Summer Memories

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One of my favorite things about food is its ability to evoke nostalgia with the slightest smell, or spoonful, or slice. We so often in our lives commune around the table so it is only fitting that some of our fondest memories might include food.

For me, nothing spells summer like fresh basil picked from the garden and pulsed into pesto. Growing up in a small town in Upstate NY, summers were slow and languid. Progression in the summer months was marked by the height of the corn rows and the yielding of a tomato plant. But it was the promise of summer pesto that I looked forward to the most. Kneeling in our garden, plucking those little, green leaves, and then leaning over the sink, soaking them in a warm bowl of water.

These were the images that popped into my head when I spied my favorite greens at our local farmers market this past weekend. The first pesto of the season is like a rite of passage. Or so I tried to impress upon Charlie as I dreamed up our elaborate, last minute dinner plans. As if autumn might never arrive if we don’t consume an unspecified amount of pesto.

So, we headed home with our bundles of green and uncorked a bottle of wine (a privelege my childhood summers lacked) and set to work. With a generous helping of olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan, basil becomes my favorite pasta sauce.

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With our apartment full of the smell of summer, we sat at our narrow kitchen table and listened to the air conditioner humming in the window. And the baby crying next door. And the sirens blaring off in the distance. But mostly, we marveled at how lucky we are to live in a city where we can still reap all the benefits of a garden without having an ounce of soil between the two of us.

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What are some of your fondest summer memories?

An Evening on the Hudson

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Living in Brooklyn, it is easy to forget how close we actually live to the water. The fresh and the salty kind. I go about my daily routine through the city and rarely brush up against a coastline. But last summer, Charlie and I kept reminding each other that we should treat ourselves to a sail on the Hudson River. So, a few weeks ago, we took an evening cruise on the Adirondack Schooner and watched the sun slowly set over the city. With all of the unbearable heat we’ve been enduring, it was nice to escape the confines of the concrete jungle and feel the wind ruffle our hair. And it helps to have a crew on board to pour the wine with a liberal hand.

There she is, ready for a night on the Hudson.

I think it’s always good to get an outside perspective on your city every now and again. When I’m walking along the sidewalks, weaving in and out of buildings and pedestrians and taxicabs, I tend to forget what this place actually looks like.

Our crew, raising the sails and preparing to refill our vino.

 

For the record, Charlie and I were never very good at taking pictures. After a long day pounding the pavement, we’d come home and collapse on the couch, lamenting how we’d forgotten the camera yet again. But this little blog has inspired us to try and document all of our adventures, from the ordinary to the extravagant. Now, I don’t claim to wield a camera with expert hands, but at least we’ll have evidence of all our times together. I was starting to get worried we’d look back one day and say to each other: “Remember that one time..? Grab the photo album. Oh…wait a minute.”

Phew. Let’s hope we nipped that bad habit in the bud.

Food Frenzy

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Okay, one last post about Los Angeles and I promise I will move on to a new topic. Can you tell that lengthy vacations are few and far between for me?

As I may have mentioned a few times before, Charlie and I have a tendency to eat and drink our way through most excursions. On our drive, I spent most of my time in the passenger’s seat squinting at the iPad, searching for ways to avoid fast food joints and arrive at some greasy, roadside haunt that would presumably be filled with locals. Typically, these establishments were no better than your average McDonald’s, but somehow the hunt seemed to justify the calorie count.

But I was really excited to reach LA, birthplace of the food truck. We’ve discovered some great carts and trucks in New York (quesadillas from Calexico are a weekly indulgence) and were excited to find a few new names to add to our list of favorites.  Well, it turns out that on the first Friday of every month, LA’s food trucks make their way over to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice for a monthly food festival of sorts. The trucks stake out their spots in the early afternoon and keep serving food well into the night. And if you thought that you had seen every possible incarnation of food on wheels, think again. I’m pretty sure a new truck is born every minute. Here are a few of the trucks that caught our eyes.

In addition to good food, I love a good play on words.

I have to admit, the weather in California was much cooler than I had expected. I thought everyone ran around this state in cut-offs and midriff baring tank tops?? I ended up wearing a sweater more often than I’d like to admit. But enough of the weather. It was pretty hard work being a tourist and snapping all these photos, so we took a well-deserved break to try ice cream on a stick. Ice cream is always good, no matter the temperature outside.

What is this new style of potato, you ask? Well, it is a spud cut in a spiral shape, stretched out like a slinky, and impaled on a stick. Oh, and fried to a nice, golden hue.

