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  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Raising Dough for Duck Island Bread Company

Julia Child is said to have once remarked, “How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”

It’s a question Long Island resident Robert Biancavilla took to heart when he established Duck Island Bread Company several years ago. Bob’s gorgeous European-style breads and pastries have been a fixture – and a hot commodity – at the Northport Farmers’ Market for many seasons. He hand-shapes his breads and pastries and allows each small batch of dough to develop its deep, satisfying flavors through natural fermentation and carefully nurtured starter-cultures. Duck Island's delicious offerings include brioche, baguettes, croissants, cinnamon buns and pretzel rolls, among many other options.   

I profiled Duck Island Bread Company a year ago for Edible Long Island. Bob is passionate about baking. By day, he’s an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, but on Friday nights he shifts focus and works all night at a rented commercial bakery to shape and bake the breads and pastries sold at the market on Saturday. 
Robert Biancavilla and his wife Sherri of Duck Island Bread Company
Now, Bob is working to establish a bakeshop and retail home for Duck Island Bread Company in Huntington and has initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund store renovations and purchase of refrigeration, mixers and a proofer. 

Check out the Duck Island Bread Company Kickstarter campaign here.  It’s a worthy cause to consider this holiday season, not only because Bob is an accomplished baker, a true gentleman and community-minded individual, but I also love the idea of the community getting behind “the raising” of a local shop that sells nourishing bread made from scratch.

Because, James Beard got it right when he said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” 


 ©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved