Das ist gut!

Those Germans knew what they were doing when they brewed this up.

For my 24th birthday, while I was still living in Italy, a few friends and I went on a roadtrip to Munich. My birthday, which falls on the first week of October, also happens to coincide with the last week of the mother of all beer fests, Oktoberfest. Five of us loaded up into a van and drove the 7 hours overnight from Florence to Munich. When we got there, we spent three days drinking delicious German beer and eating nothing but pretzels, sausages and all sorts of other German carnival food. Needless to say, it was a pretty fantastic birthday.

I was sort of indifferent about German culture and food before going, but after those three stein-swinging, ein-prosit-singing, schnitzel-munching days, I became a fan of all things German. So this Friday, when Flaneur suggested we go to Loreley, a Lower East Side German restaurant and beergarden, I was all for it.

Loreley has a full menu of German eats and brews, and thankfully, lots of English explanations of what all the German means. Afterall, I do not sprechen sie deutch.

Beer and pretzels... simple pleasures

We started off with Drei echte Laugenbretzeln mit Senf which is German for uber tasty, fresh-out-of-the-oven warm and delicious pretzels with a side of spicy, golden mustard. And because it was Friday and time to unwind, we got beers to wash down our bretzelns. Gaffel Kölsch, a Loreley specialty ale from Cologne for Flaneur, and a Schneider Weisse Original, what the menu said was the “Queen of all beers,” for me.

Drinking good beer in big tall glasses really makes you want to swear off drinking things like Bud Lite and really makes you wonder how in the world you were ever able to guzzle cheap beer out of plastic cups all through college. Or at least that’s the effect it had on me.

After practically inhaling the pretzels and all but chugging the beers, we decided to go for round two. This time Flaneur ordered Hofbräu Bock, which is what we drank for those three days in Munich, and it even came in the same stein we had swung around so many times at those long communal tables of Oktoberfest.

Mulled wine and bratwurst.... JA!

I on the other hand, strayed from the beers and ordered a winter time traditional German drink, Glühwein, or mulled wine. Seeing as how New York had gotten pounded by snow the past couple of days, it just made sense to order something that menu specifically said was “perfect for cold days.” And when it came, the warm aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting in the air made me almost forget that I was in the  city and not sitting around a fireplace in a cozy German cottage. Mulled wine for some reason makes me think of cottages, fireplaces, and inexplicably, elves. There were none here, but I’m just saying.

To go with our drinks we ordered another appetizer, Bratwurst mit Brot, a juicy bratwurst sausage with rye bread and the same spicy yellow mustard that had come with the pretzels.

After we finished, full, toasty and warm, we braced ourselves for the cold street again as we put all of our layers back on —the scarves, hats and coats. It was a ways away but I started to wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about a possible birthday in Munich again.

They weren’t kidding when they called it Crack Pie

I keep a running list, an actual collection of names written on a notepad, of places around the city I want to go to. Sometimes, names on the list are just eateries I want to try in general without any specific menu item in mind. Those include recommendations from friends and coworkers or places popular for being New York landmarks. Others on my list are food spots I want to try for something in particular—empanadas here, cheesecake there, falafel somewhere else.

Momofuku, in all its different forms, had been on my list since I first moved to New York, but it wasn’t until last week when I read about Crack Pie at Momofuku’s Milk Bar (the sweet shop and bakery in the bunch) that it got immediately bumped up the list and into the “places-I-have-to-try-as-soon-as-humanly-possible” category.

No actual crack was used in the baking of these addictive pies. At least I don't think.

Obviously what drew me in first was the name. I mean, c’mon, Crack Pie? You can’t say you’re not curious. The description on the menu was succinct, adding to the intrigue: “toasted oat crust, gooey butter filling.”

Gooey butter filling? What does that even mean? There’s only one way to find out.

A note of caution here: Friday night, which is when I showed up at Milk Bar ready for some crack (pie), is probably not the best time to go if you’re in a hurry, if you’re impatient, or if you think you can just pop in and grab a quick slice of pie. Every last bit of standing room was taken as people jammed in and inched uncomfortably close to each other in an effort to get just that much closer to the counter where they could order.

After the waiting, the overall invasion of personal space, and the deliberating over what to get and how many of each thing was socially acceptable to order, I was ready to see what all the fuss was about. I kept it simple and got what I came for: Crack Pie.

Another thing worth noting, however, is that this place really makes it hard on someone like me (i.e. someone with a killer sweet tooth) to pick just one thing. With goodies like red velvet soft serve, candy bar pie and compost cookies, practicing self-control requires complete channeling of all available will power. (In case you were wondering what a compost cookie is, it’s made with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips.)

So finally, there it was, sitting in a white plastic to-go container, the much-anticipated Crack Pie. It looked simple, just a thin slice, nothing monstrous, with a flat surface and some confectioner’s sugar sprinkled on top. But the second I dug into it with the edge of my fork, the world basically melted away and all that was left was me, the Crack Pie and the delicious golden ooze of caramel-like buttery goodness that slowly leaked out of the slice. In my mouth the sticky, sweet filling of the pie mixed with the crunchy, granola-like crust to make for a complete mind-altering experience.

Crack Pie: my new vice

It all made sense. This unassuming marvel of a baked good was very much so appropriately named. After just the first bite I wanted more. I wanted a whole pie actually, but at a whopping, only-in-New-York $44 a pie, I had to settle for the one slice I was quickly devouring.

Now as I sit here writing this, practically salivating as I read it back to myself while obsessively reliving that magic pie experience in my head, I get the distinct feeling that I might be having withdrawal symptoms.  And as any crack head will tell you, the only way to satisfy a craving is to have more crack (pie).

Final note: So you’ve read this and now you’re kind of twitchy, your palms are sweating, and you can’t stop thinking about crack pie. Well, don’t worry,  as your enabler of all things fatty, I have the thing to set you right. For those of you outside of New York or those of you willing to try  your hand at homemade crack pie, check out the recipe here. And if anyone need’s a taster for their crack pie, you know where to find me.

Brunch amongst the hipsters

Sometimes you just have to get out of Manhattan, even if only for a few hours and even if only to go as far as a different borough. This Sunday I did just that when Flaneur and I left the frat-tastic world of Murray Hill to go explore Brooklyn.

Sunday funday at egg

And what better way to start off a Sunday morning than with brunch? The answer is there is no better way because every Sunday should involve brunch. After consulting my trusted guide to, well, everything in life (Google) I found the perfect place: egg, in hipster haven Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

It only took one menu item to convince me: biscuits and gravy. I will do cartwheels and somersaults for biscuits and gravy.  It’s such a fatty, comforting, almost nostalgic food that I try and eat it whenever I see it, which isn’t often. In Gainesville, biscuits and gravy were on any menu that included breakfast but not in New York City. I always search amongst the pancakes and French toast, the omelettes and the breakfast sandwiches but nothing. Sometimes they have biscuits, but no gravy. Must be a southern thing.

When we got to egg (yes, it really is with a lowercase e), the small waiting area in the front was packed. Guys in skinny jeans, tattered sweaters and Ray Bans squeezed in next to girls with thick-rimmed glasses, funny shoes and in the case of one girl there, mullets. It was like a live commercial for Urban Outfitters.

We wrote our name on the list and waited outside, enjoying the relative silence of Brooklyn compared to the constant cacophany of Manhattan, which most of the time appears to be concentrated outside my window. Maybe 30 minutes later, our name was called and in we went.

My game plan from the beginning was biscuits and gravy. When I picked up the menu my eyes immediately went to them on the menu, first on the list. “Homemade buttermilk biscuits in sawmill gravy made with pork sausage or pan-seared mushrooms,” I read to Flaneur, bouncing my feet on the ground in excitement.

But then my eyes wandered and saw something else. And then something else. And then something else again. Before I knew it, I was having second thoughts on the biscuits and gravy.

Everything sounded so good. Why do I have to choose? Why isn’t there some kind of sampler breakfast feast? Why God why?

Flaneur's French toast

Flaneur sat there looking at me, already set on what he wanted: French toast and a side of bacon. Easy. Me on the other hand, I was in the midst of a crisis.

“Are you guys ready to order?” asked our waitress, who seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, pen and pad in hand, ready to take our order now or never.

Flaneur gave me a look. Pick something already, I’m hungry.

“Uhm, uhmm,” I stalled, “you go first!”

Flaneur’s order was simple. It would only buy me about 15 seconds. I had to act fast. My eyes flew over the menu one last time, just as the waitress turned towards me.

“Uhm, ok, well, uhh,” I started. Her look was bordering on a glare.

“Ok, got it,” I blurted with newfound resolve. “I’ll have the country ham biscuit, please.”

“Great, thanks,” she said, collecting our menus and zipping off.

I let out a sigh of relief. I had ditched the plan and opted for something I had never had. It sounded interesting and as much as I love biscuits and gravy, the tally of how many I’ve had in my life is probably in the hundreds. I felt I was being adventurous in trying something new. Go me, I thought. A biscuit with country ham, Grafton cheese, and what sold me on it—fig jam, all with a side of grits. (Note: grits are another breakfast staple for me. My mom recently mailed me a box of instant grits because she knows how I feel about them.)

