Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kickin' it old school.

I spent Christmas at my grandmother's house in Florida this year. She very generously agreed to let me devise the menu for Christmas dinner, and I decided that sticky toffee puddings should make a second appearance in as many weeks.

Now, at home, I work with a KitchenAid stand mixer, a piece of equipment that has become pretty much standard issue for home cooks - and, particularly, bakers - these days. Nonie (that's my grandmother), however, never saw a reason to replace her vintage-fabulous Mixmaster.

At first, I was frustrated - the bowl was too wide to cream the single stick of butter and 2/3 cup of sugar effectively, and I ended up doing things by hand. Then I discovered the second (deeper and narrower) bowl - aha! So, the lesson? Always explore the depths of the cabinet before giving up, and never assume that something as adorable as the Mixmaster can't be practical as well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Champagne + biography = this reader's heaven!

I just saw this review by Roadfood's Jane and Michael Stern on Seems there is a new biography of the Widow (in French, Veuve) Clicquot that focuses "as much [on] Champagne itself as [on] the woman who helped elevate it to celebrity status."

Veuve is admittedly not my favorite Champagne, but Barbe-Nicole Clicquot was instrumental in turning Champagne into the international commercial enterprise it is today, and I can't help but be fascinated by that.

Sounds like my perfect book, and available at Barnes & Noble for less than 20 bucks (if you're a member, that is). Score!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I'm famous! (Well, sort of.)

How did I become famous, you might ask? Well! Schmap puts out these nifty online guides to different cities (which are absolutely perfect for use with your iPhone), and they've used two of my photos for their latest Paris edition!

A shot I snapped outside of Pierre Herme's (closed) Rue Cambon shop is included, as is the photo I took of the entryway at Angelina's. Schmap links directly back to my Flickr photostream, so here's hoping Schmap will earn Queenie some new Paris-loving readers - no doubt Schmap will earn some Queenie-loving users.

Thanks, Schmap!

P.S. - Check out the Schmap widget on the right-hand side of the page...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Feasting with friends.

You know those nights when you just have an awesome time? Where the wine is unbelievably good and flows freely, where the food is simple but tasty and leaves you free to talk instead of just ooh and aah over it, where the company is comfortable and warm?

Saturday night was one of those nights for me.

My friends Caroline, Brian and Ellie came over for dinner, and we spent a most excellent evening together. Ellie's just started med school in Chicago, Caroline and Brian have just gotten engaged, and I'm starting a new role at work in January, so we had oodles to celebrate.

Accordingly, we drank a bottle of Schramsberg and a bottle of Ayala (an unbelievably good 1999 brut millésimé from my champagne soulmate, Louisa), some delicious homemade eggnog (courtesy of Brian, and accompanied by fried chickpeas with cilantro), and a gorgeous bottle of Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (which Caroline, far more discerning than I, pronounced too young, but I thoroughly enjoyed).

The food was all comfort, all the time: roasted tomato soup, gougères, macaroni and cheese with bacon and mushrooms, and sticky toffee puddings. The music was mainly Christmas songs, with a bit of Arcade Fire thrown in for spice. Ellie insisted on washing some dishes, and I actually let her, which means I must have been tipsier than I realized.

All in all, a fantastic evening.

Roasted Tomato Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

3 lbs. plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 tbs. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tbs. unsalted butter
2 small yellow onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
28 oz. canned plum tomatoes, with juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
1 quart chicken stock

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the fresh tomatoes with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, the salt and the pepper, and spread evenly, in layer, on one large or two small rimmed baking sheets. Roast for 35-45 minutes, until well-browned.

In a large dutch oven or stockpot, heat the remaining 2 tbs. of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes, and saute until the onions have begun to turn brown around the edges.

Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes, with their juices, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for forty minutes.

Using a stick blender (or a traditional blender, working in batches), blend to desired consistency (I like it thick but not chunky). Taste and adjust for seasoning and serve each bowl sprinkled with a few fresh thyme leaves.

Serves six, generously. Can be made up to a day ahead and reheated gently on the stovetop.

Monday, December 15, 2008

When life hands you Pinot Noir, pie?

