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Sweet Detour: BabyCakes NYC

babycakescupcakeI promised I wouldn’t look for food substitutes during Gluten-Free March, but I couldn’t resist cupcakes from BabyCakes NYC. This gluten-free, vegan bakery opened on the Lower East Side in 2005 and brought delight to the city’s growing population of eaters with special diets. Last weekend, BabyCakes brought delight to me and the hosts of the comedy podcast Wonderful, Thanks, fresh from recording this week’s episode with Julie Klausner. Here they are with cupcakes in hand. babycakescheersRamsey and I got banana chocolate and Adam got mint chocolate chip.

In addition to cupcakes, BabyCakes has a full line of donuts, cookies, scones, and other treats that avoid the pitfalls of so many gluten-free foods: upping sugar and fat to improve the flavor. Continue Reading →

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Quiet and Explosions

guggenheimhangingI love exploring New York with friends, but every few weeks, I take a solo trip. Without anyone to talk to, the city becomes my focus for the day. Museums are one of my favorite solo stops, and on Saturday, I went to the Guggenheim to see two new exhibitions. The first was Gutai: Splendid Playground, a retrospective of the avant-guarde Gutai art collective in Japan. The rotunda was spanned by giant polyethylene tubes filled with colored water, with each tube climbing higher than the next until they reached the skylight at the center of the ceiling. The rest of the works had a similar playful feel; some were interactive and others were created during artist performances when they would paint with their feet or use small motorized cars to draw chaotic, Pollack-like sketches. Television screens showed recordings of the process by many of the works. The second exhibition was Zarina: Paper Like Skin, a retrospective of the artist’s minimalist prints and other works, including intricate woven paper strips and a huge piece of paper covered in gold leaf. It was the first exhibition I’ve been to where I thought, “I want to hang all of this in my house.” You can see a few examples here.

After the museum, I went to Cha-An Teahouse on the Lower East Side. If you’ve never treated yourself to a full afternoon tea, or just lingered over a meal in a peaceful restaurant on a Saturday afternoon, I highly recommend it. Their afternoon tea set started with two warm rolls made with dough that reminded me of a soft pretzel. One was filled with smoked salmon, cilantro, and mustard, and the other had a sweet strawberry butter spread.

cha-ansavoryOnce I finished the rolls, the sweets arrived. This was the moment I wished for a companion because there was no way I could finish five desserts between sips of my lemon verbena tea. There were two chocolate scones, a chocolate and walnut brownie, a muffin with apple puree and pecans (?), and a banana and/or earl gray sponge cake.

cha-answeetWhen I go back, I think I’ll skip the full tea set and just get tea and Cha-An’s fabled black sesame creme brulee. I completely missed it on the menu, but post-tea internet research suggests it’s amazing.

After a meditative Saturday, I woke up on Sunday with plans to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Things got a little crazy. Continue Reading →

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Blizzard Brunch

snowday2After estimates ranging from four to thirty inches of snow, Nemo only left ten in Park Slope. The sun was out and the snow was beginning to melt when Ramsey and I woke up on Saturday morning, so we took a long walk through Prospect Park on our way to brunch. snowday8snowday1Prospect Park was overrun with sledders. There were lots of children, but a surprising number of twenty and thirty-something adults were there with plastic sleds and garbage can lids. There was also one adult just acting like a child. snowday3After our trek, we ordered frittatas and hot chocolate with extra foam at Provini. snowday4snowday5snowday6snowday7frittata

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Sweet Detour: Beurre & Sel

beurreandsel2Dorie Greenspan is a cookbook author who’s worked with some of the best chefs in the world, including Pierre Hermé, Daniel Boulud, and Julia Child. She’s also penned hundreds of her own recipes for her award-winning pastry guide, Baking: From My Home to Yours, and my favorite Sunday dinner cookbook, Around My French Table. I love her books because she guides you through each dish as if you were cooking with her in your kitchen; each recipe weaves in stories from her family, her travels, or simple, elegant dinners with her friends in Paris.

When I heard Dorie and her son Josh opened a cookie boutique just a few stops from my apartment on the F train, you can imagine my joy. Their new venture started as a pop-up shop called CookieBar, appearing annually at a salon on the Upper East Side. Now called Beurre & Sel, they’ve established permanent homes in the Essex Street Market and La Marqueta.

beurreandselshopRamsey and I stopped by a few weekends ago to check it out. They have a selection of 3-inch cookies like Coconut-Lime Sablés, Chocolate Chunkers, and Dorie’s famous World Peace Cookies. The tubes you see in the wall are filled with smaller cookies-to-go. Their offerings are split into a Cocktail Collection (Sesame Sea Salt, Cocoa Cayenne, Rosemary Parmesan) and a Sweet Collection (Espresso Chip, Port Jammers, Classic Jammers, Sablés, Chocolate Mint, and the aforementioned World Peace Cookies). We got a tube of sablés and two large World Peace Cookies to enjoy right away.

