Storm Love

Waking up in Brooklyn today, still dark, windy, and rainy, we’re so grateful to not have been directly impacted by the power of the storm. However, we are so saddened by the damage done to our beloved city and all of our neighboring communities.

Last night we were looking at the mostly dark Manhattan skyline that normally twinkles in my bedroom window. We were thinking about our fellow traveler, Una, and her family, as they were going through the madness of the storm’s impact on their home just across the river–Stuyvesant Town in Alphabet City. It is one of the most confusing elements of the human experience–the way that one can be so close to and have such dramatically different experiences from others. (The different daily realities between neighborhoods in the same city, the different experiences people have walking down the same street in bodies that are read and responded to differently, the different levels of mobility and freedom people experience at borders and checkpoints and airports, etc.)

For those of us in this part of the Global North, we are accustomed to the damage and difference in experience being separated from us by many more miles and borders. With fires raging in the Rockaways, flooding shutting down lower Manhattan and the edges of Brooklyn, and Staten Island devastated, we are now experiencing the sadness and stress of the kinds of powerful storms we’ve watched hit other communities further away throughout the past several years.

So we were very cognizant of this existential dilemma as we hunkered down in Crown Heights, with wind pounding the building and lights flickering, but us safe and dry inside our cozy home. As we kept track of the storm’s path and the whereabouts of the people we love, we joined our fellow New Yorkers who were able, in gathering our peeps to cook, drink, and take care of each other. It was kind of an organic and surreal celebration of the goodness of life, home, and community borne of necessity. We created so much color and warmth within these walls, countering the scary night outside.

Blessed by a tribe of loved ones too big to fit in one Brooklyn apartment, we had two encampments a few blocks apart. Seeing as food is the most natural and immediate way we know how to connect with each other, we devised a playful process for merging–brunch in our two households became a creative culinary competition judged by the Honorable Judge Miriam of Big Ceci fame.

Each “team” prepared our menus, plated our food, and sent our write up and photographs to Miriam for judging. Here is what ensued:

The Bergen Brunch Boos

Maple bourbon pancakes with apricot peach preserves & maple yogurt
Rosemary purple potato hash
Hurricane harvest garden kale-cheddar-corn scramble

The Honorable Judge Miriam’s pronouncement:

Team Bergen Street brought a strong showing to the competition, with careful attention to form and technique in their preparation of maple bourbon pancakes, topped with apricot-peach preserves and maple yogurt; purple and red potato hash w/garlic and rosemary; hurricane harvest garden kale, corn, and cheddar scramble.  The plate demonstrated a sophisticated use of color and texture, and held a strong seasonal resonance.  In essence, this brunch created an idyllic autumn day that was a perfect foil to the apocalyptic demon storm raging outside.  This judge would recommend a slightly more acidic preserve to balance the sweetness of the maple-bourbon pancakes.  The tang of the yogurt helped a bit but a citrus or tart component might add more balance to the plate.  The hurricane harvest kale was an immediate crowd-pleaser, and elevated this traditional egg preparation to an innovative and delicious farm-to-fork level.

Presentation: 9.0 out of 10
Creativity: 9.2 out of 10
Balance: 8.6 out of 10
Concept: 9.8 out of 10

Overall score: 9.15 out of 10

Team Sandy Brunch Bonanza 

Spiced-apple pancakes with homemade apple butter
Veggie-sausage nutmeg greens
Zuke-tomato-basil-cheddar scramble
Sweet potato home fries

The Honorable Judge Miriam’s pronouncement:

Team Sandy Brunch Bonanza drew an immediate wow-factor with their precarious-crane-in-a-hurricane reminiscent stack of spiced apple pancakes with homemade apple butter.  Accented with sides including veggie-sausage nutmeg greens and a zucchini-basil-tomato scramble, and served with sweet potato home fries, this summer-to-fall harvest feast brought diners a compelling tale of two seasons, where the summery warm sea temperature flavors of zuke/basil/tomato collided with the winter storm system of apples, nutmeg, and sweet potatoes.  A thoughtful eye to color and palate made brunch stand out, and the brilliant marriage of sweet and savory flavor profiles made this a complex and inspired meal.  This plate’s greatest strength may have also swung as its deepest challenge; the heft of this hearty meal could intimidate the carb-sensitive or starchaphobe.  A lighter lifting aioli for the home fries, or a touch of parsley or fresh green salad might help this meal slide more confidently into the clean-plate club, but overall this july-september romance of a plate could convince even the firmest brunch cynic to fall in love again with the meal that knows no bounds – hurricane brunch.

Presentation: 9.6 out of 10
Creativity: 9.1 out of 10
Balance: 9.4 out of 10
Concept: 8.5 out of 10

Overall score:  9.15 out of 10

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My girls

I recently returned from the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. Along with sharing the multimedia curriculum developed by the Palestine Education Project, I was there helping Chef Walter Whitewater with his session entitled “Cooking As a Form of Media: Stories & Experiences of a Traditional Native Chef.”  After five days away from home, the first thing I did was drop my bags, grab all of the pitchers I have, fill them with water, and climb out my kitchen window, excited for a hydrating reunion with “my girls.” Thanks to the careful, loving attention of my sister Shalva, my plants were looking better than they ever have when left in someone else’s care. Yet they still seemed to perk up even more after a day of my talking to them and touching them (rubbing leaves, pinching off dead flowers, checking for bugs).  They missed me! Coming home from being on the road and communing with my plants was so grounding. And I harvested my first basil! Isn’t she gorgeous?

Excited about my lil herbs and inspired by a delectable little dish at The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck, Long Island, involving tiny new red potatoes topped by dollops of pesto and crème fraiche, I pulled together this brunch for my parents and dear fellow food traveler and friend, Sonny:

New Potatoes

Bring a pot of water heavily salted to boil and add little new potatoes (I used about 20).

After about 10 minutes, check them by sticking a fork in them – as soon as you can easily poke it in and pull it out, they’re done! (You don’t want them too soft and mushy so just keep checking them – better safe than sorry.)

Drain them and cut them in half.

Green Sauce

In a food processor combine:

–       2 small cloves of garlic or one big one

–       1 cup basil, 1 cup parsley, and ½ cup mint

–       about a teaspoon of sea salt

–       a few pinches of black pepper

–        ½ cup pine nuts or walnuts

–       1 cup olive oil (or drizzle in until it’s the consistency you want)

Polenta

I used fresh stone ground “quick grits” from Farmer Ground. Farmer Ground – which is farmer grown, owned, and ground – is part of a larger effort to restore grain growing to New York state. Upstate New York once grew so much grain that Rochester topped the nation’s flour production in the mid 1830s, giving it the nickname “Flour City.” Federal subsidization of agribusiness in the Midwest undermined that once thriving local industry.

And I use my mother’s recipe for making polenta:

1.5 cups cold water

1/3 cup cornmeal (more or less course or fine depending on the consistency you want- the finer, the creamier)

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cheese

1/2 tablespoon each of chopped thyme, sage, parsley, and/or basil (or whatever herbs you like)

1 or 2 tablespoons butter (depending on how rich you like it)

Bring the water, cornmeal, and salt to a boil in a thick bottomed pot.

Reduce the heat and stir in the herbs.

Stir consistently, making sure to scrape the bottom, for about 15 minutes.

When it’s creamy and thick, remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste if needed.

You can serve it warm and creamy or spread it in a square pan or casserole dish and chill for an hour, cut into squares, and serve.

(Stay tuned for my sister’s upcoming posts entitled “Gritty City” exploring polenta and grits throughout NYC.)

Early Summer Veggie Sauté

To be honest, I make these things up as I go along. So here’s what I can remember about how I made this:

I sliced up garlic greens and shallots and started sautéing them in olive oil.

I like to sprinkle some dashes of paprika on my garlic/onions/shallots while sautéing them before adding the extra veggies.

I then added a couple of handfuls of summer squash (zukes and yellow) sliced thinly into half-moons and a handful of chopped asparagus (it was late May when I made this dish and the asparagus abounded here in NYC).

I sautéed them covered for a couple of minutes and then lifted the cover, added some chopped thyme, parsley, and maybe oregano and then a few pinches of this honey-lemon-saffron blend called Mishmish N. 33 that my mother gave me from La Boite a Epice.

(I hope that this Israeli-born chef’s commitment to “the spices our ancestors used” is indicative of his respect and support for the indigenous peoples of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa from which he draws his inspiration and makes a living.)

When the veggies were soft, I added a dash of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Egg

I used to be so freaked out by eggs but now am enchanted by their magic – how many forms they can take and how many nutrients they contain. Of course, fresh, free-range eggs contain around four times as many nutrients and taste infinitely better than eggs from factory farms full of miserable, unhealthy, over-crowded chickens who never see the light of day.

For this breakfast, I simply fried an egg in black truffle oil and tossed a pinch of salt and a sprig of fresh thyme on top.

Serving

As you can see in the above photo, I plated a healthy portion of the polenta next to a mound of veggies. Then I laid out the halved little potatoes, drizzled the green sauce on them, and topped them off with a drizzle of Liberté Goat Fresh cheese. I then added the egg to each plate and we dined on the deck amongst the plants from which the flavors of our brunch were derived.*

*As with all great culinary efforts, I had invaluable assistance provided by my mother. So really I should be saying “we…” when referring to the preparation of this meal. Here’s to all of the kitchen tops like mother who are humble and generous enough to be kitchen bottoms when called upon!