Archive for the ‘no recipe’ Category

oh la vache!

I really get a kick out of being a foodie and my newly-minted status as a food blogger. I get excited when I receive food samples to try. Even when they don’t turn out to be very good. So I was particularly excited when I received not one, but two packages on the same day. One from Ermitage, the other from Stonyfield Farm.


Back in June, I submitted to Ermitage my zucchini raclette tart recipe (props to Natalie of 5-Star Foodie for inspiring the recipe). This French company makes a lot of kosher French and Swiss cheeses like raclette that they import, and they sent me this little cow timer as a merci.

La vache l'ermitage

This cow makes me laugh so much because even thought it’s a mere kitchen timer, when you click on the Ermitage link, there is a little video of mooing cows making French puns…when cows moo in French, they apparently say meuh, which sounds like “mais” – which means “but” and is part of an emphatic expression “mais oui” – but of course! — or “mais non” – of course not! Ok, it’s not so funny when you explain it to death (or at a dinner party like I tried to do after receiving my little vache timer …). But listen to the mooing cows on the Ermitage site. And think of me giggling.

And giggling.

And giggling.

Vachement très drôle. Truly very funny.

Apparently Ermitage is a fan of word plays (or maybe it’s just all French) – check out the tagline on their stamp: Prenez l’air, prenez l’Ermitage – take flight, take l’Ermitage (the cheese). Or maybe it means something different – Frenchies…please help here!

Prenez l'air, prenez l'Ermitage

Prenez l'air, prenez l'Ermitage

I guess I picked up an affinity for trying to figure out some of these French puns of sort when I started learning them in high school as a way to learn French pronunciation. The first one I mastered was that “un oeuf is enough.”

As for Stonyfield Farms, no puns here. Just a lot more vaches. And some coupons.

Stonyfield Farm

I was contacted by Stonyfield out of the blue because they found me while looking for kosher blogs (!!) and wanted me to test their relatively new line of kosher, organic, Greek yogurt called Oikos. I warned their PR person that I would not guarantee a good review. I plan to taste the yogurt plain and to probably make one sweet dish, one savory dish (mmm…tzatziki?) to test it out.

It has taken me some time to get around to this because I went on a few little vacations, but I’ve been walking around with these Oikos coupons in my wallet and can’t wait to pick up the yogurt when I have a chance. And I am also at work on a more formalized policy on how to work with companies that approach me for product reviews or endorsements.

In the meantime, feel free to send me your favorite Greek yogurt recipes and French puns.

A bientôt, mes amis.

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the hummus

From the outside, The Hummus (18090 Collins Ave, Sunny Isles Beach, FL; 305.974.0031) looks like it might be just another of the trendy hummus houses that have popped up all over NY in the past few years (my favorite being Hummus Place in my old ‘hood). With a sign above the door that says “Fresh Hummus, Healthy Proteins” and the emphasis is on the nutritional value of the chickpea, this newly opened niche player is aimed at a vegetarian and health-conscious clientele.


Walk in, and there is a bright friendly Miami vibe and a distinctive Israeli feel. The color scheme is apple green (or, what I personally call Kate Spade green) from the walls to the chairs. The A/C is on, but the door is open to let in the breeze just a block off the Atlantic in this strip mall (location might not be ideal, especially being perpendicular to Collins, but that’s kind of par for the course here in Sunny Isles, and this aint South Beach). And of course there’s a bar with high stools, wifi, and a laptop browsing Ynet (English version here).

I wasn’t sure what to order and stared at the menu in English and Hebrew on the wall for a few minutes, finally querying, “hummus shakshuka?” at this combination of familiar favorites. Alon, who I would soon learn is the owner-chef, said that it is their specialty and to the best of his knowledge, he is the first person to put these two dishes together. That was enough to convince me to try it along with some lemonana (lemonade with nana, fresh mint).

I felt perfectly comfortable walking in, dropping down my backpack, and plugging in my computer. Before I was even able to log on to the free wifi, setting up to do a little work out of the beating-down sun, Yael the waitress, set down several small dishes: pickles and marinated olives with lemon rind, radishes and onions, and seasoned toasted pita. Admittedly, I mainly nibbled on the pickles and olives.

little dishes

When my steaming hummus shakshuka was ready, Yael looked at my table already scattered with my papers and laptop and said, “Eh, there’s no place for your food,” and I promptly moved my bags over and pushed my computer to the edge. She serves everything up with a sweet but no-nonsense, “B’seder?” — Is everything OK? — and the patrons nod, already too engrossed in their food to mutter much more than a grunt and a simple non-verbal cue and a smile.

hummus shakshuka

I started by dipping the fresh pita, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, into the center of the plate, scooping up some slightly runny egg bathed in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce. A great shakshuka reminiscent of what I’ve eaten in Tel Aviv. Eventually I made my way towards the outside to hummus, mixing it with a bit of the sauce, another good combo, essentially a fresh, warm, dense hummus with matbucha. I couldn’t finish everything on my plate, and brought home nearly a pint of hummus and sauce which my family later devoured.

When my snapping pictures of all the food (including standing on chairs) made it clear to owner-chef Alon that I was more than a mere hummus consumer, he insisted that I try some falafel – refusing to take no for an answer when I explained that I was already quite full.

I passed up a full order…

falafel and tehina, hummus pitriot (with mushroom-onion stew)

falafel and tehina, hummus pitriot (with mushroom-onion stew)

… but did accept the filfil (singular of falafel) that he had fried up special for me.

030 crop sharpgreen

The falafel crust was uber crispy – the way it’s supposed to be (not baked the way that Chickpea in NY does it) — without being greasy. When I commented that the falafel was green the way I like it — Alon, eager to share his love of food and recipes, explained that there are two types of falafel: Egyptian which is completely green and made from fava beans, and Lebanese which is yellow and made purely from chickpeas. He said that most Israeli falafel is a mixture of both fava beans and chick peas, and that’s how he makes it. I had actually always thought that the green color came from parsley and other spices.

While I could had no room for dessert, I couldn’t resist one final picture of a gorgeous malabi, an almond pudding, covered with rose water sauce, that one of my neighboring diners ordered.


While there is a familiar and homey feeling to the restaurant, I did stop short of asking my neighbor if I could grab a spoon and taste his dessert, so unfortunately I can’t report on how the malabi tasted.

The restaurant was a bit empty when I arrived around 11:30, but as I sat working on my computer, there was a rush of quick business lunches and beach picnic-ers around noon. And after a short lull, business really picked up around 2 pm with many families drawn in by the colorful and relaxed atmosphere, grabbing a late lunch, and several pre-shabbat snackers munching at the bar.

As a newly opened restaurant, there are some minor kinks to work out. A few diners seemed annoyed at the delay in getting checks promptly just before closing, coming up to the register rather than waiting for at their tables. But the staff, seemingly committed to ensuring that service quality remain high,was firm but pleasant in leading the customers back to their tables and bringing checks within moments.

The Hummus does a few dishes and does them well, reaching beyond the kosher customer. Overall, the food, atmosphere, and friendliness take the best of Israeli dining and culture and transplants it to the area of Miami that until recently was known as “Little Tel Aviv.”

Notably, The Hummus is open from 11 am – 3 am, or “until we run out of hummus” Sunday-Thursday, until 3:30 pm on Fridays, and 1 hour after sundown on Saturday night. I would suggest calling to confirm Saturday night hours. The restaurant is under the supervision of Kosher Miami.

The Hummus on Urbanspoon


As I was sitting in the The Hummus, there was mostly Israeli music playing in the background, including the band Shotei Hanevua (“Fools of Prophecy”) whom I had first heard when my dance company in New York performed to their song “Kol Galgal”…

… and then I later bought a few of their CDs. Below is one of the songs that was playing in The Hummus the afternoon when I visited.


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Modern conveniences make our lives easier, no doubt. I remember when we got our first car phone. It actually had to be attached TO the car. And when my dad went out grocery shopping and my mom forgot to put something on the list, she could call to remind him not to forget the OJ. What a revolution. I remember remarking, “what did we do before car phones???” Now, I travel almost everywhere with a cell phone, a BlackBerry (my “BB”), my tiny Nikon digital camera, an iPod, and if I’m going somewhere for more than 3 days, my computer – because I never know when there might be a blogortunity.

The same holds true for me in the kitchen. I never thought I needed a mixer, but now I can barely fathom making a cake without mine. (And I recall when a newly smug married entered my apartment and exclaimed, “Zahavah, you have a Kitchen Aid, you don’t need to get married!”…I just looked at her husband and could not utter the pitying comment that I would not come up with until hours later.) Even in my 6X6 Manhattan kitchen (and now in a larger, newer Boston abode), my “work space” was somewhat cluttered with a mini food processor, blender and multiple immersion blenders, crepe maker, waffle iron, and George Foreman grill, and don’t forget the 3 sets of pots and pans. Yes… in addition to basari (meat) and chalavi (dairy), I have a small collection of parve (neutral) batterie de sine (Ok, it’s not really batterie de cuisine, but after finishing Julia Child’s My Life in France this weekend and visiting The Breakers and The Elms in Newport, RI last week, I have decided to adopt this terminology. And, anyway, a girl can dream!)

outside the Elks, reminded me of Rimini (unable to capture the extensive batterie de cuisine inside)

Outside the Elms. The juxtaposition of stone and sea reminded me of Rimini (unable to capture the extensive copper batterie de cuisine inside the massive kitchen)

But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to leave a lot of the fancy things behind and keep things (relatively) simple.

