Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Our friends the Greves really are the bee's knees. That's well established. But let us have some concrete evidence of what makes them great, shall we?

Among the embarrassment of riches they brought to us as gifts from Belgium was this stuff: Speculoos. How can I describe it? It's a spread, like Nutella, but COOKIE FLAVORED. (Boy, our friends know us so well!) If you could take cinnamon-sugary graham crackers, crush them up and put them into spreadable form, this is what it would taste like. That really doesn't even do it justice though.

This jar was full about two nights ago.

Morten says he likes it on toast. There's much to praise about Speculoos on toast, but I must say I preferred it straight out of the jar. (And yes, I did put the cookie spread on the Belgian cookies they brought us. And then I was sucked into the vortex of awesomeness.)

The fact that this stuff hasn't taken America by storm is probably our greatest national shortcoming. Then again, I remember when you had to go to a specialty store hours away to procure Nutella, and now it's not even a thing anymore. Like peanut butter. So Speculoos may yet become our new sweet overlord. That fancy gelato place we went to on our last night with the Greves has a Speculoos flavor.

So, if you see it, buy it. You will not be sorry. Until you run out and are hopelessly addicted. But still, it will have been worth it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

CSA -- Week 4

Not much to report this week since we had guests, but wanted to share the two meals I did cook for the two of you reading who want to know (That would be my mom and Dan's mom :)

Lemony chickpea stir-fry with tofu. This was light and good.

Garlic soba noodles with the rest of the tofu. The swiss chard was a bit sad after a week in the fridge, so I added some equally wilted dandelion leaves. I had some Italian flat beans on hand, so I tossed them in there, too.

I probably don't need to eat tofu again for a while. On the second dish, I kind of wished it was chicken instead.

They Came. They Saw. They Went.

The most exciting thing that happened to me this week had nothing to do with vegetables.

(Did I just hear a collective sigh?)

This week was super fun because my favorite Danish family was visiting New York City for five days. In case you don't know or remember, I met Gerda, the matriarch of the family, in 2007 when I was studying Polish in Krakow. She was studying Polish, too, because she works as a translator for the EU and is fluent in many languages. At the time, she invited me to visit her home in Brussels where I got acquainted with her husband, Morten and their daughters Anna and Katrine. It was an instant connection. The family has journeyed to New York City two times since then (this trip being the third visit), and they even came to our wedding in New Orleans.

I love these people so much. They make my heart swell each time I see them. Even though I have only known them for a few years and only get to see them about once a year, they are some of the best people I have ever met. I consider them to be my extended family.

This stay in New York is part of a long vacation the Greves are taking that includes weeks in California, Las Vegas, Utah, Arizona and Cancun, Mexico (Oh, Euros and their awesome vacations!) Unfortunately, I am American so I had to work the majority of the time they were here, but I spent every free moment I had with them, making the most of it. On my day off, they requested I show them around Brooklyn.

I am quite possibly the worst Brooklyn tour guide ever. I have no idea what to do or where to go. I walked them across the Brooklyn Bridge, and we wandered around Dumbo a bit. (Is there anything to see in Dumbo? Because if there is, we didn't see it). Katrine, the girl who loves to eat, was concerned there were no restaurants around. So we decided to do Grimaldi's for pizza and then Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, just like the tourists do. I know that much.

The Greve family on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Katrine, probably hungry, taking a breather. She doesn't speak English so we've never really had a conversation, but I have the biggest soft spot for her.

Brooklyn Bridge: What to see in Brooklyn.

We walked through Brooklyn Heights and the promenade. It was quite possibly the hottest day of the summer so far, and I made the rookie mistake of wearing blister-inducing sandals. We took many breaks, and I used maybe 28 band aids Gerda had on hand because they kept falling off. (She's like my mother; I told you we're family). Then we took a water taxi back to Manhattan for a little shopping because that is what we always do when they are in town.

Gerda, enjoying the water taxi.

Katrine and Morten, hanging out at Free People, while Anna shops.

We may not have seen anything in Brooklyn, but we did find the ugliest shoes in the city.

The rest of our time together this week was spent eating. I cooked dinner on the first night. Knowing that I wouldn't be cooking much all week, I tried to plan a menu that used most of the CSA vegetables and the home-grown tomatoes my mom gave me. It was kind of hard to make it cohesive, but somehow it all worked out.

Dinner menu:
-Two types of bruschetta. One topped with fava beans and the other with tomato and basil
-Melon wrapped in prosciutto
-Lasagna tart with zucchini
-Salad with tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and homemade vinaigrette

-Cherry pie made with sweet and sour cherries with a dollop of vanilla ice cream (our fruit CSA started this week!)
My favorite part of the meal was the Belgian chocolates Gerda brought for us. Heaven!

For the rest of the dinners we shared together, Dan and I tried to offer a variety of neighborhoods and cuisines. The Greves were really good sports about greasy soul food in Harlem (so not their bag!) and pretending that the tapas in the West Village came close to the kind they ate in Spain (not really, but still delish!) On the last night we ate gelato at Amorino, and after we were done, we sat outside on the bench lingering forever because I didn't want the night to end.

We finally said our good-byes and went our separate ways. Not knowing when we would see each other again, I started to cry. I don't mean a few tears, but full-fledged sobbing. Little girl tears. On the streets of New York. Dan tried to comfort me, but to no avail. A man walked by, looked at me with concern and then glared at Dan.

"She's just sad because she said good-bye to some friends," Dan called out after him, just in case he thought Dan was a terrible wife-beater. I am not sure if the guy believed him.

Here's the thing: New York has become a little lonely for Dan and me in the last year. Many of our friends have moved to Brooklyn or New Jersey, and our social life has dwindled quite a bit. We don't see much of anyone anymore. Spending an entire week with such lovely people, and knowing that I won't be seeing them again soon or having that warm feeling that only great friends can bring, made me really sad.

Still, even with the downer ending, it was a great week.

I can't wait until next time. Big hugs and kisses to the Greves!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Veg & Cocktails

Week 3 in the CSA, and the veggies are starting to repeat themselves.

Kohlrabi made another comeback. This time, we ate it raw with a slaw made of kohlrabi and apple. Neither of us really cared for it. Then again, we're not slaw kind of people. I was intrigued by the apple, but it turned out to be not so interesting.

I finally picked up my friend Heidi's new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. It is such a beautiful book (the photographs are stunning!), and this Summer Linguine made with zucchini was divine. My favorite recipe of the week--and super easy. That's some garlic bread, too.

Roasted chicken with swiss chard gratin. I didn't have enough swiss chard so I added kale, too. Not a bad meal but a little too fussy for me. The gratin had a hundred steps, and I felt like I dirtied half the dishes in the kitchen preparing it.

Pistachio-crusted salmon and salad with fava beans.

Are you sick of vegetables yet?

I am not the only one making things these days. One of our "100 Things" is to learn how to mix a few cocktails, and so Dan went to the library to get a bunch of drink recipe books.

This cocktail he made for us is the perfect summer drink. The next day, I demanded he make it for me again. I don't usually go around demanding drinks. It was that good.

You'll have to come over our house if you want the recipe.

I am sure our bartender will be happy to serve you (and maybe spill his secrets).

Monday, July 11, 2011

In case you were in the mood for an organ solo

Click here and turn the music UP.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One for the Birds

Today, we did a new activity from our list of "100 Things", something that I'd like to make a new hobby: we went birding.

Despite the fact that this takes place in Central Park, Yvonne had to be convinced to come along. The friends that we mentioned this to also seemed less than thrilled on our behalf -- but how can anyone not be excited about an up-close appreciation of nature's bounty, through the endless diversity of birds? They're
right there all the time, and yet largely invisible to us; to spot a white-breasted nuthatch (a bird, I've learned, that we get here only when it's just passing through) feels like a gift to be savored, something over which we have very little control and can't say when we'll experience again. To really see the birds is like getting let in on a secret.

That no one gets this reminds me -- in a superficial way -- of an anecdote that Jonathan Franzen, the truly seasoned birder, described in the New Yorker, with his friend David Foster Wallace: "I couldn't keep my eyes off the hummingbirds around his house and was saddened that he could...and I understood the difference between his unimaginable misery and my manageable discontents to be that I could escape myself in the joy of birds and he could not."

Yvonne didn't bring her camera because she didn't think she had the proper lens for any nature photography -- little did she realize this nuthatch would come up close enough to be caught on the Flip cam.

Also, this awesomeness happened (those other voices you hear belong to the other folks who joined
Birding Bob):

Saturday, July 9, 2011

CSA -- Week 2

I am obsessed with the CSA. Obsessed. All I want to do is think about what I am having for dinner. And lunch. (Buying lunch is so two weeks ago. It's all about brown-bagging salads and leftovers now).

My routine is this: We get our vegetable delivery in on Thursday, so I get a look at what we got on Thursday night. Friday is usually a slow day at work, so I spend about an hour searching the internet for recipe ideas for the week and sometimes to research the ingredients I have.

Like, what in the world is a kohlrabi? In case you are wondering, it is in the cabbage family and it kinda tastes like chicken. (Just kidding, more like broccoli stem.)

