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.

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!)

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.”

Sweet and dandy and damn good

The Sweet & Dandy

I’m not all late-night cookie runs, pizza binge fests and mountains of pork belly. Sometimes, believer it or not, the things I obsess over are actually… healthy! Gasp! Yes, I know! Insanity.

My latest food crush, for example, is neither chocolatey nor from any part of a pig, it’s totally vegan and made fresh the day I buy it, and get this, it’s ridiculously delicious. I’m craving some just thinking about it. I’m talking about the beautifully colored, bursting-with-flavor, oh-so-freakin’-good “Sweet and Dandy” at Melvin’s Juice Box.

You can get lots of healthy, fresh, fruit and veggie juices at this colorful little Greenwich Village juice bar attached to Miss Lily’s, but ever since I tried the Sweet and Dandy, I just can’t bring myself to buying anything else. A rich, deep fuchsia color, it’s a perfect blend of beets, carrots, apples, pineapple and ginger. They all come together to make a vibrant, sweet drink with a subtle ginger spiciness that’s so good I swear I could down a gallon of it in one sitting.

At about $8 a juice, it is a bit on the expensive side but when I think about how good it tastes and how healthy and natural it is, and how I won’t have to spend 3 hours burning it off at the gym like I would if it were a chocolate shake, I don’t mind spending the money. (Milkshakes, I still got love for you, though.)

Southern comforts

Going “home” to Miami isn’t exactly comforting for me. It can be fun, yes, catching up with old friends, seeing family (in small, controlled doses), hanging out in my old stomping grounds. If I squeeze in some beach time, Miami can even be relaxing, but rarely, if ever, is it comforting.

Comfort in a cocktail: Yardbird's tasty Watermelon Sling

But during the last visit to my ol’ hometown, between long stretches spent trapped in the car thanks to Miami’s ever-present traffic (reason number a billion to live in a city with actual, functioning public transportation), I was able to find some comfort. As it often does, comfort came in the form of food. (Sorry, family.)

Eating at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar was one of only a small number of things on my “must-absolutely-get-done-while-I’m-in-town” list. I read about it a few months ago when it first opened and immediately wanted to go. when I read about southern comfort food staples like fried chicken, mac and cheese and cornbread. Miami may be south, but southern it definitely is not.

I loved Yardbird right away, with its country-cool, rustic vibe and a distinctly not Miami Beach feel. But when my Watermelon Sling came out, all sweet and refreshing with its crisp, clean mix of fresh watermelon juice, smokey borboun, lemon, orange bitters and a light, frothy cucumber foam, I was head over heels.

Then came the perfect follow up to my drink, melons and cheese, chosen from the small plates portion of the menu. Two fat wedges of bright, juicy watermelon were topped with a grilled cheese that the menu called farm cheese, but I thought was a lot like queso fresco, the white, salty cheese used in Mexican and other hispanic cuisines. Either way, it was delicious and further proof that mixing sweet (in this case, fruity) with savory, is always a recipe for tastiness.

Melons and cheese: win, WIN.

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A cold treat for a lazy day

If you ask me, it was hot as blazes today. Hot in an I’m-feeling-so-lazy-that-even-though-I-have-the-day-off-I-can’t-really-fathom-doing-anything-that-doesn’t-involve-my-ass-and-the-couch-being-in-contact kind of way. I purposely went to the gym first thing in the morning so the rest of the day would be open for lots of day-off activities and yet… well, nothing. All I managed to do, early in the afternoon, was walk over to Chelsea Market (a whole 10 minutes away) with a friend.

A damn fine way to beat the heat: an Affogato all'arancia

While I was there, though, I had the perfect half dessert-half drink pictured here, an affogato all’arancia from L’Arte del Gelato. It kind of just looks like a glass of OJ, and my crap-camera didn’t do much for the cause, but really it was a delicious pick-me-up, perfect for the day’s muggy weather. While a traditional affogato features vanilla ice cream drowned (cause that’s what affogato means) in espresso,  this citrusy take on it involved lemon sorbet, fresh squeezed orange juice and a touch of Campari, with a lemon slice and a bit of mint leaves for a refreshing garnish.

It was bright, crisp and flavorfu, and probably the highlight of my day. So what if there wasn’t much else going on? A good frosty treat on a hot day is enough for me.

Changing up the brunch routine

Baked eggs

I’m one of those people that actually likes change. If it doesn’t happen by itself, I get antsy and go looking for it. That  even applies to what I eat, most recently brunch. I’m all for the usual suspects, French toast, sausage and scrambled eggs, but I needed something new and slightly different during brunch, so I went looking for it not far from my apartment at  Cafe Gitane at The Jane Hotel.

Instead of the standard omelet or plate of scrambled eggs, the Moroccan inspired Cafe Gitane offered me baked eggs with smoked salmon and roasted potato chunks. The three eggs baked in the ceramic dish were cooked to a soft, gooey consistency so that when I punctured their almost perfectly flat surface with a toasted piece of baguette, a runny stream of orange yolk erupted out on to the otherwise white eggs. The salmon lent it a big, smokey flavor and the potatoes made it chunky and hearty. The whole thing was reminiscent of eggs and potatoes yet different enough that it was a new and delicious plate all together.

Avocado toast

And while the baked eggs were good, even better was Cafe Gitane’s delicious spin on breakfast toast. A thick, dark slice of seven grain toast was slathered with a creamy, buttery spread of avocado, lemon juice, olive oil and red pepper flakes. The bread was nutty and rich while the avocado was bright, tangy and zesty. Really, this avocado toast would have been good with any meal, any time of day.

There weren’t pancakes, biscuits or bacon that I could remember, but it was a nice another example of how a little change could do you good (or at least taste pretty damn good).

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