Monday, September 28, 2009

Fast Birthday

Q: What do you get when you cross a 36th birthday with Yom Kippur?
A: A hungry birthday girl.

But seriously folks, I'm glad it's over. Thirty six hardly seems like a birthday worth getting emotional over. It's just loitering around in the thirties neighborhood- spry and energetic 30 is way back there and empowered and assured 40 is still a ways off. So instead, I focused on Yom Kippur, and the transgressions, sins, follies, inequities, and slips that weighed my year down. And I decided that this year I will try to listen more. Listening means less talking, less gossiping, less naysaying, less yelling, less imposing, less noise.
The thing about Yom Kippur is that it is supposed to be a day of reflection and inwardness, soul searching and new resolutions, but at about 4:00 p.m. my interior starts to grumble and my head inevitably turns to what I want to eat. On Yom Kippur my true pallette affirms itself- I long for pizza, cheese, and sweet pastry. And that's what YK is for me, it is a day that strips everything down to it's bare elements.
Knowing myself as I do, after 36 years of inhabiting these skin and bones- I put together a maple french toast right before the fast began, and left it in the fridge for those 25 hrs. to soak up the egg/milk/vanilla mixture. Straight out of the oven it was homey and sweet and warm. And it reminded me that life, like my astrological sign, is about balance. The harshness and hunger of the Yom Kippur fast was important, but so was the comforting and warm nourishment of the french toast that followed it.

Maple French Toast
In a small saucepan combine 1/3 c. butter (I used light butter spread and it was fine), 2/3 c. packed brown sugar, and 1/3 c. maple syrup. Stir over medium flame until a smooth syrupy mixture occurs. Spread syrup mixture over a casserole pan. Slice up a challah into 1" slices, trim off the crusts and place the challah over the syrup covering the pan in a single layer of challah slices. In a med. bowl beat 4 eggs, 1 c. milk (I used 2%), and a teaspoon of vanilla extract and if you have it a tsp. maple extract. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. Bake uncovered at 375F until the challah is golden brown and puffy.
Serving suggestions: Butter and jam is delicious on this breakfast dish, as well as additional maple syrup. Sliced bananas are also a fantastic addition.
Addendum: if you are after a more ooey-gooey cozy breakfast experience- increase butter to 1/2 c., brown sugar to 3/4c. and maple syrup to 1/2 c. (especially if you are using Grade B syrup- and in that case save a piece for me)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Georgia O'Keefe And The Meals That Followed

"One can't paint New York as is, but rather as is felt"

I fear I may have fallen out of the habit of blogging. Perhaps I have lost the impulse to record my noteworthy dishes and memorable meals? Sometimes it just feels like yet another thing that needs to be done. And I wonder if anyone is even out there anyway. But today deserves a mention- if only to commit it to memory. Despite all the UN happenings in midtown, Eustacia and I decided to check out the Georgia O'Keefe exhibition at the Whitney Museum. We parked in my old neighborhood on the Upper West Side and walked through the park in pleasant early autumn weather.
The exhibition was incredible, it focused on Georgia O'Keefe's abstract paintings. There were a number of her recognizable large scale flower canvases which were gorgeous and absorbing. But the pieces I was most attracted to were in a series called Bright Star, and her paintings on Lake George. These works did for me what I feel good art does in general- it made me see things in a different way. I left feeling "spiritually" nourished but physically starving. Where to for lunch? We were in Manhattan- and a myriad of choices lay deliciously before us. Due to time constraints we decided that wherever we went should be close to the car, as we had to make a quick getaway. I remembered a Le Pain Quotidien on 72nd Street and hoped it was still there. Mais Oui and Hell Yeah! We were seated at one of those long communal tables and I immediately ordered a cafe au lait, which was perfect. Next, I deliberated over what to eat- all I really wanted was baguette with butter, which they do well, but the adorable teenaged waiter convinced me to get a cheese platter to go with it. Memories of our recent visit to LA Burdick flitted through my mind, and the stylized French-ness of it all had me going. Going, going, gone - with a final swallow of my cafe au lait, I grabbed a piece of baguette for the road, and eyed the sumptuous pastry case on the way out. We headed to the car, got back on the road that leads out of my magical island, and straight to afternoon pick up. It was one of those perfect New York days.
The presence of Georgia O'Keefe and her artwork lingered through dinner. I made cornbread and beans as a tabletop tribute to O'Keefe's New Mexico influence. Honey butter seemed appropriate for this time of year and was a nice addition to the cornbread.

