Sunday, August 30, 2009

A visit to New York's wine country


This weekend, Vronsky and I had the lovely pleasure of taking a weekend getaway with our friends Pat and Yelena to the quaint little village of Warwick, NY in the Hudson valley to embark on a little regional wine tourism.

New York's wine country is not as glitzy or as internationally renowned as Nappa, but it is the location of America's first wineries and V and I found the smaller scale extremely charming and manageable, not to mention a whole lot more affordable. $5 would buy you a full flight, and many of the servers were extremely generous and would give us large samples of up to nine different wines.

Cabernet Franc grapes seemed to be the most popular and best tasting of the Reds we tried, although there was a fabulous Chambourcin at the Ventimiglia Vineyard that I took home with me. Reislings and Chardonnay Reserves were also the forte of many of the wineries, along with various ciders, this being apple country.

Two of the vineyards we visited were actually just across the NJ border, and defying the stereotypes, they were by far the most friendly and knowledgeable. The Westfall Winery was hosting a Louisiana-Style BBQ during our visit, complete with Jambalaya, Brisket and pulled pork, which was arguably the best pulled-pork I have ever tasted. Even Vronsky, hailing from Virginia and North Carolina himself, had to agree.

The New York vineyards we visited included the Applewood Winery, the Warwick Valley Winery, (great cider, if a bit curt when it came to service), and the Demerast Hill Winery (so-so wine, but excellent balsamic vineger, which I now have a large bottle of and am planning some dishes around).

No country escape would be complete with out some good eatin', and I had a field day with the various jams and preserves at the various orchards we visited and would have spent all my wine money at Warwick's farmer's market, home of the "Clam N' Jam" and an odd little petting zoo which had one baby calf, cute little goats, ducks, chickens, bunnies, and a giant llama who spent the whole day giving people the stink eye. The apples there were almost the size of melons and as crisp and delicious as one could ever ask for. It was a good thing that we only rented a tiny little Ford Focus, otherwise I would have come back with a bucket of those beautiful apples, sweet corn, fresh eggs, various hard cheeses, squash, berries, and at least 4 pies. All I managed to make out with though was some deliciously thick wildflower honey which is so rich it is almost black. It will make my yogurt & granola breakfast tomorrow morning that much sweeter, even as I mourn the lack of all that other fabulous local produce.

The four of us stayed at this odd little B&B run out of this woman's house. Julia was quite the eccentric, but very welcoming and kind and cooked a mean breakfast, including home-baked bread and pancakes, and a delicious "Mexican breakfast" she learned from her travels in Mexico, which included hand-made Chorizo, salsas, local eggs, and tortillas. She also had an endless supply of fresh fruit and local cheese, as if we weren't already full enough.

All in all, great little escape for us city-slickers that will allow you to educate your "pallet" at a bargain while supporting local farms and wineries. Bring your running shoes however, as you'll need to work up a good appetite to appreciate all that hearty food!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The one and only Cheerios


Find me one person who hates cereal and I will show you a person with a heart of stone. I am sure there are people out there who prefer oatmeal or toast in the morning, or those who are now lactose intolerant and have had to modify their breakfast plans, but for our generation, cereal is the ultimate comfort food and for some, a dietary staple.

College kids eat it by the boxful, and for us yuppies in New York, it is something we can actually afford. Different brands are associated with different memories and serve different purposes. You have your health nuts, your bran-lovers, the people who like it soggy and sink it in milk, those who put bananas in it and those who like it so sugary it makes your teeth itch. There's morning cereal, snack cereal, cereal you eat late at night, but cereal is everywhere, no doubt about that.

Everybody has their favorite kind, but when pressed as to explain why, the answers are usually illogical or the ever-informative, "I dunno. It's just so good!" My roommates in college were Special K fanatics. My mother can't let go of the forbidden pleasures of her childhood in the Philippines and still loves "Pops." Vronsky is obsessed with Honey Nut Cheerios, and oddly enough, Raisin Bran. I had a friend who loved Cracklin' Oat Bran so much she would have a bowl every night in the dining hall, without fail.

Personally, I am wedded to plain old Cheerios. I've tried lots of others, and can appreciate the special texture of Chex, the sweetness of Frosted Mini-Wheats, the addictive taste of Life at 3am, and the organic whole-grain goodness of Kashi's Autumn Wheat, yet it will always be Cheerios for me. Why? The only reason I can think of, besides the ubiquitous "it's just so good!" is that it is the cereal I grew up with, plain and simple. It reminds me of my dad pouring out first just one, then two, then three and four bowls each morning over the course of many years as our family grew, always with a cup of juice and piece of fruit and cheese to accompany it. We'd sit and read the funnies (provided there was no last minute homework to finish up), and then off to school. Simple and uncomplicated, yet nourishing and delicious. And isn't that exactly what we really love about cereal? Besides the fact that it is just so damn good, of course.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Consider the...ginger root


The ginger root is fascinating, yet aesthetically, it is an ugly looking little thing. Gnarled and knobby, it looks like something used in a witches brew or like the little "root man" Oephelia puts under her sick mother's bed in Pan's Labyrinth (great movie, by the way).

Yet ginger has a unique, piercing flavor that has been central to Eastern and Western cuisine for eons, from Ginger Snap cookies to stir-fried anything. And let's not forget the pickled ginger that comes with sushi, a favorite for many, including Vronsky. And while the health benefits of ginger are only recently being touted here in the States, the Chinese have been utilizing the power of ginger for ages, be it to settle an upset stomach, clear the sinuses, and for general all-around well being. Some even claim it has anti-cancer properties, and my Triathlon magazines recommend sucking on a small piece on race day to soothe the stomach and stave off any "G.I. distress" during the run. My Chinese grandmother, my po-po, swears by ginger for almost any ailment, and she might be right, seeing as she is nearly 90 and looks better and is more active than most people half her age.

These bits of knowledge about ginger served me well recently, as I was struck down with what is so clinically termed "intestinal flu." I was at Vronsky's when this happened--a mixed blessing, as it was lovely to have someone to take care of me, but a bit unfortunate, as in true NYC bachelor fashion, all he has in his fridge is a half-full chilled bottle of Grey Goose, two ancient tubs of peanut butter, and a zillion little packets of ketchup.

In one of my brief moments of respite, I called my mother to let her know what was going on, as I was becoming so dehydrated I was worried V was going to have to take me to the ER to get an I.V. if I failed to hold in some liquid soon. Fortunately, I managed to keep in some seltzer water before too long, and an hour later, a whole can of ginger ale, (there's that ginger again) and so my mother advised me to make some "Juk."

This was easier said than done, as I was too busy trying to get through to God on the Big White Telephone, and so unless she wanted to talk Vronsky through shopping for, and then cooking said Juk, it would have to wait until I was well enough to make the journey home.

Juk is the Cantonese word for congee, a Chinese gruel of sorts that my mother and grandmother will always serve when someone is sick. It is incredibly easy to make and capitalizes on the whatever is so healing in chicken broth, the simplicity and ease of rice on the digestive system, and most importantly, the magic of ginger.

JUK (Congee)

To make it, you will need 4-6 chicken drumsticks, 2 cups of non-sticky rice OR 1.5 cups of sticky rice (must be WHITE not brown rice), and a ginger root.

1. Put drumsticks in pot and fill 3/4ths with water. INCLUDE the bone--that's where the yummy, healing broth will come from, not necessarily the meat.
2. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil
3. Once up to a boil, turn heat down to a low simmer and cover, but leave a crack for steam to escape
4. Let chicken simmer until you can stick a fork into the meat, but it is not yet falling off the bone
5. Put in your rice and raise the heat again, stirring at frequent intervals to keep the rice from sticking/burning to the bottom of the pot
6. Bring to a boil again, and then turn down to a simmer until the rice has opened up and the water is cloudy. The rice should be suspended in the water and the chicken should be falling off the bone.
7. If you want it to be thicker and more gruel like and not as soupy, then let simmer for a bit more to steam out more water.
8. Wash and cut up your ginger root into thumb sized pieces and add to pot--add as many "sticks" as you like, depending on how much ginger taste you like, or how crappy you feel
9. Let ginger simmer for about 5 minutes, than turn OFF the heat and let the pot sit for about 15-20 minutes. Then eat. Will keep in the fridge for a while too and reheats easily.


