Monday, June 29, 2009

away away, to half moon bay

Tonight represents a real New York City changing of the guard.

Miss Elizabeth Benney, my first NYC roommate, without whom I never would have lasted a year in this city, is packing her boxes. Her man Abe has arrived to take her back to Half Moon Bay, California.

I'm holding two varieties of shredder in that photo. One is a document shredder, defeated by the last eight years of Benney's pay stubs. The other is my dad's old sled that I left uptown when I moved, for snowy days at Central Park. I got some funny looks carrying that home on the train tonight.

Ever the narcissist, on my way to see Miss Benney tonight I took a moment to make it all about me and go for a stroll down memory lane, also known as West 86th Street. I started almost at Riverside, at the Dexter House, now apparently the Dexter House Hotel.

This was the first place I lived, pre-Elizabeth. I don't remember "Hotel" being part of the name when I slept on a Murphy bed, cooked on a hot plate and shared a bathroom in the hall with the cast from a Joseph Mitchell story. It looks pretty nice now, but let me tell you...when I found my bedroom at Miss Benney's place I think I cried tears of joy.

Here's a photo I took that first winter on West 86th Street. I must have taken this out of the Dexter House's (public hallway) bathroom window, cause the one in my room was about eight inches from a brick wall. It would not be an exaggeration to say the city was a cold lonely place before I met Miss Benney.

She gave me the keys the day I met her in her little sage green kitchen, and before long we had made her terrace into a tomato plantation.

There's my sweet friend Tianna, who visited from D.C. a few years ago. She was one of many who slept in the loft above Elizabeth's room--a little nook with a mattress, quilt and lamp for those far from home, both literally and figuratively. Elizabeth kept watch over us all from her bed below in her green room.

Tonight outside her bedroom door to the terrace, the moon was a perfect half. Clearly it's time for Elizabeth's move to Half Moon Bay. So...

Goodnight, diner. Goodnight, cab.

Goodnight neighbors who leave on lamps.
Goodnight Elizabeth, call me soon. 
Goodnight memories.

Goodnight moon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

artichokes and rainbows

Here's the view from the kitchen window Saturday, after an afternoon deluge that left me soaked riding home on the J-Train.

Lo and behold, it continued to shine on Sunday for the Brooklyn Unfancy Food Show at the East River Bar, which brought out a flock of food-tattooed Williamsburgers.

A cupcake was cute, but I was partial to the artichoke, my very favorite of foods. I mean, could Pablo Neruda have written such an exquisite ode (click) to an ironic cupcake? I think not, he needed the "artichoke, with a tender heart, dressed up like a warrior." This one is tattooed onto the arm of Annaliese Griffin, of Brooklyn Based (click). She and Indrani Sen (click for her for take for The Times) were talking about people who write their own wedding vows when I snapped this photo.

As it turns out, I'm using Neruda's poem to renew my vows to my favorite food, "the artichoke, with a tender heart, dressed up like a warrior."

It was a great time, with kimchee-slanging D.J.s (click) makin' deals,

McClure's new beer-mustard basking in the sun (I may visit Bob's factory in Detroit next week)

and yummy Green Pirate juice for everyone--I concocted a combination of cantaloupe, cucumber and lime, which Indrani said was a natural combination since cantaloupes and cucumbers cross-pollinate, those frivolous fruits!

I also had a chance to chat with these cheerful cheesemongers from Consider Bardwell and Jasper Hill Farms.

They gave me some tips in preparation for my cheese-judging experience on Thursday, but I have to say, the intimidation continued when I found this photo of the judges in action at last year's competition!!

Which one do you think has a wedge of Jarlsberg tattooed onto their bicep underneath their lab coat?

Friday, June 26, 2009

cheese: the next frontier

When I agreed to sit on the judging panel of the North American Jersey Cheese Awards happening in Syracuse, New York next weekend, it all seemed pretty small and informal--like this little cheese montage.

Then, this morning I got an email from the head judge (chief justice?) letting me know that there will be 83, yes, 83 cheeses and butters from 30 producers in 16 states, plus Canada, entered in the contest. Tomorrow I'll be receiving my judging packet, with a sample judging form and a list of cheese terminology. Although I've been assured my role is as an aesthetic judge, rather than expert, I'm a bit intimidated by my roster of co-judges, which includes a former New York State cheese grader as well as the Dean of the Cheese Education Guild.

All the cheeses I'll be judging next weekend will be made of cows' milk, specifically from the Jersey breed. In addition to being beautiful, Jerseys are smaller than other dairy cows, and produce milk is higher in butterfat--pretty little rich girls, if you will.

I decided I need to educate myself a bit before passing judgement on some 83 dairy products.

So, I got on the subway to the Essex Street Market and sought direction and basic cheese-acation from Anne Saxelby, the cutest cheese-monger I've yet to encounter--click. (And they are, truly, a really cute breed.) She gave me a crash course between filling orders and taking phone calls in her wee alcove next to Shopsin's.

Anne told me that milk + culture + rennet + salt = curds + whey, the whey is then drained off, leaving curds which are pressed and aged...then...cheese! Right now, my knowledge and experience of cheese is new, young, fresh and unfettered, much like this little curd.

But soon, it will be more like this Jersey raw milk Bouree, buttery, washed in brine, "with a slight pungent aftertaste."

Stay tuned, we've got a long way to go. As one caring acquaintance advised, "start taking your acidophilus now."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

craig claiborne: 1920-2000

From Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Primer:
"The second bête noir for the beginning cook is a lack of daring and a fear of failure."

