Category Archives: food

brunch date, brooklyn style

Paul and I spent today on a Brunch Date!  We dropped Ben off at his class at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and then, realizing we still had two hours until we had to pick him up, kind of looked at each other

“What do you want to do?” my husband asked me.
“Well, it depends,” I said. “How much biking do you want to do?” I’m back in Physical Training mode, after all – trying to get myself back to the physical shape I was in when I first got sick in June. Therefore, I’m prioritizing more challenging physical activity this week to start rebuilding my endurance, so I can resume my personal training sessions without collapsing halfway through. But I also don’t want Paul to have to wear himself out just because I’m pushing myself more these days.

Fortunately that wasn’t a concern for Paul. “I’m fine,” he told me. “I’ll bike as far as you want to go.”

I smiled. “Then lets go to Smorgasburg! It’s only 4.3 miles away! I checked!”

“Isn’t Smorgasburg coming to Prospect Park on Sundays now though?” Paul asked.

“Yeah, it is,” I replied. “But I think we should go to the Williamsburg location. We will get there right when it opens at 11. It won’t get crowded that early because all the hipsters in Williamsburg wake up late from having been out last night. Whereas the Prospect Park one is going to be mobbed as soon as it opens at 11am tomorrow with families whose kids all woke up at the ass crack of dawn on a Sunday and announced they were bored.”

Paul nodded. “I see the logic here,” he said. “Let’s go. Lead the way.” So I jumped on my bike, and did so, leading the way up Classon to the Navy Yards, and then up the bike path to East River Park. We arrived at 10:52, with just enough time to use the reasonably clean port-a-potties and the conveniently placed hand washing stations before attacking the food vendors.

I had read up before heading out to Smorgasburg this year. The event has, after all, only become larger and even more of a Crazy Food-Off since we first visited it in 2012. I found a good recent Refinery29 article that covered it pretty well and helped me prioritize which stands to hit. (Hint: Not the Ramen Burger…and not just because it had a ridiculous line, ten minutes after it opened)

We wandered up and down to see this year’s lineup first. There were no lines at ANY of the stands because Smorgasburg had just opened, and people were still coming in, so we felt secure taking a few extra minutes to survey the offerings before jumping into brunch. At the recommendation of the R29 article, I suggested starting with the Imperial Egg: a Scotch Egg vendor. What is a Scotch Egg, you ask? It’s an egg, wrapped in meat, and deep fried, and it is AWESOME.

Scotch Egg from The Imperial Egg

This was a lamb merguez style meat coating. The egg was cut in half, covered in a yogurt sauce, and then we added sriracha at the recommendation of the chef. It was amazing at a half-portion each. The egg yolk and yogurt sauce and sriacha all mixed to drip onto the arugula, which was a great counterpoint to the rich layers of the scotch egg.

Then we moved on to Duck Season, again, based on recommendations from the Interwebs…but also because how could anyone resist a blatant Looney Tunes reference?

We opted for their specialty: the Duck Confit, a perfectly cooked duck leg with red onion marmalade. This isn’t the sort of thing that can be easily split, so Paul and I took turns taking bites of it. It was the first duck confit I’ve ever had that wasn’t too salty, but still managed to be crispy on the outside, while being tender and juicy on the inside. I was so interested in eating it, I forgot to take a photo until it looked like this:

post duck season

So here’s a photo I went back and took of the demo model:

duck duck duck

Eating the confit, sitting on a concrete wall, we both discussed how, if no one sets up a food stall called Rabbit Season for 2016, we will be SERIOUSLY disappointed.

We then followed the sound of “Welcome To The Jungle” next door, to Bon Chovie, a seafood and rock and roll themed stall, where I ordered the fried anchovies, “Jersey style” (which I totally didn’t think was a thing.) The menu also included a salmon burger, and a chef that I suspect, based on his Seahawks hat, probably brought that Seattle style. The anchovies were, as promised, head and tail on, deep fried, and served with smoked paprika sauce:

seal food

Yes, these kind of small fish are considered seal food where I come from, but the harbor seal is my spirit animal. I shared two with Paul, after which he declared them “too fishy”, even with lemon squeezed on them.

