Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sweet as pie

My sweetie has been invited to a coworker's for Thanksgiving, since he will be in Seattle, far from home. He has gotten it into his head that he wants to make an apple pie with cheddar cheese crust to bring with him. Here is the list of items he bought to make this pie:

Cheddar cheese
Pie plate
Box grater
Cookie sheet

He did not buy a peeler: he's peeling the apples with a knife.

He also did not buy a rolling pin: he's using a bottle he has lying around.

He did not buy a food processor: I have coached him over the phone in the fine art of making a pie crust by hand.

He did not buy butter: it's the only ingredient he already had.

I am going to his family's for Thanksgiving, and I am making the same pie. Here is the list of items I have bought:

Cheddar cheese

The contrast makes me laugh. Now, I understand that part of the problem is that he is living a sparse existence without any of his stuff: his stuff is currently in storage and will be moved to Seattle with me. But believe me, I visited his apartment before he moved, and he would still probably have had to buy all these items except for the pie plate and possibly sugar. In the entire two years we've been together, I can remember him cooking only once.

Nevertheless, all attempts to suggest that he might try something slightly less complicated and which does not require quite so much equipment--such as a nice cobbler, or a simple cake--were roundly rejected. The suggestion that he perhaps use a pre-made crust was scoffed at. This is Something He Wants to Do. He is even making a test pie as I type, to work out the kinks before Thanksgiving.

I have only two things to say: 1) he's adorable; and 2) this is what happens when a man has no TV.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tomatoes (Reprise)

So, you might remember my perennial tomato plant. I bought this plant in the spring of 2006 and have nursed it ever since. Sometime in April 2007, I got sick of having it block my door, so I moved it outside.

Who knew? Turned out the tomato plant loved being outside. It started producing tomatoes like nobody's business. I picked several batches off the thing, and it kept producing. I made tomato bruschetta. I ate tomatoes every morning with my English muffin. I never quite got enough at one time to make tomato sauce--the tomatoes it produces are pretty small, so I'd need a couple dozen at once to make any quantity of sauce--but I think it did pretty well. I always had four or five ripe; twice this summer I had over a dozen ripe at once (hence the bruschetta).

Now it is November, though. The plant it too unwieldy to move back inside, and frankly, there's no point. I am not moving that plant to Seattle with me. It's had a productive, long life. So I have decided to leave it out there to die. But it has been an unusually warm fall; the plant refuses to die. It sits out there, determinedly alive, demanding that I continue watering it.

This weekend, it is supposed to dip below freezing at last. I decided I'd better pick off the last tomatoes. I figure I can make something that calls for green tomatoes, and I don't want them to be spoiled by freezing. I put on my jacket, and went out on the balcony. I picked.

Seriously: 40 tomatoes. 40! Five are ripe, the others green. I think I will make this.

Subway musings

Now, I know I have said I will miss the subway. The truth is, I don't take the subway very much. I am one of those lucky New Yorkers who can walk to work. When I need to go any distance I take buses as often as subways. Nonetheless, after eleven years here, like any New Yorker, I am proud of our subway. Yes, it sometimes runs frustratingly late. Yes, it's often packed tight like a can of sardines. But: it runs 24 hours, 365 days a year. It costs a mere $2 to go anywhere in the city, even an hour and a half from Manhattan (though that may change to $2.25 soon). You really can live a very active full life without a car in New York City, and that's mostly because there's a very good subway. These are three things you cannot always say about the public transportation in most other cities I have visited, around the world. Have you been to London lately? $8 to ride the Tube, and that's only if you stick to Central London. Boston? Don't stay out too late, or you'll be calling a cab home.

Another thing about the subway, something many writers have waxed poetic about, is that everybody takes the subway. Wall Street investment bankers and janitors are often literally cheek-by-jowl on the subway. Once I took the subway out to Flushing, Queens, and was astonished that, by the time I got off, all seventeen people in the car, including myself, were Asian. Yet the neighborhood I got off in? Purely Latino. This is cool. This is unique to New York.

It gives you chance to see all kinds of humanity in action, as it were. About two or three times a week I take the subway under my office building. If you stay there for any amount of time (read: the train is slow in coming), you start to see people doing the lean: they lean over the edge of platform and peer down the tunnel to see if the train is coming. The more people collected on the platform, the more impatient and aggressive the leaning. Oh, you can lean into empty space aggressively, let me assure you. New Yorkers will show that train they mean business, damn it!

Periodically when I am waiting on the platform, doing the lean or not, a man will come walking down the platform, talking very loudly to no one. I do not know if he is homeless or mentally ill: I hope so, frankly, and it's not just that he enjoys making people uncomfortable. He will walk the length of the platform (I've never seen him get on a train), lecturing about the evils of women. He will quote passages of the Bible (usually Isaiah) which sound bogus to me. (I'm not a Bible expert, but spend enough time in grad school in English and you become pretty familiar with the misogynist quotes from it, at least.) He will shout at the top of his lungs about how women are evil, and men would be generally much better off if women didn't exist.

Shouting homeless people are not a rare occurrance in NYC, but this last time I saw him, my attention was caught by the reactions of people on the platform.

Despite my years in grad school, I'm not someone who spends a great deal of time bemoaning how much harder life is for women than for men. Different things are hard for different people, and everyone's just trying to be happy. But it is true that I've yet to see a homeless woman pacing a platform and screaming about how men should be wiped from the earth. I'm not saying they don't feel this way, they just don't act it out in the same way.

Anyway, so I stood there, watching the poeple on the platform. Like true New Yorkers, no one spoke to him. No one engaged him. People, for the most part, ignored him. They studiously waited for the train to come.

The men: kept talking to each other. Glanced at him and chuckled. Didn't seem to notice him at all. Went on reading their newspapers. Kept doing the lean.

The women: kept talking to each other. Didn't glance at him. Didn't chuckle. Pretended not to notice him. Went on reading their newspapers. And every one of them, every one...slowly, casually....stepped away from the edge.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Calm...for now

Last night, Shirley and Laura (my two charming bridesmaids) and I went to Battery Gardens for my tasting. We tried a multitude of items in order to decide what we should serve at the wedding.

We were served everything in a plated format, though my sweetie and I ultimately decided we want a buffet. Therefore, some of the items we tried, despite being delicious, are not available to us because they would not translate well into a buffet.

However, by far our favorite thing of the night, the braised short ribs, is buffetable, and I jumped all over it. It has a lovely Asian-sweet flavor, and reminds me very strongly of something my mom makes.

We didn't taste it last night, but Battery Gardens also offers the option of a Peking duck carving station. I love Peking duck; one of the reasons I wanted to choose this venue was that option.

Here's our menu for the evening:

Starters (don't get attached: not of these are buffetable):
Classic Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Asparagus
Pan Seared Scallops, Avocado Pear Salsa & Champagne Grape Reduction
Pekytoe Crab Cakes, Red Cabbage Slaw, Chipotle Sauce

Salads (I loved both these salads, and happily, we can serve both):
Mizuna Greens with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pignoli Nuts and Coffee Vinaigrette
Baby Mixed Greens with Dried Cherries, Walnuts and Guava Vinaigrette

Penne Pasta with Wild Mushrooms, Sliced Cherry Tomatoes, Baby Arugula, Pesto Sauce
Orecchiette Pasta with Artichokes, Tomatoes, Garlic and Olives

Main Courses:
Boneless Braised Beef Short Ribs, Basmati Rice, Bok Choy and Scallions
Hazelnut Crusted Filet Mignon, Potato Gratin, Haricots Verts, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Sauce
Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass, Miso Glaze, Jasmine Rice, Haricots Verts, Shiitake Mushrooms

Desserts (again, don't get attached: we are planning to have cannolis and cream puffs instead of wedding cake, and therefore elected not to have additional desserts)
New York Cheesecake with Blueberry Compote and Fruit Coulis
Tiramisu with Chocolate Biscotti (in a chocolate tulip)
Chocolate Ganache Cake

Petit Fours and Coffee

Needless to say, we were stuffed.

I have to say, the evening went very, very well. Our catering manager, Alex, was extremely helpful and accommodating. He answered all my questions, he took copious notes about my preferences; he has obviously done this a million times and seen everything. I have lately been freaking out a little bit, not sure how I will be able to get everything done, not sure how I will be able to focus on every detail. Meeting with Alex reassured me that there are some details I can let go. Regardless of what else I manage to do, we will have good food, a lovely space, and a well-organized event. What more is really necessary?

Friday, November 02, 2007


I have a nostalgia for New York City. No, I haven't left yet, and I have had this nostalgia for some years already. It's a nostalgia for old New York. Early 20th century New York. The New York of immigrants, tenements, the Empire State Building, The Godfather Part 2. Jews and Italians and Irishmen. The first year or so I lived here, my roommate brought home a Vanity Fair article about Claudette Colbert. In it, Colbert was quoted as always crediting her famous legs to the five flights of stairs she had to climb each day in the tenement her family lived in when they came from France in 1918. The address of the building was the same as ours; we lived on the fifth floor. Our apartment had clearly never been renovated with anything more than a coat (or two, or twenty) of paint in its long decades of existence. Knowing Claudette Colbert might once have lived there made the dingy space just a little bit more romantic.

