Friday, January 28, 2011

Youth is not Wasted on the Middle Aged

I savored and sucked dry another New York City night, and the crumpled rind is lying in a heap at the foot of my bed.
It snowed throughout Wednesday night, and I was feeling a large measure of bitterness and exasperation as I flung myself into bed that night. I had a hair appointment, that had been thrice postponed, scheduled for the next day- Thursday. My hair situation was getting desperate: I was alternating between the do-rag (sp?) and my chunky knit beret for the better part of a month- my roots were as wide as a skunk's stripe, and my hair was as dull and lifeless as a wilted house plant. Was I to be thwarted again by winter conditions? Would another snow day be declared? Would I have to run another session Mom's School? Did I have enough chocolate?

I woke up on Thursday morning to a landscape that was still, cold, pristine, and white. The sky was clear, and I could hear the snow ploughs hunkering along in the distance. The kids were on a two hour delay, which meant I could sleep more, but still get my hair done- there's a win-win situation for you. I got to my appointment early, and I paged through one of those hairstyle magazines as I waited for my Coiffeuse. The accumulation of snow days, concentrated domesticity, and my uninspired appearance condensed itself into an overwhemling impulse for something different, new, and a little risky. A new hairstyle. There's a French saying about how when a woman wants to change her life, she changes her hairstyle. And if it isn't a French saying, it should be. I zeroed in on a short style that looked like a mop of curls, and featured bangs. Let's do it! I blurted without really thinking- La Coiffeuse jumped at the chance.
My hair is dark red, and I got the eyebrows to match. It is short and it kind of has a retro feel to it. Between the color and the messy-looking curls and waves, it does grab some attention. My kids do not like it, and Hub is not sold on it either. But I kind of dig it. It reminds me of the hairstyle of a Klimt subject, he painted Jewish society ladies at the turn of the 20th Century in Vienna. My bro thinks it's circa 1970's. Either way it's something different.
With this new 'do and a refreshed redhead attitude to go along, I was unleashed onto NYC. We had tickets to see Cloudrunner featuring Matisyahu at the Bowery Ballroom. We got an early start and were tossing out the "bye's", "love you's", and "see you in the morning's" as soon as my father-in-law walked through the door and we hightailed out. I had a serious case of cabin fever that needed to be slaked.

