A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Fresh mulberries (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What a surprise it was to stand under the tree in the backyard one morning and look up at little misshapen berries, turning the first blush of ripening pink. We’d moved into the apartment last September, after the last of any berries had already fallen from the tree, and being inexperienced botanists, had written the tree off as just another rambling Brooklyn shrub that managed to make it to adulthood, to spite polluted rain and urban sprawl. But here it was, growing berries. Fat and dark purple, like stretched-out blackberries. Armed with a berry and a leaf, I tried to look up the fruit online. Searches for “ugly blackberry” or “black berry growing on tree” turned up nothing. In hopes that it wasn’t poisonous, I ate the fruit.

The flavor was sweet and ripe, almost like bubblegum and so full of juice it burst open like a water balloon as I bit into it. After waiting a few hours without experiencing any death-like symptoms, I went outside and plucked berry after berry off the branches and ate them straight from the tree. I was reminded of being twelve, of standing along the fence in my childhood garden and grabbing raspberries, blackberries, and currants from bushes and stuffing them straight into my mouth.

When I couldn’t eat another berry, I’d pick a container full and freeze it, so that as fall approached, I could still sit in front of the television, popping frozen berries in my mouth.

A berry is never as nice as when it’s picked directly from the bush, and even nicer when its unexpected. Mulberries, say my neighbors, are what’s growing on the trees. I had always imagined mulberries to be sour, prickly things. I don’t know why – I’ve never even eaten anything mulberry flavored nor even seen a mulberry live. » Continue reading this post…

Summer in the City: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry tea fizz (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Oh yes, summer is here, at least unofficially. At least, I’m sweating enough to call it summer. With every snatch of breeze that thinks about coming inside, I lean closer to the open window. At least, until the mosquitoes eat my face. Oh yes, it’s summer. Time for salads and goat cheese, basil, mint, and buckets of water with ice cubes and lime. Or even better, fancy little cocktails with wild tea vodka, strawberries, mint, lemons, simple syrup, and soda water.

It feels like summer vacation every time we sit outside in the backyard. Two tiki torches light up the freshly raked dirt where someday soon there’ll be grass. There’s now a little string of Christmas lights up and always candles burning after dark. Just enough light to eat by at night. Perfect light when your dinner is strawberry-rhubarb pie and cocktails.

There’s been rhubarb at the market these last few weeks and the strawberries have finally started smelling like strawberries. I had been wanting to make a German-style rhubarb tart, but the dough is yeast-based, and being me, I had failed to read the instructions more than ten minutes before my pie friends were about to come over. And as I always come, back to my favorite crust recipe: 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, a splash of milk, a pinch of salt. So easy and foolproof. Effortless like the summer night.

We sat in the backyard, talking as the pie baked and easing out of our stoic poises as the temperature dropped to something comfortable.

Strawberry rhubarb pie recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Oh, the gooey mess. Four people, one pie, and a few scoops of ice cream. Demolished.

And much the same my summer days go by. I go to work, I come home, I cook a little, sit in the sun a little, try to do yoga when I can, try to stay hydrated so I don’t die. » Continue reading this post…

Southern Comfort

The apron is over the railing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I miss the South. I miss warm grits melted with cheese and dotted with firm, pink shrimp. I miss slow cooked greens and fatback and sweet and crumbly cornbread. I miss excessive hospitality and humidity and conversations dotted with those little “bless her heart”s. Oh God, I miss sweet tea.

Though the South is not everything. I live in the North because I like it more. Because I need the throb of city life and stripped-of-sugar sass. I need fast-paced and driven. And I really can’t stand pastel.

But what I love about the things I love about the South is that they’re things that for the most part I can bring to Brooklyn. People I love, weather I like, food I could eat until I become obese. Dinner parties.

Jamie and I sat on the back porch, with late afternoon sunshine across our shoulders, dipping strips of fried eggplant and chicken gizzards into buttermilk garlic sauce and drinking Firefly (sweet tea vodka for those of you never blessed). I had just dismembered two chickens, which really meant I had torn apart two chickens with my bare hands (it’s a learning curve) and the pieces were soaking in a salty brine upstairs. We were lazy, off of work, waiting for the third member of our party to join us. Absolute laziness.

My morning had been spent lying on a towel in the backyard, sunning my pale and pasty legs, reading the last five pages of at least three magazines, and working on poetry. I asked Jamie, “Do I look tanner?” “No,” he said.

We spent a few nice hours sitting in the backyard until at seven, we thought we should start dinner. I remembered having told people we would eat at seven.

Fried eggplant with buttermilk-garlic sauce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chicken frying (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Jamie pulled chicken from the brine and rinsed it in buttermilk and dredged it in flour mixed with jerk seasoning, cayenne, and salt. » Continue reading this post…

Doomsday Dinner: Sweet Potato & Collard Tacos

Tacos with sweet potato and collards (Eat me. Drink Me.)

I figured I’d go out with a bang. Something simple and celebratory that said, “Good food is a good life” and “I’m really tired from work” at the same time. It was time to dig through the pantry for cans unopened, vegetables unused, ideas unexplored. I found harissa. I thought: cinnamon, sweet potato, collards.

I played Adele very loud at the inconvenience of my neighbors. I sang along even louder. I thought, I have yoga-d, I have showered, and now I am cooking in the warm light of my kitchen. This is as ready as I’ll ever be to meet the hereafter. Assuming the hereafter is upon us in the next twenty minutes.

I remembered that when I was doing yoga, the rooster crowing at five in the afternoon was a sign. A frantic and unheeded sign. But now, with the sweet potatoes softening in a bed of onion, garlic, cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, I remembered also that the rooster starts to crow at three in the morning and crows, like sick clockwork, seven times in a row every nineteen minutes apart, until late in the afternoon. And by the end of the day his crows are like death throes, implausibly persisting croaks. And before, I had felt the rain to be ominous, wet foretaste of horror.

Now, it brought a cool evening breeze through the window and a calming patter. I remembered that I like rain.

I snapped open a bottle of Weihenstephaner, my right now favorite wheat beer. The apocalypse postponed itself, I think to give me time to really taste crisp wheat and honey, blue sky, the remembrance of bananas. I remembered that I don’t like bananas.

Two tortillas grilled on the gas stove’s open flame. Collards just simmering into a spicy tomato-laced harissa sauce. Crumbled feta. Everything wrapped in the tortilla. » Continue reading this post…

Giving Some Lip to a Piece of Tongue

Boiled tongue (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This is exactly what it looked like: as if someone had hacked off a foot, boiled it, and dressed it in a little white boot. It was like finding something from Dexter in my soup pot.

How I ended up making tongue for dinner is a roundabout story. What I really wanted was to try out this adorable sounding Fergus Henderson recipe for crispy pig tails. And I figured, in my neighborhood, with its preponderance of funny animal bits, I would definitely be able to find them somewhere. So I walked to the carniceria on the corner and asked for pig tails. The butcher laughed at me. And I thought – really? – because I’m staring at a pig’s head next to a goat’s head, right above bins of offal and piles of trotter. And he laughs at me for wanting pig tails?

So he gives me the address of a few more carnicerias in Bushwick and I begin a trek into the hoods of Brooklyn looking for pig tails. No luck. One butcher didn’t even know what part of the animal I was talking about, and we played an embarrassing game of charades trying to determine just what the tail of a pig was. I drew curlicues in the air. Despondent and luckless, I hopped on the train to Union Square to see what the early Spring Greenmarket had to offer. Not much yet, a few root vegetables and hardy winter greens. But I did find some beautiful broccoli rabe and a jar of silky creamed honey, some Jerusalem artichokes and a perfectly round, perfectly yellow squash. No pig tails.

Having given up on the pig tails (for now, just for now), I took the train back home to Brooklyn and walked back into the carniceria on my corner. “I’m back,” I said, and the butcher, a young guy from Mexico, not much older than myself, shook his head at me. » Continue reading this post…

Pilgrimage

Bone marrow and parsley salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I stopped speaking. I vaguely heard the man beside me rant about the Americans as my friends gossiped about mutual acquaintances and all around in the rest of the restaurant was the low hum of conversations, women laughing, sniffs at swilled glasses of port, the rustle of waiter’s whites as they brushed between tables and the open kitchen at the back. But for me there was nothing but toast spread with bone marrow, pungent sea salt burning my lips, vinegary parsley salad cut with capers and paper-thin slivers of garlic. My mouth smeared with grease.

This was heaven. This was the silly smile of kissing, the quiet of vacation mornings on the beach. Bone marrow and parsley salad at St. John’s Restaurant in London, my own nirvana.

