Posts Tagged ‘food’

Something about Boystown. (Dammit.)

June 6, 2013

Oh, dammit, Doug.

DSC_0067I don’t make it to Boystown often, but every time I’m there, I think of you.

I had the best dinner tonight; I actually won it. Just for tweeting. I was only beginning to use Twitter when you knew me. Tonight it won me fried chicken.

I went for a run this afternoon — I’m back to running again, signed up for a 10K that’s this fall — then came home, showered and took the train to Sheridan. It felt like fall today, on June 6. Even the setting sun seemed like an autumn sunset, with the kind of chilled warmth that only an October sun can give.

Except today.

Just shy of 7 p.m., everyone was already inside waiting for the Blackhawks game to start. It was just me and the sidewalks and my lengthening shadow.

I took myself on a date.

Dinner was at Hearty and started with a cocktail, an elderflower gimlet made with Small’s Gin and St. Germain. I ordered fried mac and cheese for an appetizer and a fried chicken basket for dinner. Sinful.

I sat alone in the corner of the room, facing the sidewalk, and watched Halsted dim, fade to pink then black. I had Malbec with my chicken and a glass of sparkling wine with dessert. I chatted with the gay men at the table next to me; I walked my bubbles to the opposite corner of the room for a toast with another solo female diner. She’d just gotten divorced and only recently moved to the neighborhood.

You could always talk to anyone, too. Actually, to the point where it almost embarrassed me.

Anyway, I went all out. You’d have been proud.

I took the long way home.

I decided, after paying the check, to take the long way home, down Halsted through Boystown. And the second I hit Addison, your 6’3″ presence loomed in my path.

DSC02964

You never seemed so tall; you were more like a carnival-game stuffed animal with a penchant for repeating salacious stories and the best Barcelona accent I’d ever heard. But tonight, you were a hulk on the street.

I walked past Tapas Gitana, where a wooden sign hung down from the awning beckoning people to the patio where we drank sangria till we were sick. Across the street, the sex shop where we staged our dildo sword fight was all aglow, with pleather underwear in the windows in a riot of colors all set for Pride Fest.

And then, the parking lot of the 7-Eleven. Why it was at that moment the lump of uncried tears chose to attack my throat, I can’t be sure. I was so drunk on cheap rosé when we got that pedicab from my first-ever Pride Parade that I barely remember our first afternoon there. I remember the streets littered with strings of plastic beads and our clothes stuck to our bodies from the torrential downpour. And I remember that eternal ride home in the rain was one of the best times I’ve ever had.

Dammit.

 I guess you’re still here.

Just after the 7-Eleven parking lot, I walked past a group of kids holding a sign that said, “BAD JOKES. ANYTHING WILL HELP!” I asked if they were hungry and handed over my leftovers, all for this:

“Have you heard the one about the broken pencil?”
“… No?”
“… Ah, never mind. It has no point.”

It was so worth surrendering my chicken and the last fried mac and cheese square. We would have been all the way to Belmont before we stopped cackling.

I’d rather be drinking with you.

I can’t believe you’ll have been gone three years this fall. Lisa and I talk about you like it’s been a week since we saw you, even if I do refer to you as my dead friend Doug. I mean it with love, like the time you made a Parkinson’s joke and didn’t realize my mom had it. I know you’d understand.

I can’t believe I was with him the night you collapsed, and I can’t believe you left never knowing the real me. Or maybe you did. But I’ve changed so much, Doug.

I’m still irresponsible and silly, and I know we could cause so much trouble together. But I wish you could meet Mark, and the cats — hell, I’d say I wish you could have met Emaline, but I know you two are causing trouble somewhere right now — and I wish we could sit on my deck and drink more cheap rosé together.

I’d rather be drinking with you than writing this post. I’d rather be drinking with you than doing a lot of things.

I think you’d be proud of the woman I’ve become. You loved me as a hot mess, too, I know.

You know, you never did read my blog, and that never…really bothered me. I told you everything you needed to know.

 

Dammit.

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A simple (but decadent) night at Battersby.

April 29, 2013

The dining room (and…pretty much everything else) at Battersby.April 2 was one of the first pleasant days New York saw this spring, and there were about 10 people queued up outside when we found the almost unmarked storefront on Smith Street in Cobble Hill. It was just shy of 6 p.m., just before Battersby opened for the night. Chefs and servers paced inside, preparing for another Saturday night.

Battersby is the kind of place you walk into and wonder where the hidden doorway is to another, larger dining room. There is no hidden doorway. It is what it is: less than 20 seats in a sparse room. Exposed brick, exposed kitchen — and few barriers between front of house, back of house and patrons.

Even four of us — Mark’s brother, Matt, and his wife, Jaime, Mark and me — in that tiny restaurant would have been a squeeze.

Clipboard in hand, the host led us past the rest of the tables, past the open kitchen, to what I assumed was a hallway leading to a cozy private space.

That cozy private space was, in fact, a dark, cramped breezeway, minus the breeze, between the kitchen and the back door, “private” only because we were wedged into a corner where no diners should have been seated.

I got over that roughly 43 seconds after our first wine, a rosé from Provence, and the first bites of food arrived.

We ordered the seven-course “surprise” tasting menu.

Rosemary flatbread at Battersby.It began with two amuse-bouches. The first: a simple white porcelain cup filled with carrot juice tinged with lemongrass and a drizzle of oil for texture. The second: another perfect plate, artfully smeared with thick Greek yogurt and topped with a root-vegetable muesli — our first glimpse into the Battersby’s constant interplay of at-odds flavors and textures.

Next, a freshly baked rosemary flatbread — almost too hot to cut — served with a jar of whipped ricotta and olive oil.

The kitchen was already frenetic with activity; every few minutes, the open range popped and sizzled with what we could only assume was the kale salad we’d all read so much about. I caught the chef’s eye as he plated one; he waggled his eyebrow at me.

“Just wait,” he grinned. “Patience, patience.”

Hamachi crudo.Finally, it was time for our first course: hamachi crudo with paper-thin radish and cucumber and a delicate yuzu vinaigrette. Jaime, who is due to have her first child in June, had a broccoli salad with microgreens and finely sifted grana padano draped over it.

We paired our first courses with a Kerner, a white wine from a German-speaking region in Italy. Dry, but with apricot, citrus and floral flavors: absolutely perfect with what we’d eaten so far.

Our second course was the famed crispy kale salad, with Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and roasted peanuts. The dark greens balanced beautifully with the peanut-spiked citrus dressing, which was so good that I picked up the bowl and slurped up the last of it.

The final savory courses…

Casoncelli at Battersby.Our next dish, casoncelli, was a loosely folded, handmade pasta filled with tender pork, topped with lemon, caper, feathery fresh dill, basil and breadcrumbs so crunchy they could have passed for Grape-Nuts. The balance of salty and sweet, mild and acidic, velvety and crunchy: perfection to the point of nearly unbearable.

Then, a spring-weight seafood stew of bay scallops, razor clams and mussels, nestled in a tomato broth, followed by a black angus corned-beef style short rib, blood red and heavily peppered, served with cabbage, apple, fingerling potato and sauerkraut-like cabbage.

Mark chose Volnay, a pinot noir from Burgundy, to pair with our heavier dishes. Alone, it tasted like a brick wall, almost too earthy for me, but with those final courses, the dark, overripe fruits emerged against the salt, pepper and savory.

We ended on a sweet note.

Our dessert wine tasted like spiced syrup, coating our mouths to meld with the flavor of buttery brown sugar Madeleines straight out of the oven, soft and pillowy and perfect.

 

Not surprisingly, our corner felt significantly snugger on the way out. Luckily, I all but floated up and over the table, past the other diners — who undoubtedly wondered where we’d been stashed for the past three hours — and out the door, into the cool night air.

 

I shall call him Squishy.

March 9, 2011

Thank you to P&G’s Have You Tried This Yet? program and Kroger for sponsoring my writing about trying new things and breaking out of my everyday routine. Click here to find great savings on high-performing P&G products at a Kroger store near you. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

 

It’s pretty common knowledge that I was never really happy with my decision to attend the University of Kansas.
As high school neared its close, and my perfect SAT–scoring, International Baccalaureate genius friends fanned out to various Ivy League and other top-tier institutions, and I prepared to spend the next four years of my life at Miami of Ohio, in a postage-stamp town called Oxford, I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Kansas.
(Truthfully, I didn’t even want high school to end; those were the four happiest years of my life.)
So I slithered back to the admissions department at the University of Kansas and begged them to find me a spot to live somewhere in the residence halls. I enrolled at Shawnee Mission East, the sequel, and I was miserable. I didn’t even try. All I could think was, “My friends are out there, living, and I’m stuck here.”
Killer of a self-fulfilling prophecy. No — a self-defeating prophecy.

But the summer after my sophomore year, I made plans to try something new. I moved to Philadelphia for the summer. I landed an internship and was going to learn the ropes of the big city and spend time with my best girlfriend, who I’d missed terribly since she left for UPenn.
As it turned out, the internship was unpaid (and my wallet had been stolen by the end of the summer), my “big city” apartment was actually on the fringe of the ghetto, and my best friend had other plans for the summer.
But life had other plans for me, too, in human form; those plans careened one night into the restaurant where I was hosting, wearing Rollerblades and a black do-rag. Those plans were named Kenrick.

Kenrick took me to see Finding Nemo the first time we hung out. He started calling me “my squishy,” and I never tired of it.
He was an actor, and a couple of years older than me. He was already 21, knew about wine and could convince any customer to get a bottle of the Amarone, and he sold more side dishes and desserts than I ever thought possible.
On one of our first dates, we had Mexican food in a hole-in-the-wall cantina in Old City, just off the Delaware River. (I was underage and we had margaritas anyway; he could walk into any restaurant like he owned the place. I wasn’t getting carded.) We strolled through the city that steamy summer evening; he regaled me with stories of his Philadelphia life so far.
He talked a lot. But the stories were interesting: He had been a high school outcast in Mennonite country; he was studying fight choreography and taking trapeze lessons out in the suburbs. So I listened.

It was an education.

As we made our way back toward his place — we cut down Smedley Street, still my favorite block in the entire universe — we zig-zagged to South Street for my first-ever mojito in a dark basement bar, then stopped elsewhere for dessert. Flan, I think. And always more drinks.
I stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m. every night, drinking life in. Most nights, we shared the tiny twin bed in his apartment, all streaky purple- and maroon-painted walls with curtains for doors, and a kitchen stuffed to the ceiling with dishes and strange ingredients and cooking implements. We watched his favorite movie, The Princess Bride, on a tiny TV over the hum of the window air conditioner.

I got up early the next morning for work, barely conscious, and did it all again the next day.

That summer, thanks to him, I discovered red wine. Our restaurant sold a bottle with a beautiful label emblazoned with a feather, the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted; I spent months seeking it out when I returned to Kansas.
Near Rittenhouse Square, there’s a dangerous little shop called Di Bruno Brothers — just down the street from the equally treacherous Scoop de Ville — that sells cheese. And charcuterie. And about 50 kinds of olives. And quince paste, and about a million other beautiful things I’d never tasted until that summer.

Peter Frampton performed as we watched the fireworks in the park by the Art Museum on the 4th of July. I’d never seen such colors before.

I was in love — truly in awe, for the first time — with him and everything about the life he showed me during those few short months.
He made me who I am today: the giddy foodie and wine ingénue, the city girl who forgets how to say no sometimes, the overspender, the life lover.
I owe my good taste to Kenrick.

DishKebab: Return of the Mac.

January 11, 2011

Replace the winter blues with the blue-box blues! Or head to a restaurant for your fix…

You can read my post about mac and cheese, my ultimate comfort food, over on DishKebab.

Reflection.

December 19, 2010

I could smell the Spice House from half a block down Wells Street; even the wood of the huge, old doors is infused with scents of curry and cinnamon and black pepper. I was the collateral damage as a wave of warm, heady fragrance rushed toward the cold outdoor air as I walked inside.
In my shin-length North Face, I was channeling the Michelin man and barely had room to shimmy around the rickety old displays, spice mixing tables and stumbling spice-drunk patrons as I looked for the gift boxes I’d come for.
I found the boxes, one for my mom and one for my dad, and a couple of other things, including a jar of peppercorns and a bag of cocoa mix for myself. The man at the register told me he favored a 4:1 gift-giving ratio — one treat for yourself for every gift purchased — to cut down on buyer’s remorse.

The little boy behind me in line told his mom they should just steal their spices so they wouldn’t have to wait in line. I turned around to waggle an eyebrow at him, and complimented his plaid hat with fur-lined earflaps.
You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

Four-to-One likened himself to a Christmas elf, stuck in Santa’s workshop while everyone else bustled around buying their gifts. But he didn’t seem to mind. Huddled behind the counter with the other employees — they had three registers going, and the line was still halfway to the door — he had a little red sound-effect machine that he used like Jim Cramer on Mad Money. He pressed the little “cha-ching” button when I handed over my credit card, and he followed a co-worker to the stock room, pressing the fart button repeatedly.

I didn’t want to leave, go out alone into the cold again. Inside that cozy oven of a shop, we were all baking together like little Christmas snickerdoodles. My iPhone’s battery was dying, and I knew I’d lose my Christmas soundtrack before too long.
As expected, the phone kicked the bucket — just as I stepped into the Southern, a comfort-food restaurant back near my apartment. I hadn’t eaten all morning, nor had I eaten a real meal all weekend.
So I ordered chicken and a biscuit — a buttermilk-fried breast with a homemade biscuit, swimming in a thick, rich brown gravy with tasso ham and rosemary — and sipped coffee and orange juice as I finished writing my holiday cards.

Everyone else at the restaurant was brunching with friends, celebrating the holidays with mimosas and shrimp and grits, exchanging Christmas gifts. No one seemed serious, or stressed out, or even hung over. Just bright eyes, hearty laughter and full bellies as they got up to leave.

I wasn’t envious; I wasn’t lonely. I’d spent my weekend outside my comfort zone, with cocktails and conversation and unexpected new friends I hope to see again.

And as I paid my check, I watched a little girl discover her reflection.

She’d been nestled in a booster seat in the corner booth, and her family bundled her up in a pink hat and boots, and a houndstooth coat with a ruffled bottom. While her mother fussed with her own coat and the mess of bags she’d brought in with her, the little girl wandered over to a tall mirror leaned up against the wall.
She furtively glanced around, looked closely at the other little girl in the mirror then put her hand up to the mirror. She admired the pretty little girl in the black and white coat and pink winter hat, pondering her good taste. Then she spotted me.
She watched me in the mirror, and I waved at her reflection. She smiled her gap-toothed, jack-o’-lantern smile and patted the mirror to say hello back.

All packed and ready to go, her mother joined her, showed her how to dance along to the bluegrass music gently keeping time with the muted football game. They were still exploring the mirror world as I gathered my own things and made my way to the door and home to my little apartment.

As she discovered her reflection, I discovered that my Christmas spirit hasn’t gone away; it’s just been in hiding. My busted tree and the same old holiday tunes couldn’t bring it out this year. It needed a little coaxing: warm, rich scents, the kindness of strangers, fried chicken, and a toddler getting a new perspective of her own.

Reverb 10: I don't have your recipe.

December 6, 2010

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest.

Today’s prompt:
December 6 Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?
(Author: Gretchen Rubin)

Two recipes, both promising delicious delicacies and happiness beyond compare.
I’ve tried them both.

First: I made a mess.
Pair two unlikely ingredients.
Stir together at just the right time.
Let rise in a warm place.
Beat furiously with family turmoil and life’s little hassles.
Mix ingredients with everything else in the cupboard, and bake at a high temperature until the smoke alarm starts going off.
Throw the whole concoction out the window. Let cool for two months at opposite ends of the city — this metaphor actually isn’t going very well — checking for bruises burns at intervals.
Try again in a cooler environment, this time adding equal parts trepidation, pride and eternal hope.
Repeat the process as best you can remember.
Fail again.

Because the recipe looked so much better in the pictures.
Maybe the ingredients are better off separately, too decadent — or toxic, maybe — when combined.

Second: I made cookies.
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter
2 eggs
In a large bowl, mix sugars, softened butter and vanilla. Add in eggs, one at a time. Beat until smooth.
In a smaller bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda.
Stir dry mixture, bit by bit, into the larger bowl until the mixture is even. Add chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded spoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake at 375° for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on wire rack.

Or, if you’re me, skip the baking part entirely and eat the entire bowl of dough.

Guess I end up sick and hating myself in the end regardless of the recipe.
This kitchen isn’t going to clean itself.

Today's Special: Burger with a Side of Date

March 25, 2009

Following my weekend in North Carolina, where I was clearly deprived of all sources of sustenance — what — my plane landed at O’Hare, and all I could think about was Kuma’s.
Perfect beef and fluffy pretzel rolls and salty, salty fries and icky generic soda — KUMA’S. Goodgod.

So I dropped my suitcase off at the apartment, put on crappy clothes, hopped on my bike and toddled down to Avondale, where I perched myself on a stool at the quiet end of the bar and unpacked the supplies from my purse: leatherbound journal, Paris book, cell phone. I drooled over the menu for 15 minutes only to order the exact same burger I had the first time I went; why mess with a classic?
The High on Fire (yes, it’s a metal band) begins with the aforementioned perfect beef, which is then piled high with prosciutto, roasted red pepper, a grilled pineapple ring and then laced with sriracha sauce. It’s messy and disgusting and, quite frankly, amazing. Add hand-cut waffle fries to that, and you’ve got a glorious heart attack waiting to happen. And after working up quite a healthy appetite over the weekend and consuming nothing but a chocolate doughnut and an iced latte all day, I planned to eat the. whole. thing.
I sipped my Diet RC Cola and stared blankly at my Paris guide, forever daunted at the prospect of planning this damn trip, until I overheard the bartender and two guys next to me talking about iPods. Why yes, I’d love to join the conversation. I interjected some wit and tech savvy into their discussion, and to my surprise, the gentleman seated next to me decided he’d like to continue talking.
Well, all right.
Turns out this gentleman is a bartender, a cyclist (who calls himself an amateur yet rode his bike all the way across the country), a writer, a foodie, a world traveler and a convenient neighbor to me. And he thought I was hilarious. Whaaaaa?

We were discussing the best Thai food in Lincoln Square/Ravenswood — and how he thought it compared to what he’d tried in ACTUAL THAILAND — when my burger came, and we continued conversing between my mammoth bites of burger. God, we had so much to talk about. My life adventures aren’t nearly on par with his, but I think he’s got a few years on me, and I’d say I still managed to go toe to toe with him in conversation. Halfway through my meal and on to my second RC, I swooned, “My life just got 20 times better. Right. Now.” And I wonder if he knew I only kind of meant the burger.
As I finished wolfing down that dripping half-pound of beef and prepared to pay my check, he said he’d like to take me out to dinner. And asked for my phone number. Like. A normal. PERSON. I actually had to ask him to repeat himself.
Let me reiterate: I did not meet this man online; I was wearing an orange ballcap and my crappy “University Daily Kansan: We Put Out Daily” (oh, the irony) shirt. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. This girl, right here, got a date the way real humans get dates.

So. I mean. Obviously, I’m going.
The best part of this story: He joked about stalking me and offered to ride home with me because he lives in the neighborhood. We coasted side by side back up the desolate stretch of California leading toward home, talking about who cares what. When we got to my corner, he shook my hand and said it was…a pleasure.
Yes it was, sir. And will be.