I’ve always been drawn to stories about difficult food so I really enjoyed Sally Schneider’s story, Saffron Fields of Spain from Saveur. Noting its introduction to Spain by the Moors in the tenth century, Schneider describes the very particular way the flower will allow itself to be harvested. Witness to the pre-dawn ritual in northeastern Spain, she writes:
A handsome and somewhat fierce-looking woman in her seventies, dressed entirely in black, talked tenderly to her teenage granddaughter as she worked. With one hand, she picked up a flower and separated the petals; with the other, she stripped the threads from the yellow style to which they were attached. (She took care not to include the styles themselves, which would diminish the saffron’s value.) The threads were then tossed onto a tin plate, and the spent flower dropped to the floor. The old woman stripped each blossom in less than four seconds. An experienced picker, she could strip about 1,100 flowers in an hour, producing about a quarter of an ounce of saffron; a day’s work would yield two to three ounces of the spice, an amount worth as much as $850 on the retail market. Read more
Just past perfect city views and standbys like Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, and The River Café, there’s a short stretch of DUMBO’s Water Street that’s been in a state high design disreapair for years. Covered with blueprints for future city parks, it’s easy to ignore the scaffolding and power generators on either side the street and think about the coming soon instead. Jane’s Carousel, also on Water Street, has behind glass all winter, so I loved seeing it’s doors open this afternoon. Next door to the new Jacques Torres ice cream stand, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a scoop of Wicked, the ancho and chipotle spiced, Mayan inspired hot chocolate that’s become my favorite ice cream flavor. I love the hot and cold creaminess and now that the Brooklyn Flea has reopened in an empty lot down the street, I’ll be going again and again this summer. To take a break from the heat outside to finish my cone, I can always read how the carousel will eventually move to it’s permanent home in Brooklyn Bridge Park, some time in the “near future.” Read more
After another shift at the Park Slope Food Coop, it struck me how much it’s like high school. Founded in the early 70s, you report to a plain brick building where all members have committed to work three hours a month. Reliant on this to keep the store running, absences have to be excused and “make-ups” made up. If an infraction or “alert” appears on your record, you may be called up to the wood paneled administrator’s office to explain. The store won’t offer plastic bags but the walls are covered in a forest’s worth of multicolored paper handouts. A crew leader, who now represents authority but likely followed the Grateful Dead at some earlier point in their life, self-consiously tracks attendance and assigns tasks. Within the first 15 minutes, cliques form among the overbooked activities moms, bicycle boys and senior members long over the novelty. The cool guy picks the music. True to form, I’ll grumble in front of the other kids to blend in, but am secretly thrilled by my spice weighing assignment and can’t wait to graduate to cheese slicer. Jennifer shows me the ropes as we chat away about Puerto Rico where she’s from. Cheerful and irreverent, she’s picked up extra days to make up for a trip to Italy the month before. She’s the friend I would have made in detention. With 15 minutes to go, we’ll all start watching the clock. Shift over, class dismissed.
For months, I’ve had five untouched bags of farofa piled high on a pantry shelf. Not knowing how to use them but not wanting to throw them away either, I finally thought to ask my Brazilian friend, Claudia, for a recipe. When she started to recite the different ways it could be prepared, we decided it would be easier for her to come to my house next week to show me. She gave me a list of ingredients for our learning lunch with a warning to do no more than soak the black beans (lest I do anything to make them Cuban before she gets there). Excited, I went home to bring down the exiled farofa which was now…expired. It had obviously been trying to tell me something when it kept falling on my head each time I went into the pantry. Now that I had a plan but no farofa, I headed to Búzios in Little Brazil. Read more
For the past few days, I’ve been looking for references to food in Latin American literature. I haven’t found many yet to post, but I’ve thought of a million songs. El Manisero or The Peanut Vendor has always been one of my favorites. The vendor calls out to Caserita, a housewife, but she doesn’t realize it until the moment has just passed. I thought of being in the kitchen trying to teach myself something new, not recognizing the result I was seeking until it’s just a second too late. This performance by Antonio Machín captures the grace we’d all like to have but most need to leave for another day’s try.
In Lima: The Next Great Food City from Bon Appétit, Daniel Duane questions whether Lima could become the next great food destination. There is obviously no debate for Arturo Rubio, owner of the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana and former president of the Committee for the Promotion of Peruvian Cuisine, whom he quotes saying:
“JUST TRY TO IMAGINE ITALIAN FOOD WITHOUT TOMATOES, Mr. Duane. Or spanish cooking without chiles. Really, face it, my friend, the Inca domesticated fowl, so there would be no foie gras in France without the food of Peru.” Arturo Rubio’s voice begins to rise now, and he swings his soft hands around to illustrate his point—that every great culinary tradition on earth owes a debt to Peru. “No chocolate in Switzerland,” he cries, laughing at himself now. “No potatoes in Ireland.” Pausing to gulp a Peruvian beer, he nearly spits his next line with glee: “The Irish would’ve starved. New York would have no cops. My God, it was Portuguese traders who brought South American chiles to the Asian subcontinent; there would be no curry in India. No spices in Thailand!”
I have a very dysfunctional relationship with my KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker attachment. I’ve tried a million recipes but the results have been inconsistent. It will give me my dreamed of ice cream for a few hours after it’s just made, but it develops an icy, fuzzy, rock hard taste by the next day. It’s the memories of my few successes that keep me going (there was a green tea ice cream once and a yogurt sorbet that were just right…). That’s why I like Mariana Crespo’s recipe for dulce de leche ice cream so much. It’s straightforward and simple and it gives you a creamy, decadent result every time, that you can take into the week with you.
My friend Alexis who teaches beverage courses at the French Culinary Institute and writes A Thirsty Spirit can turn anything into a delicious cocktail. Click here to read what she did to the agua fresca recipe from the New York Times I’d written about in So Hot.
The first annual Paella Parade is this Sunday, June 7, 11:00 AM-3:00PM at Water Taxi Beach, South Street Seaport. It’s local chefs competing for most creative, best use of ingredients, best overall taste, paella parade pleaser and (my favorite) prettiest. Tickets are $25 for all the paella and wines from El Coto de Rioja you could want. I’ll find out this Sunday just how much that is!
I did not grow up eating arroz y frijoles negros/black beans and rice. This would not be extraordinary except that I’m a Cuban raised in Miami. It would be easier for me to list the things that we don’t serve with black beans and rice, and they’re mostly desserts. On weekends, we would go to my grandparent’s apartment where they would spend all morning preparing a large, traditional meal for us that would of course include frijoles negros. I would sit on the yellow shag carpet in their living room watching reruns of I Love Lucy (I thought it was a documentary) and old Tarzan movies, while they cooked. I knew lunch was almost ready when I heard my grandfather frying the egg that would go on my white rice in place of the beans everyone else would be having. There was never a tantrum, I had just decided I didn’t like them and they were never forced. We’d all sit down to it, and I’d hear my parents and sister rave about the incredible frijoles they were having without feeling the slightest inclination. Abuelo Peláez was my favorite and I was his. Secretly, I think I loved the exception he made for me. Plus, he made the most incredible fried eggs I’ve ever tasted. The tops were a translucent white and the yolks were the perfect kind of runny.