Saturday, December 27, 2008
Alberto Tartari, chef and owner of Il Melograno, has recreated a little corner of Italy in his restaurant on West 5lst Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan. Named for the pomegranate which adorns most dishes on the menu, this neighborhood spot is just large enough to seat about 50 or so lucky visitors. Dishes are prepared in the Northern Italian tradition and feature imported Italian ingredients and homemade pasta. They are made to order, fresh and hot.
Americans familiar with southern Italian cuisine might be surprised that the menu offers fish and meat dishes with potatoes, but Tartari's recipes are drawn from the Lombardy region, which encompasses Milano and is close to the border with Germany. Pasta does appear on the menu, but it's often paired with savory meat and cream sauces, also typical of northern cuisine.
As we studied the menu, one item after another caught my attention. For a while, I lingered over the veal ravioli with butter, sage, and Parmegiana sauce, but in the end I opted for a lighter dish, pictured in the photo. This luscious blend of San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and pasta melted in my mouth. If you look closely, you'll see the fresh basil and pomegranates adorning the dish. Rich and Sue tried the eggplant and penne special, Alex had the fresh pappardelle with sweet sausage sauce, peas and truffle oil, and Paul had the osso buco with roasted potatoes. Everyone declared that their dish was delicious.
Somehow we fended off the tempting offers of homemade desserts, such as tiramisu and chocolate souffle cake, and simply sipped some cappuccino. Even after paying the bill, I wanted to linger in this cozy spot with its open kitchen and winking white lights outlining the front window. But as we reluctantly stepped outside, we promised ourselves that we'd return. In fact it happened sooner than even we expected, for a few days later, we met our nephew and his girlfriend for dinner and settled into the now familiar wooden seats and ate another delicious meal. If you go, buon appetito!
501 West 51st Street
(corner of 51st and 10th)
New York, NY 10019
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Look at that beautiful pizza, fresh from the oven. A brick oven, that is. This was lunch the other day at Zero Otto Nove, a well-known spot on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for delicious Italian food--and it was delicioso. The crust was ultra thin and light and had that requisite salty tang from the yeast. The toppings were fresh and delicious. We tried the classic margherita with a twist--mozzarella, basil, tomato and mushrooms-- and friends ordered the salernitana with escarole. We all agreed. It was perfetto.
But enter another contender--Lombardi's Pizza on 32 Spring Street, near the corner of Mott. We had to try their coal-fired pizza to see if it is in fact better than the wood-fired variety. So we ate dinner there one night with friends and cousins and shared three pies. At one point someone wondered if 3 pies were too much for the 7 of us, but soon, we had demolished everything except a few crumbs and part of one crust.
The difference between the two cooking methods is subtle. The coal-fired oven reaches higher temperatures, up to 800 degrees, so the crust is more charred and extraordinarily crisp. It's also denser, but still has the subtle tang from the yeast. The toppings were fresh and interesting, but Zero Otto Nove had a wider selection and unusual ingredients like the escarole, potatoes, or butternut squash. Here, we ordered one with sweet Italian sausage and red peppers, another with half mushroom and half onion, and a third with classic white toppings.
In balance, I prefer Lombardi's for the slightly denser crust and tangy char, but Rich chose Zero Otto Nove. He insists that the thinner crust is best but I think that a crust drooping under the weight of its toppings is problematic. Who wants to eat their pizza with a knife and fork? He disagrees. How to settle the score? Try another pizzaria, of course. I'm ready whenever he is.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Friends were coming for supper last night and my oven shorted out, so I had to get creative. I had to find a dish that could be cooked in a limited number of pots, wouldn't be labor intensive, and was nearly fool-proof. Besides, I was staying at a friend's house and didn't have my cookbooks, so I did a quick web search and turned up a winner.
Paella is one of those versatile dishes native to Spain with dozens of permutations. After looking at several recipes, I came up with my own version, a little of this and that. The dish was fragrant and savory. The rice was moist, the chicken was tender, and each bite was infused with wonderful flavor. One of its virtues is its versatility. Seafood can be added or deleted. Vegetarians can eliminate the meat and add more vegetables. Chorizo can be replaced with hot or sweet Italian sausage or even kielbasa. The next time around, I'm going to add more spice, but my recommendation is to taste it before serving and adjust accordingly. We ended up adding some hot sauce, which was just the extra amount of heat we wanted. Regardless, the flavor is excellent.
