Category Archives: Books

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Strawberry Cream Puffs

strawberry-cream-puffs1

For Valentines or the winter blues, nothing goes better with Champagne! Continue reading

Rolling with the Peaches

Saturday was my friend Sky’s birthday party. We celebrated with lots of karaoke and a vegan feijoada prepared by her best bud Marcela and me. Feijoada is a Brazilian feast that features black beans, rice, various salads, and a huge platter of MEAT. (Guess which part we left out.)

The preparations began a few days ago, when Marcela emailed me with the idea and I ran to my bookshelf and pulled out my 1968 edition Latin American Cooking by Time Life Books.

Elegant Brazilian Ladies enjoy a feijoada completa.

I remembered there was an entire section on feijoada, because of the picture above. This image had made a big impression on me because I’d bought the book right after freshman year of college/Latin American Sociology 101, where I’d learned all about the brutal military dictatorships and economic disparity of that era. So I always narrowed my eyes a little at these fun loving, aristocratic ladies. It’s funny to think back on it now.

One winter break later, I visited my sister who was studying abroad at the University of Sao Paulo. We paid a visit to her friend Thais’ family in Rio, who had a terrace just like the one above where we welcomed the year 2000 with lots of dancing, triple kisses (one on each cheek is NOT ENOUGH), and a feijoada – just like the one in the book.

Since I was vegetarian, my favorites were maioneise (mai-yo-nay-zee), a Brazilian potato salad with peas and egg; and vinagrete (vee-nay-gret-chee), a Brazilian condiment that is similar to pico de gallo. Their names were also so darn cute and fun to say.

The plan for the party was that I would make Sky’s birthday cake on Thursday. On Friday, after dinner with Sky’s parents, Marcela and I would make the beans, vegan maioneise and mango vinagrete. On Saturday we would finish up- Marcela with the rice, and me with my Colombiana touch: tostones and maduros (savory and sweet fried plantains). The party would start at 3:30pm and at some point we would throw some fish and pineapple skewers on the grill.

One Brazilian…one Colombian…a Latin feast. As the day of the party approached – like a size 2 dress on a size 6 mamasota dancing samba – the seams of our tidy little plan began to unravel.

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Sushi, Squared

I am so proud. My cell phone and computer both got their bluetooth cherries popped by each other last night so there will be many fuzzy cell phone pics coming your way. Get ready!

Last night was a first for me, too. I ate Spam.

The only other time I ever came close was when I was 6 years old and we went on one of our many family visits to western North Carolina. My Dad had spent his late twenties there, in a mountain shack; philosophizing, writing a book and eating beans out of a can. In the process, he met and befriended his only neighbors, the Anders family- Bob and Janet, their four kids, and a dozen hunting dogs.

The Anders’ house was humble, but there were fresh baked biscuits on the table at every meal (made in a woodburning stove). Janet would open a jar of green beans or cabbage, made with vegetables they grew on a patch of land beside the house, and we would feast. I was pretty young, so I don’t remember much about what was discussed around that rustic kitchen table, but I imagine it was a mix of local legend, hunting stories, and cursing.

One day we went to Grandma Anders’ house for lunch. It was a beautiful little place a mountain or two over, with a fresh little stream rambling by. She had set her table with a simple linen cloth, white china, and an entirely different spread. Everything was store-bought, and included coffee for the adults, a stack of buttered white bread, mixed pickles, and a small, smooth pink brick on a plate. It reminded me of modeling clay.

Raised in D.C.’s suburbia, I’d never seen Spam face to face, and waited for someone else to cut a piece before I dared to try. Unfortunately, not a single person touched the thing and I left just as mystified as ever.

So, how could something as inedible-looking as Spam be made appetizing? How could something so ridiculed be taken seriously?  And who really eats this stuff?

I first heard about musubi in Linda Stradley’s genius I’ll Have What They’re Having, Legendary Local Cuisine – part cookbook, part anthropological survey – featuring our most beloved, multi-cultural American snacks, from California date shakes to New York knishes. According to the book:

“Residents of Hawaii consume more Spam than populations anywhere else in the world: More than four million cans every year, or an average twelve cans of Spam per person per year.”

Stradley offers a recipe for musubi, a Hawaiian “sandwich,” or slice of fried Spam layered on a square of rice with a strip of nori to hold it all together.

I was intrigued. I’d tried and liked onigiri, the triangular japanese rice balls filled with fish or meat, and musubi was like its tanned, beach bum cousin.

