Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Adventures in Dining

Times Square
This past weekend Madison and I took a girls' trip to New York City to visit one of my most favorite people.  My "old" college buddy, Katie, moved into a brownstone in Brooklyn this past year. It was our first trip to see her new place and a perfect opportunity to see the musical Fun Home.  I actually got the tickets back in August for Madison's 14th birthday, but we had to wait this long for the actual trip.  It was well worth the wait.

I met Katie during my first year at Barnard College.  She lived a couple of doors down from me.  We had spent the first week of orientation meeting person after person, feeling homesick, and getting to know this great big city that would become our homes for the next four years.  Yet, Katie and I hadn't crossed paths during that week.  Toward the end of the week,  I went down to the basement of our dorm where the dining hall was to get breakfast.  You know I never miss breakfast.  Katie was sitting by herself and asked me if I wanted to sit with her.  I said sure, thinking how nice it was for her to invite me over.  Little did I know it would be the start of a life-long friendship.

Katie and I had an instant connection with one another.  It didn't take us long to find out how much we had in common and just how easily we could talk to one another.  Here we were, two young women who were short in stature (we weren't part of the Short People Posse for nothing) and who also shared the same love of music, books, and food.  I watched as Katie floored me by pouring syrup on her bowl of grits.  Yes, they had grits in a New York City dorm.  And, yes, you are not mistaken...Katie poured syrup on her grits.  Shocking stuff.  Apparently, these southerners from the north do not know how one eats grits.  To prove my point, my husband has convinced our kids that grits should be eaten with sugar on top, which he has labeled "special stuff". Gross.  Butter and salt, people.  Keep it simple.  Butter and salt.

Walking to the subway

In any case, Katie and I remained close throughout our entire college years and obviously well beyond.  We met our future husbands around the same time at Columbia.  We had our children around the same time and can relate to the ups and downs that come with kids and family life.  She's the only person who literally can spend two hours or more in a bookstore with me for the sheer fun of it.  She was the first person my age who loved cooking as much as I did.  In our suite during our senior year, we cooked for one another and gave each other cookbooks for birthdays.  We talked about our futures in our kitchen at Barnard over bagels and coffee.  Those futures, brightly imagined, turned out very different from where we saw ourselves then.  Katie went on to become a pastry chef, and I retired to my home kitchen.  We became moms and focused our energies on our kids.  We pursued other interests not yet imagined in those simple times.  Still, we have never lost touch and I can always pick up the phone after months and talk to her as if we just talked yesterday.

So, with all of that love talk let's move on to food because eating is about all I did while visiting New York.  Some people go for the shopping.  We did do a little of that.  Mostly for me, though, it was all about the food.  Just roll me down Broadway to Penn Station. I'm sure I could make it.

Dumplings from The Market

As soon as we arrived in Brooklyn, the eating frenzy began.  I think most conversations began with "Where should we eat next?"  Our first stop was in Brooklyn at this wonderful Asian restaurant called The Market.  Katie kept telling us how good the dumplings were and she wasn't mistaken.  The dumplings are made right in the front window.  You can see them being made as you walk in the door.  We chose the vegan dumplings that were made with spinach, which gave them a green color.  Madison did all of our picture taking and changed this one into black and white.  (She also added emojis here and there, so I will apologize if they aren't too professional looking).  Trust me, these dumplings are actually green.  I ate my dumplings with a hot bowl of miso soup.  The soup was tasty with plenty of seaweed, the silkiest white tofu, and a broth that was perfectly seasoned.  There is a salt threshold to be had when making something as simple as miso soup.  The Market's soup hit it right.  Topping it off with some oniony scallion pancakes and a Japanese green tea, I was already happy to be in New York again.  I should also mention that we arrived in the city in the middle of a Nor'Easter and were soaked and cold to the bone.  There is nothing better than a hot broth, dumplings, and tea to warm the soul back to happy.

