Oct 27, 2010

Walking The High Line: The Alchemy of New York, Part One

Twenty-four hours in New York without the children

Bathed in golden light, the High Line on a fall afternoon sings of endings and rebirth. It's an abandoned train line that has not operated since 1980, part of which has been turned into a park, and the rest will be redeemed from the weeds some day. To walk a couple stories above street level, on train tracks, amongst mounding grasses and masses of asters, is a revelation. You look around to see Chelsea's understory. A giant yellow billboard looms over the path. A decrepit factory invites you not to look in. The parking lot of a wholesale butcher shop, full of gleaming white trucks, lies below.

You're just above the hustle but way below the sky. The buildings and billboards are startlingly close but inaccessible, like strangers wearing sunglasses on the subway. You gaze at the factory's broken windows without knowing why. You admire the sheer size and brashness of the yellow billboard. As you watch, a bride steps out from behind it. The entire bridal party appears; they are having their picture taken.

Everyone walking the High Line looks beautiful: the giggling toddler trying to run away, the elderly woman in a wheelchair being escorted by her son, the film student with his parents, the young African couple taking iPhone pictures. This is their moment, New York's moment, our moment, in the golden sun.

You take a picture of your husband next to the asters, the Hudson River in the background. The picture is a tiny rectangle of versimilitude, a vain attempt to capture the light on his face, the silver in his hair.

You link hands as the shadows fall. It's time for dinner.

Oct 19, 2010

Homemade Feta: The Verdict

All that work, and it's gone already.

The homemade feta ripened in the fridge for five days in a vintage yellow Pyrex container, and yesterday it was deemed ready. I took four cubes of it to my sons' bass teacher and her chef husband. The rest I crumbled over roast eggplant, peppers, and sweet potatoes, and served over farro penne. I had roasted the veggies earlier and just warmed them in the oven with a little balsamic vinegar. My sons loved the feta and couldn't stay away from it before dinner. Unfortunately, a good number of the vegetables just got moved around on the plates instead of eaten. Mr. Dream Kitchen did a much better job of eating his veggies.

The cheese is very white and firm. It tastes so fresh. It's not brine-logged and half-dissolving like storebought can be. In fact, the instructions said not to brine this. Instead, I sprinkled it with Kosher salt when I first put it in the fridge. The verdict is: an unequivocable thumbs up.

In other news, three issues of Martha Stewart LIVING have inexplicably arrived at our house in the last week, bearing my name. Is someone trying to tell me something, and if so, what?

Oct 18, 2010

Cicchetteria 19: Warm Mixed Olives and a Negroni

You will recall that last year the Dream Kitchen family tried something new on my birthday, going out to eat as a family at an interesting city restaurant with great food instead of getting a sitter. We had a great time at Distrito, sitting in a pink car. Everyone loved it. It didn't hurt that a Phillies game was showing on a huge screen, either.

It's such a satisfying moment, when you realize that the kids are big enough to behave themselves and enjoy real food. No coloring books needed! And a restaurant with small plates is perfect for tasting new dishes. This year I had bought a Groupon for a new restaurant called Cicchetteria 19, on 19th St. just south of Rittenhouse Square, right across from Metropolitan Bakery. No pink car, here. Just a small neighborhood restaurant, exactly the right size. We were led to a bar-height table with stools. We had a good view of--yes--the Phillies game. I love when the Phils are still playing when my birthday rolls around.

Cicchetteria 19 is Venetian, so I ordered an Italian cocktail called a Negroni, which is gin, vermouth, and Campari. I tried Campari in Rome once, which I thought too bitter for human consumption. So much for my dream to be the kind of person who can order a Campari and soda in a breezy, confident way. In this case, the sweetness of the vermouth and juniper of the gin counteracted the bitterness nicely, the aftertaste reminding me a little of liquorice. The first sip went down nice and warm. Mr. Dream Kitchen got a decent mojito, another traditional Italian drink, no doubt. Mojitio? Mojitonio? It wasn't as strong as the Negroni, sorry dear.

We decided to get one appetizer, one pizza, and five small plates.

Appetizer: Calamari, thinly sliced and quickly sauteed, a delicate texture.

Pizza Alice (ALL-EECH-AY): Pizza with French fries on top. Really. Very thin-crusted with meltingly perfect cheese. I've looked it up, and the name doesn't seem to be used anywhere else as far as I can tell.

Five small plates:

Artichoke/tuna pate on toast (will explain the Artichoke-Tuna Incident shortly)
Meatballs made w/ aged beef
Warm mixed olives in olive oil and lemon juice
Carpacchio of the day: Octopus, sliced super thin, with peppery greens
Crocque Monsieur

Also, they brought us two baskets of warm toasted bread brushed with olive oil.

We were all in a happy place, for sure. The boys have a new understanding of what a meatball can be, and I've resolved to make some soon. For some reason I never have. The olives were heavenly. Eating warm mixed olives and drinking a Negroni, with my family, in Philly with a postseason game on the tube, created quite a frisson, the perfect union between local and cosmopolitan, coziness and adventure, old and new.

And like any perfect evening, it wan't perfect. We ordered artichoke pate on toast. "This tastes like tunafish!" each of us said upon the first bite. The server looked highly skeptical and after a very long time, long after we had consumed the tunafish, she offhandedly explained, "It was just a kitchen error." No apology or assurance that the correct dish was forthcoming. After another eternity, the artichoke pate arrived, again without apology. It's not in good form for a server to blame the kitchen. But oh, well. More food for us!

Plates clean, it was time to make a decision. I also had a Groupon for Scoop DeVille, and the boys wanted to go there instead of ordering a Nutella Pizza with Strawberries.


Ice cream has evolved way past Scoop DeVille since I last went there (which was probably in the 1980s), and with Capogiro in the neighborhood, it's criminal to go anywhere else, let alone to a place that serves just okay ice cream blended with a bunch of stuff, in a styrofoam cup. Then again, Capogiro is not offering Groupons.

We got to walk through Rittenhouse Square on the way to and from Cicchetteria. The usual collection of pampered small dogs were walking their well-dressed owners. A young man held a big pet rabbit like a baby, garnering a guaranteed "aw-w-w" from passersby.

And as a special bonus, we got a free ride in on the train. Our conductor was terribly confused by our family pass arrangement, which I now suspect SEPTA has abolished in their recent misconceived fare adjustments. Mr. Dream Kitchen's Trailpass is (was?) supposed to give the rest of our family half off train fare on the weekends. The conductor turned pink trying to do the math, said he'd come back and never did. Disembarking at Suburban Station, we could hear him explaining our situation to another conductor. We just kept walking, therefore getting a free ride. If you ever see our pictures on a WANTED poster put out by the SEPTA Police, just give me a shout-out, okay?

Oct 15, 2010

Whey Bread: An Old Tradition that You Never Knew About

Cheesemaking results in lots of whey. I made ricotta from the Gouda whey, you'll recall. Whey helps to regulate insulin and is a great source of proteins, minerals, vitamins, and lactose. One hates to waste a single thing in this cheesemaking process.

What follows is my digression-laced recipe for Whey Bread. It evolved from my ever-handy foolproof One-a-Day Baguette recipe. It has evolved so far that it bears about as much resemblance to the baguette as we bear a resemblance to Neanderthals, and I mean no insult to either baguettes or Neanderthals.

In this case I used goat's milk whey, which has a fuller flavor than cow's milk whey. I hesitate to use the adjective "goaty," which seems a lot like "stinky" or "yucky." In this case, you can taste the goat's milk flavor, but only if you think about it, and it adds a warm depth to the bread. Baking whey into bread is an old tradition in Spain and no doubt in many other places where they harvest grain and herd cows and goats.

This is a nice sturdy loaf, good for sandwiches. Mr. Picky ate a big slice of it, toasted and buttered, for breakfast.

Lauren's Whey Bread (makes two loaves)

3 cups whey
2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups unbleached regular flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons salt

Lightly oil two loaf pans.

Warm up the whey in a medium bowl in the microwave for about a minute and half. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the top and let it proof for 4 or 5 minutes. Here's where I was flummoxed: the yeast did not foam like it always does. It kind of sank but I soldiered on because The Internet had no answers for me. But I know the yeast is good. It never fails to proof.

While this is proofing, or whatever it's doing, go ahead and put four cups of flour, doesn't matter which type, in your largest bowl. Put the other four cups in a medium bowl and mix it with the salt. This way you are ready to mix everything together and you needed something to do, anyway, in those four or five minutes. Getting everything ready is called mise en place, which, when I do it, makes me feel extremely good, bordering on smug.

Turn on some music now, if you want, because your hands will be busy and floury for a few minutes. I like Radio Paradise.

Okay, pour the whey mixture into the 4 cups of flour in the large bowl. Mix it with a wooden spoon,without overmixing. Add the flour and salt mixture and either mix with your hands (what I always do) or mix with the wooden spoon. You may need to add a little water because you need for it to be a big shaggy ball. I doubt you'll need to add flour.

Put the dough on a lightly floured counter or board and knead it for about 10 minutes. If the phone rings or you don't like the song you're listening to, tough.

Lightly oil yet another large bowl. Roll the dough in the oil and cover with a wet dishtowel. You may have to let the dough rise up to three hours. It may not exactly double, but don't worry about it. Cut it in half with a bench knife or just a big old hefty knife, and place the dough in the loaf pans. Let them rise again, maybe an hour or even two. Until they've risen a bit.

Bake them in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. They should be golden brown. Cool on racks. Freeze one for later.

Oct 13, 2010

On Making Feta

Yesterday was Feta Cheese Day at the Dream Kitchen. Roxane returned, bringing her mesophilic starter and cheese curd knife (really just a long offset spatula), and a special surprise. Tucked inside a canvas tote, swathed in a dishcloth, resting pretty in a salad spinner basket, was our little Blanche. "Blanche" is what we named last week's Gouda. She is now a lovely buttery yellow wheel of actual cheese. She needs to be waxed in a few weeks and then aged a couple of months. Blanche hibernates in Roxane's coldest kitchen cupboard. No doubt she overhears a lot of conversations,and maybe she'll be talking one day herself. Watch what you say, Roxane and family.

The feta was simpler to make than the Gouda, no changes in temperature, just about 86 degrees the whole time, with less messing about with the curds and whey. As with all cheesemaking, we had to maintain the right temperature and wait around in a semi-vigilant state. That's why it's good to make cheese with a friend so you have plenty of time to critique the child-rearing strategies of your acquaintances, or deconstruct the public school system's latest pedagogy du jour. We were more relaxed, this being the second cheese and all, and actually sat down for a few minutes.

After a couple hours of warming, mixing, cutting curds, and waiting some more, we hung the curds in cheesecloth over the sink. Roxane went home, and five hours later I took out the cheese, which was recognizably feta--firm and white with those tiny holes in it. I cut it into one-inch cubes and liberally Kosher-salted it. It will be ready after four to five days of refrigeration. By the way, it's against Dream Kitchen policy to name feta.

P.S. You will note that the human=cheese metaphor kind of stopped when it came to waxing and aging. Thought you'd appreciate that.

Oct 8, 2010

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

--For they shall be the very first to buy rennet at their local health food store, and hence be followed to the cash register by the manager, who pondereth the reason in his heart.

--For they shall dirty many more pans and bowls than they thought possible.

--For they shall run out into the yard like madwomen, wash bricks, and bring them inside to press the cheese, because the book says so. All the while, the flashing neon "Thou shouldst get a job, girl!" sign doth flash in their minds.

--For after hours of heating, temperature-taking, separating, and draining, they shall see how small, nay, how very dinky, said cheese will actually be.

Lo, the cheesemakers hath removed the bricks, lifted the cheese gently out of the strainer, and gazed upon this small white disc wrapped in muslin. They hath named it "Blanche," of the tribe of Gouda. Anything that taketh so long, and shall not be mature for, yea, many months, must be worth naming.

And--hark, the time of feta was not yet. 'Tis actually now going to be next Wednesday, because one of the cheesemaker's daughters forgot her hockey uniform and needed it right away. But the health food store manager, truly a righteous man of cheese, had kindly brought out the freshest goat milk, so the time of expiration is not yet nigh, glory be.


Are you ready for me to stop talking like this? Me too. Let's just say there is a reason those little cheeses at the farmers markets cost so much. But my friend Roxane and I had a great time catching up with each other, and it's really kind of fun in an I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing kind of way. We did have Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll as our guidebook. She'a apparently the doyenne, the maven, the master of cheesemaking in the U.S. I even made ricotta with the leftover whey and it was delicious on penne mixed with a little garlic, salt, and fresh grated Pecorino.

Lo, on Wednesday, there shall be feta . . . .

Oct 1, 2010

Oatmeal Two Ways

Check out this way to make oatmeal . . . it's even better than the usual way. I got this recipe from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, an eye-opening book that I started reading two days ago. I'm not prepared to comment much about the book as a whole just yet, but try this oatmeal and get back to me, OK? Apparently fermenting grains is an ancient tradition that we should get back to, for nutritional reasons. I changed some of the wording for clarity.

Breakfast Porridge (adapted from Nourishing Traditions, p. 455)

Serves 4 [in my family, serves 2]

1 cup oats, rolled or cracked [not quick oats]
1 cup warm filtered water
2 tablespoons yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt {I will use half this next time]

next day:

1 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon flax seeds (optional) [I didn't use]

Mix the oats, yogurt, and 1 cup of warm water the night before and leave out on the counter, covered. In the morning, bring another cup of water to a boil with the sea salt. Add the soaked oats and simmer four minutes or so. Let sit off heat for a little. Now listen to what Sally Fallon says. Are you sitting down? "Serve with plenty of butter or cream and a natural sweetener." I love this woman!

Speaking of butter, today four sticks of butter were harmed in the making of my version of Vanishing Cookies, from the Quaker Oatmeal boxtop. These cookies will be sold tomorrow at the Swarthmore Presbyterian Fall Fair, along with my rendering of Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Gingerbread, which I'm obsessed with. I've written about this before.

Here is the original recipe. Again, I always use half the salt. I have also learned that the recipe can handle twice the amount of raisins. Today instead of raisins I added one cup each of toasted walnuts, Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips, a cup of their white chocolate chips, and one cup dried cranberries. I'm going to make sure we charge a bundle for these cookies! We tier the pricing based on what we think (or know) the ingredients and level of sophistication to be. It's a quirky process, full of conjecture.

They're all baked and I'm tired. Flour is all over my kitchen and I need to make the icing for the chocolate gingerbread.