A little charcoal to set myself right

You know, this business of eating all the time so I have material to write about (both here and on my new blog-specific Instagram account that you should definitely follow and aggressively like if you don’t already) is serious work.

I mean, no, not work work, because sadly no one’s paying me to do this (just yet) but a lot does go into it… and by “it” I mean my body. A lot goes into my body. A lot of food and drinks constantly go into my body.

And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but every once in a while, especially if it’s after a busy weekend or time spent out of town, I feel the effects: tired, bloated, a little more snug in my skinny jeans, and if I go for a run, leaden.

I try to clean up my eating, cut back on the bad stuff, and guzzle water, but sometimes I need a little something extra. This week, coming back from a long weekend in Miami, I turned to charcoal. Not the kind they use at the hospital to pump your stomach (because, shit, I’m not that bad) but the kind I’m starting to see more often these days, usually in drinks, which is how I had it.

According to what I’ve read on the interwebs— and by all means, please do your own research cause I’m far from a pro— activated charcoal, which you can take in capsule form or as an ingredient in something else, attaches itself to bad stuff in your system, be it toxins, gunk in your GI tract, booze, chemicals, etc. and helps your body flush it out, making it handy for detoxing, kidney filtration, bouncing back from a hangover or just cleaning the pipes after too good of a time had.

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When I saw a bottled charcoal chai on the menu at Inday, where I was ordering my lunch from earlier this week, I was immediately on board. Without fail I hit a proverbial wall every day around 2pm and with all the face stuffing, running around and not sleeping enough that I’ve been doing in the past week or so, I knew I was about to slam into that wall again.

Charcoal drinks can be offputting in appearance and this one was no different, looking pretty much like the water that fills my tub when I hand-scrub my sneakers after a few months of outdoor runs. But thanks to masala chai and honey, it had a mild, smooth flavor that was gently sweet and almost silky in consistency. I was full from lunch when I drank it some time after, and whether placebo or not, I it made me feel better, less full, more hydrated.

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Then this morning, as I ran out the door with beads of sweat all over my face from my sweltering apartment, I started to have an internal freak out thinking about what the subway was going to be like. To soothe my brewing anxiety and honestly just cool off a bit, I popped into Grass Roots Juicery for something to sip on the train. (Side note: a sign on their door said they were hiring and for a nano second I thought about it because I really do love them so much.)

Still feeling good about the charcoal chai, I picked up Grass Roots’ black lemonade, another inky beverage of activated charcoal, lemon, honey and cayenne pepper. Gimmick or not, this is one of my favorite drinks there and a real thirst-quencher that never disappoints. Unlike Inday’s subtle, softer drink, the black lemonade is bold and bright in flavor, with a little kick from the cayenne pepper and lots of sweet tang from the lemon and honey.

Yea, this could just be the latest “it” drink, another fad in the health world, but again, even if it only works as a placebo, it still works, right? Both drinks are good and I’ll definitley have them again when I’m feeling stuffed, heavy and overindulged… which I suspect won’t be too far in the future for me.

When the spirit moves me

I always have to correct people when they assume I know how to cook, or even that I enjoy cooking. I don’t. I just like to eat. And dammit, I’m great at it.

But every once in a blue moon, something’ll inspire me or circumstances will leave me with no choice, and I’ll have to actually make something in the kitchen. Now, don’t go getting any crazy ideas. If I’m “cooking” it’s usually something pretty basic, something with only a couple of ingredients, something pretty idiot proof… Cause that’s my kitchen style.

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Pretty good, huh? And I didn’t even burn the house down!

A couple of days ago, while visiting my sister and being trapped at her house while she was at work (no really, I was trapped in her gated community with no key for the stupid gate. When I went for a run that same afternoon, I had to wait for cars leaving and coming back in so I could chase behind them. You can keep your suburban life and I’ll keep my city freedom, thanks.) I decided to whip something up I’d seen on Instagram: baked pears.

I had picked up the ingredients earlier when we went to the enormous, sprawling Publix where she does her groceries. Once I had run, failed at going to the pool (cause again, no key to that either), watched all the garbage tv I could stomach, napped, read my book and played with the dog, I decided I should eat.

I took out a pear, sliced it in half longways,  and scooped out the seeds so it made a little hollow. Next, I popped both halves on a small baking sheet, sprinkled them with pumpkin pie spice mix (since my sister didn’t have the plain ol’ cinnamon I was looking for) and a little drizzle of honey and set them to bake for  about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. (All numbers I chose at random, cause I never fully know what I’m doing.) When they were done, I plopped some creamy, cool, large curd cottage cheese in the hollows, sprinkled more spice over them and drizzled them with more golden honey, and sat down to hoover it all down.

Warm, creamy and spicy, with all the smells of the soon-to-come autumn I love so much (even if only back at home in New York and not in the forever summer of Florida) I was pretty proud of my little kitchen creation.  A no brainer, sure, but I did it myself, unsupervised, and it was delicious!

Now that oughta hold me over for at least another couple of weeks until I get my next burst of inspiration.

A light wallet and a happy stomach

Even though it’s impossible to forget, this city constantly reminds me what a ridiculous place it is. Where else would you pay $45 for two vodka Red Bulls (ahem, The Box, I’m looking at you)? And where else would paying just slightly under $2,000 a month for a STUDIO apartment be considered a good deal? And where, please tell me, would it be reasonable to pay $79 for a roasted chicken?

Sigh. Here in New York. But you know what, I’ll keep paying for all of these outrageous things because there’s no where else I’d rather be. (Well, except London, where I’d relocate at the drop of a dime if possible. No joke. London, call me. We could be so good together.)

I was skeptical right from the get-go of the $79 roasted chicken on the menu at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant. I mean, really, $79? Do you know how many whole, organic, happy, well-adjusted, all-natural-diet fed, shipped straight-from-some-idyllic-farm-where-they-ran-around-living-in-perfect-poultry-bliss chickens I can buy for $79? Yet everyone raaaaaved about the new restaurant, said how beautiful it was and how amazing the food was and what an incredible job Chef Daniel Humm (previously of Eleven Madison Park…another pricey food mecca in the city) was doing there. So I said fine, like I say fine to the pricey drinks and to the ludicrous rent I pay, and went to see what the fuss was about.

And well, I get it. The restaurant is beautiful, the scene is stylish and cool, the food is delicious, and the chicken? The chicken will make you wonder whether you might possibly ever eat such a ridiculously good, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-in-food-ecstasy, wonderful and oh so succulent bird again.

My humble, fat kid opinion? This place is worth the hype. Yes, it is stupid expensive but it’s gooood. And as I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer in occasionally treating myself to something nice. Not usually to a $79 chicken, but this time yes. Below, my dinner with coworkers at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant.

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

From the tapas style “snacks” portion of the menu we started with the butter-dipped radishes and fleur de sel. Like chocolate dipped strawberries, each little radish was coated in a thin butter shell, which really did a lot to make these not feel like rabbit food. Clean, crunchy and bright, I was a fan.

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Also from the “snacks” section, was the recommended beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish. The beef tartare itself was delicious, creamy and flavorful with a subtle tangy hint and the little toasts that came with it were perfect bread specimens if you ask me, toasty and crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.

Bread

Bread to beat all bread baskets

Next our waiter brought out a loaf of some of the craziest looking bread I’ve ever seen. It had a greenish-purplish color to it and looked like it might’ve been picked up off the floor in some enchanted forest, the kind where you could do that and find delicious bread. There were bits of rosemary, thyme and other herbs baked into and on the bread and the consistency itself was soft and doughy.

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

And then, the $79 chicken. Not that it softens the blow much, but I’ll mention that this dish is meant for two. After much deliberation, my coworker and I decided that as much as we hated to pay about $40 for chicken, we really just needed to know what this was about. So here’s how it works: the waiter brings out this beautiful, almost-glowing whole roasted chicken in a pan, with what looks like a whole bouquet of aromatic herbs sticking out of one end. They show you the chicken, you ooh and ahh, and then they take it away for a moment.

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

What they do is they take apart the chicken and bring it back served two ways. First, on separate plates, two  large pieces of juicy, tender chicken with the most perfect, just-right crunchy skin, served on a bed of rich, hearty lentils and plump, soft Brussels sprouts. Underneath the chicken breast, warm black truffle laced stuffing of brioche and foie gras. I mean, really, this chicken was fancy. Everything was just… perfect. Delicious, decadent and absolutely perfect.

