Thank you, egg rolls

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for the very many gifts and blessings in my life, I would like to take this opportunity to single out one of the newest additions into my life, one of those I’m most thankful for: the brunch egg rolls at Olmsted.

I’m totally serious.

I know I tend to be hyperbolic sometimes, but I’m not exaggerating when I say Olmsted, in Prospect Heights, might be one of my favorite restaurants ever, and those egg rolls, possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

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Me and the boy went for brunch on a recent Sunday specifically for the egg rolls but ended up loving everything else about the place. I mean, everything. I loved the small vegetable garden out back where you wait for your table (with heat lamps for colder weather), the different colored glasses and plates, their cool wooden bowls, the wall of plants, our seats by the bar overlooking the kitchen (best seats in the house, in my opinion) and especially the food…espeeeeeecially the egg rolls.

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Each egg roll was a crispy, golden fried shell oozing with scrambled eggs, bacon and Vermont cheddar, all whipped together into a creamy, fluffy breakfasty perfection. I’m sure it was just good kitchen skills that made the eggs that way but I think it might’ve also been magic. How else really, do you get eggs so light and creamy, so perfect? Unlike most of the egg rolls I eat with Chinese take out (which no shade to them because I love those too), these breakfast egg rolls weren’t greasy or oily, but were still fried to a nice crunch. And because I’m a sucker for packaging and presentation, Olmsted serves their egg rolls in a cute little holder, reminiscent of a french fry cup at a fast food spot, with a miniature, Olmsted-branded green tomato ketchup for a tangy, bright dipping sauce.

We had a couple of other really good dishes, and a delicious, desserty Irish coffee, but it was definitely the egg rolls that were my favorite.

I’m thankful for a lot this year, (and if you’re reading this, please know I’m especially grateful for that, too) but there’s a special little pocket of delicious gratitude in my heart that I’m saving just for Olmsted’s egg rolls.

An autumn spritz

Few drinks are more crisp and refreshing, more lively, more effervescently delightful on a hot summer day than an Aperol Spritz. But now that we’re firmly entrenched in a very dreary, wet autumn, something about ordering one feels off.

And yet, it doesn’t feel right to jump right into hot toddies and mulled wine either, which are decidedly better when you come in from the cold with a red nose, flushed cheeks and slush on your boots. (We’ll be there soon enough…)

After a recent dinner at Maialino earlier this week, I think I found what feels just right for the season: the Averna Spritz, what in my mind is the Aperol Spritz’s more reserved cousin, a little darker, a little more mysterious and maybe just a little more charming.

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Averna Spritz, just in time for fall

While the Aperol Spritz is traditionally an aperitivo, meaning you’d drink it before a meal to give your appetite a nudge, the Averna Spritz is made with two Italian amari, which as digestifs are in theory supposed to be drank after a meal to help aid with digestion. I say “in theory” because all of these are Italian drinking rules, and here in the land of assbackwardness and disorder (hi, have you met our president?) those rules go out the window. I’ve had Aperol spritzes throughout dinner sometimes, and I had this Averna Spritz before I’d even looked at the menu. So drink what you want.

Unlike the Aperol Spritz, the Averna spritz is darker, both in color and taste, and has a more gingery, herbal flavor from the two amari, which are made from various herbs, spices, roots and citrus rinds. It’s kind of like root beer in that you can’t quite make out the individual ingredients but together they make for something smooth and zesty. The flavors, subtly nutty and smokey, herbal without being medicinal, definitely lean more towards winter, but because the drink is served cold on ice, it’s not a full-blown winter cocktail. Instead, it’s just right for fall.

New beer from old favorites

While I fancy myself a pretty adventurous eater, (hello, have you had bull testicles?) I tend to play it relatively safe when it comes to beer drinking. I’m a wheat beer girl, IPAs remind me of the time I accidentally sprayed perfume in my mouth, and anything too red or dark is a chore to drink. At most, I’ll go for citrus notes. I like beers that are light and crisp and go down easy. Boring, even.

:: Shoulder shrug ::

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A few casual afternoon beers

But even though it goes against everything I look for and prefer in a beer, the second I read about Grimm Artisinal Ales’ Sumi Babka— an imperial milk stout inspired by ding ding ding! You guessed it: babka— my mouth practically started watering.

Babka, you see, is one of my favorite things ever, especially the chocolate variety. That soft, doughy swirl of a loaf gets me every time. It’s good with coffee or with tea, topped with ice cream or just eaten one torn-off hunk at a time, and now it turns out, it’s also good in stout form.

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Dark and delicious

Made with cacao, salt and vanilla, the Sumi Babka has a smooth, velvety feel, noticeably chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, never cloying or syrupy either. At 12% alcohol by volume, it definitely packs a punch but doesn’t taste super heavy or strong. I only didn’t have a second one because Grimm has such an interesting and fun assortment of brews,  I felt I had to make the most of my time and try different ones.

Next time I go, (which I’m hoping is soon because I was a big fan of Grimm’s brewery and taproom) I’ll skip the weiss selections I would normally go for (of which Grimm has several that look good) and beeline straight for that babka stout instead. I’ll just have to bring some chocolate babka with me to complete the experience.

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Beers and brownies… that’s a thing, right?

Side note: In lieu of babka, Grimm does have a pretty delicious chocolate-tahini brownie from nearby Mediterranean spot, Samesa. Speckled with sea salt flakes and made of a creamy, moist chocolate, it’s definitely a bit more on the dessert side than babka, but you know who’s not complaining about that? This girl right here.

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!)

Birthday blackout…cupcake version

Yesterday was one of my coworker’s birthdays, and as the office manager of sorts, I’m usually in charge of getting treats for in-office birthday celebrations. But you see, because my birthday was the next day, today, I thought, “Hmmm what do I want? Should we go with donuts? Maybe ice cream cake again? Cheesecake perhaps?”

In the end, I decided to keep it traditional and go with cupcakes, the sure-fire crowd pleaser. Oh, but not just any ol’ cupcakes. Nope, not on my watch. And not on the company dime, either. (Ha!)  Oh no no. If I was interrupting my regularly scheduled weekday healthy eating aaaand celebrating another year of life, it couldn’t just be a basic cupcake.

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I mean, how gorgeous is this cupcake? And friggin’ delicious, too.

Cue the lights! In my head, this is where the stage lights suddenly cut out and a bright white beam of light shines down, dramatically illuminating the perfect Brooklyn Blackout cupcake from Ovenly that I chose for myself. I mean, the office. The cupcake I chose for the office.

Ovenly’s Brooklyn blackout cake is perfection in baked good form. The cake is rich and moist without being heavy or fudgy. And the icing? I mean, it might be black magic. It’s perfectly smooth and mousse-like and tastes like a Barry White song for the tastebuds—sweet and sexy and fun, like you can’t help but close your eyes for a beat and shimmy your shoulders over its beautiful petal-like swirls of the richest, loveliest shade of black a New York girl like myself could ever want. (Note about the color, because a friend asked: it doesn’t come from dye but rather from black cocoa powder, which is basically cocoa powder that has been neutralized of most of its acidity, and in the process turned a dark, almost black color. It’s the same stuff they use in Oreos!)

As I suspected, the cupcakes were a hit, and I was extra happy when the birthday-celebrating coworker emailed me from his desk to tell me how awesome he thought they were. I was happiest today, however, when I walked in and there was one lone, delicious Brooklyn blackout cupcake still sitting on the kitchen counter, leftover from the day before. I swooped in and happily ate it for breakfast. It’s my birthday, after all.

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!)