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.

Where pies go when they die

“This must be where pies go when they die” reads a small hand-painted sign next to the door at Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Park Slope. And truly, it must be.

It’s also not far from what I imagine one version of heaven might look like either, depending who you are. If you like a pie shop that’s simple and cozy, just perfectly worn in and charmingly old fashioned, where you can sit at an old wooden table and be wrapped in the smells of butter and vanilla and coffee while you dig a fork into a wedge of pie so good it feels like God himself might’ve slipped it down to you through a break in the clouds, then yea, you must be where pies go when they die.

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Pecan pie’s never been my favorite but this bittersweet chocolate pecan could change my mind.

I know I tend to speak in hyperbole when it comes to food, but the pies at Four and Twenty Blackbirds are deserving. I’ve had seven or eight different kinds, sometimes at the shop on a little white plate with a metal fork, other times in a to-go container when I couldn’t stay, and sometimes from the plastic packaging they come in when you order from grocery delivery service, Fresh Direct. They’ve all been delicious.

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Coffee custard pie with fresh whipped cream. A dream.

Their chocolate chess pie was velvety and rich, the chocolate custard like a perfect pudding cozying up to a buttery, flaky crust. The Salty Honey pie was pure decadence, all butter, caramelized sugar and honey, sea salt sprinkled on top like snowflakes. The matcha was silky and calming, the bittersweet chocolate pecan gooey and indulgent, the coffee custard like a perfectly, creamy coffee in pie form.

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Lemon lavender pie, not at all floral, just creamy, summery sweet.

Every time I’ve gone to the little shop on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn, I’ve wanted to stay for hours. And every time I’ve had a mouthful of Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie I’ve thought, “My God this tastes like heaven.”

Reads and eats… cause it beats the news

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Drink up and cheer up.

know I’m not alone in feeling this way but man, is everything absolutely the worst these days or what? We have an idiot madman running our country straight into the ground, the news seems like one giant loop of death and disaster, and on a personal note, I’m starting my hunt for a new apartment which is an absolutely depressing process. I’ve broken down in tears at some point during each and every apartment search in the past, and it’s doubtful this time around will be much different.

Sooo…. instead of adding fuel to the dumpster fire, I thought I would resurrect something I used to do here on the blog a few years ago and share some fun food related links in an effort to distract, entertain and maybe lighten the mood.

 

Sounds tasty no? Here’s some of what’s caught my eye lately… and maybe made my stomach growl.

  • United seems hellbent on winning the title of worst airline, what with all the bad media they’ve gotten recently and all (hello, dead pup in the overhead?) so it made me laugh when I read they were getting rid of Stroopwaffles. These are some of my favorite snacks so silly move, United.
  • Sometimes I miss the weirdest things about Italy, and even though I can definitely make this here at home, I miss eating beans like these, prepared like this from Emiko Davies’ lovely blog.
  • I was interested when I read in NY Magazine about this cool sushi spot that opened in Brooklyn called Okozushi, but when I found out it was the tiny and adorable restaurant just a couple of blocks away from my apartment that I saw during a recent walk, I was straight up giddy.
  • Thinking about a new apartment also has me thinking about updating some of my art and decor. How cute is this Aperol spritz print?
  • I’ve been daydreaming about moving to New Orleans for the better part of the last six months, pretty much since my last trip there during the holidays, and I would be lying if part of the reason wasn’t so I could somehow befriend Joy from Joy the Baker, one of my longtime favorite blogs. I imagine we would be best of friends and sit around eating delicious things like this bomb looking cheeseburger fried rice. I mean, come ON.

 

Ready for sunshine and lobster rolls

Knowing myself, I have no doubt that I will very soon regret ever having said the following statement, much less putting it down in writing, but I’m gonna go with it, regrets be damned: I am ready for summer.