Let me pause for a moment because I’m about to make a bold statement. Ready? Continue Reading →

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Looking for Classic New York

Ramsey and I will mark our fifth anniversary in less than two weeks and we want to have a classic New York dining experience. We’re not looking for anything that’s too expensive (less than $40 for an entree is ideal), but we want to be dolled-up and not look out of place. We’re leaning towards Raoul’s in SoHo, but I’m open to suggestions. If you know of any classic New York spots that don’t require reservations months in advance, let me know in the comments.

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An Ode to Momofuku Milk Bar

I found myself at a bar in the East Village on Saturday night after dinner and a movie around Union Square. After introductions to friends of friends, we hit on something we all had in common: a love of Momofuku Bakery and Milk Bar. It’s not that uncommon in New York, as Momofuku is now an institution with constant buzz and hoards of fans between its four locations (Milk Bar, Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar, and Ko), but for some reason, passion for the Bakery and Milk Bar always seems to surpass the rest.

We started to exchange descriptions of our favorite items. The pies, the cookies. I gasped in horror when they revealed they had never tried the pork buns. This was warranted horror, as the mingling flavors of thin cucumber slices, hoisin sauce, scallions, and pork belly on a soft steamed bun is as close to culinary transcendence as I’ve ever been.

The pork buns are really not the stars of the Milk Bar though. They can be found at all of the other Momofuku restaurants. At the Milk Bar, it’s all about the desserts. Christina Tosi, Momofuku’s pastry chef, has developed a menu that takes all of your childhood dreams of sugary breakfast cereals and prized lunch bag snacks and melds them into ice cream, cookies, cakes, and pies. Their current soft serve ice cream flavors include red licorice and fireball, and you can have them topped with Nerds, Lemondrops, or Twizzlers. The compost cookie™ (yes, trademarked) has almost every kind of cookie variety melded into one. It’s pictured here along with the chocolate-chocolate cookie that (I believe) is a chocolate cookie with chocolate brownie chunks.

There are of course what would be considered “fancier” desserts, such as the chocolate chip cake with lemon curd, chocolate crumbs, and coffee buttercream, or the playful Arnold Palmer cake with iced tea jelly, lemon mascarpone cream, almond tea crunch. However, I always return to the cookies. It’s the perfect polyamorous marriage of convenience, comfort, and taste, with everything you need in one little handheld package.

It was the desire for those cookies that pulled all of us out of the bar at 1 AM on Saturday morning; six twenty-somethings walking through the streets of the East Village recalling Saved by the Bell episodes in search of a taste of childhood. When we finally arrived after a short walk, the store was mostly dark and two workers were wiping down the counters. The door was locked. FYI: They close at midnight.

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Brooklyn Recession Dining

I’d love to be able to have friends over for dinner, set a beautiful table, and not force people to sit on the floor and wrangle with their plates. Unfortunately, our apartment doesn’t have enough space for proper entertaining, so we almost always go out for dinner when people visit Ramsey and I in Greenpoint. 

Lucky for us, northern Brooklyn boats a fair number of moderately-priced restaurants that let us enjoy good food on a recession budget. Here are four of my favorites where you can get a meal for $15 or less (beverage not included). Continue Reading →

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Dining on a Budget

NY Mag has posted a list of specials at New York City restaurants just in time for the penny-pinching holiday season and that pesky little worldwide financial crisis. There really are some great deals at fabulous restaurants, and the three course lunch specials have the makings of a relaxing afternoon for the unemployed masses that still have some severance pay coming in. Take special note of the .20 (yes, twenty cent) breakfast at Cafe Havana. (via kottke)

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Sweet and Sassy Fry-free Crispy Chicken


In my hometown of Binghamton, NY, there is only one place to go in the area for delicious, heart-stopping soul food. Theo’s Southern Style Cuisine on Main Street is located just over the border in Johnson City and its menu has everything from fried chicken to macaroni and cheese to sweet potato pie. They also cater events and make large quantities of wings to order. Just about every graduation party I attended after high school featured a few dozen of their wings.

On early weekend or summer afternoons during high school or college vacations, my friends and I would meet for lunch around the vinyl red and white checkered tablecloths in Theo’s simple dining room. My meal of choice was always fried chicken fingers with fries and Theo’s signature Sweet and Sassy Sauce on the side. This sauce is easily my favorite sauce in the history of the culinary arts and lucky for me, it comes in a bottle. The bottle pictured above (placed prominently on my bookshelf) was brought to Brooklyn by my friend Vince a few weeks ago and was actually hidden under my pillow so it would be a surprise in a tooth fairy sort of way.

This sauce served as a call to action to find a way to make delicious, sauce-worthy chicken without having to fry it as I don’t have the tools and don’t trust myself with all of that scalding oil on the stove. After doing some searching on the web and a test this evening, I think I reached a happy medium. Continue Reading →