Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Honeymooners

Dear Boo,

This morning I woke up to the hissing of my radiator for the first time this season, and I don't know if you've heard, but there's supposed to be snow tomorrow. SNOW. 8-14 inches in parts of New Jersey! It's hard to imagine that only a couple of weeks ago I was sweating in 95 degree heat, baking in the sun with my toes in the sand, a michelada* within arms-reach, and my delicious husband (!) by my side. Sigh. Some days or weeks are almost too magical for their own good. Once they've passed it becomes harder and harder to hold onto the reality that they actually did for real, in the flesh, with witnesses to prove it, happen. I'd say a good portion of this month (the beginning and most significant part of which you've so beautifully chronicled) falls into that category. So forgive me if some details are fuzzy and you find it hard to grasp the chronology or geography of this narrative. I'll do my best.

A walk along the virgin beach we stayed on during the second half of our trip. One day we walked for 30 minutes and saw 2 people and a herd of cows.

Our requirements for a honeymoon were pretty simple: we wanted to do it as close to our wedding as possible, since we knew we would be in desperate need of rest, quiet, and alone time following the most intense and overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful day of our joint life. We also wanted to be somewhere warm, on a beach. We could not go somewhere where we would feel pressure to do intensive sightseeing (no Hart girl style Paris circa 1999), or be forced to interact with other honeymooning couples. There had to be good food and plentiful cocktails. And time. Lots of unplanned, unscheduled time.

Working on my to-do list.

While we succeeded on all of this, and then some, it turns out it's hard for the Mouse to not plan or obsess over things like meals. No big surprise there. But I tried my best to turn off the foodie/crazy part of my psyche and remember, as I did with our wedding menu (which rocked, thank you very much), what the real point of this trip was. If we wanted to eat lunch or dinner at our (awesome) hotel, something I would scoff at on any other trip, well, so be it. Also, this wasn't such a bad spot for a bite:Yeah, that's a bed.

And if we wanted to go back to the restaurant we went to two days ago because their tacos al pastor were the best we'd ever had and we hadn't had a chance to try what looked like incredible fish tacos, well then I would have to quit it with the "every meal should be a different thrilling adventure!" neuroses and go eat the best fish tacos of my life.

The Husband still claims mine are his favorite, but I think that's just because
he has a crush on me.

Oh, and here are those tacos al pastor. Did I mention they were the best I've ever had?

And this, it turns out, aside from being recently married to the love of your life and having an amazing party with all your favorite people and then going on vacation, is what's awesome about a honeymoon: there are no rules. Except that you should have no rules. That means, no 'I really shouldn't have another taco.' and no 'Should we feel bad about not going to check out that historic site in town?', and no 'We should take a run on the beach to make up for that dinner last night,' and no 'We really should save that money for something more practical than a massage." It's great. And it turns out, if one is honeymooning in Zihuatanejo, one can have no/break all foodie rules and still eat some incredible food. Here's a few tastes of our honeymoon in food. Our honeymoon in all other things will remain private. tee hee.

Coffee and pastry delivered to our balcony makes this Mouse happy.

So does fresh coconut water. Recipe: take one enormous coconut direct from the tree. hack off the top with a machete. Stick a straw in it.
And for lunch that day: fresh fish and vegetables steamed in a bag, with a side of ocean.

Sometimes tacos will show up on your plate and they might be fried.
And that might be just fine.

Especially when they're accompanied by the freshest, spiciest, tangiest pico de gallo with chips hot from the fryer and a cold local Victoria, and the ocean a mere shell's throw away.
Guess what shoes I was wearing when I ate this.
None. No shoes.

An appetizer of beans and rice with mexican crema and local Oaxacan cheese eaten at a roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere after our taxi driver poo-pooed the restaurant we asked him to take us to and spotting fellow eating enthusiasts, took us to the place he goes to get local favorites like iguana.

The Husband opted for Javelina Barbacoa. Unbelievably good.

And I had this incredible shrimp soup with whole head-on, unpeeled shrimp so huge and so sweet I thought I might be eating lobster. I should also mention the restaurant had the family pet squirrel in a cage in the dining room.

If you go here, to Barra De Potosi, you will see the most beautiful place where a lagoon meets the ocean and fisherman walk on the water casting their nets.