:: Sigh ::

I know, I know. It’s not the oppressive humidity I’m ready for, nor the ever present trickle of sweat running down my back on the subway on my way to work, nor the aggressive growl of my AC window unit adding to the cacophony I already deal with, and it’s definitely not the constant stench of garbage baking on the sidewalk. I’ll never be ready for any of that.

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Is it summer yet?

But after a recent sunny (yet still crisp) early spring Saturday spent walking around Red Hook, I’m ready for something other than grey skies, heavy coats, and frigid gusts of air drying out my eyes and turning my nose into a cherry.

I want long afternoons and late dinners after sundown. I want to hide behind sunglasses and feel the sun on my shoulders. I want to throw on a dress, slip on some sandals and be ready. And after lunch at Red Hook Lobster Pound, I want frosty beers to wash down pink, perfect hunks of lobster meat toppling out of warm buttered buns. I want to lick seasoning spices, butter and mayo off my fingers, and think, “Mmmm, tastes like summer.”

Red Hook is one of my favorite parts of town, mostly because be it summer or winter, it always feels quiet and far away, a break from the rest of the city. When you do find a pocket of people and activity, it still feels laid back, cool without trying super hard. That my favorite lobster roll in the city is also found there just makes Red Hook that much better.

While I know I don’t have to wait for summer to go down there and have that buttery, delicious lobster roll, if there’s one thing to make that experience better, it’ll be just a smidge of summer, a warm, sunshiny day and maybe a light breeze. Yup, that’s what I’m ready for.

 

*Note: Yes, I did skip right past spring, because spring in New York is mostly just Winter Lite. It also lasts all of about five minutes, while summer stretches out and feels like an eternity by the time fall rolls around.

New year, same hot drink

Of the very many hot drinks I enjoy during winter, I don’t think hot toddies are necessarily the best tasting, but at the end of the day I think they’re my favorite overall.

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Hot toddy, happy me.

Hot buttered rum is great, mulled wine makes me feel Christmasy, hot chocolate is pretty much dessert, and spiked cider smells like my favorite time of year, but a good hot toddy, simultaneously sweet and spiced, warming and zesty, soothing and strong, is just my favorite.

I had a good, albeit pretty standard one at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn this week, on the first of the year, and right now I wish there was another one just like it sitting on my desk in place of my water bottle. It had a generous glug of honey in it, making it rich and sweet, playing off the tartness of the lemon juice and the smokey flavor of the bourbon.

Right now it’s about 20 degrees outside and we’re bracing for snow overnight (which is great) and more snow during the morning commute (way less great). Additionally, my throat feels raw and my tonsils achey. I’m at work and I’m sleepy and worst of all, I have a 10k run this weekend that thanks to a pretty awful sounding weather forecast, I’m not especially excited about.

But a hot toddy? All lemony and clovey, warm in my hands and comforting to my throat, fragrant and just strong enough, reliable and everything I want right now? THAT I could be excited about.

 

Beautiful breads and my friend who makes them

The smell of fresh baked bread has to be—absolutely HAS to be—one of the best olfactory pleasures a person can experience. It just feels like a warm hug and a soft back rub.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I came home, tired from a Monday at work, achey from a hard run after, and annoyed by the usual batch of idiots I encounter on the train every day, and found a bag on my doorstep, one that when I reached down to pick up, emanated the best, most delicious, most instantly comforting and unmistakable aroma of a fresh baked loaf. I was a hypnotized cartoon character, floating on the scent of this bread, fully under its spell from just a whiff.

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Have you ever seen a better looking loaf of bread? I don’t think so.

My friend Todd, who had just a couple of days earlier brought my roommate and me a delicious spelt sesame loaf when he came to our annual holiday party, had come by again to gift us a cinnamon raisin walnut loaf. (Maybe because our guests, understandably, descended upon his first loaf like a pack of wild dogs. Ok fine, it was mostly me.)

You see, Todd bakes. Recreationally at first, doing it for his own amusement I’m sure, and for the benefit of those of us in his life, but now he’s left his day job and is pursuing this more seriously. It should go without saying really, but I am a thousand percent here for it. I keep asking him, WHERE. DO. I. PLACE. AN ORDER. Just take my money, Todd. Take it!

