Thursday, June 23, 2016

Father’s Day at Apple Trace

Life is always transitioning, renewing, and yearning to proliferate. But sometimes things get in the way. A Father’s Day visit to Apple Trace reminds me that life needs care and cultivation. We need to be our own gardeners. On this day of fathers and sons, I am contemplating life and legacy as I bend and stoop and struggle to pull the tough weeds that have engulfed the trees in my care.  

Apple Trace at Restoration Farm is a living memorial of eight heritage apple trees, planted in 2012 in memory of my Dad, James M. Barritt, Jr. who passed in January of that year. A ‘trace” is a defined as a visible mark, such as a footprint, left by a person, animal or thing. We all leave a visible mark, and the trees remind me of the mark my Dad left in this world. 
The weeds are formidable. The trunk of each tree is surrounded by thick growth. Weeds will get in our way, but life needs to be weeded and cultivated. The dirt needs to be tilled. Lack of action is not an option. It may seem like a chore, but weeding is healthy and leads to growth. 

We have always wondered when the first fruits of Apple Trace might appear. I discover one tiny apple, about the size of a silver dollar. It is an Ashmead’s Kernel apple, a very old variety. Sometimes good things start small. 
Four of the trees are towering, and four are smaller. Perhaps it’s the climate, or perhaps it’s the growth patterns of the different apple varieties. Everything grows at it’s own pace. Just have patience. Just give it time.  Two of the trees that were once damaged by a renegade cow a few seasons back are now vigorous and full. We do recover and thrive, even when the damage seems severe.  

I work diligently from one tree to the next. I am dirty and drenched with sweat, but the job is done. Weeds no longer choke the trees, the playful spring breeze circulates through the branches and the trees have room to grow. It bears remembering. Make room to grow. 

As I am stacking the weeds and debris at one end of Apple Trace, Restoration Farm head grower, Caroling Fanning arrives in the truck and offers me a ride back to the Tin House. I am grateful and hop in, because you should never be too proud to accept a ride from a friend no matter the journey you are on. 

©2016 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 04, 2016

Ramen Noodles for the Soul and the Nostrils

When the thermometer flip flops between 70 degrees and 30 degrees during any given week, it’s a pretty good bet I’ll get smacked with the dreaded spring sinus infection. Within a matter of hours, I’m at least three of the Seven Dwarfs – Drippy, Sneezy and Stuffy. I need therapy STAT.  

As it happens, Zany is nursing a pesky post-nasal drip as well, so we arrange for immediate medical attention - a trip to UrbanSpace for Ramen noodles.  I trot quickly across town to meet her, as my 24 hour cold medication appears to have expired after just 6 hours.  

We rendevous a bit ahead of the noon hour, as the competition for those squiggly noodles can be fierce.  In fact, the entire floor of UrbanSpace is already starting to look like the 6 Train at rush hour.
Kurt-Obi Ippudo is renowned throughout New York as the Zen Master of Ramen, with locations all over the city.  The UrbanSpace booth is humming with activity.   Team members in smart white t-shirts mix noodles into large vats of broth, stirring up a steamy umami haze that just might whip the crowd into a frenzy. 

The base recipe at Kuro-Obi Ippudo is noodles, scallions and scrumptiously savory pork immersed in creamy white chicken broth, infused with garlic oil and umami miso paste.  Then, you have the option to build your own Ramen bowl, adding on extras like hard cooked egg, sweet corn, Parmesan cheese and thick cut bacon.  
Zany is torn.  She consults with the counter woman who explains to her that the thick cut bacon will offer a smokier flavor.  Zany is obviously under the weather.  She rarely needs any convincing that adding bacon is a good idea. I go crazy with two toppings – umami egg and sweet corn for added crunch.  My bill is nearly 18 dollars.  

We circle the indoor picnic area, and finally find the only two remaining seats on the floor. We slide onto the benches and open our bags of food.

“You know, of course, it would probably only cost us a few dollars to make this ourselves,” Zany observes. Perhaps, but sometimes you just need to consult with a professional. 

A savory steam wafts from the cup, and I dip into the rich broth.  Immediately my nostrils relax and I can breathe again.  The combination of crave-worthy spices and yards of slippery noodles does the trick. It’s far superior to one of those nose strips.  Across the table, I hear happy sounds emerging from Zany’s direction as she slurps her noodles and attempts to consume a piece of bacon the size of a golf ball.  
At last, she puts down her chopsticks, folds her napkin demurely, sighs with satisfaction, and suggests, “Shall we go in search of dessert?”

She leads me through the labyrinth of UrbanSpace, which is now in serious need of crowd control – we are surrounded by thousands of ravenous, well-groomed professionals who would clearly be lost without their hair gel.

Zany makes a good show of leading me around UrbanSpace to see what’s available, but it’s clear she’s leading me in the direction of Dough. This is a doughnut entrepreneur with attitude. 
Their slogan is “We Fry in Bed-Sty, Flatiron, Urban Space and now…Row Hotel.”  For those of you planning a trip to New York, Row Hotel is a hip art filled hotel in the theater district that clearly puts no restrictions on a guest’s calorie consumption. 

These are doughnuts on steroids and in fact, they are works of art, featuring varieties such as Dulce De Leche-Almonds, Salted Chocolate Caramel, Passion Fruit and Hibiscus.  We select a mammoth Café au Lait doughnut that seems a departure from our Asian menu.     
“I was thinking when we finished our ramen noodles that it was the first time I’d had lunch with you and actually not felt stuffed,” says Zany.  “I think that is about to change.”

I do the honors and split the doughnut in half.  It has a roasted coffee glaze and toasted pecan topping.  “What do you think?” I ask.  “Would we say that this half-a-doughnut is about a thousand calories?”

“Probably 750,” says Zany. “But don’t worry.  We only had broth for lunch.”

I wolf down my half and half of Zany’s half and I do feel better. Which proves definitively that the old medical bromide is, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.”   Or, “Don’t waste your money on cold medications, when you can have Ramen noodles and doughnuts.”  

©2016 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Communal Noshing in an UrbanSpace

It is the darkest days of February. And frankly, the runway to February wasn’t all that great either. Zany came down with strep throat and spent Christmas in the ER. I’ve recently recovered from a virulent bout of food poisoning and have been living on a steady diet of saltine crackers and Chicken and Stars soup.  The soup just doesn’t taste as good as when I was a kid. We are desperately in need of a little culinary excitement.

Zany proposes the remedy – a lunchtime excursion to UrbanSpace.  What is Urban Space, you ask?  Is it a new type of apartment? Or, a posh new department store?  Maybe a new club?  A short walk from Grand Central Station, UrbanSpace Vanderbilt is built into a 1929 space that flanks Park Avenue and it is home to dozens of food stalls.

Zany meets me inside the door at the 45th Street entrance and pulls me into a throng of hungry people who are queuing up at various food stalls for an early lunch.

“This place is basically like a food cart parking lot with a roof,” she explains.  “And there’s a bar so we can drink, too,”  she adds, with just a bit of glee in her voice. 

Lunch is about to take on a whole new dimension.  

Zany has already done recon, and gives me a quick overview.  “We’ve got Ramen noodles in this corner, dumplings to the left, a pretty decent chicken sandwich in that corner, and near the back they serve crepes and wine.” If she ever decides to change careers, concierge might be the way to go. 

The space has an industrial feel, framed with steel columns and girders. A torrent of polished, well-coiffed professionals are streaming into the space which is quickly taking on the rowdy feel of a tailgate party at Giant Stadium.

My eyes and stomach seem drawn to the Ramen noodles, but the line is pretty long, as it’s all made to order.  Zany eyes the competition.  

“I’d say that’s about a 20 minute wait,” she calculates.  “We’ve got to move faster if we want to sample as much as possible.”  Thus begins what can only be described as an international grazing experience.  

She pulls me towards the Hong Kong Street Cart – which looks more like a New York apartment-sized kitchen than a cart.  
“Appetizers?” she asks, and orders dumplings and scallion pancakes.  As we wait for our food, a chorus line of fetching felines provides a little entertainment.
We carry our food through an obstacle course of picnic tables.  Seating is already hard to come by, but we manage to squeeze into a small, partially occupied picnic table on the other side of the floor. 

“Doesn’t this take you back to the elementary school cafeteria?” asks Zany.

The dumplings are chubby, dimpled pillows of delight, served with a soy dipping sauce. The scallion pancakes are bronze and crispy, cut in kid friendly triangles.

It’s time to move onto our main course, and we debate the wisdom of giving up our seats. Fortunately, there is ample seating at a nearby bar, and with a blink of the eye, we are instantly transported to a German Oktoberfest.  

The Weihenstephan food stall bills itself as “the world’s oldest brewery,” which is cool because you know how we love a backstory.  The added bonus is they are serving German hot-spiced wine. 

We take a moment to debate the wisdom of imbibing on a work day (an afternoon document deadline creating one major obstacle) but in the end, the old adage “When in Bavaria” wins out and within minutes, we are giddy over our Gluhwein.

For our main course, we select a mountainous Reuben Sandwich, and what appears to be a foot long pork sausage slathered with a garnish of mustard and chips.  
Zany takes a bite of the Reuben – tender corned beef buried in tart sauerkraut – and proclaims sarcastically, “Oh that’s terrible.”   She then consumes her half in record time.  The pork dog does not disappoint.  We are feeling in a festive mood.  It all washes down so easily with that mug of Gluhwein.  It leaves us both with a warm glow, which is appropriate since Gluhwein is roughly translated as “glow wine.”

Zany leans back and muses, “I think this place can become our winter refuge.”  Yes, our winter refuge along with three thousand of our closest friends.

We discuss the possibility of indulging in crepes for dessert, (France is close to Germany, right?) but we decide that the Reuben sandwich and pork dog has been quite the formidable experience, so we hoist ourselves out of our seats and make our way over to a friendly little bakeshop called Ovenly. 
There, we split a yummy and dense Chocolate Truffle Cookie sprinkled with sea salt.  After all, we wouldn’t want to over indulge.  It’s the kind of cookie that leaves instant chocolate marks on your front teeth. 
Late that afternoon I get a text from Zany, that says, “For the record, I actually did some writing this afternoon. Apparently all those calories made for good inspiration.”

My response through heavy eyelids is,  “My productivity has been nominal at best.” 

I never did get those Ramen noodles and crepes, but Japan to France is a whole different itinerary.  I’m checking flights even as we speak…

©2016 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Zany Tidings of Comfort Food and Joy

It is that enchanting season in New York City where the urban landscape is transformed. Ordinary steel and cement is transfigured amidst a dazzling display of twinkling lights. The urban landscape resembles storybook illustrations. In a fascinating, and somewhat frightening phenomenon, department store buildings literally break into holiday song. Tourists clog the streets and gridlock overtakes most intersections, making it a challenge to get anywhere efficiently. And tantalizing aromas fill the air. It’s beginning to look a lot like … dinnertime!

It is several nights before Christmas, and I am running a little late for a planned holiday adventure with Zany.  Dashing through the streets, I must navigate a hoard of revelers, a life-sized Elmo who is carrying his head under his arm, and a guy on a street corner with his own live menagerie on display, which seems to include several rabbits, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s all part of the magic of Yuletide in New York.

We are scheduled to rendezvous at the Bryant Park Winter Village, an enchanting Christmas Town that magically appears behind the New York Public Library about the time of Halloween and then vanishes like the Spirit of Christmas Past sometime in January.  One can find a dazzling selection of high-end shops, impossibly athletic skaters performing the occasional triple axel leap across the ice rink, and most important, a maze of tantalizing food stalls.  
We have planned to meet under the Bryant Park Christmas Tree, its boughs heavy laden with holiday baubles. I circle the tree once, and Zany appears before me, full of the holiday spirit.

“We’ve got an international smorgasbord here,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.  “Let’s get started!”

She tugs me towards the Saj Mahal booth, which features of selection of Israeli inspired flatbreads with a twist.  The flatbreads are sizzling on large metal drums.  We consider the menu selection and choose our appetizer – a flatbread layered with olives, roasted red peppers and green guacamole – perhaps not traditional, but certainly the right color scheme for the season.  
We sit by the skating rink, devouring our flatbread and watch the Zamboni buff the ice until it resembles shimmering glass.  In the distance, I can hear Judy Garland singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  

Feeling in a festive mood, we head for the seasonal residence of my old pal Pickle Me Pete. Pete’s a former accountant who abandoned the corporate world for a life of brine. He looks like a right Jolly Old Elf, bedecked in pickle green from head to toe and his handmade artisan pickles shimmer like green jewels in the barrels before him.   
But it’s not the fresh pickles we’re after…

“This woman’s a fried pickle connoisseur,” I tell Pete. “We’d like one order of your amazing fried pickle chips.”

“All of our dipping sauces are vegan,” Pete explains to Zany.

She gives him the stink eye.  “Well, I’m not,” she says curtly. “We’ll take the Ranch dressing on the side, please.” We return to the skating rink for our second course. 

“Have you heard of the Christmas Pickle tradition?” she asks me. Most of Zany’s fondest memories and traditions seem to center around pickled foods and condiments. In fact, I am familiar with the Christmas Pickle.  It’s an old custom and no one really quite knows how it got started, but some suspect it was a marketing ploy by an ornament company.  A glass ornament in the shape of a pickle was hidden among the branches of a Christmas tree. The first child in the family who discovered the pickle got an extra present.  Go figure.  Next thing you know they’ll be trying to convince us that the Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and pickles to Bethlehem.  While we can’t verify the source of the custom, we decide to start a new tradition – gorging ourselves on fried pickle chips with Ranch dressing under the Christmas tree.  Pete’s fried pickles are hot and crunchy, and in our minds are far superior to chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Our next visit is to La Sonrisa Empanadas. We split a scrumptious Coconut Curry Chicken Empanada seasoned with Caribbean curry and sweetened with coconut milk.  We are in agreement.  This hot little hand pie would make a perfect stocking stuffer.   

We wander the food stalls considering our main course and find ourselves drawn by a beacon of bright canary yellow to the window of Super Mac & Cheese.  Talk about tidings of comfort food and joy!  
A brief debate ensues when Zany spots a “V” symbol next to the company logo. “What does that stand for?” she asks suspiciously.  “Is there such a thing as vegan mac and cheese?” 

I spot a nearby group of women scarfing down paper cups full of the golden noodles.  “Nope, it’s the real thing,” I reply and we dive in.  The Super Mac & Cheese is silky, tangy and delicious.

And, what would a holiday adventure be without visions of sugarplums?  Since we’re not really sure what a sugarplum looks like, we settle on French macarons instead.  The Woops both features a dazzling spread of colorful macarons, and even a macaron holiday tree.  We feast on an eclectic selection of flavors that include Lemon Poppy, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chili and Cookies and Cream.  

While our tummies might be full, we are not yet filled with the holiday spirit, so we make a quick stop at the historic Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station for some decidedly adult holiday spirits…a Negroni for her and a Manhattan cocktail for me.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Some days later, I find myself in a cooking store in Virginia where I discover the perfect gift for Zany.  Back in New York, I arrange a meet up.  The holidays are now in overdrive and we can only manage a five-minute rendezvous outside Zany’s office before she dashes for a train. 

I push my way through the multitudes to meet her.  The Saks 5th Avenue building is regaling holiday shoppers with a booming rendition of “Christmas Is Here!” 

Zany is already out on the street.  I hand her the little box, which she opens with a distinct sense of anticipation.  Inside, nestled in tissue paper, is a glass holiday ornament in the shape of three perfectly cut, glistening, emerald green pickle chips.
Zany throws back her head and literally howls with laughter. “The only thing it’s missing is a side of ranch dressing!” she exclaims.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! May you be blessed with dear friends who magically reappear and bring you extra helpings of joy. May your condiments have zip, may your pickles be crisp and may your macaroni always be smothered with gooey cheddar!

©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved