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Monday, August 21, 2006

Ah, exalted New York restaurants with their grass-fed beef, artisanal cheeses and local produce bicycled over from the farmer’s market—how lucky you Manhattanites are! And us outer-borough dwellers, if we don’t mind trekking in and scurrying back to our provincial hovels when the meal’s over.

Out here in Forest Hills, restaurants haven’t yet grasped the concepts of “local,” “seasonal,” or “good” food, for that matter. With the exception of one excellent pizza joint and a Kosher Uzbeki restaurant Brian and I are quite fond of (but that’s closed on Fridays and Saturdays for the Jewish Sabbath) the places around here tend to either be TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s or serve food indistinguishable from TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s—gallingly, at twice the price.

After many, many bad meals, it’s finally sunk in that if we want to eat well in the neighborhood—let alone enjoy the bounty of the season—Brian and I are best off doing the cooking ourselves. So on Saturday, we trolled the farmer’s market in Manhattan, picking up some colorful heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and a red onion. We made a quick stop at Whole Foods to buy some scallops, and headed back to the sticks to see what we could whip up. We combined the tomatoes, corn, and a bit of the red onion into a simple salad topped with curls of parmigiano and dressed with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. The scallops we just seasoned up and seared. We were glad we stayed in.

Monday, August 14, 2006

These days, the bulk of my summer produce comes from the Union Square Farmer’s Market in Manhattan. I work just a few blocks away, and it’s easy to zoom there on my lunch break and buy a few tomatoes, a couple ears of corn, a shiny eggplant, or whatever looks especially appealing that particular afternoon. For an apartment dweller like me, a farmer’s market is a fantastic resource indeed—and I’m lucky to have easy access to probably the best one in New York City.

But when my mother sent me this picture of tomatoes from her garden in northern California, I was reminded that even a great farmer’s market does not compare to a home plot. The market may have more variety, sure, but one’s own garden offers so much more: a deep sense of pride, for one thing. That hefty tomato in your hand? You nurtured it and, in all likelihood, observed it as it grew day by day. And there’s nothing like that sense of joyful abundance when everything finally begins to ripen—creativity kicks in (how can I showcase a zucchini, two eggplant, ten jalapeno peppers, and three cherry tomatoes?), meals become more colorful.

Brian and I had a garden for two blissful summers. We lived in Brooklyn, in a damp basement studio that we not-so-affectionately nicknamed “the cave.” Its one saving grace was the yard. We bought a brand-new Weber gas grill for the patio, raked out a square plot in the enormous garden, and began planting. Being garden neophytes, we had no idea how much to plant that first summer. I bought one green bean plant, which never yielded more than five or so beans at once. The cucumber plant was an utter failure. For whatever reason, I decided to put in eight cherry tomatoes, so at one point we had buckets of fruit—and more seemed to ripen by the minute. It was a chore keeping up with them, but I don’t regret my gardening mishaps at all. In fact, I would quite happily trade a four-dollar heirloom tomato from the farmer’s market for a bucket of those cherry tomatoes, grown by my own hand.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

SALMONELLA SURPRISE? OR JUST A REALLY GOOD DRINK?

I’ve ingested plenty of raw egg in my life (mostly via cookie dough, which I gobble like candy during baking sessions), and I’m happy to say that I am, as of yet, a salmonella virgin. Have I been extraordinarily lucky for the past three decades? Or is salmonella, perhaps, less of a threat than most of us assume? Trolling online for answers, I encountered an August, 2000 New York Times article that put the chance of an egg being contaminated with salmonella at 1 in 20,000. So there is a slight risk, but it’s a risk I can live with. (It should be noted, however, that the article did stress that children, the elderly, and others with compromised immune systems should never eat raw eggs.)

Now, this post is not about eating cookie dough—though I intend to continue that practice with abandon. The real reason I’m interested in raw eggs is for their use in drinks, an old-fashioned trick that seems to be enjoying a resurgence, thanks to the current popularity of classic cocktails. At the Pegu Club, a slick new bar in New York that takes its mixology very, very seriously, egg white is a component of many cocktails. The white provides body—just a slight viscosity—and a pleasantly foamy cap. Maybe I’m a reckless fool, but I believe it's well worth taking that 1 in 20,000 chance.

Give this drink—the Ramos Fizz—a try. It’s tangy, yet mellow from the cream, and the orange flower water gives it a distinct floral bouquet. And yes, you can omit the raw egg and it’ll taste fine, though it will lack body and the foamy head won’t be as smoothly integrated with the rest of the drink. A better idea: spring for pasteurized eggs.

RAMOS FIZZ

1 ½ oz. gin
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ teaspoon orange flower water
1 fresh egg white
1 oz. cream
Club soda

Combine all ingredients except for club soda in a shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously for two minutes (it’s best to have at least one other person around, as the shaker will get too cold to handle for long). Pour drink into a chilled old-fashioned glass, with ice if you want. Top with club soda.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Ugh. The weather this week has been killer. 100 degrees each of the last three days (more like 110 with humidity factored in), and no letup likely until tomorrow. You know it's bad when you get so sweaty walking the two blocks home from the subway, you have to take a shower first thing in the door.

On Wednesday, squeaky clean and happily cocooned in our air-conditioned apartment, Brian and I decided to celebrate with a mini tapas party. Okay, it's a stupid reason to celebrate—really just an excuse to do something fun. But there's nothing wrong with that, is there? This is food fit for grazing—and it's perfect for triple-digit days, when the last thing you want is a heavy meal. My Tortilla Espanola is thick with potatoes and onions, a bit custardy from the egg. I actually cheated a bit with the tortilla—I made it the night before so we could enjoy it at room temperature. Luscious Pan con Tomate is a glorious way to showcase flavorful farmer's market tomatoes. Those tomatoes looked so good, in fact, I had to buy a couple extra to slice up. Is it possible to improve upon the perfect tomato? With just a sprinkle of crunchy fleur de sel, I’d call it a draw.

For the tortilla, I used a recipe (someone else’s, that is) and because A.) I respect copyrights and B.) I don’t want to get sued, I won’t reprint it here. But tortilla recipes abound, and you shouldn’t have trouble tracking one down. Fine Cooking issue number 43 has a great rendition, if you can find a copy.


For the Pan con Tomate: toast or grill slices of country bread, rub each piece with the cut surface of a halved garlic clove, then rub fairly vigorously with the cut surface of a halved ripe tomato—the juice and pulp will soak into the bread. To finish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of kosher or sea salt.