New and improved old remedy

Unlike most people, I don’t have very many fond memories of my mom’s cooking. It was the rare combination of ingredients that resulted in something I ever really enjoyed and when there was success it was usually something impossible to mess up, like boxed mac and cheese or a pot of rice and beans (something we ate constantly in my half Costa Rican household.)

But perhaps the most repugnant flavor combination my mom made my sister and I suffer through was actually not even a meal or something edible per se, but a home remedy for when we were sick: honey and garlic. She had the familiar honey bear ready to go, several whole raw garlic cloves sitting at the bottom, like insects trapped in amber, and the first complaint of a sore throat or a cough in the night would result in a goopy, sticky, horrible spoonful of the stuff.

The pungent spiciness of the garlic bled into the honey, tainted the sweetness and made a wholly new thing, a Frankenstein’s monster of syrup that was bitter and thick and vile to my young taste buds. The jarring clash of flavors coated my throat, maybe quelling a slight tickle but leaving behind a deep mistrust and dislike of honey that lasted into my 20s.

I was recently at Leuca, a Southern Italian inspired restaurant in Williamsburg, when during a family style meal, a plate of sheep’s milk ricotta was placed near me with a side of bread. I picked up the menu, wondering what the gold colored syrup pooled in the ricotta was, when I read the words: hot honey and garlic.

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Leuca’s sheeps milk ricotta with honey and garlic

Well, I’ll be dammed. We meet again.

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Forever Pizza ’cause… pizza forever

img_0674Anyone who knows me, or reads this blog, or maybe doesn’t even read it but just scrolls through the photos (something I encourage you all to do on Instagram), knows I love pizza, and if you know me only slightly better, you also know I love art, and if you know me just slightly more than that, you know I love quirky, peculiar things.

Which is why when on Christmas day I unwrapped a cardboard box that looked like a mini pizza box and pulled out a red velvet drawstring pouch containing a Forever Pizza, I was totally smitten.

My boyfriend, who I admittedly don’t give enough credit to (cause you know… men), really just gets me sometimes. This was one of those times.

img_1020Forever Pizza is a limited edition batch of real pepperoni pizza slices frozen in time (well, actually acrylic resin) by Brooklyn artist, Steph Mantis, who also happens to be the designer behind the pizza night light that I very much need in my life. She grew up in an and around her dad’s pizza shop in Maine so clearly, it influenced her artwork. (Uhm, hi, can we be friends?)

It might sound totally bizarre to some, but really it’s one of the most thoughtful and freakishly specific presents I’ve ever been gifted. Not only does the shiny, smooth resin appeal to the tactile side of me that needs to touch everything, but I love turning the acrylic block over in my hands, seeing the pizza refracted into different views and angles, so that sometimes I see just the cheese and pepperoni side and other times I see the crust, sometimes I see the one slice straight on, and other times there appear to be several.

But most of all, I love the idea of pizza forever, because really, those are words to live by.

Happy holidays and lots of panettone!

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I walked out of an appointment in the Flatiron District earlier this week with time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Looking down the street, I wondered if there wasn’t somewhere I could do some Christmas shopping for a couple of people still on my list.

That’s when I saw it: Eataly, the enormous food-hall-meets-gourmet-market of all things Italian.

The scream-thought in my head was immediate: PANETTONE!

I’d been craving one of those great big, beautiful Italian holiday breads since the first hints of the season (so pretty much, October) and now was my chance.

Every time I go to Eataly, I’m quite literally a kid in a candy shop. My heart races. My eyes dart from one awesome thing to the other. I want to touch everything. (And I do.)

This time though, I beelined straight for the long, colorful panettone display, some packaged in chic hat boxes with beautiful fonts, the rest wrapped in stylish paper and large bows, like the adult version of child me’s dream gift spread.

IMG_0581Panettone, traditionally from Milan but now sold throughout Italy and the world, is a large, sweet loaf usually made with raisins and other candied fruit. It has a soft, airy texture good for pulling apart, and resembles a muffin the size of your head, with a top covered in powdered sugar, candied fruit, almond slivers or similar toppings.

My fingers trailed over the different dazzling wrapping papers, lifting and turning over tags so I could read what made each one different. At Eataly, traditional panettone was just one option. There were some with white chocolate and others with currants and berries, some with lemon and orange zest, others infused with amaretto and peaches, each one more beautiful and delicious-sounding than the last.

But it was the panettone wrapped in electric green with a thick brown ribbon that caught my eye.  A photo on the tag showed the large, familiar loaf covered in a dark chocolate shell studded with Sicilian pistachios. Inside the cake itself, swirls of pistachio cream.

As I continued to move through the store, my prized panettone tucked under my arm like a basketball, dinner plans dissolved, and I happily went home to unwrap my present instead.

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It was just as gorgeous as I’d hoped. The pistachios, a softer shade of the bright green wrapping paper, covered the dark, smooth shell of chocolate perfectly coating the entire doughy dome. When I slowly pushed a serrated knife into the panettone, the shell made a deliciously satisfying crack before giving way to the fluffy, yellow cake inside.

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Ugh, it was so good. Close your eyes and mmmmm out loud type good. The bread was sweet and light, and the pistachio cream added a delicious contrast in textures and flavors to the crunch of the buttery, salty pistachios and the rich, almost espresso like flavor of the dark chocolate.

How I managed to stop myself after just one slice I’m not entirely sure. but if there’s even so much as a crumb or chocolate bit or loose pistachio left by the time this weekend starts, it’ll be nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

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?

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.