between the lines.

Naturally, I loved reading about the food: foie gras, wine, truffles, cheese, farmers' markets. Sanders has these breathtaking descriptions of the texture of foie gras: the delicate texture of it, the small silver dollar size of the servings, the ubiquitousness of it...and then he balances it with a vivid description of going to a small-scale foie gras operation, force-feeding and all. He repeatedly captures the contradictions of life in Les Arques. Additionally, Sanders goes into the kitchen of the restaurant, La Récréation, and describes the insanity of working the summer tourist crowd. Between his descriptions of La Récréation's kitchen, Heat by Bill Buford, and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, I know to the core of my being that I'm not cut out to work in a restaurant kitchen! Read this gorgeous description, though, of the chef (Jacques) in the kitchen:

I watched Jacques melting butter into a sauce, how he held the saucepan tilted so slightly, his little finger elegantly extended as the others grasped the handle of the whisk. He leaned down over the pan, lifting the whisk from time to time to see how the liquid slid from the wire, then putting the sauce back on the stove to come up to temperature before adding each pat of butter.

It's a slow-paced book, but deliberately so. If you're looking for the flashy Anthony Bourdain-style memoir, this is really not for you. But if you want something to slowly meander through while you're curled up in your chair, drinking tea (or wine, in my case), this is just a lovely read.

Note: The only swear word I've ever known in French is "merde" but, according to Sanders, "putain de con!" means "goddammit to hell!" I'm so using that next time I stub my toe in front of the kiddo!


The One Where Fortune Cookies Amaze Me

So a couple weeks ago, HarperCollins had a shindig at Dylan’s Candy Bar to celebrate the release of The FactTracker by Jason Carter Eaton. Unfortunately, that was when I was in the middle of sick-me-sick-daughter-hell-on-earth so I was unable to go to the event. I told Elyse at HarperCollins that I couldn’t make it. End of story.

But wait, there’s more! I get a lovely little package in the mail today from Elyse. It’s a copy of the book with a nice note from her, and she included a goody bag with M&Ms printed with “Facttracker” on them. There were also four fortune cookies in individual packages: two plain, two chocolate. Hm. I’ve never had a chocolate fortune cookie! So I cracked it open and ate a piece.

Okay, wow. It was completely fresh and crispy and crunchy – the chocolate flavor wasn’t too sweet or cloying, and it was mild enough that I could still taste that typical vanilla fortune cookie flavor. And it was so light that I didn’t feel like I was being overindulgent.

But wait, there’s more! An hour later, I decide to try one of the plain ones. I take a bite, expecting that vanilla-with-a-touch-of-lemon flavor. But not here, nuh-uh. It’s coconut! There’s this earthy, creamy coconut flavor! With the same crispy lightness! And of course, I could still taste the vanilla. This was no ordinary fortune cookie – this was a truly special example of what a fortune cookie can be.

I once had someone tell me that they never ordered crème brulée because crème brulée always tastes the same. She said, “Even now, I can close my eyes and imagine the exact flavor and texture of it. There’s no need to ever eat it.” Naturally, I thought she was crazy. How many times have I ordered crème brulée and been bitterly disappointed at the lack of *crack* in the caramelized crust? Or took a bite of the custard and been surprised by the presence of orange zest? And I love, in particular, taking a spoonful of the custard and seeing those gorgeous specks of black vanilla bean. No, crème brulée is anything but boring and ordinary. And now I know the same is true for fortune cookies.

Need further proof that I haven’t lost my mind? Read this about fortune cookies from the NYT Dining section a few weeks ago.

The One Where I Avoid Discussing Libraries

Oh, I know I’ve been inexcusably absent. Life has been crazy, of course, but I’ve also been feeling sort of…meh. You know? Particularly about librarianship, lately. Between Annoyed Librarian here and here, The Monkey Speaks here, and my own feelings about the Marathon County issue, I’m just feeling sort of desperate and sad about being a librarian. Never fear, this is just a temporary funk. I’ll be back to my cheery self soon. Since I’m dealing, I won’t be talking about libraries today.

So what does one do when feeling icky and down? Eat! Of course! And read about eating! Well, at least that’s what I do and, if you don’t, then you should start. Few things can bring you greater pleasure than eating, truly.

As I mentioned, I’ve been eating (and drinking) a lot at The Ginger Man. Read my review.

I had a fascinating conversation (to me, anyway) with a friend of mine over wine, salad, and chili at Tavern on Jane last weekend (because Corner Bistro still remains elusive). I’ll call this friend L—. L— and I share a mutual loathing of sleeping; we consider it a waste of our time and wish we could put those 8 hours a day to better use. So imagine my surprise when L— tells me that she feels the same way about food. Say what?!?! How could anyone feel that about food?! Even when I was 20 pounds heavier and 10 years younger, I still derived enormous pleasure from movie popcorn, Velveeta, and eating an entire baguette in one sitting. Good food, good times. But how can anyone just…not care?! How can anyone say that they’d be perfectly happy if they never needed to eat?! After some probing we ended up talking about her very Puritanical upbringing, where one was not supposed to get pleasure from one’s body, one’s sexuality, or one’s food. Pleasure, in general, was frowned upon and denied oneself. Once L—explained it that way, it made sense because many of us struggle with these issues, with America’s Puritanical history. Not to mention, we – generally speaking – have this weird idea about punishing ourselves when we feel pleasure, or in anticipation of feeling pleasure. How else can you explain our weird gym obsession? “Oh god, I had two pieces of pizza last night!” Hop on a treadmill and punish yourself until you’ve burned off all those calories, thus negating your sin. Or “I’m going to have a big dinner tonight – I better pay for it now” and hop on that Stairmaster to punish yourself beforehand. Now, don’t get me wrong: I do believe there are people who get pleasure from the gym and its culture. But I don’t think that’s the norm. Nevertheless, there really needs to be a stop to this mentality of pleasure deprivation and self-punishment. Life awaits.

