Saturday, March 31, 2012

fitting into the city of squares

Morning, sunshines. Today I've got yet another Plates from Around the World guest to welcome: Miss Mackenzie. This lovely lady is one of those wonderfully unique and warm souls that forever inspires me with her eloquent words and artistic eye. Like myself, she has found a new home away from home, and has done it so with such grace. I hope you enjoy her guest post as much as I do!

I think there's an art to feeling at home with strangers. If there's anything I've learned by moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts it would be that very lesson. When Danielle approached me to write a "Plates From Around the World" post I couldn't help but remember how I spent my most favorite Valentine's night eating "hippie" food in a cozy dining table at a little co-op in Cambridge with mostly strangers.
I joke to my friends that I go to school at Emerson for academic reasons, but I go to Harvard for social reasons. Emerson isn't  predominantly nerdy, so for the girl who thought it'd be fun to take pre-calculus one summer so she could take calculus her senior year of high school, I get along with Harvard kids really well. For the girl who lives directly between MIT and Harvard, I definitely find Cambridge to be my home of sorts This is why I was beyond pumped to spend my Valentine's night with one of my favorite smarty-pants Harvardians, Jane, at Dudley Co-op.
We got there early and were immediately submerged in beet-cutting, potato-mashing, and for me, secret Earth Balance butter-eating. I never said I was ladylike. Here I was, elbow to elbow to mostly strangers, making edamame-orange salad, a leek soup, and freshly baked bread, getting delightfully messy with the reddish ink of beet juice staining my palms. 
There's something about mismatched mugs, your favorite poems littering the walls, and smiling faces that can make you feel so at home with strangers. I spent the last year prancing around the U.S. and I found a little nugget of home when all three of those things were in tact. Cozy San Francisco hostels are teeming with mugs brought by forgetful travelers, and their streets oddly had some favorite Ferlinghetti poems embedded in the concrete. Chicago is home to the smiliest of people I've ever encountered. Cambridge has only solidified this theory of mine. 
We feasted on roasted beets, fresh-baked bread, leek soup, and a salad of edamame and orange that I legitimately dreamt about for at least a week and a half.  We dined, as college students are wont to do, under a canopy of old CDs and knick-knacks. I knew only two people there, but by the end of the night I had one of the most beautiful food babies, a successful single-ladies Valentine's day for the third time in a row, and I might have snuck out a few more pieces of bread. And Jane and her other outdoorsy friend might have had a mock utility knife-fight that I then felt compelled to document. Once again, I never said I was ladylike. Not in the slightest.

Do you not just want to run away to Cambridge and dine with this eclectic crew right now? I know I do. Especially Mackenzie. And I'd invite Holly too because she's the one that virtually first introduced us. What a blast we would have, no April's Fools required. In other aspirational topics, if you'd like to contribute to the Plates from Around the World series, please email me your favorite foodie place along with a description and photos. Now, go off and enjoy your weekend. You've most certainly earned it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

kaia wine bar

Last night, I met my cousin for dinner at Kaia Wine Bar, an absolute gem of a oenophile locale. I couldn't believe I'd never been there! Being that I love wine bars and it's so close to both of our apartments... but such are the challenges of living in New York, I suppose.
Anyway ;) I'm infinitely glad she'd suggested it. In an attempt to convey how wonderful of a place this was, let me share a little background information courtesy of the venue's founder, Suzaan: "Kaia means 'hut' in South Africa. Spoken in our eleven languages - warmly it refers to our home... I hope you find a place at my table and enjoy yourself as if you were in the kaia where I grew up."
The same Suzaan who wrote the words above and opened the South African wine bar was also our server last night. We began with drinks first. Wine, of course. It was a beautifully warm evening so my cousin wanted white. When she couldn't figure out which one, Suzaan poured her three Sauvignon Blanc samples to help her choose. As for me, I was craving red (as usual) so I ultimately decided upon the Mooiplaas Pinotage. It was probably one of the best red blends ever. Seriously though. I enjoyed three generous pours.
As for food, my cousin and I agreed this was the place to familiarize ourselves with South African cuisine and were eager to try a variety. Thanks to her pre-dinner Yelp review research, we were quick to order the first two plates. We began with botterskorsie en salie (butternut squash, ricotta cheese, and sage "toasties") and buffel frikadelle (bison meatballs with gravy and celery root purée).
Both dishes were beyond delicious, so savory and flavorful. Alongside them, we also enjoyed traditional South African bread--first dipped in extra virgin olive oil, and then in a blend of seeds. Afterwards though, we found ourselves still hungry.
So we asked Suzaan what she thought we should order next. Trouble was, after raving about most of the choices on the menu, she declared that we were basically asking her to choose her favorite child :). We eventually went with the vark ribbetjies met wortelslaai (bbq baby back ribs with carrot salad). So, so good! The many multicultural influences in South Africa have obviously created a delectably unique kitchen. Dinner at Kaia Wine Bar could not have been more perfect.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

a potluck in brooklyn

According to the ever-dependable Wikipedia, the word "pot-luck" first appeared in 16th century England meaning "food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot." These days, in my own life, it has been reinterpreted as an economical occasion for my foodie friends and I to come together and share creatively prepared dishes and an exchange of laughter-filled stories.
Our latest potluck was at Leslie's (the same location of our first potluck, albeit at her former apartment on Wall Street). Plans were made over a flurry of emails--figuring out the date and time, deciding upon who was going to bring what, and sharing hysterical snippets about our day-today lives in between.
I brought a vegetable dish inspired by Pinterest. The recipe caught my attention because of its simplicity and seasonal ingredients, even if it was framed as an Easter Side Dish on Cooking Light; I blanched fresh asparagus, sliced cherry tomatoes and sautéed them in garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, then placed together and topped with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and crumbled goat cheese.
Later that night, I filled my glass with wine and helped myself to the array of our delicacies. Anna prepared the classic Veganomican Pineapple Cashew Quinoa Stir-fry, Rebecca whipped up a perfectly light potato salad, Sarah contributed Monkey Bread and fresh feta cheese, Shayne made an awesome beet hummus, and our wonderful host Leslie served quite the delicious red cabbage side.
For dessert, Megan brought fresh whipped cream to top her festive Chocolate Guiness Cake, Sofia somehow created better-than-Momofoku compost cookies, and Shayne offered her second contribution, a truly delightful date bread. I obviously had more than a few bites of everything, the decadent cake especially.
By the party's end, I was so completely satisfied with the variety (I am a mezze fan, after all) and even a little bit wine drunk (notice the teeth?) after arguably one too many glasses. I wouldn't have had it any other way. We'd entertained ourselves with conversations of books and bat mitzvahs, new jobs and bad dates, plans for summer fun and reflection on childhood oddities. Although we're arguably each at distinct points in our twenty-something journeys, I'd say we're pretty darn lucky to be able to have formed such a friendship at the table.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

breakfast tea possibilities

Remember how I said making a special breakfast ensures a good morning? Well, going out for breakfast, especially on a Monday, makes for a great one.
Yesterday, my roommate Catherine and I began our days at the whimsical Alice's Tea Cup. Why? Neither of us had been yet. Plus, she has a few days off as she transitions from her old job to a new one, and I often work from home anyway. 
Inspired by afternoon tea at various restaurants and hotels around the world, this adorable tea room offers a nearly overwhelming assortment of teas. It took me a while to choose but eventually I decided upon the classic Alice Tea.
'Twas a wonderful choice. This house blend of Indian black Vanilla tea with Japanese green tea and rose petals was "smooth and subtle." And, according to Alice's Tea Cup, was brewed to perfection in 180 degree double-filtered water.
For my entrée, I opted for Alice's Florentine (sautéed spinach and poached eggs atop buttermilk scones and served with a side of mixed greens). It was an incredibly clean-feeling breakfast--a quality my body enjoyed greatly after a very social weekend--and. I loved the scones (good not great).
I also love the story of Alice and Wonderland. In sixth grade, I played the role of the White Queen in our school play, and now, I want to watch the movie again. Hoping to fit it into this busy week! Either way :) a little magical insight for you...
"Alice: This is impossible. The Mad Hatter: Only if you believe it is."

Monday, March 26, 2012

speaking okie (part ii)

Where was I? Ah yes. Last weekend. Best friend. Oklahoma City and beyond. (For those of you who are not quite caught up, please read part one first).
On Sunday morning, we packed up the car once more to drive back to Oklahoma. First though, we stopped in Muenster (apparently the German capital of Texas) to see Katie. She recently moved to the area to be with her boyfriend.
Since he "felt like cooking" (he's a chef and even worked at Stone Barns for a while--which is how the two of them met), he prepared a delightful lunch: sautéed spinach, broccoli, pork, and pasta in garlic oil with lemon zest and fresh parmesan. It was ridiculously better than my own one pot/pan meals. Then, they showed K and I around their very rural, charming, and beautiful home.
The tour included a visit to Katie's boyfriend's family's ranch. They have an incredible amount of land and the most amazing, eclectic cabin. Take a look:
It was so, so nice to see it all (especially Katie, of course). If we'd had more time, I would've loved to have gone hiking or perhaps even wine tasting.
At least we had good reason to leave when we did. K and I had to get to Tulsa so that we could go out to dinner with her parents at the lovely Sonoma Bistro & Wine Bar. I literally adore her mom and dad, and the meal itself was delicious.
Then, we were off again! We had a date with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. What a fun show. I just love that we see live music every time I visit.
The following morning, after an extremely restful sleep, we went to breakfast at Queenies. We were appalled we hadn't yet eaten out for the best meal of the day; brunch fan as I am. Oh, yum. I cannot even tell you how much I enjoyed the Q-Hop (two buttermilk pancakes, one scrambled egg, bacon). Plus, K traded me some of her fruit for my bacon. All that plus coffee, I was one happy gal.
Mother Nature, however, wasn't feeling as sunshiny. It started to rain soon after breakfast, making for a mildly unpleasant drive back to Oklahoma City. At least we got to spend time with three very cute kids (K's family friends) in between :).
Once back to K's house, we took restful time to recharge until dinner. Being that it was my last night, we set out for a "just the two of us" dinner date at Cafe Nova.
On the menu for me: a slice of fresh bread with extra virgin balsamic olive oil, a glass of Shiraz, a Super NOVA salad, and Maple Glazed Salmon topped with sweet potato chips, over quinoa, and with roasted green beans and artichoke. Delicious.
Afterwards, we returned to K's house for more wine and a movie, Like Crazy. I had been wanting to see the romantic drama for a while now, even just because the trailer alone was beautiful, and was pleased to find that the rest of the film was just as much so. It wasn't necessarily an uplifting movie about love (as I'd been warned) but it was so well done, and the story was so, so real. Not to mention that I was in an emo mood to begin with. Watching it with my best friend made it special, too. I went to bed with a full and happy heart.

Early the next morning though, I left Oklahoma City feeling both sad and lucky. Sad because I don't know when the next time K and I will be in the same city again. Lucky because I do know, no matter what, I'll always have her as a friend. In an attempt to end this post on a high note... I recently read that every close, cheery friend you have increases your own happiness odds by 9 percent (according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.) All the more reason to feel more lucky than sad, right? Definitely. Even if I do miss her lots.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

a gem in rhinebeck

Hi darlings, hope you're enjoying your weekend so far! I hear there are good times (and some sun) to be had. Please welcome Aubrey as today's Plate from Around the World guest. She's an awesome blogger, culinary student, and all around great gal whom I was lucky enough to meet last year in San Francisco and dine with a few weeks later here in New York. Take it away, my dear...

Well hello, my name is Aubrey from i talk to food
I am currently finishing my last year of my bachelors degree at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I adore cooking(obviously), getting my sweat on and writing all about it on my blog. 

One thing I love writing about are places that I've been lucky enough to eat. 

Hyde Park is a pretty small town 90 minutes north of New York City. It's sort of secluded other than my gorgeous school. 

There's a town close by called Rhinebeck. It is such a quaint little town that is typically quiet. Well, until the rich NYC folk come up for the weekend. 

Then there's one restaurant in Rhineck that is an adorable little gem. 

I have built many memories at this tiny restaurant. When I discovered Arielle, I was visiting the CIA with my mom for the first time. We were driving around and spotted this tiny nook and was immediately intrigued as we walked by. 

Bibel Gilberto was playing softly, the napkins were side towels, there's only 12ish tables and the menu is French/Mediterranean. 

Upon sitting down, you're quickly given a basket of warm bread with olive oil and herbs to dip. 

We ordered sandwiches. My mom got a Curried Chicken and Grape Salad on a long baguette. I got Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese on a long baguette. We shared two cappuccinos and enjoyed our lunch for 2 hours. 

When I came back to attend school, I told everyone about Arielle. It slowly became the one restaurant we would frequent as a treat. 

They have the BEST calamari. It's served in a small colander with spicy red tomato sauce. Super crunchy and seasoned perfectly. 

We order it every. single. time. 

Another favorite we order frequently is their Crispy Artichokes with Aioli

The wine they serve is lovely. In the summer we sit outside, order wine, share calamari and order their cold gazpacho. 

Brunch is just as lovely. Omelet with roasted vegetables, reduced balsamic vinegar...heaven. 
For dessert I am obsessed with their Lemon Bar. Classic lemon curd, buttery crust and perfectly sour and sweet. 

I love having a place close by that I can count on for great wine, crispy calamari, calming music and decent prices.

Thanks for popping in to read my guest post! I adore Danielle and all of her adventures. I'm lucky to know her!

What's your favorite neighborhood gem?