Take a boat around the lagoon and you'll see all variety of birds and fish leaping out of the water, families fishing for their dinner, a place where they harvest sea salt, and this former shrimp farm:

Apparently when it was functioning, someone stayed here day and night to tend to the shrimp.

Afterwards you should pull up a hammock at one of the open-air fish restaurants
along the shore

and order these camarones alla diabla, or tiritas, the local specialty which consists of strips of fresh fish marinated in lime juice and tossed with shaved red onion and slivers of chile, and served with saltines, and which I did not eat nearly enough of.

You should probably also take the public transportation back from town, bouncing around in the back of the truck with a young couple on their way into town for date night, a grandma in her apron and slippers, and an old man in a wide brimmed hat and cowboy boots, carrying his guitar on his back.

No one could explain to me how to bring this view home with me as a souvenir. I'm still working on the technology that would allow me to replace the Verizon building next door
with this skyline.

Luckily I found a way to bring home the best souvenir of all.

This bartender I met at Senor Frog's!*

Just kidding.

And if you ever needed any proof, check out the Mouse tail I'm sporting above.


(Mrs.) Mouse

P.S. The Ministry of Tourism is planning a major development including a cruise ship pier which will greatly affect the complex ecosystem and way of life of Barra de Potosi, a fishing village where locals have been able to live in harmony with nature and make a living at the same time. This would endanger the wide variety of species that live here, cut directly through the beautiful and unspoiled lagoon, and according to the locals we talked to, bring in workers from other parts of Mexico with experience in the hospitality industry, leaving villagers there with less work, not more. This is a truly beautiful place and it would be tragic to see it demolished or spoiled in any way. You can click here for more information and to take action.

*Michelada: a mexican beer cocktail whose ingredients may vary depending on the region but most often involves beer (I like it with Modelo, corona, Pacifico, or Victoria), fresh lime juice, salt, and ice. Research tells me that it also usually includes a dash of worcestershire, and/or some form of tomato juice, but every time I got it in Zihua, it was primarily if not only, beer and lime juice with a salt rim.

*We did NOT go to Senor Frog's in nearby Ixtapa. Honeymoon or no, neither of us was interested in being subjected to a tourist mob scene in which waiters pour tequila down your throat. We might have eaten at our hotel, but we do have our dignity.

*Also, I should note that this is a terrible picture of both of us, that I am swallowing my pride and sharing because the tail was too good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apples to Apples

Dear Mouse,

OK this is totally my third post in a row but A) this gives you more time to prepare The Honeymoon Post (!!) and B) I'll just be a second. Consider this a Breaking (or, Baking) News Flash.

Every once in a while I am lucky enough to discover/assemble/fall into something in the kitchen that sends me literally scurrying to the laptop like one of your kind to share it with the world.

It's the thick of autumn, and that means apples. And if you're lucky: apple picking.

Hard-Won Macouns.

This was a remarkable two-time orchard excursion week for me, with visits to Solebury Orchard in NJ and I-can't-remember-its-name in NY on Sunday and Monday. To pace myself, I decided to leave all the beautiful Solesbury winesaps and topazes with my friends in NJ... and then found myself cursing this restraint while shaking and climbing the nearly-bare NY trees for the paltry few Golden Delicious and Macouns still hanging on. (At least I know I can still climb a little, with the right incentive.) So.. the moral I guess is... gather ye winesaps while ye may.

Synchronized Fujis

I still brought home probably a good five pounds of rosy speckled globes. And the very first thing I made with them is, quite simply, the best apple-related dessert that I, personally, have made...

Rosemary-Apple Crostata. You heard me.

.. and made UP! On the fly!

Ok I am certainly not the first person to think of this flavor melange. However, while it there is nothing new under the sun and it turned out there was already in fact a recipe for 'Rosemary Apple Tart' on the very splendid Splendid Table web site, I didn't yet KNOW that when the thought of rosemary flitted across my brain. So I still feel a kind of proud ownership.

In the end, I conflated two recipes: the Splendid Table Tart with its bewitching rosemary-lemon-rubbed sugar, and the simple, rustic form of the Apple Crostata from Ye Olde Ina Garten. And let me tell you ... it works. Not only does it work, it makes me never want to eat apples baked without rosemary again. It's homey, sweet, classic, appley . It's woodsy, perfumed, autumnal, intoxicating.

And now I just need to do something with the other 4lbs.