I gushed about Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook earlier and her tour of Lyon’s farmers’ markets. She has another market profile up: Marché Guichard. Read it and weep at the gorgeousness.

Anyone have any cookbook recommendations? I believe I mentioned before that I was getting a little burned out on Food Network cookbooks, and that’s how I discovered The French Market by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde. But now I’ve realized I’m bored with French and Italian cuisine. Seriously, that’s all I ever do. I need to branch out! I love Latino food, at least the milder versions. I’ll make that the focus of my next cookbook purchase, and feel free to make any suggestions.

I just finished reading From Here, You Can’t See Paris: seasons a French village and its restaurant by Michael S. Sanders. I’ll have a proper review up soon but, if you’re looking for a quiet, lovely, cozy read about French village life – its beauty, its complications, its simplicity, its trappings – then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this.

Is anyone else sick of root vegetables? Yeah, me too.

I have no clue what I’m making for dinner tonight. Sometimes I think about how much easier life would be if I were sans the husband and kiddo, and here’s why: I have a gorgeous, glistening ball of mozzarella di bufala in my fridge right now. If it were just me tonight, I would slice it up, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, drizzle my fresh new green olive oil on it, and finish it by sprinkling my sweet, syrupy balsamic vinegar on it. And that would be my dinner, with a glass of wine. Alas, I have to come up with something, you know, real for dinner. My grumbling aside, I prefer my life as it is. I’ll get so much more joy and pleasure using my creativity tonight and dining with my two favorite people on earth.

Bon appétit!

The One Where I Restaurant-Review The Ginger Man

I’ve been spending loads of time lately at a pub called The Ginger Man. It started two years ago when a friend recommended it to me – they have a ridiculous variety of beers and it has that dark wood, cozy corner feel to it. I finally went there for the first time back in January, and we loved it. It was wicked crazy (the Giants were playing), but we still had a great time. We didn’t have any food – it was midnight – but we did love the cask beers and the general mood of the place.

Then my parents visited a couple weeks ago and we thought – hey! – let’s take them to The Ginger Man. Well, let me tell you, 2 pm on a Saturday is the perfect time to go there. We were able to sit on the leather couch by the big windows near the front of the pub and just relax. It was actually quiet! In addition to the beer (a Fraziskaner with lemon for me, thanks), we had their cheese plate which was surprisingly good: the cheese was good quality with an interesting variety, the bread was quality, and I liked the inclusion of walnuts. We also got their pretzels, which are awesome. They’re the big soft kind that you find from the street vendors, except these are exceptional quality: crunchy on the outside with the perfect portion of salt, fresh and soft on the inside. And they serve it with a sweet-spicy honey mustard dip that’ll clear your sinuses if you don’t practice restraint.

So that was two weeks ago. Then last weekend I took a girlfriend there around the same time on a Sunday: totally chill and relaxed, and I even curled my legs up under me on the couch like it was my own living room. I had their portabella sandwich, which was extremely dry and dull – I won’t order it again.

Then I went again last night. I’ve had such cozy, delightful times there, but I must have been fuzzy on nostalgia because I thought 6:00 on a Thursday night would be a good idea. I was meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile and I had sweet visions of curling up on the couch again and catching up on all her news. Oh, dear readers, I could not have been more mistaken. The place was a zoo. A loud, noisy zoo where the animals are allowed to roam free. Of course, I’m kicking myself – I should have known better! A midtown bar after work right before the weekend?! Laura! You fool! Not to mention that I was the only one in the bar not wearing a black trenchcoat. The Ginger Man goes from jeans and sweaters and all things relaxed on weekend afternoons to corporate blandness on the weeknights. Ew.

So I get there at 5:30, intentionally early so that I could have a beer beforehand, chill out, read the NYT Dining section. No, instead, I had to sit in a dark corner where I couldn’t read. And then I realized that keeping my coveted table for the next 30 minutes was going to take a feat of superhuman strength. The claws came out. And then I felt the surest way to keep the server from asking me to give up my table would be to buy my way into keeping my seat. So I set up a tab and ended up drinking three beers! Three! Goodness. Luckily, my friend showed up and I was able to smile smugly at everyone: see, I told you I was meeting a friend. On a culinary note, I had the pretzel for an appetizer. And I had their field greens salad for dinner, which was rather good. The greens weren’t all wilty, and there were three generous rounds of goat cheese on top. The walnuts on the salad were also good, though the strawberry vinaigrette was a little too heavy on the vinegar side – my mouth felt all sore by the time I was finished. Luckily, my three Franziskaners helped numb me. The conversation, of course, was fantastic, even though it was semi-yelled. People were so tacky and hammered by the time we left – my friend got accosted by a young woman asking her about dating option traders – that we couldn’t help feeling that we escaped in the nick of time.

I can highly recommend The Ginger Man for phenomenal beers and decent pub food. Just go on overcast weekend afternoons when the zoo animals are locked up.

The Ginger Man
11 East 36th St. (between 5th and Madison)
NY, NY 10016