Bitter and sweet, drinks and memories

The first time I tried a Negroni, I almost immediately spit it out like a geyser of blood orange colored booze.

It was worse than the mouthful of CK One I accidentally sprayed myself with in seventh grade. Worse than the bar of soap my grandma shoved in my mouth as a kid. (Because yes, old school grandmothers used to do that to foul-mouthed children.) Worse than the Tylenol I bit into, thinking it was a mint.

It was horrendous, an assault on my taste buds.

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Never thought I’d be excited about a frozen Negroni

Now every time I order one, something that happens way more than I might have ever thought based on that first sip, I think of that night, and how I almost lost all my cool points in front of the Italians I was drinking with, all of them casually, painlessly sipping away at their Negronis.

It took years— it’s been ten since that first stolen sip— but I finally came around. Maybe due to a changing palette or perhaps out of nostalgia for a special time and place in my life, or maybe even because the older I get, the more I appreciate a drink that almost forces me to drink it slowly instead of guzzling it down.

And a good Negroni, with its all-booze-no-mixer blend of Campari, vermouth and gin, all colorful and dolled up with a twist of orange peel, exciting and alluring, a little floral and herbal, bitter yet bright, pretty much demands to be drank slowly.

On a recent humid, sticky afternoon in Brooklyn, reminiscent of so many equally swampy summer afternoons spent in AC-aversed Italy, a frozen Negroni was the obvious choice for me. With frost on its little coupe cocktail glass, and more of a dusty red-orange than the candy colored original, the frozen counterpart was a cute, chilly play on the classic. In the blazing heat of our windowside corner at One Bedford in Williamsburg, it didn’t stay frozen for long, quickly melting into a clear, orangey red.

I knocked it down in a few gulps, remembering a time when a tiny sip had tasted so different.

Been travelin’

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A delicious mess of baked eggs, maple bacon, crispy fried onions and coconut milk grits at Pretty Southern in Greenpoint. You won’t read about it beyond this but I wanted to show off this picture anyway, so here you go. Enjoy.

In trying to think of what to write here, what to say to explain myself for just falling off the grid again, I remembered a part in one of my favorite books, All Over but the Shoutin,’ by one of my favorite writers, Rick Bragg. (If you don’t know him, it’s ok to pause here and look him up. He writes these sentences that are so good they make my heart ache. No, really, I have actual physical reactions to his words. I met him once, when I was in college, and I was tongue tied, a sweaty palmed wreck, all over the way he strings together words to form sentences.)

In his memoir about growing up in the South, dirt poor in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains,  he writes about sleepwalking as a child and how his grandmother used to find him doing it.

But sometimes I would come to my senses outside and see her just standing there, beside me. I never cried. I just looked up, wondering. “You’re okay, little man,” she would tell me. “You just been travelin.'”

And that’s how I feel. That’s where I’ve been. Travelin.’ Not really in the way of actually going places, though there was a weekend in Canada with my sister, but more so just travelin’ through life, at times in that sleepwalking kind of way where you find yourself somewhere unexpected, a little dazed and groggy. That’s been life lately.

Today, for example, I woke up and realized it’s been eight years to the day since I moved to New York. All day I’ve been sitting here, figuratively rubbing my eyes, looking around at the life I’m living, the friends, the loves, the jobs, the ups, the downs it’s entailed, all of it.

I just looked up, wondering. 

So yea, in the last few weeks, leading up to this anniversary, though not strictly related to it, I’ve been travelin,’ through my thoughts and my memories, through life. And sometimes when I do that, it doesn’t feel right to sit here and gush about the cheeseburgers and the pork buns, the very many mountains of ice cream, and let me tell you, there have been mountains. They’ve all been there, the food is always there. I just don’t always feel like writing about it. (Problematic, I know, for a self-professed food writer.)

All is well though, great even. It’s like waking up late on a Saturday to the smell of your roommate frying up bacon in the kitchen. It’s waking up exactly where you’d want to.

Easy like fried chicken

How did it go again, when Lionel Richie sang it? “That’s why I’m easy, easy like Sunday evening?”

Wait, no, that’s wrong. It was morning, easy like Sunday morning.

But for me, well for me it was Sunday evening that was the easy one. Easy and delicious.

I was walking down First Ave. with a certain someone, making our way toward the L train, casually talking about maybe grabbing something quick and easy to eat before heading back to Brooklyn, when I made the suggestion.

