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Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Weekend Cookout

Kurt's friend Alison is subletting a fabulous apartment just down the street from us with an enormous garden. They decided to take advantage of the outdoor space to co-host a Memorial Day weekend cookout.
They spent two days cooking and shopping, and the menu was amazing.
Grilled shrimp with romesco sauce.
Chicken satay with peanut sauce.
White sangria, vodka-marinated watermelon, grilled asparagus with gremolata sauce (Neil and I could not get enough of this), watermelon salad with mint and tomatoes.
Yours truly was in charge of potato salad, which Kurt and I agreed had to be vinaigrette-based -- it's too hot for mayonnaise to sit out on a buffet table. I wasn't really expecting it to get much attention with all the other treats, but Neil liked it so much he had seconds, and a woman named Debbie said it was the best potato salad she'd ever had!
How handsome is Neil in his Nantucket reds? Nate was styling in Madras shorts.
Kurt grilled mini-turkey cheeseburgers. He even pickled onions for a topping. Heavenly! Along with the asparagus, the sliders were  my favorite part (with the chicken satay a close second). I didn't get photos of some things -- bruschetta with olive tapenade, veggies and dip, strawberry shortcake and chocolate crepes with Nutella for dessert. Kurt even made his own crepes! 
By now, I've gotten to meet some of Kurt's friends several times, which is really fun. The party was a good mix of his friends and Alison's friends, with a heavy representation from our neighborhood bar, The Cubbyhole, where both Kurt and Alison are regulars.
Toward the end of the party, Kurt was finally able to change into his fedora and lemon "party pants," and enjoy all his hard work with Alison.
Here's hoping for some leftovers!!

The potato salad came from The Joy of Cooking. The recipe serves four, so you can just adjust it for a crowd: Boil red potatoes; cool and slice. Toss with a basic vinaigrette: 3/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard. Your proportion is about two cups of sliced potatoes for every 1/2 cup of vinaigrette. Before serving, add fresh chopped parsley and chives or scallions. (The recipe says 1 tablespoon parsley and 1 tablespoon chopped  chives for every 2 cups of potatoes, but I didn't really measure.)

Since I didn't make it too long before serving it, I just tossed everything together at once, including the herbs. Dill or tarragon would be fantastic in addition to or instead of the chives and parsley. You can also add garlic to the vinaigrette.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Brunch at Prune

Summer is here, y'all! Hard to believe last Sunday I was walking around in a sweater and a jacket...and then, BAM! By Friday, it was time to install the air conditioners.

Saturday morning, I headed out for a jog. After only a few blocks, I realized the late morning sun would likely fry my lily-white shoulders. So, I worked out at the gym, then met my friend Dana at 1:30 in the East Village for brunch at Prune.
I think this may honestly be the tiniest restaurant I've been in -- and that's really saying something, because pretty much every restaurant 'round here is, um, intimate.

Dana and I waited about 45 minutes for two seats at the bar. Prune has been around since 1999, but I think it's getting a little extra attention these days because its owner/chef, Gabrielle Hamilton, this year published a bestelling memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter, and this month won the James Beard award for Best New York City Chef.

Aside from the food, I'd like to nominate Prune for best bloody Marys. They had at least 10 to choose from; Dana and I both went for the Danish, garnished with fresh fennel and marinated white anchoives. (Note: I forgot my camera, so all of these photos were grabbed from Yelp and other review sites.) 
I had the Spicy Stewed Chickpeas: Butter-crumbed eggs with spicy stewed chickpeas, preserved lemons and warm flatbread. Delicious -- and how in the world do you get a crispy crumb crust outside of poached eggs? See bottom dish in the photo below. The combination of flavors and textures was perfect: lemon, tomatoes, chickpeas and olives with eggs in a slightly crispy cumby crust, with just enough bread to soak up the yolk and juices. I gobbled down every mouthful. (By the time we ate, it was at least 2:30, and I hadn't eaten a thing all day, so I was famished.)
Dana had the Spaghetti a la Carbonara, which the menu described this way: "The Italian way to get your bacon and eggs...with pasta. And plenty of black pepper." It's the kind of dish that could easily be addictive.