I was at his place once when he was hosting a group of friends for a wine night, and was wowed by the beautiful arrangement of breads he had accompanying other snacks. Being someone who routinely breaks out Triscuits and Tostitos when friends come over, I was pretty impressed and also fully expected him to say Balthazar or Le Pain Quotidien or better yet, some local, artisanal bakery when I asked where he bought everything. Nope, made them himself.

My mom, notoriously clueless in the kitchen, made bread once when I was a kid. It had the consistency of a cinder block and all the flavor and comfort of sawdust. Not that I assumed every homemade bread attempt ended that way, but what looked, smelled and tasted as good as Todd’s bread was something I assumed only happened at the hands of a seasoned, professionally trained baker, or at the very least a magic wielding wizard.

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Great, inside and out.

The cinnamon raisin walnut loaf was a great big beautiful one, with raisins and grooves marking its crunchy crust, and plump little raisins speckled throughout the soft, doughy inside. It’s the perfect bread for a sandwich with a subtle hint of sweetness, or as a great piece of toast, or if you’re like my roommate and me, sliced right at the kitchen table and eaten with a smear of butter.

It’s awesome seeing friends pursue their passions and succeeding at what they enjoy and are clearly good at doing. It’s especially great when the rest of us get to reap the benefits of that, one delicious loaf at a time.

If you want to check out Todd’s lovely loaves and other baked goods, you can find him on Instagram at @tacokazoo. And if you’re in the city, I highly recommend reaching out and placing an order.

Born again sticky bun lover

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Sticky buns, where have you been all my life?

My first real job as a teen—first to pay me an actual check and not  involve tutoring church kids or reading mail to the legally blind old woman who lived next door—was as a cashier at a Panera rip-off in Miami.

As would become the pattern of my work life, I hated it. The ugly khakis I had to wear, upselling bread bowls, even the fact that my sister worked there, too. I hated all of it.

All of it except one thing. Even more so than my meager paychecks, the one redeeming perk of the gig was the pastries I rescued at the end of each shift. Muffins, cookies, croissants, cinnamon rolls, danishes—they were all up for grabs at the end of the night and I rarely left without a bag. (Shout out to the thousands of calories consumed without so much as thinking of working out. Ah, youth!)

There was one thing, however, that never appealed to me: sticky buns. All that shiny, sticky gunk reminded me of the rubber cement I’d used as a kid, each bun a tacky tar trap of molasses. And those nuts, stuck in the gluey goo? A warning to my teeth.

Maybe it was all those neglected sticky buns I left to be tossed, all those passed over pastries, that subconsciously drew me to the sticky bun at Little King’s coffee window a few weeks ago. Maybe it was divine intervention.

Normally a cocktail bar with a small menu, Little King recently opened a walk-up window, selling Intelligentsia coffee and Roberta’s pastries to L train-bound locals weekday mornings. Glad to have an option that wasn’t Dunkin or bodega brew, I stopped for a coffee one day, and on a complete whim, a sticky bun to go with it.

Palm sized and more popover shaped than the swirled rolls I was used to, these sticky buns from the hipster mecca Roberta’s, were airy and fluffy, all buttery brioche under their salt-flecked, caramel glaze.

I am addicted. I’ll drive myself into financial ruin buying these every morning. Sometimes, I wake up and count back to when I last had one, trying to justify if it’s been enough days to treat myself to another one. If I have a run planned later, I’ll grab one and chalk it up to carbo loading. I daydream of that soft dough and buttery, salted caramel.

I would say I’m sorry to all those sticky buns of my youth, the ones that got away and got chucked, but I’m pretty sure they were nothing like these doughy, sweet buns I now constantly crave. I can’t imagine there are any left over each day, but if by chance there are, I hope whoever’s in charge of clearing them away knows how very lucky they are.