Honey Butter
Mix up 1 tbsp. honey with 4 tbsp. softened butter. Great on toast, muffins, scones, and tea bread

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Of Sprains and Maine

Monday, September 7
The most delicious sight after 10 days of tents, motels, hotels, and cabins is my lovely soft and cozy bed. A bed for my tired, strained, and sprained body. New England is a real beauty this time of year. The people are reserved in the friendliest manner. The food is superb- due to the bounty that springs from the multitude of farms in the vicinity. The proud history that the area is steeped in is almost palpable. The air is clean, the maple syrup is pure, and the hiking is scenic. Reinforcing to me why I love this region of the US. But ultimately, at the end of the day, my beloved bed is my favorite destination.

We landed in Woodstock, Vermont after a 6 hour car voyage. We brave pilgrims perservered through traffic, hourly peepee stops, bitter squabbling, frequent hunger. Once in Woodstock though, we were transformed and revived. What a gorgeous little town 'tis! The houses and buildings dating back to the early 19th Century and are meticulously preserved. The grandest and most elaborate building belonged to the Woodstock Inn right across from the village green. We took our ravenous herd to the Tavern at the Inn for dinner. The interior of this wonderful inn was done in what you'd call Yankee Chic; clean, uncluttered, wood floors and beams, simple wood furniture, elegant understated rugs, colonial era landscapes or sparse nature scenes on the walls. The kind of place that makes you inadvertedly whisper- for fear of upsetting the seriously tranquil atmosphere.

The cheese fondue we ordered at the Tavern was delicious, with just the right amount of garlic infused into the cheese to keep it from tasting bland and fatty. And the french fries were also great, but to be honest- I didn't have a bad or even sub-par french fry throughout the whole 10 day trip. I indulged in a cocktail or two at the Tavern and the Hemingway was really enjoyable.

The rest of the weekend was spent at the Pond Ridge Motel which was set upon really spectacular grounds and overlooked a river. We enjoyed several picnics catered by the Woodstock Farmers Market on the benches at the river bank.

The camping portion of our trip started on Monday at the Wilgus State Park, on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire. While driving around the vicinity we happened upon this amazing little town in New Hampshire called Walpole. Ahhh Walpole....Sweet dreams are made of this. To start, there's this incredible chocolate boutique in this tiny country town called L.A. Burdick. Elegant, upscale, French, marvellous- are the words I'd use to describe the chocolate. The salt caramels and honey caramels being my favorites, and the sesame cashew bon bons deserving an honorable mention. To take things from the sublime to the ridiculously awesome- the next room from the chocolate shop was Burdick's bistro/patisserie. A glass case displaying the most delicate and dainty cakes and pastel mini macarons had me spinning an elaborate plan to return the next day avec famille for afternoon tea. I would do a few loads of laundry in honor of the occasion, so that we would all look somewhat decent and not the wild and woolly savages camping had made of us.

On the way back to the campsite, we passed a small unassuming storefront that offered ice cream made on the premises The Walpole Creamery. I hardly ever get anything during summer's regular ice cream trips. But this place was different, I had the good sense to realize. I got a scoop of mango ice cream which was creamy and fruity and not overly sweet, and so fresh it made me swoon. My brother claimed his milkshake was the best he'd ever had. Walpole's my kinda town, quality sweet treats tempting you at every turn.

The next day began without a hitch. Hub and the kids dropped my brother off at the train bound for NYC (he had a flight to Thailand to catch) as I did laundry. We ate our sandwiches at the picnic table at the base of the hike we were about to take. We hiked up the path, and enjoyed the sights and smells. So when reaching the top-I gleefully hopped off a boulder and landed wrong on my ankle, heard a nauseating click, and knew I was in trouble. It wasn't broken, 'cos I was able to get back down the mountain, but it was swollen and it hurt. But those were mere details, that I was not going to let get in the way of my afternoon tea at Burdick's.

I limped in and promptly ordered us a platter of their macarons one in every flavor. They were all good, but my favorite was coffee, second favorite-chocolate. The kiddles each had a cup of maple flavored steamed milk, I had a French Martini. Hub ordered the cheese platter for all of us to share- the Vermont cheddar was just right in sharpness and creaminess. The pomme frites were also laudable for their saltiness and crispiness.

Eventually, I had to deal with reality and go to the hospital to get my foot checked out. Which ended up being a nice 2 hr break of non-movement and non-kiddles and I finished the engrossing novel I was reading: "Loving Frank". A good book that I am still thinking about.