All the details that make up a fabulous New York City night were there. Hub got a great spot right near the venue. The Lower East Side is a neighborhood I neglected during my time in the City. It just felt so far away, and was a neighborhood that was transitioning. I made a few trips down there for nostalgia's sake- to visit Katz's Deli, Sammy's Romanian, and Ratner's Dairy restaurant, my favorite movie while growing up in Sydney was Crossing Delancey after all. I also visited Arlene Grocery a few times, a divey New Yorky spot, to see a musician called Andrew Vladeck who I had a semi- crush on. I thought he was a cross between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
We actually ended up having dinner at a place that was right across the street from Arlene Grocery. I nursed the memories as I enjoyed my Singapore Noodles. The Noodle Bar is a cool and friendly joint. It has a kind of hip Asian street vibe. The menu was pan-Asian and the prices were quite reasonable. Noodles are the perfect food for cold wet winter weather. We started off with an order of the 5 Spice Fish 'n Chips, Pad Thai, and a Salad which were all appetizer portioned. The Fish 'n Chips were great; crispy, hot and ending on a pleasantly curious note (the five spice). The Pad Thai was nice and lime-y, the peanuts added a great texture. The salad was decent. Hub and I both had steaming bowls of Shanghai noodles in a full and flavorful broth for our main. The noodles were thick and slippery, there was a sliced hard boiled egg nestled on one side of the bowl and sturdy squares of bok choy floating in the mix. The broth is what I pledged my devotion to. Rich, with a slightly creamy coconuttiness to it, lemon grass and a little sriracha or chili and then some spices they wouldn't divulge. At the end of the meal I paused over the Five Spice Cheesecake on the menu. Our very personable and upbeat waiter closed the deal by offering it to me for free. How could I say no to that offer? It came in a small ramekin, it was crustless and was garnished with a line of black sesame seeds and a coordinating line of crushed peanuts. It was thick and extremely Philly cream cheesey, almost as if they took a block of cream cheese mixed in some sugar and spices, spooned it into the ramekins, chilled it, and then garnished it. It was good because cream cheese cannot be bad, and there was a slight suggestion of spice, and the little additions on top certainly helped- but I think more can be done with this idea. To be continued, maybe.
We still had some free time before the show, so as best we could, through the mess of city snow, and the slush lagoons that flank every corner, we meandered through the narrow little streets. First we stopped at Victor Osborn on Orchard Street- I was yanked in by the leopard print fedora I saw from the window. They had the most beautifully made hats I've ever seen. All styles- for men and women. Since I've been watching Mad Men I have started to pay attention to these little pieces that go into creating a fantastic outfit.
After trying on a few different chapeaux, we continued our city stroll maybe 4 doors down- where I was stopped dead in my tracks by a purple hued Pucci dress in the window of a vintage clothing store. Hub put on his patient face as we walked in. I could spend a fair bit of coin in this place. I loved everything the sweet redheaded Jerry pulled off the racks to show me. I think he recognized a vintage soul, and was having fun showing off his finds. Besides the Pucci, I was yearning for a black A-line skirt made from lambswool with a matching little jacket. Sigh. How amazing would it be to wear that skirt with a jean jacket and my coquettish ribbon laced boots?
I finally ejected myself from that little treasure box, and on we went to the Bowery Ballroom. We waited on line and checked our coats. Then we plonked ourselves down on one of the overstuffed couches as we enjoyed our plastic clad drinks. As a kind gesture the bartendress asked to see my bracelet that showed I was old enough. I was old enough to be her aunt (the age of her mom or dad's youngest sibling). And maybe even the Mom of some of the kids that didn't qualify for a bracelet. How can that be? Was the recurring query of the night for me. I'm just like them. I'm just like them but with three kids and a husband and a house and a car who's brakes need to be replaced.
We went into the performance space and hunkered down on a spot close to the stage. Standing room only. The vibe was upbeat and anticipatory. The opening act was this guy named Taylor McFerrin, I wonder if he's any relation to Bobby McFerrin (of the early 90's tune- Don't Worry Be Happy) ? He was doing the whole human beatbox thing, which I think elder McFerrin did in a more poppy way. He was good and his "beats" got me moving and even clapping at some point. As soon as the lights were dimmed the pot smoke started wafting up. I was standing in a little enclave that included Hub, my brother, a girl with neatly trimmed dreads and her surprisingly buttoned up and bespectacled beau, and these adorable hippie children- she was 21 and had dark hair which was a little messy and reached the middle of her back. He had shoulder length sandy waves and one of those knitted wool ski caps perched on top, and a beard-of course. She smiled easily at me and I could see by the shape of her face and her coloring that my relatively new cat's eye sunglasses would suit her perfectly- more than they did me. I reached into my bag and handed them to her. "Here, these will suit you". She was thrilled by the unexpected gift, and spent the concert with them on her face.
The music was trippy and beat driven. There was a guy in the band that let loose on an electric classical bass. The instrument was almost as big as he was, and he was working that thing with all he had. After and hour or so, Hub was getting tired of standing and needed a little breathing room so he went back down to the bar area. I stayed a little longer, and then decided a little fresh air would be nice. I found myself outside on the sidewalk in the smoking section, where there was a little community of guys and the girls they were hitting on. I stood back and watched them. I even accepted a drag or two from Hipster jr.'s wacky tobacky cigarette. I think some dude was hitting on me when he said women get better with age. And then I felt the red wine rebel in my gut. I excused myself and found Hub. I knew what was going to happen next- and I sure as hell was not gonna let it happen there in front of all those cool kids.
It happened all over a dingy white snow bank about a block away. I think I caught the sarcastic smirk of a genuine hipster who was passing through. It was time to go back to the cabin. I gratefully leaned my head against Subaru upholstery and opened my eyes occasionally to see the lights whizzing by. Before long we were home, I threw off my jeans and knee high boots and climbed happily into bed. This morning I made breakfast, and pieced together the school lunches. I decided on a hearty chili con carne for dinner tonight. Then thinking about last night's Noodle Bar meal, I decided on a five spiced glazed salmon for lunch on saturday. I picked up all the ingredients, and then got my brakes replaced. As I was climbed up the driveway with them, I noticed the icicles that look like sparkling strips of diamonds that flank the perimeter of our house.