I spent Thanksgiving at my mom's new home in St. Augustine, Florida this year. She just moved in two months ago, and so she's in the box phase - you open one, you see what you see, and what you see is probably not what you need.

Case in point? The rolling pin was nowhere to be found, so I rolled out the pastry dough for my apple pie with a bottle of Pinot Noir, something I do not recommend to anyone but which certainly made for an interesting image (and a slightly lumpy crust). Of course, we didn't really care so much, since the pie in question turned out to be so darned ambrosial.

Typically, our family goes in for a very traditional apple pie: not too deep of dish, apples sliced fairly thin, filling flavored with cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, and perhaps a bit of lemon juice. This time around, I decided to splash out and make Ina Garten's deep dish apple pie. She keeps her apple slices thick and hearty - they're more chunks, really - and uses a whopping four pounds of them. She adds orange and lemon juice and zest, and rounds out the spices with a bit of allspice.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this is the best apple pie I've ever tasted. It is complex, but not overwhelming, and not even a little boring. Plus, that final egg wash makes things awful pretty, no?

Rise and shine!

Room service for breakfast is one of life's great pleasures. There's something unmistakably luxurious about taking breakfast in your room - you're cocooned a bit longer in your sanctuary, able to read your paper without looking rude, able to ease into your morning peacefully rather than surrounded by the jangle and clatter of cutlery.

When I travel for business, those extra twenty minutes of peace are precious to me, and I eat breakfast in my room whenever I can get away with it. My trip to Mumbai was no exception, and the ITC Maratha performed admirably. Their basket of toast and pastry arrived warm and crusty each morning, and though Indian jams tend to run too sweet for my taste, the butter was fantastic.

And, most important - the coffee was strong, rich and hot, fortifying me for long days of meetings and hand-shaking.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paris, the prologue: me, circa 1986.

The place: Old Greenwich Elementary School. The year: 1986. The occasion: the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

Yes, that's right - my love affair with France began way back when, back when my mother and her siblings spoke in a mysterious language when they didn't want us to hear, back when I took after-school French classes where I learned stories to help me count to ten (Under Trois, Cat sank; Sis said we'd had enough of this.), back when I wore an oh-so-American kerchief along with my red beret.

That's right, folks. True love starts early - in my case, at the age of six.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Paris, part five: the search for the perfect chocolat chaud.

Once upon a time, two very lucky young ladies took a trip to Prague. Along the way, they sampled many, many cups of hot chocolate. In the many days since, they've never found anything even close to the perfection that is Czech hot chocolate, particularly not in the surprisingly quality-hot-chocolate-free land of France.

Until now.

On the suggestion of a colleague, I decided to give French hot chocolate another go on this trip, and I was not disappointed. On Sunday afternoon, I paid a visit to Angelina, the legendary teahouse on rue de Rivoli, across from the Jardins des Tuileries. I waited in a long line of tourists and well-heeled locals for a table, and was seated on the second floor, overlooking the entrance.

I hunkered down with my book, ordered a chocolat chaud and a carafe d'eau, and awaited the arrival of the chocolate. It arrived in a little pitcher, whipped cream on the side, with a spoon for dolloping at will - or, in my case, for occasionally eating the thick concoction like a stew.

Like the mythical hot chocolates of Prague, this version was rich and deeply flavorful, not at all like the sugary water served in college cafeterias or at skating rinks here in the States. It's basically melted dark chocolate, lightly sweetened and lightened ever so slightly with a touch of milk. In short, it's pure indulgence. And I really liked being to add my cream a bit at a time, so that it didn't melt too much before I got to enjoy it.

So, does Angelina's version live up to that of Prague's Café Louvre or Café Carolina? Not quite. But after years of wandering in the chocolat chaud wilderness, I feel secure in the knowledge that the French have not lost their touch.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Paris, part four: Camille, la deuxième fois.

My second visit to Camille was a slightly more sedate affair - aside from a boisterous group of American women, the restaurant was relatively quiet when I tumbled in, fresh from Bar Hemingway, at about 10 o'clock. I was seated at a small table toward the back, and settled in with my book and a pichet (25, not 50 centilitres this time) of my beloved Bordeaux.

I'd filled up a bit on Bar Hemingway's most excellent potato chips, so I decided to forgo a starter and dive right into Camille's legendary (well, to me and Louisa, at the very least) steak tartare. I had to reassure the waiter that I knew the dish n'est pas cuit ("is not cooked"), and said yes to his offer of salad and frites on the side. This was gonna be good.

And it was. It was so good that I almost forgot to pause long enough to take a picture - but that would have been a crime, since you all deserve to bear witness to this most gorgeous dish. The steak tartare at Camille remains the best I have ever eaten - and I've eaten my fair share. The silky egg, the cornichons, capers and onions laced throughout the meat, the earthy mustard: all of these are to be expected, and are fantastically in play here.

But there's something else going on in Camille's tartare that I haven't quite been able to pin down - some elusive sweetness that balances out the tang of the traditional ingredients. This balance of sweet and savory is the same thing that makes their duck so delectable, and is, I think, is the thing that makes Camille so exceptional. You don't expect a neighborhood joint to produce something this subtly and intriguingly seasoned - it's a pretty impressive feat.

Oh, and the fries? Cooked in duck fat, and completely sublime. Ditto the simple salad, bibb lettuce tossed with a house-made vinaigrette.

Finally, to finish things off nice and proper, I ordered chocolate mousse for dessert. Camille's mousse is dense and rich, made with bittersweet chocolate and not a whole lot of sugar. Which is, for me, pretty close to perfection. I tried to solider through, but only managed to finish about half. My adorable waiter was a bit disappointed, I think. I promise to try harder next time!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Books + food = fun!

I'm not the only person out there obsessed with both literature and food, and here's the proof. There's a new blog called Lashings and Lashings of Ginger Beer that features a food-focused literary passage each day. So far, they've posted on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Goblin Market, Swann's Way (The madeleine, of course!) and many, many others.

So, if you're jonesin' for a fix of food porn and can't wait for Louisa's first novel (Can't Stand the Heat, due out in the fall of 2009 from St. Martin's Press), head on over to Lashings and get your fill!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Paris, part three: Camille - la première fois.

I don't really visit Paris often enough to have a legitimate favorite restaurant, but, if I did, I feel fairly certain that Bistro Camille would still make the cut. Nestled on a corner of the rue des Francs Bourgeois, impossibly difficult to find on my first two visits and remarkably easy to locate on this one, it's that perfect neighborhood spot: kindly lit, well-provisioned with wine, and full of delicious, simply and beautifully prepared food.

All of this is probably why I found myself there twice in two days on my trip to Paris. Louisa and I discovered Camille on this eGullet thread, and I think it's safe to say that (aside from a chance visit to the devestatingly wonderful Chez Yvonne in Strasbourg) neither of us has ever been happier with a find.

My hotel was just a few blocks south of Camille, and the walk through the Marais was lovely both nights. I took slightly different routes to be sure to catch all the shop windows and street life I could. I ate late (by American standards), not until 10:00, since I was jet-lagged and in need of naps. On Saturday, there was still a twenty minute wait for a table, so I sat outside.

I started with the escargots de Bourgogne, a traditional preparation. The snails are cleaned, the shells are stuffed with a mixture of butter, parsley and garlic, and the whole thing is run under the broiler for a few minutes. Good escargots are tender and light, not tough and spongy, and eating them is like eating delicate balls of buttery, garlicky goodness. Their shells seem so fine that you expect them to shatter when you pick them up with the special tongs (don't worry; they won't). You spend more time than you care to admit sopping up the butter with your bread.

These were good escargots.

The waitress talked me into a full demi (half-bottle, 50 centilitres) of Bordeaux, so I was in it for the long haul. I took my time enjoying the brisk fall weather, eavesdropping on the folks to my right (a British woman and two French men, speaking their own private Franglais), and savoring my escargots. Once I'd been able to stop myself from wiping up every last bit of butter from the plate, out came my main.

I'd ordered the duck breast, which was seared and served with the most delicious sauce made with pan drippings, honey and black pepper, all piled atop some seriously buttery pureed potatoes. This duck dish is a great example of how true French cooking defies its old American stereotypes - the flavors are extremely well-balanced, with the piquant pepper playing against the round, sweet honey, and the buttery potatoes contrasting with the seared crust on the duck. This is not over-sauced, over-treated food; this is gorgeous ingredients being coaxed into an even more perfect state.

Dessert was similarly delicious. Two years ago, Camille's creme brulée restored our faith in the French, after it had been destroyed by lackluster specimens in Strasbourg and Champagne. Camille still has the touch - the custard is particularly thick and creamy, heavy with vanilla and a touch of citrus. Most importantly, they've mastered the sugar-to-custard ratio: their shallow, wide dish provides lots of surface area for the crackly, caramelized sugar. Smokey, creamy goodness.

Finally, coffee. Camille makes an exceptionally delicious cup. Strong, rich, piping hot and just the right size - helps you settle down post-meal, but doesn't fill you up.

Ah, Camille, je t'aime.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Walking around Paris.

By day.

And by night.

Paris, part two: marché de plein air.

I landed in Paris at 8:30 on Saturday morning. They'd fed and watered me on the plane, and I'd managed to wash up in the tiny little bathroom (Where, it should be noted, Clarins products were on offer. Love Air France.). These were both good things, since my room was not ready when I turned up at the hotel about an hour later.

I dropped my luggage off at the hotel, grabbed my book and a Plan de Paris, and headed toward the Louvre. It was a brisk, slightly drizzly day, and I was bundled in my jacket, scarf and gloves (All black; after all, this is Paris, darling.). I passed the mairie (town hall) for the 4th arrondissement, and right there in its courtyard was an open-air market (en français: un marché de plein air).*

I'd avoided fresh fruit and vegetables in India (there's nothing worse than sitting through five days of meetings while simultaneously battling Delhi Belly), and so was immediately lured to the fruit stand. I bought three clementines and ate them, standing in the square, in quick succession. Once the fruit was safely in my tummy, I had time to explore.

There were vegetables of every variety, oysters, gorgeous fresh fish, cooked meats, wines, and even a boulanger. I spent twenty minutes wandering around, devising menus in my mind and fantasizing about having such a well-provisioned market as close to my apartment as this was to my hotel. And, of course, I snapped some photos for your are a select few. The full set can be found over on Flickr!

*Obsessive internet research has revealed that the market I visited is the Marché Baudoyer, in Place Baudoyer, and is the rare Paris market open on Wednesdays as well as Saturdays.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Paris, an aside: L'Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais.

A quick note about L'Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais, where I stayed for two nights during my visit to Paris. It's adorable, affordable, and in a perfect location. Just off the Rue de Rivoli, within walking distance of Île Saint-Louis, Île de la Cité, the Louvre, and the Bastille, and about two blocks from two different stops on the 1 line (Château de Vincennes-La Défense) of the tro, it was an excellent jumping-off point for all my weekend activities.

The bonus: it's in le Marais, an adorable neighborhood untouched by the Hausmann renovations of the 19th century. It's full of adorable shops, galleries, and fantastic bistros and bars. Most importantly: it's a real neighborhood, accessible and far less touristy than Montmartre, Place Vendôme, or St. Germain. In short, I've found my new Parisian base, and I highly recommend you check it out, too.

Paris, part one: Dehillerin.

On my first day in Paris, I spent the morning walking all over the place, ending up at the Louvre for a couple of hours. Once I felt like I'd paid enough cultural homage, I headed north towards the Bourse du Commerce to pay a visit to my own personal Mecca, otherwise known as E. Dehillerin. I'd visited once before, back on my 2006 Europe trip (details here), so I knew what my targets were.

Ready to spring into action, I opened the door and was confronted by a teeming sea of Parisians (and a few American tourists). When Louisa and I stopped by in 2006, it was a Monday or Tuesday afternoon; this was Saturday afternoon at 1:00, and all bets were off. Nothing, though, could really bust through the very Zen I'm-in-Paris-so-everything-is-OK-by-me attitude I'd adopted since landing at Charles de Gaulle, so I just sat back, snapped a few pictures, then set about finding the salad servers, charlotte molds and top-secret holiday-related purchases from my list.

In what was to be the first of a couple of deja-vu moments, the first salesman to come up to me was the same one who waited on us two years ago; this time, instead of adorably belligerent, he was belligerently flirtatious, and seemed frustrated that I wasn't really in the mood to banter. He disappeared into the office a few minutes later, and didn't reemerge.

Dehillerin is a wonderland for people who like to cook or bake. Tart pans, springforms, copper cookware, crepe pans and whisks are stacked three and five deep on rickety shelves that stretch all the way up to the 15-foot ceilings. The glare cast by the bare bulbs overhead grows dim as you enter the rabbits' warren of the store's outer aisles, and the overall atmosphere is that of your crazy aunt's attic.

But the passion and enthusiasm of the staff for their products, and of the clientele for their chosen hobby (and, in many cases, profession), is palpable. This is no Williams-Sonoma, with gorgeous displays created to lure in unsuspecting customers who can't tell a saucier from a skillet. This is a store for serious cooks, where you have to know what you need to find what you want.

And what did I want? Well, I'd been entrusted with a mission to replace Louisa's gorgeous salad fork, which broke earlier this year. Check! And me? Well, I've been wanting small charlotte molds for my collection - I will use them to make individual cakes, sticky toffee puddings, and cups of chocolate mousse. Check!

Coming up...Paris, part two

Monday, November 17, 2008

Je reviens!

I'm sitting in the Air France lounge at Charles de Gaulle, quietly weeping into my coffee. In just a few minutes, I'll board a plane (KLM through Amsterdam; merci beaucoup, les pilotes qui font la grève) and be on my way back to the states.

I can't wait to share my Parisian adventures with all of you; sadly, pictures will be limited, as my camera chose Saturday as its day to stage its own petite grève, and only behaved intermittently thereafter.

Regardless - we'll have glimpses of Île Saint-Louis, the Marais, the Louvre, and, best of all: Camille!

They're calling my flight now...a bientôt!

Friday, November 7, 2008

I almost forgot to ask.

So, in addition to my vacation in Paris, I'm going on a business trip to Mumbai and Bangalore next week. It's my second trip to India (the pictures above are from my trip last March), but on my last one I was working about 20 hours a day, and didn't really get to explore a whole bunch.

Dear readers, I'm at your mercy. Any recommendations for some good dinner and/or drinking hotspots in Mumbai? Pleeeeeease?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We did it.

I don't often go political on you - after all, this is a foodblog. But I just have to say: thank you, America, for having the courtesy to make next week's trip to Paris that much less awkward. My faith is restored (for now), and my spirits are high.

Oh, and thanks to Jason for the cocktails and Jeremy and Miriam for the champagne. And to the rest of you for the awesome, AWESOME voting. Well-played, America. Well-played.

Monday, November 3, 2008


That's right, ladies and just eleven short days (made even shorter by the election and a business trip to India), I'll be back where I belong: France (and, more precisely, Paris). I am stopping over for just two days, staying in a cute little hotel in the Marais, and planning to have a wonderful, relaxing, romantically solitary time of it.

Dehillerin is already on the list, as is a stop into Pierre Hermé for some macarons (I'll be flying business class back to the States, so I figure they actually have a chance of surviving the flight intact.). I'll be dining at my favorite Paris bistro, Camille, both nights. But, other than that, my schedule is pretty open.

Since I'll only be in town for a couple of days, I want to stay in town (so day trips to Versailles or Giverny are out, as are the flea markets, since those require at least a half-day to do them justice).

I'm pondering a walking tour of the Marais, am thinking longingly of an afternoon drinking coffee and wine and reading a novel in a café somewhere in St. Germain, and a colleague has recommended the hot chocolate at Angelina's (just down the Rue de Rivoli from Pierre Hermé's new Rue Cambon boutique, so very convenient). I've never been to the Bar Hemingway, but am also drawn to this little wine bar near the hotel.

Any other suggestions?

Merci bien!

Photos above from the Paris visit during my 2006 trip to Prague, Strasbourg, Champagne and Paris. You can read all about the trip here (Prague only) and here (all of the France leg).

Autumnal goodies abound.

My mom was in town this weekend, which seemed like a good excuse to cook dinner for her, my brother, and my sister-in-law. It also seemed like a good excuse to ring in the fall with some dishes I've been wanting to try out. I settled on a menu of arugula salad, roast chicken, brussels sprouts with bacon and cider, roast potatoes, and an apple galette for dessert. To keep things interesting, I decided to serve the galette (really just a free-form apple tart) with cheese-spiked whipped cream.

I set off for the Greenmarket around 9:30 on Saturday morning. Now that the weather has turned a bit more brisk, the crowds are thinner, so it's actually feasible to make a full circuit of the market, check out everything on offer, and then start your shopping. The summertime crowds make me way too antsy for that kind of lingering.

On my walk around, I spied several in-season goodies, including gourds and other fall squashes, cauliflower in a rainbow of colors, brussels sprouts on the stalk, and dried flowers and herbs. I also saw huge bunches of eucalyptus, which stuck me as odd. My high school gave out sprigs of eucalyptus at our baccalaureate service (mine is still pressed between the pages of my yearbook), and so I've always associated it with springtime!

Still available, to my surprise, were bunches and bunches of concord grapes. Dark blue with slightly cloudy peels, the grapes are so different from their red and green cousins, with soft, jellied flesh and an ambrosial flavor. And unlike with the tart, crisp grapes, you only need a few to feel satisfied - sort of like the difference between M&M's and a tiny piece of dark, luxurious chocolate.

Knoll Crest didn't have any chickens this weekend, so I bought our five-pounder from the wild game vendor. There were more varieties of apple on offer than I've ever seen before in my life, and I had trouble choosing. Ultimately, I settled on Rome and Granny Smith for the galette, and a few winesaps for munching. I grabbed a couple of pounds of brussels sprouts and some fingerling potatoes, and headed for the Ronnybrook stand to buy some heavy cream and farmer's cheese.

A full half-day of cooking and one overheated kitchen later, we sat down to dinner. The salad, served with a honey and sherry vinegar dressing, was tangy, peppery and cheesy, thanks to some parmesan curls showered on top of each plate. The brussels sprouts with cider weren't quite as apple-y as I would have liked, but man, the bacon was good. My brother, Jeremy, picked the chicken clean, which I took as a good sign.

The best part, though, really was dessert. I based the galette on this recipe from Epicurious, sizing it down a bit to serve just the four of us. The whipped cream with cheese (flavored with a bit of turbinado sugar and vanilla, since the cheese was a bit funkier than expected) paired really well, setting off the sweetness and tang of the apples and the rich, buttery pastry. All in all, a good day's work.

Queenie's Whipped Cream & Cheese

1 pint heavy cream
4-6 ounces soft cheese, preferably farmer's cheese or mascarpone dolce
1 1/2 tsp. good vanilla extract (none of that fake stuff - spring for this)
2 tbs. turbinado sugar

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a hand-held electric mixer with the beaters attached), whip the cream and the cheese together until it holds soft peaks. Stir in the vanilla and the sugar. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to 48 hours. Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6 as an accompaniment to dessert.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


When I have people over for dinner, there's inevitably a hunk of cake or pie left over. I try my darndest to foist it off on people, knowing that I will otherwise attack it maniacally later that night in between rounds of dishwashing. The problem, of course, is that this is Manhattan, and there's just no easy way to take a piece of cake home without balancing it precariously for the length of a subway or cab ride.

No longer! My friend Amanda just started a blog about crafting, design and baking (a bit of everything, really), and one of the projects she's shared are pie-slice shaped carryout boxes. The template is available online through Martha Stewart Living, and seems like a great way to distribute all those pesky leftover slices of pie and cake.I will hitting Kate's Paperie shortly to buy some supplies...thanks, Amanda!

Once you go local...

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is, for many New York food-lovers, a place of near-mythic importance. One does not visit; one pays homage, or, at the very list, makes a pilgrimage. Its chef, Dan Barber, is justifiably famous for his pioneering role in the evolution of haute barnyard cuisine, and the food at the restaurant is truly delicious. I first visited last December, and, due to a Christmas season traffic jam, my group arrived too late to take our planned jaunt around the farm. So when Lisa and I were looking for something to do last Saturday afternoon, we decided to get in her car and head across the Tappan Zee to the Stone Barns Center in Tarrytown.

Stone Barns sits on the old Rockefeller estate in the Pocantico Hills section of town. The buildings themselves date from the 1930's, and were first part of a dairy farm, and later the location of Peggy Rockefeller's cattle ranch. In 2004, the Rockefellers invited Dan Barber to open a for-profit restaurant as part of the larger not-for-profit agricultural and educational experiment - a center for learning about environmentally responsible, four-season farming with a restaurant to match.

It's easy to see why the experiment took root so quickly and so deeply. The property itself is stunning - all gentle slopes and rolling hills, with the stately barns rising out of a hollow in the valley. Walking around the pastures and the vegetable fields, you run into all sorts - parents pushing strollers, locals out for a morning jog, and foodies paying homage. In addition to the restaurant, there's a casual cafe open daily that serves strong, hot coffee (a must for keeping warm on long, blustery walks around the farm), sandwiches, salads and pastries. Almost all of the food on offer is grown or raised on the property, which means the menus are exclusively seasonal and change daily.

Lisa and I arrived around 1 o'clock, and started our visit with a quick trip to the gift shop. I know, I know - but, this is a truly excellent shop. I picked up a couple of $6 grocery tote bags - perfect stocking stuffers - and a fantastic (and challenging) trivia game called Foodie Fight. I also spied a truly gorgeous cookbook called Country Cooking of France, which is going on my Christmas list.

Since it was lunchtime, and since we needed fortification for our planned walk, we decided to have lunch next. The line snakes around the tiny cafe in a circle, which gave us ample opportunity to scope out all that was on offer. I grabbed a jar of cucumber pickles from the shelf, and thought seriously about the cow-printed tea towels and teeny coffee cakes. Also available: the decidedly not local but truly delicious Rancho Gordo heirloom beans.

We finally made it up to the counter, where we ordered the bologna sandwich with pickles, zucchini fritatta, caramel apple, apple custard tart, and two big, steaming cups of coffee. We camped out at a picnic table outside and wolfed down our feast.

The homemade bologna was the best bologna I have ever tasted - light in texture, tangy and meaty in flavor, and layered on a fluffy piece of focaccia spread with strong mustard. The apple tart was a bit too sweet, but the cookie crumble crust on the bottom was salty enough to cut the sugar. The caramel apple, served on a twig, was deliciously smoky, if tooth-crackingly tough to bite into. All in all, a good lunch.

Finally, filled with lunchtime goodness, we set off on a walk around the property. We walked past the private dining room, where the staff were setting up for a wedding, arranging flowers and building a chuppah out of twigs and berries from the farm and surrounding park. We saw a fallow vegetable field, walked past the dairy cows relaxing in their pasture, and paid a visit to the chickens, who gathered around our feet, pecking gently at our toes in search of a snack.

Just past the chickens were a flock of pure-white ducks and a few gigantic pigs. These guys had to be at least three hundred pounds each. As we approached, I remembered the bologna sandwich and started feeling a bit, well, guilty. But then I realized how happy the pigs were, rooting around in their trough, enjoying the sunshine, wandering at will, and realized it was not only the best-tasting bologna I'd ever eaten - it was also probably the most ethically sound.

All in all, that was the prevailing lesson of the day. Seeing where your food comes from, spending time with it, smelling the earth out of which it grew, picking your way across the field where it was raised - it makes you that much more appreciative of it, and far more aware of the impact your choices have. The peace of mind you gain by understanding how your food was produced cannot be overstated. Yes, it can be expensive and a bit of a hassle to eat locally and humanely, but if you can afford the little bit of extra money and a little bit more extra time, it truly is worth it.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin