so-cal sojourn

socal sunrise

When the bitter winds of a New York winter finally begin to blow down from the Arctic, what’s a man to do? Temper the transition from the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia with a little SoCal sojourn. Sure, the weather’s never quite as warm as you’d expect but the need for a sweater in Newport Beach trumps the necessity of a down parka in DUMBO every time.

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air conditioning in a bottle

One of the side benefits of touring Mansion Chobolobo was the discovery of another interesting product made by Senior Curaçao: alcolado glacial, commonly referred to as “air conditioning in a bottle” among the locals.  I’ll admit I was dubious at first – after all it does have the chemical appearance of floor cleaner, no?  Yet the mix of alcohol, mint, and herbs, has a surprisingly subtle, refreshing smell. Blot it on your skin with your hands or a handkerchief and the alcohol evaporates almost instantly, leaving you with the sensation of a cool breeze wafting across your formerly overheated self.  (Just don’t attempt to use it as aftershave – unless you want to reenact the shaving scene from Home Alone.) It’s hard to imagine the pavement melting in the middle of a New York City winter but I wisely picked up a few bottles in anticipation of the sweltering summer to come.  Come August, if you see me dabbling my neck with hankie you’ll know my secret: air conditioning in a bottle.

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celebrating in curaçao

To combat February’s winter blues – and celebrate a very minor birthday – I’ve headed south.  Way south, off the coast of Venezuela to the world’s newest country, Curaçao.  You may have heard of it, if only for the famous blue liqueur with the same name; yet this small island – formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles – boasts a UNESCO-designated harbor and a rich history as the main port of the Dutch West India Company.  And then of course there’s all that lovely Caribbean sand.  And sun.  And sea. Happy Birthday to me.

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in a pickle

What to do with a ten-pound bad bag of organic carrots?  Well, after using them in a stew, chopping up matchsticks and coins for a week’s worth of snacking, adding a handful into a pumpkin soup, and setting aside enough for a carrot-ginger soup of their own, I still had a good five pounds remaining.  How about a “winter pickle?” Julienned strips of carrot packed into a mason jar with a few cloves of garlic, salt, sugar, a dash of cumin, white vinegar, and the secret ingredient there on the left – watermelon radish.  By the time the snows hit this week I’ll be ready for a picnic.

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bucket list: 2010 – january

TURKS & CAICOS:  Sometimes it seems like it’s easier to fly down to Providenciales than it is to get across town during rush hour.  Which is perhaps why the islands of Turks & Caicos are so popular with the Northeast crowd.  And me, too.  There’s almost nothing to do on Provo, as the island capital is known, so there’s no residual guilt to be had about not seeing the sights;  you can thoroughly unwind, soaking up the sun on Grace Bay, one of the world’s great sandy beaches.

A trip down here in January is a tonic for the the harsh New York winter and this trip had the added benefit of a stay at the new Seven Stars.  As a New Yorker, it’s a particularly bittersweet pleasure to find a hotel room larger than your apartment.  At the oversized Seven Stars, the bedroom alone was larger than my apartment.  Naturally, I had to be dragged out kicking and screaming – least of all because the beach was right outside my sliding glass doors.

There’s a curiosity that made this trip memorable as well.  A culinary delicacy I’d heretofore been ignorant of despite my many trips to the Caribbean.  Never one to shy away from the local fare, I stepped up and swallowed it raw and whole, according to local tradition.  And what was this sublime aphrodisiac, you ask?  Conch penis.

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cloudy with a chance of meatballs

This week’s winter weather craving:  meatballs!  Inspired by a piece in Men’s Health of all places, I tried my hand at mixing equal parts veal, pork, and beef with a few eggs, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, lemon zest and pankow instead of the traditional bread crumbs.  Frying them off in batches they held their shape and browned up quite nicely.  But what to do with them now?  Into the pan drippings I tossed a good pound of fresh creminis, a little chicken broth, light cream and flour to thicken.  Five minutes later I had a rich mushroom gravy that banished all thoughts of marinara and spaghetti.  Like meatloaf, I’ve got a feeling that a night in the fridge will only improve things.  Even better:  warmed up over a bed of hot buttered noodles to chase away the arctic chill.

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best mushroom soup ever

It’s barely November, yet my Le Creuset is getting quite the workout:  these wintry weekends seem tailor made for steaming bowls of soup and crusty bread to soak it up.  In the spirit of last weekend’s onion soup, I went in search of something familiar and comforting while trying to lighten it up a bit, too.  I chanced upon a gorgeous selection of plump creminis and chanterelles at the market, which settled the internal debate for me:  cream of mushroom soup,  here I come.  As with the onion soup, my recipe search was disappointingly stilted away from the eponymous ingredient. Heavy on the cream and low on the mushrooms is not what I was after.  I wanted a soup that tasted earthy; I didn’t want the predominate flavor to be butter.  Of course, I should have known I’d find the answer in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  As soon as I read about dicing the mushroom stems to flavor the vegetable stock I knew I was in good hands.  Her secrets to a rich soup without resorting to a pound of butter and a quart of cream?  First, a proper well-cooked roux to thicken the mix of sauteed mushroom caps and stock.  To give it that velvety mouth-feel that makes “cream of” soups so seductive, beat a few egg yolks with a little heavy cream.  Make a liaison with the warm soup and cream mixture by slowly ladling the hot into the cold – you’ll incorporate the two without accidentally making scrambled eggs.  Return it to the pot, correct the seasoning and allow the egg to poach.  Piping hot, garnished with a little parsley, you’ll feel the cold melt straight away.

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