Peppers, Keep on Growin'!

I think the chili hots have taken advantage of this newfangled thing--I think they call it "sunshine"--to really, really grow. They're so much bigger than they were a week ago (the two biggest are almost an inch long), and the flowers are still coming. Hooray for summer!

Too Much Eating Out

Visitors + events + busy schedule = eating out way more than I should.

The quick run-down of the highlights:

• I finally had a meal at Markt, which had a pleasant Sunday afternoon atmosphere, a yummy burger, and decent moules (though anything after my just-out-of-the-water moules in St. Malo makes everything pale in comparison).

• After walking by the place a million times over the past 10 years or so, I had a couple of rolls of maki at Kodama on 45th and 8th. Decent, inexpensive, and great service.

• And after taking my brother to visit the Michael Jackson memorial next to the Apollo Theater yesterday, I went back to Sylvia's for the first time in about ten years. The people are still super-friendly, but I still wish the food had a bit more flavor... My smothered pork chop was nicely-done and not fatty, the mac-and-cheese was OK, and the collards were the best bit of the meal. But I think I spent most of the meal distracted by the number of Liza Minnelli photos on the wall... Guess they're big fans!

I'm beat. Thankfully, life is back to normal today...or so I think... Can't wait to eat a salad for lunch!


Freaky Clouds Over NYC

Had to share these photos of the surreal clouds over Manhattan last night. They appeared after a crazy thunderstorm, just at sunset. I was chilling out, looked out my window, and noticed the light outside was a kind of scary yellow color. I thought, "Is there an end of the world storm on its way?" Nope, it was weirder: the sky was covered in little orangey-pink cotton balls.

Apparently they're called mammatocumulus, or "bumpy clouds" (oh really? I'd have never guessed...). I'm glad the folks at Gawker noticed them too--for a moment last night, I thought I'd entered some weird comic book world. (And no, these aren't out of focus--check out the tiny plane in the photo below...)


Finally, The High Line

The sun actually made an appearance yesterday, so I packed up my camera and some reading, walked a few blocks south, and finally checked out NYC's latest addition: the new High Line park. I've loved the overgrown rusty beauty of the abandoned elevated railroad tracks on the western edge of Chelsea for years, and now the lower portion (from Gansevoort to 20th Street) has been transformed into a beautiful park. Reimagined by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (the same folks who did the new Alice Tully Hall), the park is a post-modern beauty and right up my alley. I'll be spending a lot of time there--especially when they open the sections still under construction to the north. I'm thankful to all of the people who fought for the High Line's preservation.


The New Port Authority Greenmarket: Lame So Far...

Just popped over to the new Greenmarket in the North Wing of the Port Authority Bus Terminal (Thursdays, 42nd and 8th). I had high expectations: finally, this neighborhood would have a place for local vendors to set up. Hurrah! And it was the stinky old bus station to boot, so they'd obviously encourage some of the less expensive farmers to set up shop there...

Boy, was I wrong.

While I admit it's a great start, it's really, really lame. The berry seller's prices were pretty much on par with what I've seen at other Greenmarkets, but the vegetables were twice as much as the stands I usually frequent (while the Katchkie Farms folks were lovely people and the produce was beautiful, I'm not paying $3 for a head of lettuce when the guy at 57th and 9th sells the same thing for $1.50. I just can't afford it.). There were sandwiches, baked goods, and honey, and that was pretty much it.

I do think it's important to have a local option in the neighborhood, and hope the Greenmarket peeps have plans to expand. But when they do, I hope they add some affordable options. It's Port Authority/Hell's Kitchen, people...think about your audience!


Teeny Tiny Baby Peppers in My Window!

Huzzah! Whatever I'm doing with the pepper flowers/plants in my window seems to be working--I have baby chili hots! I've been brushing the flowers with a little paint brush to pollinate (there were differing opinions online as to whether or not I needed to), and despite knocking one of them off, it looks like we have success!

Now, if the sun will just come out to help these little babies grow...

