Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yes, this is New York City

I'm a beach snob.  No doubt about it.   For over five decades I've spent the summer, or at least a part of it on Nantucket Island.  I stayed on Sardinia one August - before it was stylish -  enjoyed a year on the Seychelles Island - way, way before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge just had to have their honeymoon there.  For years I've imagined - no, really believed - that when the wind was just right I could smell the ocean from my downtown Manhattan apartment.   You realize that the Atlantic Ocean is just a subway ride away to Coney Island, Brighton Beach - or Rockaway.  So, this summer, when I've been spending more time than usual in the City - I gave in.   I got on the A train and went out to Rockaway Beach.  I went with a couple of friends who were interested in Rockaway because of  all the recent press about the food scene there.   A few very good restaurants (from ALL the City's boroughs) bid, and won the right to lease the concession stands at three different areas of the beach.

We got off the A train at  Broad Channel then waited for the shuttle to take us to the 106th street stop - it stops at 86th and 96th streets as well -  at Rockaway Beach.  We figured that we'd start checking out the concession stands there and then walk down the boardwalk to the others.

We had an hors d'oeuvre of fried, sweet plantains covered with salty cheese, and hibiscus ice tea from Caracas Arepa Bar .  The Rockaway branch of the East Village restaurant has a good selection of the same Venezuelan specialities that gave them their well-deserved reputation.   One of my friends ordered an exceptionally good iced coffee from  Caracas' neighbor  Blue Bottle Coffee.

We walked 10 blocks down the boardwalk to the 96th street concession - the largest of the 3.   Although we were tempted by all the vendors we all chose the same same fried fish sandwich from Motorboat and the Big Banana.  OMG - I don't think I've ever had a fish sandwich that was so delicious.  Hmmm - do you think it was just the salt air?  I don't think so.  It's hard to argue with thick slices of hake  that were dipped into a perfect, perfectly light batter then fried to order.  The fillets were slapped on a buttery, grilled hot dog bun then topped with shredded romaine lettuce, red cabbage and pickled red onions, and served with tartar sauce  loaded with freshly chopped dill.  I'm talking beach food SUPREME!!!!!   Oh, and I just had to get an order of French fries because I watched the guy putting the potatoes through a slicer then another guy fry them to a crisp and toss them in a bowl with salt - to order.  When's the last time you saw someone do that?
I washed it all down with fresh watermelon juice purchased from the taco stand next door.
I took 1/2 hour to lie on the beach and go into the water.  Look, I'm not going to compare Rockaway to the beaches that I mentioned above.  It was a a great day - delicious and refreshing - and just a subway ride away.

We got back on the subway at 86th street - which seems to be the beach area where surfers hang out - but didn't even check out the food at the concession stand there.  Got to save something for the next time.

A week later I met a friend at the 2nd avenue and 14th bustop street where we got on the *select* bus (which makes even fewer stops than the express) and headed down to South Ferry.  We didn't get on the Staten Island ferry, which is right there - but instead, went through the glorious Governor's Island ferry terminal and boarded the ferry headed for the island that Native Americans sold to a Dutchman  in 1637 for a couple of ax heads and a handful of nails.  In 1995 President Clinton designated 22 acres of the island as a national park.   In between the island has lived a storied life.  Check it out.

My friend and I were headed to Cook Out NYC.   This was the 2nd year for this grilled meat (and a few vegetables) and local beer event.  Destined to be an annual showcase for New York restaurants - of a certain style - to vie for best burger, or best hot dog in the show with every kind of pork from grilled bacon to sticky ribs in between.  Oh, and a kimchi tasting, and a few very peculiar - but surprisingly good - shaved ice preparations.

Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43, a basement beer joint on east 7th street in Manhattan, one of the organizers of the grand event - maybe the CHIEF organizer.  And, provider of a welcome side dish, salad.

Mama's burgers.

Shaved ice with red beans and colorful rice crisps topped with a squirted pattern of condensed milk.  This quirky treat from Taiwan via The Shaved Ice Shop can be found every Sunday at the Hester Street Fair or at their shop in Chinatown.

There was much more - all washed down with with a pint of Righteous Ale one of the offerings of Brooklyn's own Sixpoint Brewery.     Book this event for next year.  But in the meantime take a trip out to Governor's Island, walk the short 2 miles around the island and experience breathtaking City views.  Then, have a picnic.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:    Here's my feeling - I love to take the Staten Island Ferry.  It's a nice ride and you sense that you're going somewhere foreign.  Once you get to the island however - you'll need a car to get around.  Before 9/11 you could take your car over on the ferry - no longer.  The Governor's Island ferry ride is a short one and you barely feel like you've gone anywhere new.  But you have - and what's more you can walk everywhere once you've arrived!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The snow has finally melted in the Northern Catskills

The last time I visited my friend, Rita's, and husband David's enchanting home in the northern Catskill Mountains there was so much snow outside that the only way to walk around was on snow shoes.  Allegra's paws got tiny cuts on them crunching through the ice-covered, blindingly white mounds of snow.
On a recent visit the snow was a distance memory and the property was lush with various shades of green. 

Rita, I, and our dogs, Frankie and Allegra went upstate for what has become a June tradition -a  girl's only weekend while David was away at an annual conference.  
The first thing that Rita does when she arrives at her upstate home is to fill the vintage bottles that line the living room fireplace mantle with something that was, or is growing  outdoors - this goes for all seasons.  So, during the dead of winter there may be branches of evergreens or dried leaves and vines.  For our recent weekend Rita placed branches of single petal, heirloom roses in each bottle.   The next thing she does is look through her vegetable garden for what has gone missing - "Someone ate the squash leaves", she said.  "Can you imagine, the squash leaves - must have been the baby woodchucks".   It's not easy being a weekend gardener. 

She did, however, find beets, assorted green leaves for salad, chocolate mint for tea - and things like chard, kale and arugula - "which no one seems to like."

I had plans to make pasta with beets and beet greens for dinner.  But, we both were kind of exhausted from the at least five-stops trip from the City so we opted for salad with Kunik cheese - about which I've written several times on this blog.   It was just right.

Blueberries and yogurt for Saturday breakfast and a plan to go off in search of Heather Ridge Farm and their farm cafe called The Bees Knees.  We thought we knew where we were going but a series of missed turns and unclear directions had us going in circles before arrived at the farm.  The charming place on, yes, a ridge has tasty, made-from- the-heart food - but vegetarians have little to no choice as
Heather Ridge Farm raises animals so their menu is meat-centric.

My chili - called "Oink & Moo" served with a corn muffin seemed just the right  thing to eat on the chilly, overcast day.   Tart lemonade and ice tea flavored with the farm's honey and mint were beverage choices.

Before we left for our adventure Rita took an early morning walk into her woods - she had a hunch that because it had rained for days that there just might be some early chanterelles.  She was right and came back with enough golden trumpets to make a tasty concoction that we spread on crackers and had  as an hors d'oeuvre with a glass of Lillet on the rocks.

Clean and chop the chanterelles.  Saute in extra virgin olive oil with chopped leeks and garlic scapes until tender.  Finish with a dab of butter.

We had  beet pasta for dinner:


Saute diced beets in olive oil with minced garlic.  Tear the the leaves from the ribs of the thoroughly rinsed beet greens.   Chop about 1/3 of the ribs into pieces the size of the diced beets.  Add to the saute.  Add water to the saute pan and cook until the vegetables are fork tender 30 - 40 minutes - adding water as needed.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.   Add the greens to the beets with a bit of lemon zest and juice, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.   Add water.    Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's directions.  Two minutes before the pasta cooking time is complete use tongs or a wire mesh strainer to remove it from the pot and add directly to the beets.   Toss the combine.  Serve immediately garnished with fresh, whole milk ricotta.  (We bought some exceptionally good fresh ricotta at the Barbers Farm stand in Middleburgh, NY).

There were blueberries and strawberries hanging around the refrigerator so I make a quick crumble.  It was a good dessert but an even better breakfast the next morning served cold with Evans yogurt - the BEST, from Norwich, NY - and a glass of iced coffee.

QUICK FRUIT CRUMBLE (is there any other kind?)
Add fruit of your choice; berries, peaches, nectarines, plums, etc. mixed with a little lemon juice and sugar or honey to a buttered baking dish.  Use your fingers to rub together equal parts of unsalted butter, flour(or 1/2 flour, 1/2 rolled oats), and sugar to make crumbs.  Add a pinch of salt and flavor, as I did with ground cinnamon and a splash of pure vanilla extract (sometimes I use almond extract).   Scatter the crumbs over the top of the fruit.   Baked at 350 degrees F. until the top is slightly brown and the sides are bubbly - about 30 minutes.

Allegra found a nest of baby minks and became completely obsessed.  I was happy that mama mink wasn't home when she was barking and digging at the nest.

We all had a good time.

David made the above sage-colored chairs from a pattern purchased at Wave Hill - they're chairs designed for the grand NYC gardens overlooking the Hudson River towards the Palisades.


Lisa Corti reimagined.   Rita used one of her worn-out Lisa Corti quilts - check out the website to see some of the prettiest quilts and home ware, ever - in her vegetable garden to keep the weeds from growing (remember, she's a weekend gardener).  The mulch anchors the quilt.