And this last truck takes the cake, in my book.

Sometimes, I think owning a food truck would be grand. But the potential impact on my waistline is enough to steer me off that career path.

A Roadster’s Paradise

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It might sound a little strange, considering I just mentioned that I drove 3,000 miles from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, but I actually don’t really like driving. People usually screw up their faces when I tell them this and say: “Really?!” Because, I know, it is the American dream to get their first car and feel the freedom that a long, empty stretch of highway brings on a sunny afternoon. Windows down, hair blowing, music blaring. Amber waves of grain rustling as the car passes by.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved our road trip. I’ve never had so much fun on a road trip and, in fact, didn’t know it was possible to enjoy 12 hours of sedentary driving for 5 days straight. But it is the routine of daily driving that I absolutely loathe. To me, autonomy is not behind the wheel, speeding across pavement every day just to go to work. Or the grocery store. Or the bookstore. And I really hate when my hair is blowing all around me.

This is why I live in a city like New York. I get the pleasure of riding a smelly, dirty, crowded subway every day. And I love it. The subway also indulges my need to multi-task, something that never works well when driving. Instead of staring at the line of cars moving slowly ahead of me, I get to stare at my book. All the countless subway rides I have taken the past few years have allowed me to finish many books and even a few issues of The New Yorker while I’m at it. For that reason alone, I consider the monthly subway pass worth every dollar they charge me. One hundred and four of those dollars, to be exact.

And it is because of this driving that I have a fond appreciation of Los Angeles, yet could never see myself living there. There is a highway to connect every corner of that sprawling city and Charlie and I spent a lot of time on it. But we had a great time exploring all the neighborhoods, especially Los Feliz, where we had an amazing brunch, and Santa Monica, where we shopped and walked along the beach. It was the perfect reward after our long drive and it felt so nice to savor the last few days of our vacation at a much slower pace.

Here are a few snaps from our adventures in LA.

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Most days – make that most every day! – I’ll go for a plain cup of jo. Just milk, please. But a vacation in LA felt like the appropriate time to sip a leisurely latte in a coffee shop.

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The sign in that last photo was a little disconcerting…

I love how different this city is from the one that I call home and I’m so happy that I finally got to explore it myself. (It seems to me that it is one of the few cities that New Yorkers feel they can make lofty generalizations about. Either LA is the NYC of the west or it is the most deplorable spot in the country. There never seems to be a middle ground!)

But, I will leave you to make you own judgements and with one more snapshot.

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This was taken in the gardens at the Getty Museum. Do you see all that SMOG hovering over the city in the distance? Unbelievable. It leaves a little lump in the back of my throat when I think about all the miles of gas we burned just to get here. It’s going to take a couple of mass transit rides to get rid of that guilt.

The Great American Road Trip

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I’m a big fan of a bucket list. And checking things off that bucket list brings such a sense of accomplishment. I have ongoing lists tucked in little corners of my apartment and living on my iPhone that continually get updated with new ideas and adventures. And sometimes, I even get to check things off those lists.

Last week, Charlie and I rented a sturdy silver Camry and drove from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. We’d been planning this road trip for the past few months, constantly debating over routes and pit stops. In the end, we made very few plans or arrangements in advance, opting instead to see where each day led us. And this spontaneity, I think, resulted in one of the best experiences I’ve had.

Charlie has taken some epic road trips in the past. (Oh, college years, where did you go?) Since this was my first cross-country drive, he assured me that these memories would stick with us. They’ll pop up when we least expect it, he said, and remind us of that one time we got a crazy idea stuck in our heads and decided to drive to Los Angeles. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.

One of our first stops was in Nashville. Although I really wanted to take a detour along the Appalachian Trail (another bucket list item; another trip altogether), we decided it was more feasible to make a stop in either Memphis or Nashville. To be honest, we were both craving some BBQ, so these seemed like the most obvious choices for a first-rate meal. What good vacation doesn’t revolve around food? Not one of ours, I’ve decided. Nashville was the closer of the two cities and a quick google search told me that Jack’s BBQ was THE place for ribs. 

Oh yeah, we were not disappointed. This pile of meat is not for the faint of heart.

And after a 12 hour drive, this sure hit the spot. Not pictured here are our beers. Those might have been the most well-deserved beers I’ve tasted on this side of the Mississippi.

We recommend Jack’s on Broadway if you ever find yourself in Nashville.

