Forget Oprah, these are MY favorite things

Well, folks, we’ve almost made it through this giant dumpster fire of a year, but first we need to get through the holidays. :: Takes a giant breath ::

While I think it’s a little early to put up a Christmas tree (my personal rule is Thanksgiving weekend or December 1st), I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about gift shopping. Holiday gift guides are one of my favorite things to read this time of year, and a couple of years ago I even made one (read it here, I still think it’s a pretty solid list), so I thought I’d put together another one for those of you who might need a little inspiration. (Links are in the titles, and let me know if you need my home address. Kidding… but not.)

A box of the best pop-tarts you’ll ever have

Lani Halliday‘s guava-passion fruit pop-tart was one of the best pastries I had this year and while I bought mine at Ursula in Crown Heights, you can now order a box of them from her online shop and have them shipped wherever you live. Those are my favorite but the maple chocolate cardamom are also great. (Her miso chocolate chip cookies are pretty awesome too, and also available online.)

Rainbow dumplings…because rainbow bagels are so 5 years ago

I can think of at least four tie-dyed items in my closet right now and especially when it comes to loungewear, I know I’m not alone because I see the stuff everywhere and on everyone. How about taking the trend one step further in a new and tastier direction with these rainbow dumplings from Sandy Ho, an Australian chef based out of LA? They come filled with either shrimp, vegetables (vegan option) or kimchi pork.

The chicest, coolest panettone

I’m a big panettone fan and after hearing David Chang rave about Panettone from Roy on his podcast last year, I immediately ordered one. Dave was right… it turned out to be the hands down BEST one I’d ever eaten and no joke, I’ve been thinking about it for the last year. This year, they’ve teamed up with Massimo Bottura’s Gucci Osteria in LA to sell a special edition panettone that comes in this beautiful pink tin. It’s the only designer thing I’ve ever really wanted.

A weighted blanket to get you through the rest of 2020

I heard about this on Eater’s Digest and actually laughed out loud when I saw it. If I didn’t already have a weighted blanked (from the same people that make this one, actually!) I would consider this Pizza Hut/ Gravity Blanket collab. These are anxious times. What better to wrap yourself in when you stress eat pizza on the couch?

A cider for Negroni lovers

They’re an acquired taste, but once you fall in love with Negronis you tend to fall hard. Ten thousand years ago when I lived in Italy, I could barely handle a sip of one, but over the years I’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy them, and because I also love ciders, I knew I had to have this Graft Cider and Collective Arts Brewing collaboration called Far Away From Home. It comes in a gorgeous can (Graft’s designs are always so beautiful) and has all these lovely flavors of juniper, blood orange, tea and “spruce-infused simple syrup” which makes it perfect to drink around a Christmas tree.

Pork buns to remind you of the Before Times

Since March, when we first went into quarantine, I’ve only eaten meat three times (and once was by accident). For the most part, I don’t really miss it, but if there’s one exception that has popped into my head several times over the last few months it’s pork buns, specifically the ones from the Momofuku restaurant group, where I’ve had so many great meals over the years. I could eat half a dozen of them and now thanks to Goldbelly, I can actually order a kit that brings everything I need to have them at home. (They also sell a Bo Ssäm dinner kit that looks amazing, and possibly worth falling off the vegetarian wagon for.)

Easy like fried chicken

How did it go again, when Lionel Richie sang it? “That’s why I’m easy, easy like Sunday evening?”

Wait, no, that’s wrong. It was morning, easy like Sunday morning.

But for me, well for me it was Sunday evening that was the easy one. Easy and delicious.

I was walking down First Ave. with a certain someone, making our way toward the L train, casually talking about maybe grabbing something quick and easy to eat before heading back to Brooklyn, when I made the suggestion.

“How ‘bout this place?” I asked, pointing to the barely noticeable, easily missable sign on Fuku’s door. “They do a good chicken sandwich. And it’s fast.”

IMG_8718I’d been there about a year before with a couple of friends, and remembered liking it. David Chang can do no wrong in my book. In his Momofuku kingdom, he’s got the Midas touch of deliciousness.

The menu’s small at Fuku and the main attraction is Chang’s chicken sandwich. A couple of sandwiches, some chicken fingers, fries, a couple sides, a few drinks , and that’s all folks! But when things are as good as this, you don’t need a lot of choices, and for someone like me, who struggles with decision-making, that’s a great thing.

Ordering— unlike so many other times at so many other places—was a breeze and I went with the Koreano, a slight twist on the regular chicken sandwich. No fries cause I wasn’t ravenously hungry as usual (and because my partner in crime for the night got some so I thought he wouldn’t mind a couple missing.)

