Thursday, July 30, 2009


As you may know, I was a printmaking major in college and currently work in a print gallery. Not only am I passionate about the process of printmaking (please don't ask my if I am still making prints - it makes me sad), but I really appreciate them as unique and wonderful works of art.

As I work on decorating my apartment, I am on the hunt for artwork. I have some beautiful pieces from friends of mine, pretty much all prints, but also wanted to get some works that I just liked looking at. Of course, while most prints may be less expensive than most paintings, affordable high quality ones are still going to be hard to come by. Enter 20x200.

20x200 is a project run by the Jen Bekman gallery, and I found out about it through a great art resource website, Artlog. The gallery is producing limited editions of digital prints (so no, unfortunately you won't find any lithos...) from various artists. Prints are available in different sizes and specific editions - that way you know that you have one of fifty of these prints, and the artist isn't just going to go wild and print 500 more to become rich. Not that these prices will make an artist rich though. The beauty of this project is that the prints are $20. Yes, you read that correctly: $20. Sure, some are $50, $100, and up to $2000, usually depending both on size of artwork and size of edition. But most are under $100.

Recently, I bought this beauty by Lisa Congdon. I love the bright colors and woodcut feel it has - plus it reminds me of a cheerier version of some of my own prints. Anyway, it was really easy to purchase online, and it arrived within 3 days in this fantastic packaging:

My favorite is the "Delivery for First Class Art Collector" part. It also came with a description of the artist and print, and a little certificate with her signature. Dare I say that the packaging is even better than the product?! It's so campy and wonderful!

Maybe one day I'll be able to shop at the gallery I work for and decorate my home with beautiful Klimt drawings and Munch woodcuts and Goya etchings. But for now, 20x200 is where it's at.

By the way, as I mentioned, I was a printmaker in college, so if you are really looking for inexpensive prints, let me know, I've got piles of prints and drawings to offload. Can't guarantee 20x200 quality packaging, of course.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oven Roasted Zucchini Panzanella

As I mentioned earlier, my mom came into the city this weekend to build furniture and make cakes with yours truly. She also brought along a little gift. Well, "little" isn't exactly the word. It was a gigantic zucchini, fresh from her garden!

Isn't it just beautiful? And last week she was lamenting that her zucchini hadn't come in yet and was worried it wouldn't be as bountiful as last summer. Ha.

Anyway, for dinner last night I wanted to make something with this lovely vegetable. I feared zucchini bread, since my baking skills are too testy to risk on this guy, and decided to make panzanella - the lovely Italian vegetable salad with croutons in it. I looked up a few recipes, which mostly consisted of combining vegetable chunks (usually tomatoes and onions, maybe some mozzarella thrown in there) with day-old chunks of bread and a vinaigrette and letting it all soak in. It sounded good, but I really wanted to make something that centered around the zucchini - not masking it with a vinaigrette, cheese, or raw veggies.

So I played around and decided to do a roasted version - and then to let the juices of the roasted vegetables soak into the bread instead of a harsh vinaigrette. I didn't have any day-old bread, so I started my venture by cubing some ciabatta, tossing with olive oil, and making croutons in the oven.

While the bread was toasting, I cut the zucchini, one red onion, and one tomato (you might want to use two, but I wanted the zucchini to be the heart of the meal, not the tomato) into chunks about the size of the croutons, and tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and two cloves of minced garlic.

Once the bread was done, I put it into a big bowl and kept the oven going at 350. I spread the vegetables onto the same sheet pan I'd toasted the bread on. (I'm getting good and minimizing my pan use now that I don't have a dishwasher.) I put them in the oven and let them roast for oh about 20-30 minutes, shaking the pan every once in awhile. By the end, they were turning golden brown and my whole apartment smelled like delicious roasted vegetables. (Not a huge feat, since my whole apartment is just one room.) I tossed them together with the bread while they were still hot and let the whole thing sit for about 3-5 minutes to absorb the flavors. Any longer would have made the bread mushy, the food cold, and well, I was pretty hungry.

If I do say so myself, it was absolutely divine, an abundantly flavorful dinner for one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Night in Alphabet City

I have to tell you about a particularly fun evening I had this weekend in the East Village.  I live a little bit north of this particular neighborhood, and absolutely love it.  Friday night we ventured even further east, into Alphabet City. 

The first thing Wright and I did that evening was discover our new absolute faaavorite restaurant in the city.  I know, we're quick to decide.  But this really was unbelievable.  Back Forty is famous for it's Summer Crab Boils, but it really deserves more credit than that.  It is a seasonally oriented restaurant with a fantastically casual, romantic and friendly outdoor seating area (a "back forty," if you will). 

