Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Absolute Greek Truck and a Mediterranean Holiday

Zany is forced to briefly postpone our next food truck adventure as she must attend an urgent lunch meeting that serves a sorry selection of ham and cheese wraps.  I’m not even going to try and make sense of that.

However, the postponement is fortuitous as Zeus spends most of the day hurling lightning bolts at the island of Manhattan.  The subsequent day is brilliant and serene and the sky is azure blue.  It is perfect food trucking weather.

After emerging from a little morning playtime in Central Park, I do some early recon on Sixth Avenue.  At 52nd Street I get a make on what appears to be a brand new entry to the food truck scene, the Absolute Greek Truck. 
The truck exterior is decorated with a sweeping panorama of an ancient Greek village overlooking a cerulean ocean.  It’s just tempting me to throw convention to the wind and embark on a Mediterranean holiday.

I’m not sure what “Absolute” Greek really refers to. Is that unbending, or despotic?  Is it “absolutely awesome?” The owners bill the truck as “a taste of Hellos on Wheels.” At least “the Greek” is not indifferent. Seems like the perfect choice for lunch, so I send Zany a screen shot of the menu. 
 She texts back, “You had me at “loaded Greek fries.” Done deal. 

The lunch hour approaches.   New advances in technology allow me to know exactly when Zany is arriving on the scene:
We meet at the outdoor plaza on 52nd and Sixth Avenue where the Absolute Greek Truck is attracting a hungry crowd. Zany strolls into the plaza wearing stylish Jackie O sunglasses and I note that her bag perfectly matches the truck’s Mediterranean seascape. 
This gig in the beauty business has made her quite the fashion forward food trucker. A few more food truck lunches, and I’m likely to resemble Aristotle Onassis. 
We line up and debate the menu.  There are a variety of pork and chicken options, but Zany is going for authenticity.

“If we’re going to do Greek, we have to have lamb,” she insists.  We settle on a spread that could feed a team of Olympic athletes, including stuffed grape leaves, Gyro in Pita stuffed with beef and lamb, red onion, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce, Greek fries topped with feta cheese and oregano and “Souvlaki,” which is chicken on a stick.

“It’s New York City,” says Zany.  “We have to eat meat on a stick.”

Now, where to dine?  There are several outdoor plazas in the area, but I’ve got a different idea. 

“This picnic can only be enjoyed on the shore of the Mediterranean,” I declare.

Now, the Mediterranean Ocean is a little far to go for lunch, but thank Poseidon, we do find a reasonable facsimile just two blocks away.
Our ocean is a sparkling azure blue, and there’s plenty of room for Ari to dock his yacht Christina O. 

The Greek god Helios is working overtime and the sun is blazingly hot.  Zany unpacks our picnic.  “It’s Greek tapas by the sea,” she remarks.
The cigar-shaped stuffed grape leaves serve as our appetizer. The rice filling is tangy and pungent.
The Greek fries come in a simply elegant white paper bag with a liberal sprinkling of feta cheese.  Feta doesn’t melt all that well on fries, so we quickly adopt a highly effective technique of scooping up two fries at a time with some feta sandwiched in between.
The chicken Souvlaki is nicely browned and seasoned.  I reach for a fork to slide a chicken cube off the skewer and she stops me.  “You nearly violated the cardinal rule of food trucking,” Zany exclaims.  “No utensils!”
I’ve gotten sloppy.  I forget I’m dining with a pro.
The Gyro is massive, but Zany still manages to deftly divide it in two.  She takes a bite and gives a satisfied murmur.  “That lamb tastes like it’s been slow cooking since this morning,” she says.  The red onion, and cool tomatoes add a nice contrast, and soon I find that my fingers are covered with tzatziki. 

For a while, as we digest our meal, we sun ourselves by the shore, and then I suggest that such a feast can only be topped off with a dollop of Greek yogurt.  Zany whips out her phone and locates Uptown Swirl on 7th Avenue, where they feature a self-serve dispenser and a decadent selection of toppings.   We find the closest thing that resembles Greek yogurt …
But, our pumping and swirling skills leave something to be desired.  
We walk leisurely back up 7th Avenue, and when I suggest we hurry and cross before the light changes, Zany chides me saying, “You’re making me work too hard on our Greek vacation.” 

Later that afternoon Zany texts, “I think I may have gotten a mild Mediterranean sunburn…worth it.” 


©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Zany National Hot Dog Day

I’m no longer in the habit of loitering on open street corners waiting to meet people for lunch.  I no longer order tacos from trucks or gorge myself on lobster rolls or waffles and dinges. That was another world, a lifetime ago.  Maybe it was actually a parallel universe.  It’s hard to recall.  But I know it all came crashing to a halt when my al fresco amigo, Zany packed up and left for Chicago. 

