Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pie Baking Day

Last night's huge thunderstorm washed the whole island clean--woke up this morning to blue skies and blue water. A perfect day to hike through the spider-webbed, mossy pine woods and then over the granite boulders at the edge of the shore. Found wild gooseberries growing amid the blueberries, raspberries, and bearberries, along with wild roses, irises, beach peas, and Queen Anne's lace. Another storm blew in at 4pm--dramatic torrents and thunder as I rolled out the dough for my blueberry and raspberry-custard pies. By the time the pies were cooling, the puddles were reflecting a peaceful rose-and-cream sunset and a twilight blue sky.

The blueberry pie looks so sweet--nothing fancy, just straight-up pie. The filling is as simple as it gets: 5 cups berries, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup Minute tapioca, a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon. And the crust, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, 2 sticks of butter (8 oz), 1/4 cup of ice water and I'm slightly ashamed to admit, a few tb of vegetable shortening, because it was there, and because I'm just sick of wrestling with those goddamn diva-bitch all-butter doughs. Working in a nice cool kitchen with an ocean breeze blowing through the screen door helped a lot, too.

Friday, July 28, 2006

One morning in Maine

It's a cool gray day on Norton Island, up here in the Gulf of Maine. L.L. Bean woolen-sweater weather, which was almost unimaginable back in the sweaty heat of Brooklyn. Almost, not quite, which means that I do have flannel pajamas, a turtleneck, a sweater, and a fleece pullover, all of which will be very good (and muddy) friends by the end of next week.

Tiny, aspirin-sized wild blueberries are just beginning to ripen all over the island; after picking with intent for two mornings, I had almost enough for a batch of muffins this morning. Although this is a congenial, food-focused group of artists and writers up here, it seems no one had ever thought to pick and bake for the morning before. I foresee making friends the PQ way--with the oven! It would take hours and hours to pick enough berries to make pie for 12, though, since the fruit's only just starting to ripen, so I put my weekend order in today for 5 pints of berries to be brought out by boat from the local Hannaford's supermarket so I can bake a few pies tomorrow.

The only connection to the mainland is by small boat (the same boat on which we went bucking around the bay yesterday on a fruitless but beautiful hunt for a dead whale, supposedly floating out there near Great Wass Island). It's hard to remember what day it is, especially on days like today, when the fog rolls in and all is silent and gray.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

downeast ho!

I'm going to Maine! On the midnight train (well, bus) to Bangor tonight, and by tomorrow afternoon I'll be on a tiny island up the coast from Bar Harbor. And how this does fill me with joy. Lobster rolls! Cold nights! Colder water! Seagulls and pine trees, and seeing the Perseid meteor shower far from the bright lights of Brooklyn.

But first, a sour-cherry pie must be baked for the book club ladies, and finally, I can do this because the AC is on. Yes, I feel guilty about adding to my carbon- and electricity-guzzling debt, but surely I'm working at a deficit after all these no-AC/no TV/no hairdryer years. So the dough is chillin' and the cherries are ready to be pitted. Last night, Amy (the nicest neighbor in neighborland) invited me down for steak and CSA-box salad and succotash. I had half a bottle of rose to offer, but what about dessert? There was most of a box of tiny sweet tri-star strawberries from the Fantasy Fruit (does that sound kinky, or is it just me?) stand at the tompkins square farmers market, there was a tablespoon or so of sour cream (left over from last week's movie-night cupcakes) and yes, a little lump of tart dough in the freezer, left over from the apricot tart I made for that Bastille Day pate party (I bake; I don't puree liver). So, once the dough had unfrozen itself, I pressed it into some little fluted tart pans, weighed them down with foil and rice, and popped them in the oven to bake, taking out the foil halfway through so they'd get nice and golden. Mixed up the sour cream with a capful of vanilla, a couple tb of powdered sugar, and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk, which has been lying around in the fridge as lazy as the day is long. It was soupy, but tasty, so I stuck it in the freezer to thicken up a little. Once the pastry shells were baked and cooled, I smeared in a little blueberry jam, added a spoonful of the now slightly slushy cream, and topped each one with cute little berries. And damn they were good, and even better since everything in them was, essentially, a leftover.

If you're not jam-inclined, you could melt some chocolate chips, add a little butter, brandy or coffee, and powdered sugar, and spread the chocolate over the crust. Let it cool and set, then top with berries.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

when in doubt, swab

Crash! Boom! Splash! Yesterday afternoon's thunderstorm was really thrilling, or at least very, very loud, especially from my position squeezed up against the plexiglass of the b63 bus shelter, watching the lightning streak down the sky and the thunder sound like it was rending buildings apart right down the street. Thrilling and then scary enough to send me scuttling home to close the windows and watch the basil on the balcony get pounded with water.

So, with Brooklyn awash, instead of the silent Hitchcock movies in Prospect Park, Amy and Paul and I hit the Cobble Hill Cinema for a 2 1/2 hour date with Johnny Depp. Fun, but dopey, mostly because the whole movie pretty much grinds to a halt when the CGI sea monsters and undead half-human/half-crab creatures get in on the action, which they do at tedious length. And even a decent British character actor like Bill Nighy can't do much with a face overrun by a giant squid-tentacle weave, while Orlando Bloom, cut-glass handsome as he may be, is flummoxed by the demands of conveying any emotion more complex than square-jawed resolve. Which leaves Johnny Depp, whose flouncy pirate captain has more than enough surface interest--what with the eyeliner, the eyeshadow, the straggling facial hair, the headscarf, the multiple belts around his hips and little beady tchotchkes in his white-boy dreads--to make the rest of the nonsense (the three-way fight on a runaway millwheel that plays like the freakout of swashbuckling hamsters; the even more ridiculous fight in which Depp, roped to a long bamboo pole, ends up with both ends of the pole skewered with tropical fruit like a human mai tai) bearable, at least with popcorn and air conditioning.

And speaking of air conditioning, since I would not stop for the air conditioner, the air conditioner kindly stopped for me. When you've been whining about needing an air conditioner for weeks (well, years really) without figuring out a way to get one home from the hardware store, and then you come back to your apartment building on yet another sweltering day to find one of your neighbors holding a stoop sale on your very own steps, with a never-used, still-in-the-box air conditioner for sale, with her willing friend ready to carry the box up two flights and drop it in your living room, well, who am I to say no? So now I have a brand-new AC unit ready to be plugged in. Once, of course, I get some wood blocks or something to prop it on, since my window has these weird metal screen-and-storm-window ledges inside that make balancing an air conditioner in the window somewhat of a dicey prospect.

But at least now I, and all guests of the future, will no longer have drip in what was the sauna of PQ Castle. And while it's been much too hot to cook, the cocktails at the Brooklyn Social Club on Smith near Carroll are just the thing to chase the summer blues. Especially the pretty-in-pink Neopolitan, a cosmo-ish mix of citrus vodka, cointreau, lemon, and pomegranate juice. Mmmm.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Picnic Season

Oh, rain! Huge spattering drops came down last night, just minutes after the climax of the post-NY Philharmonic concert in the park, where I was sharing fresh mozzarella and hearts-of-palm salad and balsamic-grilled chicken with my old pal Adam. (Note to self: NEVER, ever, try to shop for a picnic at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's in prime post-work hours. I got plenty of tasty food, but the lines and crowds were murderous. It was, however, way too disgustingly hot to even think of cutting up anything in my sauna of a kitchen.) The crowds shrieked with glee and threw picnic blankets and newspapers over their heads, getting happily soaked after 2 days of close-to-100-degree heat. We stood under a marquee in Times Square and watched the rain teem down, neon reflecting in the puddles. And then, oh bliss, Adam actually drove me all the way home across the Brooklyn Bridge in his air-conditioned car, with Depression-era Argentinian tango playing, which he even translated. From what he could make out of the gangster slang, the main theme was "The world is broken/we're all in the shit."

Everyone, it seems, is going out to Brooklyn Bridge Park tomorrow at dusk to see Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, based on the Patricia Highsmith nail-biter of the same name, an attempt at constructing a pair of "perfect" crimes in which two strangers agree to dispatch each other's enemies. Highsmith excels at constructing an atmosphere of inescapable, almost claustrophobic anxiety, shown to particular perfection in The Talented Mr Ripley and others in that series. She was (mostly) gay, and conflicted about that, and it shows up transmuted into her fiction: lots of ambiguous relations between men, never made explicit and ending, more often than not, in a spasm of murderous intent, coupled with a streak of unexpectedly sharp misogyny. It's Jane's birthday eve, so cupcakes will be necessary--perhaps a repeat of last summer's Cook's Illustrated sour-cream-chocolate ones, plus perhaps a batch of a different flavor--lemon? Coconut? B. should be coming along too, which means, of course, lots of wine. I might even pull out the bottle of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare (or Flying Saucer Rose) that I hauled home from SF's Bi-Rite Market last summer. Smoked salmon, tasty crackers, mozzarella salad with basil from the's picnic season!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Oh, I give up. No more sleeping in the sauna. Hardware store, craigslist: an air conditioner WILL BE MINE by the end of the day today. Until then, it's watermelon, watermelon, watermelon all day long. And Beethoveen's Fifth in Central Park tonight, if, for a change, the NY Philharmonic doesn't incur the wrath of the rain gods.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hot summer in the city

It's hot. It's sticky. PQ Castle still doesn't have AC--something I've been resisting because a) I have no money right now, b) I hate storing bulky appliances that aren't needed for three-quarters of the year, and c) somehow, if I buy an air conditioner, I am committing to staying in NYC, something I'm still not sure about, even after 3 years. Earlier this week, I couldn't help myself--I got onto to the instant-gratification crackhouse that is Craigslist, and starting skimming the Bay Area summer sublets. SF (or more specifically, the MIssion) being what it is, several of the places I found turned out to belong to friends of old roommates, and I wanted them all--the shared Edwardian on Dolores, the tiny no-stove acupuncturist's cottage up a million steps in Montclair, the wooden house in Bolinas, even the funky two-part house down in the Berkeley flats. What am I escaping from, or to? The heat, the humidity, the concrete, the sheer relentlessness of NYC. What is this life I'm living here? It feels like I'm just marking time, somehow, waiting for the life I really want to start. And this city's an almost unbearably pricey place to be marking time.

Well, enough whinging. (Although if you happen to be a person with a budget and a project looking for snappy freelance food writers or handy editors, please feel free to snap me up for some actual paid work. I'll perform with aplomb, I promise.) What's cooking? I'm on the list at the library for Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Nina Planck's Real Food, two of the numerous books out this summer (including new tomes from Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser) about the political, ecological, and health-related implications of how we eat. There's also Full Moon Feast, by Jessica Prentice, who taught the excellent soup-making class that I took a couple of years ago at Mariquita Farms. Much discussion by both Prentice and Planck about the importance of real--that is, non-processed, non-altered food, which means whole (preferably raw) milk instead of skim (the fat is key to absorbing the milk proteins and calcium, according to Planck); organic beef instead of soy burgers; canned sardines and chickpeas instead of premade anything, and plenty of butter and olive oil. While I don't know how true her vehement nutritional claims are, I certainly agree that brown rice and black beans, especially with homemade mango salsa and fresh corn, is one of the most satisfying (and inexpensive) things you can eat. And sardine sandwiches should be much more popular than they are, especially on crisp whole-wheat toast overlaid with razor-thin lemon slices and good lettuce.

Of course, much as I already live by Planck's frugal dried beans/canned fish/and vegetables, vegetables, vegetables dictum, sometimes I get frustrated in my own house by the fact that there's rarely much, if any, ready-to-eat food besides fruit and chocolate chips (half the bag goes into cookies; the other half lolls in the freezer to be slowly devoured by the palmful). Just about everything in my pantry and fridge has to be dealt with before it can be eaten--the oameal cooked, the pancakes made from scratch, the zucchini sauteed, the oil and vinegar whisked into vinaigrette. This is by choice; I actually hate most processed snacky food (OK, I will eat--and love--multiple handfuls of thick-cut salty potato chips, like Cape Cod or Terra chips. But only out of your bag of chips). Sometimes, though you just don't feel like peeling the carrot, or boiling the egg, and that's when peanut butter out of the jar (or almonds by the handful) comes in. But when I'm not already too hungry and cranky to take the 10 minutes it requires, there's rarely a better lunch in my house than a chunk of whole-wheat baguette, split, toasted, rubbed with garlic, spread with fresh goat cheese, fresh basil leaves, and slices of tomato, then popped in the oven until the bread crisps and the cheese and tomato get hot. Mmmm.

What else? Tomorrow, the Bastille Day pate-and-rillettes party at Amy and Zach's, where only people whose names begin with Z. will be allowed to head-butt the guests. Me? I'm bringing apricot tart. And then on Sat, my old pals M. and D. come out to visit. I've warned them that it will be 90+ degrees here, but I bet they don't believe me, after a decade of freezing SF summers.

And speaking of summer, it now seems that many of my SF pals will be coming east--or just leaving town--during August, so maybe it's not the best time to go jaunting off. Now, to pitch, pitch, pitch and keep this overpriced roof over my head.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

my kingdom for a zuke

Off to East Flatbush, for more sidewalk cooking. On the menu: zucchini basil fritters, with herbed yogurt and fresh tomato salsa. Come on down! 2pm at the Wyckoff House farmers market. See you there!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Meet PQ in Brooklyn!

East Brooklynites, come down and see the Pie Queen in action this Sunday! I'll be doing a seasonal cooking demo at the Wyckoff House farmers' market at 2pm on July 9th, continuing this summer's cooking-on-the-sidewalk trend.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Stars and Stripes

Happy 4th of July!

One of the colonels on K's base decided to celebrate the holiday by hooking up a set of speakers outside his office and blasting the 1812 Overture--on repeat--all day. As K. said, you don't get to argue with the colonel.

But here in Brooklyn, it was a steamy day of thunder and dampness, with lemon ice from the Court St Pastry Shop and pink lemonade from the stand outside Cobble Hill Park, and now two rooftop fireworks parties in Brooklyn Heights, to which Amy & I will yet again be toting our collective Cherry Cobble(hill)r, made with sour cherries from Saturday's farmers' market. Happy Fourth, and don't blow your fingers off, y'all.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

summer sweet

After endlessly, sweatily hauling my stuff--including jars and jars of Arkansas jam-- home from Newark Airport (which takes, if it's late on a Friday night and the downtown A train is running on the local track instead of the express, and you have to trudge through Penn Station like a pack mule trying to find the elevators because your numerous bags are too bulky to schlep up the stairs, something upwards of 3 hours), I'm finally back in Brooklyn, cocooning in my apt for the day, unpacking all the stuff I'd hidden in boxes to oblige the subletters.

The house was really minimalist, in a soothing way, when I walked in--nothing on the table, no photos on the bookcase, no underwear in the dresser, no stuff anywhere--but it's slowly returning to its more cluttered but liveable state. A girl's got to have easy access to her nail-polish remover and Afghanistan postcards, after all. My mother, bless her heart, showed up the afternoon before I arrived to hobnob with the subletters (who were vacuuming, bless their preppy little hearts) and fill my fridge with homemade meatloaf, roasted zucchini and rye bread. Not to mention yet more toothpaste, toilet paper, and laundry soap. It's a little embarrassing that my mother still treats me like a negligent college student, but then again, having 24 rolls of TP in the hall closet is reassuring. And she'll get plenty of jam--and pickles--from the jam closet in thanks.

Lots of fun things going on this week--the fireworks, of course, but also the start of the lovely Brooklyn Bridge Park outdoor movies, beginning with the Wizard of Oz this Thursday night. I'm already into the al fresco-movie swing, thanks to Princess Charlotte's outdoor cinema in Eureka Springs--in fact, I'm a little sad that I'm not in my best Pink Lady finery for the costume contest happening right now before tonight's showing of Grease (if only to enjoy seeing all the butches in town decked out in greaserwear)--but the BBP events are cheery, down-home ones, complete with take-out pizzas from Grimaldi's, kids in PJs, and hokey pre-show shorts shot by local filmmakers. Another way to beat the heat: the free, and HUGE (if hard to get to) Red Hook municipal pool, which is the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot. Just don't forget to bring a lock for your locker (you aren't allowed to bring anything out to pool except a towel, and they don't sell locks onsite), and remember that the pool, weirdly, closes down between 3pm and 4pm daily.

And I've got Bill Withers' song Lovely Day on constant rotation in my brain right now, thanks to the Body & Soul reunion in the courtyard at PS1, inaugurating the summer-long series of WarmUp parties out there in LIC. Instead of tweaker electro, the music was old-school funk and soul, with 20-minute mixes of Thelma Huston's Don't Leave Me This Way that put me in mind of Sunday mornings at the EndUp in SF, back in my Peachy Puff days selling twizzlers and Benson & Hedges Deluxe Ultra Light Menthols to the so-late-it's-early queer crowd, and the sweaty, swaying, hands-in-the-air street parties at the Folsom St Fair and Pink Saturday. Leaning over the railing at Julie P's second-floor rooftop patio (which handily overlooks the PS1 courtyard), I wanted to be dancing with K., to have my hands around her waist kissing her in the crowd surrounded by all that disco love.