From the cucumber cocktails to the grilled corn, the food was outstanding.  The atmosphere was inviting and it really set the tone for a fantastic night. We're going back.  Soon. 

Mmm... grilled corn.  Note also my local salad with a Buttermilk Garlic Scape vinaigrette and local Chelsea Wheat beer (a new favorite, first tested at Spitzer's). 

From there, we met up with friends at Zum Schneider's on Avenue C, an indoor beer garden that was a lot of fun.  There were many beers on tap and a very enthusiastic crowd.  One negative, however, was that tables are only for dining folk. Alas, our stay was shortlived. We finished off the evening at The Sunburnt Cow, where our friends nibbled on Australian BBQ and we relaxed and laughed.  It was a beautiful night and we were in a great mood.  Dare I ask if summer has finally arrived? 

Summer Cakes

This weekend, my mother and I took a baking class. "Spectacular Summer Cakes" took us through the baking of many a flavorful dessert, based on seasonal fruits. As you may know, I have a little bit of trouble with baking - the whole "exact" and "no mistakes or substitutions" thing really tends to throw me, and everything ends up a disaster. So I was really looking forward to learning some more about this mysterious craft.

The class was small, only about 8 of us, which was great, because we all got to make multiple desserts and really get a sense of what everyone was doing. Our instructor was great about discussing the science of baking in simple terms, and calling everyone together whenever something important was going on. I learned that whipping eggs (yolks or whites, especially yolks) takes longer than you think. But whipping cream takes less time than you think. (Yes, we verged on butter. Twice.)

The ingredients discussion was perhaps the most enlightening to me. We went through specific baking ingredients and their subtle differences. For example, all purpose flour really can't replace cake flour. No matter how much I want it to. And unsalted butter is of the utmost importance. Gelatin and yeast need warm water (not hot, not cold) to bloom. White chocolate cannot be a substitute for bittersweet chocolate. Milk chocolate cannot be a substitute for semi-sweet chocolate. In essence - stick to the recipe exactly!!

For a lot of the class, my mom and I worked on a summer trifle. We made vanilla custard, chocolate custard, and sponge cake, then layered them with berries and a rum syrup. Above, my mother being heavy-handed with the syrup.

It turned out really well! Who knows if we'll ever actually make one of these, but having a good spongecake recipe will certainly come in handy. By the way, it was delicious.

Some of the other desserts we made were English summer pudding, ambrosia cake, chocolate cake with raspberry mouse, lemon pistachio jelly roll, lemon cheesecake with an almond crust, raspberry and strawberry brioche...

We ate well that night.

Friday, July 24, 2009

CSA Roundup

I picked up our CSA last night - yes, in the pouring rain - and the vegetables were just so  beautiful, I couldn't help but take pictures.

Do you mind if I post pictures of the CSA spread every Friday? No? Okay, good, because I'm going to.  Especially when the colors are as rich as this week's. 

I mean, look at these! 

I also should mention that these pictures didn't pop out of nowhere.  I finally went out to my parent's house this week and picked up my real camera.  So, I apologize for exposing your eyes to such blurry, off-color iPhone photos the past year and a half.  From now on, real images.  Well, when I remember. 

Of course, I'm not a photographer, so they aren't perfect and I'm not going to spend hours photoshopping them to the perfect color range.  But doesn't my herb garden just look so much more beautiful when the word "focus" enters the vocabulary of the image? 

Have a great weekend! 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Working with What You Have" or The Easiest Potato Salad Ever

One of my favorite blogs, Big Girls Small Kitchen, has a fantastic section called "Working with What You Have," which I think is a great way to describe the way I cook when I cook for myself. Sometimes, of course, I'll cook big meals and run to various grocery stores and farmer's markets, but a lot of the time, I'm just too lazy. I get home and open my refrigerator and try to make something up that might be half-decent with whatever I've got in there.

This week, I had some leftover potatoes from a dinner I made for Wright. They were small Yukon Golds - my favorite - and with it finally starting to feel like summer I knew I had to make potato salad with them. It would be the perfect snack to have on hand at home, and would last me a couple of lunches at work.

Now, of course I have a few potato salad recipes up my sleeve. My mom makes a great one, there are multiple at Smitten Kitchen, and Ina's variations are all heavenly, as would be expected from Ina Garten. But, I didn't really have some of the necessary ingredients for any of these specific recipes - celery, dill, red onion, whole grain mustard, etc. And since I was making this meal out of leftover potatoes, going to the store for more ingredients, I felt, would kind of defeat the whole purpose. So I decided to make something up.

