All I want for Christmas is…

If you didn’t read that headline in a sing-songy Mariah Carey voice, you did it wrong. Go back and try it again.  

All of my favorite blogs and magazines have been posting holiday gift guides and I can’t get enough of them. I read ’em all, even the ones that don’t apply to me: gifts over $250, gifts for your unruly toddler, gifts for your totally sane parents. I love going through them and seeing all the cool stuff that’s out there, and I’ve even snagged a couple of ideas for presents I’d like to buy for a few people on my list. 

With that in mind, I put together a little holiday gift guide of my own. Now, this isn’t necessarily MY specific wish list, more just like a few fun, food-related presents (that I also would totally not be mad at finding underneath my Christmas tree). Cough cough. 

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Please, Santa?

*Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese: I’ve seen this one on a few lists and well, it’s because it’s amazing. Murray’s (i.e. my happy place) sends you three different cheeses to have at home, and it can be a one-time thing or a subscription to last however many months you want. 

*Whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano: Ok, now hear me out. I know this one’s a big-ticket item but seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. 

*Christmas doughnuts from Doughnut Plant: You’d have to either be a diabetic or just the Grinch himself to not love one of these adorable, festive doughnuts. Choose from the coconut snowman, the mint chocolate Christmas tree, or the gingerdough man. Or better yet, get all of them. Oh and throw in a creme brulee doughnut too, cause those are the best. 

*Marseille Amaro from Forthave Spirits: Not only is this distilled in Brooklyn, which gives it extra cool points, but amari are everywhere these days and a great addition to any bar. I’m putting this one on my to-buy-for-myself list. 

*The Best American Food Writing 2018: It’s not all about what you can consume with your mouth, you know? Sometimes you gotta feed your brain too, and find a little inspiration from really great food writing. 

*Fig and chocolate panettone: regular ol’ panettone is already one of the best parts of the holiday season, in my humble opinion, but one made with figs and chocolate? C’mon! Think of the french toast you could make with that! And you don’t even have to wrap it since panettone already comes in its own showy wrapping.

*Good olive oil in a cool tin container: After watching the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix recently, I was reminded of the awesome olive oil they have in Italy and how I want to be the kind of person who only keeps the good kind around, the really bright green, peppery, fresh stuff that you’d keep in a cool, rustic-chic tin container like this one. 

*Food of the Italian South, by Katie Parla: Part cookbook, part coffee table book, part travel inspiration, this book isn’t actually available until March but you can pre-order it now. When better to get a present than when you’re least expecting it, like no-holidays March?

So much kale

Getting stuff for free is awesome and I’m normally all about it, but what the hell do you do with four containers of kale that you suddenly find yourself the owner of?

At work earlier this week, as I started to unpack a large order from Fresh Direct while the delivery guy was still unloading cases of water and boxes of snacks for my office, I immediately saw something I knew was wrong.

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Just what every office pantry needs: a ton of raw kale.

“Oh hey, sorry, this must belong to another order, ” I said to him, pulling out the large plastic containers filled with the dark green leafy stuff. “I definitely didn’t order this.”

“Oh, well you can just keep it,” he said, practically vanishing into thin air as soon as he said it, like some sort of magic trick. He must’ve known I was going to offer him some.

The office fridge didn’t even have space for all of that kale, and the thought of just tossing it in the trash had me clapping my hands over my ears as my mother’s voice screamed, “But what about the starving children in Africa?! They’d love that kale! Don’t be a monster, Angie!”

In a last-ditch effort, I sent an email out to the office putting it up for grabs. No one answered. One guy walked by my desk and asked why it couldn’t be something fun. I heard my mother in my head again.

So I took to social media and posted a little story on Instagram, asking for recipes. I got several from friends and acquaintances:

Eww gross, throw it away.

Make kale chips!

Blend it in a smoothie.

Have a big ol’ kale salad.

Make more kale chips! Wait, did you already think to make kale chips? How ’bout kale chips?

Apparently, a lot of you are passionate about kale chips. And while I’m already a fan myself, there’s an issue with the gas in my apartment and my only means of cooking is a temporary double electric burner, so kale chips weren’t an option.

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My new favorite way of eating kale: AS PESTO. 

But one friend suggested something I would have never thought of (because let’s face it, I was going to eat kale salad until I couldn’t stand it anymore) and that’s kale pesto. So simple it was genius! Required no cooking, minimal ingredients, and from the several recipes I found online, easily customizable.

For mine, I went with chopped raw kale, crushed walnuts, chopped basil, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and grated parmesan. I tossed it in a blender (a Magic Bullet to be precise), gave it a whirl and boom, it was done. I don’t specify measurements here because it’s all pretty adjustable. I made two batches to be combined, and the first one, for example, had two fat cloves of garlic which gave it a good kick. For the second, I cut back on the garlic but added more basil for that more traditional pesto flavor and more walnuts for a nutty taste. You could add more or less of any one ingredient to get it to what you like.

