Izzy Eats: The art of raising a gourmand, one bite at a time

Stirring tales of eating, cooking and foraging in my never-ending quest to provide, great-tasting (local and organic whenever possible) EATS for me and my boy(s).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dining At the "Kids' Table": In Which Izzy Baffles The Server

We recently found ourselves at a restaurant dinner party, in which the kids were seated together at one end of the table. This is not a practice I whole-heartedly embrace but when in Rome... As luck would have it, I sat beside Izzy and was privy to the goings-on, on that end.

Although there were menus, it had somehow been decided that the children would be offered specific items, unlike the adults who could select whatever they pleased. I listened in as the server came around to take the kids' orders. I overheard the offerings and wondered how Izzy would respond when it was his turn, knowing that he expected to read the menu with me and then decide.

On offer was pasta. The server rattled off the choices. Pasta with tomato sauce? No. Pasta with butter and cheese? No. I imagine she thought she was dealing with the pickiest of picky, and so she then offered up what I am sure in her mind was the ticket, plain pasta. Izzy shook his head sadly, looking rather baffled and I intervened...

"I think he would like something else on his pasta..." Then I stopped myself for I was suddenly at a loss. What was the protocol here? Had the hostess decided on the pastas offered or were they simply chosen for their supposed "kid-friendliness"? If I had ordered duck ragu or lamb would I have completely flummoxed the server?

Not knowing how to proceed I said, "I don't think he would like any of those. (What I wished to say was "No, he does not want pasta with tomato sauce. Or pasta with butter and cheese. And certainly not plain pasta. Just because he is five does not mean he wants bland food. How about pasta with chicken liver?") Instead I politely inquired if it would be possible to have some pasta with vegetables. And of course it was.

As the server walked away, Izzy still seemed confused as to why he couldn't choose from the menu and he wanted to know what I would be ordering. I assured him that whatever it was, he could share it with me.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Food Shopping Can Be Perilous...

If you travel by scooter, as I have taken to doing on an almost daily basis. I also don't own the proper scooting shoes or outfits, which undoubtedly adds to the danger.

So there I was this morning, on my way back from my almost daily run to Pecararo's Bakery for my fix of "Pizza Bread" and other breadstuffs. My bag, brimming with bread dangled about the handle bars of my scooter as I made my way down Newark Ave. I set one foot down and then other, pushing off and coasting as scooters do when suddenly I found myself on the ground, scooter atop me, bread tumbling around and my body twisted into a pretzel. I miraculously stood up, seemingly unscathed. I assured the onlooking gawkers that I was fine and gingerly wheeled my scooter across the street, before hopping on and slowly finding my way home.

Although I suffered no outward injuries, my body ached all over. I suggested to A. that perhaps I have a broken rib (which he immediately pooh-poohed). So now I imagine I have injured my spleen (whatever that is) or some other part that will burst in the night. I have unknown pains that I simply hope will disappear.

Is it any wonder that I crashed my scooter? I even have difficulty steering a granny cart!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Good Egg: A Day In Williamsburg, Brooklyn

From the moment I heard about it, egg was irresistible. How could I not be attracted to a place which devotes itself to American breakfast, using organic, local ingredients? No matter that I would have to breakfast in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which isn't exactly around the corner, breakfast is served until three.

The existence of egg is old news, years old in fact, but thoughts of that breakfast remained in my mind and surfaced the other day. I called my friend R. and said, "We are going on a jaunt to Williamsburg, Brooklyn tomorrow, to eat at egg and wander around." She was immediately on board as I explained that not only would there be good eats but great shopping.

It is a super quick trip from Jersey City. We took the Path to the L train and were there in about 40 minutes. We agreed to wander first in order to build up an appetite.

Our trip was not all about the food. Williamsburg boasts several kids' shops and our shopping radar led us immediately to The Flying Squirrel. This welcoming store is ideal for mamas and babies, up to age/size 5-6. There is a great selection of both new and used items. Kids can play in the back room (and play they did), while the mamas rifle through the exciting finds. My friend R. were fighting over the sale items, squealing as we unveiled yet another "find". There are even a few adult sizes and Izzy and I were both thrilled with the unique back to school clothes I found for him, in the new and used sections.

We finally dragged ourselves out, bags full and made our way towards our late breakfast, when we happened upon another beckoning children's store, Sweet William. I tried not to stop there but R. and I couldn't help ourselves. The artfully arranged toys and clothes were both lovely to behold and touch, fine fabrics being the order of the day. Izzy and his friend M. had fun playing with some strategically placed playthings while R. and perused the beautiful offerings. We both found a few things and then it was finally time to move on to eat.

Candied bacon....Need I say more? Mine accompanied a lovely platter of egg in brioche with cheddar cheese. The bacon is addictive and I watched as Izzy's friend M., turned a side order of it, along with a salad, into her meal, leaving her poor mother to finish her fried oyster sandwich. Meanwhile Izzy scooped up his artisanal grits and eggs, though was less than wild over his homemade sausage patties which were a tad to peppery for him (not for me but I had to try not to finish them). R. ordered pancakes, which I would shy away from at a place called egg but they were better than expected. Aside from a somewhat unpleasant server, our meal was delightful.

When we finished, we managed to find a nearby playground since the kids deserved some entertainment after enduring a bit too much shopping.

Now that you know about egg (if you didn't already), no reason to wait to go. Hop on the L for a great day of shopping and eating. We will definitely be back soon for egg's lunch menu and to check out the women's shops, which are supposedly pretty great too!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brown Butter Peach Squares: Perfect Picnic Dessert

For the most part I steer clear of recipes with too many steps but I was already smitten before I discovered how involved this one actually was. The mere name of this called to me when I first spied it in the fine print on the bottom of an article about Big Sur Bakery in California in The New York Times Magazine.