This weekend, I visited the condo in Sunny Isles, Florida that my snowbird grandparents (whom you met briefly; I have referred to my grandmother as “Grapefruit Bubbie” because we always had a grapefruit half waiting on each plate before dinner) left to my mother after their passing, and that my parents just finished gutting and renovating. While this was normally our winter get-away, my sister and I joined my parents to toast our new southern abode this past weekend.

My job was to start to outfit the kitchen and my sister, the architect, is in charge of any design decisions that have yet to be made.

a simple lunch as we take a break from unpacking and escape the August sun at high noon

a simple lunch as we take a break from unpacking and escape the August sun at high noon

Since no one will be living here full-time, we’re really trying to keep things pretty basic. We’ve thrown out a lot of things,  but have kept some stuff worth saving. Starting from the beginning means I’m out buying measuring cups, cookie sheets, and salt (and parchment paper and Callebaut chocolate…maybe you see where this is going…) and making do with some oldies but goodies, like Teflon pots and pans that were probably bought when Teflon was a novelty and are still in their original boxes.

Being here in the heat of August that does not let out even in the evenings means that I am barely in the mood to cook. We do a lot of take-out from the local kosher markets – my favorite is Sarah’s Tent in the Waterways.

But there are just a few things that no one can make for me, and that I made with the most basic of equipment. Fresh iced tea from tea bags seeped in a Corning Ware percolator, voided of its percolating bits. Lemon balm-infused simple syrup to sweeten said iced-tea. Salad with marinated zucchini and other veggies, some of which, like the lemon balm, are from my CSA and I could not bear to leave to languish in my fridge.

one last pot of fresh iced tea, seeping at 6 am before I caught my flight (excuse the flash)

making an early morning pot of fresh iced tea for the day (excuse the flash)

lemon balm-infused simple syrup

lemon balm-infused simple syrup

And of course, a family favorite – chocolate chunk cookies (with only chocolate chunks, no nuts). I meant to bring down a jar of almond butter, but in my rush to catch my flight, I grabbed peanut butter instead. I hoped the recipe would be pretty adaptable and my father had been talking about these cookies for over a week (I made them for  him for father’s day and he and my mother have been asking for another batch since then.) For the past few days, in between dealing with plumbing problems, last minute meetings with the contractor, and the-ever-important few hours in the late afternoon sun, I’ve been amassing ingredients in the store. After lunch today, I grabbed a few old school bowls, measured out my dry ingredients, let the margarine get to room temperature, measured out the peanut butter, and chopped up the Callebaut chocolate with a Ginsu knife (remember those? Yup, Bubbie had one!).

pouring the PB

The first step: “Using electric mixer, beat butter/margarine, almond butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy.”  Hmm, I have never done this without a mixer. Ok…well, back to good old-fashioned elbow grease. I grabbed a spatula and set to work, first just beating together the butters. So far so good. A nice even creamy mix. OK, I was ready to add in the sugar. And I set to work with the same intensity as before.


The first kitchen casualty.

kitchen casualty

Without missing a beat (well, I did snap a few photos), I pulled a big spoon from the drawer and finished up the dough, adding in the chocolate chunks and then throwing the dough in the fridge to cool before running out to the pool for a few late afternoon rays.

if you look real close, you can see the reflection of my flip flop in the bowl

if you look real close, you can see the reflection of my flip flop in the bowl

After returning from the pool where I finally caught up on my New Yorkers (funniest line in the 8/3 issue: “You know who looks fabulous in a bathing suit? A mannequin. Also, a hanger.”), my sister arrived, we grabbed a quick dinner and then toasted our new apartment with some sparkling wine and peanut butter cookies.

In my opinion, they are not as good as the original recipe, too crispy where the others have the perfect chewy bite,  but my family seemed to like them, because when I woke up this morning for my early flight home, there seem to have been a few cookie monsters in the middle of the night.

the cookie monsters attacked overnight

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Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the AMIA, the Argentina-Israeli Mutual Association (the equivalent of a JCC — Jewish Community Center — in the US), in Buenos Aires, claiming 85 lives (I’ve seen the toll at 86 also). I have compiled a few videos, pulling together the ones with English subtitles. In 2004, 10 Argentinian film-makers created a documentary-drama called “18-J” referring to the 18th of July, the date of the attack, containing 10 ten-minute vignettes and focusing on the universality of the tragedy (note, I have not seen the film; rather I am basing my commentary on what I have read).

The following TV spot, with English subtitles, was released a few weeks ago.

This is the full-length video that was, I believe, aired on national TV yesterday at 9:53 am showing pictures and reading the names of the victims.

This short 2008 TV spot is a tribute to the 85 terrorist victims.

Despedidas” 18J. English version

This video was made last year for the film “18-J” at the Cannes Film Festival and discusses how the Argentine community came together to raise awareness and commemorate the victims.