5 Spice Glazed Salmon

1/4 c. honey
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. five spice powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 1/2 - 2 lb. piece salmon, skin removed

Mix first five ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Place salmon fillet in a baking pan pour 5 spice sauce over salmon. Allow to marinate for about half an hour, flipping fish over midway. Put oven on broil and place salmon (skin side down) in top third of oven. Broil for approx 25 minutes- until sauce sizzles and the fish flakes off when cut by fork.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chocolate Covered Snow Days

I'm all for snow days- but this is freakin' ridiculous! Last night, an unexpected snow fall crept up on us. It followed a teachers conference on friday (no school) and then Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday. There's been so much indoor family time that I'm craving a cigarette, and I don't smoke. All the TV and junk food is making everyone around here blobular and hazy-lazy. After learning of the school cancellation this morning, I decided Mom's School was in session. I gave them pages of math problems to do, then onto spelling, composition, Hebrew, art, reading, and PE (jump rope). Music appreciation comes in the form of several of my playlists. Home Ec was all about making a decent grilled cheese sandwich. Right now the drama/theater unit is being executed with the construction of a school bus out of a large cardboard box, and then they plan on reenacting their bus ride home from school. The ban on TV started yesterday and continues through today.
In the meantime, while playing the schoolmarm, I have my own stuff that needs to get done. I have to get to the market to restock after this 5 day indoor nosh and sloth-fest. I need to work on a few dishes for the c-book. If my editor approves, I want to come up with some recipes for chocolate barks: a milk, a dark, and a white. Valentines Day is almost here, and it is the heart (pun intended) of chocolate season. I need to at least try to conjure up some business, and that means strategic free samples. The flavor-of-the-season is Black Forest Surprise. It's a cherry infused dark chocolate ganache center with a pleasing surprise in the form of a dried cherry slipped in. It's covered in a layer of white chocolate and then finished off with a dusting of dark chocolate shavings.
I'm gaining weight and losing muscle tone as I write. Like the very hungry caterpillar we've eaten through 1 cookie jar of junk chocolate, 1 pint of ice cream, 1 bag of pretzels, a six pack of chocolate pudding, ten ounces of hot choco mix, and a box of cocoa puffs. For the sake of my sanity, or at the very least, my somewhat shaky equilibrium- there better be school tomorrow. If we're home for another day we might have to host a Chocolate Intervention. Gather the truly hopeless and broken-down and snowed-under over for a chocolate devouring orgy. That's if I have anything left. I might have to break into my emergency Guittard and Ghirardelli chocolate chips; dark, milk, and white- like a chocolate themed MLK Jr. Day celebration.
This is the part of winter I dislike the most. When you get to the I-don't-know-what-number-snow-day-this-is Snow Day. The snow today is really slushy, it's raining now, and the kiddles had some fun shoveling it from our driveway. It reminded me of the white coconut ice they sell on the street corners in New York in the sweltering summer months. If only...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow Day

Snow Day: Big, fluffy, winter-movie-scene flakes are falling down from a bright white sky. The kitchen is in a disarray of pots, pans, jars, bottles, utensils, coffee mugs and breakfast dishes. There's a chicken roasting in the oven and my greatest hits are playing on a loop. The kiddles are still in PJ's, and thankfully there are some moments of quiet activity that break up their steady shtick of bickering and tears.
My plans for a hair cut and color were chucked out with my regular schedule. It's a Snow Day.
One of the best things about living in the East and other wintery climates is the snow day. A snow day is an excuse to just lounge around the house and is permission to make a mess, it's an unexpected day off, and sometimes a bit of a reprieve. Snow days are long, and often start off with the best intentions but end up in marathon TV sessions and junk food wrappers. When Samwich and Girlette were pre-schoolers snow days were the perfect excuse for an all-day Mommy 'n Kiddie playdate with Eustacia and her boy and girl- the house would be trashed, but time went by easily, and a sweet coziness filled the space.
I wish I had a snowglobe for each of our snow day scenes, I'd keep them on the bookshelf in the den. First one would be of newborn Samwich in his hospital bassinette. There'd be another of a me with a couple of toddlers at my feet, tugging my hair in frustration. Today's would show a chaotic kitchen and a pan of roasted chicken emerging from the oven. The kiddles would be at the kitchen table absorbed in their own interests, as the white flakes swirl around. Will I see only the comfy homespun scene in a few years, or will it trigger memories that makes their way to a sink overflowing with stained dishes and pots and me wishing I used paper and stuck to microwave popcorn?

Hoisin Chicken
2 cut-up chickens
2/3 c. hoisin sauce
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. chili flakes
1 tbsp. sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 450F. Lay chicken pieces out in a single layer in a roasting pan. Combine the rest of the ingredients, except sesame seeds, in a small bowl- mix well. With a brush cover chicken pieces in hoisin mixture. Place in top third of oven for 25-30 minutes until juices run clear and sauce looks shiny and lacquered on the chicken pieces. If desired: sprinkle toasted sesame seeds across chicken before serving.