From there, we headed to SoHo for a little shopping. (There may be some Camper walking shoes in my near future.) We had some gelato close to Houston and then went to Columbus Circle to meet my friend Julie and her boyfriend Jason for sunset drinks at a cafe near 70th Street in Riverside Park.
Unlike the website photo above, the place was packed, but it was kind of like a mall food court. We hovered like vultures and pounced on a free table. Our reward was a fantastic view of the Hudson River at sunset, washed down with pitchers of beer. Julie and Jason had enormous burgers that looked and smelled delicious, but Dana and I were still stuffed from brunch and gelato.

When I got home, I opened the door and smelled the delicious aromas of Kurt's preparations for today's barbecue feast. Stay tuned for that story...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Top Gun on the USS Intrepid

What could be better watching than Top Gun?

Watching it on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Seriously! And it's the film's 25th anniversary to boot! And it's Memorial Day weekend -- which means it's Fleet Week. Score, score, score!

Alexis, the French guy I met on Match, joined the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum. As a member, he was eligible for advance tickets to the museum's popular summer movie series. When we met up at 7, the line was impossibly long, but he had picked up tickets (and sent me this cute pic) last Saturday.
So, we got to skip to the front of the line for members, which meant we were some of the first ones on the deck. We spread out the picnic blanket Kurt loaned me and got an awesome spot close to the big screen. As the crowd filed in, I thought I saw my friend Allison from my 2009 China trip -- sure enough, it was her and another member of our tour group, Suzette!
The setting couldn't be better...watching the sun set, checking out all the planes on deck, and seeing the city skyline light up for the night. 
They played an interesting video about the history of the Intrepid to start the night, so we got a nice reminder of what Memorial Day weekend is really all about.

I'm not sure I've seen Top Gun in 15 years, but it was amazing how much of it I still remembered -- largely due to the fact my friend Amanda and I watched the beach volleyball scene so many times we wore out the VHS tape.
Not sure Alexis and I are really a "match," but he is a true gentleman and a pleasant date. It was one of those perfect summer nights when you feel so lucky to be outside in the warm breeze -- a great way to kick off the summer!

"Better off Dad" Book Launch

Some of us talk about writing a book -- and some people actually do it!

My friend Will has penned a book about his experiences as a stay-at-home dad. I worked with Will's wife Alli in Charlotte, where we discovered we were a year apart at Duke. After she and Will had their first baby, they decided to move to Illinois in order to be closer to her family. It made sense for Alli to keep her job and for Will to stay at home. To help fill his days, he got a job writing articles for a local paper, and that turned into writing a column. A local editor saw Will's work and thought it would be marketable as a book. It's out -- just in time for Fathers' Day!
Is that not the best title ever?

Will is on a mini-book tour, and I was invited to the New York launch party at his sister's home on Park Avenue. The apartment was lovely -- I think the leather wallpapered powder room off the study was my favorite part. It even smelled like leather!

Servers passed through the apartment with glasses of wine and trays of canapes: marinated tuna cubes, roasted potatoes with creme fraiche and chives, shrimp cocktail, sausages in puff pastry (not sure if they call 'em "pigs in a blanket" on Park Avenue??), asparagus with lemon aioli, and chicken satay. I had a great time chatting with a guy from Charlotte and his actress girlfriend.

We were all given a copy of the book as a party favor and encouraged to spread the word by writing a review on Amazon. I've read a few of the essays so far and really enjoyed them -- as a single gal, it's fun to get a peek into the world of potty training and princess costumes (Will and Alli now have two daughters). And as Will's sister noted, the book isn't just about being a stay-at-home dad -- it's about the challenges all modern parents face.

I love Will's quote on the back cover:
"When I tell other dads about my arrangement, their reactions typically fall into two camps. An overwhelming majority raise an eyebrow and say something like, 'That is definitely not for me.' The others raise a toast and tell me that I'm living the dream."

After the party, I boogied down to the Village to meet my friend Hilary for dinner at Mermaid Oyster Bar on McDougal. Neil was stuck in all-day meetings for his new job as an instructor in Princeton's freshman writing program, but he managed to get back to the city in time to join us. Our favorite part might honestly have been the gouda hush puppies with a creamy smoked paprika sauce. They both ordered the lobster roll, and I had the Montauk skake with fava beans, asparagus and fennel. Complimentary chocolate pudding at the end was a nice touch. Hilary and I finished off the night with a decaf capuccino next door on the sidewalk at Caffe Dante. I got home at 12:30 -- quite a Wednesday night!

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Meet me under the Golden Arches"

It was great fun having my sister in town! She decided to extend her stay for part of the weekend, so we enjoyed dinner at Jane on Houston Street Friday night with Neil, Nate and Patrick. It's one of Neil's favorite restaurants, and we had a great meal. The guys all had steaks, LA had pork tenderloin with cheese grits, and I had fish with a caper beurre blanc sauce over cous cous and kale.

The boys went for a drink afterwards, but I had to go home and make some edits to a speech I'd been working on all you can imagine my delight on Saturday when I got an email informing me the speaking engagement was canceled. Time well spent!  

Saturday morning, Leigh Ann and I made plans to meet up in Chinatown. I descended the steps of the ACE line at 10:30 and began a journey from hell that involved a rerouted C train, discontinued local service due to construction, a missed stop due to excessive map reading, kicking myself when I realized how easily I could have just walked, jumping the turnstile when my unlimited access card temporarily stopped working, and several "Do you understand this sign? I don't think the train is coming, do you?" conversations with foreigners who were even more confused than I was. In summary, I had to go from the West Village to Grand Central to get to Chinatown. Good times!

Arriving in Chinatown an hour after my journey began, I called my sister, who suggested we rendezvous at one of Chinatown's finer restaurants.
(Flashback to China, September 2009. I pride myself on not being the sort of traveler who would deign to set foot in McDonald's, but the Smith girls did enjoy our Chinese cheeseburgers as much as any meal on that trip...)
Anyway, our destination was Jing Fong, which my friend Karey in Charlotte had described this way:

Dim Sum:  There is an amazing dim sum place on Elizabeth in China Town. Jing Fong is the true Cantonese style with the ladies and the carts. Get there super early (no later than 11:30) or you will wait forever.
It was quite an experience; you sit at banquet-style tables (with strangers if your party isn't large), and ladies wheel by with carts to offer you small portions of steamed dumplings, meats, vegetables, desserts, etc. We chowed down on quite a variety of dishes but agreed it would have been better with a larger party so you could sample even more flavors. Karey was right about the crowds; the sidewalk outside was packed when we left.

I bought a bunch of cherries and blackberries on the street. After about 20 minutes of "You want purse? Handbag? Wallet? What kind you like?" in the junky shops, Leigh Ann decided the faux Longchamp bags were too faux for her tastes, so we zipped up to Fifth Avenue and bought the real thing at Saks before she headed home.

I then napped for almost three hours to rest up for my night out in Tribeca. My friend Robin (of the fabulous wedding last month) and her husband AJ had invited Travis and me over for drinks at their super-cool loft. We met there at 9:30, opened a magnum of Champagne, watched a slideshow of photos from their Italian honeymoon, then went to a swank new drinks spot called Whether Up. I had a fancy mojito with grapefruit juice and ginger.

Sunday I met my new friend Ginger at Christ Church on Park and 60th; we got connected when my pastor in Charlotte emailed the pastor at CC to ask him to make me feel welcome. Ginger is a North Carolina girl who went to Wake Forest and lived in Charlotte before moving up her four years ago or so. We split a spinach salad with goat cheese and a Margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella at Serafina.

Following a trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond for more hangers, the afternoon was spent organizing my wardrobe and tidying up the apartment. After a warmer day on Saturday, it was back to the 60s again on Sunday, but I still figured it was time to fold up my sweaters and sub in some of the summer clothes I picked up last week in Charlotte.

At 7, I met Neil, Nate and Patrick to see "Bridesmaids" at the theater in Union Square. We all laughed 'till it hurt.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sisters in the City

Leigh Ann got to see my new neighborhood -- and I think she loves it almost as much as I do. She's in town for work, but we both wrapped up our days early to race to the Eugene O'Neill Theater on 49th Street at 4:30, where we entered the 5 o'clock lottery to get tickets for Book of Mormon.
Sadly, we were not the only ones with this idea. I'm not good at estimating crowds, but I think there were at least 250 people who entered the lottery to win the 20 available seats.

Ticketless, we headed to her hotel room so I could collect the three pounds of nuts from Costco that my sweet sister kindly "imported" for me. Then we headed to the West Village so Leigh Ann could see my new home. I need to take a few more street snaps so you can appreciate it too, but I am still stunned that I ended up in such a picturesque part of the city.

We had cocktails at Smorgas-Chef, a restaurant on the corner that happened to be offering $6 lingonberry margaritas. Yes, please! We had some parsnip crisps with dill cream while we watched the passersby.
We thoroughly enjoyed the people parade, which is all the more interesting during this transitional time of year when no one seems to know what to wear. One woman walked into the restaurant in a grey wool cape as a girl crossed the street in a black sundress. It's been cool and rainy all week, but it was warm and humid this afternoon, so it's a real fashion dilemma.
After drinks, we strolled to the Meat Packing District and settled into a sidewalk table at an Italian cafe called La Gazetta. We split crostini with white bean puree, a salad with lemon vinaigrette, and two pastas. I had the gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and pesto, but it couldn't compare to Leigh Ann's pappardalle with zucchini, pine nuts, mint and pecorino.
This is the first dish that has ever made me want to make pasta at home! I mean, if you're going to make your own pasta, pappardale seems like the perfect one to try.

We practically licked the plate.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"What size are your feets?"

In my relentless quest to make my time in New York as adventurous as possible, I decided to plunge into the pond of online dating. About a week ago, I created a profile on Match and signed up for a month's membership. Worst case scenario, I'd get some good stories, right?


I had a very pleasant coffee date on Sunday afternoon with a French guy named Alexis. He just moved her for work with an accounting firm. Our conversation went so well, coffee led to a walk followed by wine and tapas. I'm looking forward to our next date.

Tuesday night after work, I headed to a Midtown champagne bar to meet a Lebanese man named Elie. On his profile, he seemed a bit silly and irreverent, but also sophisticated and worldly. He lived in Paris for 15 years, he speaks four languages, he loves Khalil Gibran. I was excited to meet him because I loved my time in Lebanon so much last summer. Lebanese people are lively and fun, so I knew we'd have a interesting conversation.

I had on a patterned red wrap dress with my tall black boots. Elie has lived in the U.S. for a decade, thus I was surprised that his English was still a little rough. Nevertheless, he was easy to talk to, and I was having a pleasant enough time for a blind date with a stranger.

After about an hour of talking, Elie leaned toward me and gestured toward my boots.

"What size are your feets?"

I was confused, and I think my face showed it. "What size?" I asked, wondering if I'd heard him correctly. Did he really say feets? "They're 9s. Pretty big, huh?"

He pointed again. "Do you get them in the ladies section?"
"Um, yes -- ah, what do you mean?" I was confused. Where was this going?
"Your shoes -- do they sell them in the ladies section? Or do you have to go somewhere else?" Apparently this was his idea of a joke.
"Oh -- no -- actually, I got them at a shop that caters to drag queens."

He liked that. "You are a funny girl! Tell me this -- what is your sign?"

My sign? Seriously? Was he still joking? "Virgo," I said. "What's yours?"

The right answer didn't come to me until hours later, after an awkward parting. I got home and told the story to my roommate, Kurt, who provided the perfect response:

My sign? You see that Exit sign, Buddy? That's my sign.

Tamarind in Tribecca

Goodness, it's been a busy week! I have a number of updates to share, but until I have time to write them up properly, here are a few fun pics from dinner last night.

My friend Patrick is in town from D.C. (A handful of very loyal readers may recall Patrick from this entry in London in 2007 -- which was, sadly, the last time we'd seen each other in person.)

He joined me at the 92Y in Tribeca for a reading, which I can't wait to write more about. After the event, we strolled down Hudson Street to Tamarind, which my friend Robin had recommended. It was fantastic! Patrick and I had read a few Yelp reviews on his iPhone while we waited for the show to begin, so we had great expectations, and it did not disappoint.

I was too hungry to take notes, so I had to cut and paste from the menu on the website just now, but I believe Patrick had this:

MORG KOLAHPURI Chicken with star anise, roasted garam masala, ginger, garlic and onions.

And I had this: MURGH BADAMI Chicken in a creamy almond sauce with saffron and raisins.

For our veggie: MASALA ALOO GOBI Potatoes and cauliflower simmered in an onion potato sauce with whole dry red chilies and cumin.

We shared, and all of it was so tasty -- with plenty of garlic nan to soak up the delicious sauces. Another highlight was my lychee daiquiri. (Can I try this at home?)

Not bad for a Wednesday night!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Green and Grilled

Two things I miss about Charlotte -- grilling out and seeing green everywhere. Last week, I got my fix of both. 
I made a short trip to the Queen City for work, which was awesome because I got to collect my spring clothes. Even better, I got to spend two nights in "my room" at Leigh Ann's house. She grilled pork chops on Wednesday night and let me invite my friends Amy and Anne over for dinner.
We got to sit outside on Leigh Ann's fabulous deck. Anne brought a healthy, tasty mixed-grain salad with veggies, and I amused myself making a "green salad." Everything fit the color scheme: lettuce, kiwi, avocado, Granny Smith apple, and grapes, and fresh mint from Leigh Ann's garden. (This was a riff on a salad in the Fresh Every Day cookbook from Sarah Foster.)
There was plenty of cheap wine and cheesecake, both from Trader Joe's. I will confess, it was a little hard to leave!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Seared Wild Salmon with New Potatoes and Dijon Broth

I got a little behind on my blogging last week, so I forgot to tell y'all about the scrumptious Sunday supper Kurt and I had! I remembered this recipe for Seared Wild Salmon with New Potatoes and Dijon Broth from several years ago. When I was cleaning out my recipe stash before I moved, I came across the pages I'd ripped from the April 2006 Bon Appetit. I couldn't wait to make it again this spring.

Here's a link to the recipe.
You sear the salmon in butter AND oil, which gave it that nice golden brown crush I'm so fond of in restaurants. Now I know why. Fat = Flavor. (And, in this case, texture).
Reduce some white wine, shallots and apple cider vinegar, then add chicken broth, tarragon and dijon mustard.
Pour the sauce over the salmon and some parboiled potatoes. (It's all in the recipe, peeps, I'm just giving you the highlights.) Bake at 400 for 20 minutes until the salmon and potatoes are done.

Serve in a bowl over wilted spinach. Add some hot, crusty bread to dip in the tasty broth. If you're lucky, get your artistic roommate to garnish your bowls.
If you're really lucky, maybe your roommate will make you some dessert to go with it. Say, something like individual lemon meringue tarts? 'Cause life is just sweet like that, isn't it?!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

McQueen Exhibit: Membership Has Its Privileges

I was excited when Travis e-mailed me recently to ask if I'd be interested in checking out the Alexander McQueen exhibit, Savage Beauty, at the Met. He'd joined the museum this year and wanted to put his membership to use.

Anticipating long lines, given the heightened interest in the brand since Sarah Burton designed Kate Middleton's wedding gown, we fueled up with a big brunch at Sarabeth's on Madison and 92nd. In short: YUM! YUM! YUM!

I've had some great brunches since I've been living in the city, but this was one of the best because we decided to share plates and coordinate our order. So, we did not have to resolve the Great Brunch Debate of sweet vs. savory -- we had both!
Plate #1: an omelette with potatoes, ham, leeks and gruyere.
Plate 2: lemon ricotta pancakes -- so light, and with just the perfect amount of lemony tartness to counter the sweetness of the syrup and berries. (Note also what I think may be the largest bloody Mary available on the Upper East Side.)

We cleaned our plates and proceeded to the Met, where we found ourselves at the end of an interminable roped line that snaked through numerous galleries. Travis pulled out his membership card in jest.

"Um, hello!" he whispered to me in feigned indignation. "Isn't there a special line for members?"
At that moment, a docent came along. "Oh! Sir! Are you a member?" she asked. "Come this way, please!" We looked at each other in disbelief and laughed our way to the front of the line.

Despite the efforts at crowd control, the exhibit was packed, but we both loved it. Upon entering, you see two incredible dresses, one made of red medical slides and feathers, the other made of razor clam shells stripped and varnished.
I had to read some of the exhibit's text two or three times to make sense of it: "Rare among designers, he saw beyond clothing's physical constraints to its ideational and ideological possibilities."

"For McQueen, the body was a site for contravention, where normalcy was questioned and the spectacle of marginality was embraced and celebrated."
The way the exhibit is laid out and thematically presented is quite brilliant and beautifully done. We especially enjoyed the section on sadomasochistic accessories, including this bizarre mouthpiece, which I dubbed "haute headgear."
The exhibit noted that McQueen's shows "elicited an uneasy pleasure that merged wonder and terror, incredulity and revulsion." That comment reminded me of the fact that I tend to love modern art because it incites a range of emotions -- something more complex and richer than just, "Oh, well, isn't that pretty/nice."

The exhibit was certainly geared more toward costuming than ordinary clothing. But it was provocative, and it made me reconsider our constructs of what's acceptable or appropriate to wear. For example, when I saw a coat made of long coils of black hair, I thought, "That's kind of disgusting." Funny enough, I've never had that reaction to seeing women draped in fur or suede.

One of the most unforgettable moments was seeing Kate Moss appear in a hologram wearing a ruffled organza "oyster" dress. It was the most ethereal thing I've ever witnessed, and you can see it here. The New York Times also has a great video interview about the exhibit.

We wandered through the 20th Century galleries, and then I suggested we check out "Arms and Armor" in case Travis needed a little testosterone to balance out the fashion overload. Such a fun day!

Princeton Field Trip

Last Saturday, Neil needed to return a mound of books to the libraries at Princeton, so he and Nate decided to drive over and make it a day trip. I was excited for my first-ever voyage to New Jersey! It was a perfect day to walk around Princeton's gorgeous campus. Neil noted the atmosphere on Nassau Street seems quite similar to Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.
Neil explained Princeton's tradition of eating clubs, which I found fascinating. After I got home, I spent some time on Wikipedia reading up on all the traditions. (To do: read Fitzgerald's descriptions in This Side of Paradise.) For some reason, there were hardly any students out and about. We assumed they were studying for exams, but it was kind of bizarre -- it was such a gorgeous day!
Molly and her step-brother Oliver came with us. Since we had the dogs, we took advantage of a BBQ fundraiser and had some sandwiches outside. (Famous New Jersey BBQ? This may get me stripped of any remaining North Carolina citizenship! It was fine, but certainly not Bullocks.)
The dogs make quite a pair and attracted a lot of attention, especially from cute kiddos who wanted to know if it was okay to pet them. They were so worn out by the time we returned to the car, they were asleep by the time we pulled out of the parking garage!