A few articles that I came across:

– This year’s tribute was cancelled due to the H1N1 outbreak, by which Argentina has been particularly hard-struck (with a high mortality rate, thought the overall incidence could be under-reported).

– The Forward published an opinion piece this week about continued vigilance necessary in efforts to thwart the relationship between Iran, especially given its current political and civil unrest, and Latin America.

Please share this post as appropriate and correct anything that I may have misinterpreted/poorly translated.

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le drapeau au port

Aujourd’hui, le quatorze juillet, ma mere m’a donné un petit (petit? bah non…grand!) cadeau. Une cocotte* ovale Le Creuset. Bonne fête à (pour?) moi.

Cocotte ovale (Oval French Oven, 6 ¾ qt. )

Cocotte ovale (Oval French Oven, 6 ¾ qt. )

Today, the fourteenth of July, my mom gave me a small (well, not so small … actually pretty large!) gift. A Le Creuset oval French oven (sometimes referred to as a “Dutch oven”). Happy Bastille day to me!

The Le Creuset Outlet near my parents was having a sale on all red enamel cookware, and when my mother called, they even offered to ship this incredibly heavy pot to me for free. It should arrive this weekend. I can’t wait.

For those who are loyal readers of this little project of mine, first off, thank you! Second, you might recall a little complaining that I’ve done about braising meat in a too-big pan without a cover and ending up with some extra, ahem, unintended caramelized crusty bits. I now finally have the right sized pot!

All that was exacted from me was a promise to make a brisket or some other meat in the cocotte the next time my parents visit. Ummmm … I’ll have to think about that one. Hello. I. Write. A. Food. Blog.

Fear not. The cocotte will be used. Many times.

Merci bien, mommy! Yes, I’m t****-something years old and I still call my mother “mommy.”


La Tour Eiffel, Juillet 2007

* I will adopt the terminology cocotte for my cadeau — much cuter than French or Dutch oven, n’est ce pas? It refers to a casserole or stewpan, but I like how it sounds a bit like coquette — let’s focus on its fun flirty nature, and ignore its insincerity and hope that my little (heavy!) cocotte treats me well.

Post script: the top picture was taken at the port of Nice, near the old city (vieille ville). For those who have asked or who are curious, this is also where my banner picture comes from. Contrary to some who have thought it is a random Caribbean island, it is not. If you walk from the port along the water in the direction of the main beach (towards the Promenade des Anglais), you’ll happen upon this concrete “beach” which I discovered on my last day in Nice and found strangely irresistible for some summer-end reflection and journaling. I’ll probably change my banner to a more foodie-appropriate one at some point, but for me, France — both Paris and Provence — holds special food and life inspiration.

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Over Father’s Day, my family traveled from north and south to meet in the mecca of kosher food, art, recent landscape architectural feats, and a Middle Eastern beach in the middle of a park in the biggest urban city in the US. After a delicious vegan dinner Saturday night at Blossom in Chelsea to pay homage to my lil sis’ dining preferences, we went to one of my favorite high-end kosher meat restaurants in my old haunt of the Upper West Side.

Mike’s is called a bistro, and if I have to have one issue with this restaurant, it would be its nomenclature. “Bisto” indicates to me an informal, inexpensive, neighborhood joint with wine flowing. Mike’s is indeed all of the aforementioned, save inexpensive.

A little digression about bistro history:

The rustic, unpretentious atmosphere associated with Parisian bistros reflects their origins. Most of the first bistros started out as cafés-charbons, shops that sold coal and firewood for heating, where neighbors could meet for a class of wine or cup of coffee. When the owners of these simple wine bars, usually workers from the Aubergne region in central France, began to offer a few modest dishes served family style to their guests, the bistro tradition was born. These first bistros were places for working people to eat quickly around Les Halles, the historic market district of Paris. By the mid-1800s, neighborhood bistros had popped up in almost every district of the city. Along with the laborers came artists and intellectuals, attracted by delicious, inexpensive [emphasis mine] meals.

For Parisians who lived in apartments with limited or nonexistent kitchens [um, sound like NY?], the closest thing to a home-cooked meal could be found at neighborhood bistros. And because the same patrons returned night after night, these restaurants offered more than old-fashioned country cuisine – they were also places where Parisians could escape the anonymity of the big city. In France, bistro cuisine is often called cuisine de grand-mère. The simple salads and steaks, braised stews and meats, and comforting, homespun desserts served in most bistros are the kinds of dishes you would expect to be served by a French grandmother.

…There are several theories about the origins of the word bistro. The most picturesque story traces the word back to the Russian soldiers who marched into Paris after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Legend has it that the hungry soldiers dashed into the city’s wine-shops and cafés, shouting “Bistro! bistro! — Russian for “Quick! quick!” Other sources suggest that the word was derived from bistouille, slang for a mixture of eau-de-vie and coffee , which was served in early cafes.