Emergency Pasta

What's a person to do when you're absolutely starving, need something fairly hearty, and not in the mood to wade through the torrential rains to the store? Dig through the freezer and be thankful for a little window garden. A few nights ago I put together a nice pasta with some bacon I'd stuck in the freezer, my frozen roasted tomatoes, and some basil from the window. Not only was the finished product tasty, but the cooking of it was extra fun after slicing my index finger on the roasted tomatoes' container...cooking with a big band aid is challenging and fun!

Bacon Tomato Basil Capellini

•handful of dried capellini
•clove of garlic, crushed
•3 strips of bacon, cut into smallish pieces
•1 cube or about 1/4 cup frozen roasted tomatoes (thawed)
•generous handful of fresh basil leaves (separate large from baby leaves)
•freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

For the capellini, boil salted water in a pot.

In a sauté pan, cook the bacon pieces until crispy. Drain and set aside. Pour any extra bacon fat from the pan (be sure to put it in a Pyrex cup or a can--don't pour directly into the sink, or you may have some splattering issues).

Meanwhile, add pasta to boiling water. It should cook it about 2 minutes, so keep an eye on it. When you drain it, retain some of the cooking water, just in case you need it.

While the pasta's cooking, add the garlic to the sauté pan and gently cook for about 30 seconds. Add the roasted tomatoes, bacon, and pasta when it's ready, and toss (add some of the water if you think it will help incorporate everything). Fold in most of the large basil leaves (they'll wilt), and serve garnished with Parmesan, small leaves, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.


Dat's a Spicy Meat-a-ball!

I've been feeling super-carnivorous this weekend, which is a challenge to my mostly-salad-have-to-fit-into-my-favorite-sundress warm weather regime. (Yes, it's the first day of summer and it's still cold, rainy, and gray, but a girl can dream, can't she?) I usually have chicken and/or goat cheese on my salad, but I decided to make tiny Middle Eastern–inspired meatballs for a change. I didn't have any eggs in the freezer, so rather than going the traditional egg/breadcrumb route, I just made mini hamburgers. I tossed them on some greens, and am now a very happy camper. (I think they'd a great hors d'oeuvre as well.)

Super-Simple Spicy Meatballs

•1 lb. lean ground beef (lamb would be great, too)
•2 cloves garlic, minced
•1 heaping tsp. (or more) pimentón (I used the hot variety, which doesn't seem to be that hot)
•1/2 tsp. cayenne (or more if you really want to give it a kick)
•1 tbsp. dried oregano
•1/4 tsp. salt

Use your hands to combine all ingredients, then roll into little patties, about 1-inch in diameter. Sauté over medium high heat, a couple of minutes on each side (they cook very quickly, so keep an eye on them).


Garden 34th Street: First Pepper Flower!

I haven't been writing about the garden upstate because it's been entirely too depressing. Rain, rain, bugs, death, more rain, forgetfulness, and frustration is really all there is to report. But today there's a bit of happiness (I almost said ray of sunshine, but that would be asking for too much from Mother Nature, apparently)...a pepper flower has appeared on one of the chili hots in my window! I'll do some pollination research (as I don't keep bees in my apartment), and hope these little babies produce.


I'll write a little more in depth about the garden upstate as soon as I can face it (i.e. when the sun returns...).


Crazy Coffee Commercials From the 50s Starring Early Muppets

From 1957–61, Jim Henson created a series of...er...violent commercials for Wilkins Coffee. Here are a few (and check out Super Punch for links to more). [From Super Punch via BoingBoing.]


An Aside: The Digital Switch

At the request of my parents back in Pennsyltucky, I'm sharing their digital transition story:

As anticipated, after the switch Friday, they're without TV service. The house is situated in a hollow at the base of a mountain, and as the digital signals coming from Harrisburg (on the other side of the mountain) don't bend (and probably don't go through trees), the magical waves don't make it to their antenna on top of the property's highest hill. Their location is too rural for the cable companies to run a line, and the cheapest dish service doesn't even include PBS (my parents' favorite channel), so they refuse to bite. They've called the FCC to complain, but of course, nothing will be done.

Curious, yesterday they decided to run an extension cord from the garage to see if they could pick up a signal elsewhere in the yard. Apparently, if they hold the rabbit ears up in the middle of the driveway, five stations appear. So, my parents decided they'd celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in white trash fashion: lunch watching TV in the yard.

I bet thousands of others lost reception after the switch--even with the converter boxes. Do I smell class action lawsuit?


Beacon Strawberry Festival 2009

A view of Beacon from the Hudson River

This Sunday was the Beacon Sloop Club's annual Strawberry Festival. It's the town's biggest waterfront festival, and even though I've been going to Beacon for 10 years now, I've never managed to make it. We enjoyed some shortcake and checked out the numerous environmental booths...and kicked back for a few songs by one of the town's most prominent residents, the great Pete Seeger.

The main tent offered strawberry shortcake, chocolate-covered strawberries, and smoothies.

A biplane over the Hudson.

Pete Seeger

The crowd

A model of the Clearwater.

A weaver shows onlookers how to use a loom.

Views from our impromptu ride on the Newburgh-Beacon Ferry.

And finally, here's some video of Pete Seeger I took with my little camera. I don't have a tripod, so sorry about the jumpy footage (some people consider it artsy...).


Good Deals: Rockin' Dosai

I've been a huge fan of the South Indian dosa since I discovered them sometime during the last century. This regional staple is basically a rice and lentil crepe eaten plain or stuffed with some sort of spiced vegetable filling, served with sambar (a sort of spiced vegetable stew) and chutneys. I tend towards the popular Masala Dosa, filled with curried potatoes and onions, and if a place has a chilied-up version, I order it.

On Saturday I took my brother Kris for his first ever dosa in Curry Hill (the neighborhood filled with Indian restaurants and shops on Lexington Avenue in the high 20s). I was attracted to the offerings on the menu taped to the window of a place with a big Dosa Hut sign (102 Lexington Ave. between 27th and 28th). The official name of the place is a bit of a mystery to me, though, as the card I received says Tamil Nadu Bhavan, but some Internet research also yields a site for Saravana Bhavan Dosa Hut at the same address, with the same menu and press quotes. Weird.

Anyway, to the food... I spied what the guy at the table next to us had just received, and it looked beautiful. I asked what it was, then ordered it: a Mysore Rava Masala Dosa. It was crazy. The best dosa I've had so far. While the filling was the typical masala dosa filling, the crepe was unusually light, infused with fennel seeds and fresh cilantro leaves, and spiced up with a killer chili powder. Insane. I couldn't stop eating. I want to go back for one...right now...

I picked up some dosa mix at Kalustyan's while I was in the neighborhood, so I will report on my experiments.

Radishes, Leaves and All

We're in the midst of radish season (though it seems like they're plentiful all summer long...am I right?). Last Saturday I picked up a beautiful bunch at the wonderful little farmers market on 57th and 9th. The poor little guys hung out in my fridge all week, but finally, last night, I turned my attention to them. I absolutely love sautéed radishes, so I decided to make a pasta inspired by two other recipes: Chocolate and Zucchini's radish leaf pesto and a recipe I'd seen in Gourmet back in 2001.

I decided to make a plain radish leaf purée (figuring I'd experiment with different uses), so I combined the raw radish leaves (about 4 cups worth, lightly packed) with 3/4 olive oil in a blender (the blender didn't work so well, but eventually got the job done). I ended up with a cup or so of the slightly spicy, fresh-tasting mixture, and will report back when I've played a little more.

Simple Fusilli with Sautéed Radishes and Radish Pesto
(for 1 as a meal, 2 as a side)

•1 c. dry fusilli pasta
•4 to 6 large radishes, cleaned and cut into chunks
•1 tsp. olive oil
•salt and black pepper to taste
•1 tbsp. radish leaf pesto
•freshly-grated Parmesan

Boil the fusilli in salted boiling water (as per the directions on the box). Meanwhile, sauté the radishes in the olive oil, salt, and pepper for about two minutes (or until fork-tender). Remove from heat until pasta is cooked.

Drain pasta and toss with radishes, pesto, and Parmesan.

Note: I wanted to keep this as simple as possible so I could experience the "true" taste of the radishes, but next time I do this I think I'll add garlic or shallots for a bit of extra flavor...


Truly Cheap Eats: Battle of the $1 Port Authority Pizza

Back in late April I sent out a tweet about a new cheap eats player in the 'hood: 2 Bros. Pizza had opened an outpost selling $1 slices on the southeast corner of 40th and Ninth...only a block away from the well established 99¢ Fresh Pizza on the northwest corner of 41st and Ninth. Did this mean war?

I promised a taste test, and last night Lara and I (post screening of a very New Yorky movie) took the Slice vs. Slice challenge.

First up, 99¢ Fresh Pizza. This little corner place serving up up slices, coffee, and dunots [sic--see photo below] through a window has been around for a few years. I regularly shop next door at the Big Apple Market and Stiles Farmers Market, so I've often dodged the lengthy line, but never eaten the pizza.

We each ordered a plain slice (which actually cost an even $1), and I took my usual advantage of the garlic, Parmesan, oregano, and chili flakes on the counter. My initial reaction was that the slice wasn't all that bad, really, especially for a dollar. Lara's first reaction was that it tasted like one of the frozen pizzas she'd eaten as a kid in North Jersey.

These places obviously save money by going light on the ingredients. There was only a thin layer of sauce and not much cheese, but that was actually fine in my book, since many traditional pizzeria slices have a puddle of grease and cheese that slides off the thick slick of sauce. The dough was thin, though a little sweet for my taste, and the sauce was fairly simple, which was fine. Overall, an acceptable cheap slice.

Next up, 2 Bros. I ordered another regular slice (again, $1 even), and Lara went for the Sicilian ($1.50). They were out of some of the sprinkle toppings, so I was only able to add oregano, garlic, and chili this time. The size of the slice was comparable, if only slightly larger, and the dough was crunchier, slightly more substantial, and less sweet than 99¢. But the sauce was, well, weird. We couldn't put our finger on it...it kind of tasted too sweet, a little like tomato paste, and perhaps even a little metallic. The Sicilian wasn't truly Sicilian, either...just a square that was thin in the middle and thick on the sides.

The advantage to 2 Bros., though, is the larger space filled with simple tables and chairs. But while you can sit, you'll have to deal with the unfortunate selection of music blasting from behind the counter. We couldn't decide if it was really worth the trade-off.

The most positive point for both joints is that they each have lots of turnover, so the slices were fresh and hot (no reheating necessary). Neither slice was gloppy or greasy, and while I was way too full after completing the challenge, I didn't have the usual "giant lump of oily cheese in the stomach" feeling afterward. Frankly, I'd rather eat either one of these $1 slices than the $2.50+ options elsewhere. Even though the ingredients are obviously cheap, the simplicity makes the slices better than they should be.

The winner? 99¢ Fresh Pizza. The flavors are simple, balanced, and easy. While 2 Bros. crust is a little better, the sauce was just too much of a mystery... Maybe it was the music...


Tenth Avenue Adventure: Two Happy Hour Options

For the last couple of years, Tenth Avenue in the 40s and lower 50s has been undergoing a sort of renaissance. Every time I walk through the stretch that was once primarily bodegas, empty storefronts, and wholesale Latin music sellers, there's another new bar, restaurant, or shop. I'm happy: it looks great, is keeping the indie Hell's Kitchen vibe alive, and offers us affordable, out-of-the-way options in the face of Ninth Avenue's growing popularity.

Two new after work discoveries: The Pony Bar and 123 Burger Shot Beer.

The Pony Bar, on the corner of 45th (next to the ginormous Hess station) is a fairly new addition to 10th Avenue's newly almost-fashionable look. While the happy hour is lame (only 4:20 to 5:20), the normal charge for all of the craft beers on the lengthy list is $5, so it's actually a pretty good deal. There were also signs last week noting the future kitchen completion, so hopefully the food will be acceptable as well.

The place's scary challenge, though, is The Pony Bar All American. Customers keep track of and rate each consumed beer on a card (which they provide and stash for you), and when you've reached 100, they put your name on a plaque. Kind of a tempting feat, but when you realize it'll be a sign that says, "Hey--I've spent $500 on beer here!"...I'm not so sure I want to go down that road...

