Category Archives: New York City

Eggplant Curry

Last Saturday was not a Hemingway in Paris type of Fall day. It was cool and sunny, and I rode my bike along the Hudson river without sentiment (although there was plenty of red sediment in the river itself from flooding upstate). I wore a sweater and a scarf and fingerless gloves which came off (the gloves, not the sweater, or the scarf for that matter) soon after we reached the market at Union Square.

There is a lady at the market who sells Mexican food from a small wire shopping cart–the kind you see old ladies pulling into Fairway, the kind with plastic wheels that fall off if you don’t know the exact angle at which to push around a corner. She always has a circle of people around her, peering over her shoulder into red coolers full of sauces and fillings. This week we tried gorditas. They were spicy. Good and spicy. My tongue tickled from the burn, but I couldn’t stop. And then I wanted another one.

The market wasn’t crowded this week, so we were done our shopping and back on our bikes by 9am. We would have been home napping by 9:45 if it weren’t for the motorcycles. My front tire had just touched the Henry Hudson when a police officer in an SUV blocking the crosswalk waved me back. Behind him, a parade of motorcycles came rumbling up the highway. A long parade.

People began to crowd at the crosswalk. I wanted to join the two kids shielding their ears from biker thunder. I exchanged a smile of commiseration with a woman in a gray suit. We waited and waited, and the bikers kept coming and coming. Cars waiting to turn on the highway honked with nowhere to go, adding to the cacophony. A runner stopped next to me, yelled “fuck!”, and decided to cross anyway, weaving through the motorcycles as if she were on the streets of Hanoi.

We were delayed again by the wind. Riding north on the river path, the wind was in my face. Each curve in the path brought another gust, and the entire way home felt like an uphill struggle. The wind is my enemy. I even started swearing at it. I was swearing at the wind.


All of this brings me to eggplant curry. When we got home, we were cold and tired. Curry fixes both of those things. Plus, eggplants are related to tobacco. 20lbs of eggplant = the same amount of nicotine as 1 cigarette.

Eggplant Curry

1. Cube 1 lb eggplant and put in a bowl. Sprinkle eggplant cubes with some ground turmeric and salt. Set aside.

2. Cut 2 small onions in half (the long way) and slice lengthwise (not across).

3. Slice 4 chilies lengthwise.

4. Heat oil in a large pan. I used a cast iron pan, but a wok would work as well. Add the eggplant and fry until soft and light brown. Eggplant soaks up a lot of oil and takes a while to cook, so add more oil if necessary. It will take about 5-10 minutes, but eventually the eggplant will begin to release some of the oil. When the eggplant is done, remove from pan and set aside.

5. Add more oil to pan if necessary and fry the onion until soft. Mix in 1 tbs curry powder and the green chilies. Add 1 cup coconut milk and salt to taste. Boil until coconut milk begins to thicken. Stir in eggplant and cook until sauce becomes the consistency of gravy.

6. In a small pan heat a very small amount of oil and add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 4 dried curry leaves. Cook until fragrant and the seeds begin to pop. This is the tempering oil. Remove the curry leaves and pour over the eggplant mixture.

7. Squeeze at least 2 tsp of lime juice into curry, but add more if the dish needs more acid.

8. Serve over brown rice.

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Salmorejo Dreams

I did not come from an air-conditioned family. In the hills above Lake Champlain, open windows and a breeze were enough to keep us comfortable. But New York is different. No breeze pushes through my lonely sixth-floor windows. Heat rises up from the five floors below and collects in our apartment. The nights feel even more humid than the days, especially at four in the morning as I lie awake thinking of nothing but sleep and cooler days. So three years ago, we bought two used air conditioners from our departing neighbors–the first I’d ever owned.

This year–probably from some primal “I’m almost 30” desire to feel like I have a home–James and I have been working our way through an extended spring cleaning. We painted the walls, scrubbed hidden corners, repositioned furniture. We purged and simplified, years of collected “stuff” without a place, without meaning, gone. I grew more plants. Vegetables, herbs, giant vine-y monster plants that grow and grow and grow. And then, from the need to have more space and more light, I had the best idea ever. Let’s get rid of the air conditioners.

We replaced the a/c with fans, the idea being if we can’t get a breeze through these window, we will make one. In June, everything was fine. I read articles about fans like this one from the New York Times and felt special. I imagined telling people of my a/c free apartment to be like telling people I don’t own a TV. A careless mention in casual conversation. “Well you know, we’ve done away with our air conditioners.” People would stare, trying not to betray their awe, as they congratulate my moment of asceticism in the name of smaller energy bills and a better environment. Instead, everyone thought I was crazy.

And they’re right. Fans move air around and evaporate sweat. They do not cool the room. With the heat index near 115, evaporation stopped, and the indoor temperature rose to 91. Hot is still hot, whether fans are moving air around or not.

We tried to hold out. We kept a blue spray bottle near by–one squirt for the cats, one squirt for me. We froze blocks of ice in loaf pans and left them in front of the fans hoping to lure out an arctic breeze. I put frozen peas in my bra and slept with a wet washcloth draped across my forehead like a fever victim. Without a swimming hole nearby, I jumped into a cold shower whenever the sweat started rolling down my back again.

The only word for it is surviving. We were surviving. Until I woke up on Friday morning and found both cats flat on the floor, panting with eyes focused on me like lasers of desperation and loathing. We bought an air conditioner that day.

These are the days when I miss the gazpacho we ate in Spain. Salmorejo in Cordoba–peeled tomatoes pureed with bread, olive oil, salt, vinegar, garlic. Garnished with Serrano ham and chopped hard-boiled eggs. There must have been a secret ingredient, a secret reason this soup was so good. Or maybe simplicity is the secret.