Sure, there were others who, on occasion, would join me for high calorie dining on the streets of New York.  They were witty and well-dressed but Zany was the one….my partner in culinary crime.  The Watson to my Holmes. The Robin to my Batman. The Mary to my Rhoda. 

It’s been four years since her gluttonous Food Truck farewell.  And my world was never the same (although my diet may have improved).

Then, several weeks ago, the email from Zany arrives.  It is titled, “Question.”  The text reads, “Are you taking new applications for lunchtime dining companions?  If so, does previous experience improve the odds for acceptance?”

Apparently, the rumors of her demise were greatly exaggerated.

Within seconds I reach her on the phone.  It is true – she is moving back to New York! 

Much has changed since the Big Z left the Big Apple.  She is now a VIP in the beauty business headquartered in Manhattan, and she and her husband are parents to two happy, well-fed kids, Sticky Hands and Jayhawk.  Despite all this responsibility, Zany’s innate ability to sniff out a good meal is more fine tuned than ever. 

Almost immediately, she checks out the local territory. The day before our adventure, I get an email titled “Recon.”  Zany writes with her characteristic enthusiasm, “46th between 6 and 5 is hopping with food trucks! They are parked all down the block…cheesesteaks, tacos, Greek, Thai… Plus there is ample seating in this plaza I’m in.”  Clearly her appetite has not diminished either.

The following day, we rendezvous on the corner of 46th Street, and it is just like old times. The mood resembles a boisterous street festival with well-appointed gals in sundresses and sandals and guys in hair gel and open collars. A guy is carrying a sign through the crowd demanding that we all REPENT! (Could he be a representative from the American Dietetic Association?) 

Immediately, we spot our prey, the Coney Shack truck.  The stunning black and red vehicle hails from Brooklyn, and features an eclectic menu of Southeast Asian tacos, burritos and hot dogs generously garnished with seafood, chicken, pork or beef.  I know.  It’s hard to believe, but I kid you not. It’s the ultimate mash up to use meat as a condiment atop a hot dog, and it is fortuitous as it is National Hotdog Day – our patriotic celebration of the wacky wiener! 
We line up to place our order, and Zany looks at me askance with a devious smile and says, “Amanda, eat your heart out!”  Apparently, she has taken note of her lunchtime successors.  I sense a smack down in the making. 

“Nothing wrong with a little competition,” she adds with a the confident smile of a champion.

Our grub in hand, we head to a nearby outdoor plaza where the street party is in full swing. There’s even a reggae band.  Sometimes, I wonder who’s really working in Manhattan.

“I’ve eaten in this plaza,” I tell her. “After you and Mad Me-Shell skipped town, I had a lobster roll here alone …”

“Sulking?” she asks.
Zany has gotten very good at dividing food into bite-sized portions, and starts to split up our hot dog sampling platter. 

We’ve ordered the Mach Dog, “toppled” with caramelized pork, onion rings and melted Mex cheese all nicely browned with a blow torch, the Chicka Dog, topped with garlic lemongrass chicken and pickled daikon, and the Calamari Dog, topped with crispy 5 spice calamari.  You can barely see the dogs under all the toppings, but each is better than the next.  We savor the collision of proteins and Asian spices and take a moment to pray for all those poor souls who are celebrating National Hot Dog Day with a dirty water dog from a street cart. 
A lady is hovering over our table hoping to claim our seats, and we need something to neutralize the nitrates, so we head off in search of dessert.  After wandering for several blocks we locate an ice cream truck with an intense selection of sprinkles that rivals a Crayola Crayon box. 
“So what do you think?” Zany asks.  “Should we do this once a week?”

I’m game.  In fact, I feel like I’ve got a new, caloric lease on lunchtime.  Screw the kale salad. 

We make plans for our next meet up and say our goodbyes.  Zany starts heading east. I take my last lick of ice cream and I expect my tongue is probably now cobalt blue. That will really make a great impression at my afternoon meeting.

I turn to look back, but Zany is gone, vanished into the throng of people on 6th Avenue.  For a minute, I wonder if I’ve hallucinated the whole adventure, but maybe it’s the hot dog coma kicking in. 

Note to self:  I’ve got to start biking again.   


©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pickled



Hello again. 

Yes, it was a long, cold winter. But, once again Restoration Farm is in full swing and bursting with life. And, I am in a constant state of anxiety trying to manage the overwhelming amount of produce I lug home every week. When you join a CSA, the battle over spoilage is constant (why does that seemingly indestructible kale seem to wilt so quickly?) along with a healthy helping of guilt served up whenever that carefully raised local food withers, shrivels or develops a rash. 

But now, I have the answer to my seasonal dilemma.

Pickling. 

