Thursday, February 26, 2009


Dear Mouse,

I think one of the hallmarks of living in New York is the high incidence of coincidences. (Say that five times fast.) What would be a good word for a food-related coincidence? I welcome suggestions. A gastronomic synchronicity? Gastronicity?

2PM. I meet The Baker for a long-overdue lunch. The Baker, as you know, is our cousin-by-marriage and a professional pastry chef (currently working at a much Blogged about place), and every month or so we get together to eat some kind casual lunch (ie, at this Counter of Bliss) and complain about our work/lives. What could be more NY than that?

Today was GoodBurger off Union Square (Blah. It's organic, but I prefer Old Town, and fries should NEVER cost extra, anywhere.) The Baker's Rant du Jour focused on a certain trendy dessert spot in the East Village. (Ok he began by announcing, "I hate Food Bloggers", but I know he doesn't mean us.)

"Now it's Momofuku Ssam... 'MILK Bar'!'" he sneered, spreading his napkin over his lap. "I mean, please. You know what she does?", he asked with relish, referring to the chef. "OK.. she soaks cornflakes.. in milk.. and then serves the milk! What is that??! And the 'Compost Cookies'?" He made a short, strangled sound, shook his head, and sat back with a kind of bitter satisfaction. "People go crazy over it. It's ridiculous."

"The Emperor has No Clothes," I suggested, eating his fries. I had, of course, not yet been there, or heard of it. He nodded vigorously. We finished our meal and went on with the day.

That night, I go to see this show (Blah #2, despite my soft spot for many solo shows) at the Public with a fellow Lab alum, BT. BT is fun to hang out with because she, like we, is a performing-artist type, and also like we, and possibly more, is a Fierce Foodie. She's married to this guy, tends bar til all hours, loves to cook, and is one of those people who's always saying "Oh, have you been to...?" or "Do you know about..?" in a really sweet enthusiastic voice that makes me all too eager to say "No, but let's go now!" She, like The Baker, is a great resource for what's Out There on the scene.

So it didn't surprise me at all that she suggested stopping by a dessert spot in the East Village after the show. And really, given my views of the universe, it shouldnt have surprised me at all that the dessert spot was Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery. But, come on!! That very night?? And I'd never been there before?

What could I do but order a cup of the Cap'n Crunch* soft serve ice cream, to go? It was clearly Meant to Be.


The Boo

*(Excuse me, the "Sweet Corn Soft Serve", for legal reasons.) Other options: 'fruity' (Fruity Pebbles), 'marshmallow' (Lucky Charms), and 'cereal milk' (just cornflakes). BT got a Compost Cookie (butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, pretzels, and potato chips)

PS. Full disclosure: Ok...the first bite is kind of shockmazing. It's salty, sweet... and really tastes exactly like the milk at the bottom of your Capn Crunch bowl! Wow. However, on reflection... is that really something you want to drink/eat? I brought home a small, $4, cup of the stuff to test with the GC and we did not finish it. It's not really, as I said to him, a flavor I'd go back to. A great experiment, but a cookies-n-cream or dulce de leche it's not. So, Baker, I get it. But I'm still glad I tried.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Old Kentucky Home; in Belated Praise of Breakfast

Cinnamon scone and medium Dark Roast coffee, Java Brewing Company, 4th St,Louisville KY

"I forgot how much I love going out to hear music; how that used to be my escape. Yeah you drink a little but that's not what it's about. It's about being in the presence of a creative act that can never be duplicated. " --Ava's letter from her father,"Rock & Roll: the Reunion Tour"

Dear Mouse,

Above is the best food picture I have ever taken. I think it's the natural light. It is how I will remember Louisville, or the downtown sector anyway. Every day I walked the same straight line up 4th Street to the theatre, passing the Java Brewing Company. I began stopping there often for breakfast. It is consistently tasty, peaceful and comforting, and the staff are these beautiful, smart, competent food ladies who appreciate the Arts, remember your name, and play the local cool-music station (yes, the one I was on, maybe I'm prejudiced). They bake all their goodies in-house and use all local ingredients. (Also you can toast your own bagel and I dont know why that charmed me so much.)

To get to the theatre I would walk through a giant, flashy, unnerving complex known as "Fourth Street Live". FSL tries a bit too hard, and it's really more eerie and depressing than anything else to see the giant neon GUITAR and the aggressive lineup of chain restaurants (TGI Friday's, Subway, Wendy's) and retail stores (Footlocker, Border's) all but screaming "Revitalization!!!" .... when there is almost NO ONE around, ever. (Especially on the weekends... it's a "commuter city". ) (Yet the theatre was packed every night. Louisville got Priorities.)

My favorite perch at the counter along the windows faced a Starbucks across the street and a historic plaque commemorating, as it happens, Thomas Merton's famous epiphany about 'the reality of his vocation' (monastic life) on that exact spot-

"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. {...} The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream."

The day before I took this shot, I had my first-ever politically themed nightmare. It involved standing on the Merton Corner having a shouting match with a faceless opponent about the Arts budget in Obama's stimulus package. At that point the word was that it would all be sacrificed, and I don't mind telling you I was pretty down about it. I think the fact that I was working every night on a piece of living art made me feel it more strongly; the idea that many people, in many places, don't consider what we do worthwhile or real.

I would finish my petite, exquisite, warmed-up-for-me scone and savor my mellow dark roast. I would look down at my sunny yellow plate and then across the street. I'd think of the rock-hard, cold, vaguely plastic items I knew were being brown-bagged over there for twice as much money, and wonder how they could stay open. How and why anyone would settle.

On one of the last nights of the show in L'Ville, I met an audience member who'd only been to one other live theatre event in his lifetime. He joined us in the bar afterward and stood at the piano singing along as a long and joyful impromptu Beatles Songbook event took place, something I doubt anyone feels moved to do after watching "Lost".

We are all holy, we are all valuable, we all deserve homemade scones on a plate and affordable theatre tickets and live rock and roll and good stories and income and healthcare. Art is everywhere and is not "specialized" or special, superfluous or extra. It is a basic human need and action.

I've decided to stop trying to wean myself off my Breakfast Habit. Every once in a while I think I should skip it, rush it, replace it with yoga or a handful of nuts. But those few solitary moments in the morning are obviously here to stay. It's a small ritual that brings me to my own epiphanies now and then. A "separate, holy existence" is a dream, to be sure, but Sarah Leah Chase's Cranberry Vanilla Muffins are real.

I made them as soon as I got back. (The only muffin recipe that has ever yielded the right puffiness. I didn't bother with the ground vanilla bean, and strawberries work well in this recipe too.)

The Boo

P.S. When in Louisville, do NOT let anyone talk you into eating this:

The "Hot Brown", a sandwich that managed to destroy my insides and not really taste that good at the same time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Fast and Dirty Valentines

Dear Boo,

A quick post-Valentine's missive to tell you about my yummy dinner last night to file away for any time you need a fast and charmingly sexy meal, and to encourage any lurking readers to come see you play tonight at Joe's Pub! I will be there, digesting my meal and rocking out.

So, here we go:

The Boyfriend was awake at 5:30am to shoot a short film all day yesterday, so we knew it would be a long and tiring Valentine's, and not one that would make either of us too excited about braving the crowds and inflated prices for dinner out. (Incidentally, I ended up shooting a part in the film as well. Nothing makes it feel like Valentine's more than playing a desperate, sex-obsessed housewife intent on making The Boyfriend my cabana boy, if you know what I mean.) So, dinner in was the plan, and we set out to shop. Apparently this is where the crowds were, after all, as Amy's Bread in Chelsea Market was out of bread--gasp!--and the line for lobsters at the Lobster Place wound around the store like an overfed eel. But we made it back home and I set to work, accompanied by the Ray Charles album from the Boyfriend and his cute singing card.

The Menu: Fast and Dirty. Quick recipes, two out of three eaten with our hands. What's sexier than that?

Stuffed Artichokes: I Love love love artichokes, but never tried making them. It took some prep, but definitely nothing to be scared of. The Boyfriend loved it--I thought it was a little too much breading and would go with a traditional artichoke vinaigrette next time--when you tear through the petals and get to that heart, Nothing is so sweet. Metaphor, anyone?

(sorry, my camera died and this is the only shot I got of these....)

Mussels: From the Barefoot Contessa in Paris book, another quick, sexy, and elegant course that we could eat with our hands right from the pot. Kind of like when you share a popcorn bucket at the movies on your first date and your fingers keep meeting and you end up holding hands amidst the salty kernels. Actually, not like that at all. That would be gross. We had to stop ourselves from eating too much broth-soaked bread, as there was more to come...

Pasta Puttanesca: "Whore's" Pasta, named supposedly for the Ladies of the night who used to make this for their clients from whatever ingredients were already in the pantry. Or so they say. I say it's quick (natch), and the sauce is making me salivate to think of now. Briny with capers and olives, salty and a little fishy from the anchovies, garlicky from the... garlic. We had mini portions which we even debated eating at all since we were so full (and tired) at this point.

As a result, we skipped dessert which was store bought anyway--I know, I know. It was a long day.

(Some quick dessert ideas: Vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over, sliced figs with ricotta, honey, and chopped walnuts, root beer floats, roasted pear halves drizzled with cream)

Can't wait to hear you play tonight!