Since both of us were rapidly approaching Food Overload by then, we decided to hit one more stall. We looked somewhat longingly at the short ribs at Carnal. Paul remarked, “I know I can get fries anywhere, but those giant cones of fries look really good

“You are allowed to choose your own food, my love,” I pointed out. “You do not have to let your wife pick ALL the foods.”

“I know,” he told me, “but wasn’t there one more you wanted to try?”

Yes. Yes there was. The MofonGO, a dish of plantains with a chicken curry stew on top.

MOFONGO!

I love plantains. They’re super versatile, and work with both sweet and savory dishes. My current list of Things I Want To Cook includes this recipe from Nom Nom Paleo. And mofongo seemed like the sort of dish I could easily modify for our own meals at home.

We settled in to eat it while sitting on the edge of the East River, watching tourists take selfies, and talking about how we could NEVER TELL BEN about going to Smorgasburg, because he would be no end of annoyed with us. Telling our son that we left him to engage in child labor harvesting vegetables at the botanical gardens while we ran off to eat duck confit and deep fried fish would not sit well with him.

As it was, by the end of the mofongo, we were both definitely full, and it was time to bike back down to Prospect Heights. After all, as fun as it is riding our bikes around Williamsburg and pretending to be the sort of people who to go Smorgasburg, we are usually a little family who do everything together. So we reversed direction back down the bike path, and after some back and forth with Google Maps, managed to get to the Botanical Gardens just in time to retrieve Ben from his gardening class.

I collected Ben at the Children’s Farm, and promptly made the mistake of asking him, “how was your class?”

“Terrible. I only got five beans!”

I looked in his bag, and sure enough, there were five yellow wax beans. Ben continued, “I picked twenty of them, but I had to give them all away because other kids didn’t pick any!”

I sighed internally. “That’s OK, my love. I’m proud of you for sharing. I’m actually prouder of you for sharing that I would be of you for bringing all the beans out with you.”

“But I picked, like, twenty beans and I only got to keep a few!”

Thankfully, it was time after that to take Ben to his next stop: a Lego and Pokemon themed birthday party a half mile away. We loaded ourselves back onto our bikes and headed back up the hill, up to Eastern Parkway, past Grand Army Plaza, and onto the Bergen Street bike path to Brickz 4 Kidz. Ben was dropped off, happy with his people, and seemingly over the horrible indignity of having to pick beans only to have to give them away to other children. (Clearly, our son does not agree with communism.)

Paul and I then headed down into the Slope to engage on our last Brooklyn Food Stereotype activity: picking up our CSA from Fishkill Farms, along with our meat share from McEnroe Farms. Lately, the shares have been sizeable, and Paul has had to bike uphill with an extra twenty pounds of produce strapped to his back. It’s still less than the seventy pounds of Ben and trailer bike he used to haul though, so he has done it cheerfully. This week was no exception, as we collected our vegetables, fruit, and grass-fed cow. And to Paul’s credit, even after biking almost twelve miles at that point, he still steadily paced up the hill, back up from 5th Avenue to Prospect Park West, and finally, back around Grand Army plaza to home.

When I got home, I immediately plugged the routes into MapMyFitness, just so I could see how far we rode…and realized, I had totally burned off all the deep fried food we’d eaten at Smorgasburg. Here’s the map showing our route

Now, sitting on the couch, I realize I a extra tired from the effort. Like, really tired, exhausted tired, the sort of exhausted I used to have to bike a lot further to get to. Getting back to bike commuting before the season ends will be tough: today’s 13 miles was done in chunks, and I’m not sure I can do ten miles in less than an hour anytime soon. But if I don’t start now, I definitely won’t be able to return to that level of physical fitness, so I may as well go for it, and see what I can achieve before winter. And if, in the process, I get to go for bike rides and brunch outings with my husband, so much the better.Here’s the map:

day 18/30

I haven’t written about this because I wanted to get to the halfway point before posting about it, but I am currently participating in a Whole30 challenge. This is 30 days of strict Paleo: no grain, no legumes, no dairy, no sugar…and no alcohol. My goals for the 30 days are:

1) re-evaluate my relationships with food, and my emotional response to food. I have always been a terrible stress eater.
2) re-adjust my body to burn fat, not glucose, for fuel. I want my body go to my fat stores for fuel more often rather than telling me I need a carb-based snack to keep going.