After we settled in to Katie's house, we were already trying to figure out what to do for dinner and which bakery to set our sights on for dessert later.  There are so many bakeries in Brooklyn that I have been dying to visit that it was hard to make a decision.  We finally opted for Baked.  And, our hardest decision became what to buy.  So, we made do with a little bit of everything with a plan to share our pickings. My personal favorite was one I am going to have to re-create at home only because I still can't get it out of my mind.  It was a homemade Twix bar.  The bottom layer was a buttery shortbread cookie with a very thick layer of the most buttery and smooth caramel I have ever tasted.  And, trust me, they did not spare in the caramel layer department.  The goo stretched down the sides with every bite.  It was all topped, of course, with chocolate.  We shared, but I totally took advantage of my guest status and asked for the last bite on Sunday morning.

As if that wasn't enough, we still had dinner to get through.  Katie and her family took us to this great Italian restaurant called Queen.  Queen has been around since 1958, which is a testament to any restaurant trying to survive that five-year mark today.  I ate spaghettini Nora with eggplant and marinara.  Madison had Cheese Ravioli with marinara.  The pasta was homemade.  However, it was the sauce that made the meals exquisite.  It was rich in tomato but without the acidity that can come in some marinara sauces.  Queen hit the spot and fully satisfied my pasta lover, Madison. That is a definite accomplishment for any fourteen year old.

So, it's Saturday morning.  The rain has stopped but the cold has just gotten colder.  What is a person to do on a day like this? Why go get some freshly baked doughnuts!  Peter Pan Doughnuts is obscene, but in a good way.  The bakery was established over 62 years ago in a Polish neighborhood called Greenville in Brooklyn.  We walked into this small shop and immediately proceeded to the back of the store at the end of the line.  The line was huge but it moved quickly.  Thank, God! I couldn't take my eyes off of all the choices. How do you decide what type of doughnut to get when there are so many to choose from?  I wanted to try them all.  Again, the word "obscene" comes to mind.  I chose a buttermilk blueberry doughnut that by itself was filling enough. I'm not sure what ingredients went into it but lard used in the holiest of ways comes to mind.  To send me over the edge I also chose a coconut cream doughnut that should be outlawed.  It was a mess of coconut and creamy frosting that I somehow managed to inhale down to the last bite.  Just take a look at the link for their website and get ready to salivate.  I actually think you can smell each doughnut through your computer.  The pictures are visually intoxicating.

Set of Fun Home (Pardon the emojis; this is what happens when you give a teenager permission to take all of the pictures.)

Saturday evening took us into Manhattan.  Madison and I proudly made it Fun Home after transferring trains from Brooklyn. Yea, Mom, for getting us there.  We met up with Katie and her family outside of the theater and again talk returned to where to eat.  We ended up in the West Village at another great restaurant called Westville.  The biggest hit on the table was the fried heart of palms served as an appetizer with a spicy dipping sauce.  Madison has recently proclaimed heart of palms as her new favorite vegetable.  I'm not sure how this came about but we are going with it.  She was, of course, delighted to find these fried nuggets on the menu.  The entire table loved them so much that we ended up getting another plate before our meals were served.

Madison's Veggie Bowl at Westville
After dinner we took a walk through the West Village and worked off some of those calories we'd consumed over the weekend.  One of the best parts of New York is the need to walk everywhere.  It definitely helps when you've consumed your weight in food over the course of two days.  We did a little shopping and bedazzled the teenager in our midst.

Rice Pudding from Rice to Riches. Yes, it was eaten at 7:51pm. Thanks, Madison.

We finally settled in for dessert at Rice to Riches.  If you're not familiar with Rice to Riches, it is like an ice cream store but with every flavor of rice pudding you could imagine.  Madison had the almond-flavored pudding and I had the chocolate chip.  You are allowed to taste-test each flavor just as you would at an ice cream shop.  Perfect smoothy vanilla goodness that helped end our visit.  I definitely wish we had one of these in DC.

Sunday morning saw the end to our visit.  Just like in college, we sat around eating bagels and having coffee.  Only this time we were surrounded by kids, a husband, a dog, two cats, a lizard, and a fish.  It's not exactly the atmosphere for the quiet and introspective talks we had in college.  Our spheres have grown and expanded but thankfully it has always included each other.  I'm already missing them all and the city where they live.  I think I'll get started making a food list for my next visit.