When I eventually accessed the article on-line, it was already too late. The peaches and brown butter combination had me hooked. So last Saturday, when Izzy was hard at work I set to work on this three step recipe. I refused to heed A. and his complaints that I had the oven on when it was barely 80 degrees out. For Pete's sake, doesn't he know that 80 is positively cool? I have been known to bake at higher temperatures and I felt just fine.

First there was the crust: I had to brown the butter and then freeze it, before mixing it into the flour.

As it baked, I worked on the peach jam which required about an hour of simmering.

When that was done, I began the filling which included eggs, more brown butter and orange zest. When that was finished I then added the peach jam and the filling to the cooled crust. This is how it looked before it went into the oven.

What a gorgeous, portable dessert. Perfect for Labor Day BBQ or to pack for a picnic or snack. This dessert will last, well-wrapped for at least three days.

Makes about 30-36 squares. Definitely work the effort!

Notes: I recommend adding 1/4 tsp. salt to crust. Cut into smaller squares rather than bars.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bodega Ban

Jersey City is full of bodegas, small neighborhood shops selling booze, lottery tickets, pet food, cleansing products and other sorts of household essentials for those too lazy to go the extra few blocks to the supermarket. They are good to have around in a pinch but I rarely ever go inside , save to purchase a bag of ice.

My husband, unlike me, can't stay away from our nearest bodega. He frequents the one on 7th and Erie for beer and wine on a regular basis. On more than one occasion, he has brought home a bottle of wine, only to open it and find that it tastes like vinegar. When this happens, he promptly corks the bottle up, marches back to the store and asks for a replacement.

This has worked well for the past five years but a couple of weeks ago when it happened, yet again, he received a less than warm response. When he returned to the store to ask for a new bottle the owners said, "Don't buy wine here anymore. Our other customers don't complain. If you don't like it, buy it elsewhere..." He claimed that their request wasn't mean-spirited..

I was incredulous, as he buys from them quite frequently. Why do they have license to sell rotten wine, simply because the other customers are less particular? At the same time, I also thought the circumstances were rather funny because he is a wine snob of sorts and in a way I suppose they have a point. Either way, if I were him I certainly wouldn't buy there anymore.

And so for a couple of weeks he tried to buy elsewhere. And tonight he even tried going to another neighborhood bodega but couldn't bring himself to do so. So what did he do? He dared return to his old haunt and he came home with another cheap bottle, feeling no shame.

And it was not rotten.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beet Tartare: Summer Salad Secret

The French have the right idea about beets. In France, produce vendors sell them already cooked. They are perfect in the summer, sliced or grated and can easily be added to a salad. I used to buy the vacuum-packed variety at Fairway on a regular basis. But what are we American supposed to do without a ready supply of freshly cooked beets? Preparing beets in the summer is a tedious, kitchen-warming procedure.

I have a source for fresh beets and they had been languishing in my fridge. I kept meaning to boil them to save them for a borscht but I just never got around to it, which is a shame because Izzy loves beets and they are packed with iron.

Then I learned that beets can be eaten raw (don't think I am leaning towards raw food or anything). A small portion was served to me at a recent dinner and I was pleasantly surprised. Raw beets can be quite tasty and earthy.

Last night, I grated two beets on the large holes of a grater. I mixed in one grated apple to the bowl and then tossed it all with a vinaigrette of 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a dollop of mustard and about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

I served this as a side salad with some wonderfully creamy Bosina Robiola which I picked up from Key Ingredient Market at the Monday Farmers' Market at the Grove Street Path. They carry many prepared foods and cheese spreads as well as a few select cheeses which vary weekly.

All I can say is that Izzy liked this salad so much, he came back an hour after dinner and asked for more( I gladly obliged).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jersey City Pizza Debate Rages On: Pondering Pie In Downtown JC

Ask around JC about pizza favorites and everyone will give you a different reply. A recent thread on jclist, a local website is a case in point. The answers vary wildly, offering up places which true pizza aficionados would barely consider. Therein lies the danger in putting faith into a group of uncredentialed tasters. Instead better to read some reviews and then listen to me, longtime seeker of pizza perfection.

Because I live in the downtown area, I cannot speak for anything outside of walking distance, which eliminates far-flung neighborhoods like the Heights, Greenville etc. Perhaps there is decent pizza out there but you'll have to read about that elsewhere. We don't have a car and the beauty of having great pizza nearby (generally speaking) is to be able to walk to it or have it delivered quickly.

When I first moved to the Hamilton Park area, I was somewhat stumped as to where to find decent pizza. I quickly discovered Lombardi's and went through a long honeymoon phase, whereby the pizza could do not wrong. There were Wednesday lunchtime jaunts for 1/2 price pizza. It became a ritual following story time at the main branch of the library. Our small stroller brigade would weave its way along Newark Ave, slowly inching toward our personal pizzas, perfect for one grown-up and a toddler. I was partial to the Margarita and Izzy and I looked forward to those lunches. Until one day, they decided that Margarita pizzas were no longer 1/2 off. Only the other pizzas. This mandate soured me a bit and the honeymoon phase was over but we continued to return, since their regular pizza was worthy too. Thin crust, flavorful sauce and much better than anything else around.

Then one Super Bowl Sunday (no cause for celebration around here, just notable for this incident), I made the big mistake of ordering pizza (note to self, NEVER order take-out on any sports occasion). As you can imagine, the pizza was long in coming and when it finally arrived, it tasted as if it had some type of jarred Cajunesque sauce on it, as if they had run out of ingredients. It was truly one of the worst pizzas I had ever eaten.

