Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ann of the 18th Restaurant and Jeremy at VPC!

A long long time ago in the infancy of this blog, one of my very first posts was the Bubble Dinner in Gowanus, part of Ann Apparu's 18th Restaurant. Now, Jeremy and Ann are going to be preparing a not to be missed Sunday Dinner at Veronica People's this Sunday. GO!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Dirty old men have needs, too."

A message from Rocco:
"Dear Jen, as you know I am not only a fascionisto, as you put it, but an Epicurian. See Epicurus, the famous Roman philosopher only left us two of his notebooks. The rest were lost. Yet he was able to create a following of bon vivants that has no end. Of course most do not really understand him so out of this misunderstanding the term epicurean was born.
Talking about the first lady, no matter what anyone says she really looks hot. And before you take me to task vis a vis my advanced age, I must tell you that dirty old men have needs too. Which brings me to ponder how you could be so normal with a father such as I."

Trust me, Dad, I am NOT normal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If you have a choice between a man and a cleaning lady, chose the cleaning lady!

That is sound advice from the woman who I hope I can be 1% as awesome as one day: my mom, Marcy. This blog tends to focus on insanity and overeating, so Rocco is a main character, as is Nonna, but Marcy is the sane one, and her moments of sheer comical genius sometimes go under the radar or are just unheard over the no volume control Sicilian banter that ensues at most family functions. 
Marcy is one of those great great ladies. As a kid, she was my role model, working as a social worker to homeless families, dedicating her life to the well being of other people. During the holidays she was Santa Claus to every homeless kid in Queens. She was a second mother to all my friends because you can tell my Mom anything. I remember getting home from high school and hearing the big news everyone was talking about at their lockers from my mom: that my best friend slapped another girl in the face and was suspended for a week. The first person she called was my Mom. I remember the runaway boy who lived in our house for a few days before returning home, ours always a safe haven for anyone in trouble and needing clean sheets and lots of love and of course, food. 
She is so understanding, non-judgemental and truly caring. A living saint. After all, she did marry Rocco, and you have to be touched by God in order to put up with that crazy (but awesome) man on a daily basis. And while she is blessing the lives of so many people around her she still always has time for me. She is the first person I call when I am crying, snot flying out of my nose, like a lunatic. And aside from being awesome she is totally hilarious.
One night, in front of my old apartment, she said, "Jen, I talked to Uncle George today, he asked when you are coming out of the closet?"
"Well you wrote your "wife" on your blog. That usually means you are gay."
"Well, what did you tell him?"
"I told him, I don't know. Its your life. I mind my business."
God if I was gay I wish it would be that easy to come out to my Mom. To clear things up, any person straight or gay can have a husband or a wife, straight or gay. I am straight, my wife and love of my life Julie, is straight. She has a gay husband. Its just someone you love so much, whom you would dedicate your life to and boink if only the conditions were right. That is, Julie would be the man of my dreams ... if only she had a... fill in the blanks. So I am on a journey to find a man version of my wife. So to answer your question Uncle George, I'm not a lesbian. And if I was I wish I would have a Mom as awesome as I do.

My voicemail is always full so I got this email from Marcy:

Hi Jen,
Your voicemail is full, I've been trying to call you for a couple of days ... empty your voicemail, suppose we wanted to let you know we won the lotto or something.
Love, Mommy

She didn't write, "suppose someone died!" Always positive, that woman. I told her she won the lottery when I was born. (I'm a brat.)

Marcy is now retired from her social work career, and has committed herself to a life of socializing with her friends, being awesome as usual and discovering Facebook. Sweet. She started taking a class on FB at a nearby high school, but began complaining about how annoying all the "old" people in the class were who didn't know what a web browser was and then finally quit the class. Marcy, a FB school drop-out asked if I could give her a few lessons. After she saw my FB page, she quickly thought twice.
Somewhere along the way, the "I'll wash your mouth out with soap" routine stopped working on my brothers and I. I admit it, I have a fowl mouth, but like Rocco, I can "switch it off" when I have to. I have an especially lewd vocabulary on FB. There is something quite satisfying about using fuck as an adverb. I can't help it.
So when I commented on one of Marcy's photo as "fucking gay" she called me right up and said, "Jen, stop cursing on my Facebook page. I don't think your aunt would like to know you are calling her gay. If you don't stop, I will unfriend you. Your own mother! The ultimate offense!"
For the record, I wasn't calling my aunt "fucking gay." I was calling the photo my Mom took of her next to an angel in Rockefeller Center, fucking gay. Sorry if I've offended anyone. I am not a homophobe I swear. I will stop using gay as a derogatory term. Gay people are awesome. Fucking is here to stay though.
If you need advise about men, especially younger men, call Marcy. She is hot stuff and is always getting hit on on by younger men. She likes to tell the story of when she was walking the dog in the park and a dude walked up to her and said, "Oh, hi, I always see your dad walking that dog." 
Rocco, her husband is the one who usually walks the dog. 
One day she was in the post-office talking to a neighbor about a recent vicious dog attack the man had survived  and my mother said, "Its a shame that you were attacked by that dog because I know how much you love dogs. They are your favorite animal."
Abruptly from behind them on line, a young man interrupted the conversation, looked right at my mother and said, "Do you know what my favorite animal is?"
"What?" she said.
"A Cougar!" And winked.
(Don't tell Rocco but I think they went out on a date that night.)
As I approach thirty I realize I have a lot more to learn in life than I ever thought and thank God I have my mom to help me figure out how to steer this complicated ship in which I often find myself stuck in very awkward waters. And its all usually my own dumb fault. 
I think it has to do with the fact that I really can push the limits of what awkward means. Most people would have buried their heads in the sand a long time ago. But I have a lot of practice. To have a dad like Rocco means you either deal with embarrassment by laughing it off or die.
So here is the pickle I found myself in. I was dating a new guy and was and am still great friends with the old guy. Great situation. Ideal. Best of both worlds. How can I mess this up? 
Thanks to the miracle of craigslist, I found the best, sweetest, most trustworthy cleaning girl, a gem with an accent you want to bottle, and cleaning skills that Nonna would find very acceptable. For Nonna, you can commit heinous crimes, but if you are clean you are okay in her book. 
The new guy needed a cleaning person and I like to pass around the love. I like to give people work and share and make everyone happy. I can write a list of how this can get awkward. The leaving behind of unmentionables alone for the cleaning girl to find is enough to make anyone cringe. And there could be some snooping going on. I'm not saying there is. As trusting as she seems, you never know, right? A good Sicilian never trusts anyone! 
It doesn't end there. She is cleaning my house and cleaning the new guys house. How can I complicate things even more? I can. Wait for it.
"Come wonderful adorable cleaning girl to my party! Meet my equally adorable ex-boyfriend. Oh, how cute you both look together. You gave him your phone number? Totally cool! He is awesome. You two should totally date! Fine with me." 
I was a little drunk and feeling merry and again my intentions were only good. Everyone should be happy, right? Wrong!
It was only a matter of time before the good old crazy Sicilian genetic tendencies inside kicked in. Confusion. Doubt. Jealousy. Frustration. The VENDETTA! Okay, I didn't go there. There was a lot of kicking myself and saying, "What were you thinking you moron? You want the girl that is cleaning your house to clean your new dudes house and date you ex-boyfriend?"
I had to call my wife, who I always turn to when I need love and understanding, but she gave me the ultimate slap in the face, "I hate to say this Jen, but she is coming to clean my house tomorrow." 
NOT MY WIFE! New dude, old dude and now my wife! I better hide my passport, this girl is going to steal my identity and keep my house very tidy in the process.
"Mom! Why do I do such stupid things?"
She broke it down.
"Jen, let me tell you something, if you have a choice between a man and a cleaning lady, chose the cleaning lady!"
Best advice I could ever get! And everyone is happy...and clean! Men may come and go, but my bubbly intelligent and trustworthy cleaning girl is here to stay!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tonight's dinner at VPC

Saturday, January 15, 2011

VPC Sunday "Sicilian" Dinner Recap

When great friend Jeremy Parker asked me to "co-chef" for his weekly Sunday Supper series at Veronica People's Club in Greenpoint, a vision appeared before my very eyes: RICE BALL PYRAMID!

Menu planning ensued at Fat Radish where we ran into some friends, old and new, and invited ourselves to join in their dinner. Duck terrine. Cheese Burger. Celery Root Pot Pie. Some wine. Good wine. Bank account hurting. A little menu talk, but nothing was finalized.
Up to Jeremy's new digs on Orchard, new roommates, terrace, pot.
Sat on a piece of foam/soon to be mattress in Jeremy's just moved into room, then the menu appeared. Nothing was anything I had ever made before and it was going to be beautiful, improvised, tweaky, new, old, and full of surprises.
I pitted the meal as a traditional Sicilian Sunday Supper with a twist, because I knew it would evolve until the moment we packed it all into a taxi and drove it to the bar.
Rice balls! Of course. The filling for the rice balls that I grew up on are stuffed with a meat sauce and some cheese.
But I dream. When the meat ball shop opened, I thought of how cool a rice ball shop would be. So I started dreaming up fillings.
Mushrooms and cheese! And sage and mushrooms are like bread and butter.
Porcini Fontina Rice Balls with Sage Bechamel.
I never made porcini mushrooms before and in fact did not eve know what they tasted like. When we sent out the menu all my veggie friends were like, "isn't porcini pig?" It turns out porcini are the raddest if not the most gosh darn expensive mushrooms out there.
Jeremy's idea was to pair the rice ball with a raw kale salad. Easy, brother kale is NOT Sicilian. Rocco shuns the kale. We compromised with some chard in the mix and a perfect bacon anchovy dressing Jeremy would whirl together in my food processor.

Stew time. We went with the ultimate comfort food. A Rocco stew. Cauliflower and Lentils with Fennel Seeds. Veggie friendly. But it craved to be topped with peppery bacon and brussels sprout chips.
Dessert would not happen without ricotta. Every Sicilian dessert uses ricotta. Ricotta Pie with Fig Compote and Chestnut Honey. We didn't even know what that was and it would just come together on its own, while the taxi impatiently honked its horn.

Lastly, the Bloody Sicilian Cocktail. Simple: campari, soda and blood orange juice.
Menu done in our brains. Now shopping.
Whole Foods is the least cost effective place to stretch your money when planning a big menu for up to forty people. But they do have some of the specialty items we needed. The kale and chard was beautiful, and the dried porcini mushrooms was just the right price or so we thought.
After walking around in circles, wanting to just get all the shopping done in one place, but knowing we could definitely find the same items for so much less in Greenpoint, we finally made it to check out.
Our cashier was not the Lower East Side hipster one would expect, but your favorite most huggable plumpish aunt with the warmest smile and the best New York Jew accent one can find in those parts.
"Oh, honey, this sounds amazing, what you are making! Its going to be delicious."
I secretly needed her encouragement.
I was a little rice ball of excitement, which can feel like anxiety, which can feel like a wound up lunatic is running in a mouse wheel in your stomach and poking you in the brain with a "how the fuck is this going to all get done?"  -- stick! Just look at the nice smiley checkout lady and vibe off her calmness. Listen to the items scan one by one by one. Get into the rhythm. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

We looked at the total, in one scan, it jumped $80. What the fuck! She was smiling, had no idea what was going on.
"Wait wait wait, we did not get 2 lbs of porcini mushrooms at $38 per pound. We got shiitake mushrooms!"
Close one. Pay attention.
When you come up with a fancy menu that you have to serve on a budget to a lot of people, you start sounding like a drug dealer.
"So we will get this $6 bucket of dried porcini's then cut it with shiitake."
"Just get one Chestnut Honey for $10 then we cut it with a Clover Honey for $3."
But nothing summed up the inventiveness of the meal planning more than when we were buying fig for the compote.
"Should we just get this jam?"
"Jam? Its compote. We said we were making a compote!"
"What's a compote?"
"I have no idea! I thought you knew what a compote is."
"Should I look up compote on my iphone?"
Oh dear!

Home. Soaked the lentils and fell asleep dead on the couch.
Sunday morning included hoofing it to the guido deli on Graham Ave. for fresh ricotta. No Polly-O would taint our ricotta pies. Or cake. Or whatever they would end up being.
Cooking was on!
And I was a complete crazy Sicilian old lady mess the entire day worrying if there would be enough food. I promise, I am a very chill person ordinarily, but the idea of running out of food is a fear deeply ingrained in this crazy DNA. Thank God Jeremy is one of the only people who can say to me, "Chill dude" and I actually chill.
Everything was going very smoothly.
There was A LOT to do, in NOT a lot of time.
There were a few mishaps.
As Jeremy was pouring the fennel seeds into the hot oil for the stew, I took a whiff of the spice jar.
"Uh, wait, uh, those aren't fennel seeds! FUCK! Those are anise seeds!"
"Chill, dude."
"Sicilian Indian mash-up?"
"Don't tell people that."
"Fuck! What are we going to do?"
"Dude, chill!"
By 3pm, Jeremy decided to go on a pot run. Considering the amount of chopping, roasting, rolling, baking, frying, and freaking out we had to do, I was at first not in support. But when I looked at myself in the mirror, a messy hag covered in grease, and listened to myself speak, franticly hyperactively over the top repeating myself, I took pity on Jeremy's soul. If someone needed to be calm and cool, it would be him. He needed a break from my crazy and in fact deserved it. If he could inject me with a sedative, he would and should have. I was wound up!
All I could do while he was gone was bury my head in rice ball rolling and frying and hope he would make it back in time. Fifty rice balls. The blessed mother touched my little hands that afternoon and divinely intervened in my rolling technique. They were perfect little balls, all the same size, and they all looked like their what their name arancini translates, baby oranges.
My kitchen was becoming a crazy mess of piled plates. For the record a personal kitchen is no place to cater a meal. I most definitely dripped hot oil onto my cat's head while transferring a rice ball to a paper towel lined plate.
"Oh my God! Calogero, are you okay?"
"Meow." Which translates into, "Food please!"
I looked toward Jeremy in terror, then back to the little bright eyed tuxedo cat begging for a rice ball.
"Chill dude, he's fine."
4pm, dessert yet to be seen. The clock was ticking and we had to deliver the food by latest 5:30pm to get set-up for dinner by 6pm.

"Here you go, ricotta, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla. Get it done!"
It started as a pie, but soon became a cake. A cupcake. A cupcake pudding. Something you wanted to repeatedly scoop into your mouth over and over and lick off your fingers and whatever other surface it dripped onto. Creamy, gooey, sweet, ricotta goodness. With honey.
Let's just say we were scooping gooey ricotta cakes out of muffin trays right up until the car arrived.
It was on!
We spent some time on our presentation, which was so elegant and simple and people started strolling in hungry and excited.
The Bloody Sicilian Cocktail was a hit. The rice ball so beautifully drizzled with the sage bechamel was superb. The sage perfectly balanced the porcini flavor.
The kale chard salad was fresh and crunchy but meaty with the bacon and subtle anchovy dressing.
Since we stewed the lentils and cauliflower all day, the flavors really got married, but there were nice chunks of roasted cauliflower and carrots and the anise was that, "what is that?" flavor. Topped with bacon and brussels sprouts, it was perfect.
Dessert was a favorite. We agreed that the compote was on the sweet side, but over the creamy, not to sweet ricotta it was divine.
By 7pm we were halfway to sold-out. We kicked ass.
I was doing my favorite job: hostessing, shmoozing, even waitressing and bussing tables and Jeremy was extremely focused on his favorite job: plating. The dishes looked gorgeous.
My favorite people came plus a few other's who heard about the event from Joann's post on Greenpointers and on The Skint.
Rocco complained that he only got one rice ball, an offense I could be lynched for in Sicily. Joann took Rocco's side, so I snuck them some more.
The place was glowing and cozy and vibing off of what I had always dreamed of doing: having a Sicilian Sunday Supper. We did it! We sold out! Everyone enjoyed the food and had a great time. Collapse.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Great news! Pablo is free!

It relieving, joyful and surreal to announce that friend Pablo Airaldi, who was on yesterday's cover of The Village Voice came home to Brooklyn last night after three months awaiting deportation at the Hudson County Correctional facility. Read about his experience in his own words at Dearly Deported.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reblogging and replating...I stole this.

While on tumblr, a member shamelessly proclaimed herself a "reblogger." She admitted that none of the images on her blog are hers, which is fair enough, afterall that is what tumblr is, a place to collect and spread eye candy. Who doesn't love eye candy? At least credit is given where credit it due.
Its reminds me of replating a meal, a term I first heard when I worked for Mr. Marc Ecko, who is also the first person I heard use the term "foodie," and since the term foodie leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 
The office of Marc Ecko on 23rd St in the flat iron over the giant Home Depot was a bazillion square foot maze of some of the most expensive and under utilized Manhattan Real Estate. I remember walking around the office, sometimes getting completely lost, and saying to myself, this is what is going to put this company out of business. Ahem. We had a full bar with a pool table that we would use once a year for our holiday party. That was a funny feeling, stumbling down after too many cocktails and being totally drunk in my photo studio, at work! My photo studio had at least 25 feet high ceiling with floor to ceiling windows looking onto an atrium where I could see down to shoppers zipping up and down the escalators in Home Depot. To my right I could look into Marc's office that had the same atrium view. The lavish duplex was designed like a gentlemen's club, dark wood, spiral staircase, walls of books, a basketball court, and the sickest kitchen. We were all convinced his goal was to get onto MTV Cribs. 
Since I worked in such close proximity to his office, I naturally became friendly with his assistant, who naturally used to tell us all the goings on in his office. No hanky panky, Marc was a decent married man, plus there was no way to hide anything from inside that giant fishbowl. 
One of her responsibilities when Marc was having a client over for lunch was to go out to the fanciest pants of restaurants and order a whole bunch of take-out. Then before the client arrive, Marc would replate it (or rather she would) and he served it as if he prepared it for them right there in that fancy kitchen! 
At least rebloggers don't take credit for work that isn't theirs. And this is why I hate the term, "foodie." 

That being said I am going to shamelessly reblog a list of restaurants to try in 2011 from Laptop Chronicles. This list was so clutch last year. You know that feeling? You are with a group of people, everyone is hungry and no one has any suggestions. "I don't know where to eat. You pick." Well I would whip out this handy list from laptop chronicles, organized by neighborhood and borough, and I was the hero!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Save the Date 1/9! Sunday "Sicilian" Supper at Veronica People's...

My Morta Di Fame people! Join me this Sunday 1/9 for a twist on a traditional Sicilian Sunday Supper as part of the weekly dinner series curated by Jeremy Parker at Veronica People's Club, with guest "chef" ... wait for it ... me!? We need to come up with a better term than chef. You know I am NOT a chef, but I can fry the shit out of things and I do know my Sicilian food goodness. How about guest food loving lunatic? With Jeremy's expert kitchen chops, you won't want to miss this one. We are menu planning up a storm this week and I promise to fill your bellies and give you a food orgasm or multiples for only $20, and that includes dessert and a fancy cocktail to boot! Plus, there will be some post-grub partying and dancing to enjoy for those of you who show up after all the food is demolished. And it will be demolished!
Jeremy has kicked ass for the last two dinners he curated.

The first menu featured a Grafton Cheddar Meatloaf sandwich served on a Toasted Brioche Balthazar Bun with Roasted Parsnip Fries, Cranberry Relish, Horseradish Mustard and Fresh Pea Shoots. Gagagagaga!!! (Thats the sound I make when I drool). Pink Tibetan Salted Caramel Petite Pears for dessert and Maura McThrill shook everything up with a HOT HOT TODDY! That night, I was coming from the Greenpoint Girls Group Thanksgiving Potluck, so I was mightily full but was able to still scarf the delicious sammy and still have room for dessert! Jeremy really knows how to take the most simple hearty dishes and seriously hook them up with new takes on classics flavors. And there are always vegan veggie options, so don't let the meat scare you!

His next dinner was superbly divinely extraordinarily delicious. Inspired by his recent travels to South East Asia, Jeremy prepared a Lemongrass Soup with Sticky Rice Dumplings paired with a Homemade Brussels Sprouts Kim Chee, Fresh Herbs and yummy Shrimp and Rice crackers. It was the perfect meal for the rainy cold weather. The soup was gloriously seasoned and the Kim Chee was so kick ass fresh with a nice punch of garlic that any cold or flu would never have stood a chance. The rice balls were so mind blowing. They were fried first, so when they hit the broth they were a little crunchy and ooey gooey soft on the inside, the perfect vehicle for sopping up beefy deliciousness. He appropriately paired it with a Tiger Beer. For dessert (this is where food transcendence occurred) he made a Banana Green Tea Pudding. Matcha baby! I ate all of mine and all of Scott's, too. Easily.
So stay tuned for the menu for this Sunday to be posted later in the week! I am so so excited to collaborate with Jeremy on this. Aside from being an amazing person, an awesome friend, a hot ass, a talented artist, and a great chef, he has a super duper crazy creative brain and can take the most familiar of things and spin them into something truly out of this world amazing. You are always left with, how did his noggin come up with that? Let's see how he can take old school Sicilian peasant food and work it into something crazy! (Well crazier.) As you know anything Sicilian is automatically crazy.