From here on I was hobbling around on crutches, and pleading infirmity whenever the kids needed to be taken to the bathroom (poor Hub, lucky me). I missed out on some cool things like the Harpoon Brewery tour and the Garden of Life path, but I made a point of making it to Stubs & Laura for breakfast. The nurses at the hospital recommended this roadside diner to us, and it is the kind of hidden gem Jan & Michael Stern the Roadside Gourmets seek, find, and write about. The kiddles had oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins. I had eggs sunny side up, the home fries that came with the order were delish. Cubes of potatoes fried the perfect shade of golden brown, well seasoned, and offering a texture that was alternately soft and crispy. The wheat toast was homemade and was hearty and thick and homey with butter.

But enough about Vermont/New Hampshire let's talk about Maine. O Maine, what a gorgeous & quirky place thou art. We drove into Portland and parked our car at the waterfront, I was excited about the prospect of visiting another city. I wasn't going to let a pair of @#$%# crutches get in the way of a city scene. I crutched up the cobblestone streets throwing Hub a proud little "ha ha I can't be kept down" grin every now and then. I labored my way over to this vintage thrift store that seems to be part of a New England chain "Second Time Around", and found a really chic LBD from some earlier era; black, below-the-knee sheath with a jewelled collar and jewelled sleeves. I need to throw a party or something so that I can wear it, maybe Kenzo's wedding?

We had dinner at a pretty good place called Wharf 57 (referring to the street address). Hub had a juicy blueberry featured salad. Les Kides grilled cheese kiddie meals came with great fries. I had an asparagus small dish that was great and another small dish pasta that was very enjoyable and creamy and garlicky. Cocktail was decent.

We had to move on the next day, but not before stopping at Portland's Whole Foods. It's a big one, with beautiful local produce; and an expansive cheese and bakery counter, as well as colorful and diverse self serve stations, and generous samplings at every turn. We stocked up for our weekend in a rustic Maine cabin near the port of Camden. On the way to Camden we took a several hours long pit stop at LLBean in Freeport. That place is cool and huge, a sprawling complex that the town is built around. They have a summer concert series in their courtyard, that attracts talent like Dar Williams, Blues Traveller, and for the hip-kiddie set and the parents who love them, Dan Zanes. An aquarium you can step into- stocked with brown trout, rainbow trout- needless to say Hub was in his element- He was so in the spirit of it all that he got Kid1 a set of his own hip waders (size 2). About 2 hours later and much lighter in the purse, we set off.

We got to Megunticook, campsite by the sea, checked out our cabin- tres rustique, and then grabbed dinner in town. The town of Camden features a harbor chock full of gorgeous and majestic tall ships and boats. It also has a number of cute and quaint boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Unfortunately, our first dinner in Camden was a disappointment. We chose the Village Restaurant- the harbor view was spectacular, the food? Not so much.

During that rustic family weekend by the sea we enjoyed several adventures in almost perfect weather. We took a 2 hour tour around the bay on a beautiful sailing ship, whose first mate made a damn good and spicy bloody mary. At my urging (OK, I forced them) we visited the Wyeth Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. I was impressed by the size and sophistication of the museum, which was exhibiting Richard Indiana. I was surprised by how many well known artists have roots in Maine.

We also checked out a pirate themed puppet show in the diminutive Camden Opera House, which had kid1 giggling throughout. Of course I cannot neglect a mention of the Camden Cone, a tiny little counter of an ice cream stop. Again, I had the good sense to order a cone and after tasting my Maine Blueberry deliciousness, I started believing that I have a sixth sense when it comes to ice cream. Lordy! Was that stuff good! To begin with it was the most soothing shade of soft mauve. It contained real blueberries, it was creamy and at the perfect pitch of sweetness. And with that, our trip drew to a close. We drove for 8 hrs. through the main arteries of New England, the lush green fields were traded for gray asphalt and and metal and glass traffic.

Saturday, September 12
Reentry has proven to be bumpy. Out of the morning mists of New England I was deposited into the chaos of back-to-school. Lucky that I called my friend Erica and found out school actually started on thursday, not wednesday. School supplies needed to be purchased, groceries needed to be procured... Alas, my life of rustic meandering, cocktails at dinner, exemplary french fries, magical ice cream cones, and undisturbed family time gave way to Responsibility.

Rosh Hashanah follows back-to-school closely. The two events combined becomes the perfect storm of activity and responsibilty. However the good news of this past week was that my ankle is going to be just fine-- No MRI's, physical therapy, or dorky sneakers required!
I'm going to take it easy on the high heels for the next few months, which will be forcing me to rethink my outfit options for a few formal and semi-formal events I have in the next few weeks- but thank god my ankle is going to be fine. And back to life we go.