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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Geeking out.

So, how cool is this? One of my colleagues pointed the whole group to this nifty little tool today, and I just had to share. Type in your blog URL, or paste in a bunch of text, and you get this cool word cloud.

So addictive, so fun, and so revealing: I am clearly in love with sprouts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Country girls.

I spent the weekend with my too-cool friend Lisa, and yesterday afternoon we drove across the Tappan Zee from her perch in New Jersey to pay a visit to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, home of one of the best restaurants in the country. But we weren't there to eat in the fancy-schmancy dining room - we were there to explore the farm, which is open to any and everyone, complete with a delicious café and free-range chickens.

I promise an in-depth post later, but I couldn't resist sharing the curiosity of this adorable, adventurous little one, who made friends with the flock of hens he met in the pasture. The lesson? Get to know your food, and do it young.

Funny thing.

I was reading back over my posts recently, and I realized that I have never, ever written a post about my absolute favorite food of all time: cucumbers.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that cucumbers are my favorite food - I think they expect me to cite something more exotic, like duck confit, or frisee aux lardons, or maybe pho. But, no - when nothing else appeals, when nothing else will do, cucumbers are where it's at for me.

And lest you think that I'm some sort of johnny-come-lately where cucumbers are concerned, let me tell you a little story. When I was in elementary school, my parents had to visit the school each year for the obligatory Parents' Night. One year (maybe my mom will chime in on the comments and tell us which), the teacher had each of the parents guess which desk belonged to their child my reading the children's answers to a set of questions. One of the questions was, "What's your favorite food?" The other kids mainly answered "pizza," or "spaghetti" or "steak" - but my answer was "cucumbers."

To this day, I go through about two pounds of cucumbers each week - I slice them into sticks and snack on them on weekend afternoons, I chop them into salads almost every night with dinner, and sometimes I even cook with them. They're great in stir-fries, where they add a bit of freshness and crunch; seeded and finely chopped, they add texture and contrast to chicken and tuna salad; and, thinly sliced and lightly sauteed in a bit of butter, salt and pepper, they become a luscious side dish all their own.

I love cucumbers in all their incarnations - Kirby, Persian, English, standard - no matter which, the savory melon-like flavor keeps me coming back again and again. I suspect I'll never tire of cucumbers - I'll probably still be picking them out of salad bowls right up until the end of time.
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