Goodbye & FRITO PIE • YouTube

IT’S NEW YEAR’S EVE and I’m flying back to New York today. It’s always hard to believe how quickly holidays and whole years pass us by. Like many of you, I’ve been revisiting and assessing what I’ve been finding down Memory Lane ’09: A+ for Amy Blogs Chow; big fat F for Full-Time Writing and the list goes on… Certainly, I have much to reflect on (last ten days with Jason included). But in true Amy fashion, I have yet to pack so should sign off to do that now…

In the next three hours, I’ll tie up loose ends, consolidate things I’ve accumulated, say thank you, and goodbye to my wonderful hosts. I’m not looking forward to the journey back to Manhattan in the middle of New Year’s Eve festivities, but trudging through the cold and crowds to get home – Home! in New York City! – seems like a good goal for the final day of the year. Before I go, here’s one last Stupidly Simple Snacks video to wrap up 2009. I made FRITO PIE, a popular dish in the South that combines chili and cheese with corn chips. It reminds me of movie theater snacks on steroids, but the bowl of hot, crunchy goodness actually made for a satisfying lunch. You’ll have to eat it to believe it, I suppose. Here’s hoping for more eating and believing in 2010. Happy New Year! amy december 31, 2009

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WHAT YOU NEED 2 cups Fritos | chili | cheddar cheese | microwave-safe bowl | microwave | 2 minutes

MUSIC Belle & Sebastian For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea

December 31, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Stupidly Simple Snacks, Texas, videos. 4 comments.

SAVING BEST FOR LAST in Red Hook • Brooklyn

offManhattan travelRed Hook's freshest cup of coffee at Hope & Anchor“IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE LAST MINUTE, nothing would ever get done” so the saying goes. We suspect whoever coined the phrase did it in December. After all, between entertaining out-of-towners and amassing a collection of white elephant rejects, the end-of-year is probably the last place you’d look for an eleventh-hour escape. But Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood provides exactly that – a few hours of relief from the crush of holiday crowds, making it a favorite quick getaway for local artisan crafts, affordable eats, and a head-on view of the Statue of Liberty just twenty minutes from Manhattan.

Along Van Brunt Street, Red Hook’s main thoroughfare, fig-and-nutmeg chocolate cupcakes from Baked fuel excursions down cobblestone roads while boutiques, like antique dealer Erie Basin, are plentiful with gifts your giftee won’t already have. On weekends, transportation to the historic area is free thanks to IKEA water taxis, which ferry across New York Harbor between Wall Street and Red Hook.

Pumpkin whoopie pie from BAKEDFirst things first – break in the day with pastries from Baked, a bakeshop-café brightened by orange furnishings and a woodsy aesthetic that would make any hip lumberjack feel at home.

Metal & Thread entranceThe Baked story began with two colleagues who left advertising jobs to pursue the perfect cake in 2005. Soon after, the pair’s painstakingly-created desserts captured national attention when Martha and Oprah took notice. Nowadays, neighbors wander in before noon for muffins and savory “hot pockets” (veggie version also available), while the rest swing by with laptops through the day to make the most of brownies and free wi-fi. When it comes to Baked cakes, we are hopelessly devoted to the Red Hook Red Hot cupcake, a red velvet treat made with Valrhona cocoa topped with cinnamon buttercream. We’d also recommend the signature Sweet & Salty, which combines decadent dark chocolate cake with caramel chocolate ganache. It’s not an award winner for nothing.

Walk off your sugar high and drop by Erie Basin for 19th century jewelry and antique home furnishings. We promise an object d’art from here will leave even the most discerning receiver impressed by your shopping savvy, but it’ll cost a pretty penny.

A few doors down, longtime collaborators Denise Carbonell and Derek Dominy sell their sturdy, but whimsical, wares at Metal and Thread. Working with local artisans, the shopkeepers encourage the use of salvaged materials to illustrate the relationship between invention and recycling for environmentally sound art. Denise’s quilts, for example, combine strips of second-hand fabric to form vivid one-of-a-kindMuffaletta from Hope & Anchor tapestries. And Derek, a skilled blacksmith, reuses metal, which result in the likes of iron shelving with, not only handmade appeal, but a past life too.

Grab lunch down the road at Fort Defiance, which attracts bookish locals from eight in the morning until midnight (2 a.m. on weekends). The daily-changing menu boasts New American dishes with a penchant for French, Italian, even Asian cuisines. (We’re especially keen on the return of a certain Vietnamese bánh mì.) On our last visit, we ordered the muffaletta, the celebrated Sicilian sandwich from New Orleans (pictured left), which sated our craving for cured meats and cheeses dressed in olive salad. The olive spread soaked through the focaccia-like bread, intensifying the flavor of oil and sausage with each bite. While we hear this particular muffaletta leads Louisianans down memory lane, we bet it induces food coma as well.

Revitalize the troops for the rest of the afternoon with a cup of Counter Culture Coffee prepared in Fort Defiance’s custom-made brew rail. Amiable baristas measure out whole beans and freshly ground them for each cup so this dose of caffeine is as fresh as it gets. It’s a time-consuming method, sure, but the attention paid to each cup is worth the wait. Besides, the pouring procession (pictured top left) is fun to see.

Cup in hand, stroll to Valentino Park and Pier to see the remnants of Red Hook’s once active shipping industry. Today the site is a small industrial park where families toss footballs, fly kites, and do handstands on green patches of grass in more clement weather. Even on brisk days the Steve's Key Lime Piepier attracts visitors with its head-on view of the Statue of Liberty and quiet vantage point on picturesque New York Harbor.

As you retrace your steps to Van Brunt Street, take a detour and follow the signs to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie where kitschy seaside knick-knacks inadequately convey the gravity of New York City’s ultimate key lime pie. Don’t let the luau décor fool you – these are serious pies made from limes the size of golf balls. Get the single-serve tart or go chocolate-dipped with the “Swingle”. It’s fine to share, but you probably won’t want to.

With bellies satisfied, meander through the Liberty Sunset Garden Center where exotic plants, like 20-foot Yucca trees, elephant ears, water lilies, and a collection of exotic cacti mingle with shrubs and trees. We’re quite positive we saw a (very green) pineapple in its early stages last time.

As we ambled back to IKEA to catch a Manhattan-bound ferry, we discovered Saipua, a florist and soap shop, tucked in what appeared to be the front half of a large garage (we later learned their workshop is located out back). The storefront – pictured below – is easy to miss given its position off the main strip, but for those who find them, Saipua captivates passersby with its small, elegant setup. It’s like a stage for pretty things, complete with fragrant bouquets, drawn curtains, and a friendly dog named Nea. Sometimes, you can’t help but save the best for last. Share These Red Hook Tips!

Saipua (147 Van Dyke Street)

December 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Brooklyn, cupcakes, offManhattan, Red Hook. 3 comments.

DEEP FRIED in Texan Hill Country

JASON AND I FLEW TO SAN ANTONIO on Tuesday to be with his family for the holidays. It’s Friday – Christmas Day – and I’ve survived all things fried and cheesy so far, including Texan queso at their Christmas Eve gathering and a deep-fried turkey today. The twelve-pound bird was lowered into a bubbling pot of peanut oil under the Texan sun and allowed to sit for 35 minutes. It emerged with crackly paper-thin skin and meat that dripped with juice. If I had the space and propane gas in New York City to deep-fry my own, I wouldn’t prepare turkey any other way. Not that I make turkey, but if I did I’d drop it in a vat of fat too. (Pictures below of bird before and after its oily bath.)

If you asked me in 2008 where I’d be spending my next Christmas, I would never guess it would be here. But I suppose that’s just the way life goes. Here’s to more adventures and memorable meals in the new year. Merry Christmas! amy december 25, 2009

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December 25, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . Texas, Travel. 2 comments.

A CANDIED CASHEW CHRISTMAS • YouTube

AS A WRITER WHO IS EASILY DISTRACTED, I find relief and words in the middle of the night when my distractions are asleep. To fuel my all-nighters, I pop candied cashews as I type between 12 and 4 a.m. Here is my holiday gift to those who crave these sweet, salty and nutty nibbles anytime in the day and throughout the year. As a Christmas bonus, I also show you how to prepare a “fancy” pear and goat cheese salad with the sugarcoated snack! THANK YOU for following my food blogging adventure this year. Here’s to sharing more in 2010! With Love From Texas, amy december 24, 2009

WHAT YOU NEED roasted, unsalted cashews | unsalted butter | brown sugar | salt | mixed greens | pear | goat cheese | stove | skillet | baking sheet (or other nonstick surface) | 5 minutes

MUSIC Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson Relator

December 24, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Dessert, Stupidly Simple Snacks, videos. 5 comments.

A NEW YORK STATE OF WINE • offManhattan.com

offManhattan travelUncorked crowdANYONE WHO’S EVER WAITED 12 MONTHS FOR A PEPPERMINT MOCHA knows our yen for some beverages are not only season specific, they are time-sensitive too. We look forward to light cocktails in spring, citrus notes in summer, and the aromas of cider to ease into autumn. Recently, we discovered a new wintertime favorite, mulled wine. Determined to recreate the hot, spice-infused drink at home, we were pleased to find ourselves swimming in bottles of red, white, and pink at City Winery last week to celebrate Empire State grapes at this year’s local wine fest, Uncork New York! Sip, Savor and Shop.

Warmed by City Winery’s rustic space, which was transformed into one cavernous tasting room for the occasion, guests floated from station to station sipping in-state vinos made from grapes grown a mere train ride away. Over 35 wineries participated, including vendors from Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, and Long Island. Speaking of which, in the new year, the Long Island Culture & Wine Winterfest will present six weekends of free jazz concerts at Long Island wineries between February and March. (With end-of-year festivities underway, we’ll definitely need to replenish our supply by then—especially with all that mulled wine we’ll be making.)

Finger Lakes wineries highlighted their “signature wine” Riesling, while Long Island purveyors, like Bouké Wines left us charmed with cHeronreative blends and candy-striped labels. We also met NYC-based winery, Brooklyn Oenology (BOE), which calls the cusp of Greenpoint and Williamsburg home. We especially liked BOE’s artist-designed labels that peel away sticker-style so imbibers can enjoy the art beyond the last drop.

Guests welcomed themselves to alcohol-free fare too, like tart cherry juice from greenmarket stalwart Red Jacket Orchards and sweet-and-savory jams courtesy of Katchkie Farms. With patrons lined elbow-to-elbow for a taste of New York, we were not surprised to find Park Slope’s Palo Santo, a Latin restaurant-wine bar, clean of anticuchos de puerco (skewered pig liver and kidney marinated in chili paste) by the time we reached their booth.

The four-hour event left attendees in high spirits, and we suspect Silver Stream Winery‘s Furry Peach Apple Cider—a medley of hot apple cider, peach port, and cinnamon sticks—had something to do with it. It’s always bittersweet to leave a good party, but an invitation to the next one often alleviates the wait. See you in Long Island.

(Uncorking Winter first appeared on offManhattan.com 12/08/09.)

December 12, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , . event, Manhattan, offManhattan, TriBeCa, Wine. Leave a comment.

KUMQUAT CUPCAKE Wednesday

Kumquat coffee caramel bourbonI ARRIVED EARLY TO SELL CUPCAKES ON WEDNESDAY. It was the first job I’ve had to physically report to in a year so I was anxious I’d be late. But thanks to actually leaving the apartment on time, I made it to the corner of 4th and Lafayette with ten minutes to spare! (Cue the happy dance.) If you’re wondering why I left my life of leisure for cupcakes, well, read on.

My new friend Keavy Landreth – proprietor and baker extraordinaire behind Kumquat Cupcakery – was in hot pursuit of a funny-sounding thing called sweet wort that beckoned her to Brooklyn on Wednesday. Unable to be in two boroughs at once, Keavy needed someone to sell her fantastic product at Gifted, the pop-up holiday flea market in Soho, in her stead. She sent out an SOS; I answered. And that’s how I found myself sitting with 400 mini cupcakes between a table of vintage knick knacks and an Australian skincare line the next day.

bacon mapleLast weekend, I stopped by Gifted when the space teemed with holiday shoppers jockeying for elbow room. In contrast, hump day customers came in drips. But I didn’t mind as I’m well-practiced in self-distraction and brought along the New Yorker food issue. I’d been meaning to read the Michelin guide article, anyway, so that’s what I did while waiting for sugar fiends to snatch up coffee caramel bourbon (left), peppermint chocolate (below), lemon lavender, red velvet, and maple bacon cupcakes (right). When passersby saw Kumquat’s small-scale cakes, their faces lpeppermint chocolate kumquat 3it up and the women cooed. Cupcakes are like puppies – they make you very popular.

At 3 p.m., my neighbors – the other vendors – descended. One after the other, they came by with dollar bills and a palpable look of relief. “We were holding out for three [p.m.],” they said, implying I would’ve been swimming in money earlier had it not been for their awesome self-control.

The pace picked up at 5 p.m. when the after-work crowd filtered in to poke around and hide from the rain. Some commonly-heard phrases: “These are the perfect size! Just small enough so you don’t feel bad about eating one.” “Debra, look at this. Aren’t they beautiful?” “These would be perfect for a party.” “Maple bacon!?” “I’m coming back for another one.” By 6 p.m. I was pretty confident in my cupcake-selling skills and was able to put maple-bacon skeptics at ease, reassuring them “the maple bacon cupcakes are kinda like pancakes with a side of bacon. There’s no bacon in the cake.” (According to the Kumquat website, the maple bacon cupcake is “maple cinnamon cake topped with vanilla frosting and a thick cut of bacon.”)

At seven, having successfully procured sweet wort, Keavy returned to Soho. She sent me home with a dozen cupcakes, which Jason happily ate for dinner as I already had my fill during the day. (Someone had to eat the six accidentally-squished cupcakes.) I ordered Japanese takeout, put on some socks, watched the new episode of Glee and filed it all under Happy Day. amy december 5, 2009

Visit the Kumquat Cupcakery blog! Pictures of me from Wednesday here.

December 5, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . cupcakes, Dessert, SoHo. 5 comments.

The CHEWY CHOCOLATE HEART of Bad Habits

lots of heartsAS A KID, I WAS RARELY TOLD “NO”. I didn’t hear it when I asked for Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies for breakfast (Food was food.) and not when I abused the snooze button knowing I should’ve been on the F train en route to my 7 a.m. English class. I’d lie in bed and rationalize: I read Animal Farm already and, besides, my second class didn’t start til nine. So I slept through first period English for 30 days.

Most of those who hear this story tend to conclude: How ironic it is to pursue the writer’s life with English: Failed inked on the high school report card.

At the time, I didn’t realize my bid for success was tied to my alarm clock. After all, I may not be a morning person, but I’m a writer (damnit). It’s clear now, however, that my death grip on the snooze button is holding me back. amy • november 30, 2009

Beautiful_Blogger_AwardThis morning I woke up to find a small gold star in my mailbox – a Beautiful Blogger Award bestowed on this little blog by one of my new friends, Viola Comes In Colours. I can’t put my finger on what I did to deserve Maria’s kindness. Must have been the pumpkin pie ice cream shake that sealed the deal. In any case, I have a nifty new JPEG now.

To compensate for my lack of purpose routine, I bake. For the most part, I bake the same thing, chewy chocolate cookies, again and again because it brings Jason inexplicable joy. It’s like telling an 8-year-old that dessert will be served in lieu of brussels sprouts. For life. Jason could eat chewy chocolate cookies everyday if it weren’t for the fact that we devote the weekends to wandering New York City for rice pudding, miniature cupcakes and 6 ounce cookies.

I’m wary of sharing this information because I know how easy it is to misconstrue: hedonistic to some, excessive to others. Indulgent, irresponsible, unhealthy – like multiple bangs on the snooze button. Certainly, I see the merit of moderation, but, blame my parents, I also believe in the unwavering pursuit of happiness – even if the road is long; even if it’s on foot. You have to burn those calories somehow. So blog on, bloggers. Eat away, eaters. Some habits are worth maintaining. And while sleeping in is not a vice, exactly, I will work on snoozing less. amy • december 1, 2009

IMG_2776CHEWY CHOCOLATE COOKIES • courtesy of Jason’s mom who I’m meeting over the Christmas holiday on a ranch near San Antonio! Ten Days in Texas post to come. Note: Her original recipe is reprinted here with slight modifications, like the addition of 1/4 teaspoon of instant espresso, which was Jason’s idea.

1 1/4 cup softened butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups unsifted flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
• • •

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add dry mix to the creamed mixture.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. (Do not overbake! Cookies will be soft. They will puff during baking; flatten upon cooking). Cool on cookie sheet until set, about 1 minute. Move to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 4 1/2 dozen. Heart shapes optional.

Jason prefers them plain, but I serve them warm – to myself – in a mug of vanilla ice cream.

December 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . cookies, Dessert, recipe. 6 comments.