Last night, my friend and fellow sushi-lover Malika and I went to St. Mark’s Place. Since we are both on a budget, she suggested we try Park Sushi – a place she frequented in her NYU days – where they offered 50% off specials. It turned out to be right next door to Pommes Frites, and is now called May’s Place. Just look for the place with the schoolgirl-clad waitresses (sorry; knee-length).

We took our seats in the back of the long, busy, wood-paneled room, ordered sake, and opened our colorful menus. 

Something about the phrase “dollar menu” sends my cheapskate heart a-flutterin,’ and when I saw that page, I thought “this is my kind of place.” Among the same-old miso soup and edamame selections was $1 musubi! Now was my chance.

We each ordered a salad off of the regular menu (seaweed and tuna-avocado), and an assortment of $1 sushi. And at the last minute I excitedly ordered my musubi.

spam musubi

 

The musubi arrived and looked quite appetizing. The meat (can I call it that?) was slightly charred around the edges and gleamed with a think layer of fresh grease. The rice was seasoned and plump, and the taut nori completed the package.

It took some muscle to pick the thing up with my chopsticks, but I managed to get it from the plate to the soy sauce and up to my face. My first bite was juicy and flavorful. Spam tastes like a tangy hot dog when grilled, and the wasabi I put in the soy was perfect for balancing out its subtle brininess. The next two bites went by much too quickly…and then it was gone.

It was a fun, yummy and memorable snack.

The salads tasted a little off. The $1 sushi was $1 sushi. The sake was gone too fast. But I will be back for more musubi.

Next time, I’ll grab a few to go, order some fries from Pommes Frites, and have a sidewalk picnic. Or walk over to Thompson Square park.

This would also be a fun accompaniment to the six pack of beer you are bringing to a party…especially if that party is at my house!

May’s Place Sushi

121 2nd Avenue, between 7th and 8th

East Village

 

The Book Report

 

Entertaining Is Fun!

I just finished Dorothy Draper’s original 1941 version of Entertaining is Fun! How to Be A Popular Hostess, a book I stumbled across while doing library research on redecorating my apartment – and thought “Ooh, I think I’m a popular hostess.” 🙂

Draper was primarily an accomplished decorator, and her works include the Carlyle Hotel and the dining room at the MET, both in New York. This one is a sequel to her book Decorating is Fun! How to Be Your Own Decorator.

She carried her innate sense of visual style and taste into her “entertaining,” a word that seems to have grown out of date, but basically includes throwing parties, hosting guests, and in general, being social and fun instead of giving into what Draper has dubbed the “will to be dreary,” or, our tendency to shy away from something new and bold while we cling to the faded curtains of same-old same-old daily life (and various degrees of Social Anxiety Disorder).

In case you couldn’t tell by the cover, the author is in favor of a pink, polka-dotted world, one where women take charge of their space (and their social lives) by turning front closets into impromptu powder rooms and fold-out bars, while men are busy wrapping their hands around “big, man-sized sandwiches” and sending over a flower for his lady to wear when they go out that night.

It is an idyllic world of brass door knockers and garden clubs – but the message of the book shines through all the nostalgia: in Draper’s view, the lack of money is a poor excuse not to party.

She conjures up images of warm, candlelit affairs that can be had at any price, whether it’s cheese, beer and charades or a full-blown Austrian harvest feast complete with live music and elaborate costumes.

Although some of the themes are out-of-date, the idea that you can make something out of nothing is electrifying. You CAN have a cocktail party in your one-room studio. You CAN have window boxes and a picnic in front of your your trailer-house. The basic message is clear: get up, get going, and throw a party already!

Another strong takeaway is to be thoughtful of others. All you really need to do to be a successful friend is to enjoy providing for others, to listen to and therefore be inspired by the people you bring into your life, and to add your personal touch to all the thoughtful little details.

A Contented Guest, from Entertaining is Fun!

Despite all this good cheer and love, I do need to make a disclaimer for anyone who decides to pick up this book. It was written almost 70 years ago. There are shocking references to negro entertainers and Cherokee raiders. I read passages aloud to people over the past few weeks, and always got a strong reaction. Some thought it was brilliant, others found it sexist and insulting. I think that the reason I was able to enjoy it was by taking on the outdatedness with a grain of salt.

But is a deep dish blueberry pie of a book, and you don’t want to miss out on all its sweet jems because of a few sour specks.