I try to make sure that all the vegetables will be used over the week, and I write out my menu on a Google doc. Over the weekend, I go grocery shopping. (Yes, sometimes I have to buy a random extra vegetable or two, it's not the end of the world). And then I cook! I am the type of person who gets immense satisfaction from being done with things (getting the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, reading the last page of a book, etc) so clearing out my fridge of vegetables each week in a thoughtful and yummy way makes me extremely happy.

Here's some things I made this week:

Seared whitefish with sweet corn kohlrabi and tomato compote

Sausage, mozzarella and broccoli rabe with shells

BBQ chicken breasts and grilled fava beans

Fish with mango and cucumber relish over lettuce

I am a creature of habit, so when I work in an office, I like to drink a cup of tea around 11 am. Every day. Same time. It helps break up the day and gives me something to look forward to. I like to have my tea with a little baked good, but I can't be eating cake everyday, so every week or so, I bake a batch of muffins for my morning tea snack, usually of the boring bran and whole-grain variety. This zucchini bread fits the mold of whole-grain variety, but there is nothing boring about it. It had such an interesting and unusual (for me, anyway) flavor combination of crystalized ginger, poppy seeds, walnuts, curry powder and lemon zest which completely made up for any lost sugar. I enjoyed my tea time very much. It's my favorite recipe of the week.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fill 'er Up

One of the great streaks in dental hygiene was broken today. After 31 years, I got my first fillings. I don't think Dr. Lev grasped the enormity of this. See, when I was a kid my then-dentist, Dr. Audino, used to finish a typical checkup by saying, "Danny [he's the only person who calls me that], you're perfect again. No cavities. You and your brother both. It's amazing. I tell everybody that you guys are my best patients." That's right, the best.

Well, all that's over now.

I wish I could at least wear as a badge of honor the fact that I got these two fillings with no Novocaine, but Dr. Lev said it wasn't a big deal.

--"When I was a boy, nobody got the injections."
--"Where was that?"
--"In Russia. It didn't matter how much you screamed."

Maybe Dr. Lev just has a different bedside manner. While Audino relied on effusive praise and a sense of near-awe, Dr. Lev builds a guy up by dismissing heroism as just everyday strength. No Novocaine? No problem. (Example #2: you don't usually hear a dentist tell you, "Don't mind my brute force.")

And when it was over:

--"That wasn't so bad."
--"I'm glad you enjoyed it."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

4th of July Recap

At the last minute, Dan and I decided to go to Ocean Grove, NJ, our favorite local beach destination.

As you know, the one day we go to the beach is usually my favorite day of the whole year. Kind of crazy that I would use up my one and only beach day so early in the summer season. Maybe this might mean there could be room for seconds?

The best part about going to the Jersey shore via my mom's house is that she bought us a delicious assortment of food to eat including cold cut sandwiches, grapes, watermelon, and a can of Pringles. Is there anything better than eating on the beach?

Except, perhaps, having an ice cream sundae after the beach? Or in Dan's case, going to Red Bank, NJ to check out a record store after the beach? (By the way, Red Bank is a pretty cute place. Who knew?) When we came home at 9 pm, my mom had the barbecue ready and we ate more food and more ice cream outside on the deck and it was warm and dark and lovely. I think I just love eating outside.

Thanks, Ocean Grove!

On the actual 4th of July, we were invited to Adam and Nell's rooftop for an Independence Day celebration which also served as a last hurrah since they are moving to Brooklyn in a week. Their friends, Amie and Rob, co-hosted the get-together. They also live in the building, and they are moving to Brooklyn in a few weeks. It's a mass exodus. The Squeens are practically the only people left in all of Manhattan. We have spent a lot of great days and nights at Adam and Nell's place, including the roof top. (Remember our crazy makeshift mini-golf course with Courtney's bra as an obstacle?) Yeah, good times. An end of an era. But good stuff ahead of us, I am sure.

Dan and Adam.

Me and Nell

Um, we didn't eat vegetarian at this party.

I made a peach slab pie for the first time. In case you don't know, a slab pie is a pie made on a baking sheet. Some say its akin to a pop tart. While making it, it was so hot in my apartment and the dough was not cold enough so it completely fell apart when I rolled it. Chris Nowak would not approve. I was convinced it was ruined as I tried to bind it all together again but I made it at the last minute so I had no choice but to just go with it. And you know what, it tasted really, really good and didn't look half bad either.

The sunset that night was crazy amazing. We were all taking a hundred pictures.

Amie and Nell getting shutter-happy.

Any good barbecue includes some guitar playing.

Lots of people were setting off fireworks around the neighborhood. (And yes, that is the Empire State Building being all red, white and blue.)

But we also got a nice view of how the professionals do it with the Macy's Firework Display.

Happy 4th of July!