“How ‘bout this place?” I asked, pointing to the barely noticeable, easily missable sign on Fuku’s door. “They do a good chicken sandwich. And it’s fast.”

IMG_8718I’d been there about a year before with a couple of friends, and remembered liking it. David Chang can do no wrong in my book. In his Momofuku kingdom, he’s got the Midas touch of deliciousness.

The menu’s small at Fuku and the main attraction is Chang’s chicken sandwich. A couple of sandwiches, some chicken fingers, fries, a couple sides, a few drinks , and that’s all folks! But when things are as good as this, you don’t need a lot of choices, and for someone like me, who struggles with decision-making, that’s a great thing.

Ordering— unlike so many other times at so many other places—was a breeze and I went with the Koreano, a slight twist on the regular chicken sandwich. No fries cause I wasn’t ravenously hungry as usual (and because my partner in crime for the night got some so I thought he wouldn’t mind a couple missing.)

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Deciding on Fuku was easy, ordering was easy and when my Koreano came out, it was easy too. Not a ton of toppings or competing flavors, just a few really great things coming together to make a phenomenal chicken sandwich. The bun, smooth and seedless, was soft and subtly sweet, with a smear of bright flavored chili sauce on the inside. A heap of tangy shredded daikon radish, a couple simple bread and butter pickles, and the star of the show: a huge hunk of absolutely perfect fried chicken.

Perfect, I said. Perfect.  Crunchy and golden on the outside and unbelievably juicy and tender on the inside. I don’t know what kind of black magic was used to pull off this chicken, but I support it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life was this easy and so so good? Not easy like Sunday morning, Lionel. Easy like perfect fried chicken.

Aimless strolls and jackpot finds

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What a find!

I think my roommate secretly hates going to the supermarket with me. On the rare occasions when we do go together, she knows exactly what she wants, grabs it, pays and is outside texting me that she’ll meet me back at home, all before I’ve dropped even a single item into my basket.

Even when I have a list, or I’m at Trader Joes in Union Square having homicidal thoughts, or I’m tired, hungry, or wearing sweaty gym clothes, I can’t help but wander aimlessly, roaming, perusing the aisles for something to move me.

Sometimes I’ll just stand in front of the freezer section, half daydreaming, half scanning the rows of pizzas, TV dinners, and ice cream. Ah the ice cream, always and forever the ice cream.

I was doing exactly that recently, standing before a freezer at Target, looking for nothing in particular but everything at once, when I saw it: TWINKIES ICE CREAM.

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It broke but it was good to the very bottom!

That cute little Twinkie in a cowboy hat and boots reached out with one of his tiny gloved hands and said, “C’mon Ang, let’s go home.”

And we sure as hell did cause you know what? I. LOVE. TWINKIES. I don’t care if people think they’re gross, or weird, or capable of surviving a nuclear holocaust. I love ’em. They’ve got a cute name, adorable little spongy shapes, tasty cream fillings, and just the right blend of kitsch and nostalgia to make me feel the warm and fuzzies.

Twinkie cones are chocolate lined, filled with a vanilla-y, sweet cream type, Twinkie flavored ice cream and topped with fluffy bits of golden sponge cake on frothy whip cream, not unlike the stuff inside a real Twinkie.

Only thing better than a walk down the memory lane of sweet childhood treats, is—as the Twinkies cone proves—one of my meandering strolls down the frozen foods aisle.

A great, gooey gimmick

No one does over the top, gimmicky food quite like New York. There’s the giant soup dumpling you slurp with a straw, the technicolor rainbow bagel, the cookie dough scooped into cones and eaten like ice cream. The more outlandish and calorie laden the better.

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Grilled cheese fantasies come to life

And while I occasionally roll my eyes at the line of people snaking down the block at any of the places turning out these food fetish creations, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had my share, and I too, have waited in some pretty stupid lines to get a taste of the moment’s food craze. (Cronut, I’m looking at you.)

When I heard about this next thing I immediately thought, “Oh Jesus Christ, that’s absurd” followed immediately by “I must have it.” And so my roommate and I compared schedules, nailed a date, and off we went in search of Clinton Hall‘s Flamin’ Hot Doughnut Grilled Cheese.