I know certain wags among you will assume I'm drowning my angst by hitting the liquor cabinet, but I’m referring to pickling of the more homespun variety.  A simple brine of vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic and spices can pack some amazing flavor, and summer produce just soaks it all in. 

Apparently, a penchant for pickling might be a genetic thing.  A long time ago, Long Island was a bit of a pickle paradise, with “salting stations” dotting the landscape.  HJ Heinz even operated a pickling factory in Hicksville, Long Island in the late 1800s. 

Most pickling can be accomplished without using a boiling water canner.  These are technically known as “refrigerator pickles.”  They aren’t shelf stable, but last about a month in the refrigerator. The only potential downside is the kitchen counters can get a little tacky from all that sugar and vinegar.

I start with two varieties.  I slice up the first of the summer zucchini into spears and pickle it in a brine of turmeric and mustard seed.   You simply slice up the vegetables (the zucchini needs to sit for about an hour in a salted water bath), simmer the brine a few minutes, cover the vegetables, let the mixture cool and then refrigerate.  A clean up note:  Clorox Cleanup does a bang up job of removing turmeric stains from the kitchen counter.


The idea of infusing carrots with brine intrigues me, so I get both orange and white carrots to work with.  The orange carrots are from Restoration Farm, and the white carrots are from Terry Farm in Orient Point, one of the oldest operating farms on Long Island.  The brine is infused with dill. 



The zucchini recipe can be found here.  My zucchini was various sizes so I chose to cut it all into spears.  The carrot recipe can be found here. 

I’m thrilled because there’s a ready-to-eat side dish in the refrigerator waiting for me each night so the need to turn on the stove in the summer is negligible.  I’m now researching pickled beets, although the recipe I have in mind does require processing in a boiling water canner.  

Along with the carrots and zucchini, there’s been another project marinating this past winter. More on that soon, as well as the story of a familiar (although never glimpsed) face from the past with a healthy appetite, who is ready to take a bite out of New York once again. 


©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fruitcake Weather and Christmas Memories

Christmas is always about past and present. Today’s celebrations are inextricably linked to the sights, sounds, smells and people of bygone holidays.

Every yuletide, my brothers and I recall the Goodyear Christmas Album – received as a “premium” at the local tire store – which was the musical accompaniment to our holidays when we were young.  I can still hear Robert Goulet crooning “Do You Hear What I Hear?”      

I can look at this year’s Christmas tree and touch the very first Christmas ornaments my Mom and Dad gave me for the tree in my first apartment. 
And, then there’s the visions of sugar plums - the baking starts early, always grounded in delicious memories – Mom’s Angel Food Cake, Aunt Greta’s Stollen, Zany’s Cinnamon Buns or Nana’s Sand Cookies.  

And, one can never forget the visits from holiday spirits. 
I was not familiar with Truman Capote’s short memoir, “A Christmas Memory,” but saw it performed as a musical in early December at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York City. It is a story from Truman’s childhood in the South, when he was known as “Buddy.” He grew up living with an elderly distant cousin named Sook, whom he describes as his best friend and “still a child.”  
Every year, Cousin Sook would look out the window on a cold, clear day in November and say, “It’s fruitcake weather.”  Thus began the annual ritual of baking dozens of fruitcakes to give as gifts to friends, family and even celebrities.  The story is filled with the wonder of a youngster embracing the rituals and magic of the Christmas holidays. I’m intrigued by the notion of a fruitcake tradition, and I decide to give it a try.

It’s not quite fruitcake weather, but the blustery rain is good weather for ducks. Early Saturday, I shop for ingredients. While Buddy and Sook nearly exhaust their funds buying ingredients, they would have been shocked at today’s prices for dried fruit. 
They frugally gather pecans off the ground, a wise strategy as in our era, pecan halves are running $16.99 a pound. 
In the story, Sook and Buddy approach the local bootlegger for their whisky, an essential ingredient in the fruitcake. With no local bootlegger in sight, I consider using one of our fine Long Island local whiskeys, but Truman was a Southerner, so Jack Daniels seems like the obvious choice.  Fortunately, Jack has a recipe for Classic Christmas Fruitcake, too. 
Besides, Jack and I have had a long association.  
The aromas of fruit, orange and whisky fill the house, and I am reminded of the people and pleasures that have graced my many Christmases.   
When their cakes are complete – thirty-one in total – Buddy and Sook have a mad moment and drink the remaining whisky (Buddy is seven years old).  My three cakes are just fine for my purposes and it’s a little early in the day for me for a nip, so I’m perfectly happy with the spirited aroma.
Now wrapped in whisky soaked cheesecloth, these little beauties are tucked away in the refrigerator ready to make some new holiday memories come December 25th.  
Happy Christmas to all, and happy memories past and present.  

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved