Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Heart NY: A Central Park Bike Tour. Sunday, October 14, 2012.

It all started with a big green park and a little man in a camouflage helmet. His luscious mouth held me in thrall. By his leading, I caught a whiff of park air and that is how I contracted the infection.
The going was rough at the beginning. New York was all honking, move just move, ants up and down, above ground, below ground, weaving between the trash piles. Finding a way took up much of our time. But then our bikes were delivered, our tour guide (Joel) appeared, helmets were adjusted, "LA Woman" was sung and he called me 'baby'. And yet, that wasn't enough. We stood on the sidewalk in front of a cafe tourists would deem 'very good'. I, on the other hand  - your little four letter word would not undo me. 

Pedaling, I remembered an old love. Deep breaths sped me up the hills. At the tops, our guide would speak rapidly and there I would watch the words come out. No matter what was actually being said (something about the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr), just keep talking so I can be voyeur. I could barely see his eyes through his sunglasses but I have always been a sucker for a manly jaw. I laughed out loud at his antics. Our co-bikers from Arizona stood mute. Our Canadian ladies were eager and sweet. 

The Park, oh the's where I place the blame.
It thrust a crowd of humanity at us, in the form of a marathon. The others not participating in the race, shouted 'Share the Park!' in the only way a New Yorker knows how. We marveled, we were surrounded, there was no escape. And we flew by the endangered Elms, the English, French, and Italian gardens, the Mall, the performers, the views, the history. I wanted to study every green thing, to spend time with that plant whose name I did not know. But there was a schedule. And a man who held us to it.

In my experience travelling, even though my will to do so is driven by landscape and nature, it's always the interactions with people that stick. But here, it couldn't be taken as one individual person, it had to be measured en masse. I cannot isolate, Joel, the tour guide. Full stop. Or Central Park. Full stop. Or New York City. Full stop. I cannot think of Central Park as just a park. It has to go with Joel. It has to go with the City. Of the dozens of times we asked citizens for directions or for help on the subway, as lovely as each person was who took the time to aid us, I could never think of them as distinct entities.They wholly belong to this rigid, yet rippling creature called York, the new one. It has to be all one word - JoelCentralParkNewYorkers. Altogether now like the Germans do! Taking a complex idea and smashing it together into one mouthful of a word. 

So now I am back in LA (ambivalently). I tread through these days in a dream whose feeling has yet to wear off. My heart is a wanderer, wondering, could I? I expected to like you, but not this, not this smile that creeps in at the corners. My method for keeping you close is a song I heard at the Shake Shack on 86th and Lexington by a band called Husky. Here are the lyrics, for you, New York (that is, Central Park, Joel and all New Yorkers).

I went walking in the woods today
Found a path that led me astray
I couldn't leave it

On the bank of a river beneath the trees
I stripped down naked and fell to my knees
I washed my sins away

Morning came and gave the truth away
I wondered if I'd ever return
But as you say, time will pave the way
I just sit and watch our kingdom burn

I went walking in the woods tonight
Trees looked wicked by candlelight
I heard them whispering your name

Far away I saw the city lights
The dreams of mankind burning bright
It was so beautiful

Morning came and took my fear away
I wondered if I'd ever learn
But how will we explain the mistakes we made
When my fear will surely return

I went walking on my own and
Bright eyed spirits guided me home

I went walking in the woods today...

Glade Arch.

A night view.

If anyone's interested, we took the morning tour from Central Park Bike Tours

Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer Weekend Tale: Stew, brownies, liqueur & rice pudding.

When the loneliness sets in on some weekends, I make trips to coffee shops I've been wanting to try, farmer's and flea markets, the bookstore, I treat myself to pizza and pastries. I try to go to the places I'd go to with friends, not wanting to deprive myself of the things I want to do because it's just me. I usually end up talking to and getting smiles from strangers. (LA can be a very friendly place when it wants to be.) I stock up on self-reflection and me-time. 

And of course, I get to cooking.
Stew, brownies, bacon, scuppernong liqueur and coconut rice pudding made it onto the cooking agenda. An odd mix, for sure. The stew was nothing special, the brownies were very chocolatey, the bacon, well it's bacon, the liqueur is sure to be a hit and the pudding was coconuty-creamy. 

Here are the links to the recipes I used:

Hearty Chicken Stew and Butternut Squash & Quinoa (I used rice instead of quinoa. I also added kale)

Coconut Rice Pudding with Ginger Lemongrass Syrup (I didn't make the syrup, I simply sprinkled with cinnamon. I also halved it.)