IMG_8721

Deciding on Fuku was easy, ordering was easy and when my Koreano came out, it was easy too. Not a ton of toppings or competing flavors, just a few really great things coming together to make a phenomenal chicken sandwich. The bun, smooth and seedless, was soft and subtly sweet, with a smear of bright flavored chili sauce on the inside. A heap of tangy shredded daikon radish, a couple simple bread and butter pickles, and the star of the show: a huge hunk of absolutely perfect fried chicken.

Perfect, I said. Perfect.  Crunchy and golden on the outside and unbelievably juicy and tender on the inside. I don’t know what kind of black magic was used to pull off this chicken, but I support it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life was this easy and so so good? Not easy like Sunday morning, Lionel. Easy like perfect fried chicken.

Talk about a sugar rush

The Candy Bar Pie at Momofuku Milk Bar should come with a warning: advisable only for those with a seriously intense sweet tooth. (Ahem, me.)

Everything at Milk Bar, from the cinnamon bun frozen yogurt to the multilayer chocolate cake to the buttery crack pie,  is delicous and tooth-achingly sweet but the Candy Bar Pie takes it to a whole new level.

Pie for the ultimate candy bar lover

Under a crisp, thin blanket of chocolate there’s a crunchy pretzel on a bed of creamy peanut butter nougat, on top of a gooey layer of caramel, all on a dark, thick chocolate crust. All at once it’s sweet, salty, crunchy, sticky, crumbly and smooth. It’s a candy bar wrapped in a candy bar wrapped in another candy bar.

My dentist would not be happy about me eating this.

They weren’t kidding when they called it Crack Pie

I keep a running list, an actual collection of names written on a notepad, of places around the city I want to go to. Sometimes, names on the list are just eateries I want to try in general without any specific menu item in mind. Those include recommendations from friends and coworkers or places popular for being New York landmarks. Others on my list are food spots I want to try for something in particular—empanadas here, cheesecake there, falafel somewhere else.

Momofuku, in all its different forms, had been on my list since I first moved to New York, but it wasn’t until last week when I read about Crack Pie at Momofuku’s Milk Bar (the sweet shop and bakery in the bunch) that it got immediately bumped up the list and into the “places-I-have-to-try-as-soon-as-humanly-possible” category.

No actual crack was used in the baking of these addictive pies. At least I don't think.

Obviously what drew me in first was the name. I mean, c’mon, Crack Pie? You can’t say you’re not curious. The description on the menu was succinct, adding to the intrigue: “toasted oat crust, gooey butter filling.”

Gooey butter filling? What does that even mean? There’s only one way to find out.

A note of caution here: Friday night, which is when I showed up at Milk Bar ready for some crack (pie), is probably not the best time to go if you’re in a hurry, if you’re impatient, or if you think you can just pop in and grab a quick slice of pie. Every last bit of standing room was taken as people jammed in and inched uncomfortably close to each other in an effort to get just that much closer to the counter where they could order.

After the waiting, the overall invasion of personal space, and the deliberating over what to get and how many of each thing was socially acceptable to order, I was ready to see what all the fuss was about. I kept it simple and got what I came for: Crack Pie.

Another thing worth noting, however, is that this place really makes it hard on someone like me (i.e. someone with a killer sweet tooth) to pick just one thing. With goodies like red velvet soft serve, candy bar pie and compost cookies, practicing self-control requires complete channeling of all available will power. (In case you were wondering what a compost cookie is, it’s made with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips.)

So finally, there it was, sitting in a white plastic to-go container, the much-anticipated Crack Pie. It looked simple, just a thin slice, nothing monstrous, with a flat surface and some confectioner’s sugar sprinkled on top. But the second I dug into it with the edge of my fork, the world basically melted away and all that was left was me, the Crack Pie and the delicious golden ooze of caramel-like buttery goodness that slowly leaked out of the slice. In my mouth the sticky, sweet filling of the pie mixed with the crunchy, granola-like crust to make for a complete mind-altering experience.

Crack Pie: my new vice

It all made sense. This unassuming marvel of a baked good was very much so appropriately named. After just the first bite I wanted more. I wanted a whole pie actually, but at a whopping, only-in-New-York $44 a pie, I had to settle for the one slice I was quickly devouring.

Now as I sit here writing this, practically salivating as I read it back to myself while obsessively reliving that magic pie experience in my head, I get the distinct feeling that I might be having withdrawal symptoms.  And as any crack head will tell you, the only way to satisfy a craving is to have more crack (pie).

Final note: So you’ve read this and now you’re kind of twitchy, your palms are sweating, and you can’t stop thinking about crack pie. Well, don’t worry,  as your enabler of all things fatty, I have the thing to set you right. For those of you outside of New York or those of you willing to try  your hand at homemade crack pie, check out the recipe here. And if anyone need’s a taster for their crack pie, you know where to find me.