Of course, I had my trusty herb garden at my disposal, so I was a little ahead of the game, but otherwise I just went as simple as possible. And it was beyond delicious, if I do say so myself. Not that anyone could really mess up potato salad. But it was nice to make it exactly the way that I like it.

Here's what to do, if you happen to have these ingredients on hand. If not, make up your own. Put the potatoes in a pot of cold water with salt and turn on the stove. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 15 minutes or so. During that time, cut up a handful of chives and three spring onions, and put them in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add a large spoonful of mayonnaise, and a small spoonful of Dijon mustard. When the potatoes are done (nice and soft inside when poked with a fork), drain them in the sink, and cut them into quarters when they are cool enough to handle. Put them into the bowl with the other ingredients and mix around until everything is covered. Add salt and pepper. Taste, and add more mustard or more mayonnaise or more salt or more pepper if necessary. Put into the refrigerator, and enjoy when cold. Better yet, the next day or the day after.

N.B. I have just finished reading Nora Ephron's Heartburn, in which she slips in recipes written in the style above. Though at first it threw me to not have the list of ingredients first, and everything neatly put into steps, I really caught on by the end of the book. And I thought this style really suited my casual, super easy, working with what you have potato salad.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thoughts on Microwaves

In my new kitchen, I don't have a microwave. I don't have a dishwasher either, but that's fairly common in New York, so I know I'll survive. The microwave, though, is a concern.

Most people agree that I must get one. Maybe I do too, but I just don't have a spot for it. I refuse to give up my precious counter space (especially since I already had to give some of that up for the dish rack), and there aren't any electrical outlets inside of my cupboards. No, I will not drill a hold in one of them for the cord to come through. That would be beyond disastrous. Above the fridge has also been suggested and vetoed: I can barely reach up there, let alone while balancing a plate of hot food.

So, I'm going to try out life without one. And I think I can do it. I came up with a list of things I might use a microwave for: reheating leftovers, making popcorn, melting butter, heating tea, etc. Popcorn can be made on the stove, and is actually 300 times better when it is. Boiling water and melting butter, again, can be done on the stove. Leftovers could be tricky. Soups and wet pastas can be heated up in a pot on the stove, though, and for most other things: the broiler. Until last night, I hadn't put my broiler to use. Who knew what that thing would do. But, left with a slice of pizza from my cousin's very successful pizza party, it was calling my name.

Well, it was a huge success. I put the pizza on a piece of tinfoil, and once the broiler got going (oh, 3-5 minutes I'd say) I slid it right in there. The nice thing is that you can even leave the door open and watch it. Just don't trip!

Anyway, the pizza came out with melted cheese and perfectly toasted crust. It was divine - much better than the mushy pizza that would have come out of the microwave anyway! After about one bite I realized I could definitely get used to this. At least, wish me luck as I try to hold out as long as possible!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Couch

I've mentioned before that my apartment lacks a couch. I didn't bring mine up from Charlottesville, and realizing how expensive they are, found myself in a little bit of a bind. As luck would have it, Wright's new roommate was bringing a couch to their apartment, so Wright very kindly offered me his.

The only problem with this plan was how to get it from Wright's apartment to mine. We live only about a 5-10 minute walk from each other, so it really seemed crazy to rent a truck. But the couch was too big for my brother's car, so...

We decided to carry it. It was really heavy. So we stopped every block or so and took a picture while resting on the couch.

Though I "helped", it was really these three strong boys that carried most of it. It was actually kind of fun (in retrospect!), because everyone walking by us had to say something. We got a lot of "I love New York!" and "We've all done that before!" and even some "Hey, can I ride on it?!" offers. They were turned down.

With two blocks to go, we were exhausted. Mike took a blackberry break and I longingly tried to guess how many more steps we had. Low point! But eventually.....

We made it! And now I have a couch, so if you want to come over and sit down, you can.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Local Meal

So, remember this stuff? 

Well, this weekend we got to cooking, and turned it into this:

And then made this: 

And put it all together to have this for dinner. 

Plus, we picked up some peaches at the farmer's market on Saturday (also where we got the duck, cherries, and potatoes) and pulled together a peach cobbler. 

It turned out to be quite a spectacular meal! The two major highlights, for me, were the fava bean puree and the duck with cherry glaze.  The puree was inspired by a recipe in Richard Ruben's book, The Farmer's Market Cookbook.  After shelling, boiling, and de-skinning the fava beans (they may look large, but you don't get much!), we threw them in a food processor with olive oil, garlic, truffle oil, salt and pepper.  Spread on toast and topped with grated parmesan, they were utterly delectable.  It was probably a good thing the beans turned out to only be a fairly small amount, or I would have eaten hundreds of these things. 