I wasn’t sure that this was working until today. The first week, I was tired all the time, because I had pulled a lot of the easily digestible the carbs out of my diet, and wasn’t supplying as much glucose. I was replacing carbs with caffeine, which wasn’t a good idea, and wasn’t entirely working. I was also kind of in disbelief, because I didn’t think I had been eating that many carbs, but then I started noticing times when I would normally have eaten something: sushi, potatoes, extra servings of fruit, sugar-sweetened Kind bars, dried fruit, Greek yogurt. And I was checking those impulses more often. I also started checking my impulses to snack on sweet things at night, even on paleo approved things like berries with coconut milk, or an apple. And the foods I had been going to for stress eating, things like popcorn, chocolate, Pinkberry…all those things were suddenly completely off limits. If I get an impulse to stress eat now, I have to really think about it to find something to meet the craving, and usually, while I’m doing that, if I drink a cup of tea and distract myself, I can get past it,

But I was getting discouraged because I kept reading that I would get more energy shortly, and that I would feel much, much better by Week 2. That was NOT HAPPENING. A week and change in, I was still falling asleep at my desk, or on the subway, and I was struggling to climb stairs to my apartment at the end of the day. I was also discouraged because I was still ragingly hungry in the afternoons, and was counting down minutes to my 4pm snack every day. According to It Starts With food , the basis for the Whole30, I shouldn’t have felt that kind of blood sugar drop telling me to eat RIGHT now at 4pm after a week focused on protein, fat and vegetables.

But I kept going. It was hard, especially in social settings. When my team went to dinner with a vendor at an excellent restaurant, I couldn’t have the wine, or the amazing looking desserts. When my friends were here this weekend, I couldn’t drink with them, and when they had grilled cheese sandwiches at midnight, I had leftover kohlrabi slaw. But I kept going, because after the first ten days, every day, I felt a little bit better.

And then, finally, this week, I went back to energy levels I used to have to maintain with a steady routine of coffee and snacks. And at 4pm today, I wasn’t even hungry. I actually never ate an afternoon snack today (Ok, I had some fruit gelatin, but it was a lot less of a snack than I usually eat). And now I see this whole project coming to fruition, as my body adjusts it’s hunger cues, away from the usual time-based cues. The theory is that my body will now pull glycogen out of my fat stores, since it is getting used to burning fat, not glucose, for energy.
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This has, obviously, taken a huge amount of organization and planning. I am basically running my own meal service now, where I’m cooking and preparing in batches for the week, and setting aside pre-made meals for later in the week. A lot of this is inspiration from Well Fed, my new favorite cookbook, which explains a weekly cooking routine that works really well in our household. Also, the author of that cookbook is a former roller derby girl. I can get behind that.

But I actually really like eating this clean. I like knowing that every single bite I take is one made of the best components possible. I eat soup made with bone broth that I make by cooking bones in a slow cooker for days. I eat two servings of vegetables at every meal, with ethically raised protein and clean, healthy fats. Everything I eat is nutritionally dense food. And now more of what Paul and Ben eat is nutritionally dense as well. They may add rice to a broccoli, cabbage and chicken stirfry, or add bread to make a leftover roast beef sandwich (while I eat mine in lettuce wraps), or put cheese in their eggs, but they are still eating more foods that have really solid nutrition because they’re adding on to my planned meals. I even made Ben some lemon blueberry Paleo muffins, with eggs and coconut flour, which he loved, and which gave him three times the protein of his morning toaster waffles. I see my baby little boy eating foods that are what his tiny increasingly bigger body needs to get bigger, and I know, I’m doing the best I possibly can for him.

So now I’m on Day 18. I cook a lot, I eat a lot, but it all adds up to 1,500 calories a day or less. My nutrition is split fairly equally between carbs, protein and fat. Let’s see if this kicks off more fat burning. After all, I have a DietBet to win

holy pickles, mama!

Recently, I decided to become an even bigger Brooklyn cliche by learning to can foods. This started when I acquired entirely too many peaches a couple of weekends ago, in the course of a visit to a farm in Dutchess County. In order to preserve them, I downloaded “Canning for a New Generation” to my Kindle, and began reading about how to can.

After a practice batch of peaches in syrup, I began to get the hang of it. I have now successfully “put up” a half dozen jars of peach jam (with apple pectin, of course), three and a half pints of classic cucumber relish, three pints of “Dilly Beans!”, and two quarts of Quick Kosher Dills, using apple cider vinegar. This eliminated a lot of the surplus produce from our CSA, who seem to be having a bumper crop year of cucumber and peaches. It also took advantage of local sales on seasonal vegetables.

But one thing I really wanted to make was real, honest to goodness brine pickles. Ben and I have discovered traditional pickles since moving to NYC. We both love pickles, and we are starting to really get into the fermented kind, rather than the commercial vinegar kind. Of course, our Quick Kosher Dills were tasty, but they didn’t have that depth of flavor that comes from the lactic acid on fermentation. Also, because the quick pickles were pickled in jars, I had to add a whole tea bag to each jar, instead of being able to add a few tea bags to a whole crock, and it was just too much tea for the pickles (Tannins like those in tea make for crisper pickles, since they slow the enzyme that breaks down cucumber cell walls, and since I don’t have fresh grape leaves to add, I used black tea bags. Problem solved with SCIENCE!)

So this weekend, I took advantage of a sale on Kirby cucumbers, and we put up a crock of pickles.

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Ben neatly stacked the pickles in the glass jar. I measured spices and made brine. And together, we made pickles! (Also, the bowl to the left of Ben is relish, in the process of soaking in salt water)

Two days later, the jar is starting to smell a LOT like pickles.

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Two more weeks, and we will be ready to put pickles in jars, pasteurize them, and prepare for distribution to friends and family. And, of course, eat them ourselves. Because, as Ben tells us repeatedly every chance possible, he loooooooves pickles.

And I’m not sure how it is I regressed into being an L.M. Montgomery character, despite living in Brooklyn in 2012. First I started baking our own bread, now I’m making pickles. If only I knew how to properly sew, knit and garden, I’d be all set to live in a PEI settlement circa 1890. As it is, I will just have to be a part time urban homesteader in New York City, in a very modern age.

food appreciation for preschoolers

To date, we’ve been pretty lucky with Ben and eating. This is because when he was very small, our pediatrician gave us the Best. Advice. Ever: “just put the food in front of him”. So we did. And we kept putting it in front of him. I read somewhere that a kid has to try a new food at least five times before they will eat it, so we just kept trying. Now, Ben will taste almost anything new, even if it takes months for him to actually eat it, and we have managed to get him to eat a fairly good variety of fruits and vegetables. He eats vegetables with hummus (usually carrots, cucumber or celery) most nights as an “appetizer” before dinner. And he will eat ANYTHING that is fruit based. Berries, apples, bananas, oranges, melons, peaches…if its fruit, even a new fruit, he will eat it.

Obviously, this makes meals easier. Having Ben accept and eventually eat new foods means that we prepare one meal for everyone, with no substitutes, most of the time. We used to give him frozen mixed vegetables at almost every meal, with the green beans picked out, instead of whatever “adult” vegetable we were eating. Now, he eats the green vegetables we eat: broccoli, asparagus, green beans. I still cook a limited variety of those green vegetables to keep it to the Big Three above, or related varieties (broccolette, for example), but mostly, I can cook a meal with a protein, whole grain, and vegetable, and serve it to the kid, and have him eat it with minimal fuss. We have even been able to get him to eat vegetables when they show up in food outside the home, like when he got bok choy in his dumpling soup.

This isn’t to say Ben doesn’t prefer the usual “kid food”: the basic sweet or salty foods all kids eat. He would much rather live off granola bars and cheese sticks, fries with ketchup, grilled cheese, Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, pasta, etc. He is never going to turn down candy, especially M&Ms. He still wants nothing to do with a lot of foods, like sweet potatoes, and it’s tough to get him to eat more than a few bites of non-fried fish that isn’t salmon. But overall, he is pretty good about eating whatever healthy food we put in front of him. With the nutritional problems that run rampant in Western society these days, and a 30% child obesity rate in America that is partially linked to “kid foods”, this makes me extremely thankful to have a little boy who will eat more than the usual monotone of junk designed for a “child palate”.

So we are fortunate here, because Ben is an agreeable kid. But I still wanted his vegetable repertoire to expand. So I picked up “French Children Eat Everything”, a book by a Vancouver academic who moved to France for a year with her two small daughters, and had to adjust to the French “food rules”. Rules like “kids eat what the adults eat” and “slow food is happy food”. Those are rules I can agree with. Also, obviously, I want one of those Euro-trained kids who will go to a nice restaurant and eat a multi -course meal. Mostly though, I just want a kid who eats a healthy variety of food, including the vegetable based foods I think are delicious, like beet salad with goat cheese, or roasted Brussels sprouts, or collard green wraps with avocado or hummus.

So I ramped up the food introductions last week, through a variety of tactics. We got Ben to eat lettuce based salad, a food he previously said he “didn’t eat “, by introducing it to him with ranch dressing, and then rolling to vinaigrette. On Sunday, he tried the lentil and carrot salads on offer from a bistro’s food booth at the 5th Ave Street Fair, and he ended up eating several bites of each. And last night, I took a literal page out of “French Kids” and cooked one of the recipes: beet purée. But I cooked it because, when we were in the grocery store Sunday night. Ben pointed at beets and asked, “What’s this, Mama?”. I explained it was beets, and he told me, “I would like to try that.”. Of course, he didn’t eat more than two bites of the resulting dish, which was actually delicious, since it was really a puree of three parts zucchini and one part beet, with butter and salt added. But he tried it, and I will keep trying it on him and hope he develops an eventual taste for beets.

One of the most successful tactics to date, however, has been leveraging screen time. I used Ratatouille as an introduction to, well, ratatouille. I used a Sesame Street segment about colorful foods to bring in more colorful vegetables. And now, our new favorite show is Around the World in 80 Plates. Ben likes “cooking” (standing on a stool to help prep simple foods with Paul), and I figured a cooking show that goes around the world would be a great way to learn about cultures AND introduce new foods. This is actually working, because after watching last week’s episode in Lyon, France, he wanted to go shop for and cook the foods we saw on the show. So we went to the farmers market on Saturday (by bike, naturally) and bought the ingredients for salad Lyonnaise:

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That is Ben’s salad, above. I rendered duck prosciutto (instead of slab bacon) in a bit of olive oil, and poached the eggs. Ben shook the dressing, made from the rendered fat and red wine vinegar, and the assembled the salads after I tossed the arugula with the dressing. We all then broke and mixed in our egg yolks, and Ben actually ate half his salad.

This tactic of involving Ben in cooking doesn’t always work. Ben still refused to eat the mussels he helped me prepare. Or rather, he ate one, announced he did not like it, and so I quickly cooked him some plain fish as a protein substitute to go with the fries I made to accompany said mussels. But that’s OK. The point is that he ate the mussel before saying he did not like it. He tried a spoonful of beet purée last night before dismissing it. He tastes things, and then talks about how it tastes. Like we did with broccoli, we will get there with other foods. We will just have to keep offering these foods to him, along with foods he already knows and likes, and remind him that every food was, at one time, a new one he didn’t know he enjoyed.