Friday, January 30, 2009

What Would Shaun Sheep Say?

I love that line from The Sopranos. Corrado "Junior" Soprano says to Tony, “We’re dropping like flies.”

Tony tells him, “It’s all that charcoal broiled meat you people ate.”

Uncle Junior replies, “Nobody told us ‘til the 80’s.”

No doubt too much of a good thing is dangerous to your health. That goes for alcohol or bacon or even ice cream. I consider myself relatively health-conscious. I exercise nearly every day, watch my weight, and take vitamins, but everyone has their limits. My weakness…flavor. I want to eat food that is flavorful and delicious and somehow in my head this does not jibe with vegetarianism. I hate to climb on any diet bandwagon. I scoff at Atkins Diet, the South Beach, and even Jenny Craig. So when R dropped his little bombshell that he was becoming a vegetarian, I was--shall we say--resistant. "How long will this last? 24 hours?" I quipped, given that R doesn’t particularly like vegetables. And how was I supposed to cook anything remotely flavorful given that I was working with a limited list of ingredients and excluding meat or fish of any kind (nothing with a face or a mother, he said). So, with great trepidation, I reluctantly climbed on the bandwagon. It's been three weeks now, and I must say, it’s not as bad as I expected. In fact, I’m trying recipes that I’d still make even after he sees the error of his ways and repents. It still feels like a punishment to me. But when the urge for meat overpowers me I make my pasta with meat sauce or chili with turkey meat. Moderation is still my watchword, as well as daily exercise.

Over the next few posts, I'll highlight the recipes that worked for both of us and provide a satisfying change from our usual meat dishes without sacrificing flavor. Stay tuned!

The Royal Sheep - Rhönschaf: Originally uploaded by Ben on

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's Inside Your Fridge?

Coming home after a long absence, I yank open the refrigerator and peer inside at the unfamiliar bag of grapes or leftover container of rice, wondering if indeed Goldilocks had dropped by and rearranged the contents. Unlike the editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine who displayed the contents of his refrigerator in the January/February issue, revealing pristine rows of neatly stacked packages and containers, my fridge is chaotic. Above all else, it is a monument to condiments, a kingdom of barbecue sauce (2 bottles), soy sauce (2 bottles), teriyaki, and hoisin. Mayo and mustard (3 kinds, one with champagne) share shelf space with maple syrup (one imitation and the other genuine), capers (2 bottles), vinegar (3 kinds), and olives (Spanish with pimento and kalamata). Oh, it's a staggering collection.

Before I unpack my new groceries, I reorganize and rearrange, vowing to use up the surplus once again until I end up with a refrigerator that even Martha Stewart would be proud of. Then again, like all new year resolutions, this one will likely be just as foolish and will soon be discarded like the vow to give up chocolate. But for a moment, I'm buoyed up with a sense of righteous purpose like the leaders of an odd religious sect, determined to root out sloth and other guilty sins in the kitchen.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sylvia's Restaurant

"How can you stay in Harlem and not go to Sylvia's?" our friend John said to us a few weeks ago. He's right. Sylvia's has been a Harlem mecca for legendary Southern-style home cooking since the 1960's. Contrite and perpetually hungry, we agreed to go.

Sylvia's Restaurant at 328 Lenox Avenue is owned and operated by the Woods family. Sylvia and Herbert, who met in a bean field when they were eleven and twelve years old, married in 1943, and had four children. In 1962, they opened Sylvia's Restaurant in a storefront on Lenox Avenue with enough room to feed 35 people. Now it occupies nearly a city block and can seat up to 450 people. Since its inception, it has been a family-run place guided by the motto of love for God, love for family, love of good food, and dedication to hard work.

It's an eclectic place with counter service and takeout in one room, which opens into larger,more formal dining rooms with pale green walls and signed portraits of celebrities who want to be immortalized as fans of the ribs and chicken. R took one look at the menu and found a perfect meal--smothered chicken served with a waffle. "A waffle?" I said and he replied, "How can anything with a waffle be bad?" Good point. The chicken, covered in brown gravy, was moist and succulent and fell off the bone. And the waffle was perfect, according to R.

I opted for the ribs, a specialty of the house, and so did John and Joyce. As you can see in the photo, she clearly enjoyed her choice. The meat was succulent and delicious and slathered with Sylvia's sauce, a famous savory blend of tomatoes and pungent spices. Delicious. Aly, who opted for a meatless meal, chose 4 side dishes--which included candied yams, collard greens,string beans, macaroni & cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, and black-eyed peas.

Although I wasn't thrilled with the collard greens, I absolutely loved the corn bread, which was hot and buttery, and melted in my mouth, just like the desserts, which we sampled, despite claiming that we couldn't eat another bite. The peach cobbler and banana bread pudding were fantastic. And so was the fried chicken, and turkey judging from the satisfied smiles of the couple next to us. Well, we'll just have to wait for our next visit.

Sylvia's Restaurant
328 Lenox Avenue near the corner of 127th Street
Harlem, NY

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lighting Up

I don't smoke... thanks, originally uploaded by ƒreg.

I love these vignettes that randomly happen on the street in New York, these flashes of a person’s life that are crystallized in one brief moment. Here’s one I picked up the other day when R and I were walking down Broadway. We were passing a woman who was getting a light from a man on the street. When she straightened up and started puffing on her cigarette, we passed her and I said to Rich:

Me: That smells like pot.

Woman: (overhears me) It is.

Me: Enjoy it.

Woman: I will. This stuff is good. Real good. And I need it. (Laughs)