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In a Manhattan Kitchen, Part 1

New York City’s Chinatown offers everything you could possibly want while seeming completely inaccessible at the same time.  That’s why I really wanted to take advantage of the market tour and Filipino cooking class offered by a member of my blogging group, Annette Tomei.  Annette is a chef, writer and teacher at the International Culinary Center.  Her blog, Wander, Eat and Tell, chronicling her travels and food experiences is always a push out the door, especially when she turns her attention to nearby neighborhoods I can explore with new eyes.  One of her trips was to the Philippines to visit her brother-in-law Benjie’s family.  While she was there, she spent time in a Filipino kitchen learning from four elderly women who shared their recipes and cooking knowledge in exchange for a promise that she teach it to others in her own country.

To that end, Annette planned today’s class.  I met the group at the ICC and we walked over to Chinatown to pick up the final ingredients (and do some snacking you can read about here).  The group was made up of Annette; Steven, our writing teacher; Hayley, another ICC instructor; Benjie and his friends, Luisa and Raqui.  Food markets in Chinatown can be overwhelming so it was great to work our way through with a sense of purpose and Annette prepped guide.  Looking the pictures now, it all seems so vivid.  Before today I never felt like I could find the same spot twice, now I can’t wait to go back.

Rambutan, cherries, mangoes, lychees and mangosteens at Tan Tin Hung Supermarket. Read more

Art Break

The first year I moved to New York the central medians along Park Avenue were lined with enormous bronze statues by Fernando Botero.  Not really knowing a Park Avenue without them, I thought the full bodied sculptures had always been there and always would be.  It turned out to be a temporary installation sponsored by the Public Art Fund, and they were gone after a couple months.  Park Avenue has always seemed empty without them.  Today, my mother and I were running to meet my sister when we came across this Botero in a walkway along 57th Street.  I don’t know how much longer it will be there, but it’s wonderful to come across his public installations unexpectedly and know his figures are still roaming the City.

Fernando Botero, Rape of Europa, 2007

Creole Time

I love camarones enchilados or creole-style shrimp.  Growing up, it was the perfect every day dish thrown together at the last minute.  On a good day, we had it with fluffy white race and maduros.  On a rushed day, frozen shrimp and Cuban crackers.  It was one of the first things I’d tried to make on my own, but there was always something missing. I looked at a few different versions pulling different elements from each.  What really made the difference though was Alex Garcia’s recommendation from In a Cuban Kitchen to add the shrimp at the very end, allowing the flavors in the sauce to develop without over cooking the shrimp.  Spicy but sweet and well worth the time.

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A Rosey Future

When my cousin Marta, who lives in Spain, asked if I’d tried the Thermomix, a “kitchen robot” she’d received as a gift that did “almost everything”, I thought she was referring to a souped up crock pot I might look at the next time I was in a Williams-Sonoma or wishlisting on Amazon.  My curiosity was piqued when I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Snaring the Elusive Thermomix” by Raymond Sokolov.  Learning that it was in fact a robot that did do almost everything and simultaneously too, I was disappointed to read that it wasn’t available in the U.S.  By the time I found Spanish food blogs that listed both regular and Thermomix recipes on their sites, I was feeling a little deprived.  Not of a machine I might not need after all, but of the Jetsons future I thought we’d all have by now.  I’ve asked Marta to let me know what it’s like to cook with a Thermomix and how she uses  it.  In the meantime, I’ve posted a clip of how I imagine it works until I know differently.

So Hot

Now that the heat is not just outside but very much inside my apartment, I’ve started thinking about ways to cool off this summer.  When I came across this New York Times recipe for agua fresca, I knew that I was going to be doing a lot of pureeing in the next few months.  I made the cantaloupe agua fresca for the park today, following the directions closely, and loved the results.  There are other versions where you don’t strain after blending or add more fruit at the end which I’ll definitely try next time.  Mostly, I love having an excuse to buy any farmer’s market fruit too pretty to leave behind (not unlike the fat little bird sugar dispenser I found this weekend).  Maybe the heat is getting to me after all?

The Way They Do Their Corn

I don’t think they could have possibly been as happy to see me, as I was to see them.  The women running the grilled corn stand at the Brooklyn Flea never, ever want for customers, but I really, really want their corn.  This winter the market moved indoors to DUMBO but there was no place for the Red Hook Vendors among the jaded hipsters walking their architectural dogs.  That made the open air return of the Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School location in Fort Greene that much sweeter.  I’d heard about the fresh grilled corn slathered in Mexican crema and cotija cheese and topped with chile when some friends, who insisted it was Cuban, kept asking me where they could find it.  It’s actually a Mexican preparation that I finally tried last year.  I’ve been daydreaming about it since April, knowing that soon I’d be back on steps of the high school enjoying the first corn of the summer.  I noticed today that this is also the best place to watch the vendors at work.  Perfectly preparing each one with just the right amount of cheese and chili powder, calmly facing the long lines that never end.

The Sandwich Armada

I discovered Despana by accident, looking for something else, in the disorienting cross streets where Little Italy becomes Soho.  A small gourmet shop and wholesaler specializing in Spanish imports, it’s lined on one side with olive oils, jars of preserves, canned delicacies and Valor hot chocolate and cases of cheese and cured meats on the other. There’s also a small lunch counter offering pintxos, tortillas, bocadillos, salads and desserts.  Basically, everything you worried you’d never find when your year abroad ended.  Now that I have found it, I plan to seek it with purpose, again and again and again.

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