This is Malcolm's blog. Not sure how old he is - no more than 12? 13? He's Clemence Gossett's son of Gourmandise:

Scuppernong Liqueur is simple:
Take a bunch of scuppernong grapes and put in a glass jar, cover with vodka, add 1/4-1/2 cup sugar. Leave it alone for at least 2 months. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Old Florida Part 2: Our 'Secret Garden'

Looking at these photos, I wish I could absorb them into my soul, so that the ache will go away. I know you've had that experience where you just want to soak the view in as much as possible. And you stand there and you look and you look and you look and it's still not enough. All I have is these photographs of a time when I was there for maybe an hour or so peering, willing something of it to always stay with me, to not leave me, to not just be images I once encountered through a camera lens. 

There's a wonderful passage from "The Secret Garden" that I think is fitting:
"One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes."

I do believe that in these moments, so sweetly described by Frances Hodgson Burnett, that we are indeed connected to this earth and to each other and that the earth in these wordless displays of beauty shows us to be.

I want to give credit to my guide for the evening, Mr. Earl Debary (DEE-bary), who is one of those people you can't quite believe is standing next to you. I firmly believe he knows everything there is to know about our grand forest, the Big Scrub. He's seen what I will never see, a little like William Bartram all those long years ago traipsing through Florida with eyes of wonder and gratitude. He sounds like people in the woods should sound, saying things like 'the creek's over yonder'. I marvel that this man is my friend. I wish I had only found him sooner. 

Photos from an August night hike out to Lake Eaton in the Ocala National Forest.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Old Florida: Take a left then a right at the Mullet Dip sign.

I came back from Florida last week. I feel it receding from me - a wave on a shoreline. I can only chase it for a minute before it becomes a part of the great, wide ocean. 
Florida is ever so lush this time of year. The daily afternoon thunderstorms make sure of this. While California has eye-popping sunsets, the Florida summer sky almost takes over the horizon, infringing on its earthly compatriot. Those magnificent cumulus clouds demand homage on their sheer magnitude alone.
My cousin and I ventured up the Gulf Coast for a day, it was meant to be 3 days but I got food-poisoning from eating bad oysters. Even this turn in my luck could not diminish the one day we had on the road. I felt so much was packed into that one day. Not only did we see Old Florida, the beauty that most never get to see, we tasted strongly of the friendliness of the people who live there and those just passing through. A man in Apalach, as the natives refer to Apalachicola, told me, "Whenever you're feeling lower than whale manure, you remember that I'm proud of you." I mean, does it get any better than that? I love how a natural openness to 'strangers' was amplified in this place and came back to us tenfold. 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

 Oh, beautiful North Florida.
 Farm on 464B.
 Goethe State Forest. My favorite photo from the trip. 464B.
 Y'all got some mullet dip?
 Heading into Cedar Key.
 Boat tour, Cedar Key.
 Boat tour, Cedar Key.
 Dinner view.
 The Grady Market, Historic building in Apalachicola.
 Sky over the water. Apalachicola.
 Downtown Apalachicola.
 Go Gators!!!
Storm comin' in ....Hwy 27.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Downton Abbey Made Me Do It

This was one of those days when I was feeling a little broke. After paying some pretty hefty bills, I, of course wanted to bake, but I didn't want to spend any money on extra ingredients. On top of that, I was watching Downton Abbey for like the umpteenth time. Some people drink, I watch period dramas. In the scene with Daisy and William's father, he presented her with these delicious looking biscuity-fruity-sconey looking things. (I was quite impressed, actually, that he'd made them himself?! Go, William's Dad!)

Well, I wanted them to be mine, whatever they were. I started perusing scone recipes. I have never made scones because as some of you will agree, most of the scones I've had have been dry, crumbly, give-me-a -glass-of-water-quick lumps. I found several recipes but most called for creme fraiche. I didn't have creme fraiche but I discovered through Chowhound that sour cream is a good substitute for creme fraiche. The recipe also called for dried currants and nonfat buttermilk. Didn't have these either. What I did have were some embarrassingly old dried cranberries and a smidge of full fat milk. I turned the milk into buttermilk with some white vinegar and decided the cranberries would have to do, I mean they were dried after all. Doesn't that mean they last forever? Ha.
These were so incredibly easy to make - easier than biscuits and way, way easier than pie crust!! I gave some away to my neighbor who raved that she didn't even have to put jam on them to make them taste better. My roommate and friend were ravers, too.

