Monday, August 27, 2012

A Park Grows in Brooklyn (they have a pool too)

On a sunny day I decided to take my girls on a little excursion to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park has greatly expanded since my last jaunt out there and there is a lot more coming. I thought about doing the ferry or subway, but ended up driving out. We parked under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo and walked from the northern part of the park south. After years of neglect it is great to see that we here in NYC have finally woken up to the fact we are surrounded by water. We are slowly reclaiming our waterfront and the Brooklyn Bridge Park is already on its way to being one of the jewels of the City.






We walked Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, past the carousel and the coves and old warehouses down to The River Cafe. I couldn't help but reflect on how derelict and dangerous this part of Brooklyn used to be. You want to know where the bodies were buried? They were buried here.

This is where the newest part of the park starts. They have built up some hills and some nice lawns. The Syfy channel sponsors free movies in the summer on one of the lawns here and the gentle slope of that lawn leads to a point with views of lower Manhattan, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. It is one of the best spots there is to watch a movie.








We kept walking south, towards Pier 2, past construction sites, looking for the pop up pool and sand beach that had supposedly sprouted up. I was skeptical, especially considering the massive construction going on, but then we spied a bunch of multi colored shipping containers and umbrellas behind some chain link fencing.







This was it. The pop up pool. I was worried we would be let down, but it was great. We were there on a Thursday afternoon and it was not too busy. I imagine that it is different on the weekend. There is a picnic area with tables, umbrellas and a little grill selling burgers, dogs and other food.

In between the picnic area and the pool they have built a little sand beach. It is filled with umbrellas and beach chairs for public use. It is wonderful. A little beach club under the BQE.







Then there is the pool. Here is how the system works. They have 45 minute swim sessions. They start on the hour. At :45 they clear and clean the pool area. The next session starts at the top of the next hour. They limit the number of swimmers to 60. They start handing out wrist bands a half hour before the next swim session. They have full changing rooms and bathrooms. It is all run very well.

You come get your wristband. You can relax on the grass, at a picnic table or in the sand. Right before your swim sessions starts you can go and change. They have lockers (bring your own lock). Then at the top of the hour it is time to get in the pool.






With a view of Manhattan in the background you can splash to your heart's content. The pool is 3 1/2 feet deep, cool and refreshing. It is almost as wide as it is long so there is a lot of room to move around. The pool was filled with families and couples, everyone having a good time. After some of the incidents at McCarren Pool and other public pools this summer I was expecting the worst but got the best. It was a great payoff for our travels.

After our swim session ended we got dressed and made our way back to the car. Along the way we passed the single coolest basketball hoop I have ever seen.





And of course no summer day is complete without ice cream, so we hit the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory for a treat. The Chocolate Chocolate Chip was rich and delicious.







It was a great afternoon and reaffirmed my faith in the City. Next time we will take the water taxi and stay for the movie. I can't wait to see how the park grows.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New cookbook, new cobbler.

Over the past month or two, as I wandered the cookbook aisles at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, I kept looking at one cookbook in particular. This one:






The Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook - by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day

My personal cooking passion is baking. I am always on the look out for new recipes for cakes, pies, etc. That said, I live in a "real" NYC apartment, so room is an issue and I have to be judicious when it comes to buying a new cookbook.

I am also a cynical New Yorker, so anything too "cutsie" or "southern" tends to immediately raise a red flag for me and draw my ire, and the cover of this book screamed "cute" and "southern." And I will be honest, the Foreword from Paula Deen and quote from her son on the back cover had already turned me off. I kept looking and walking away.

Cheryl & Griffith Day are the owners of the Back In The Day Bakery and authors of this cookbook, and they are on the cover. I had never heard of them or their bakery. Maybe they are well known. Maybe they have a show on CMT. I honestly don't know. This cookbook was my first introduction to them. And the picture of the two of them is what kept bringing me back.

Maybe it was the way Cheryl was doing a curtsy in her pink heart dress and apron while holding a plate of cookies. Maybe it was the way Griffith, looking like an overgrown 10 year old, held her hand and and looked at Cheryl. Maybe it was the complete lack of cool or irony in the photo. There was something about them that seemed genuine and refreshing. I was starting to let my guard down.

About the fourth or fifth time I had picked up the cookbook I decided to really go through it. The ultimate test for me is to page through a cookbook and see how many recipes are for things I would actually like to eat, how realistic the recipes are for a home cook, and to be sure I don't already have cookbooks at home that cover the same ground. As you have figured out, this one passed the test. In particular, the test of "do I want to eat that" went something like this: "Yes, yes, hell yes, oh man yes, ohhhh that looks good."


Late summer is in full season here, and that means the greenmarkets are at their best right now. Barnes & Noble stands across the street from the Union Square greenmarket. I hit both with my girls on Wednesday. It is all about peaches and blueberries for me right now. I knew I wanted to make something with them as the filling so I stocked up on both. When I got home, I pulled out the Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook and thumbed through. There was a Rustic Peach-Blueberry tart recipe that looked good but, would take a little more time then I had. (I am going to make that one soon and I will post the results). I decided on a cobbler, and used their recipe for Blackberry Cobbler as my Guide.

(OK, an aside. I used a blackberry cobbler recipe. I don't want to come off as one of those horrible people that rate recipes online at places like epicurious.com and start out with "So, I substituted half the ingredients for other items and made this for breakfast instead of dessert." Guess what "Julie Child wanna-be," you ain't helping. That said, I was pretty proud that, as simple as it is, I have baked enough now that I can confidently adjust pie and cobbler fillings and have it work. Thank you for indulging me.)

This was the first thing I made from this cookbook, and it was great.






Blueberry-Peach Cobbler. Total winner. I paired it with some home made vanilla ice cream (more on making your own ice cream and my awesome Salton ice cream maker later). They were showing a double feature of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Priceless" (an Audrey Tautou film) here so we ate it outside, on the grass, on a perfect August night. Life is good.


First recipe, first try, a home run. Can't wait to to try more recipes. I know Cheryl and Griffith won't let me down. 



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marcus Samuelsson and Florence Fabricant

I had the pleasure to attend an event that had Florence Fabricant interviewing Marcus Samuelsson. I wrote a piece on it for TheDailyMeal.com. You can read it here:

http://www.thedailymeal.com/intimate-discussion-florence-fabricant-and-marcus-samuelsson

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just Desserts - Breakfast, BBQ and Michelle Obama

OK, forgive me. Forgive me for the lazy, easy title of this post. I am fighting out of a nasty summer cold, a gift from one of my kid's camps. I thought I would feel better today than I do, but I will be strong. I need to write. So, forgive me for taking the easy road and forgive me if this is a bit blurry. I am a bit blurry.

This is a focus on desserts, recent indulgences, many of the ice cream kind. It is summer, it is hot, you deserve a treat.


ChikaLicious

I have written about ChikaLicious before. It is a tiny dessert spot on East 10th Street that constantly delivers some of the best desserts in the city. Here are the latest and greatest treats we have had there.


Hot Apple Cinnamon Crisp -





Individual sized tart with a heaping scoop of their signature vanilla bean ice cream. I think you understand. Great in the summer, can't wait to go back for it in the fall.


Chocolate Eclair Ice Cream Sandwich -






I have written about the ChikaLicious eclair cone. They use an eclair shell instead of the traditional ice cream cone. This takes it one step further. They take their eclair shell, fill it with their vanilla bean soft serve then douse it in chocolate sauce. Yeah. Yeeaaahhh. Sure, it is basically a profiterole on steroids. But it blows away just about every profiterole I have had. Profiteroles are for wimps.


Triple Chocolate Cupcake -






I know, I know. A cupcake? Really? I would say I am over the cupcake thing but to be honest I was never into it. I have tried most of the samplings, from the small local shop fronts to the chains and I am almost always disappointed. Dry cake, sugar bomb frosting, off flavors. To brag a bit, I have mastered my own cupcake recipe so I hold the bar high. ChikaLicious jumps right over it.

Their cupcakes are small, well crafted mini-cakes. The Triple Chocolate is a winner. It is a light, moist cake with a chocolate filling and chocolate icing. Not overly sweet, rich in chocolate flavor, it is the perfect solution for a chocolate craving.


The Michelle Obama -







Over the winter ChikaLicious had the Jeremy Lin dessert. It was delicious and a hit, until he got injured and then the popularity of the dessert fell off. In this politically charged climate, with Washington filled with idiots of all stripes, I think there is one thing we can all agree on, Michelle Obama kicks ass. ChikaLicious seems to agree and has created a dessert in her honor. Now, knowing how Mrs Obama feels about eating healthy, I don't know if she would endorse this confection. But, like its namesake, this dessert kicks ass.

Here is the description of the Michelle Obama from ChikaLicious:

Shapely Arms of Salted Caramel over Clever Vanilla Bean Soft Serve (but not to much) in Savvy Espresso with a Classy Frost of Pecans.

Yes, you read that right. An affogato with a with a salted carmel pecan sundae standing in for the vanilla gelato. Worldly and American, classic and modern at the same time, just like our First Lady. God Bless the United States of America and ChikaLicious. Big Gay Ice Cream, the affogato ball is in your court.

ChikaLicious Dessert Club - 204 East 10th Street (btw 1st & 2nd Ave) - www.chikalicious.com



Hill Country BBQ


Hill Country BBQ has been written up a lot and raved about in the NY Times. It is as close to Texas BBQ as you can get in NYC. It is a big, fun place and good eating. The one thing I had never sampled there until recently was dessert.

On a recent Tuesday Night we went with another family to Hill Country for dinner and had great time. It is the perfect spot for a family night out. Between the chicken, ribs, sausage, brisket and large array of sides there is something for even the pickiest eater to have (including a vegetarian). There are plentiful beverages of the adult and non-adult kind. And it turned out Tuesday night was Karaoke Night with a full live band. I am not a big Karaoke guy, but live band Karaoke is always a hoot.

After decimating an ungodly amount of food we found that we still had room for dessert. Maybe it was because we were a group and sharing. Maybe it was because the kids were with us and they are always ready for dessert. Whatever the reason, we hit the dessert counter. Key Lime Bars were good and we had a nice Banana Pudding. These were the two standouts:


Chocolate Chip Cookie A La Mode-








Simple. A large chocolate chip cookie with two scoops of ice cream (mint chocolate chip here). I think it was $4. Classic.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie A La Mode -




The picture fails this dessert. The pie is made and served in a fairly large, high ramekin. It is topped with vanilla ice cream. It is significantly better than it should be. In fact, it is great. The perfect finish to a night of beer and BBQ. From now on I will always make sure I have room for pie when I go to Hill Country.


Hill Country - 30 West 26th Street (btwn Broadway and 6th Ave) - www.hillcountryny.com




This last treat is actually on a breakfast menu but it is one of my favorite treats anywhere. It is at Maialino (a post on which will be forthcoming).


Toffee Glazed Brioche Bun -








Sticky, sweet, rich, decadent and heavenly. I have never had breakfast at Maialino and not ordered it. This is a desert island dish. Sitting in the front of the restaurant by a window looking at Gramercy Park, nibbling on this, and sipping a cappuccino is as perfect a morning as you can have. Sometimes the morning is the best time for dessert.


Maialino - 2 Lexington Avenue (Corner 21st Street) - http://maialinonyc.com/

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Look what I found in my recycling bin: Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms and shapes. The best moments of inspiration are those that come when you need it most, and from the most unlikely of places.

Today was going to be a great, productive day. It is the second to last day of camp for my girls. The weather is cooperating. The calendar says August, so the weather has turned here in NYC. No rain, not too hot or sticky.  I had my day mapped out. Writing, writing, writing and errands. It was going to be a banner day.

You know what happened next. Not one but two girls with summer colds staying home from camp. Forget errands. Forget writing. Forget being a productive human being. Instead, making breakfast, tea, cleaning up, etc, etc.

When you work out of the house distractions abound. Part of today's plan was to leave the house first thing and not return until the errands had been checked off the list and I had sat down in one of my favorite coffee shops and written for at least two hours. Oh, what a glorious day it was going to be. Now I am stuck in the house constantly being sneezed on.

I cleaned up breakfast then decided to weed through the pile of newspapers and magazine sitting around (yes, I still proudly read actual newspapers and magazine). Papers collected, I figured I would run them down to the recycling bin. These are the distractions of home that keep you from being creative.

I will admit it. I was in a funk when I went down to recycling. I dumped the papers in the overflowing bin. I pushed them down so they wouldn't spill out. Then something caught my eye. I looked at it and pulled it out. Here is what  found:








The Art of Eating: The Collected Gastronomical Works of M. F. K. Fisher

M. F. K Fisher is one America's legendary food writers. This collects five of her seminal works from the first half of the 20th century, including "Serve It Forth." Finding this was a sign. I checked the copyright page. This book was published in 1954.

Inside the book there was an inscription written in a lovely script:






To Louise, a missed telephone-voice friend,

Betty

That sealed it. I will not go on a a rant about email, ebooks, etc. But can't you picture Louise and Betty? I can see them in my mind. And look at that signature. One look at how she signed Betty and you can imagine her sitting at your kitchen table having a cup of coffee or tea. And when was the last time you met someone named Betty? I digress.

Finding "The Art Of Eating" lifted my spirits. It made my day. I realized there is always time to be creative. I had made myself a promise that I would write more and be more active on this blog. I haven't kept it. I will now. If M.F.K Fisher could find the time to follow her passion, particularly as a woman in the first half of the 20th century, then I have no excuse. And the possibility that someday a person like Betty, in the effort to keep up a friendship or as a thank you, would take the time to pass along something that I wrote should be all the inspiration I need.

So a few thank yous and a promise. Thank you to M. F. K. Fisher for leading the way. Thank you to Betty for being a kind and thoughtful friend. Thank you to whomever decided to discard this book and put it into the recycling bin instead of the trash. And thank you to the food and writing Gods that steered me down to the bin at exactly the right time.

As for the promise, it is to you and, importantly, to myself. I will not look for excuses. I will find the time to write. I will value creativity and trust in myself enough that it is a worthwhile pursuit.

And I will keep "The Art Of Eating" in constant view as a totem and inspiration. No excuses.