–  Sharon O’Connor’s Bistro (Menus and Music)

OK, you get the idea. I’m just not sure that there are many laborers (are Wall Street guys considered “laborers”) or artists who will be frequenting Mike’s “Bistro.” Perhaps I’m being too much of a purist when it comes to my French culinary terminology and I should grant Mike a little bit of poetic license. I mean, for New York kosher, it is not the most expensive place to have a meal. But when you tell your family that you’re going a bistro, they don’t expect to pay over $70 per person at the end of the evening (is it really gauche for me to mention $$ here? sorry…). Granted, the appetizers are large (see pics below) and many could serve as an entire meal.

On the positive side (and our experience as absolutely positive…and I did tell my family that dinner would be a little pricey) , we ate quite well, and no one left hungry. The menu is small but diverse and you get the sense that, unlike most kosher steakhouses that seem to think that a sushi bar is a requirement these days, Mike creates dishes that reflect a perspective and don’t try to be everything to everyone. In his own words (or at least those that are on the website), he “creates and executes a contemporary, internationally inspired, Glatt Kosher (OU) gourmet menu with seasonally-inspired nuances.” The service was attentive without being overbearing. In the past when I’ve eaten here, Mike has come around and greeted me at my table lending to the family atmosphere. Many of the dishes are slow-cooked, comfort foods aligned with “‘cuisine de grand-mère,'” and the wine list was fairly extensive and well-priced (we ordered a bottle of Spanish Ramon Cordova Rioja). It’s just that in my mind the word “gourmet” and the price tag seem a bit at odds with the word “bistro.”

We were fortunate enough to eat in the atrium – a greenhouse-like room at the front of the restaurant filled with natural light, affording me the opportunity to snap a few quick photos of some of my favorite dishes (yes, I did try almost everyone’s food) without annoying all my family members by letting their meals get cold.

So now I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

olive oil with basil chiffonade

olive oil with basil chiffonade, served with fresh, warm rolls

A couple of our appetizers:

Chipotle Spiced Bean Chili -- black rice, avocado, crispy corn tortilla, cilantro

Chipotle Spiced Bean Chili -- black rice, avocado, crispy corn tortilla, cilantro (vegetarian)

Handmade Gnocchi -- duck and chicken confit, roasted portobell mushrooms, fresh thyme, duck jus

Handmade Gnocchi -- duck and chicken confit, roasted portobello mushrooms, fresh thyme, duck jus

Missing appetizer pictures:

– Baby Spinach Salad — dressed in a warm (veal) bacon & red wine vinaigrette, boiled egg, tomatoes, red onions, chives

– Roasted and Marinated Beet Salad — candied walnuts, fresh citrus segments, orange beet vinaigrette, shaved endive

A few of our entrées:

Braised Boneless Short Ribs -- barbecue glaze, cauliflower mash, braised kale, celery root sauce

Braised Boneless Short Ribs -- barbecue glaze, cauliflower mash, braised kale, celery root sauce (I ordered this...a bit too fatty for me, but my mom loved it)

Black Angus Rib Eye Fillet - crushed potatoes, red-wine onion relish, green beans, chives (my favorite dish, but my dad ordered it and didn't want to share much!)

Black Angus Rib Eye Fillet - crushed potatoes, red-wine onion relish, green beans, chives (my favorite dish, but my dad ordered it and didn't want to share too much...hey, it was Father's Day, so I only took a little bite or two...)

Sauteed Duck Breast -- duck confit leg, sweet and sour red cabbage, yam fritters, cranberry port sauce

Sauteed Duck Breast -- duck confit leg, sweet and sour red cabbage, yam fritters, cranberry port sauce

Braised Lamb Shank -- crushed yukon potatoes, freshly ratatouille, rosemary lamb sauce

Braised Lamb Shank -- crushed yukon potatoes, freshly combined ratatouille, rosemary lamb sauce (Linda is still raving about that ratatouille)

Breast of Veal (daily special) - unstuffed roulade towering over mushrooms, peas, and potatoes

Breast of Veal (daily special) - unstuffed roulade towering over mushrooms, peas, and potatoes

Soup du Jour - Carrot Sesame (vegetarian)

Soup du Jour - Carrot Ginger (vegetarian)

We sealed the deal with a few light and refreshing scoops of fresh sorbet — lemon, strawberry, and raspberry, if memory serves correct — and left dinner with nary a complaint.

My father was happy to treat on his day, saying, “Bubbie would have been glad to bring us all together here.”

Mike's Bistro on Urbanspoon

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This year Tel Aviv celebrates her 100th birthday.

TLV at 100

I found this video on the website of the Israeli Consulate of New England. It depicts the “other side” of Israel that the media rarely shows – largely the fun club scene of Tel Aviv.

And this past afternoon, the Israeli Tourism Ministry and various other Israel and local NY groups supported a Tel Aviv beach party in Central Park. I happened to be in NY where my family converged for a Father’s Day celebration, so I popped over to see what was going on. There was a DJ playing music (I missed the live bands)…

- 046 crop DJ

… El Al trip give-aways …

hands up for free RT airfare to TLV

… a few tons of sand dumped in front of the half-shell and covered with New Yorkers, Israelis, confused bystanders, and babies thinking this was just another normal day…

baby on "beach"

just standing around

I just took off my shoes and felt the sand run through my toes a bit.

me and my shadow

There were a fair number of sponsors, including El Al airlines, Aroma Espresso Bar that has two branches in the City (one uptown, one downtown) …

Aroma on UWS (W72)

…  and a hotel chain with a shelf full of tour guides of the city in various languages.

books on TLV - in French ("24 heures...), on design (Bauhaus architecture), etc.

books on TLV - in Spanish and French ("24 heures"), on design (Bauhaus architecture), etc.

I couldn’t walk very far without running into friends (including Neima, Shimon and Ruby) … and then had to run meet my family for dinner.

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beef chewing gum

Willy Wonka: Don’t you know what this is?
Violet Beauregarde: By gum, it’s gum.
Willy Wonka: [happily, but sarcastically] Wrong! It’s the most amazing, fabulous, sensational gum in the whole world.
Violet Beauregarde: What’s so fab about it?
Willy Wonka: This little piece of gum is a three-course dinner.
Mr. Salt: Bull.
Willy Wonka: No, roast beef. But I haven’t got it quite right yet.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) as quoted by IMDb

About 6 weeks ago, I received a package of Holy Cow Kosher beef jerky after I tweeted the vendor with my interest in trying it, offering to share my opinions with this new market entrant.

The marketing material on the package gives some pretty high expectations: “American’s favorite Kosher beef jerky!” ??? And, I’m not even commenting on the incorrect capitalization of “Kosher” <sigh!>.

package close-up

I was a little disconcerted by the actual package because there seemed to be a fair amount of moisture surrounding the meat (apologies for the glare – this was the best picture I could get). I thought jerky was supposed to be very dry.

jerky close-up

But, hey, I take my job as a food taster seriously. I didn’t want to trust just my taste buds … I wanted to get balanced opinions from a wide range of friends coming from different backgrounds. Waiting for the right occasion took a little while, but it finally arrived – my good friend Sacha was finally back in town from DC and threw a late night barbecue.

Lots of meat. Hungry people. A little beer and scotch flowing. Let the opining begin.

I arrived shortly before 11 pm with my 2 oz bag of Holy Cow jerky poking out of my purse between my wallet and cell phone. After eating a hamburger, I busted the bag out and explained our task for the night, dispensing brown nibbles to all attendees. The comments came fast and furious.

One friend, somewhat prone to (melo)drama, and who admitted to not liking beef jerky in the first place, spit the jerky out and called it “stale plastic in bargain basement teriyaki sauce…like a dog chew toy…” Granted, I’m not sure why he knows what a dog chew toy tastes like, but I’ll leave that for another discussion.

Another non-jerky eater described the flavor as “weird” but was impressed that the ingredient list was all pronounceable with only one preservative.

Our final jerky novice was similarly not impressed, handing her piece to her husband after one tentative bite, dismissing it as “tasting like poop.”

Her husband, on the other hand, our first jerky pro, felt that the meat “was already a little too moist and loose already…had a good taste but went too quickly… it should require a bit more work to loosen it up.”

Sacha, our most voracious meat eater and consistent traveler, said that there was absolutely no comparison between this jerky and what he calls the gold standard, Jeff’s Gourmet dried beef jerky sticks that he buys and eats on airplanes.

The self-described “ultimate cheapskate” who spent time in Texas and therefore should know a thing or two about jerky called the meat “something like a Japanese candy” and eventually had to throw it out despite the starving children in Africa.

Finally the most experienced jerky connoisseur, having actually made jerky with roommates while in Yeshiva in Israel, described the Holy Cow jerky as having a texture that immediately brought to mind “fleishig” chewing gum. Again, not boding well for jerky.

Now, a note on the jerky’s texture. The company’s website states:

Through our revolutionary production process, we’ve mastered the art of Jerky making. The result is truly fantastic flavor with a lean, tender finish – never brittle and dry. Moreover at Holy Cow! Kosher, we never use artificial ingredients, No Trans Fats or unnatural preservatives. If you’re looking for 100% quality, you found it.

So, they seem happy with their “tender finish” but our consensus was that “brittle and dry” is really the way to go with jerky.

The précis for Holy Cow!:

– Nice use of natural ingredients
– Poor texture, too moist for jerky
– Mediocre taste
– I would not buy this again, especially because there are better options out there

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photo by Barry Munger, downloaded from http://www.thehighline.org/galleries/images/tags/barry+munger

photo by Barry Munger, downloaded from http://www.thehighline.org/galleries/images/barry-munger

Last Monday (June 8, 2009), Section 1 of the NY High Line opened and my sister, RySq was asked to serve as one of the greeters for the ribbon-cutting event as a volunteer with the Friends of the High Line. This afforded my talented lil sis — a budding architect,  photographer, graphic and jewelry designer, and all-around talented creative person to take pictures of this historic event and to be a fly on the wall. She has been talking about this urban planning and landscaping project for years since we both moved to New York in 2004, she to start her architecture career, I to continue in health care. So when her interest came full circle, I was so proud.

bench detail, photo by RySq

bench detail, photo by RySq

Ry shared over 200 frames and summarized her own thoughts on opening day in an email to friends and family (she rarely uses caps):

only the first phase [of the high line] has opened from gaansevort to 20th street. there are so many interesting moments … it really was  a treat to get up there and see it under construction the last few months and meet the founders of the organization. very inspiring that people can work together to make a difference in their community like this. the high line has truly transformed the entire far west side of chelsea for the better i think.

Ry heard Mayor Bloomberg speak with the press, and Diane von Furstenburg, an early supporter of the High Line with her flagship studio in the Meatpacking District, echoed a sentiment from a 2-minute video (where she described the High Line as “a green ribbon that follows the river into the sunset”), “‘the High Line is like a green ribbon running through the city… and I like ribbons … therefore I like the HighLine…‘”

DvF studio as seen from the High Line (picture by RySq)

DvF studio as seen from the High Line, photo by RySq

In looking through some other “High Line Stories” to be broadcast by the Sundance Channel, I found one featuring Adam Gopnik, New Yorker writer and author of one of the first books that I read about an American in Paris, an essay collection called Paris to the Moon about his 5-year sojourn in Paris. In his 2-minute vignette, he shares his thoughts about the High Line after having written an article about it in 2001:

‘It’s a sort of classic romantic subject: the ruins of industry,’ I thought as I say that it was a documentary of something passing. I did not imagine that it was really the foundation of something new. It seemed about as improbable a notion as anything could be that they would actually turn it into a park like the Promenade Plantée in Paris which is exactly like what this will become. And that is it’s an old abandoned railroad that had been turned into a long skinny high park. So when I wrote that piece, the effect was what had seemed to be merely a quixotic scheme suddenly seemed like a sane, rational, and necessary piece of urban planning. What were needed were new green lungs for the city to breathe with.

Sundeck, photo by RySq

Sundeck, photo by RySq

"Pavement Meets Horticulture" - photo by RySq

Pavement Meets Horticulture, photo by RySq

On the High Line website, there are numerous galleries of photographs, including this one of the “High Line in Operation” with black and white photos such as this one of a train chugging along the West side of lower Manhattan.

One of these iconic photos has even been incorporated into an Anya Hindmarch tote as part of the High Line Merchandise Program, whereby local designers including DvF, Trina Turk, and Zero + Maria Cornejo (who created a gorgeous abstract loop scarf) designed commemorative products, some proceeds of which support the High Line.

Anya Hindmarch tote

Anya Hindmarch tote

When Ry gets excited about something, her enthusiasm is infectious. And I often try to learn about what is inspiring her (like when I took a class on Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Architecture to round out my Freshman year pre-med load to give us a common lexicon), of course, adding in my own special touch. So when my sister introduced me to the High Line a few years ago, I became interested in “NY Export: Opus Jazz the film” – a film of a Jerome Robbins ballet, NY Export: Opus Jazz (that originally premiered in 1958 and was more jazz dance than ballet, often referred to as “an urban ballet in sneakers”), performed by NYCB dancers in locations all over NYC, including on the last untouched area of the High Line.

Opus Jazz 2

Rachel Rutherford and Craig Hall in "Passage for Two," photo by Yaniv Shulman (downloaded from earlier version of http://www.opusjazz.com, no longer available)

Opus Jazz

Rachel Rutherford and Craig Hall in "Passage for Two," photo by Yaniv Shulman (downloaded from earlier version of http://www.opusjazz.com, no longer available)

The trailer for the documentary compares the original ballet, placing it in 1950s context when it aired on the Ed Sullivan show, with its modern adaptation and reinterpretation , and contains commentary by some of the original and current performers. The contrast of the same moves and lifts then and now is breath-taking against the Robert Prince music and urban backdrops, old and new.

Trailer: Jerome Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz The Film

The behind-the-scenes video provides additional footage of the shooting of the film on the High Line, including capturing a scene in the last moment of sunlight of the day against the setting sun with the coming together of the art, luck, and skill that is film-making.

Behind the Scenes: Opus Jazz The Film

My sister ended her email with some closing thoughts.

the motto:

keep it simple
keep it wild
keep it clean
keep it slow

it is a passive park, designed via competition winner diller+scofidio… one of my favorite experimental  and visionary firms in the city

"Keep it Wild" - photo by RySq

Keep It Wild, photo by RySq

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When you write a food blog, people think that you cook all the time and that everything you make is gourmet. While I do cook quite frequently, most of what I make is really pretty simple. Recent past dinners have included a big plate of green beans with toasted almonds. Oven-roasted corn on the cob covered with grated cheese. Marinated zucchini alongside roasted cumin and cayenne sweet potatoes. Panzanella. As you can tell, I eat a lot of simple veggies.

So, it is such a treat when someone cooks dinner for me. And a few weeks ago, I was the recipient of just such a treat. Not only was I treated to a home-cooked dinner, but my Israeli friend C. baked me pitot (the plural for pita in Hebrew).

C. had been disappointed to learn that despite my supposed foodie status, I use a bread machine to make challah. “What, it braids it for you in the machine?” he asked.

When divulging this embarrassing little secret (well, I guess it’s not much of a secret since I unabashedly shared it early on right here), I explained that in my experience, baking is chemistry, and while I have in the past studied science, I am no chemist. “But no,” C. said, “baking bread is physics.”

Well, if I am no chemist, then I am certainly no physicist.

Luckily, C. is.

And this is only one of his manifold gifts. He plays guitar, has a knack and appreciation for vocabulary and grammar in all the languages he speaks, and combines a piercing intellect with a direct, no-nonsense style that is refreshingly candid without being harsh.

So, I arrived in his kitchen the other evening to find a square white bowl filled to the brim with a slightly deflated mound of off-white dough. After heavily flouring the counter, C. kneaded the dough a few times…

pita dough, kneaded

… and then rolled it out about ¼ inch thick (or a centimeter, in keeping with the scientific and Israeli metric system).

pita dough, rolled out

Now, this is where C.’s methodology differs from that of other pita-makers. And it was at this point that C. launched into an explanation about what conditions are important in helping the pita form its pocket. Most people normally separate the dough into about a dozen small balls and roll each one into a flat round. But having each pita the same thickness helps ensure consistent results (granted, we did not discuss the possibility of all the pitot failing to form pockets…). And, perhaps more importantly, rolling out the dough only once is significantly more efficient than rolling dough out twelve times. And, I was getting hungry.

OK, back to physics. Roll the dough too thin and the pita will be crisp and cracker-like; too thick and it may never form a pocket. So, one centimeter is what has worked best in C.’s experience. I think he mentioned something about thermodynamics in the oven, the expansion of gas in the dough as it’s baking, the importance of an oven that distributes heat evenly from top and bottom to ensure equal pita sides (which he has yet to master) … and I’m not sure what else … I was getting hungry.

So C. forged ahead, cutting out pitot in just the right size with a bowl. Rather than re-rolling the scraps (inefficient), C. cuts the pitot close together to reduce wasted dough and bakes the triangular/square/star-shaped scraps which often form mini-pockets with crunchy end-bits.

cutting out pitot with bowl

As he was cutting, C. continued to explain, “the ambient temperature is important for the rising of pitot,” so I checked the wall thermometer: a pretty high 74˚F – plus, it was humid outside. This did not bode well for the pita.

C. looked concerned. My stomach grumbled.

My bread machine was looking pretty good right about then.

But so was the pita as C. finally laid it out on the baking sheets to rise as he turned on the oven to preheat (500˚F). He said it would it would take the oven longer to preheat than it would to prepare the rest of dinner.

pitot and end pieces, ready for final rising

While the pitot were rising, we set to work on everything else. I sliced up a caprese salad, cut the tips off the haricots verts that C. sautéed with garlic and dill, and then we  threw salmon on a grill pan with some olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Finally, the pitot and scraps had sufficiently risen …

pitot after final rising, ready for oven

… and were ready for a quick bake in the hot oven. No more than about 5 minutes per tray. No opening the oven to peek (or to take pictures). Just trust the physics. Patience. Ahhhh…

pitot starting to puff

And the pitot puffed as we sat on the kitchen floor in front of the oven.

the pockets are forming!

We took one pita batch out and put the next in. I continued to sit in rapt attention in front of the oven door.

And then the smoke alarm went off.

I have never been a fan of cooking salmon on a stove top.

C. quickly disconnected the alarm as I removed the grill pan from the fire and opened every single window. And kept checking the pita in the oven (through the glass…I did not open the door!).

After we pulled the last pita out, perfect pockets intact, we sat down to eat, mopping up the olive oil and balsamic from the caprese with the warm fluffy dough.

I am not sure I’ll ever be able to buy pita in a store again.

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