The Boo

The Boo's Rosemary-Lemon Apple Crostata
(with love to Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Ina G.)

Ina's recipe sets you up with a crostata's worth of extra dough in your freezer! I rolled it out quite thin and wound up cutting away some of it, which I liked a lot ... but I'm not really a thick-crust kind of girl.

2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound very cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 C ice water

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. **Note: I approximated this by hand as I don't have a food processor.** Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into 2 discs. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate one of the discs for at least 1 hour. Freeze the rest.

1 lb (ie, 3 med apples or 2 large), peeled, cored, chunked

1/3 C sugar
2 tsp loosely-packed fresh rosemary leaves
zest from about a third of a lemon? Maybe a half, up to you
1 tsp cinnamon
somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 C flour
5 tbsp (a little more than a half a stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 450. Roll out crust to an 11 in circle and lay it on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in a sprayed/floured pie pan (I liked the pan). Arrange the apples in the center of the circle leaving a 1.5-in border.

Put the sugar in a small mixing bowl. Grate the lemon zest directly into it and rub it in with your hands a bit (it will smell fantastic). Add the rosemary leaves and maybe squnch again (again with the fantastic). Add the butter and flour and rub in with your fingertips til it starts holding together. Sprinkle/distribute it evenly over the apples.

Fold in the edges of the dough in a circle, all around the apples, leaving it open in the middle a la the picture above.

Put it in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until crust is golden and apples are tender.

Let it stand for 5 minutes after you take it out. And then I suggest pouring a bit of cream over
the slice you cut for yourself directly afterwards.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mrs. Mouse!

Dear Mouse,

"OMG We are totally at your wedding right now!" (sophisticated opening line of The Boo's wedding toast)


It's really so miraculous, isn't it? One minute there you are, trudging along your daily existence, resigning yourself to the humdrum and the mundane and thinking "well, I guess this IS all there is"... and then, in a heartbeat, everything changes. Suddenly, there's the One. The Game Changer. An addition to your life that changes it so profoundly, in a thousand small ways, that you can't imagine living without it. Just to behold it is a joy:

I got a coffee maker!!
(...why, what did you think I was talking about?)

All kidding aside, what a freakin' gorge-tasti-fabu-rific WEDDING!!!

Congrats to The Mouse ... AND to The Husband!!!!

(flowers, streamers, confetti, trumpets)

It really was one for the history books. I've been putting off writing this post because I'm totally intimidated. I'm aware that, unless I have a very specific angle, it could be the very War and Peace of blog posts... or leave out significant things and get me scolded in the Comments section. And, although a picture is worth a thousand words, there are at least a thousand pictures-- and we haven't actually even gotten the photographer's shots back yet! So I'll only be able to really report on a small, personal slice of delicious coconut wedding cake ... um, er, I mean, of the Event itself. (Anyone who's' reading please feel free to leave your favorite memory in the Comments section!)
Hair and makeup with The Mother & friends. Andaz Hotel NYC.

Everyone is going to have their favorite, definitive moment from your wedding. It's hard to pick one. I'm going to say that mine, for obvious reasons, is going to have to be the night before in the hotel room, when a Very Agitated Mouse could not find the Food Network on TV, and only calmed down enough to sleep when her sister read her the entire Room Service menu aloud.

Drenched Mouse on the bus en route to Rehearsal Dinner, clutching Boo-Assembled Ribbon Bouquet. It was pouring. We couldn't get a cab.

But there's so much more! The CEREMONY, beautifully located on the grounds of Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown NY. (Anyone who has great location shots or comments let us know, as of course we were cloistered in the Bridal Holding Pen right up until showtime.) The Bride's gorgeous, dramatic entrance from between the tall iron doors of the mansion, glimpsed from a distance, was breathtaking. The Groom's love-drunk, tear-filled eyes as he spoke his vows. The eleven adorable flower girls who all, in unison, miraculously failed to drop a single flower petal from their tightly clutched paper cones. The way the officiant said "now you shall feel no rain" as the wind picked up and just a few drops started. And, oh yeah, probably the part where I got up to sing, made it three lines into what was supposed to be a beautiful Irish ballad, burst into tears and yelled, "I TOLD you this would happen!". During the ceremony. Well, at least it got a laugh. And at least it isn't captured on videotape. Oh, wait.