I gave them another chance, given my past experience. But from then on, the pizza was never the same and I had to eventually seek out something better, which was a good thing, since Lombardi's eventually closed.

Finding a replacement was difficult. When I asked around, I received a few disparate responses and did a small taste test, pitting Stella's against Frank's (Mamma Mia), both just ordinary pizza joints. I had not tried either one but surprisingly found Frank's to be better. This was unexpected simply because I associated Frank's with the sight of teenagers loitering and littering the surrounding area with paper plates and pizza detritus which led me to assume that the pizza was large but not so good. In fact, Frank's does offer a decent slice, nothing earth-shattering but the medium-thin crust and better-than-average sauce help staunch serious pizza cravings if you are on a budget. Izzy and I would share one slice and have a bargain $2.00 lunch.

Frank's filled our pizza cravings for awhile, but it wasn't the pizza experience I sought. I dreaded the days when Izzy would ask to eat there, with the T.V. blaring in the cramped space, it was certainly not pizza nirvana. I longed for a pizzeria where we could sit and relax.

And so went our mediocre pizza existence, until this summer, when not one, but two new pizza options entered our lives. La Rustique (gourmet pizza ilk) opened on Fifth Street and Jersey, and the Hamilton Park Pizza Cafe (Brunswick and 7th) opened under new management. La Rustique has been much touted in the press and has many fans. Hamilton Park Pizza Cafe will definitely offer some seriou competition.

I had heard tell of it a few months ago and scoffed at the notion that it could even compete with La Rustique ( I hadn't heard it had new owners). Then we tried a slice at La Festa Italiana. A. raved that the pizza was better than those he had eaten in Rome (drunken exaggeration) but I tried it and it was more than a step-up from other Jersey City spots and could definitely compete against La Rustique.

This weekend, a group of us dined at the Cafe. We sat outside so we didn't have to contend with the blaring t.v. (What is it about restaurants and t.v.s anyway? I'll save that for another rant). The crust, thin and slightly chewy, drew raves and the sauce was just right. The salads were fresh and the sandwiches were overstuffed and packed with flavor. The owners are especially accommodating and were happy to cook up our innovations. S. ordered up a calamari pizza which I have to admit was a pizza revelation. He asked for it on white pizza, sauteed with extra garlic. A decidedly delectable topping which they should definitely add to the menu. It looked so good that Izzy had a slice of that along with a regular one. When the meal was over, everyone was happy (thanks to J. who read to the kids throughout the entire meal!). Finally, a local pizzeria to turn to on a regular basis.

As a child, we ate pizza nearly every week but over the years and I missed that tradition. Having lived for so long without great pizza in walking distance, I lost the habit. Hamilton Park Pizza Cafe might just change all of that.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Working Up An Appetite: A Weekend Of Demolition, Concrete Mixtures, All Manner Of Dusty Messes AND Pizza Bread

Why would we spend a such a glorious weekend up to our ears in debris and dusk you ask?

I have only myself to blame. I was trying to perform minor adjustments on our door when I ripped it plumb out of its frame. Something had to be done (which was abundantly clear long ago). A. went to inspect and upon removing the door, opened up a whole new can of worms, involving demolition, step restoration and other things that a five year old seems to find infinitely exciting. So enthralling in fact he wouldn't come near me for the entire weekend, except of course for mealtimes.

All of those walks to Home Depot (at least eight throughout the weekend), along with bang booming, stirring, spraying, mixing, pouring and other strenous tasks, made for two ravenous labourers. I had to provide a rib sticking lunch.

My Saturday bread discovery meshed perfectly with my lunch plans.

Behold the "pizza bread", which is how the owner of Pecoraro referred to this wonderfully soft and pliable round loaf. According to her, "It's perfect for the baby" (I guess 5 is a baby to oldsters). I looks like a giant bialy with a whole in the middle.

Perfect for layering to make a gargantuan sandwich. A pillowy showcase for a classic tomato, mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We devoured two of these between the three of us and I couldn't wait to go back for more on Sunday.

Sunday morning, with the boys already hard at work, I hopped on my scooter and made my way over to the bakery, only to find there was only one left and it wasn't even 10:30 a.m. I should have reserved in advance, which is apparently, what those in the know do.

Not to worry, we still managed. One pizza bread, one olive bread. Two fabulous sandwiches. This time layered with softly scrambled eggs, jersey tomatoes, avocado, mozzarella and basil.

If you live in Jersey City, get yourself to Pecoraro (Newark Ave between Monmouth and Brunswick) and treat yourself to one of these breads. Otherwise go ask them to make it at your nearest Italian bakery.

Pecoraro Bakery: 279 Newark Ave, Jersey City, New Jersey ( NJ ) 07302 Google Map Mapquest Map
Telephone - (201) 798-0111
Open Tues-Sat. Odd hours, get there before 10:30 a.m. for the best selection.

nb: one sandwich serves one ravenous adult. Half serves a ravenous five year old and a quarter or half per regular appetite.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Skinny Eater: Spending The Day With A Size Zero

Not that I am immense by any means but like many of us, I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds. I used to be the sort who could eat enormous amounts of anything and not gain an ounce. Sadly those days are over so now I marvel at the way some of us (my husband being one) manage to stay astonishingly slim while still eating.

I recently spent the day with my friend H., who is quite slender and petite. I was curious to see what she consumed. In a nutshell, not much.

We met up late morning so supposedly H. had already had breakfast. Maybe it was an egg and toast, whatever it was, wasn't very big. The rest of the day went as follows:

Elevenses: 1 chocolate-chip orange scone (only because I brought them)
Lunch @1:00 p.m.: 1 mini sandwich with tomato/basil/ mozzarella (which I had brought along)
Late afternoon snack: 1 cherry (I had a bag. She said, "I'll take one." Who eats only 1 cherry???)

Meanwhile I had yogurt and fruit for breakfast, 2 scones, 2 sandwiches and at least a fistful of cherries and probably some other nibbles that I can't even recall. No wonder I am not a size zero.

If there is a secret to being a size zero, it is a simple one. Eat miniscule amounts. If only it were that easy for me!

p.s. I just dined with H. again this evening and once again, was amazed at how little she manages to eat. What I need to know is if it is simply willpower or lack of appetite. If only I could manage on that amount!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This?

A half-eaten soft ice cream cone called to Izzy in the night. He awoke an over an hour early from his slumber, sat upright in bed and quietly asked, "Is my ice cream still in the freezer? Did you eat it?" Then he leapt from bed, ran upstairs to check on it, certain that the sweets monster had come to gobble it up in the night. But it was still there (In the past I might have eaten it but I am learning to exercise a bit of self-control, especially since the fudge incident).

What was so wonderful about this soft ice cream cone? It is only the second time he has ever had soft ice cream. I suppose you think that strange too. I have an uneasy relationship with soft ice cream that goes back many years. Although I ate gallons of it as a teenager, back then I paid no heed to health. Now that I know it is laden with chemicals, corn syrup and other unhealthy ingredients I prefer to stay away from it and I certainly don't want Izzy eating it on a regular basis. By the beach, where soft ice cream reigns, I decided that a few times yearly would be fine.

I hope I haven't hatched a soft ice cream monster, who will be forever dreaming of its creamy goodness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Flying Eggs Benedict And Other Restaurant Indignities Of The Day

It all began benignly enough. We went to The Gables Inn for brunch today. Everyone ordered Eggs Benedict except for me ( I figured I could snitch some of Izzy's).

My dad, always one to add a special request, asked that his English muffin be "well-done". It arrived looking just as he pleased but when he attempted to cut into it, the Hollandaise sauce went flying, the egg landed on his lap and all manner of expletives ensued. Izzy sat on looking dazed, contemplating his own eggs and I was brought back to my teenage youth when I longed to cringe in the corner or under the table, endlessly embarrassed by all of my dad and former stepmother's special requests and restaurant shenanigans(which is another story in and of itself).

From raging about not wanting the eggs at all to finally accepting the waiters suggestion of getting something else, my dad got himself into quite a snit. The waiter handled it quite nicely, returning with some plain poached eggs on soft toast, side of sausage. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was over, and Izzy went back to finishing his eggs (which, I might add, were not so easy to cut but I managed).

But it wasn't over. Oh no. This was a day of fine dining and dinnertime was a return trip to Sweet Vidalia's. I adored our first experience there but this one was slightly problematic. For one thing, we ordered too much. When we realized it and attempted to remove the last dish from our order (a Chilean Sea Bass that the server recommended), we were told that it was too late.

When the dish arrived (20 minutes after it was too late to remove), it smelled distinctly fishy (according to my dad and stepmother) and I thought it just didn't taste like much. We didn't touch it and sent it back. The waitress, assuming we were trying to get away with having to pay for the dish altogether, returned to say that the chef had tasted it and it was perfectly fine. She said that they would be happy to replace it but we declined as we didn't want to eat anymore.

My dad was livid when we received the bill and were still charged for the dish. Not sure what to think but isn't the customer always right? My dad won't be returning and we didn't stay for dessert. Who loses in the end?

I'm not sure but I think I need a break from dining out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Built-In Entertainment...Or Not?

Taking toddler or preschooler friends out to dinner is often a recipe for disaster. A child alone might be perfectly well-behaved or perhaps a tad mischievous but add a friend or two and the mayhem often triples, making the experience less than relaxing for the parents in question and downright unpleasant for fellow diners.

But it needn't always be that way. If you happen to have friends with kids who are slightly older, they can model appropriate behavior and also provide much needed entertainment.

Last night, S. and I. joined Izzy for dinner at Daddy O* (Long Beach Island). While the parents chatted and drank, I., who is the oldest (11.5) sat demurely piping into the adult conversation. S., on the other hand, who is 7.5, engaged Izzy in some play with her sack of stones. First they examined them and before long that had invented some type of table pinball, using markers to flick the stones back and forth. I thought it ingenious while S.'s dad seemed none too pleased. Not sure why since the only other nearby table was filled with kids too.

If you do decide to dine with friends and their kids, choose them carefully!

*Though certainly not a "family" restaurant, Daddy O is very kid-friendly although the food and atmosphere are very adult-friendly (they do offer a kids' menu if you must). The noise level is just loud enough to drown out any potentially bothersome kid outbursts.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Not That I Would Ever Make This...

But Izzy had it for dinner and I tasted it. I had to admit, it wasn't bad. At the time, I didn't know what it was, although I suspected there was some type of shortcut involved. Whatever it was, Izzy was glad to have it.

We came upon this heretofore unheard of foodstuff, thanks to G., my stepmother's SIL. G. has three kids and has feeding them down to a science. Granted she doesn't cook the way I do but she does manage to provide home-cooked dinners for them on a daily basis. I observed her in action when she and her family came to visit at the beach.