Here's the link to the recipe I riffed off of: (I love the tips here for freezing and storing them)
Flour Bakery's Classic Currant Scones

2 3/4 cups (385 grams) unbleached all-purpose f lour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (80 grams) dried cranberries (use whatever dried fruit you've got around, raisins even, or chopped dried apple?)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 114 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
1/2 cup (120 grams) cold buttermilk
Scant 1/2 cup (120 grams) cold sour cream
1 cold egg
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sanding sugar, pearl sugar, or granulated sugar (whatever sugar you've got is totally fine)

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, granulated sugar, and cranberries on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-size pieces are still visible.

In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and whole egg until thoroughly mixed. On low speed, pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour-butter mixture and beat for 20 to 30 seconds, or just until the dough comes together. There will still be a little loose flour mixture at the bottom of the bowl.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Gather and lift the dough with your hands and turn it over in the bowl, so that it starts to pick up the loose flour at the bottom. Turn over the dough several times until all of the loose flour is mixed in.
Dump the dough onto a baking sheet and pat it into an 8-inch circle about 1 inch thick. Brush the egg yolk evenly over the entire top of the dough circle. Sprinkle the sanding sugar evenly over the top, then cut the circle into 8 wedges, as if cutting a pizza. (At this point, the unbaked scones can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. Proceed as directed, baking directly from the freezer and adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time.)
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the entire circle is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, then cut into the pre-scored wedges (the cuts will be visible but will have baked together) and serve.
The scones taste best on the day they are baked, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. If you keep them for longer than 1 day, refresh them in a 300-degree-F oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Or, you can freeze them, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 week; reheat, directly from the freezer, in a 300-degree-F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dressing of Mythic Proportions

My grandmothers were great cooks. Meema was the grand dame of all things sweet, notably her pecan pie and fudge were all-time family favorites. She made notations on the recipes she'd based her recipes from. Another one of her special talents was writing things down.
Nana, on the other hand did not.  However, she made superb Saturday dinners, replete with china, gold silverware and dried flower arrangements. I remember she made the best vegetable soup I ever tasted, the best chocolate cake, the best dumplings, and the best dressing. However, Nana didn't write down her recipes. And by the time I was old enough to care about cooking or even recording family history, Nana was very, very old and simply couldn't remember. Ever since, we've been going off memory. I've found a cake recipe that I think is very similar to hers. We're still working on the dumplings. Meema, again to her credit, managed to get a bit of Nana's dressing recipe written down.

I decided to give it my best shot this Thanksgiving and recreate her dressing based on Meema's notes.

Here's what I came up with:

5 chicken backs
1/4 lb ground pork
1/4 lb ground beef

2 cups onion
2 cups celery
1/2 cup chopped fresh sage
One loaf white bread cubed and toasted
Approximately 3 TBLSP bacon grease or grease from frying 6 strips of bacon
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown chicken backs. Reserve fat in skillet then put chicken backs in a large pot, cover with water, bring to boil. Saute onions and celery in bacon grease and reserved chicken back fat. 

Add ground meats, sage, salt and pepper. Cook til done.

Remove chicken backs from water and reserve the stock you've just made. Remove as much meat as you can from the chicken backs and add to your onion/meat mixture.  

Put this mixture into a large bowl and add your bread cubes.
Measure out 4 cups of the reserved water (stock) and add to mixture. Stir well and put in 13x9 pan. 

Bake at 375 degrees until browned and crunchy on top.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Soda Biscuits

Have you heard of 7UP Biscuits? I hadn't. 7 UP pound cake, yes, but not 7 UP biscuits. When I saw the recipe, I had to have them. NOW. That being said I was not thrilled with the idea of high fructose corn syrup biscuits. Neither did I want to go out and buy Bisquick, the other main ingredient called for in the recipe. What do I need that stuff for?
So I made adjustments, hoping that they would turn out. I was very happy with the results. Next time, I think I might add a bit of lemon extract or lemon zest.

These are so moist and even maintain a modicum of edibility several days after baking, which is quite a feat for biscuits.

Club Soda Biscuits, adapted from a 7 Up Biscuit Recipe.

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sour cream (full fat)
1/2 cup club soda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
*sugar - add whatever amount you're comfortable with.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter in a 9 inch square pan in the oven.
Mix dry ingredients together, then using a pastry knife cut the shortening and sour cream into the mix. Add club soda and mix until dough forms.
Pat dough out into a 9x9 square to fit your pan. Cut biscuits using a pizza cutter. Place cut biscuits in pan and bake until golden brown.