I think in some ways New York is so deeply ingrained in the American consciousness as the quintessential place where everything came from, even though so many of us didn't, that I think I would feel this even if I had never lived here. But having lived here, books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I reread a couple years ago for the first time since I was a kid) and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay just have a special resonance. I hope I never lose that.

Modern New York, though, can be maddening. There’s too much daily in-your-face interaction to really inspire nostalgia. There will be things I miss, of course—my favorite restaurants, the odd little shops, the subway (yes, I will miss the subway and its ability to create a carless life)—but for the most part I don’t expect to feel the particular romance of nostalgia for the place. I am ready to leave.

This wedding planning, however, has brought me face-to-face with some of Old New York. Even as wedding planning seems so dependent on the Internet (I cannot imagine how I might have done it without access to all of the info on the web—I found my venue, my invitations, my shoes, my jewelry, my photographer, my florist, my DJ, all on the web. I even found my fiance on the web!), at the same time it taps into old ways of doing things that we never bother with unless we are planning a wedding. The most obvious of these is fretting over “etiquette,” but in New York at least, there are lovelier examples, such as the window into the world of the jewelry makers on Diamond Row that I’ve already blogged about. Sitting in their workshops, I felt I was watching jewelers working as they have worked for generations, whether fresh off the boat from Europe or off the train from Long Island.

Last night, I had an appointment with a seamstress. I bought my dress many months ago in a frenzy at the Filene’s sale (very modern New York!), but now I need to have it altered. I don’t think a great deal needs to be done, but it does need to be shortened, and the hips need to be taken in. I found the seamstress via a referral from my friend Phoebe (oddly enough, the roommate who brought home that Vanity Fair article years ago), who got maried in April. The seamstress’s name is Kiki, and she has a studio on the Upper East Side.

The Upper East Side is the Old New York, not of immigrants and tenements, but of Astors and Vanderbilts. The seamstress’s studio is less than a block from Central Park. The building is an elegant old five-story building with the kind of elevator with the grille you draw closed before pressing the button. You can watch the floors go by, if that sort of thing doesn’t terrify you. When you get to the top, you cannot open the door until Kiki comes, because it opens right into her studio.

Kiki herself was not at all what I expected. She’s an older woman, perhaps in her fifties, with an unidentified European accent. She was dressed in an elegant black pantsuit, with a colorful but tasteful silk scarf draped around her neck and little gold-rimmed spectacles. She showed me into her office, a neat space with a couple computers and a handful of wedding dresses hanging on a rack, and gave me a few bridal magazies to look at while she wrapped up with the client still in the other room.

In a few minutes, I was shown into the other room, a large, well-lit space with a hardwood floor, a couch, a coffee table, and dais in the middle of the room, facing a mirrored wall. Around the dais was a white sheet, presumably to keep your dress’s train clean. Nowhere in either of these two rooms did I see a sewing machine, or any other implements of her craft. Everything was clean and spare, and very peaceful. It was dead silent: no music, no traffic noise, nothing. Yet it was also quintessentially New York—a personalized business on the fifth floor of what appeared to be a residential building. So many businesses I’ve visited in this process have not had storefronts or signs or advertising. You find it because you are looking for it and have been told it’s there. It is the ultimate in nonsuburban living.

I put on the dress, my lovely red shoes (which Kiki exclaimed over with gratifying enthusiasm) and ascended the dais. Kiki began pinning while I admired myself in the mirror. It felt very old-fashioned, in this off-the-rack world, to have someone working to hand-sew an expensive dress to fit me and me alone. I’ve had things altered before, of course—pants shortened at the dry cleaner, that sort of thing. But this was an entirely different experience. It was luxurious. It was extravagant. In that quiet, peaceful space I could imagine myself as an Edith Wharton heroine having a dress made for the ball of her life.

I’ve been feeling a bit impatient with the wedding planning recently: I miss my sweetie and want to get on with it, already. But things like this remind me that this is my wedding, and it’s not just a giant money-suck and stress-inducer. It’s also the chance of a lifetime to do things that I have never done, and see a world I’ve never seen. Could I live in a world of couture gowns, expensive jewelry and extravagant parties every day? I doubt it. But this one time, I’m going to revel in it, and soak up as much of Old New York as I can while I am at it.