Then there was a lot more driving. And driving. And driving. And before we knew it, we hit Oklahoma!

And in Oklahoma, they aren’t kidding around with their highway tolls. I think we stopped every two miles to give that state more money. By the time we reached Texas, my purse was much lighter. Thanks, Oklahoma.

Once we reached New Mexico, that’s when the road started getting really interesting.

We found these dilapidated shacks along the highway in New Mexico. A woman and her two children were selling turquoise jewelry at the far end of this picture.

One of our highlights of the trip was our stop at the Grand Canyon. It’s amazing that after driving for 3 days on land so flat and unchanging, you could suddenly come across a canyon so deep and cavernous. It is such a stark contrast to see on a road trip like this!

This photo gives me a heart attack every time I look at it. When you let that boy out of Brooklyn, there’s no telling what he’ll do. I’m glad we don’t have any steep cliffs for him to scale back in the city.

Even shadows seem larger than life at the Grand Canyon.

After leaving the canyon, we set out on the last leg of our journey. Next, I’ll post about our time in Los Angeles!

Walks Through the Neighborhood

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There are a lot of things that I love about Brooklyn. The pizza. The legendary flea markets. The way bike riders constantly battle motorists for control of the streets.

One thing I vehemently dislike is how expensive it can be to call this borough home. But, as I was walking to the farmers’ market yesterday, I snapped these photos and realized – wait a minute – Park Slope is teeming with charitable citizens willing to donate possessions to their less-fortunate neighbors. Just take a look at some of these prizes I found.

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Puzzles make great gifts for those family members you find it most difficult to shop for. But, if books and puzzles aren’t your thing, perhaps you’re in the market for a new mop?

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Not even half a block down the same street, I noticed this box. Yes, you are seeing correctly. A box of video cassettes. Brooklynites really know how to entice bargain hunters with the latest technology. If only there I hadn’t thrown out that VCR! I always knew cassettes would make a comeback. And Sex and the City on video has to be worth something, right?

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Residents here also know that man’s best friend will always have your best interests at heart.

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But, the dead giveaway that you are traipsing the streets of Park Slope? Free parenting advice. On twins, no less!

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It was a hot weekend here in New York, so I’m really surprised that this air conditioner was still sitting here by late Sunday afternoon. It looks to be in mint condition. I doubt that box has been opened in 25 years!

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Perhaps it just needed one of these signs to reassure buyers.

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But this stoop was perhaps the most disconcerting scene I encountered. Given what I know of Park Slope brownstone dwellers, I would have thought their literary tastes to be a bit more sophisticated. Goosebumps? Really? I heard that Park Slope children start reading Proust before the 5th grade. At least the globe partially makes up for this egregious choice in reading material.

As I continued on to the farmers’ market, I wondered to myself: What would my stoop look like if I purged my apartment of unnecessary items? What would my unwanted goods say about me? And, most importantly, what would my neighbors think?

Food for a New Generation of Thought

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As if the post-college job search isn’t hard enough these days, a friend told me a particularly disconcerting story that I haven’t quite been able to shake. She went on an interview for a position with a large financial company where she met with a woman who had worked with the company for years. At one point, the woman asked my friend what she likes to do in her free time, to which my friend responded that she enjoys cooking.  At that, the woman looked at her in horror, surmising that my friend is merely a housewife in disguise, and said: “You really like to cook? I never cook anything.”

Now, aside from sharing in my friend’s shock over this interaction, I can’t help but wonder why we are so quick to equate cooking with domestic stereotypes. In fact, everywhere I look, I see encouraging signs that more people are cooking at home more frequently. With the resurgence of the locavore movement, not only are more people looking to their local farms for fresh vegetables and ingredients, but it is becoming increasingly cool and popular to do so. In some areas, dare I say, almost the norm. In Brooklyn, while you might not find a crop of tomatoes growing in a vacant lot, you will see that there are restaurants on every corner boasting a local, farm-fresh menu. The emphasis here is not on whom the responsibility falls for preparing the meal, but rather, on what you are putting into your body. Food is no longer a chore that a woman must endure. It many households, it is a ritual that has taken on new meaning.

I, for one, find few things more relaxing after a long day than leisurely preparing a meal with fresh ingredients and a glass of wine in hand. We can’t forget the wine, it’s crucial to the relaxation element. Oh, and the recipe. I will fully admit that I am rule-follower in most aspects of life, but especially in cooking. Throwing open the door to the refrigerator and concocting a dinner with whatever happens to be sitting idly inside is not my strong point. But give me a recipe to follow, and I’m in business.

Last week, I set out to conquer my fear of risotto. My first interaction with the creamy, rice-pasta last year ended disastrously and I have been avoiding it ever since. But my cravings overcame me and, after a thorough tutorial with my mother, I decided to fly solo. Now, as I mentioned, no culinary adventure starts without a recipe and you can find this recipe here.

After preparing all of my ingredients, I held my breath and began adding in the broth.

Few things test my resilience and arm muscles like the constant stirring of risotto. But I bent myself to the task, knowing a creamy, perfectly balanced, and smooth risotto would be worth the sweat. And I stirred.

And I stirred.

And I stirred some more.

And then, finally, my risotto reached the perfect, elusive consistency of soft, melt-in-your-mouth pasta. This may have been a small victory, but culinary accomplishments are far from drudgery to me.

GoogaMooga: The Great Wait

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After weeks of anticipation, I, along with most other revelers, left the Great GoogaMooga tired, hot, thirsty and slightly less hungry than when I arrived. If I haven’t adequately explained how excited I was for GoogaMooga, let me reiterate – this was supposed to be the culmination of everything I love about Brooklyn! Well-crafted, artisanal food, good music, beer, and a nice patch of green grass on which to enjoy it. Alas, this weekend missed the mark. Entirely.

Now, I know that a free food festival in Prospect Park is bound to attract a crowd. But as soon as we walked in on Saturday, we were faced with huge lines spanning across the park. Two friends left us in just twenty minutes. In order to get a  beer, we first had to wait on line to get our I.D.’s checked. Then wait on another line to put cash on a “Googamoula” card. Then find our way to bar and actually buy the drinks. We asked one person how long he had been waiting, and he admitted it took one hour and forty-five minutes just to get his I.D. checked! We quickly decided that drinks were unnecessary and went in search of food.

We settled on pizza from Roberta’s. We are big fans of Roberta’s work. No one does pizza quite like her. The Margarita is a true classic. And we tried a “Bee Sting,” with mozzarella, sopressata and this amazing honey-chili sauce that totally made up for the forty-five minute wait.

We lost our final friend soon after and Charlie and I did one more lap around the festival. By 4:00 pm, I saw that some vendors were already running out of food, with another 4 hours still to go! With our thirst getting the best of us, we braved a half hour line to get a bottle of aloe-flavored water and headed for the exit. Yes, it tastes as strange as it sounds.

I wanted so much to like GoogaMooga. It has the potential to be a great festival where people can eat, drink and actually listen to the music (we never even stopped once to listen to a band since we were so preoccupied with lines!). But it was so disorganized and poorly executed that we left exhausted and disappointed.

But, we did spot this great, retro car!

Looking to the Weekend Ahead

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Most of my weekends tend to revolve around food. But this weekend is going to involve food of epic proportions. It is the inaugural GoogaMooga festival, which, despite sounding like an infant’s first words, is actually a gathering of New York’s most desirable chefs, food entrepreneurs and musicians. This is the place where mere mortals can hope to rub shoulders with the likes of Tom Colicchio, Anthony Bourdain and other restaurant royalty. I have been counting down the days ever since my boyfriend, Charlie, managed to score tickets (it sold out within an hour!) I’ve scoured the website, read through every email, downloaded the app, and now I have 17 hours to decide which vendors to set my sights on tomorrow! Will I crave a slice of Roberta’s renouned pizza? Or a pork bun from Eddie Huang’s BaoHaus? Or maybe something savory from Saxelby Cheesemongers? It’s not a decision to be made lightly. I’ll be sure to give a full report of the day’s events and highlight all of my favorites!

So tell me, will anyone else be going to GoogaMooga?

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A Taste of What’s Ahead

2011 ended on a very bright note for this Brooklynite.  After spending the past few months flexing my amateur culinary muscles in a kitchen just barely big enough for two, I got the opportunity to highlight some of the best in the business for monkeydish.com, an online resource for restaurant owners and foodies.   After careful consideration of the year’s most popular trends, I narrowed my taste buds down to three: holiday cocktails, cupcakes and food trucks.  Although none are newcomers to the scene, business owners continue to reimagine these trends in interesting and innovative ways.  I found out what some of the best restaurants and food trucks are doing to stay ahead of the curve.

You can check out my posts here and see if any of your favorites made the list!