Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh Queens how I love thee, but I'm over you, too!

     So, your loyal Queen's girl is moving to Brooklyn. I feel slightly guilty because I have been here my whole life! I know, big deal, I'm moving like 5 miles away to Brooklyn, but mentally its a big move for me.
   Sigh of relief from all my Brooklyn amigos who never wanted to visit me in Queens. I get it. Don't worry I kept a list of who actually made the trek (points if you took the M train!). I'm taking after my dear Aunt Angelina, who on her death bead kept a written list of who came to visit her in the hospital. The purpose of the list wasn't to hold close those who visited, but rather hold a grudge against those who didn't visit. Even until the last moment a crazy old Sicilian woman can't let go!
    But I am letting go and making my life easier by moving to the Brooklyn borough, even if I am moving to Bedbug City! (Check out the Bed Bug Registry. NUTS!) Which is I guess the reason my crazy Sicilian family moved to Brooklyn in the first place, (not because of bedbugs) but to make life easier. Sicily wasn't good to them anymore, even though they held onto their traditions, like traditional Sunday dinners!
    Queens HAS NOT been good to me in the past months. My bike got stolen from right in front of my house! Okay I didn't lock it up, but still. And I got pickpocketed on the R train the other night! Julie, my wife, also born and raised in this great city scoffed at me, "A New Yorker, pickpocketed! Shame on you!"
     I didn't make it hard for them sitting there with my wallet so easily stealable in the huge open side flap pocket of my big green jacket. I was also comatose. "Them" was a talented troop of breakdancing hoodlems, doing crazy flips, nearly kicking everyone in the face while dazzling us all at the same time. If I could chose anyone to steal my wallet, it would have been them. They at least entertained me. The kicker is I gave them $1, too! After complimenting my hair and inviting all the "ladies" to their house for free cable and a king size water bed (I almost bit), they snidely said, "if anyone wants to pay us twice," then chuckled and left the train with my wallet.
     Jokes on them because I didn't have any cash in there and they tried to take $500 from my credit card like 10 times, but American Express, the biggest credit thieves in the world, protected me.
     So after my 25 minute wait for the bus today, in the rain, with no umbrella, I am happy that in a week or so I am going to be crossing a big dirty body of water, the Newtown Creek, and am going to make my life easier (quicker commute, close to my friends, close to 5 Leaves), like my grandparents did ever so long ago over the Atlantic Ocean. Brooklyn here I come! And I will make all my lovelies, especially the ones who came and visited me in Queens, a BIG HUGE SICILIAN SUNDAY DINNER! Sorry Aunt Angelina, a few generations has taken the gift of the eternal grudge out of my half Sicilian soul.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

SHAME SHAME SHAME and a secret bar!

     All I have been doing is eating out. Shame on me! I secretly don't feel bad. Its a combination of a tough schedule, being far from home and feeling like, "I worked hard! I deserve a fancy cocktail and a great meal!" Normally my brain goes, "Jen, you should go home and eat all those fresh veggies that are spilling out of your fridge." But lately there is another voice outside my head, the voice of a Saint, that encourages this irresponsible spending/eating behavior. I thought that gluttony was a sin but meet St. Martin. (he just started a blog....TODAY. he is an awesome writer and super funny. this is the plug for his blog: read it.) The Life of St. Martin Blog.
    I met Martin because I bought a painting from him, (he is also an amazing artist) and he tirelessly helped me put together the art shows for the Greenpoint Open Studios.  He is one of the nuttiest people I have ever met in my life and after a long day of studio visits he is the first to suggest we blow a whole bunch of dough on a "spoilio," as he puts it, meal. And don't forget the cocktails and the secret bar!

I normally don't do restaurant reviews on Morta Di Fame, but I have a few things to say...(sorry there are no photos!)

Rye. The cocktail geniuses here are the best and most consistent in all of NYC. Get the Old Fashioned with the giant hand carved ice cube. Stay for dinner. Duck leg confit!
I finally went for brunch... twice. It was a great brunch but the returning factor was the Retox cocktail, which is fresh chilies, maple syrup, lime juice and soda. "Two more please. And we will be back next weekend!"
To be honest, I really don't remember the actual meal. There were eggs and bacons. Goodnesses. One lovely details is they pour your coffee out of the fanciest-ever antique coffee pourer(?). The dainty visual of it makes it just taste better!

Mrs. Kim's. Brunch here with Jules and Martin was really lovely. Outdoor seating, great company and another great brunch cocktail. I am noticing a theme here. The Flavio (I love that name!) is jalapeno infused hornitos reposado, ilegal joven mescal, cilantro and lime.
Dinner was also lovely. A $30 jug of wine: gruner veltliner 98, zum martin sepp. Somebody thinks they should be canonized for real.
The fava beans, grilled in their husks were fabulous. The duck dumplings and the pork buns were succulent, and the watermelon salad for dessert was divine. Mrs. Kim, who is always there and super smiley really knows how to work fresh herbs into her dishes.

5 Leaves. After the water balloon fight we went here with a bunch of peeps. It was Brook's, (The Pizza Commander), first time trying oysters. Very exciting. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu. The grass-fed burger, the ricotta, the fresh fish special. All cooked to perfection. And the cocktails. Let's talk about the cocktails. The Bee's Knees (Hendrick's Gin, honey syrup and fresh squeezed lemon juice) and the Corpse Reviver (gin, lillet blanc, fresh squeezed lemon juice and absinthe) are old delicious friends. 
Julie and I did a VIP girlie brunch there that sadly and embarrassingly I was too hung over to enjoy. She got a BLAT! BLT with avocado. Anytime with my wife is perfect time, sick or not.
And there was an "in between" dinner right before the big show at Paulie Gee's. Bee's Knee's please!
And more night caps, Devil's on Horseback and truffle fries late night action.
A lot of people complain about the service, but to be fair they are always very polite considering how constantly slammed the place is, and if they screw up, like the time I got my cocktail at dessert time, they give it to you for free. Sweet!

EAT. I love the theory behind this place. And the owner Jordan is awesome. Only local and all vegan is his motto. But, I can do local vegan much better. Nothing is cooked through enough to have much flavor and every dish falls flat in the all-the-ingredients-just-don't-get-married department. So I'm eating kale and farro and mint. Well you might as well put them on three separate plates because thats how it tastes. The desserts are usually great. Also, there is no music and zero atmosphere. And I think its intentional.

The only way to remedy a disappointing (but at least healthy) meal is fancy cocktails at Manhattan Inn, where if I could remember how many cocktails I have had there in the last month I would remember. And since it is always a night cap destination, dinner there is always an afterthought. Never ate a lick of food there. I always get the bicycle cocktail. It has some french name I am never interested in trying to pronounce. Sit in the back at a fancy table and enjoy the piano music. The waiters at the bar in front are paid to be douche bags. Good job, guys.

Diner. Always awesome. But no brunch cocktails. Perfect situation is cocktails from Rye and food from Diner. The sausages at breakfast sausage specials at Rye are consistently surprising and amazing and the staff there is always friendly.

Roebling Tea Room. Old favorite that always surprises me with their ever changing seasonal menu. We had a delicious heirloom tomato salad over toast and some type of delicious ravioli topped with caviar. This is the place that if you are going to be boring and get the chicken you will be blown away. I think it involved dark chicken meatballs. Did you say meatballs? Honored to enjoy our meal with Caroline, amazing photographer and art consultant.

Paulie's Gee's. Greenpointer Pizza (Top 10 in Time Out) and Gragniano, a fizzy red wine, plus a nice chat with Mary Ann and Paulie. Doesn't get much better than that.

Le Gamin. I think this is where Joann started her espresso addiction. Boy was that a scary week. Great monkfish and snails. And, after the Nuit Blanch light fest, the closest place to rest my weary feet was there and I had a delicious Nicoise Salad with seared tuna and the steak frites were to die for with that big pat of herby butter! It was one of those plates that after Martin ordered it I wanted to be like, "oh did I forget to mention that we are sharing." They have a garden, but its really nice and cozy inside.

Northeast Kingdom.  The considerate St. Martin complained when a couple beat us to the door and took the only available seating for 2. But that only meant fancy cocktails in the den downstairs, two of my favorite things, while we waited. We sat at the bar and ate one of the best meals out of all the above mentioned. Really. Eat could learn a thing or two about vegan yumminess. The cauliflower, red quinoa salad with toasted chili and garlic vinaigrette was so happy! So was the pulled pork sandwich and the amazing duck breast special. It was very fitting that on the last night of Greenpoint Open Studios we ate in Bushwick, because the next show, THE BEAR SHOW! is going to be a part of the Bushwick Beta Spaces! 
     And the night cap that night was very peculiar. St. Martin was wearing the most ridiculous orange coat that he stole from who I won't say, because the person who he stole it from is a reader of this blog. And he wanted to bum a cigarette, but in desolate Bushwick another human on a rainy Sunday night is not easy to come by, especially one with a smoke. But I spotted a lone stranger, an artist in fact, Andrew Ohanesian, and he invited us into a gallery where he had an installation.
       From the outside it looked like two doors side by side. There were a few other friendly people there and he asked them to go into one door. While waiting for St. Martin, who was finishing his smoke, I was getting a little impatient, like let's get this art installation thing over with. Andrew asked me to go into the other door. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, which turned out to be a bar called Mandie's inside a closet and directly across from me, separated by a beer tap and a few feet were the other two people.
       Now I usually know no awkard situation, and I was definitely caught off guard with this, which right there makes it an awesome work of art. We were literally all squeezed in there, across from strangers, nice ones, drinking Bud and smoking cigs (the closet/bar was even outfitted with smoking ventilation). He even let us carve our initials into his beautiful wood walls. Great experience and awesome way to kick-off the next show!
      Now go read The Life of St. Martin.

Monday, October 18, 2010


    One thing Mommy always taught me was finish what you started. Follow-through! One last item on my million mile long Greenpoint Open Studios to-do list was to make a dinner for all of the volunteers who generously gave their time to help and I was happy to do it!
 Brouwerij Lane, my favorite beer spot, donated the space and provided the delicious beers. 
    We couldn't have filled 8 bazillion water balloons and given out 90 katrillion fliers and sharpened 4 zakillion pencils without lots of help. The only way I know how to say "Thank You!," is with a mouthful of food. And I promised rice balls and I made 'em, along with some broccoli rabe and penne with fresh pesto. To complete our delicious meal, Ms. Joann made the scrumptous sweet carrots with pecans and a kick-ass apple pie!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Redefining what "off the boat" means in Sicily...

     My dad Rocco is "off the boat," as the saying goes. When he was twelve, my grandfather Nonno lost his job as a cooper, a wine barrel maker, to mechanization. For Rocco that meant no more climbing olive trees and swimming in the Mediterranean. You can imagine the homesickness that set in soon after he recovered from the seasickness he suffered from traveling to AMERICA on a boat filled with crazy Sicilian immigrants.  
    For me the mechanization of wine barrel making meant I would be born! Sweet. Aside from all the wonderful traits I inherited from my dad, I have been officially cursed whit his seasickness! I deny this affliction, but when I look at my track record, I have gotten that icky-hung-over-I-want-to-vomit-but-can't feeling every time: Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Halloween Booze Cruise, etc, etc. Imagine me in a white furry Easter Bunny zombie costume and woozy.
    The best beaches in Sicily are accessible only by boat. Best because they are desolate and not packed to the brim with yelling, smoking and eating Sicilians. I had to see the best beaches, so I got on the boat packed to the brim with yelling, smoking and eating Sicilians. In Sicily, even if you don't know it, you know someone with a boat, and they are actually happy about taking you out. And, the minute I got on board my cousin's wife's dad's friend's fishing boat, I felt it; the inevitable queasy feeling. 
    Seasickness is like a slow creeping snake, but once it takes hold you cannot escape. They hadn't cut the engine and anchored yet, but I had to do something to shake that horrible feeling. There was only one option. 
    "Captain, can I jump off the boat?"
     I was practically overboard when someone yelled, "No, la medusa!" 
    " WTF is a medusa?" Splash.
     Oh, just a gigantic jelly fish? Anything was better than seasickness. The water was smooth and buttery, warm and perfect. Feeling like a millions bucks I climbed aboard, but there it was again, that gripping feeling. Into the sea again, this time I swam to shore. 
     The rocks on shore were jagged, but they weren't moving. A chivalrous sun bather helped me onto solid ground. I found shady spot and planted myself on the rocks. Looking back at the boat, I resolved that there was no way in hell I would swim back, no matter how bad ass the captain was. 
      I was in self-preservation mode and my plan was to climb up the mountain without shoes, water and sunblock (remember that this beach is accessible only by boat), find a road and hitchhike back to town. My dear Aunt Grace, god rest her soul was an infamous hitchhiker in Sicily, so what's the worst that could happen? Dehydration? Torn up feet? Severe sunburn? Kidnapped by the mafia!? Anything was better than getting on that boat.
      All the while I was on shore, I had left my dear friend Melissa back on that boat which was filled with my crazy Sicilian family and they were frantically concerned about me, even though I was happy as a clam on my cozy rock perch. 
     "Jen, que cazzo fai?" they were yelling. (Jen, wtf are you doing?!)
     "Call my mom and tell her pick me up on the road up there!" Looking back I saw steep mountain terrain, and looking down I saw no shoes on the palest of feet and I was thirsty.
     There was a lot of commotion on board, like a disturbed and worried hive of bees with crazy flailing arms. Then Melissa jumped off the boat ... with a giant yellow blow-up donut.
    She would later say that she swam across the Mediterranean to get save me. More likely she couldn't take the crazy that was happening on the boat. I don't blame her.
    "Jen, what the hell are you doing? You left me on the boat and I don't know what anyone is talking about. They are all freaking out. You can't just swim away to shore like this!"
   "Just call my mom and tell her to pick me up. Or I can totally get a ride from someone."
   "That's ridiculous. What am I going to say to your Mom? We left Jen on some beach. Pick her up at a road that doesn't even exist. You are crazy."
   "Melissa, I am not getting on that boat."
   So she swam back. Another man overboard: my cousin's brother in law-ish, who happens to be a hot Sicilian soccer player-ish, to the rescue! I explained to him my plan and in his Sicilian English-ish he said, "But Jen, you are crazy!"
    When a Sicilian person calls you crazy, its time to reexamine your life. He had a better plan. So I jumped back in the water and swam  to a small speed boat that would safely return me to town along with my shoes, water and sunblock. And a killer view. I am not talking about the mountains.
    Hot. Sicilian. Hero. Times 2!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


   Aside from the crazy wild water balloon fight, we had a pie bake-off to raise money for the Greenpoint Open Studios. You know how priests marry the church? Well somehow I ran off to Vegas and eloped with the GOS, and its been my life for the past two months!
   Joann, the Queen of all things bringing crazy food lovers together gets full credit for making the Pie Bake-Off a gigantic success. We had a it at Diamond Bar and there were over 35! pies and each baker had to bring 2 pies each to serve the 100 plus guests who attended the fundraiser. The Diamond, while an awesome bar, is not the biggest venue and thank god it was an evening and we were able to set up the pie derby in the backyard.
    As an organizer, I was busy running around and uh... organizing, which means being a lunatic on a bull horn! Nothing is more giant a-hole than screaming at people on a bull horn, but I had to remind everyone there was a Silent Art Auction going on, too. Lesson learned: nothing competes with food.
   "Please, please please go and bid on the amazing artwork we have for auction."

    But I looked around at all the happy chewing faces and I knew the bullhorn was not working! So I gave up and just stuffed my own face with pie. Maneuvering around the yard was not easy, the place was packed, but I did manage to try a lot of pies. Among my favorites were the Mexican Vegan Mincemeat from Electric Blue Baking, Kimchi Spanakopita from Banchan Terroir, and a frozen Peanut Butter and Concord Grape Mousse pie from Laurel Randolph. And let us not forget about Brooks' Jones' Pizza Commander pie, which he brought in a pizza box. A pie is a pie is a pie is a pizza pie! Check out the GOS blog for the full list of pies. They are out of this world!
   These pie bakers came with a major force. They were in it to win it! And the prize was a coveted dinner for two at the infamous underground Brooklyn Edible Social Club. I find it hilarious that Jerry and Bonnie, two friends of mine, were the winners with their Vermont Death Pie, which was a Bacon Maple Praline Apple Pie. It was delicious, but they were conspicuously close to the ballot box.
   All the guests stayed around for the raffle drawing, too, which was made up of amazing donations from local businesses. Among the foodies prizes were gift certificates to Paulie Gee's, EAT, Scott's Pizza Tours, Champion Coffee, Cafecita Bogota, Dandelion Wine, Brouwerij Lane, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream and subscriptions to Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.
Until the next pie bake-off!
All photos courtesy of

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


    So this blog is called Morta Di Fame, which means dying of hunger, but I never meant for it to actually die, so hold tight because its not dead yet. Before I resume my writing here, I have one single person to blame for my shameful neglect of this blog, not to mention my complete loss of mental stability, and if thats not bad I now have to wear a diaper! Thanks Joann!
    It all started on one innocent August evening. I had my water balloon birthday in July, but Joann forgot about it (thanks!) and invited me over for a "BIZ meeting/plan to take over the world dinner" to discuss a water balloon block party in Brooklyn to raise money for GOS. WTF is GOS? I didn't know at that point. I was going there to talk BIZ about a completely different "take over the world" project called the Brooklyn Cook Book Project. I didn't know that Joann's plan was to suck me in and take over my life. Good work, Joann. You succeeded.
    So Joann is basically the mayor of Greenpoint. They probably have another Polish mayor, but Joann is a little rusty on her Polish. She runs the Greenpoint Food Market, which was the best place to find awesome homemade foodie goods in NY, but it got harshly and suddenly shut down. Thats a story for another post. And she single handedly organized the Greenpoint Open Studios (GOS) last year, when all the artist's in Greenpoint open up their studios to the public. Its super fun and Joann knew that dangling a water balloon fight in front of my face was all she needed to get me on board to help her organize the GOS.
    "I'm off to Sicily. I probably won't have much time to help plan the water balloon fight and probably can't do much for GOS, since I live in Queens," I said to Joann.
    "Blah blah blah blah, I will be your slave for the next two months and dedicate all of my free time to making the GOS happen," is what she heard.
    This conversation over a delicious dinner, which I will take full credit for bringing ALL the ingredients and preparing with the help of Martin and after all that we cleaned the whole place up! Joann sure knows how to find us suckers!
    I don't invite myself over for dinner and come empty handed. I even brought over a fancy menu, titled "BIZ MEETING DINNER":
Peach Boats (a peach halved, filled with bleu cheese, topped with an almond and drizzled with balsamic creme)
Summer Squash Pasta with a side of Balsamic Glazed Mission Fig and Roasted Beat Salad over Arugula
Dark Chocolate Chevre Bites (dark chocolate, goat chevre topped with cinnamon sugar and hot chili flakes)
     Dinner was a success. The GOS was a major success. Morta Di Fame is limping but still alive. And my brain is in shambles because I am now moving to Greenpoint by the end of the month to be closer to my slave driver Joann, who would only let me get sick for three hours last month or threatened to fire me, and I have no time to even go to the bathroom so thank God for Depends!