Another ginger remedy for sick times:

Ginger tea--better than the stuff pre-made in the bag, I swear.

Take your ginger root, and slice into thin coins. Put about 4-5 coins in the bottom of a mug and pour in boiling water. Let steep, then squeeze in some lemon and stir in a dribble of honey if you'd like. Perfect for any illness, be it a head cold or something digestive, and the lemon gives you some extra vitamins.

There are many more recipes with ginger not associated with illness, but those of for later posts. As I write this, my juk is actually simmering down and cooling.... here's to that ugly little root, and to healthy days ahead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stop everything: Savoy


I do not necessarily want this to become a blog centered restaurant reviews, and yet I have to say it: stop what you are doing and make plans to dine at Savoy. Just do it. Find a date and make a reservation using opentable.com. If you are looking to be set up, I'd be happy to oblige, just let me know in the comments. Or better yet, take me! I promise to be scintillating company and laugh at all your jokes.

Vronsky and I ate here last Thursday night after reading about Savoy in The Clean Plate Club and in New York Magazine's article about sustainable food. I think it's wonderful that more and more people are jumping aboard the Organic/Locovore bandwagon and want to eat foods that have a minimum impact on our environment and society. For example, I never really understood the brouhaha about grass-fed vs. corn-fed beef until learning that corn-fed cows produce obscene amounts of methane (aka cow farts) and are one of the leading causes of green house gas emissions. Grass-fed cows not only fart less but taste better, and are much more likely to be organic and raised in humane conditions to boot.

That said, I know that it is tough (not to mention expensive) to follow an organic/locovore diet all the time, but when possible, I like to eat places that follow these principles, and any chef will tell you that organic, locally grown, seasonal produce is the best to cook and to eat, politics and health-reasons aside.

Savoy is one of the top restaurants in NYC representing this movement alongside Blue Hill. Located in SoHo on Prince and Crosby, Savoy is a charming little haunt with large windows that give it an airy feel despite the relatively small space. There is also an upstairs, but watching the melange of people cruise down Prince St. via those lovely large windows while drinking wine and waiting for your food is great fun in and of itself, so try and get a window seat.

Since Savoy's chef, Peter Hoffman, has a seasonally based menu, what Vronsky and I ate may not be available when you go, but I am confident that whatever you do eat will be equally fantastic.

To start, V had the wild striped bass tartare with cucumbers, radish, and aleppo pepper and carrot oil. The presentation was perfect, each little morsel of bass set upon slices of radish and cucumber and drizzled over with the tangy pepper and carrot concoction.

I had the Savoy Charcuterie Plate, a selection of house cured meats with whole grain mustard and pickled veggies. The selection du jour was duck prosciutto, chorizo, salami with fennel, pork sausage, and a standard salami. It was all delicious and has spoiled me so that I can never eat a plain old salami sandwich with the same palate again. Vronsky contemplated canceling his entree and just getting a second Plate.

I'm glad he resisted, however, as he ordered the salt crust baked duck with mashed turnips, blueberry gastrique (ah, those blueberries!) shaved carrots and bush basil. Served medium rare, each bite was rich with flavor and complemented perfectly by the gastrique, accompanying vegetables and salty skin.

I ordered the olive oil poached Alaskan halibut with smoked eggplant puree, cauliflower caponata, and golden raisin vinaigrette. The fish was light and airy and the vinaigrette so delicious I was literally licking the plate at the end, lest I waste a single drop.

For desert, we ordered the special, a peach tart, with a lovely warm and flaky crust and perfectly baked fruit filling. I am a huge fan of fruity deserts, and was glad I convinced V to partake, as he is usually partial to deserts of the "chocolate cake" variety.

This is one of my new favorite restaurants in the entire City, and cannot wait to go back in the fall, as I can only image the delicious autumnal cuisine Hoffman will whip up, and there is a working fireplace inside too, which can only add to the experience.

Savoy is open Monday through Saturday for lunch, Monday through Sunday for dinner, located at 70 Prince Street near Crosby. www.savoynyc.com

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Consider the...blueberry


As we near the end of summer, I feel it is time to consider the blueberry, one of summer's quintessential fruits and one often laden with memories.

Whether you have ever picked them fresh off the bush, as my father did as a child (Blueberries for Sal style, except without the cute bear cub, unfortunately), woken up Sunday morning to your grandmother's fresh blueberry pancakes or scones, or even shared a romantic desert of blueberries with a side of fresh whipped cream, blueberries are as delicious as they are nutritious, frequently being touted by scientists, dietitians, and sports nutritionists alike as a key addition to any diet. In fact, the ideal breakfast before a long bike ride, according to the official magazine of USA Triathlon, is some low-fat yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt, which has a higher protein count, with granola, walnuts, and a hefty helping of blueberries, drizzled with honey to taste if you prefer the additional sweetener.

I love blueberries with cream and will always try to keep a ready stash of berries on hand during the summertime for both breakfast and this particular dessert. I feel in general that fruit is best eaten in as close to its whole form as possible, and feel that something like blueberry vodka (which actually exists, made my Smirnoff, which I once had the misfortune of trying at a wedding in Maine), is almost ungodly and tastes appropriately foul.

That said, I will always think of the blueberry fondest with regards to blueberry pie. As mentioned above, my father loves blueberries, no doubt due to his own idyllic childhood experience, and it is to this day his favorite fruit. When I was a teenager and not yet able to drive, my dad drew the short straw and drove me to all my morning swim practices. Saturday morning practices were always particularly painful. They were three hours long and I was always exhausted from the week and more often than not, had been out late the night before for a high school team meet, which was worth peanuts in the mind of my club coach. Plus, we didn't have school that day, so our coach had free reign to work us to the bone.

After dropping me off, my dad would take a little nap in the car, grab some breakfast at a nearby diner, read the paper, and then, if the mood struck him, amble over to either Pastries by Randolph or The Heidelberg Bakery, which are, according to him, the two finest bakeries in the DC-Metropolitan area. By far and away the first customer of the day, he would have the joy of picking out a perfect blueberry pie, fresh from the oven and barely cool.

By the time he made his way back to the pool, I would be done and waiting for him, exhausted, and looking like a drowned rat. The car at this point would smell just like warm blueberry pie and it would be torture as I absorbed this delicious aroma, yet was explicitly NOT allowed to open the box and have some until we got home and could enjoy it properly, which in my dad's mind was a la mode, but to me would have been right there, in the front seat.

But I always waited, and when we got home, I would take the edge off my hunger and fatigue with two bowls of cheerios, a bagel with cream cheese, a banana or nectarine, and some orange juice. Only then would I finally sit down with my coveted slice of blueberry pie and savor every bite, from the tartness of the filling to the light and flaky crumbly crust.

Then it would be time for a glorious post-practice nap. I will always remember the feeling of collapsing into bed, so sore at times I felt as if I'd never be able to get up again, feeling both damned and blessed. Damned because in less than thirty-six hours, it would be Monday morning and I'd be back for more punishment before the sun had risen. Blessed because I really did love the sport for all my blustering, and how could I feel otherwise as I lay there with a belly-full of blueberry pie?

Blueberries are delicate little things and obviously the fresher and less they've been bounced about in a truck, the better. I find the best blueberries in NYC come from farmers markets (Union Square is good, or the one down in Battery Park), or this place in Brooklyn called Foragers, a gourmet food market that I could poke around in for hours.

If you would like to try your hand at baking your own blueberry pie, here is a recipe from the chef at the great Union Square Cafe. Otherwise, Hundred Acres in Soho has delicious pie to help you recapture any pie memories of your own.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Skiing and Schadenfreud



When it comes to food, some folks like to play the fun game of "I wonder who the first person was..." For example:

The first person to drink milk (I think I'll drink whatever comes out of these pink things when I squeeze 'em. Yum!)

The first person to eat pork (I think I'll eat this smelly animal that waddles around it its own filth. Tasty!)

I feel the same way about skiing. (I think I'll fling myself down an icy mountain standing on two bendy pieces of plastic and hold two pointy sticks in either hand. Fun for the whole family!)

This illustrates the irrational phobia I have always had for skiing, and as a result, I have gone my whole life actively trying to avoid it. However, my boyfriend, who from here on out shall be referred to as Vronsky (V for short, and shame on you if you've never read Anna Karenina!), just loves to ski, and was determined that I get over myself and learn at the earliest opportunity.

Despite my many protests (even the "but I got hit by a car!" didn't work...), I finally relented when he suggested we go someplace exotic with delicious local cuisine to boot. Vronsky had fond memories of a little place called Zermatt, Switzerland, where he had skied as a child as part of some "Ski Adventure Camp." Going to the Swiss Alps to conquer a fear--there are certainly worse things.

Or so I thought. It was indeed unspeakable gorgeous--a perfect picturesque town nestled in the Alps at the base of the Matterhorn. But once up on that glacier, it was a different story, and 839,472,913 falls, and a couple crashes into one of the (giant) lift polls later, by the end of my first lesson with Elmar, my Swiss ski instructor, I was far from pleased, the breathtaking views be damned.

Since we were "summer skiing," we would take the lift down to the bottom of the glacier and hike down the rest of the mountain to our lodge. This activity was much more my speed, and as we cut through woods and meadows filled with edelweiss flowers, it was all I could do to keep my self from leaping out into the fields, spinning around and breaking into song, Maria von Trapp style. Except when she did it, she was in a dirndl and habit versus long underwear and a wooly hat. My lack of suitable singing voice was also a limiting factor.

As we continued down, we walked through this teeny tiny little village, all wooden cabins (or huts really), where the residents actually speak Rumantsch, one of the 4 official languages of Switzerland--a peculiar "mountain" language that only 1% of the entire population actually speak. In this little village, we saw a sign for a place called Zum See, and from it were coming the most remarkable, mouth-watering smells.

We peeked inside and saw that the little structure was crammed with people, mostly skiers like us, eating truly authentic Alpine meals. Talk about "locovore." Whatever was on your plate came from this tiny little village and the surrounding mountainside. We absolutely had to eat here.

As we settled into our seats and placed our orders (thankfully the menu was translated into English, as well as French, German and Italian), Vronsky looks at me with complete sincerity and asks me how my first day at "ski school" was. Being far too sore and bruised to pinch or punch him, I had to settle for the ol' stink eye and an "Are you kidding me?"

And then the food arrived. Steaming fondu, light and airy hand-breaded schnitzel dressed with cloudberries and lingonberries, perfectly roasted Swiss Potatoes with Gureye cheese, bread so rich and dark it is almost black, some golden bouillon to warm the insides, crisp radishes and roasted beets. Talk about magic food--just looking at it made me change my tune. "Well, it's not so bad, actually. Tomorrow can only be better, right?"

Wrong. Although spurned on the delicious breakfast spread at the lodge the following morning (nothing like roasted coffee, authentic muesli with milk, wild honey, walnuts, lingonberries, plus all the sausage and marvelous cheese on the side to sooth your sore body), Elmar had decided that "today, we ski down the mountain." Keep in mind, I could barely get off the lift and mastering the "snow plow" had taken all day.

"What about the bunny slopes/children slopes?" I asked. Apparently there are no children slopes in Zermatt. You see, Swiss children actually come out the womb with teeny tiny little skis attached to their feet, and apparently they actually don't get too many beginners out there as a rule anyway. End result: down the mountain we go.

Somehow I survived, cursing and praying the entire way. This was after the ice storm that hit when I was about halfway down, which was so severe everyone on the mountain had to take shelter. Since it would have taken me an hour to make it to the nearest shelter on skis even though it was only 100 meters away, Elmar actually had to have me grab onto him, Koala bear-style, as he skied me into the hut to wait it out. Good thing he is not just a ski instructor, but also a Swiss Mountain guide, meaning he has climbed the Matterhorn hundreds of times and cane probably do it with his eyes closed.

Nonetheless, I made it to the bottom with all my bones and most of my sanity intact just in time for another late lunch at Zum See with Vronsky. It took an entire Zum See lunch and about three different pastries to calm me down, and I can safely say the rest of my skiing experience has followed a similar pattern: torture on the slopes that can only be salved by a delicious Alpine meal or two, a Kronenbourg 1664 or three, and perhaps a chess game with Vronsky by a roaring fire, but only if I win.

I love reliving my first ski experience without the actual skiing with some regularity right here in NYC. Smorgas Chef has great Scandinavian (not Swiss) food, but the ligonberries and meatballs still takes me back. There are locations in the Financial District, West Village and midtown east. The Blaue Gans and Danube in Tribeca has wonderful Austrian fare, and Citarela, Garden of Eden and even Trader Joes carry solid enough selection of Swiss/Alpine cheeses to remind me of the delicious breakfast spread that greeted me each morning.

(that photo is of the Matterhorn, which I took shortly after that ice storm)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Consider the...Oyster

Nothing in reference to M.F.K. Fisher, like this blog for example, would be complete without tribute to her wonderful essay and book by the same name, Consider the Oyster. I have a mind to do regular posts in the "Consider the..." vein on particular foods that catch my fancy, and will kick off the series with my own take on The Oyster.

Oysters are a peculiar food as well as animal. I agree whole-heatedly with Fisher's assertion that the humble oyster is one of the most put-upon creatures on this Earth. This little bivalve is pounced upon by both man and others in nature for its delicious flesh and, for what can only be considered under the circumstances, its tears, otherwise known as pearls.

The oyster shifts sex constantly, an ironic twist by mother nature, considering the fact that oysters are potent aphrodisiacs and pearls in our society certainly have a romance associated with them as well.

My own experience with oysters have been, regrettably, rather limited. I happen to dislike clams and mussels, and so avoided their mollusk cousin for some time. Yet rumors of their magical flavor and insistence by other devotees convinced me, and by the time I arrived in New York, the only thing that truly prohibited me from partaking of them with any regularity was price, as finding quality oysters on an invisible publishing salary is tricky, to say the least.

Then I got lucky. I was invited out to lunch by an extraordinary new friend, who is a fellow Princetonian and literary giant, and who has been editor-in-chief of one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world for quite some time. He is, fittingly, a member of the Century Club, an incredible place where artists still have patrons and everybody wears a hat. And it was at the Century Club where I think my first New York true oyster experience played out.

After my companion had our waiter tube our drink orders down to the bar (yes, they still tube messages and drink orders at the Century Club), he insisted that I order oysters, for which the Century Club is well-regarded. Out they came, three different kinds (Belon, Blue Point and Ostrea) beautifully displayed on the half-shell. I prefer mine with only a bit lemon, but he definitely favored more sauce. Ordinarily, I would shy away from such a hard to eat food with someone of his stature, but I am glad my stomach overruled my sense of decorum, as the oysters were divine, matched only by the merit of my companions otherworldly stories, from his travels in Croatia to literary gossip and our latest acquisitions.

It might be difficult to get to these oysters at the Century Club without being acquainted with a member, who are few and far between, so if you find one, it is time to make a new friend! Dining there is an experience, and if you're lucky, maybe they'll treat you to some scotch or post-dinner cordial in the Club's amazing library.

That said, there are plenty of other great places in New York to enjoy oysters. Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar is new, and while I have yet to have the privilege of going, I've read great things. The Oyster Bar in Grand Central is fun and scene-y and they prepare them a variety of ways in case eating them raw does not appeal to you. (My boyfriend says their texture when raw kills it for him...). I think Aquagrill is just great fun in general--great seafood across the board, and on top of the raw bar, you can actually watch the guy manning it go to town shucking away for the night's orders.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saving Graces


In light of my recent string of epic weekends, I thought a post about late-night food and it's sibling, the hangover brunch, might be in order. One of the greatest things about New York is its nightlife, and thank the lord-Jesus-Buddah-Confucius-Puff the Magic Dragon-et. al. that there is always a 24-hour pizzaria or a deli to be found. Those that knew me when I first moved to the City might well remember my relationship with the Papaya Dog on 14th and 1st.

There are those that say that the food you eat after a night of partying actually has no real effect on the severity of a hangover the following morning. I say, honey, pleaese. These people obviously did not see me the day after I missed out on a late-night grilled cheese from Emma's Dilemma (awesome) and had to suffice with a fist-full of Teddy Grahams (not awesome).

That said, I do not believe all foods of this nature are created equally. A 99cent hot dog with ketchup, which can do in a pinch, simply cannot compare to a grilled ham and swiss from The Astro up in midtown, a hot slice from Pizza 33, or a sandwich made-to-order at the glory that is any solid late-night diner. Big Daddy's Diner and Bravo Pizza on Park Ave and 20th are personal favorites, partly due to their convienient location within stumbling distance of my own apartment. Why does late night eating help? I have no idea, I just know that it does. Perhaps it soaks up some of the poison. Perhaps it just delays the inevitable but by the time that hits, you're already awake, hopefully slugged some water and two advil, and are en route to phase two of Sunday morning, which is the beloved Hangover Brunch.

There are a few spots in the City near and dear to my heart for this, but by all means, please add to the list in the comments! L'Express is grand, but there can be a but of a wait, although their Frittata or croissant sandwich might be worth it. It's all about their eggs benedict if you're my boyfriend, plus an extra side of bacon if we're in real pain. The Park Plaza Restaurant in Brooklyn in Dumbo has literally anything you could ever want, and the Astro is a New York classic. Whenever my father is in town on business, he'll go out of his way just for their pastrami sandwich and greek salad, even if he is literally in the City for only a few hours. 'Ino's on Bedford a tad healthier and has great sandwiches. If you are downtown, Veslka in the East Village or the Blaue Gans in Tribeca are also terrific. If you are into anything "fin de siecle" or Viennese fare, the Blaue Gans is worth trying when you are in a less desperate mood as well. Bubby's, in either Brooklyn or Tribeca serve a phenomenal brunch and increadible all-American homestyle food at lunch and dinner. Their baked beans are second to none and the only time I've ever had better cherry pie was at a pie stand in Traverse City, Michigan, next to an actual cherry farm.

I have heard an urban legend that drinking coconut water before you go to sleep will also help. I tried it, and it might have worked a little, but I think all it really did was just make me have coconut breath in the morning. I maintain that nothing can beat an ice cold glass of coca cola, full fat, a.k.a "The Red Ambulance."

And then there are those mornings where it is just so bad you can't eat anything. In which case, the only thing left to do is curl up in the fetal position and pray for a time machine.

That Magic Food


Hello dear readers,

For my first post, I thought it would be best to start off with something fairly simple, yet something that I think is fairly indicative of someone's background and personality–that one particular food that is your true comfort food and has a whole host of memories surrounding it. For some, it can be something as simple as a bowl of Cheerios, or Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, fresh cherries, or perhaps something more exotic, from oysters to salmon skin role. For me, it is my mother's spaghetti sauce.

To me, this is not just any spaghetti sauce. Not only is it made complete from scratch--from whole tomatoes to the ground beef, onions, celery, and the bevy of other magic ingredients and spices that define it (beginning with garlic, a dash of Worcester sauce, basil, some soy sauce...) --the taste and essence of her particular sauce makes it so that I am hard pressed to ever order pasta with a red sauce, marinara, bolognese, or otherwise, in a restaurant simply because I am, at heart, not entirely satisfied with whatever ends up on my plate no matter how delicious it may be. A part of me knows I might be closing myself off to the wonders of other sauces and interpretations, but I guess when it comes to comfort foods, rational does not always apply.

This sauce is central to one of my favorite snapshot images of home: my petite, Chinese-American mother, diligently preparing such a defiantly Italian dish, our pugs milling about her feet, mad with the savory smell, and me, ravenous from swim practice if I'm still in high school, or ravenous from the memory her sauce after being away for many months. When it is ready, everyone in my family would line up, mess-hall style, plate at the ready, as the warm pasta is slopped on the plate and then covered with as much sauce as we can stomach. I still do this when I come home, and I always request she make it. The best side dish? Green peas. Bright green and slightly cool. The chilly pop they leave in my moth contrasts with the warmth and slight tang of the sauce in perfect compliment.

On the whole, family feels the same way about the Sauce, and we've even manged to snare a few outsiders into the mix. My sister's lacrosse teammate would come over at least once week for two years the minute she knew the sauce was fresh (or even just to mooch leftovers), and my boyfriend is now on board as well. She cooks many other wonderful dishes, and has taught me almost everything I know when it comes to cooking, yet this one will always remain her stand-out, in my stomach and soul.

What about you readers? What is your "magic food" that for one reason or another, can never quite be duplicated except in its "pure form?"