Everyone was milling about the kitchen and it was nearing the dinner hour. My stepmother was preparing ribs for the family and other goodies but they wouldn't be served until 8 p.m. I wondered how Izzy was going to make it til then, or the other kids for that matter, when all of a sudden, a giant platter of grilled chicken breasts appeared, out of thin air, accompanied by an equally large platter of broccoli. G. presented both and went into production mode, cutting up the chicken breasts into bite-size pieces and serving them with the broccoli. Izzy took one look at the scene and immediately wanted to join in. Soon the four children were all seated in a row, happily eating. And some even had room for ribs and dessert later.

Clearly G. came prepared. She had actually marinated the chicken in advance and then just popped a bag of frozen broccoli into a pan. When I asked her how she made the chicken she mentioned Grill-Mates and I feared the worst. Yet when she fished the label out of the trash I took a look at it and discovered that the major offending ingredient was salt. There are certainly worse things than salt and if using a mix like this means kids get a home-cooked meal, rather than some none too healthy take-out, I would have to vote for this.

Although not something you would find in my kitchen still interesting to know what is out there and what others are eating.

Pleasing The Picky: Chocolate-Chip Pancakes

Waking up for breakfast surrounded by the small and picky, I wondered what they would agree upon to eat (not that I would have presented a choice but it wasn't up to me).

I suggested pancakes and there were a few whines of dissent until one little voice said, "I'll have mine with chocolate chips."

Chocolate chips . The magic word.

A chorus of voices were suddenly piped up in favor of pancakes and although I try to avoid chocolate for breakfast, in the interest of being agreeable, I consented. I suppose a few mini-chips wouldn't hurt anyone (read Izzy).

This is the recipe I used, sprinkling a few mini-chips onto each pancake .

Even the pickiest asked for seconds.

****pictures to follow in a few days

Friday, August 15, 2008

La Festa Italiana Take Two: A Gastronomic Quest

One evening at "La Festa" was not enough. Did I crave a second helping of rice balls? Had I missed out on the sausage and peppers? No. What I had to have was a sampling of Rosalie Nicodino's (sp?) homemade ricotta cheesecake.

Last year we missed out on most of the homemade dessert offerings as they were sold out by the time we looked for them. Then this year, on opening night, the same thing transpired. Perusing the dessert table all I noted were decidedly store-bought goods. But I overheard tell of a special ricotta cheesecake. I had to ask and was told that it had sold out but to try again tomorrow.

Which is why Izzy and I ventured out after the rainstorm. We were practically the only ones to show up at precisely six, only to find that nothing was ready. Big surprise since there had been a substantial downpour. Izzy amused himself by watching the band set-up and we wandered up and down the block, waiting for the deep-fryers to heat up. I didn't want another rice ball but hey, it's only once a year. We only had three this time, since we had already sampled pizza and needed to save room for dessert.

Good thing that all I had in mind was eating since the rain began yet again that evening, with scant signs of letting up. As Izzy and I sat in the dismal church basement, the dessert ladies were squabbling over coffee making, taking their sweet time unwrapping whatever they were selling. I had no choice but to disturb their twittering and ask about the ricotta cheesecake. Apparently it was still in the fridge.

She seemed flattered to hear that I had returned for the cheesecake and slightly bemused that I chose to photograph her. Flattered though she may have been, this woman was NOT parting with any secrets. I asked about the topping and crust and the reply was pound cake. At that point I hadn't even tasted it so it was all speculation. I tried some subtle questioning but to no avail. She plainly stated, "I can't tell you what is in it." Apparently the secret must be closely guarded, for if not, people will make it themselves and not come and buy hers at the festival. Uh..which people would those be, all sitting home conspiring to make their own cheesecakes.Wouldn't be me. I only make mine for special occasions.

We were so full from rice balls and pizza that I had our slices of cheesecake wrapped to go, along with some other options like pizzelle and biscotti which were also homemade. I couldn't wait to sample the goods.

Immediately after dragging ourselves home in the pouring rain, Izzy tucked into his cheesecake slice, which disappeared in minutes. I joined him. Now I am accustomed to heavy New York cheesecake and this was a horse of a different color. It is light, with an eggy, though not unpleasant aftertaste. I like the idea of the pound cake topping but not so sure what I think about the soft crust. One sample is not enough for a final determination. On the biscotti, I shall reserve comment. And the pizzelle, they disappeared without a trace.

But enough about us. You: Go try those Italian pastries before the feast is over. Those ladies and their goods are a dying breed.

Picky Eating Encounters: Things They Don't Eat

Excerpts from the day:

While feeding the goats at Emery's Blueberry Farm (yet again), we came upon some guinea hens (which, from afar, I had mistaken for chickens). S.,the adorable seven-year old daughter of my nearest and dearest friend asked what they were.

Me: They are a type of bird that people eat, like chicken.

S.: That's disgusting.

Me: You don't eat chicken?

S. Only chicken fingers. And fish fingers. And Taylor ham. Those are the only meats I eat. And beef on a stick.

Me: Oh.

S. I tried steak today and it was disgusting.

Me: Really, what kind of steak was it?

S. Cheese steak.

Me: That might be disgusting. Where did you eat it?

S. At summer camp. It had American cheese on it and I don't eat that (not such a bad idea I thought to myself).

Me: Well real steak is very different. It is delicious. Izzy loves it.


Later on, at dinner with stepmother's nieces and nephew. My dad was grilling some wienies and toasting up buns.

Z. (upon receiving his wienie): This bun is toasted I don't eat toasted buns.

(wienie is quickly placed on an untoasted bun and then..)

Z. This hot dog is burnt. I don't like burnt hot dogs. (hot dog is quickly replaced and it is time for ketchup).

Me: (In order to avert the next bout of pickiness)Where would you like your ketchup? On the top or bottom?

