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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Two of my blogging buddies are doing a "tag" thing. Since I am feeling too lazy to pull pics from my camera or the internet and catch up on the weekend, here's a little something for my loyal readers...

1. How do you eat your burger?
Medium rare...which is a great thing about NYC because North Carolina had some lame rule about hamburgers having to be cooked to death. Boo.

2. What's your favorite characteristic about yourself?
I think I can fit in just about anywhere. I also think I have a consistent ability to find the bright side of things.

3. What time period from the past would you like to live in?
Um...would definitely need to be post-invention of tampons. Excluding feminine hygiene considerations, maybe the early 1900s, given my current obsession with Downton Abbey.

4. What actress would be cast to play you?
Anne Hathaway, natch!

5. What was your first car?
A silver Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible. It was my dream car! I'm also very proud to say it was a stick shift. I really think there will be another one in my future because I loved it so much.

6. What's one product you hope is never discontinued?
Clinique pink chocolate matte lipstick.

7. What was high school like for you?
Exhausting. I worked my ass off to get into to Duke, trying to make perfect grades and do every extracurricular activity under the sun. It was also really hard socially at times because I had pretty nerdy, eclectic interests and never had a real boyfriend. I was also uncoordinated and horrible at team sports. I took extra math classes and volunteered to clean the coaches' office to get out of PE!

8. Do you believe in ghosts?

9. What would your dream house look like?
I would like to have several small homes in select locations around the world. If that is not possible, maybe a lowcountry-style home on the water?

10. When did you have your first beer? Did you have more than one?
I couldn't say, but I do remember the first time I got drunk, which was when I visited my cousin at Vanderbilt. I danced with a very cute frat boy named Oscar! I have a theory most girls don't like beer in high school/college because it's always served so warm. And beer out of cans is gross.

11. What is your least favorite word?
Two that come to mind from work: "leadership" when used as a synonym for "leaders," and "learnings" used as a synonym for "lessons." Blech.

On a side note, my favorite word in Spanish is aprovechar. It means "to seize, to take advantage of or to make the most of." It gets used a lot more than we use , e.g., "Let's take advantage of this sunny day and go to the beach."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Restaurant Week at Perry St.

I now have my own little brother in NYC! My Quincy buddy Adam moved here from Denver over the weekend. To celebrate his arrival, along with Kurt's friend Joanna's birthday, we went to Perry Street for Restaurant Week.
They should really call it Restaurant Weeks, since it's running through early February (I'll also be trying Gordon Ramsay's restaurant Maze in two weeks). Nevertheless, it's a nice way to get a three-course meal for $35, though you can easily spend more than that on alcohol if you're not careful.

Located on the ground floor of a modern high rise facing the West Side Highway, the restaurant's interior is spare and chic. As New York magazine put it, "Even when Nicole Kidman is dining there, Jean-Georges's eighth restaurant feels serene and subdued."  

As is typical with most higher-end restaurants that participate in Restaurant Week, the prix fixe menu was pretty limited. However, given the fact most of Perry Street's entrees alone are in the $30s, it was a steal. They started us off with an amuse bouche of potato soup with truffle oil and housemade potato chips.

For the starter, I had the housemade burrata with Meyer lemon and olive oil.
Everyone else had the Tasmanian trout sashimi in kombu, key lime and chili with purple shiso. (Where is my dictionary. Kombu? Shiso?) Both were outstanding. I was in the mood for something rich and creamy, so I liked the burrata, but the sashimi was probably the best pick. Extra points for the fact it was a reasonable serving, not just a few tiny bites.
Adam had the grilled beef tenderloin with herbal spinach and gruyere broth. It was some of the rarest meat I've seen on a plate...he loved it.
 The rest of us had the slowly cooked cod with lemon crumbs, lemon garlic broth and broccoli rabe.
 The birthday girl went for fruit instead of dessert...admirable restraint!
 I had the molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.
The boys both had the toasted almond ice cream bar with citrus and candied orange. Definitely the more unique choice, but a bit on the tart side.
Not bad for a Tuesday night!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In the Laboratory...Skillet Chicken

In September, this photo was on the cover of Bon Appetit's restaurant issue. I tucked away the magazine and recently found it again when I was cleaning off my desk. Roast chicken is something I love but have never really perfected -- or honestly even tried that often.

Ben made an awesome roast chicken when we were in the Hamptons for Neil's birthday, so I was determined to try again.
However, this recipe (Skillet-Roasted Chicken with Faro and Herbed Pistou) is practically a science experiment! It comes from Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston, and the magazine adapted his technique for home cooks. Brock starts by using a sous vide technique to poach the chicken.

You make a marinade of herbs, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil and marinate the bird overnight. (Instead of following the recipe exactly, which calls for cooking two bird halves, I simply purchased two breasts and two leg/thigh quarters.)

HOWEVER, you don't simply marinate the chicken. You create a vacuum seal for your bags of marinade. This involves submerging your almost fully zipped plastic bags into a pot of hot water and removing the excess air.
After marinating, the chicken is poached in hot water. You place the bagged chicken inside a pot of water and heat to 150 degrees. Cover, turn off the heat, and let the chicken poach for 50 minutes.
Remove the chicken bags from the hot water and let them cool in an ice water bath for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, while the chicken is poaching and cooling, you're cooking the faro with squash and kale. The grain is prepared risotto-style by gradually adding hot broth to the cooking grains. I had barley on hand, so I substituted that, and it worked perfectly.

The barley gets tossed in some hot oil before it's toasted in the oven. Then you set the toasted barley aside, wipe out your pan, and use the pan to cook an onion. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, deglaze the pan with wine, then add the barley back and gradually begin to add the broth. I was worried the recipe's instruction to cook the barley/faro over high heat might be a little off, but it was fine.

Meanwhile, Kurt helped me clean and blanch the kale, then we added it to yet another ice bath. (This recipe requires three ice baths, in case you're more for the herb pistou.)
The acorn squash had roasted in the oven...I'd probably do butternut if I did this again. Acorn squash is a real hassle to peel.
I did not get a photo of the best part, which was when I seared the chicken in a hot skillet, but that's because the kitchen got so incredibly smoky I could hardly see. Not sure if I got the oil too hot or what, but it was quite a show. Kurt went to work opening windows and setting up fans so our dinner guest, Matt, wouldn't walk in and start coughing once he arrived. (I would likely have fallen off the rails without Kurt's help, as I quickly realized I'd bitten off more than I could chew with this recipe.)

Thank goodness Matt was a few minutes late. By the time he finally walked in, most of the smoke had dissipated. Unfortunately, this required me to chop herbs for the pistou in front of a wide-open kitchen window with a fan blowing on a very cold winter night. Never say I don't suffer for my art!
Here's the final product. I did not follow the recipe for the pistou, which called for 3/4 cup of water. That just sounded odd to me, but now that I've looked a the original picture again, I can see it's meant to be more of a thin gravy than a thicker pesto.

Either way, the end result was pretty fabulous! The herbed chicken was perfectly moist, crisp and flavorful, with perfect brightness from the lemon and herbs. The barley risotto rocked my world -- the barley and kale were chewy and added interesting texture, while the acorn squash was sweet and rich. It was completely worthy of the bottle of Wolffer Estate rose I'd been saving since my birthday (thanks, Christine!).

All in all, so glad I made it. Thank heavens for my awesome sous chef Kurt. If you try this one yourself, just make sure your lab -- er, kitchen -- is well-ventilated.

Catching Up

I've gotten a little behind on my blogging, and some of these could have been separate posts, but here's a roundup of late...

During the holidays, I tried making mushroom and barley soup. I put some leftover sausage in it. I also caramelized some onions and used some leftover red wine. It was tasty but really rich, so I ended up freezing half of it.
Last Saturday was gloriously warm and sunny. My childhood friend Carolyn connected me with a friend of hers named Kathleen, who moved here from Savannah. We met for brunch at the Little Owl. Fun fact: it's in the bottom of the building that was used for the Friends exteriors. This is a photo of Grove Street near the restaurant.
I had the burger, which was what my friend Ginger ordered the first time I went there. It was amazing! I had really psyched myself up for it, and it did not disappoint.
After brunch, Kathleen introduced me to C. Wonder in SoHo. It's owned by Tory Burch's ex-husband, and it sells all sorts of trendy but (relatively) affordable clothing, bags, jewelry and home goods. Then I walked up 6th Avenue toward the library...stopping to take a few photos along the way. This fountain faces an awesome gelato place called Grom, where I recently enjoyed an absolutely perfect cup of pear sorbet.
You can't see it well since it's under renovation, but this is the Jefferson Market library on Sixth Avenue. They had a copy of Remains of the Day on hold for me. (I've been suffering from Downton Abbey addiction and thus on a British reading kick.) I also checked out the DVD of Never Let Me Go while I was there.  
The inside of the library is so cool and reminds me a bit of Perkins Library at Duke... Unfortunately, the library lost a few points when I was informed out there is no public restroom. I understand the logic (assuming it has something to do with detering the homeless from camping out), but really? No restroom in a library?? (Just FYI, there are in fact some very nice restrooms in the big library on Fifth Avenue, so this is not a systemwide policy, but still.)
Travis and I met on the Upper East Side. We'd planned to go to the Met to see the Islamic galleries, but we both agreed it was too gorgeous to be inside. So, we strolled around the park a bit and had a beer at the Boathouse. Then we went to a French place, Restaurant Julien, to use a Groupon Travis had purchased for two dozen oysters and two cocktails.

Very tasty. I also had some onion soup, Travis had a croque monsieur, and we split the profitteroles for dessert. The bizarre thing to both of us was that oysters aren't even on their regular menu, and apparently the going rate for oysters in NYC is $50 a dozen. What?? Beam me back to Apalachicola, STAT!

This Saturday, my friend Melissa was in town. We met at an outlet so she could do some shopping. Since I am still on clothing restrictions given my tiny space, I looked around a bit and then read my Time magazine in the conveniently located "husband lounge." Afterwards, I gave Melissa a little tour of my neighborhood.

We had dinner at a Syrian/Moroccan restaurant called Salam. I'd passed by it several times and thought it looked appealing. We split what they called the maza (mezze in Lebanon) -- a sampler of hot and cold appetizers. It was quite a feast! Hummus, tabbouleh, fattoush, sausage, grilled chicken, spinach pastries, baba ghanoush, yogurt with cucumber and mint, zucchini fritters, samosas, stuffed grape leavees, etc. They kept bringing us more dishes, and we were so stuffed that we canceled our main course (lamb stew with tomato and okra).
It was $19 a person for the small plates, and their speciality drinks were only $5 (wine glasses of punch-like cocktails like sangria, but still). Forget Groupon, that's my idea of a daily deal!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This Week

Food highlight of this week...
In the all-time greatest desserts list, I'd have to give brownies and ice cream a top-five ranking. And this was one of the best versions I've had, as it was generously topped with assorted nuts.

And slightly underbaked -- perfection!

I went to Hillstone with Neil and Nate on Monday to celebrate Nate's birthday. This is the restaurant formerly known as part of the Houston's chain. I'm not sure if it's official or just a rumor, but word is they had to break from the chain to get around New York's requirement for chain restaurants to post nutritional information on the menu.

We feasted on good ol' American favorites -- with free refills on soft drinks and ample space between the tables. We might as well have been in Houston itself!

Update from Rio

You may recall a few months ago I posted about sending my childhood teddy bear to my Brazilian godson, Pedro Lucas (nickname "Pedrinho," which means little Pedro).

Looks like Ted is enjoying life in Rio!

I also sent the puppy pillow pet in the crib, but clearly he is not as popular, as he didn't make the cut for table time...

Such a cutie pie!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bone Lick Brunch

Sunday was New Year's Day, so I figured I should get off to a good start and go to church. I invited my friend Holly to join me at Church of the Village. Afterwards, we headed around the corner to check out Bone Lick Park on Greenwich Avenue.
I told Holly I'd noticed their sign for an hour of unlimited bloody marys, mimosas or frozen margaritas during their $14.95 "Southern brunch." (All photos courtesy of Yelp, including this apparently outdated menu.)
We thought it sounded too good to be true, but the waiter assured us it was exactly what the sign promised. He'd ring up our orders, and for the next hour, he'd bring us a fresh cocktail every time we wanted one. Well, bring it on!
Holly had the pulled pork with potatoes and scrambled eggs. She's a North Carolina native and gave the meat a thumbs-up.  
I had fried chicken with cheese grits and cole slaw. Very tasty. I feel a return trip is in order so I can evaluate their mac and cheese and pulled pork for myself. Do you think they serve sweet tea??

The best part was when the preacher and his wife walked into the restaurant and came over to tell us hello -- after they'd ordered their first round of bloody marys. I love a man of God who knows a good deal when he sees one!

P.S. Fun fact about the decor for my Cola-Cola collecting friends -- that's the original sign from the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Long Island City.

Check this out!

New look for the blog! While I was doing a Google search for photos of popcorn and M&Ms for my new background, I ran across a familiar-looking photo.

Take a look at this Bon Appetit post. I guess they periodically search for bloggers who are cooking their recipes, and I made the cut. Fun!

Sunday Service & Supper

I got a little behind on my posting in mid-December, so here's a holiday adventure I meant to share.

During Advent, I wanted to get a little churchin' in but didn't want to get up too early. (I ended up sleeping until 11:30. Jeez, am I 15 again?? Between the trip to Philly, Leigh Ann's visit and the holiday party, it had been a long week.)

Anyway, at the holiday party, I asked Kurt's friends who live in Harlem if they'd recommend any churches in their neighborhood (thinking of hitting a gospel service sometime), and they said I had to visit St. John the Divine.
Holy cow -- it's gorgeous!

It's a landmark that towers over the neighborhood...which is a very good thing, as I took the wrong train and ended up on Malcolm X. Boulevard instead of Broadway. Oopsie. I had a solo walk down a deserted 112th street in Harlem, thinking all the way, "Gosh, I'm surprised the guys didn't warn me about this..." Other than one unsolcited, "Hey, baby! What's your name?" it was an uneventful stroll, and I could see the back of the cathedral the whole way, so I knew I was on the right path.

Lesson learned: the 1 and the 2/3 trains diverge north of 96th Street. This little tidbit will not be forgotten!

Anyway, I was attending a 2 p.m. Fools Mass performance by a theater group called Dzieci.
Here's how they describe it on their website: Fools Mass is set during the plague years, somewhere in medieval Europe. A group of village idiots are forced to enact their own mass due to the sudden death of their beloved pastor, an extraordinary man who had given them shelter and trained them to sing. The piece is full of buffoonery and comic audience participation, as well as choral singing of sacred hymns and chants from the 8th through the 17th centuries, producing a vigorous example of Sacred Theatre.

It was extraordinary! Poignant, funny, sad and provocative. I wish I'd gotten someone to go with me because it was such an unusual experience, and I was dying to discuss it afterwards. It reminded me of a class I took in college that looked at mass as one of the oldest forms of theater -- complete with props, costumes and characters.

I took the correct route back to the subway and popped into a market to buy some challah bread for the dinner I'd dreamed up: monte cristo sandwiches.
I spread a generous bit of the cheese spread I'd made for Friday's party onto a thick wedge of challah bread. Chese spread recipe courtesy of my friend Ranie:

16 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
One 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 small onion, minced
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt or powder (or 1 or 2 pressed cloves of fresh garlic)
Cayenne pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, press into a mold or ring, and refrigerate several hours until firm. Serve with raspberry preserves.

Once I made my challah sandwiches with the leftover spread, I dipped them into some egg and milk and grilled them until brown... then topped with powdered sugar and raspberry preserves.
The filling was not quite as hot as I wanted, so when I made Kurt's sandwich, I grilled it in a pan (instead of on the George Forman) for better heat control.

That cheese spread was so wonderful, I ate it on crackers for supper for two more days!  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year!

How can it be 2012? And how is it possible that I spent nine months of 2011 living in New York. Woot woot!

I read Beantown Prepster's blog post about her year and thought I'd copy her format for reflecting and looking ahead:

What did I do in 2011?
Well, obviously, I moved to New York! But I also...
Got rid of a whole lot of stuff and didn't miss it
Played a part in helping someone achieve a dream
Served as a teaching assistant in a writing class
Worked on a memoir
Began to appreciate certain artfully-made whiskey-based cocktails
Improved my tolerance for spicy food
Went to Brazil for the ninth time
Concluded a successful three-year campaign to raise $150,000 for my favorite nonprofit in Rio
Let go of bitterness and resentment I'd carried for far too long
Danced at Robin and AJ's black-tie wedding at The Pierre
Read in Meghan and Drew's wedding in Chicago
Relaxed in the Hamptons and Martha's Vineyard

What didn't I do in 2011?
Make a job change
Date anyone
Push ahead with my memoir project after my move
Get stronger or pursue any physical challenge

What did I learn in 2011?
I learned that I had the courage to make a big change. I learned that I could recapture my adventurous spirit and let it lead me. I learned that it feels better to take risks than to wonder "what if?" I learned that, as Martha Beck puts it, "The difference between success and failure isn't the absence of fear but the determination to pursue your heart's desires no matter how scared you are." I learned that Albert Schweitzer said, "At times our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." And I gave thanks to those who helped rekindle my light when I felt it had gone out.

I learned that I can be a good roommate and that having your own place is sometimes overrated. I learned that I need a lot less space and a lot less stuff than I expected.

I learned that it's less important to be right than it is to be nice. I learned that perfection is elusive...we can't control for every possible variable. Instead, we simply do the best we can and hope sunshine and grace will take care of the rest.

What are my 2012 goals?
Take another big, bold leap and follow my heart
Write more and pursue publication
Make the most of being single and independent
Be healthy and strong
Volunteer and serve others more
Live a life that honors my purpose on this planet