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).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Afternoon Excursion: Starn Brothers Bambu Exhibit at the MET

As Izzy and I walked home from school today, he seemed a bit forlorn.  He was feeling left out as he watched his classmates walk off for a playdate, knowing we had no particular plans.

I thought I would cheer him with a cup of hot vanilla (warm milk, honey and sprinkle of cinnamon dust) which we both sipped as I looked through the Weekend section of the New York Times.  Yes, I still read the hard copy of the paper. Am I the only one left?

I immediately honed-in on Last Chance section of the Art listings, where I noted that the Starn Brothers Bambu exhibit on the rooftop of the MET would be closing this weekend.  I suggested we go since the MET is open until 9 on Fridays and Izzy quickly agreed.  We made it there by 5:30, just in time to catch the gorgeous sunset upon the foliage of Central Park.  Better yet, A. happened to be working nearby and joined us.  Not only did we catch Bambu - which is a wondrous configuration of bamboo poles - but we also managed to peek in a few other places, including the Egyptian section - where Izzy clamored to see the mummies.  Izzy was skipping from room to room but I had to cut our visit short since it was already 7 p.m. and we needed to eat dinner.

We hopped in a cab across the park and made our way to Gazala Place which I have been meaning to write about for ages.  I discovered this narrow storefront in Hell's Kitchen in springtime and somehow managed to eat there during my treatments.  I ate there a couple of times on the days my treatments were canceled and I actually had an appetite.  This delicious Middle-Eastern spot features Druze cuisine and it was so delicious, I was eager to have Izzy and A. join me there.  We ordered the Mezze plate which showcases many of the wonderful offerings, including the smoky baba-ganoush, meat-filled cigars, Kibbe, falafel and hummous, served up with their incredible version of pita bread, made on the premises.  This paper-thin delight is addictive and Izzy held onto the bread basket to make sure he got the last bit before the waitress cleared the table.  Meanwhile, we polished off a fresh Fattoush salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, lettuce, crisped pita), a roasted fish and a lamb/beef kafte platter.  By that time, Izzy was falling asleep in the noisy restaurant and it was time to waddle along.  Taxi to the Path and we were on our way.  Certainly a memorable afternoon/evening for all.

Gazala Place will probably be around for awhile but you can only catch the Starn Brothers exhibit until Sunday.  If your kids are over 10 you can even go on the guided tour atop the bamboo poles for a real adventure. Definitely worth the trip!

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Visit From My Cousin Sherri (And her boyfriend Silvio): Long Lost Relatives

I have but two first cousins.  Sherri and Danny.  As a child I had heard tell of them but we were never given the opportunity to meet. Distance was a factor since they grew up in Toronto and I, New Jersey. Such a shame since Sherri and I  were born only a month apart and it would have been nice to have had a relative, so close in age.  We finally met, quite briefly in our late twenties but our meeting didn't amount to much.

Last year, things changed.  Sherri, feeling the need for some familial connections, made an effort to get in touch with me and we began a correspondence, via email and phone.  We made plans for a visit and then I became ill.  We put the plans on hold until I recovered.

Little did I know what I was in for when we arranged to host Sherri and her boyfriend Silvio, this past August.  We agreed to spend half of their visit on Long Beach Island (at my dad's) and half the time in Jersey City doing New Yorky stuff.

It all began with picking them up at the airport.  Izzy, A. and I went to Newark airport to greet them and it was only then I realized that I had no idea what they looked like.  I tried contacting their cellphone but to no avail.  Instead I found myself approaching strangers with suitcases, while trying to surmise which ones resembled my cousin.  They eventually found A., who found them at customs.   We all piled into the taxi and were on our way to the shore.  Turns out that Sherri looked pretty much the way I remembered her from our one meeting so many years ago.

Thankfully, we got along swimmingly, catching up on our entire lives along the way.  Instantly apparent was that we shared many physical similarities, primarily body shape and size.  We also seem to share an immense fondness for cats, both of us calling after them in incessantly high-pitched tones.  Of course you won't ever find me referring to my cats as "pussies" and therein lies one fundamental difference between us.  Not to mention the disturbing fact that my cousin must rank in the top 3 pickiest eaters I know, far pickier than even some toddlers I have encountered.

Now while we were at the beach, my cousin's picky habits were of little consequence as she selected her breakfast from the options available in my dad's gigantic pantry and we dined out the rest of the time.   When we got back to Jersey City, her food issues became glaringly apparent.  I didn't really comprehend the extent of it until I noticed that she had been eating the same thing for breakfast every day, toast with either peanut butter or almond butter.  When I offered French toast, pancakes or waffles she declined.  Now really, who can decline a fresh waffle?

Now despite her picky ways, my dear cousin managed to find a beau, Silvio, who is quite the gourmand. He is game to try most anything and comes from a family of cooks.  In fact he showed us photos of his family and their sausage and cured meat cellar.  He regaled us with tales of the wondrous foods his family cooks up and we we also discovered what a fantastic cook he is.  One Saturday we went to Union Square and shopped together for dinner.  We bought lamb chops from 3-Corner Field Farm,  along with some purple potatoes to complement other ingredients we had at home.  When we got home, I became his sous-chef while he prepared dinner.   We had grilled lamb chops with herbs, tomato-basil salad, potatoes with rosemary and a platter of radishes.

lamb chops `a la Silvio

Everything was lip-smackingly delicious.  Having Silvio around provided an important counter-balance to the pickiness factor and kept us well-fed and content. From seafood feasts on Long Beach Island, to dinner at ABC Kitchen and a night at Bin 14, overall we ate quite well during my cousin's visit.  At least I know Izzy and I did!  And I do hold out hope that Silvio's eating ways may one day rub off on my cousin!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Doughnuts and Carnival Kitsch: Doughnut Plant/Park Avenue Armory Carnival

How can I choose?

Starting at the Doughnut Plant, followed by several hours at The Park Avenue Armory and ending with pizza at Artichoke Basille, today we crammed in as much old school food and fun as we possibly could.

I had earmarked The Park Avenue Armory Carnival as the perfect outing for this three-day weekend.  Just the mention of a 50 foot Ferris wheel inside a building was enticement enough.  Never one to just go into the city without planning where to eat, I quickly hatched a plan to stop on the Lower East Side for doughnuts, before continuing on to our destination.

The Doughnut Plant has been on my radar ever since it opened so I was anxious to finally give it a try.
We arrived to find a line out the door of the tiny store front.  Izzy patiently awaited his turn, spending his time pondering the selection.  There were yeast doughnuts and cake doughnuts, glazed and more. With fillings such as blackberry jam,  creme brulee or chocolate pudding, it was a tough choice.  When it was finally our turn, we chose two creme brulee, one chocolate pudding and a vanilla glazed.  By the time we left the doughnut shop, it was already lunchtime and Izzy knew that we needed to eat before we had our treats so I tucked the doughnuts in a bag and we ventured off in search of lunch (which I hadn't exactly planned for since only doughnuts were on my mind).

As we were on the Lower East Side we weren't far from somewhere to decent to eat.  We meandered over to Clinton Street and had lunch at Cafe Pedlar.  There we lunched on "Lancaster County Eggs" to fortify us for the adventures ahead.   Lunch over, we hopped on the "F" train traveling uptown and made our way over to Park Avenue.

Stunned by mirrors and lights
The scene at the Park Avenue Armory was oddly alluring.  Crowds thronged the vast hall where there were but a few rides, the Ferris wheel played the starring role, backed up by an elephant ride, a large slide and the Trabant.  Yet the other features of the carnival more than compensated.  I had the sensation of being privy to a Coney Island sideshow in the middle of Manhattan.  The roving hula hoopers were quick to engage kids as they waited for the rides and as you can see, Izzy was always game to join.  Oh, and don't let me forget to mention that there were plenty of snacks to be found, including freshly made cotton-candy, popcorn sold in small white paper bags and Prosecco by the glass for the grown-ups.

Izzy hoops

After testing out all of the rides, Izzy led me to the show corner where we watched a contortionist and other circus-type performances. He was particularly entranced by the fellow below, who could not only balance on one chair but also managed to stack up several and do a handstand.  Talented as he was, so glad he is not my son, as the worry would be too great!

Please don't fall

When all was said and done, I was exhausted.  Izzy, however, wanted pizza.  In keeping with my desire to make every morsel count , we cabbed it back down to 14th street where I was able to cross off yet another "must" from my "where to eat" list, Artichoke and Basille.   Not surprisingly, we were met by throngs outside this oft-lauded store-front pizzeria with an extremely limited menu.  We ordered a slice of their signature artichoke pizza and one Marguerita, and had each cut in two, to share.  The artichoke slice was thick, filling and unlike any other pizza I have ever tasted.  The Marguerita, on the other hand, was fragrant with basil and somewhat akin to the pie at Di Fara.  We finished the former and merely tasted the latter.  Our bellies were full and we were happy.  We left the second slice in the box.  It was time to go home.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Love Is A Vat Of Vanilla Pudding : Snack Mom Has Returned

I am back.  Alive and well enough to resume snack mom duties, something I haven't been able to do since last October.  The snack menus for the past week were a mix of old and new.


Red and Green Grapes,
Cheddar Cheese, Yogurt Cheese
and Trader Joe's Organic Cracker Assortment


Raita (Cucumber/Yogurt Dip)
Blue Xochitl Chips


Oatmeal/Prune Scones
Assorted Apples


Kale Chips


Vanilla Pudding topped with wild strawberries
Granola with olive oil, prunes and honey (recipe coming soon)

After dinner last night, I thought I would have enough energy to make the pudding and the granola but by the time Izzy was ready for bed I wasn't sure I could make it back downstairs.  I was ready to collapse.  Then Izzy offered to help me make the pudding and I couldn't resist.  So we made our way back downstairs together and stirred up a big vat of vanilla pudding.  It seemed to take a bit longer than usual, perhaps because of the greater volume of liquid.

Izzy served as my stirring assistant and as he stood over the pot, he remarked, "Being snack mom is a lot of work, isn't it?"  Indeed it can be.  Which is fine for me since I know Izzy appreciates having good things to eat and I take pleasure in preparing them.

There are times, though, like this morning when I have to wonder what it might be like if I just took the easy way out.

The rain poured while Izzy got ready for school and I began to bake the granola.  The kitchen was in a particularly chaotic state and Izzy's lunch was as yet unmade.  I opted to drop Izzy off with pudding and go back to make his lunch and to get the granola when it emerged from the oven.  Meanwhile Izzy packed up several books that he wanted to bring to school and added a large container of tea to his bag.  I couldn't help him carry his bag, as I was to busy carrying pudding in glass containers.   As we trudged over to his school in the rain, I watched him maneuvering his heavy bag and I had the distinct feeling that something was about to go awry.  As I handed the pudding over to the teacher and Izzy took off his raincoat he began to cry.  His tea had spilled all over the books.  There he stood, teary-eyed before a puddle of tea and it was all my fault ( I had not screwed the top on properly).  To make matters worse, I had to hurry home to keep the granola from burning.   Another kitchen fire was certainly not part of my agenda.

I delivered the granola and returned home to clean up the mess. When all was tidy,  I had a moment to bask in the lingering scent of just-baked granola and envision Izzy and his classmates tucking into spoonfuls of luscious pudding goodness.