While we waited, Flaneur and I drew on the paper tablecloth with the Crayons provided. He drew a head. I drew asparagus and the icing on a cupcake. Before I could draw the base, our waitress was back with plates in hand, leaving my half finished cupcake with its cartoonish swirl looking like a purple cartoon poo.

Breakfast faves

I have to admit, when she set the plate down, it looked like something was missing, like it wasn’t as visually appealing as I wanted. Grits are never exactly great looking in general, so I felt a bit of food envy when I saw Flaneur’s plate and the fat French toast and thick strips of bacon sitting on it.

Yet when I took the first forkful of grits, all my envy disappeared. These grits were delicious! They tasted worlds better than the instant mush I make at home. They actually tasted like corn! I had almost forgotten that’s what grits were made out of. They were thick but smooth, not too dry and clumpy, or too watered down.

Almost makes you want to lick the screen doesn't it?

But the star of the show was definitely the biscuit sandwich. If you’re like me, and you like a mix of both sweet and savory, this is the way to go. The homemade fig jam added a subtle sweetness between the biscuit, ham, and the melted cheese that oozed down the side.

And what I first had thought wasn’t going to be enough food, was more than enough. The biscuit was stacked up pretty high, making it even too much to get from top to bottom in just one mouthful. The grits, which came in a large mound, were also pretty filling and by the time it was all gone all I could do was sit back and say, “Man, that was good.”

During all that I did manage to sneak a bite of the French toast and it was pretty delicious too, soft and thick without being chewy. The menu said it was made with a slice of Amy’s brioche. I don’t know who Amy is but she deserves a pat on the back at the very least.

A trip to egg was everything I could have asked for out of a Sunday: a welcome mini escape from Manhattan, a change of scenery, a slight twist on an old favorite, and a very delicious, belly filling brunch. And best of all, I now know where I can find biscuits and gravy, and it’s safe to say they’re probably awesome.

If you can’t be in Florence, make Florence come to you

Last week, as people celebrated Mardi Gras and the end of the Carnival period before the beginning of Lent, I had a brief moment of panic.

Oh no! I’m missing frittelle di riso this year!

Frittelle, sugar dusted rice fritters, had been my favorite Carnival-time Tuscan treat. When I realized that this year I wouldn’t be a few minutes away from the nearest bakery selling them I was struck with nostalgia for my days in Florence. They were available at most bakeries and cafes around the city, from about February till April, but my favorite ones were found just a couple of blocks up on the street I lived on. And now, with an ocean between us, I’d have to miss them.

But wait! Why don’t I just make them?

So I Googled a recipe, translated it and recruited Flaneur, my very own in-house Tuscan, to help me make this favorite Italian fried treat of mine.

First, we cooked 500 grams of rice in 1 liter of milk, adding a cinnamon stick, a pinch of salt and grated lemon peel. When the rice had absorbed all the milk, we took it off the heat and let it cool, at which point we added 2 shots of brandy (recipe said rum but I figured brandy would do), three egg yolks, three tablespoons of flour, and 20 grams of baking soda. Lastly we added 3 beaten egg whites. (Note: beating egg whites with just a fork is NOT fun.)

Rice mix ready for frying.

We let the rice mix sit for 15 minutes and in the meantime got the oil for frying ready. We used a standard pot filled with a few inches worth of canola oil. Once 15 minutes had passed and the oil was hot (you can tell because it starts to make hissing, popping noises) we spooned out golfball-sized chunks of rice and threw them in the oil.

Takin' a dip in the hot oil.

We left the rice balls in the oil until they were a warm, golden brown, before taking them out and replacing them with new ones. They were pretty oily so we set them on paper towels to soak some of the oil out.

Oily now, delicious later.

Finally, once they were all out of the oil, we sprinkled them with confectioner’s sugar and sat down to enjoy our fresh, homemade frittelle di riso.

Ta da!

I’ll be completely honest, our technique could use a tweak here or there but in the end, our frittelle were delicious just the same and maybe even more enjoyable since we made them ourselves.

You can’t go wrong with something fried and sprinkled with sugar.

Hungry for hot dogs

I may not be a huge fan of this city’s pizza (see “Best pizza on this side of the pond”) but if there’s one quintessential New York food that I’m completely for it’s the hot dog. I love it with sauerkraut and mustard, with just ketchup, with chilli and onions, from street vendors and from sketchy holes in the wall, kosher or not, in summer and winter. But as much as I enjoy a good dog, Flaneur loves them even more. So Friday night we set out for the East Village (once again) with our friend Vanessa to try the wieners at Crif Dogs, which I had heard were among the best in the city.

