July 31, 2010

for your reading pleasure

Happy weekend!

It's sunny, not too hot (expected high around 80 -- yippee!) and blessedly not humid in nyc today. I'm enjoying a lazy Saturday morning in my new reading chair, parked in front of the one window in my apartment that does not directly face a brick wall (I just refer to the other views as my almost exposed brick. Very desirable.). There is a lovely breeze, and it doesn't even have that nyc-in-the-summer-smell (you know what I mean). The window faces the back of a small monastery and church, and sometimes I see a few Franciscan monks out on their little patio, enjoying their morning brew. And smoking, oddly enough. Not this morning, though.

I'm in the last throes of a summer cold, sipping a cup of strong-brewed British breakfast tea with raw honey, lime, and ginger juice. Perfect. That's my trusty aloe plant on the window sill. It was especially helpful this week after a rogue mosquito invaded my apartment and bit me about 12 times, before I finally staked it out and annihilated it.

On that note, I'd like to share a few interesting articles from the NY Times that I've been reading this morning.

Food scientist Harold McGee discusses the flavor-enhancing effects of adding water to coffee, cocktails, and wine. Water balances and heightens aromatic qualities, particularly in "hot" high-alcohol wines. Well, heck, the ancient Greeks added water to their (very strong) wine, and so did my Italian grandmother who lived to 97, so this might be something to try. Read more about it here.

A little-known secret in medical education: the Mount Sinai Humanities in Medicine Program, which accepts a (small) number of students who haven't taken organic chemistry, physics, or the MCAT as undergrads. Here.

Here's an article about Wiscasset, Maine, home to the popular lobster shack Red's Eats. Red's seems to be Wiscasset's a blessing and its curse, bringing in booming business, and tons of traffic, all summer long. (I'll link to anything about Maine. Oh, Maine, how I love you.)

Okay, one more. If you're in the mood for a simple tofu dish this weekend, consider Mark Bittman's tofu and celery salad with spicy chili oil, which he's adapted from the nyc restaurant Szechuan Gourmet. The only thing not so simple about the recipe is that it calls for pressed tofu and Chinese celery, which might require a special trip to an Asian market (ooh, but you could also pick up some lychees while you're there - yum).

Now I'm off to soft-cook a couple of farmers' market eggs for breakfast. Then a stroll around the reservoir in central park.


July 30, 2010

this week

Wow, it's been a while since I've been here. Just wanted to stop by to report on a few things I learned this week. In corporate-speak, I believe this would be termed an LOTW: Learning Of The Week -- or maybe it's Laugh Of The Week. Or Link Of The Week? Oops, to be honest I've never cared enough to ask. And according to Google the acronym LOTW can also stand for Liturgy of the Word, Light of the World, and Logbook of the World. (Ah, Google, is there really no excuse for ignorance anymore?) No matter. My LOTW will be a weekly report on things I've heard on the street, researched, discovered entirely by accident, overheard on the bus, or read on a blog, some food-related, some not. Totally random.

Here we go, week 1.

1. The ever-expanding Batali-Bastianich empire is about to birth its newest behemoth, Eataly, scheduled to open in about a month at 23rd and 5th. It's in the style of a classic Italian market, with individual stalls for various types of foods, with little adjoining eateries where you can sit and have a bite. All the Mongers will be there: cheese, meat, fish (and the fish place will have David Pasternack of Esca at the helm -- yeah baby!) Fruit and vegetable stalls, a bakery, and a wine store will also be featured under the big top, and much more, I'm sure. Seems the flagship restaurant will be an Italian steakhouse. I'm hoping they open while my summer Fridays are still in effect; sounds like a perfect spot to spend a weekday afternoon.

2. Anusara yoga really might be a cult. This is something I have suspected for a while, and now the NYTimes has investigated the matter. I'm not anti-Anusara -- it was the first yoga style I ever practiced, and I still attend classes with Anusara teachers quite often. They encourage excellent attention to alignment, and in my experience it's a style in which you're very unlikely to injure yourself (unlike Astanga, but that's whole different story). But there is something about it that strikes me as sort of, er, preachy and cultish. Read the article, if you're so inclined, and decide for yourself.

3. One of my favorite herbalism blogs, The Herbwife's Kitchen, is a treasure-trove of useful information! Case in point: Flax seed tea with ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon: a delicious way to soothe a sore throat and parched, irritated lungs (I had a nasty summer cold and drank this all week, it saved me). Simmer 1 tsp whole (not ground) flaxseeds in 1 cup of water with a piece of cinnamon stick, 4 or 5 smashed cardamom pods, and 1 clove until reduced by about half. Strain into a cup and stir in a teaspoon or two of ginger juice (from freshly grated ginger). Drink while hot (the soluble fiber from the flax makes the tea a bit mucilaginous, and once cooled it will thicken to the consistency of egg whites).

And also a beauty tip from the same awesome blog: green tea and yogurt make the most fabulous facial cleanser/mask everJust grind up some green tea in a coffee or spice grinder, and then mix together equal parts green tea and plain yogurt (about 1/2 to 1 tsp of each) in a little bowl. (You can also make a larger batch and store it in the fridge.) Massage over your face (and neck/chest too -- and for that matter your whole body, if you like). Leave on for a few minutes to let it dry, and then rinse off. The subtle abrasiveness of the green tea and lactic acid from the yogurt exfoliate gently but thoroughly, and the green tea's antioxidant power and vasoconstrictive properties (ie, constricts the small blood vessels in the skin) are wonderful for skin health, too. You will be glowing after this -- who needs to spends upwards of 30 dollars on a tub of fancy-pants facial cleanser, anyway?!

4. And, last but not least, today I finally made a pilgrimage to Kalustyan's, the Indian and Middle Eastern spice and specialty foods mecca on Lexington between 28th and 29th. I've been meaning to go there for ages; I've heard countless raves about their outrageous selection of spices, herbs, and all sorts of unusual ingredients. I can't shop on an empty stomach (very dangerous), so my first stop was the little cafe on the second floor. Amazing! While you're deliberating your order, the man behind the counter gives you samples of the day's dishes, by the heaping spoonful -- he sort of forces them on you, actually! Hilarious. I decided on an enormous vegetarian platter heaped high with mujaddara (lentils mixed with fried onions and rice), smoky, turmeric-infused and golden-hued mashed eggplant, and sauteed spinach tossed with toasted almonds and pine nuts. Today's dishes also included big white beans in tomato sauce, tennis ball-sized falafel, and stewed chickpeas. They have meat dishes too, though I didn't really check those out. My lunch platter also included a couple of dolmades, a little salad with tahini dressing, pickled vegetables, and oil-cured black olives. I was stuffed about halfway through and packed up the rest to take home with me. And all that for just 9 dollars! Unreal. 

(lunch, cell-phone camera style)

After lunch, I wandered the rest of the store for ages, slowly winding my way down each and every aisle. Although the store isn't huge, they manage to pack the shelves with nearly every imaginable variety of herb, spice, tea, coffee, grain, and legume. All different types of honey and preserves, Indian snack foods, even frozen ready-to-eat Indian meals. Fresh curry leaves and Kaffir limes in the fridge. A huge selection of dried chilies, chocolate, and Indian and Turkish candies. And you can't miss the big case of pastries (Greek, Turkish) near the check-out.

They also carry some kitchen gear (bamboo steamers, utensils, cups and saucers, tagines, tea accessories and the like). Some of the prices seemed high (Yogi Tea for 6 dollars when the health food store near me charges 4) -- but really you go for the bulk spices, herbs, and teas, many of which are difficult to find elsewhere, and that's where the bargains are.  Deciding what to buy wasn't easy with all those options, but here's what I ended up with: 

--Orange blossom water
--Fenugreek seeds
--Annatto seeds
--Coriander seeds
--Beluga lentils
--Madras curry powder
--Dried Kaffir lime leaves
--Za'atar spice blend with sumac, sesame seed, and za'tar (which the label describes as "a mountain herb, called the king of herb--has fragrance of savory, oregano, thyme")
--Vietnamese cinnamon (shards of the bark rather than sticks)

--Kitchen odds and ends: cheesecloth, a porcelain Chinese soup spoon (I love these spoons - slurping from them always seems to make soup taste even better!), a funnel, and a mesh tea ball. I would have loved to buy a tagine, but they were quite expensive -- need to do some research first.

Then I lugged my goodies across town and onto the rush-hour-jam-packed uptown bus. That part wasn't really all that fun, actually. Lots of cranky commuters. But it was worth it, now that I'm home, settled on the sofa, and researching recipe ideas for my new stash of ingredients. Those annatto seeds might be first up. 

Have a wonderful weekend!