Wright got the smoked duck at the farmer's market - he'd been eyeing it for weeks - and we topped it with a simple cherry sauce.  After pitting the cherries, we put them into a sauce pan with water, sugar, and orange zest, and let it simmer until the duck was ready.  The flavors came together perfectly, if I do say so myself. 

I won't lie, I'm not a huge fan of beets, so I thought our beet and goat cheese salad (with mint and a little vinaigrette) was unexciting.  The roasted fingerling potatoes were creamy and delicious, but the local carrots ended up lacking in flavor.  More butter, perhaps? The peach cobbler was adapted from Ina Garten's recipe for peach raspberry crisp, from her classic The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  There was nothing wrong with that dish, that's for sure!

Anyway, we were very proud of our local meal, based off of the veggies we got at this week's CSA.  I still have a pound of greens sitting in my fridge, so that will need to be attacked at another time... 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Herb Garden Heaven, part 2

I finally pulled my herb garden together this weekend. In Charlottesville, I had all of my herbs together in one window planter, but the mint (being a weed) totally took over, and every time one plant got sick I panicked that everything was going to die. That never happened, luckily, but still, I took precaution and am keeping the herbs in their separate containers this time around. Anyway, here are some pictures...

I ended up going with thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, basil, chives, and mint. Sage, oregano, and chives are new for me - and I've already used the sage for a lovely brown butter and sage sauce to go with the pumpkin ravioli from the so-so Italian place around the corner.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Eat your vegetables!

This week, we finally got off the waiting list to join our local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). I've been dying to join one for the past two years, but not having a steady location throughout a season made it difficult. Since I didn't move into my apartment until July 1, I was worried that I'd lost out and would once again have to wait until next year. So when Mary from Norwich Farms emailed me with the opportunity to buy a share in this season's crop, I jumped on it gleefully. Check out the goods I picked up last night!!

We got carrots, onions, garlic, beets, fava beans, mixed baby greens and kale. The most valuable part of the CSA, I think, will be that it encourages experimentation with vegetables that you may not usually (or ever!) cook with. While I do enjoy a good beet and goat cheese salad at a restaurant, I've never actually cooked them in my house--and the same with fava beans! After laying everything out on my counter, I immediately started tearing into my cookbooks to mark recipes for some of these more interesting vegetables.

Don't worry, I won't inundate my blog posts with bizarre experimentations with vegetables, but I do think this is an exciting adventure that will lead to a healthier diet and more adventurous cooking.

For more information on CSAs or to find one near you, check out And don't be deterred if your local CSA is full - you may be able to jump in late like we did!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dinner Failure

On my way home from work last night, my stomach was grumbling as I thought about what to make for dinner. I'd been thinking about it all day - after (gulp) a croissant for breakfast and leftover ravioli for lunch, I was in the mood for something delicious and healthy. I had a fair amount of produce leftover from the weekend, so I was confident I could whip up something utterly delectable (and light on the carbs!).

I finally decided on a salad with toasted walnuts, sliced nectarine, prosciutto, and some crumbled cheese - all items I had in my refrigerator. I could barely contain my excitement at the prospect of making such a fresh dinner without having to go to the market.

Upon arriving home, however, I was greeted with failure upon failure. I found that my lettuce had wilted on the outside, so I only had the crunchier leaves from the inside of the head to use - not exactly ideal. I tossed them in a simple vinaigrette, but (ugh) failing to taste before tossing, I later realized I used way too much salt in making the dressing. The pit of my nectarine had gone soft (I didn't know this was possible!!) and had bruised most of the fruit. Half of my prosciutto had dried out, and at this point I completely forgot about the walnuts.

Dumping my "fresh" salad into the trash, I ended up eating cheese and crackers. Really healthy, right? I was downtrodden but couldn't help but laugh at myself. It really goes to show how important fresh, quality ingredients are when you are planning such a simple meal!

Failures in the kitchen happen a lot. I may write about all of these delicious meals that I make, but really, there are always a few mishaps in every meal, and sometimes so many mishaps that the whole thing ends up in the garbage. These mistakes, though, are how I'm learning to cook. Living on my own has helped me gain confidence in my cooking skills, because I'm no longer afraid to mess up. I've smiled my way through absolutely disgusting or utterly tasteless meals I've made before, and that's okay, because it turns out better the next time. The main thing is to not be afraid of the kitchen!