Crifdog with 'kraut and the Philly Tubesteak

First sign a place is good: it’s packed. And Crif Dogs, when we walked in around 8, was just that, with people crammed around tables cluttered with PBRs and paper plates of hotdogs, fries, and—is that what I think it is? — tater tots.

Feeling good about our soon-to-be dinner we walked up to the menu, which read like a stoner’s fantasyland of crazy combinations, ridiculously high calorie counts and toppings on top of toppings on top of toppings.

There was the “Jon-Jon Deragon,” a Crif dog (handmade, naturally smoked beef and pork) with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions and everything bagel seeds. Or the “Good Morning,” a bacon-wrapped dog smothered with melted cheese and a fried egg. Or the interestingly named “Spicy Redneck,” a house dog, bacon-wrapped, with chilli, cole slaw and jalapeños.

Yikes, this really is a stoner’s heaven, I thought to myself while trying to decide if a fried egg on top of a hot dog would propel the calorie count into the four or five digit count.

In the end, both Vanessa and I opted for a more classic hotdog, which compared to the other ones almost seemed tame, the good ol’ chilli dog: smothered in mustard, onions and secret chilli sauce. We both also added a side of waffle fries for good measure.

Flaneur on the other hand, went for two different hot dogs. First, he took the classic route and got a Crif dog with sauerkraut and mustard, and then, for his second choice he ordered a Crif dog “ casually attired” in cheese and sautéed onions. The name of that one? The Philly Tubesteak. That’s right, my boyfriend ordered a tubesteak. Moving right along…

Lucky for us, a few people cleared out and the three of us squeezed into a table to wait for our dogs. Minutes later the Tubesteak and company arrived.

Only thing better than a good wiener is good chilli to smother it with.

The first thing I noticed was the waffle fries which were a good firmness, not too soggy or too crispy, but just right. And they weren’t too salty either, which I appreciate in a fry. It’s always worrisome when a fry leaves actual grains of salt on your fingertips. Makes you wonder what its doing to your insides, mainly your arteries.

After a few fries, I went for the dog before it could get cold. The bun was soft, which I like. (I’m not a fan of the extra toasted bun, which is how my mom’s hot dog buns always came.) The chilli was a nice deep brown color and not that weird orangey, red chilli color that screams artificial when you bite into it. It packed a good amount of taste made just that much better by the chopped onions underneath. The mustard added the extra spicey zing I like in almost everything that’s not a dessert.

I had a couple bites of Flaneur’s hot dogs and those were pretty good too. Flaneur, who’s eaten his fare share of hot dogs all over Manhattan in the few months he’s been here, seemed to thoroughly enjoy them as he as he wolfed both down in a few gigantic mouthfuls. The Philly Tubesteak in particular seemed like ideal munchies food. I mean really, a hotdog with cheese whiz? That has stoner written all over it. And that’s ok with me.

Crif Dogs won me over just with its tasty, over-the-top franks but to make it even better, it’s also home to a speakeasy style bar, Please Don’t Tell, accessible through an in-house phone booth. We didn’t make it in because apparently it’s not much of a secret and people were lining up just to be given wait times of up to an hour.

So now, you see, I have to go back. And if I’m going, I might as well get another Crif dog or two to hold me over while I wait. Maybe even with a fried egg.

I don’t just eat cupcakes…

Now that I have a brand-spankin’-new paint kit I paint them too! In an effort to resurrect my old artsy side, Flaneur got me a set of paints, brushes and canvas boards for Valentine’s Day. Although we joked about having a Titanic moment (sans gigantic diamond) I decided the best and most obvious thing for me to paint would be food, and what better subject than cupcakes! This one is a copy of a painting by Jelaine Faunce. I thought it was better to do it this way because really, there’s no way I could stare at a cupcake for hours and not eat it.

Painting is WAY harder than I had remembered.

Spring forward, fat behind

Spring is in the air! But it’s not flowers in bloom or warmer days that are hinting at the coming season. Something much better gave it away: fully stocked shelves of chocolate bunnies, speckled jellybeans, Peeps (including the original ones) and all sorts of other pastel-colored Easter candy on sale now.

Peeps galore

But most exciting of all is the arrival of my absolute favorite seasonal holiday candy of all time: Cadbury creme eggs. I’ve been eating these gooey cream filled chocolate eggs every year for as long as I can remember.

Tasty tradition

While some people outgrow these things, Cadbury eggs are part of my life just the way spring is part of the year. While some wait hungrily for spring and warm weather, flowers and longer days, I wait just the same way for those cream filled eggs. Thankfully, this year’s wait is over.

I need the kind of creature that lays these eggs.