Sister, sister

DNA is about where the similarities end between my sister and me.  She’s loud and sassy. I’m quiet and sarcastic. She says I dress like Mr. Rogers. I say she dresses like a hoochie. She drives fast with the music up and the windows down. I prefer to walk.

We speak differently, live in different states, have different hobbies, listen to different music, date different types of guys, and don’t even look alike, if you ask me. (Further supporting my theory that I am, in fact, adopted.)

And now, because life’s dealt her a particularly bad hand, we don’t even eat the same. Because of a serious health problem she’s developed in recent years, my sister— brace yourself cause it’s ugly —is on a sugar-free, fat-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan diet.

I kid you not, folks. My heart breaks a thousand times for her. No sugar, fat, wheat or dairy. That leaves what, air??

This presented major food problems for my visit to Miami. We’d be going to eat but where the heck could we both go?

“Don’t worry,” she said drearily. ” I can usually find white rice and grilled chicken on any menu.”

Uhm. No. Not happening. Not on my watch.

I turned to my vegan and vegetarian friends in Miami, and found just the place: Metro Organic Bistro.

With the beau and our mother also with us, we set out for the design district eatery that boasted lots of fresh, organic, healthy and vegetarian friendly options.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit skeptical. I can’t help it. It’s the sugar-crazed, fat-loving carnivore in me. But Metro Organic Bistro, I’m happy to say, completely floored me. If this is what being super healthy was like, sign. Me. UP.

Dinner went like this:

Entree 1: my mom’s

My mom ordered the braised chicken (free range and natural, thank you very much) with truffled polenta and organic green beans. The polenta wasn’t as creamy as I like it, but the truffle flavor made it buttery and smooth.

Entree 2: my sister’s (not vegan)

My sister ordered the tuna Nicoise, though not a vegan option (hey, she’s new to the game). Fat, juicy hunks of yellowfish tuna came on a bed of organic greens, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, boiled eggs, onions, Nicoise olives and anchovies. She doesn’t like anchovies but I do, so guess where those little guys wound up?

Entree 3: Mine

I went for the Mahi-Mahi, a tender, juicy, lemony, grilled (and wild caught) steak topped with shaved fennel and watercress, topped with a zesty cilantro drizzle. Everything was organic, but more than that, everything was vibrant, colorful and crazy delicious.

Entree 4: the non-De Angelis at the table

Last but not least was Flaneur’s. He opted for one of the specials not listed on the menu: a plump and wonderfully juicy and smooth piece of salmon, so perfect it seemed to just melt on your tongue. Underneath it was a mound of red quinoa and broccoli florets, to lend it an earthy, veggie goodness.

Dessert 1

And because no meal, healthy or otherwise, is every complete without dessert, we got two to share amongst the four of us, though I’m pretty sure the boy and I did most of the damage. First was the chocolate bouchon a la mode, a warm chocolate lava-cake paired with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with some of the fattest blackberries I’ve ever seen. When the gooey, warm chocolate inside poured out, it was like dying and going to healthy food heaven.

Dessert 2

Our other dessert was another special not on the menu: a fig tart with mascarpone and more juicy blackberries. The tart was sweet and nutty, with a taste reminiscent of roasted chestnuts, and fat little chunks of figs throughout. Being the fig-fiend that I am, this was perfect.

In the end, there was no pork belly or lard, nothing deep fried or oozing with cheese, but everything was delicious, clean and healthy. And that’s something my sister and I, different as we are, both agreed on.

Pizza perfection

Now that’s a pizza party!

After eating at Motorino in the East Village, I thought I had found the one. I would have to look for real Neapolitan pizza no more in New York. Motorino was the one for me, and that’s all I needed.

Then I found Kestè, a small, bustling pizzeria in the West Village, and now I know: I’m not a one-pizzeria kind of girl. In this city, my heart and stomach are divided between east and west, Motorino and Kestè.

Flaneur, Vanessa and I went on a recent Thursday and after a 45-minute wait (because they don’t take reservations) we shuffled through the busy restaurant to our table on the other side of the flour covered pizza-making area and hot ovens. In addition to the mouth-watering aroma of fresh-from-the-oven pizzas and the fact that the whole place was packed, with even more hungry people waiting outside, there was another sign that this was going to be a good spot, and something that I look for in situations like these: Italians. One of the girls next to us, the family a few tables down, the old couple outside, even our waiter.

White pizza with burrata and tomatoes

With ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, soppressata, and pecorino romano, everything on the menu sounded delicious and by the looks of the pizzas getting served all around us, these were the real deal. Because none of us could decide on just one pizza, we decided to each get a different one and share.

Not long after we ordered (thankfully), our pizzas showed up and we hungrily set about dividing them up. They looked beautiful, just as perfect as their most perfect Italian counterparts, and after the first bite I was just as in love as I had been in Italy.

Pizza del re: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, mushrooms and truffle

The first pizza I tried was one we decided on at the last minute when our waiter announced it as the special of the night. Although I don’t usually like white pizzas (meaning no sauce), when he said it had burrata, one of my favorite Italian cheeses made from mozzarella and cream, I was totally sold. Big, white blobs of the creamy cheese topped the thick, doughy crust. Little cherry tomatoes added a little color and a hint of that familiar taste to this amazing pizza. I almost felt like I was cheating on my love, Motorino. Kestè and I were getting into something serious here.

Kestè pizza: prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, gran cru and arugulaNext up, I tore a slice of the pizza del re (king’s pizza) which Flaneur and Vanessa had already started on and were ooohing and aaahhing about between mouthfuls. The same thick crust was covered with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto and one of my favorite ingredients of all time: truffle spread. I tend to like my pizzas more on the simple side, with just one or two ingredients but on the pizza del re, all the toppings worked together perfectly so that if even just one was missing it wouldn’t of been half as good. As soon as all those flavors hit my tongue and seemingly swirled around my head, I was hooked. As if the pizza itself weren’t delicious enough, it left a mix of truffle and olive oil on the plate, perfect for dragging pizza crust through.

Last on my Kestè tour de force was the pizzeria’s self-titled pie, a lush leafy pizza with arugula, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, and gran cru, a hard pecorino cheese. No ingredient dominated the other. The entire surface was done almost in layers instead of one single blanket of mixed parts. The arugula mixed with the thick cheese shavings contrasted nicely in their dry textures to the gooey cheese underneath and the soft chewiness of the dough.

When every last bit of pizza was done, I debated with myself. Could this be better than Motorino, what I had previously named the best pizza on this side of the pond? As I sat and reminisced about pizzas past, I decided, nope, not better, not less delicious, just perfectly equal in my pizza loving heart…and stomach.

*Photography by the multi-talented Vanessa Garcia. Woot woot.

A walk on the vegan side

"I'll have one of everything, please. Make that two."

For me, being a vegan would be like being a nun. It’s a type of abstinence I just can’t commit to.

Sometimes, I think if I really had to, I could be a vegetarian. I wouldn’t be happy about giving up burgers, bacon or prosciutto, but if I really had to, I could do it. Veganism, though? Not a chance. A life without dairy? No ice cream? No cheese? No, thanks.

But hey, to each his own, right? If it works for you, then great, more power to you! However, just because I’d never fully adopt the vegan way of eating, doesn’t mean I’m not open to trying their food. I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded eater. (Except for bugs, which I am uncompromising on. I will never eat a bug. Ever. Not even if it’s dipped in chocolate.) So when my non-meat-or-dairy eating co-worker Katie invited me to a vegan bake sale benefiting Doctors Without Borders’ relief efforts in Haiti, I was happy to go.

Sure, it was for a good cause and I went to support a friend in her baking endeavor, but mostly, I went out of curiosity. When I think bake sales I think cookies, cupcakes, brownies. I think milk, eggs, butter. I think dairy, in all its glory!

So how would this work? What would they sell? Would I like anything? Would I offend anyone?

With Flaneur in tow, I set out to find answers to these burning questions of mine.

MooShoes, the Lower East Side store hosting the fundraiser, was the perfect setting. A vegan-owned shop with an array of “cruelty-free” shoes and accessories, this place is a hotspot in the vegan community. In addition to the many hemp, faux leather and synthetic material-made shoes and bags (think stylish and trendy, not grungy and hippie) they also boast an assortment of cookbooks, t-shirts, magazines and even stickers (“Save everything! Go vegan!”) promoting the vegan way.

In search of Katie, we strolled through the busy store, nudging our way around people as we checked out MooShoes’ merchandise and more importantly, the dozens of different homemade baked goods set out on tables and counters around the shop.

Just as yummy as they are cute.

I was amazed. They were all there! All my favorites: cookies, cupcakes, brownies plus muffins, cakes, truffles and so much more. Everything with neat, handwritten explanations of what they were and what ingredients were used. These vegans, I later learned when we found Katie, don’t mess around. Absolutely no dairy or animal products.

Eager to get our vegan grub on, we bee-lined to a goodies-covered table. Decision-making when faced with multiple sweets is not something I’m good at but after much deliberation, we chose to start off with a banana and chocolate chip muffin, a peanut butter and granola ball, a cocoa carob chip brownie bite, and a strawberry cheesecake truffle.

(Note: This was a shared plate. As much as I would’ve liked to eat all that, there was lots to try and I had to pace myself.)

Why hello there new friends!

Next, we hit up a new table and bought peanut butter cookies, a fat Neapolitan cupcake, and Katie’s own creation: chocolate and peanut butter squares.

At our third and final table, Flaneur, who’s not anywhere near the avid sweet-eater that I am, pooped out on me and waved the white flag. I love eating but hate doing it alone, so I picked one last vegan treat, a rocky road brownie, and asked for a brown paper bag to take it home in.

At first I doubted the vegan baked goods, but in the end was pleasantly surprised by how delicious they were. If I didn’t know they were sans eggs, milk and butter, I would’ve never guessed. The cupcake had smooth, creamy frosting, the chocolate chip banana muffin was sweet and moist, and the carob chip brownie chunk was rich and tasty.

Everything, with the exception of the brownie I took home, which apparently petrified on the way there, was great. And even though I usually have a hard time choosing favorites, Katie’s chocolate and peanut butter squares were without a doubt the best thing I had at the sale. Made with peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar, honey-free graham crackers, semi-sweet chips and margarine, these little squares were ah-mazing. How she keeps from eating these at every meal is beyond me.

The only thing, in my gluttonous opinion, that could’ve made this experience any better would have been a tall glass of cold milk. But hey, that’s just me.