Back in NYC, tomatoes at the market are still too expensive, so my Salmorejo dreams will have to wait. On the hottest day of the year, I made green gazpacho instead of red.

Green Gazpacho
 adapted from Plenty

2 sticks of celery, leaves on
2 green peppers
12 oz small cucumbers
4 oz white bread (stale is good)
1 hot green chili
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
5 oz walnuts
7 oz baby spinach
1 oz basil
3 tbs parsley
4 tbs sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1.5 oz Greek yogurt
2 cups water
4.5 oz ice cubes
2 tsp salt
white pepper

1. Chop celery, peppers, cucumbers, bread, chili, and garlic and throw all into a blender.

2. Add the remaining ingredients, but only use about half the water.

3. Blend until pureed. If you’d like a thinner soup, add more of the water. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

4. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and crusty croutons or a slice of bread.

Travel Preparation

This summer, James and I will travel to Vietnam and Japan for three weeks.  We will stuff avalanching piles of personal effects into one undersized suitcase, beg friends and family to watch our feline companions, and fly into the future via time zones.  Until then, New York City will have to feed our anticipation.

Vietnam, as you are likely aware, was ravaged by American forces during the Vietnam War (known to the Vietnamese, with good reason, as the American War).  But way before the Americans even considered this long thin country a threat to Democracy, Vietnam was occupied for over 1,000 years by the Chinese and about 100 years by the French.  Culinary influence?  Of course.

Searching for a Vietnamese dining experience in NYC, I did not want a fancy Asian fusion restaurant.  Banh Mi Saigon Bakery had great reviews and is said to serve the best and least expensive Banh Mi in the city.  Located in the back of a small jewelry store, more of a deli than anything else, the Saigon Bakery was full of hungry customers.

So what is Banh Mi?  A baguette stuffed with pickled vegetables, some sort of protein (in this case seitan), and fresh cilantro.  Basically, a sandwich.  The bakery offered minimal options for seating, so after taking a few exploratory bites in the confines of the jewelry store, we finished our sandwiches in Tompkins Square Park.

James loved his Banh Mi, and I thought it was okay, maybe a little too slimy for me.  I’ll have to acquire a taste for slimier textures before our trip.

We took the time to peek into a few of the fish stores in Chinatown,

and headed to Sakaya for a free sake tasting.  We were expecting to try a few different kinds of sake and were slightly disappointed to find only one.  However, it was delicious, and the owners of Sakaya were fantastic.  Needless to say, we left with a bottle of our own.

Continuing the Japanese theme, we walked a short distance to Cha-An.

We have both been here several times for tea and dinner, so this night, we decided to split the dessert sampler.

I started with genmaicha tea,

and James ordered Scarlet Glow, an herbal blend.

And then came the three course dessert.  Unfortunately, the waitress did not tell us what each dessert was, and they were not listed on the menu.

Ice cream:

Something that tasted like strawberry shortcake and a chocolate ball thing:

and cookies:

If you do decide to visit Cha-an, don’t miss the bathroom.  The woman’s restroom is equipped with a hi-tech toilet!  As you approach the seat, the lid lifts automatically.

The seat itself is heated, and a controller lets you customize your personal preferences.  Rear cleansing?  Rear cleansing soft?  Front cleansing?  Dryer?  Oscillating, pulsating, rinse cycle?  So many choices.

Banh Mi, sake, tea, and toilets of the future… I think we are ready for our travels.

A Photo Essay

A month away through photographic catharsis.

Squares of chocolate,

finely chopped,

mixed with milk and eggs and sticks of butter among other sweet comestibles,

provided full ramekins of silky pudding.

3 ramekins later,

guilt permeating my mind, I vowed to find a healthier pudding recipe for daily weekly consumption.  Avocado pudding complete with almond butter and agave nectar is not as silky smooth as double chocolate death pudding, but I assure you, it is delicious.

An apathetic occasional soup consumer, this month I learned how to cook and Love Soup.

Soup has become a weekly staple.  Green soup with sweet potato and sage, garnished with olive oil.  The secret to really good soup, no matter what?  Lemon juice, right before the soup has finished.

I can’t spend all of my time eating, and I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the opening night of The Nose at the Met.  Photo taking is illegal, but the propaganda-esque setting demanded a stealthy iphone shot.

It was a month of spring days and wind storms.  We remained huddled inside with our soup and pudding during umbrellageddon, and took full advantage of NYC parks on the unseasonably warm days.

Fort Tryon park picnic.

Milkshakes in Inwood.

Squirrel lunch in Inwood Hill park.

Hiding ducks, same park.

I continued to experiment with my favorite cookbook, Lucid Food.

The world’s best granola:

Golden beet and barely risotto:

James and I spent far too much money participating in the 3D movie craze.  We saw Alice in Wonderland.  So bad, no words, don’t go.

Anticipating fresh spring greens, I made herbed vinegar for salad dressing.

Fill a jar with herbs (in this case basil and thyme),

boil the vinegar and add to the jar.  Allow it to sit for two weeks.  Use as desired.

Another warm day meant rhubarb spritzer.  Boil the rhubarb in water and strain into a pitcher

Pour over ice, add spritzer and a sprig of mint, garnish with strawberries.

Refreshing.

Also from Lucid Food–Watercress and Enoki Mushroom salad.

On the nice days, it has been very hard to stay inside, so James and I spent even more time in Morningside Park photographing signs of spring.

And we always came home to more food.  Lemon Bars.