On a side note, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a fantastic collection of essays about what you cook for yourself when no one is watching. I read it when I first got my own apartment last year, and after last night's meal of cheese and crackers, am definitely going to plan a re-read soon. It's funny and touching, and completely relate-able - I'd highly recommend it to anyone, whether you live alone or not.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First Dinner

For the first home-cooked meal in my new kitchen, I decided to go wild and try my hand at homemade pizza. Inspired by my cousin's recent description and armed with Smitten Kitchen's recipe, I made a goat cheese, zucchini, squash, and shallot pizza, paired with a simple salad.

The pizza dough was surprisingly easy to make. I couldn't believe it when it actually rose! I'm not sure it turned out perfectly - the crust was kind of tough, and overall it seemed pretty salty (we were quite thirsty at the end of the meal), but that's okay. With the delicious and fresh toppings, it still tasted great!

Even though the oven set off the smoke alarm and we drank an entire Brita of water, the meal was tasty and - most importantly - it was a lot of fun! I think I'm going to get used to my new kitchen pretty quickly...

Oh, and Wright decided to top his pizza with some prosciutto. Boys don't eat vegetarian meals, apparently!

Update: This weekend, we're having dinner at Adelaide's and doing a make your own pizza bar! Maybe I'll be able to pick up some pointers for the crust situation...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Progress...

Isn't it nice when you feel like everything is falling into place? After a few days of hecticness, the little details start to settle.

Things are starting to feel, well, organized.

My legs may be tired from treks to Bed, Bath, and Beyond...

And my arms may be tired from lifting boxes...

But there is something so comforting about finding a spot to place my little elephant-shaped bottle opener.

And at this point, everything feels so neat, so pulled together.

Things are lined up carefully and elegantly.

But then there's this...

And this......

And I remember that I've still got a TON of work to do. Ah, well. It's the little things that keep me going.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Exploring the Neighborhood

I've been in my new apartment for three days now, and the process of settling in is still ongoing (and probably will be for awhile). There are big things to organize (like getting a couch) and small things to organize (like finding a flatware organizer small enough for my 8 inch wide drawer), but the list really just seems never ending.

One thing that I've really enjoyed is trying to get to know the area around my building. I've been hunting around for the closest (and best) pharmacies, grocery stores, wine shops, restaurants, flower stores, etc. and it's been a lot of fun. There are some great finds - I live very close to the Vietnamese restaurant Bao Noodles, which has one of the best atmospheres I've seen in awhile - and the food stands up to it, too. There's also a great florist around the corner - Gramercy Park Flowers - that is beautiful and high-quality. I'm looking forward to going in there to find a planter for my herb garden this weekend!

There have also been some misses. I'd been peeking into an Italian shop on my street for the past few days, imagining a DiPalo's-like find, but was pretty disappointed in the cheese and meat selection once I finally went in. I bought some fresh pumpkin ravioli, though, so maybe that will improve my opinion on the shop! There's also a butcher shop which sells only organic, grass-fed meat. It closes at 7:00 pm so I haven't gotten in there yet, but it's on the agenda!

This is one of the things I love about New York. I've been staying literally 3 blocks and 2 avenues away from my new apartment - technically in the exact same neighborhood - and yet I've never been to (or noticed) any of the places I just mentioned! Every street, every block is a neighborhood in its own right and has new places to explore. It's exciting.

Monday, July 06, 2009

4th of July Pie!

For the 4th of July, we had a perfectly American, perfectly delicious meal: Ruthie's Fried Chicken (it just doesn't get better than a secret recipe...), Mom's potato salad, corn on the cob, and last but not least, pie!

My feeble attempts at pie were crushed at the hands of these beautiful pies from Pie In the Sky, a delicious, home-grown (literally, in someone's house) pie shop in Cape Neddick, ME. We picked up a blueberry (because we were in Maine, after all) and an apple (because it was 4th of July, after all), and they just couldn't have been more delicious.

While at the bakery, I tried to pick up some tips by sneaking a peek at their baking methods. First, the apples were piled sky high on the pies. Literally, more than double the height of the pie crust (see above that they do cook down). Also, I concluded that they cook these pies for a long, long time. I'm thinking like 4-6 hours. When we went in at 3pm, there were apple pies in the oven (when they opened it, they looked almost cooked to me); they said we'd have to pick them up at 6pm for them to be ready, and even then might be a gamble. So, slow-cooking must be the secret!

In my new kitchen, I have a big marble counter - perfect for rolling out pie dough. While I know it will take many, many tries, I am determined to improve my baking this summer. Wish me luck!