I’m not the most confident in my kitchen skills but this? This was delicious. I could’ve eaten it just one spoonful after another, but saved it for pasta instead. But because pesto’s awesome it could be just as good as a sandwich spread, an egg drizzle, or for dunking some warm focaccia into. And the best part was basically tricking my body into eating and loving kale!

So yea, four free pints of ice cream would’ve probably been the highlight of my week but kale ended up being pretty great too.  (Katy, if you read this: grazie ancora!)

Little victories

Whenever my friend Stas has me over for dinner— or brunch, or afternoon baking, or really any time of day to have something she’s making— I’m always in awe, not just of what she makes (though I still absolutely daydream about the stuffing waffles she made a few Thanksgivings ago) but more at how she makes things.

She does it all with an ease that I, as someone who is always reading and re-reading the recipe out loud, washing dishes as I go, cursing vegetables to be chopped, and making lots of little mistakes along the way, envy very much. She makes it look so easy. I’ve never even seen a recipe in her kitchen. It’s like she reads them in private and commits them to memory. Meanwhile, I’m freaking out over whether something’s supposed to cook for 7 minutes or 8.

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Shishito peppers seem simple enough, but don’t but it past me to overcomplicate anything in the kitchen.

So it was with Stas in mind that I set out last night to try something small that I’d seen at her place during a recent dinner party: shishito peppers.

I should note here that I freakin’ love shishito peppers, and I happily and routinely pay New York’s outrageous prices for them, because I love them so. It honestly never occurred to me that I could just make them at home, but that’s exactly what Stas did when she made them as a side along with anchovies on buttered bread, a lovely spatchcock chicken, and some made-from-scratch panna cotta among other things. Everything was great, but it was the shishito peppers that left an impression on me. They just looked so easy, so impossible to mess up, and in the end, as always, they were so good.

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I kid you not, these were delicious. And SO incredibly easy to not mess up.  

When I saw a bag at the store a couple of days ago I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to channel Stas’s cool-as-a-cucumber approach to cooking something sans recipe.

Back home, I swirled some olive oil in a frying pan, remembering Stas’s instructions. I cranked up the heat, tossed in the peppers, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and flipped them around for a few minutes until they were slick and blistered with just a little char on the outside before transferring to a plate.

And you know what? They were just as good as some of the $8 or $9 or $10 plates of shishito peppers I’ve had out at restaurants.

Yes, I’m aware they’re not really a whole meal (and don’t you worry, they were a side to my scrambled eggs for dinner), but I’ll have you know I felt very accomplished eating these little beauties. Sometimes you have to celebrate the little victories, too, and I like to think making these without panicking or Googling or stressing was exactly that.

New (to me) kind of ramen in my old neighborhood

During the four years I lived in Williamsburg and even the year before that when I was nearby in Greenpoint, I was always aware of the small, tucked away Japanese restaurant known as Okonomi by day and YUJI Ramen by night, but I never went. It was supposed to be great, everyone told me. Tiny, with only a few seats. No reservations. Great Japanese breakfasts till 3, then a new name and awesome ramen after 6. It was even on an episode of Master of None last year which is pretty much a stamp of approval from cool people in the food world.

But every time I walked by there was a crowd outside, people reading books or scrolling through their phones, all killing time till their tables were ready. So I kept putting it off, pretty much for four straight years, until my very last week in the neighborhood. On a random night in the middle of the week, alone as I made my way back to my mostly packed up apartment after a day of work and errands in the city, I thought on a whim, to see if there might be a spot for one.

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It didn’t look like any ramen I’d ever had but it immediately became one of my favorites.

And whaddaya know? There was. There were two actually, right at the bar, but almost immediately after I walked in, someone came in after me and took the other one, and not long after him several others popped in to be added to the waitlist. I hadn’t even ordered yet when I heard someone quoted 40 minutes for a table.

The menu was brief, which I, as someone who suffers from chronic menu indecision, appreciated. Pretty much just a couple of appetizers, a selection of ramen and a selection of mazemen, or ramen without broth.

Now, I love ramen, especially when the weather’s cold, or grey, wet and dreary like it has been for the past week here in New York. But the night I stopped by Yuji, a few days before Labor Day weekend, it was still steamy and hot outside and the idea of a brothless ramen sounded pretty perfect.

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The last couple of bites of a really delicious bowl of mazemen.

The bacon and egg mazemen I ordered was a beautiful bowl of yellow, ribbon-like noodles, thick-cut hunks of bacon, onsen tamago (pretty much a Japanese poached egg), mustard greens and bonito flakes (super thin dried, cured fish shavings). Before stepping away to let me fully geek out over my meal, the server had recommended that I stir everything up before digging in. I went for the egg first, poking it with a chopstick and letting the orangey-yellow yolk ooze out, seeping into the little spaces between noodles and bacon, sliding around the greens and bonito flakes that seemed to wiggle and shimmy in the heat rising from the bowl.

In the absence of broth, the yolk kept everything from being too dry and gave the noodles a silky, almost custardy consistency. The greens, meanwhile, added a green, peppery bite and the bacon, as it always does, a rich, fatty flavor. I wanted to savor every delicious bite and never reach the bottom of the bowl, but with no one to distract me and several people waiting for the very spot I sat in, I also couldn’t help slurping down every little bit of that mazemen in what felt like entirely not enough time.

My only regret at this point is letting all those years go by without trying this whole other type of ramen or without wolfing down a few more bowls of the particular bacon and egg version I had that night. I might live in a new Brooklyn hood these days, but I can tell you right now I’ll be back for those eggy, delicious noodles.

(Check out a little clip of the mazemen swirling action on my Instagram!)

Apartment hunting and party planning

Come September, if all goes as planned, I’ll be moving to a new apartment— in a new neighborhood with a new roommate (hey boyfriend!) and mostly a lot of new stuff (because I’m sick to death of all my current things… I’m looking at you, Christmas plates that have been in use year-round for the past SIX years.) As someone who not only deals well with change but actually welcomes it, I am more than ready.

Sure, I have to actually find a place first, but I’m not letting that stop me from thinking about all the fun stuff: the houseplants I’ll add, what it’ll be like to finally get rid of the  mattress I’ve had since the day I moved to New York, and all the fun possibilities for entertaining that are coming up in the second half of the year (my birthday, Thanksgiving, and the foodfest that is December.)

That last bit of reverie is how I wound up going down the rabbit hole at Paperless Post, the online shop with all sorts of cute, customizable stationery and invitations for every kind of event. Someone sent me a wedding save-the-date from there and before I knew it I was idling through all of their categories, finding myself— unsurprisingly— going through the many results that came up when I searched food.

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This one I’ll send to my new “roommate.” Also, can we talk about how much I love the word canoodle? It’s just great. Noodles and canoodling, love ’em.

Continue reading

Read, eat and be merry

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A recent summer day of burgers, beers and babies.

Nothing like one day off in the middle of the week to throw everything off, right? I mean, listen, I’m not complaining (because a day off is a day off) but like someone pointed out to me post Fourth of July, it felt like this week had two Mondays. Yuck. Either way, the weekend is upon us again, and thank God. Here’s a few more links to what I’m reading… you know, should you find yourself lazying in the sun or holed up indoors with the AC with nothing but Instagram to fill your screen.

  • The dog days are here and with them my nearly unquenchable thirst for frozen drinks. I think I’m going to print this list from Eater and get cracking. I like to be a girl with a plan, ya know? (That’s actually not true. I have no plans, ever.)
  • Stories that weave actual life with food give me the warm and fuzzies. This story from Taste made my heart ache and my belly growl. Life, right?
  • A piece in the NY Times food section asked if America was ready to love cottage cheese again. Uhm, when did we stop? I know I haven’t. I freakin’ love the stuff.
  • Listen, I love avocado toast just as much as the next millennial, but if artichoke toast is trying to become a thing, I’m all about giving that a shot too, cause I love artichokes and don’t eat them nearly as much. Avocados probably need a break anyway, no?
  • The first time I had Campari, I thought it was awful, but over the years I’ve grown to really like it, which is why this grapefruit and Campari pie sounds pretty freakin’ good to me. Am I gonna end up eating a whole pie by myself?

How I’d like to survive summer

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Hello, summer.

How any of us musters the will to do anything at all in this sweltering, suffocating, New York city summer heat is beyond me. Showing up to work, going to the gym, running errands, riding the God forsaken moving sweat lodge that is the subway— I don’t wanna do any of it.

All I feel like doing from now till October is sitting in the shade with a frosty drink in my hand and a spread of summery food in front of me and some good company to enjoy it with. That’s not so much to ask for, is it?

It’s what I did recently at Red Hook’s Brooklyn Crab and let me tell you, it was pretty freakin’ spectacular. It was what every summer day should be like.

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THIS! This is how I wanna do summer.

A couple of friends and I sat on the top deck of the open seafood shack, where there was enough sun that we needed sunglasses but also a breeze coming off the water to make it bearable. We had frozen margaritas out of bendy straws, a cold pitcher of beer and lots of delicious, garlic-buttery seafood: a whole platter of Alaskan king, Snow, and Dungeness crabs, and lobster, too, with coleslaw, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes and jalapeño cornbread to go with it. There were oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp and fried calamari, as well, because sometimes, well… it’s summer and you have to celebrate.

It’s too hot to do anything else, really.