Piglet in the post

Getting mail, real, tangible, paper goodness “snail mail,” whether a letter or a package, is one of my favorite surprises. I say surprise because the times that I actually get to enjoy this small pleasure are few and far between. News, invitations, announcements, hell even bills come via the computer. My apartment’s mailbox mostly collects a lot of junk mail and not a lot else.

Chocolate pigs make for the best surprises

So yesterday, when I went to check the mail, I was elated to see a big, fat envelope folded and squished into the small mailbox. It was from my friend Terry in D.C. who I hear from every so often but wasn’t expecting anything from. When I opened it, along with a handwritten note (another small pleasure) and a couple of newspaper clippings (including one on the recent death of Thomas Angove, inventor of the wine box), there were two edible inclusions. One was Vietnamese flour for making savory pancakes (read about it soon on in an upcoming post) and the other was a belated Easter gift, a chocolate pig. (Terry, you see, works for pork lobbyists in D.C.)

I was happy enough as it was to have a real piece of mail in my hands, but to then have chocolate inside, well that was just awesome. Thank you, Terry, for the nice surprise, and thank you chocolate piggy, for being just what my empty mailbox needed.

Food reads

For the educated glutton

It took me forever to finish, but I finally did it. I finished John Dickie’s “Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food.” Normally I breeze through books (the ones I like anyway) but this one was so detailed in its historical account of Italian food that I had to make my way through it a little more carefully, a little more slowly.

The book starts in Medieval Italy (which wasn’t actually Italy back then) and works its way through the Renaissance, papal scandals (yes, they’ve always existed), the official establishment of Italy as the country we know today, the late 19th century and early 20th century flood of Italian emigrants, the first World War, the rise and fall of Mussolini and the second World War, and finally through the second half of last century and into the current one.

It was intense in its attention to historical detail but definitely a good read. I’m not a huge history buff, but history told through food? Well, that’s more my style.

The deli’s unsung hero

Egg salad with Roquefort cheese

In my opinion, egg salad is the unsung hero of the deli. As people order their sandwiches, bagels, coldcuts and cheeses, they often overlook the egg salad. But not me. I love egg salad, and sometimes when I walk into a deli, that’s all I get.

“Anything else?” the person behind the counter will ask, waiting for the rest of my order.

“Nope. Just the egg salad, thanks.”

Today while at work, I was randomly struck by a craving for egg salad. Since my boyfriend is out of town and therefore not around to make sure I have a balanced meal, complete with protein, veggies and all the other things he often harps about, I thought, “Great. It’s decided. I’m having egg salad for dinner.” While I’ve had it at a few places between my office and my apartment, the place I had in mind was one I’d never been to. It wasn’t even technically a deli either.

Egg salad for dinner

Egg salad follows a pretty basic recipe: boiled eggs, mayo, mustard, salt, pepper. So when I read that Lamazou, a small cheese shop in Murray Hill, a block away from my apartment, adds Roquefort to their egg salad, I knew that was the one I wanted.

And sure enough, Lamazou’s version did not disappoint. It was just the right shade of pale yellow (too yellow means too much mustard… throws the whole thing off), and was the perfect creamy yet chunky consistency (too creamy means too much mayo…slimey and gross). The special ingredient, the Roquefort, gave it just a hint of that salty tanginess the moldy cheese is known for without overpowering the whole thing.

And while it might not have looked like much, my small container of egg salad and the hunk of baguette I ate it with, actually made for a very filling dinner. My boyfriend might not have approved, but for tonight, I was ok with egg salad hogging up the spotlight.

Go-to Thai

Pad thai, neighborhood comfort food

Everyone in New York has a favorite Thai place. It’s weird. Not their favorite burger joint, or preferred restaurant for chinese take-out, or even their go-to place for a slice of pizza. But everyone, it seems, has their favorite spot for Thai. It’s not always the best or the most authentic or even the most well known. Sometimes it’s just the one closest to home, or the one with the cheapest menu or the one with the fastest delivery.

I just moved into a new apartment, only about 10 blocks away from my old apartment, so pretty much still in the same neighborhood. The guy who lived here before us mentioned a couple of things about the places around our new home: which bars were good, where the nearest laundromat was and where his favorite Thai place was. “This will be your go-to Thai restaurant,” he told us matter-of-factly. It was literally across the street from the end of our block, about a 45 second walk from our front door.  Yet when we went, while it was nice and the food was decent, it just wasn’t my favorite Thai place.

My first night in the city, after just moving here from Italy, my then-roomate took me to Talent Thai, a small restaurant on 34th street in Murray Hill. Maybe it’s because eating there is now tied to the memory of moving to New York and all the excitement and anticipation of starting a new life in the city and everything that comes with it, but after that first night, Talent Thai became my go-to spot. Relatively cheap (most entrees, which are massive in size, cost around 10 bucks…a steal by New York standards), quick service, nice ambience, and delicious food, it’s everything I could ask for. Whenever I don’t feel like cooking, but I’m not sure what I feel like eating, I can always rely on Talent Thai. So even though there’s a much closer option, I’ll continue going to my old favorite, which thankfully is still only six blocks away.

I have seen the promised land

Going to BuonItalia, the italian food market in pricey, trendy, gourmet Chelsea Market, had long been on my list of things to do. I had been to Chelsea Market before but didn’t go in to BuonItalia because stores that claim to specialize in italian food usually disappoint me. They inevitably just make me miss real, authentic italian food, and then that leads to lots of moping around and being whiney.

But recently, when I went on an online search for a place in New York that sold stracchino (a soft white cheese that I love with every fiber of my being) I came back to BuonItalia, which said they had it, both on their website and when I called to ask. (You can never be too sure.)

So Flaneur and I headed west to buy the cheese for part of dinner at our apartment on Friday night. I went with the intention of just getting the cheese. I wasn’t expecting anything else. Just the stracchino. But the second I walked in and took a look around, I knew I had reached the promise land. The land of milk and honey. Make that cheese and honey. I had found everything I had been looking for.

This place had e-ve-ry-thing. EVERYTHING. Their cheese section was amazing! They had stracchino and so much more: burrata, pecorino, squaquarone, mozzarella di buffalo, and so many more. I wanted to rip them all open and go on a fiendish cheese eating binge. But I held back.

So much wonderful cheese!

A huge ceramic bowl filled with huge balls of mozzarella gave me a great idea for my next birthday party: instead of bobbing for apples, I want to bob for mozzarella. And if other people are weirded out by that, I’ll play by myself. Practically glowing in their milky bath, those mozzarella balls were begging to be eaten.

Fist-size balls of mozzarella

The refrigerated meat case was just like being back in Italy, ordering a sandwich at my favorite shop (which by the way, in case anyone’s interested, is Antico Noè in Florence). All my old friends were there: porchetta, salame, speck, prosciutto, and others.

Carnivore wonderland

Then as I worked my way through the dry foods section, I ran into all the cookies that I had always seen in the supermarkets in Italy. It really was like running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Someone you like. They had the chocolate pan di stelle (a classic among Italian children) and baiochi, the little round cookies with chocolate cream on the inside.

Cookies galore

But really, they had it all: olive oil, fresh pasta, spices, chocolates, Easter confections, grissini  (super thin crunchy bread sticks), jams, olives, coffee, and even imported gelato. I was in heaven. Italian food heaven.

Needless to say, I was completely unable to leave the store with just the cheese I had come for. This was not the place to put my self-control to the test, so I didn’t even bother.

Hot weather’s here, someone get me a margarita!

Blood orange frozen margarita

The past few days have been pretty warm in New York. Too warm if you ask me. (Even though I was born in a tropical country and raised in Miami, I actually really hate the heat. Anything above 80° and I start getting fussy and cranky.) But the one good thing about hot weather making its first appearances of the year, is that it also means it’s time for ordering margaritas and other fun drinks. Order a margarita when it’s 45° outside and people will think you’re nuts (or an alchoholic) but order it when it’s 90° (like today) and people will most likely tell you that was a great idea and join you in having one themselves.

During Sunday brunch at cutesy, country-themed Cowgirl in the West Village Flaneur and I split our first margarita of the season. A deliciously icy smooth drink perfect for a hot, sunny day, the frozen blood orange margarita was a good mix of tart, subtle sweetness and just enough tequila flavor. Beside being refreshingly cold and tasty, it won bonus points with me with its cute plastic bull garnishes and mason jar glass. A little silly and maybe tacky? Perhaps. Am I looking forward to many more like it? Absolutely.

Easter sales

My very own carton of chocolate marshmallow eggs

Now that Easter has come and gone, the next candy-centric holiday isn’t until October. So today, before they were wiped from the shelves, I took part in one of my favorite candy-related traditions: post-holiday clearance sales. Fifty percent off all Easter candy. Now, that’s my kind of sale. I did manage to practice some self control however, and walked out of the store only having bought two Cadbury eggs (although I wanted to buy their whole supply) and one carton (because they only came by the dozen, I swear) of chocolate marshmallow eggs. I had to. They came in a styrofoam carton just like real eggs. They were too hilariously kitchy (and cheap thanks to the sale) to pass up.

They weren’t the best candy I’ve ever had, and of course, they paled in comparison to my beloved Cadbury eggs, but they were good anyway. Light and fluffy, with just a thin chocolate shell, they’re easy to eat several of, and don’t have that ultra sugary stickiness of Cadbury eggs. You could eat a couple and not feel like you instantly got cavities. I’d say they were a fun farewell to Easter sweets. And now to wait for candy corn…

Chocolate shell, fluffy marshmallow yolk