Z. On the top.

His sister, noted this and quickly added that she too did not eat burnt buns or wienies..it was a contagious pickiness that spread like wild-fire around the table.

I intervened and told my dad to cease with the bun toasting. Kids just don't seem to go for burnt foods (perhaps that is wise on their part).

All the while, Izzy sat quietly by, savoring his Buffalo Hot Dog (D'Artagnan). Thanks to my stepmother, L., who knew that Hebrew National just wouldn't do.

Now mind you, some might consider me to be the pickiest of them all. But what do they know.. I am simply discerning.

Oops, just when I thought I had had my share of picky eaters for the day, I came across this bit of absurdity. A family has created a Facebook group to encourage their 15 year old to eat vegetables. Which then reminds me that I just witnessed my nephew, now almost 12 , from a family of vegetarians, polish down two hotdogs and a hamburger, nary a vegetable in sight..hmmm. Does he need a Facebook group too?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

La Festa Italiana: Holy Rosary Church Festival 2008

Jewish I may be but that does not keep me from being a devotee of the "Italian feast." Living in Jersey City allows me to indulge in the bright lights and greasy fare on a small scale, without having to brave the harsh lights and crowds of nyc. This year's feast began on Wednesday and continues thru the weekend.

Attending thhis summer event has become a tradition for Izzy and friends. This year the rides were the draw, with a moon walk and blow up "obstacle course" causing a sensation amongst the five and under set. Izzy and friends completely wore themselves out racing back and forth between these attractions, sipping lemonade in between.

As far as the food, the line for "Aunt Mary's" rice balls is always the longest. Even though she keeps about four or five deep fryers going, she still can't meet the demand, churning out 400-500 balls on a good day. I'd have to say the novelty is the lure. They're not something you come across on a regular basis, nor or they something most would prepare at home. Still and all, though I might add a bit of oomph to them if I made them myself, I find myself waiting on that line, knowing full well this is the only place I will find myself eating them.

Oh and this year there is some better than average pizza from the Hamilton Park Pizza Cafe(corner 7th and Brunswick). Great news if you live in the Hamilton Park neighborhood.

This year, with the help of A., I discovered the "Wine with Peaches" which was perfect for washing down the rice balls. I somehow missed it in the past but won't forget it in the future. It was definitely a hit with the ladies in our crowd, as friends from near and far gathered around a table with the oldsters in the back, sipping away. Izzy tried to snitch a peach chunk from my glass; uh one thing I won't be sharing with him.

Overall a great time to be had with the kiddies or without, if you simply enjoy the kitsch of it all. We didn't get home until 9:30 and I vowed that would be our only night at the feast this year.

But wait, I forgot to tell you about Rosalie's cheesecakeand the zeppole...to be continued...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Squirrels Don't Like Heirloom Tomatoes...

At least not the ones in my backyard. This is but one of the four beautiful tomatoes stolen and tossed aside after just one bite. Those nasty squirrels are wreaking havoc with our first tomato harvest and they don't even enjoy them. Clearly they have no taste.

This picture does not do these luscious tomatoes justice. They are a deep red with green top. Smooth and just ripe. At least I did manage to pluck two before the squirrels got to them.

We brought them over to my grandfather and we shared one with him. There was one left over so I offered it to my brother. He in turn offered it to a good friend of his, G. who is apparently quite a good cook.

After having eaten one of the above specimens, she sent along a thank you email which included the following: I have NEVER had a better tomato!

Given that reaction, fingers crossed that I manage to save a few more from the squirrels.

And Then There Was One: Mama Cat Returns

I think she is suffering from empty nest syndrome. We haven't seen the kitties in over a week now. Last we saw them, Mama was teaching them how to hunt. It is my guess that the window of opportunity has ended for trapping them, unless someone else has.

Mama has been coming around to eat, waiting patiently by the back door for something to nibble. She hangs out on our back wall. Is she waiting for the big gray cat to return? Maybe we will fatten her up enough to sustain another litter this season.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Don't Know Much About Indian Food...

But that wouldn't keep me from trying out a supposed culinary treasure, right here in Jersey City's own Little India, located right near Journal Square. In this thriving area, restaurants, grocery stores and clothing shops abound within a concentrated block or two.

As soon as I read Robert Siestema's review of Udipi Shri Krishna Palace, I was intrigued. It was the perfect excuse to try something new and break free from a Jersey City restaurant rut. Instead of our usual walk to dinner, we needed to take a train.

Was it worth the effort? Well the food was not at all as I would have imagined, given the stellar review. Perhaps I just don't understand the nuances of Indian food. Or perhaps it really wasn't very good.

We had a mysore dosa and some type of fluffy pancake (uppadam?), along with a goat dish and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato). The flavors were not as pronounced as they might have been and everything was spicier than I had anticipated. Everything was quite oily, as Siestema warned but why is this normal? The waiter appeared to be amazed that Izzy and I were stuck on the Achari Goat, some sort of pickled goat concoction. Indeed we were eating it but we were not swooning, to be sure.

A., who is a big Indian food fan, was sorely disappointed and couldn't imagine why this place had been so well-reviewed. Perhaps an Indian food connoisseur might weigh in. We have previously eaten at Rasoi and Amiya both of which I enjoyed more. Are we missing something? If so we are definitely game for another foray into Little India.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Plum and Peach Galette

Addendum: Do not ever, ever make this with Shiro plums..This recipe needs serious revamping..Bake at your own risk!!

I had a surplus of Shiro plums this week and needed to find a suitable way to use them. I found the answer in Alice Water's, Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook. I love the simplicity of this recipe, which can be thrown together quite easily.

It turns out I didn't have enough plums so I added some peaches as well. This turned out to be good thing since the Shiro plums turned out to be too watery and sour for this preparation. This would probably be best with Italian prune plums or just peaches.

Plum and Peach Galette (adapted from Chez Panisse Cookbook)

Galette Dough

1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup ice water

1. Mix dry ingredients.
2. Add 1/2 the butter and incorporate until it is an oatmeal like texture. Add remaining butter and break up until Lima bean-sized. You can do this with a pastry blender but it is easiest with a Kitchen-Aid mixer.
3. Add water but don't over mix. Dough should be rough and ropey. Form into two balls. Cover with plastic wrap, flatten and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. Roll out and return to fridge for 1/2 hour before using. This is enough for two galettes. Freeze one and use the other.

Plum and Peach filling

1 ball galette dough
1 1/4 pounds plums, peaches or both
about 1/4 cup sugar, additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon ground almonds
1 tablespoon butter

1. Cut plums or peaches in half, remove pits and cut fruit into slices. You should have about 5 cups fruit.
2. Roll out galette dough in to a 14 inch circle.
3. Mix flour, two tablespoons sugar and ground almonds. Spread on galette dough, leaving a two inch border of dough. Layer fruit in circles on top. Fold border on top of itself and crimp edges if you feel like it. Brush rim with butter and sprinkle with sugar.
4. Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes.
5. Serve warm topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Serves 8

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Consider The Lobster: A Shore Thing

I love lobster, preferably in the form of lobster salad. Yet every so often, when I am near the beach I get an inexplicable yearning for the whole creature. I'm not quite sure why since the eating usually involves a struggle of sorts, between me and the lobster as I try to wrestle every morsel from its crevices. I always question whether it is worth the effort. Somewhere in my lobster fantasy, the meat will be tender and easily removable from the shell. It almost never is.

My most recent craving struck on our visit to Long Beach Island a few weeks back so my dad indulged us and took us to Beach Haven Fishery, which is known to be one of the better seafood spots around (not quite sure I agree. There, Izzy and I ordered the twin lobster special. This was to be Izzy's whole lobster initiation. At first he just wanted to examine his dinner. He played with the lobster claws, moving them about and then left the cracking to me.

He was not strong enough to crack the lobster and extract the meat. Now my work was doubled. I hadn't considered that cracking two lobsters would not be a barrel of fun. Izzy didn't seem to mind as he stuffed some choice morsels into his mouth.

But as the meal wore on, and finding lobster tidbits grew tiresome, Izzy's enthusiasm began to wane. His fingers were messy, his face was dirty and he began to ponder the lobster claws yet again.

I became disgruntled, wondering why I hadn't ordered the leisurely lobster roll. Surely my lackluster attitude rubbed off on Izzy, who, when all was said and done, agreed that lobster was more fun in a salad, a far more relaxing way to savor the sweet, succulent meat.

Friday, August 8, 2008

In Which Izzy Discovers That Pickles Are Not Only Good To Eat

They also make for a fabulous girl repellent. One moment he was munching on his favorite new pickle, the next he was chasing a girl around the park, yelling "Pickle Attack". It seemed that he was threatening her with its wet, smelly nature.

The girl's mom, J., turned to me and said something to the effect of.." You see what happens when your child isn't allowed to play with guns." (She failed to note that Izzy was not exactly brandishing his pickle as weaponry, nor holding it in a gun like fashion). And then she mused.."What would Freud say about this? Boy chases girl with pickle."

No matter what Freud or anyone else might say, I know I'd rather see my child brandish a pickle over a gun any day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

CSA Tuesday: New Zealand Spinach Saute

Farmer Rich is always surprising us with one mysterious green or another. This week it was New Zealand Spinach. I find it far fuzzier than ordinary spinach but just as easy to prepare. This quick saute (5 minutes) makes for a perfectly simple side dish. I made it for lunch yesterday (and I nearly never get near the stove at lunchtime) along with some sliced tomatoes and smoked trout.

New Zealand Spinach Saute

1 bunch New Zealand spinach or regular spinach (stems removed , rolled and julienned)
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1. Cook garlic in about 2 tablespoons olive oil for a minute or two.
2. Toss in greens and stir until wilted.
3. Add vinegar, salt and pepper and cook a few minutes more.

3-4 servings

Look Whose Back: More Cat Chronicles

It's been nearly a month and half since we last saw the cat family that had taken up residence in a nearby yard. Then, this past Saturday, they made a miraculous reappearance. First the mama and two kitties showed up in the morning. Later on in the day, the entire family returned.

They were even more eager to eat than ever. And they ate and frolicked until we left the house that afternoon. The mama cat is still ever vigilant of her 16 week old kittens. She allows them first dibs on food, licks them and play wrestles with them in the grass.

On Sunday, we fed them in the morning and they lazed about in the shady parts of the yard. They were around nearly the whole day. During the evening hours, A. sat outside in the middle of the yard, allowing them to lick his toes.

Monday morning it was feeding time again and they eagerly came when I called them from their resting spot. Later on in the afternoon, Izzy and I were able to watch them eat right outside our kitchen door. We sat on the floor nibbling empanadas. The kittens watched as warily from only steps away. Two were brazen enough to wander into the kitchen seeking scraps.

None of us could believe that they had all returned. Where had they gone to? I guess we will never know. What to do with them now is the greater question, or so we thought. Last I saw them was Monday night but today, nothing, and that after purchasing a load of cat food at the supermarket.

Just as I was celebrating their return, I am once again mourning their disappearance. If indeed they do return, I promise not to turn into one of these:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thursday In The Park With Friends: Our Journey From Cafe Sabarsky To Grom With Plenty Of Park In Between

The fun all began on the East Side, with our friends D. and daughter T., at Cafe Sabarsky, the ideal spot before or after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It is just the right mix of elegance and comfort such that I am drawn to it whenever I am in the neighborhood. I find the spatzle and sausages irresistible. Izzy shares in my affection for the place as we have going there since he was three months old. We both ordered the aforementioned dishes, one for each of us and our friends did the same. They shared with one another but Izzy barely allotted me a forkful of his spatzle and practically licked his plate clean. Not only that but he seemed to have more than enough room for a large slice of quark cheesecake for dessert. At least I had the good sense to get my own dessert, Quark Strudel which seemed more rustic and eggy than ordinary strudel.

After spending so long at the table, the kids needed to go run and jump in the park, instead of the museum which was our original destination. Our stroll to the park turned into a day in Central Park. We stopped at a few playgrounds and wound up at the sailboat pond.

Izzy and T. managed to maneuver their boats while the moms were able to chat (we haven't seen each other in five years!).

Sailboats sailed, it was on to the rowboats.

At first I thought that I would be in charge of all of the rowing but when my arms tired out, D. took over. She managed with a bit of direction. Doesn't she look elegant?

After rowing our mission was Grom gelato, and T. and Izzy were clamoring for it. We got side-tracked on the way when we came upon this...

The Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck. All of a sudden we were in the midst of an ice cream tasting. Surprisingly, true artisanal American ice cream is harder to come by in New York than gelato so I was thrilled with our good fortune. We agreed upon six flavors from here, followed by a quick trip up to Zabar's and then back to Grom for some gelato.

It was a blur of ice cream and food shopping and we finally left our friends after six p.m., at which point Izzy was still hungry for dinner. And apparently my friends were hungry for more ice cream as they promptly returned to the Van Leeuwen truck to sample more, since they would be leaving New York and not have another opportunity. This ice cream is worthy of seconds and a detour!

Izzy and were exhausted from all of that walking and eating so we hopped in a cab and met A. for dinner but that is for another story.

Blueberry Crumble Bars: Easy Summer Treat

I can't keep away from The Smitten Kitchen. It is kind of like my refrigerator at night. There is always something calling to me to be cooked or to be eaten. I try to turn away but the pull is too strong.

And so it was with the sight of these gorgeous-looking Blueberry Crumb Bars. If you have the blueberries, you most likely have the rest of the ingredients. These are so easy to pull together (don't forget they need to chill before cutting) and these are perfect for a take-along snack.

Blueberry Crumb Bars (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white sugar (or half brown/half white)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cold butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime/1/2 an orange (or 1 whole lemon instead)
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

2. In medium bowl or kitchen aid mixer, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Incorporate butter with pastry blender or mixer, then egg., until it is crumbly but will stick together when patted done. Press half of dough into the prepared pan.

3. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and orange/lime juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. This may take up to an hour. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

If you need these to cool in a hurry, allow to cool on rack for 20-30 minutes and place in freezer for 30 minutes. These are much easier to cut when cool

Makes 24-36 rectangles depending upon how small you want them.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Clock Struck Midnight: Izzy's Late Night

And Izzy did not turn into a pumpkin, or become obnoxiously giddy and impossible to endure. All a great relief to be sure.

If you know me you know that I am a stickler for Izzy's bedtime schedule (and nap times back in the day). It is an extremely rare event if Izzy is not in bed by 8:30 (earlier in the winter). I made an exception this evening since we were invited for a special dinner in the city, so special it warranted an offering of a prized bottle of Chateau La Tour 1995 which is apparently quite a wine. It was mainly wasted on me but the others did seem to appreciate it. Izzy was thrilled to be part of the evening since these were friends he has not seen in almost a year.

Dinner was served about 7 p.m. although we had arrived earlier so that the boys could play beforehand. There were several courses, all lovingly prepared with ingredients from the Union Square Market. The meal began with Fusilli lightly sauced with fresh tomatoes and I watched in amazement as the other five year old present consumed three full bowls of it. Izzy ate merely one bowl and happily consumed the rest of the courses. There were sauteed seasonal vegetables with olive oil and herbs, followed by a sprout salad, a cheese course and then dessert (ice cream and some blueberry crumble bars (made by me, post to follow). It was definitely a long meal but the kids were able to get up between courses and play.

When 8:30 rolled around, Izzy started to become quite silly and his friends joined in as they told "jokes" and laughed uproariously. They eventually settled down when they were given an Ipod to play with some video clips. They were gathered around this tiny screen which seemed to captivate them for much too long. All the while, Izzy would return to the table periodically, seeking eats. He had one full cheese tasting and then some. At about 11 or so, he wandered, bleary-eyed to the table, asking for something to eat. Our hostess graciously offered up a bowl of raspberries and he ate nearly the entire lot of them.

When the hosts' children began preparing for bed, it was a clear sign for us to go. A. was finally able to tear himself away and I insisted on a taxi, good thing because who needs to take the subway and the Path at nearly midnight, with an ultra-sleepy child. Izzy promptly fell asleep in the taxi and we arrived home at barely after midnight. We plopped him in the bed, no teeth brushing, and he slept until 10 a.m. the latest in all of his five years.

This morning, Izzy looked up in wonder and said: "We never stay out late at anybody's house for dinner. You didn't even say we had to leave when it was time to go to bed."

Turns out, late night carousing with a five year old was much more civilized than I anticipated. If given the chance, I just might consider doing it again.