The Weekend that Was

May 5, 2014

James Beard Award weekend in New York is always exhilarating and exhausting. Endless parties lasting late into the night.  Chefs filling up every restaurant.  Too much food. Too much wine.  I love it.

But the highlight of my weekend was a stroll around the lower east side, visiting my favorite food places with a group of new friends.  We began at Katz's – of course – and some of their tender, spicy, irresistible pastrami.  Just walking into that enormous room packed with raucous people makes me insanely happy.  The walls throb with that intense scent of smoke, salt, pepper, garlic, spices and then, somewhere, like a reverberating backnote, the richness of beef.

Afterward we went down the street to Russ and Daughters, where we ate – what else? – some herring,  while Niki Russ Federman told great stories about growing up in the shop she now runs.

Herring

Then it was on to Deluxe Foods, a fantastic Chinese market where we feasted on 

Duck

roast duck and the most delicious roasted pork belly.  Not to mention tendon, with its wonderful texture, and scallion chicken so soft and silky it literally melted in our mouths.  We ended with their spectacular just-made char shiu.

Then it was on to Di Palo's, Yhst-19848659287055_2250_68479096

where we drank wine and ate spectacular cheeses for a very long time.  A new discovery for me: Camembert di Bufala – a rich, runny cheese that seemed less like its namesake and much more like the infinitely more delicious Epoisses.

By then it was late, and dark, and I said good-bye to the group and walked up the street to Estella, where almost every table was occupied by someone who'd come to town for the Beard awards. (Restaurant people included Nick Kokonas (Alinea), Daniel Patterson (Coi), and Sean Brock (Husk, etc). 

We were all there because the food is so impressive. Fascinating flavor combinations and very precise and careful cooking.  My pictures, I'm sorry to say, are terrible: this mussel escabeche is the best of the lot, which tells you something.  This seemed more like a panzanella made with mussels than a true escabeche, but it was wonderful. Mussels

So was beef tartare, studded with crisp little bits of pungent sunchoke,  and kampachi tartare popping with tart tiny squares of apple and singing with yuzu.  There was a wonderfully musky aroz negro, dense with squid ink, and this celery salad, dotted with mint and cave-aged cheese:

Celery
 

and these lamb ribs scented with charmoula:

Lamb

Lovely food. Lovely evening.

On Sunday, more food people gathered for a friends and family brunch at the new Russ and Daughters Cafe. It's a lovely place, respectful of its origins, lovingly put together (note the marble floors, the poppyseed wallpaper in the bathroom, the comfortable stools). The counter in front looks a innocent as an old-fashioned soda fountain, but it actually functions more like a bar where elaborate drinks are carefully concocted. This cherry shrub was shot through with hints of pepper:

Shrub

The food is also very respectful of history. Lots of smoked salmon and herring. Some chopped liver. Matzo brei. Eggs. Not to mention the best rye bread I've ever eaten: dense with a deeply fermented flavor, this is bread that makes you understand why it's called the staff of life.  Made from an 80 year old starter, it is, literally, the taste of tradition.

Bread
The bread is perfect with this rich, smoky, delicous whitefish chowder: Soup

Leaving, we walked across the island in sunshine. Then, in the middle of Chinatown, sun still shining bright in the sky, it suddenly started to rain. Everyone looked up, startled, and laughed. We were wet by the time we arrived at Barbuto, where chefs drank endless glasses of rose, ate lovely little tidbits – and talked about where they were going to eat dinner.

Me?  I ended up at The Breslin with these people – and 20 or so other friends – eating this crisp little roast piglet. 

Pig

And just because I like this picture, here I am a week ago at the Time 100 Gala, toasting honoree Alice Waters.

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Where I Write

May 2, 2014

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Been doing a lot of interviews lately, and one of the questions that keeps coming up is this: "Where do you write?"

This is the answer: a little cabin in the woods in the foothills of the Berkshires. From my window I can look down at the pond below and the catskills off in the distance.  Deer come crashing through the trees. Birds perch on the roof. Occasionally a chipmunk hops up the steps and peers inside.

There's no internet, and the only heat is a wood-burning stove.  My daily ritual begins with building a fire, coaxing the flames to catch the logs, then making sure it doesn't die.  Amazing how much heat you can get from one small stove; on even the snowiest days, by the time dark falls it's so warm I have to open up the windows. 

It's peaceful in here.  I sit in this quiet place, waiting for the characters to come and talk to me, tell me what they're thinking. There is no place I would rather be. 

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A WWII Recipe Classic

May 1, 2014

Woolton pie was THE dish that every British person thought of when remembering what they'd eaten during the war. Named after the Minister of Food, Frederick Marquis, 1st Lord Woolton, it was that beloved British savory, the meatpie – with no meat and no pie. What it had was lots of vegetables.

Lord Woolton was a great showman. He was often photographed eating his namesak dish with great apparent pleasure. 

Woolton Pie

The Official Recipe, as published in the Times of London, April 26, 1941 

Take 1 Ib each of diced potatoes, cauliflower, swedes (ie. turnips), and carrots; 

Three or Four spring onions;

One teaspoonful of vegetable extract and

One teaspoonful of oatmeal.

 

Cook all together for ten minutes with just enough water to cover.

Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking.

Allow to cool; put into a pie dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and cover with a crust of potatoes or wholemeal pastry.

Bake in a moderate oven until the pastry is nicely brown and serve hot with brown gravy.

  

The American translation, as printed in many wartime cookbooks. This is the version Lulu would most likely have made.

Woolton Pie

1 lb potatoes

2 lb carrots

1 lb mushrooms

1 small leek

2oz margarine or chicken fat

2 spring onions

Salt, pepper, nutmeg, chopped parsley

Bunch of herbs made of 1 small bay leaf, 1 small spring of thyme, parsley and celery.

 

Peel the potatoes and carrots, and cut them into slices the thickness of an old penny. Wash them well and dry in a tea-cloth. Fry them separately in a frying pan with a little chicken fat.

Do the same for the mushrooms, adding the finely chopped onions and leeks.

Mix them together and season with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and roughly chopped parsley.

Fill a pie dish with this mixture, placing the bundle of herbs in the middle. Moisten with a little giblet stock or water. Allow to cool. Cover with a pastry crust made from half beef suet or chicken fat and half margarine.

Bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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