Leftovers and Love,

The Mouse

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Haven

Dear Boo,

This weekend, while you were busy being a rockstar in Louisville and our parents were out bearing witness to the event, the Boyfriend and I were in Jersey in our childhood home, to take care of our four-legged, red-headed stepbrother. As you know, he's been suffering a bit from the effects of old age--namely, arthritis in his furry hips, and various gastrointestinal problems about which I won't go into details...

The original plan was to bring the old boy to NYC for the weekend but being that he's been having so many issues lately, we were worried that the change in scenery might be a little too jarring for him. That, and our downstairs neighbors might just take a hammer to the ceiling what with all the barking he's been doing to ask for help standing up. Poor guy. So, off to Jersey we went.

Which wasn't such a bad deal, really. Since I have been talking forever about taking the Boyfriend to Hoagie Haven, a Princeton institution which many (drunk and sober alike) college students will tell you makes the world's best hoagie sandwiches. And I tend to agree. I have yet to find a place in NYC that makes them better. Take that, jersey haters. Oh sure, any corner deli has "hero" rolls and most of the fixins. But I think I've tapped into a vast conspiracy in which every time I ask for oil and vinegar on my sandwich, in a vain attempt to recreate the hoagie experience, the sandwich guy nods (slightly annoyed, perhaps?), and then COMPLETELY IGNORES MY REQUEST. Seriously, no joke. this happens every time. Regardless, I'm sure it would not compare with the Hoagie Haven creations. Sure, there are hoagies all over NJ (Tastee subs, anyone?) but this is really the pinnacle.

We drove down to Princeton on Saturday, an unseasonably warm and sunny day, with visions of italian meats dancing in our stomachs. At 3pm, the line of people was out the door. While waiting, we plotted our attack. We decided to get two half sandwiches (read: still larger than most regular ones), one hot and one cold. HH makes a great cheesesteak which some people swear by, as well as a fantastic chicken parm on their toasted rolls. We decided to go with an eggplant parm and a number 1: salami, ham, capicola, provolone, with everything.

I listened to the two young guys behind us discuss the finer points of the menu, finally ordering the "Heart Stop", an egg, bacon and cheesteak sandwich. Holy crap. There's also, for the adventurous or masochistic, "The Phat Lady", a cheesesteak piled with french fries and mozzarella sticks. On the sandwich. As I rattled off the toppings for our Number 1, "Mustard, Mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot peppers, oil, vinegar, spices," I heard from somewhere down the line, "The Sanchez. Extra dirty, please." Apparently what can get you arrested in some states, will send the serious faced, orange shirted men behind the counter scurrying gracefully to slice into another fresh, crusty roll, piling it high with fried chicken and secret sauce. The familiar refrain of "saltpeppaketchup?" in response to an order of fries floated out across the small room as we paid our measly $8 for two hefty sandwiches and a bottle of water, and headed to a bench in the sun.

I'll be honest, after all the hyping, and the 40 minute drive, I was a little nervous that the Boyfriend would conclude this was all a big letdown. But oh no. Two bites in we were both nodding our head with a furrowed brow, holding it out at arms length to assess the expert construction of flavorful layers between the folds of bread. The eggplant parm was good, though not as good as the chicken parm, so next time I'll stick with that. But it was crispy, hot, and gooey with cheese, just how I like it. I inexplicably decided it needed lettuce this time around, which was totally unneccessary--Forgive me, I'm out of practice.

The Number 1 was outstanding and everything I had hoped for. The bread was fresh and fluffy inside, with a crusty outside, the meat and cheese were piled on to the perfect height--not too hard to get your mouth around, not too skimpy to be overwhelmed by the bread. The capicola gave it a peppery spice, and the mayo mingled with the mustard, lending a creamy foil to the bite of the vinegar and peppers. And the shredded lettuce (the ONLY way to put lettuce on a hoagie, as far as I'm concerned) topped it all off with a cool crunch.

Satisfied and heartened to see my rosy colored glasses had turned out to be accurate, we took a stroll through lovely sun-dappled Princeton, stopping off at Small World Coffee, the site of much loitering in my high school days, which was as packed as ever. I saw a boy, about 15 or so, order a lemon-lime Italian soda and as he plunked down bills for his date's hot chocolate, I found myself tumbling through a time warp to a place where my friends and I would stand freezing outside on the concrete steps, stamping our feet, drinking sodas or hot chocolate, sucking down cigarettes*, pushing each other around, flirting and laughing, and hiding from any teachers possibly lurking nearby. The Boyfriend and I sat inside and talked over cups of cappuccino and espresso, a sign that I have grown up a bit since those days.

Okay, maybe there was a little flirting there too. Some things never change.

If we're lucky, there will always be an old orange dog, a hot cup of coffee, a group of teenagers on the stoop, and the best damn hoagie you've ever tasted.

The Mouse

*Not me, Mom...