Made of gooey, melted mozzarella pressed between two Doughnut Project habanero bacon glazed doughnuts in place of bread, the glorious and oh-so-gluttonous flamin’ hot grilled cheese sandwich is served looped through a hook and dangled over a bowl of thick, hot tomato soup for dipping.

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Worth every last calorie.

Even though doughnuts are involved, the sweet element is minimal here, with just the tiniest, subtle sweetness coming through the layers of cheese and butter and doughy, bacony goodness. The tomato soup, which I  often find to be too runny or acidic, was neither. It was thick and creamy, just the right amount of tomatoey sweet with a peppery kick, perfect to complement the grilled cheese.

Even though Clinton Hall only offers 20 of these per day Friday through Sunday, we showed up  just after noon on a Sunday and didn’t have to fight any crowds or freeze our grilled cheese loving asses off standing outside in any lines. A couple of tables had them and obviously there was lots of gawking and picture snapping, but that’s how it goes with these food fads. But if they’re as good as this sandwich was, I don’t really care who’s watching or taking pictures or rolling their eyes. I’ll be the one licking my fingers and doing the little happy dance.

Carbo-loading early

I’ve been toying with a crazy idea over the last year or so, and last Thursday I decided to make it official: I’m running the 2017 NYC marathon.

Cue mild panic attack.

On top of the physical commitment, I’m also running it for charity which means I have to raise $2,620 or else that’s what gets charged to my card. Double yikes, right? The pressure is ON.

In the spirit of finding the energy necessary to run a stretch of 26.2 miles, I decided to get a head start on the carbo-loading with dinner at Cheeseboat. (Ok, the truth is someone posted a video on my Facebook of a huge hunk of bread with a delicious pool of cheese in the middle and when I found out the restaurant was in Williamsburg, I immediately made plans with a friend. But it did actually coincide with me signing up for the marathon.)

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Take me away cheeseboat, take me away

Cheeseboat is a Georgian restaurant and dammit, I wanna go to freakin’ Georgia now because these folks know what to do with some bread and cheese. They have other stuff but good God almighty, CHEESE FREAKIN’ BOATS! I wanna jump in one and sail away into my fat kid dreams.

There’s lots of cheeseboat variations, some with bacon or truffle sauce, cream or veggies, and all manner of delicious combos, but basically they’re a big doughy mass, like a shallow bread bowl, filled with gooey, melted cheese in the middle, so that you gradually tear the whole thing apart and dip it in the middle, scooping out big globs of warm, delicious cheese as you go.

My friend and I  went with the original cheeseboat, filled with cheese, butter and topped with a fried egg, because as I’ve said before, I would almost eat rocks if they were underneath the rich, velvety blanket of golden, delicious fried egg yolks. For a serious carb and cheese lover like myself, this was everything. Yes, I felt stuffed to the gills and completely incapable of running to the door, much less 26.2 miles around all five boroughs, but I can tell you this much, I know what I want to eat AFTER that marathon.

Mini version, massive deliciousness

My mom does this thing that probably only I find irritating: the woman loves to speak in diminutives, which in Spanish, exist for every freaking word. In English, a small table is just that, a small table. In Spanish, it’s una mesita. A small dog? Un perrito. A small house? Una casita. I don’t know why, but it just gets under my skin.

img_7896So when my roommate told me about these things called mofonguitos, the diminutive of the Carribean dish mofongo, I grit my teeth for a second and maybe got a twitch in my eye. When I saw the pictures, however, my only question was when are we having these?

And so we found ourselves at the very tippy top of Manhattan, squeezed into a small table at a no-frills place called Bombonada, while Spanish music blared from the kitchen and we stuffed our faces with one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, handheld versions of the normally plated mofongo.

img_7893Traditionally served as a heap of mashed fried plantain, topped with a stew-like sauce, cheese, rice and a protein of your choice, here the plantain mash was used to make palm-sized cups that were then filled with all manner of tastiness: shrimp, ground beef, pork, chicken, all saucy and juicy, topped with a thick layer of gooey, melted cheese.

At first glance, they kind of look like the potato skins from Friday’s that I so dearly loved as a kid, but these, totally different, were worlds better. We had a few different kinds, (not all photographed because honestly, they just weren’t on the table long enough to get their photos snapped before being devoured) but I think my favorite might have been the ground beef, because it was so rich and hearty, completely over the top and gluttonous.

Yes, the name still kind of grates on my nerves but when something is as ridiculously good as that, I could forgive an annoying name any day.