Fergus Henderson’s restaurant is on the tip of one of those winding London streets that fork abruptly into other cobbled lanes, overshadowed by low-storied buildings that lean precariously over street lamps and clustered packs of suited, smoking office workers. Inside, warm lights glint off steel trim, the décor is simple and white, the floors stone. The waiters are attentive – coats are hung, dropped scarves quickly scooped from the floor, chairs pulled out, menus discreetly slipped onto the tablecloth.

We set our shopping bags under the table, slipped into the silk of quiet conversation, took sips of syrah, spread thick smears of butter on bread. Already the atmosphere of the restaurant, casual yet completely elegant, impressed itself into our attitudes, and we sat with the sensual, fluid postures of posh and wealthy women. Not that that’s not what we were.

The food was unassumingly described. Ox tongue and chips. Pigeon and beetroot. I told my waiter I was deciding between those two things; he said, well, the pigeon was a really lovely gamey bird, perfect if I liked gamey meat, but the ox tongue, oh, the ox tongue was nice. » Continue reading this post…

Kneading is a Homophone

Freshly rolled fettucini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The dough speaks into your hands. It begs for touch, begs to be pressed and squeezed until the rocking of your hands is just the rhythm of breathing. It bends into your fingers, almost sighs as it twists into shape. Like a pliable lover, the dough responds to the guided pressure of a palm or the fingertips’ gentlest roll. The hands feel when the dough is done; the soft and elastic transition from disparate pieces to one yielding whole. The moment is indescribable, intuitive. And when the dough is done, you gently cover it and let it rest, somewhere safe and warm.

Last night, I rolled out dough for pasta. I heard my roommate say my name. “Are you ok?” she asked and pulled me back into the room. I felt my face loosen from its consternated knit and the rhythmic pounding of my hands slow to slackness. My knuckles rested casually on the dough, the touch a reminder of presence, and I laughed.

“I was somewhere else,” I said, and she laughed too. She went back to her phone conversation, and I began to roll out the dough again, but it was colder – stiffer, as if the break had ruined some fluid climax. As if it wanted forgiveness from my hands.

I’ve been kneading bread, pizza, pasta – and as my hands work into dough, I understand it’s just a metaphor for that other word, that I am needing, too – gentleness, patience, touch.

A friend of mine said, “My gift to the world is smiling.” And I realized, we don’t project nearly enough love into the world, especially in New York, where the train you need to take is always imminent, the line too long and slow, time too divided. Maybe that’s why I’m kneading. It’s nothing but time and some muscle, like love displaced into food, though for me, food is always love. » Continue reading this post…

Living Well on Yoga Stretches and a $5 Bill: Sweet Potato & Spinach Ravioli

Sweet potato and spinach ravioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“Well,” I said, “I can sit and watch you eat.”

He looked at me as if to say, Really, Lyz?  Don’t be dumb.

So I said, “Or… we can make pasta?”

Sweet potato and spinach ravioli recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And that’s how we ended up taking the train back to Bushwick, stopping at Associated to pick up spinach and beer, and carting our yoga’d out bodies into my apartment, where the temperature was miraculously above 50 degrees.

Egg and flour volcano (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’d been thinking about this pasta all day. I’d had a sweet potato for lunch and wanted to do something more interesting with it than just heat it up with butter and brown sugar. So I posted my dilemma on twitter, and just moments later received a lovely suggestion to make ravioli. I had a pasta roller I hadn’t used yet and a self-imposed rule to spend no more than $5 on food and now, a friend with which to eat: oh yes, the stars had aligned.

Rolling pasta (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Feeding pasta through the machine (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Homemade ravioli recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet Potato and Spinach Ravioli

For pasta:
2 cups flour
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

For filling:
1 yellow onion
1 large clove garlic
1 bunch of spinach
½ roasted sweet potato
¾ cups ricotta cheese
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
salt and pepper to taste

On a clean, dry surface, make a volcano-like mound of flour. In the crater, crack three eggs; add salt and olive oil. With a fork, scramble the eggs and blend with the flour. If the dough is dry, add a few drops of water until you find yourself kneading a smooth, elastic ball of dough. (Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add more flour.) Knead the dough for about ten minutes. Let the dough rest while you prepare your filling.

Finely chop onion and garlic and sauté in a healthy amount of olive oil until the onions are translucent. » Continue reading this post…

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