1 tbsp olive oil
14 oz. chorizo
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. paprika or pimenton
2 cups short or medium grain bbrice
1 pinch saffron threads
1 bay leaf
3.5 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1.5 lbs. chicken breasts cut into chunks or whole chicken, split
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tomato, chopped
coarse salt and pepper
1 lb. shrimp with tails on
10 mussels (optional)
10 clams (optional)
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. cumin
1. Mix together paprika, cumin, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper and sprinkle on the chicken chunks. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or deep pot. Add chorizo,chicken and the spice mixture and cook until browned. Drain excess oil.
3. Add onion, red and green pepper, garlic. Cook, stirring until softened.
4. Add rice, saffron, tomato, and bay leaf. Stir to combine and coat the rice.
5. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir to blend flavors. Cover. Cook for approximately 20 minutes.
6. In the remaining 10 minutes, add the peas and shrimp. Bury the shrimp deep into the rice and stir. Take a paper towel, place over the pot opening, and put the lid on.
7. When the rice is tender, let the dish sit for a minute in the pot before serving. Serve on a platter with lemon wedges.
Serves 4-6 people.
Monday, December 15, 2008
This fellow, eager for his next meal, is cheerfully stirring his soup at 527 110th Street in Manhattan. Just around the corner other gargoyles are clinging to the buttresses at St. John Divine, but their purpose is quite different--to scare away the demons and keep the site safe for God. This friendly gourmand just wants to scare away those who want to dip their spoons into his soup. I admire his appetite and tenacity. Buon appetito.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Every picture tells a story. Maybe that's why I was so impressed with Jamal Shabazz and his work. The consumate street photographer, Shabazz finds inspiration in everyday scenes and gets to know his subjects before capturing their image. The two young men are Angel and Jesus, two friends hanging out in Times Square about 25 years ago. They're now adults--Jesus on the right is in prison and Angel is fighting drug addiction. The kids playing on the mattress are part of Shabazz's happy kids series--documenting how innocence thrives even in the most unlikely places. As he talks about his art, Shabazz's respect for his subjects, innate curiousity about them, and his commitment to have an impact on their lives highlight his work.
His photographs are on display in the Street Life, Street Art exhibit at the Bronx Photography Museum in New York through January. To see more of his work online, click on this link:
It’s nothing fancy, but the waiters are friendly, the food is fresh, abundant, and tasty, and the prices aren’t bad…for Manhattan. Besides, what’s New York without the deli experience? Rich always orders the tuna on rye with onions, which he declares tastes like none other. I’m more inclined to get the Greek salad, or the hummus plate loaded with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, baba ganough, tabouli, olives and a basket of warm pita bread. The omelets are also winners. I usually get the Greek. The rye toast has the requisite buttery crunch and the hash browns are crisp and savory. Am I making you hungry? Well, what are you waiting for?
The Metro Diner
2641 Broadway # 1
New York, NY 10025
Friday, December 5, 2008
Do you want to buy a book for someone for this holiday? Do you need some suggestions? Get ideas from 37 writers published by Penguin Group, including Khaled Hosseini, Michael Pollen, Julia Alvarez, Stewart O'Nan, Tomie de Paola, Elizabeth Gilbert...
Just click on this link:
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The Coffee Pot Restaurant
2050 W Highway 89A
When we were in Arizona two weeks ago, I was looking for a breakfast place where the locals go. When I read that The Coffee Pot offers 101 types of omelets and they leave a big pot of coffee on the table, my search was over. True, the parking lot is small and the line can snake out the door on weekends, but that's part of the experience.
Did I mention 101 omelets? With ham, with steak, with feta cheese, with spinach, with lox...Decisions, decisions. I had the classic with feta, spinach, and onion and home fries crisp and browned on the griddle. Rich was less happy with his tuna sandwich, but you really have to go for the omelets.
And the view of the Coffee Pot red rocks out the back is an added bonus.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
When we're on the road, we're always looking for a place to eat where we can get a warm welcome, the food is predictably good, the waitstaff is attentive, and the prices are reasonable. When we find it, we keep going back. Isn't this what we're all looking for on the road? A home away from home.
In Boston, we always return to Chilli Duck on Boylston Street, right across from the Prudential Center. I must have walked by this place a dozen times before I noticed the set of stairs leading down to a little shop below street level. But once I walked through the door and tried the food, I kept coming back.
People will quibble that the decor isn't inspiring, but I'm more interested in the food. The menu is divided into 2 sections--the front lists familiar Thai food like Pad Thai. The back section has more traditional Thai, like Mama's Tom Yom soup, a huge bowl of savory broth filled with your choice of chicken, shrimp, tofu, or pork and vegetables. Delicious. Other favorites include green curry with vegetables and coconut chicken soup. I always order their jasmine tea, which is especially soothing in cold weather.
829 Boylston Street
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Not all the news in the literary world is gloomy despite the massive layoffs at publishing giants like Time Warner and Doubleday, closures of such magazines as Slate and the financial upheaval at book distributors like Borders.
More and more often, I'm hearing pundits and writers likening this time period to the Depression and comparing the president-elect's challenges to FDR's. For me and many other writers this is good news. Why? As times get tough, people will need an escape. That's why Gone With the Wind sold over 1 million copies in the depths of Depression, gambling and drinking soared (and no doubt cigarette sales), and people filled the movie houses. That news consoles me and other people who make a living by writing. Another bit of hope is knowing that our president-elect, who established himself in literary circles well before he ran for president, will bring an appreciation of the literary and creative dimension of our culture and will hopefully encourage expansion of our cultural institutions and outlets. Like FDR, I hope he starts creative initiatives like the WPA projects which induced a creative outpouring in the arts.
To hear what other writers like Rick Moody and Toni Morrison think of the Obama election, cut and paste this link in your browser:
Monday, November 10, 2008
Bank robberies are the topic of these 2 movies which I highly recommend. The Bank Job (2008) is a true story of the 1971 London Baker Street bank heist, which netted over 3 million pounds and resulted in no arrests and no money being recovered. Why? Here’s where it gets interesting. The thieves, who plundered safety deposit boxes, inadvertently stumbled on documents and money that tied the Royal Family and highly ranked government officials to murder, corruption and sex scandals. The story couldn’t be told for over thirty years because of a government gagging order.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a riveting story of two brothers who decide to rob a jewelry store--not an ordinary jewelry store, but one they know very, very well. (If I say more, I’ll spoil the surprise.) Themes of family loyalty and greed are at the heart of this story as the two brothers set in motion a startling chain of events. The cast is outstanding. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Andy Hanson, the older brother who cooks up the plan and convinces his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to carry it out. Other outstanding performances come from Marissa Tomei (one of my favorite actresses), who plays Gina, Andy's wife and Albert Finney who plays Andy's father. I’ll let you decide if the sex scene, which opens the movie is gratuitous or not. Produced by Sidney Lumet.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
So how do I feel now that Barack Obama is our president-elect? In one word--hopeful.
As Obama said in his acceptance speech: "Hope -- hope is what led me here today. With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America.
Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be. We are choosing hope over fear."By Barack Obama.
This sentiment was echoed all over the world. The president-elect has a tough road ahead, no doubt. Some historians liken it to 1932, when FDR took office. As emails crisscross the globe, transmitting messages of hope, here's one from India. It's a Bollywood tribute to Obama, complete with great visual effects. To view it, cut and paste this link in your browser:
Monday, November 3, 2008
As election days approaches, people all over the world are watching. Here's one charming and uplifting appeal from 2 Venetian gondeliers who sing about their choice for the next American president. (Thanks Gianfranco for sending it to me!)
Cut and paste this link in your browser:
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Some people wake up hungry. I'm not one of them. I stumble through the first cup of coffee and grab a piece of chocolate (Lindt, of course) before heading out to the gym. I don't really wake up until I'm halfway through my workout. By the time I come back home, my stomach might start rumbling. On those mornings, I make oatmeal. Not the instant stuff, but good old fashioned Quaker oats, that need to be cooked on the stove for a good 10 to 15 minutes. The results are worth it and so is the taste. Besides, it's good for you. But for those of you who balk at anything remotely healthy, you can sprinkle a little brown sugar on it and add some dried cherries (or raisins), some nuts, and a little hot milk. It's truly a bowl of soothing warmth in the winter and it keeps your stomach satisfied for hours.
Here's my recipe:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1. Heat the oats and water in a pot on high heat on the stove.
2. When the mixture boils, turn it down to low, add the salt and vanilla, stir, and cover it for 10-15 minutes.
3. Remove it from the heat when it's smooth and creamy. Add hot milk, dried nuts or fruit, and brown sugar if you wish. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
It’s 1964. In the middle of a snowstorm, Dr. David Henry drives his wife Norah to his office and delivers his own child. The baby Paul is perfect. But then, unexpectedly his wife bears down and a second child is born. After one look at his daughter Phoebe, he recognizes the tell-tale signs of Downs Syndrome and makes the fateful decision to spare his wife the agony of raising a child that’s doomed to die young and will never be fully functional. So, he tells his wife that the twin girl has died. But he secretly gives the baby to his nurse Caroline who promises to bring her to an institution in another state. Caroline, who adores Dr. Henry, is startled by his request, but does what he asks. But when she gets to the institution, she’s horrified by the conditions there and decides, in another fateful moment, to keep the child and raise her.
It’s easy to forget the public attitudes towards Downs Syndrome at that time, but Kim Edwards does a good job reminding us that these children were treated like shameful secrets and were hidden away in institutions, until the social revolution in the 1970’s when advocates for the mentally handicapped fought for educational rights in mainstream environments instead of the horrors of institutionalization.
In The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, the plot is revealed in alternating points of view—Dr. David Henry who never reveals his secret and is tormented by it; his wife Norah who tries to fashion a life after Phoebe’s supposed death but is haunted by memories of her; their son Paul, who lives in a house full of silence and secrets and tries to crack them open; and Caroline, the nurse, who establishes a life for herself and Phoebe in a distant town.
There will always be a special place in my heart for Sticklebacks and Snowglobes, which I read in manuscript form a few years ago. B.A. (Bunny) Goodjohn, a British writer I “met” a few years ago on Zoetrope, has written a delightful story about 8-year-old Tot, who is growing up in the Stanley Close housing project in the UK in the 1970’s and is funny and wise beyond her years. She adores her collection of snow globes and fishing for sticklebacks. And of course, her dad—a sweet but irresponsible dreamer who wants to be a jazz musician in New Orleans. When her dad takes off, Tot is forced to grow up fast—even though she has more than enough to deal with—epileptic seizures which grip her unexpectedly, a mother who cries in secret and her teenage sister who becomes pregnant. Bunny Goodjohn will have you cheering for Tot and marveling over her resourcefulness.
Monday, October 6, 2008
I'm still a little shaky this week. It got me in the knees even though I had prepared myself to see her in the ICU, hooked up to IVs and on a respirator. My mother's face was battered from the car crash, her neck swollen, her throat punctured with a tracheotomy tube. I spent mornings with her, standing by her bed, cheering her on. And when she was awake, I told her over and over again what had happened--the crash in the parking lot, the operations in the hospital over the last 2 weeks, the pneumonia, her brave fight.
When I could eat, I went to a Thai restaurant, not far from my parents' house. The young Thai waiter brought me Tom Yom soup and a pot of jasmine tea. Its warmth soothed me. I drank it all. And when I was finished, he talked to me, asking me why I was in Florida and I told him about my mother. He listened, nodding, his dark eyes fixed on me. And later, when he brought me the bill, he told me my meal was for free because of my troubles. Tears filled my eyes. When I protested, he smiled and said, "You'll come back." And I did. We talked again. He told me about his sorrow, that he couldn't afford to go back to Thailand for a visit, about his life here in the USA, and how he had to hide the fact that he was gay from his family. "And I can do nothing about it," he said with a shrug. I touched his shoulder, moved by his sadness. I too understood his pain of not fitting in, and withholding thoughts, feelings, and pieces of myself from family as a way of protecting myself.
On the last day, he gave me a meditation site on the web and told me it would help bring me peace. I thanked him and promised to come back in 2 weeks on my next visit. As I left the restaurant and for days afterward, I've thought about how these chance meetings, these gestures of kindness from strangers are so sweet and such a gift. They reinforce my belief of the inherent goodness of people.
It’s with great pleasure that I pick up my cyber pen and continue the dialog we began over 2 years ago. I promise to serve up satisfying and thought-provoking morsels for your entertainment and pleasure: Intriguing photographs that will catch your eye. Quirky observations about culture and society. Recipes that will make your mouth water. Tidbits about writing and the writing life. And snapshots of people and places that have captured my imagination and stirred my emotions for I believe that powerful writing must grip us in both the head and the heart. So, I extend a warm welcome to my readers and invite you to linger a while at my literary table while I pour you a glass of wine or brew you a cup of coffee while we chat.