Part 2: Chicken’s dark meat served with mushrooms and truffles in a creamy, butter sauce

Then, in a smaller, sort of cast-iron dish was the chicken’s dark meat, served in a rich, buttery sauce of mushrooms and truffles.  Again, totally over the top and decadent but so, so, SO good. I could easily have eaten this whole $79 chicken production by myself it was so fantastic.

Carrots

Slow-roasted carrots with cumin, wheatberries and crispy duck skin

To accompany the chicken, the waiter recommended we get a vegetable, so again taking a cue from our pricey poultry, we ordered the $20 carrots. (Pause to freak out and consider the excessive amount of carrots you could buy for this amount at the market. Ok, now stop.) These fancy roasted carrots were long, elegant, stylish things, all glazed and dressed up with cumin and crispy duck skin for a completely new and so much better carrot experience than I’ve ever had.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey dessert

And finally for dessert we shared the much lauded milk and honey, a plate of ice cream, brittle and shortbread that won points for color, flavor, texture and consistency in my book. The ice cream was milky and thick, the brittle and shortbread crunchy and buttery in a caramel, toffee way (even though one coworker said she was stabbed in the mouth by a particular shard of brittle) and the dehydrated milk flakes were crisp and airy, like pieces of sugary meringue.

Compliments of the pastry chef

Compliments of the pastry chef

But just when we thought it was all over and we could leave with lighter wallets and heavier, happier stomachs, out came one more thing: an assortment of sweet treats from the pastry chef. There were macarons, fruit gelees  and what turned out to be my favorite, lapsang souchong truffles. They were smokey, rich and chocolatey and if I had a dozen of them in front of me, I’d probably go through all of them.

So yes, like so many other things in this absurd city, dinner was expensive. But you know what? Like this crazy, sucking-my-bank-account-dry city, it was awesome.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

The things I miss

Sometimes (though I should point out definitely not always) I really miss Florence. I miss lots of things about it, but it should go without saying that hands down, I miss the food the most. But I live in New York, after all, where there are precisely 30 million italian restaurants, markets, wine bars and gourmet shops, so most things, whether it be bomboloni, pici al limone or a good piece of  schiacciata aren’t all that hard to find.

HOWEVER, and this is about to be a big however (hence the all caps), I have yet to find crostoni that come close to the perfection of those at  Fuori Porta, just outside the old city walls, and that gives me the worst pangs of longing for Florence. They’re just that good.

During my recent visit to Italy, I put lunch at Fuori Porta on my list of things that had to get done while I was there. The beau and I went one afternoon, and just like I had remembered, the crostoni were amazing. So good I could cry… if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face.

Walnut, honey and brie crostone, I missed you SO much!

Crostoni are basically just large slices of bread, topped with cheese (which at Fuori Porta, can be either mozzarella, Brie, pecorino, or gorgonzola) and other topping combinations including meats, veggies, or nuts. They’re popped in the oven so that the cheese melts and everything gets warm, and you as the eater, basically have your mind blown. My favorite combo, and the one I got most recently when I was there, was Brie with walnuts and honey.  Each bite is simultaenously gooey and cheesey, crunchy, sweet and savory. I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and never not love it.

Prosciutto and mushrooms under a blanket of melted pecorino. SO. FREAKIN.’ GOOD.

Flaneur on the other hand went with a more savory combination of pecorino, prosciutto cotto  and mushrooms. While I preferred mine, his was pretty damn good too. Really, most things covered in thick, melted cheese are bound to be good, but this crostone, with its earthy, sweet mushrooms and salty-sweet prosciutto (the sweeter cooked kind, not the cured variety) was really phenomenal.

Yea I miss crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night, the view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and being able to visit The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, but let’s get real, I really, really miss those crostoni.

Pizza worth praising from the mountaintop… or from this blog

I don’t blog about every single thing I eat, and contrary to what my friends might think, I don’t photograph every piece of food I put in my mouth either. When I went to Paulie Gee’s Pizza in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for example, I had no intention of doing either. I was just having pizza. With friends. In Brooklyn. Nothing to write home about, right? Wrong. 

The Cherry Jones pizza at Paulie Gee's is so damn good that it's almost physically impossible to put down after one bite. I ate two slices before I was able to successfully pause the pizza-shoveling. (In the lower right hand corner, the very green and very tasty Arugula Shmoogula.)

Immediately after biting into the Cherry Jones pizza I ordered, I knew I’d have to get my camera out because I just had to show you this crazy-good pizza. Well, it wasn’t quite immediate though, because once I bit into that first slice and got hit with the insane flavors of creamy, pungent gorgonzola, milky fior di latte mozzarella, perfectly salty prosciutto, tart dried cherries and a drizzle of sweet orange blossom honey, I literally couldn’t pry it away from my mouth. I was about two slices in when I forced myself to put down the pizza just long enough to get one decent picture before there was nothing left but crumbs.

I had heard (or read I should say), from a pretty reliable source, that Paulie Gee’s was good, that it was creative and unusual, but I was in no way prepared for just how much I would love the Cherry Jones. I mean, it was outrageously good. It was mind-blowingly good. It was glaaaadly-take-the-stupid-G-train-all-the-way-to-Greenpoint good.

So while I had no intention of getting into all of this with you, the Cherry Jones left me no choice. If you didn’t already know, then it’s my absolute duty as a relatively decent human being to tell you about the deliciousness that is Paulie Gee’s. Be it by train, plane or automobile, or the wretched G train even, get yourself to Paulie Gee’s, cause it’s definitely something to write home about. (Just make sure to snap your pictures before you dig in.)

Paulie Gee's on Urbanspoon

Homage to yogurt

I recently realized that I don’t show nearly enough love on this blog to one of my favorite foods ever: yogurt. So you know what, yogurt? This one’s for you.

With nuts or with honey, fruit flavored and plain, as a snack, a dessert, or even as a meal— I just love yogurt.

But who ever writes about yogurt? Who rants and raves about it? I never read about yogurt in food blogs or magazines, and few foodie convos ever involve it. But after a couple of really phenomenal yogurt experiences I’ve had recently, I’m here to sing its praises!

Yogurt with stewed fruit at The Smile

First, was a great big bowl of yogurt topped with stewed plums and almond bits at the cozy-hipster-rustic-chic (cause that’s a whole design concept these days) Noho eatery, The Smile. The plain white yogurt was sweet and creamy, a delicate vanilla taste to complement the rich, jammy plums poured on top. To break up the smooth creaminess there were chunky chopped almonds. Big enough to be a meal and sweet enough to be a dessert (a fairly healthy one at that) this yogurt was perfect. Forget eggs and bacon for once, this was all the brunch I needed.

Goat's milk greek yogurt with blueberries, granola and honey

My other recent delicious run-in with yogurt was at Victory Garden, a teeny Greenwich village shop that sells dairy treats made with goat’s milk. While the salted caramel frozen yogurt I sampled was good (tiptoing that delicious line between salty and sweet), I saw Greek yogurt on the menu and immediately wanted that tangy sourness. As toppings, I got fresh, plump blueberries and a nutty, sweet granola, all under a generous drizzle of honey. The yogurt itself was thick, so much so that had it not been covered in blueberries and granola, I would’ve been curious to see how long before it oozed out of the cup if I turned it upside down. The flavor was tangy and bright, which was perfect for the juicy, sweet blueberries and the crunchy granola. The honey tied everything together in a sticky sweet way and made the blueberries look even shinier and ready to be swirled into the yogurt.

Yea, most days’ yogurt comes in individual serving sized cups with peel-back lids and not made with delicious ingredients like these, but so what? I love it all just the same.

Fit for a King

The Elvis

I don’t know how many people this happens to, but recently while sitting at work trying to get through the day, I was struck by a random craving for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I know what you’re thinking: who not currently enrolled in elementary school has these cravings? Well, me, that’s who.

So I made a date with the boyfriend to meet at Peanut Butter & Co. for lunch to get my peanut butter fix. I’d been to PB& Co. before and knew that they had not only all manner of sandwich featuring peanut butter but all manner of peanut butter, some with swirls of dark chocolate, others flecked with raisins and cinnamon, some sweetened by the taste of maple syrup. Continue reading