Last night I finally checked out 123 Burger Shot Beer, further up Tenth between 50th and 51st. I expected a dive bar, but it's surprisingly clean and modern and has an outdoor space in the back. The $1 sliders are super-teeny but good, and the onion rings and waffle and yucca fries (all $3) are flavorful and kind of spicy. The big surprise, though, was the $3 beer menu. I'd expected Bud, PBR, and the like, but the selection is decent, moderately upscale, and varied.

Definitely an acceptable recession hangout.


Amoeba Pizza

In honor of Dan's birthday, Jimmy and I hatched a Saturday evening pizza concoction plan. We didn't have what everyone said we needed (pizza stone, special pan, slidey paddle, functional brains), so we decided to wing it.

We pondered our ingredient options, and I remembered a few years ago my brother (a former Pizza Slut employee) suggested buying pre-made dough from a pizza parlor. In the interest of experimentation, Jimmy bought some from Whole Foods, and some from John's Pizza on 58th and 9th (now called EuroPan).

The large to-go container from John's was fluffy and gorgeous, so we cut it into three pieces and I decided to roll it out as thinly as I could possibly manage. We dumped a pile of whole wheat flour on the large marble counter top (the coolness of which probably helped us), and as I rolled and stretched the dough, I quickly gave up on any sort of traditional shape...it was too much of a pain in the butt, and I thought amoeba pizza was a much better concept anyway. I placed the raw crusts on ungreased cookie sheets (thanks to Jennie for that hint), and as they were well floured, we had no problem removing the pies from the pans when they were cooked.

Jimmy, meanwhile, set to work on our toppings. He puréed a can of diced tomatoes with dried oregano, a little salt, and a pinch of dried red chili flakes; caramelized a Vidalia onion; minced a jalapeño; prepared the fresh mozzarella; and thinly sliced a couple of mushrooms with a vegetable peeler.

We decided the first pizza (which kinda sorta almost looked like Nebraska) would have a super-thin layer of tomato, to give us the tomato taste without the soggy dough. We added some mozzarella, Maldon salt, and a sprinkle of olive oil.

The second pie was our crazy white pizza experiment: goat cheese, jalapeño, walnuts, Maldon salt, and olive oil.

We topped the third, again, with a little tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, and Maldon salt.

A quick Internet search suggested we bake the pizzas at the highest-possible temperature (in our case, 550), no convection. We popped all three in the oven, and as the guy at John's said, "cook for 40 minutes," we thought we'd have some time to chill out...

...but no! About 5 minutes in, we smelled something burning. We assumed it was an oven remnant from a previous meal, so we shrugged it off. But then there was smoke, and upon inspection, Jimmy discovered the goat cheese experiment on the lowest level of the oven was already black on the bottom! We removed it, hilarity ensued, and we realized that this was all going much more quickly than anticipated. We had to add toppings to the other two pizzas, which were pretty much done within the next 5 minutes (though it was such a whirlwind, I honestly don't remember). I barely had time to put together the pizza with the dough from Whole Paycheck, which we popped into the oven when the others were finished.

Amazingly, all three of us agreed that these first three were some of the best pizzas we'd ever eaten. The goat cheese pizza--even with its charred bottom--was great. We'd added additional toppings to the others a few minutes before taking them out, and the tomato/mozzarella/goat cheese/mushroom/fresh basil kicked ass, and the tomato/mozzarella/caramelized onion was crazy amazing (at least Dan and I thought so...).

The fourth pizza was still pretty good, but paled in comparison. We thought we'd try not rolling out the dough as thinly, and topped it with the remaining sauce and mozzarella (an added mushrooms towards the end). The dough was a little sweeter than John's, and though the crust was cooked, it was just kind of there. We would have probably thought it was great had we had it before the others, but alas.

Lessons learned:

•You don't need the fancy stuff to make your own pizza.
•Use dough from your neighborhood pizzeria.
•Bake it at the highest temperature possible.
•Use very little tomato sauce--just enough to give it flavor.
•Believe the smoke.

Clever Homemade Garden Markers

I was strolling through the little community garden on Houston and the Bowery yesterday and discovered these cute vegetable markers made from old wooden spoons and spatulas. Great idea!