The PARTY. DANCE Party, that is. I think I actually did see some cows coming home as the last person teetered off the dance floor. The photobooth, which was hijacked by small children enacting complex narratives and adults in delightfully obscene postures ... The speeches (laughter, tears, applause for all of them) ... The farm tables (!!), rose-gold-purply autumnal flowers, and japanese lanterns. The band, a delightful assemblage of horns and suspenders, who led us all down the hill from cocktail hour into the main hall. And who could forget the night's second-most passionate union:

Ladies and Gentlemen... in from Cleveland OH... the only other Hart Girl in existence, Isabel!!
Who we had never met (shame on us) and who is a Dance Machine.

Also, we looked awesome. I need another reason to wear that dress, stat. YOUR dress ... I can't even get into it or we might have another Irish Ballad Malfunction.

And, of course, who could forget the delightful last-minute thrill of the US COACHWAYS bus that simply never arrived in NYC to pick up half the guests and, like, BRING THEM to the wedding in Tarrytown. No phone call, nothing. Eventually The Fiance got through (who gave him a phone??) and the charming US COACHWAYS company rep SHOUTED and HUNG UP on him. The ceremony started 45 minutes late, the plucky guests in question had to walk to Grand Central and buy train tickets, and the one US COACHWAYS bus we had, I hear, treated folks to a white-knuckle Ride of Terror back to Manhattan. Oh and now they're offering a 20% refund. (!!!) That's US COACHWAYS, all you brides-to-be out there.


I realize, as this post natters on, that I have not said one word about the food. And that's probably because I barely ate. (I hear that happens. Again, go for it in the Comments!) So I feel I have a good excuse to talk briefly about The Bridal Shower and the Bachelorette Party! though they are not strictly on-topic. That was the first time I've ever been called upon to host, well, anything besides a dinner ... and it was such. a. good. time. First lesson of hosting: delegate. Without your beloved childhood friend CC's artistic talents, how could all the ladies of the Bachelorette have worn these T-Shirts ?

American Apparel Saga to come later.

And without The Mother and The Aunt's advisory, how could the Bridal Shower guests have snacked on these?

Personalized M&Ms: Possibly even tastier.

For a classically lovely, girly bridal shower, you could really do worse than the private 'Evelyn Nesbitt Room' at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in Gramercy Park (finger sandwiches, clotted cream, champagne cocktails), and for a classy-but-still-risque bachelorette party, I highly recommend a Saturday night at the small, beautiful TriBeCa supper club Duane Park. The dinner/show combo ($60/person) features a really impressive prix-fixe menu (hon. mentions to shrimp & grits appetizer and pork loin with honey-plum-barebecue-I-ate-all-of-it sauce), a live smokin' jazz band, and an old-timey burlesque show hosted by downtown's beloved drag king Murray Hill ("Showbiz!"). Cocktails are additional but stellar, if it took a while to get them. (Oh, and an afternoon in the waterfalls and steam of Spa Castle in Queens won't hurt none either. I'll never forget lounging in the rooftop whirlpool bath with you, A-Mac, and CC, sharing a Pina Colada and watching the sun set. Good times.)

Were there two cameras? What am I looking at?

Since, as they say, Brevity is the Filet of Sole, I will stop there. (Cod! That's what I had at the wedding. Cod. It was tasty.) I would like to give two particular food-related wedding shout-outs. One is to Lady, your personal attendant provided by catering, whose timing ("I came to see if you need anything" right as we found out about the second bus) was flawless and who did not bat an eye when we requested 4 vodka shots at 4PM. They came ice cold and accompanied by a plate of the cocktail-hour latin-themed finger foods (mm tamales). Well done, Lady.

The other is to YOU for your wedding cake stroke of genius.

It's really second only to The Cat Lady's 22 -Cake wedding in my book.

After that last agonizing round of decisions, where you, The Fiance, The Mother, and I sat half-asleep trying to decide whether to go with "white sponge" or "yellow cake", and grumbling that no one was going to eat it anyway, you finally just called the caterer and asked if they'd be willing to make the below recipe. The Aunt makes it at least once a year for us and it's always a showstopper. This time was no different, and like everything else in this wedding, was joyful, delicious, and unforgettable.

The Mouse's Ingenious Wedding Cake, nee Ina Garten's Coconut Cake

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!). To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.