A lack of daring is definitely one bête noir (sort of like a pet peeve) that Craig Claiborne did not suffer from. He was a son of the south who saw the world in the Navy, decided he'd like to be the food editor of The New York Times and enrolled in Swiss hotel school, thanks to the G.I. Bill. In 1957 he took his post at The Times, where he remained until the mid '80s. He was also openly gay in the puritanical post-war U.S., which must have been very difficult. Perhaps that's why he was known for being utterly approachable in spite of his gift for elegance and style--he knew what it meant to be an outsider.

Feast made for laughter by Chef Zarela Martinez.

I learned about Claiborne at a panel given at The New School last week, where food writers discussed what his career meant to their field. I most enjoyed hearing about him from those who knew him.When I say "those who knew him," I mean people like his former colleague Betty Fussell, who once called him "a yokel and a gooney bird" in print and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, whose starry-eyed memory of Claiborne's 60th birthday party appears in this short piece I wrote for Saveur (click.)

But I also mean people like my mom, who knew him only from his columns in The Times. "I trusted him," she told me when we talked on the phone last night.One of the first cookbooks she gave me when I went to college was his Kitchen Primer, a little marigold yellow paperback that's sitting beside me now.

It has many wonderful basic tips, all written in Claiborne's clean classy style. We learn from his advice, but also from his life's example. As he says in the introduction to the Kitchen Primer:

In my opinion, it is harder to cook spaghetti to the proper degree of doneness (most people overcook it) and get it to the table hot than to make a proper soufflé. And have courage. The best of professionals have known (and later cherish) their early disasters.

Find the Saveur piece here: click.
And please, vote for Deanna, if you haven't yet today, here: click. It's working! Her rank is rising.

Monday, June 15, 2009

toothfairy resides in telluride

One of my very favorite things about writing profiles is finding out about other people's very favorite things.

Jewelry designer Anna Sheffield was especially fun, because in addition to being tremendously talented (I actually swooned when I zoomed in on this ring--click.) and just plain easy to be around, she grew up believing that the Tooth Fairy lived in Telluride. I may intentionally teach my kids this one day.

Read all about it in our conversation, at Dossier Style. (click.) This was so much fun.

p.s. Have you voted for Deanna yet today? (click.) She could win $15,000 to help make sure the Tooth Fairy will still have places like Telluride when our kids have kids.

Friday, June 12, 2009

my window box runneth over

I'm going to make a wish now. It is so easy for you to PLEASE help me with it. If you don't feel like reading just *click here* to go to the link to vote for Deanna. (Just hit the box that says "vote for this entry.) You can, and should, do it as many bazillion times as you like for the next 27 days. Okay, that was the shortcut to the point.

Here's the long way...

Remember the little wish-bottles that Erin made for Christmas? (click.)

Well, in the absence of a garden to bury mine in I wrote down my wish, as instructed, and buried it a few weeks ago in my window box. Tiny green poppy sprouts were beginning to appear in the soil, well-watered by the endless days of rain we've had lately in NYC. This morning I went to check on the little guys before I got in the shower and, gasp! Water was nearly spilling over the edges of the window box, and the wish bottle unburied itself from the soil and floated to the top.

I have no idea what this means (other than that something must be done to improve its drainage). Was my wish too light? Did it already come true? Should I make another?
All of the above, perhaps.

So, my additional wish is this:

My dear friend Deanna, who is a total river-warrior-princess, has been nominated by her lovin' man, who she's pictured with below, to win $15,000 for the charity of her choice. In D's case that will be the one she helped establish, ConservationNEXT (click.)

Deanna and Kyle are the best kind of hippies. Their wedding last year on the banks of the American River was a total riverfront love-in dance party. I managed to snap this shot below of D, covertly smiling at the camera, between my sobs of joy.

For real, if she's not winning you over with that smile, if you're really a tough sell, just go to ConservationNEXT's blog (click) to see what the organization does. My favorite entry is the one with the heading: "A Hearty Group of Volunteers Make it Happen in Boring." It's about establishing a new park in Boring, Oregon. Let's put it on the map.

It costs you nothing, imagine how fun it's going to be to see what ConservationNEXT does with 15 grand! Seriously, look at what they've already done (click.) It's pretty astounding.

So, that's my wish from my flooded window box for the time being. Help me make it happen!

Monday, June 8, 2009

so excited...everything that happens will happen today

One of my first great nights in New York was when my then-brand new roommate, Miss Elizabeth Benney (a stranger from Craigslist, no less!) and I went to hear David Byrne and Caetano Veloso play at Carnegie Hall.

It was my first time inside Carnegie Hall, my first time seeing both these maestros perform and the first of many magical moments with Miss Benney. Every seat in the historical Hall is a good one, but we left our velveteen chairs to sit on the crimson carpeted steps in the balcony's corridor. I just remember those two guys sparkling on that spare elegant stage with a guitar and a Brazilian bum bum drum (it makes my heart thump), and Elizabeth's shoulder beside mine. It's been there ever since.

Elizabeth was my ambassador to New York City, now my home. She's moving back to California soon, but tonight we'll be in Prospect Park for a free David Byrne show in the bandshell...a perfect warm-up for my summertime in the city, and a sweet soon-to-be sendoff for Elizabeth.
For just a little while longer, I'll get to be on a blanket next to Miss Benney--surely the best seat in the house.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

rising in the east

A vision of grandeur as I come out of the subway on day one of my new commute...

Monday, June 1, 2009

thank you!

for bringing flowers, donuts, bagels, and bubbles, making bloody marys, wearing your Batman costume, buying caipirinhas, taking the initiative, shooting photos and making yesterday a general whirlwind of wishes come true!