Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Growing up Goan with homemade remedies

Goan leg of lamb lunch  |  Homemade remedies & growing up Goan on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Typical Goan lunch @ Mom's: Leg of vinegary-roasted lamb, mango salad and saffron rice  }
In my haste and excitement to share my rectified state-of-lush-ness, I completely forgot to actually tell you why some cocktails deserve to be treated (and enjoyed) like natural medicine. Eat your vegetables, yes, but drink your herbs and vitamins, too!

But first, a bit about how I grew up:

I'm a first-generation American born to immigrant parents that met at a party in Manhattan—oddly enough, they're actually from the same area (although perhaps not so odd, since the party was related to their common heritage). Like most children born in the 80's to foreigners, my parents were pretty determined to bring us up as American as possible, meaning that we were not spoken to in their common dialect (which upsets me to no end today), and we enjoyed a variety of foods (although non were typically "American", apart from the damn good burgers my parents grilled out on our deck. I didn't have peanut butter or macaroni and cheese until college!).

Probably 70% of what we ate at home was definitely Goan, or Goan-influenced, which really isn't so far from basic Mediterranean fare (Goan food, and  Goan dialects, are a hybrid of Portuguese and Indian). Actually, a lot of the flavors that are sprinkled throughout Goan food is really similar to Sicilian—both being influenced by water, Arabs, and tropical climates, so: lots of small-scale fish, almonds, pistachios and vinegar-pickled/cured vegetables and meat. Goan cuisine then veers stiffly away because it's heavy in pork and coconut, which of course aren't as common in Sicilian food.

The remaining 30% of our diet was greatly influenced by our extended family, travels, and the fact that my parents are both great cooks that like to experiment—so a few German dishes here, a couple of Southern Italian meals there, some flamboyant French dessert way back over there, etc.

Other than the majority of what we ate, the other thing that my parents were insistent on incorporating into our childhoods (whether for the sake of preservation or because their way just made more sense...or because we grew up without health insurance), was natural home remedies.

Have a high fever? No Tylenol for us. Instead we applied an onion compress (and of course cancelled any subsequent social engagements, because that pungent odor tends to linger in hair, especially long hair like mine). Stomach cramps or a chill? Cupping performed on the floor of our den (although I eloquently referred to it as "fire on my belly!", and only in the last 10 years did I realize this was an actual medical "procedure" performed throughout the world). Chest congestion? No Dayquil for us, but a Vicks application before bed and an Egg Flip on an empty stomach.

Funnily enough, the concept of an Egg Flip (which is basically coffee + egg + liquor + sugar) is considered "Paleo"/"Primal" these days (although sans alcohol and most of the sugar). And Goan culture is just one of many that gets the health benefits of the combination (Vietnam has a version, too, for example). The coffee essentially "burns" through whatever is gunking up your system and delivers antioxidants, while the raw egg (which is sanitized by the hot coffee and alcohol, although raw eggs don't bother me at all) provides nutrients and protein to bolster you up. The sugar makes it more palatable for children (now I make it without), and the alcohol keeps things clean and knocks you out so your body can recover while you get extra sleep.

And when drunk on an empty stomach, the combination cleans out your system (I think you know what I mean), and makes you feel strong and vibrant. We used to have this early in the morning if we weren't feeling too hot and were usually well enough by the time the school bus rolled by to get ourselves to class.

All this to say: the idea of herbal home remedies or what I used to call "voodoo" medicine, is something that comes naturally to me, and something I strongly believe in.

Which is where medicinal mixology comes in. Ever since I first started enjoying spirits, I've always veered toward the bitter, herb-y concoctions. Whether my body was craving that goodness or just refuting the idea of garishly-colored cocktails, I don't know, but I've always been this way.

Some of my favorites?
  • Bitters: The most medicinal and curative of the bunch. Bitters like Gran Classico (and formerly, Campari), are essentially elixirs containing highly concentrated dosages of all the goodness squeezed out of herbs and roots like artichoke leaf, angelica, dandelion, chamomile, hyssop leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, yarrow, gentian, burdock, ginger, orange peel, fennel seed, etc.

    Bitters are generally used in drinks that are aperitivos/apertifs (which stimulate the appetite) or digestivos/digestifs (which help you digest). A healthy digestive system is one of the most important indicators of overall vitality—if your insides are all gummed up, you won't be able to absorb all the nutrients from the food that you eat and you'll feel the effects of the toxins trapped in your system with bloating, heartburn, less clear and vibrant skin, nails and hair, and a general feeling of stuffiness. You'll also be much more prone to catching colds.

    If I had a meal that was either too big or didn't agree with me, I'd much rather reach for a dark brown bottle of aromatic goodness to stimulate digestive enzymes and help cleanse my liver, than a bottle of antacids that would just mask the symptoms.

  • Whisky/Bourbon: The former means "water of life" in Gaelic, and rightly so, as it's an antiseptic and considered to keep heart disease at bay when drunk in moderation because it raises the body's level of antioxidants (just like red wine), helping you absorb a greater proportion of the phenol chemicals that protect the heart. They both also contain good cholesterol to help your body heal itself, ellagic acid (which is also found in fruit and known to combat rogue cells that cause cancer), and help minimize the negative symptoms of colds and coughs.

  • Tequila: Bourbon was always my spirit of choice, but I have to say that I think Tequila is edging its way up. I never drank Tequila in college, so perhaps that's why I don't have the same Jose-Cuervo-fuelled negative impressions that many do. But good Tequila, enjoyed sanely, actually has some beneficial properties—it can lower cholesterol, alleviate mild strain, tension and headaches, and may decrease the risk of colon cancer (the latter seems a bit far-fetched to me, though—but you never know!).

  • Gin: Most people's first experience with Gin is a Gin & Tonic. Funny how the "tonic" part communicates the health benefit right there, right? Tonic water contains quinine, which prevents malaria—and pretty much explains why all the folks colonizing land in the Americas threw it back non-stop. Gin itself is made from juniper berries, a natural diuretic that promotes kidney function, helps keep your system running smoothly, and decreases blood-glucose levels. Gin is also in the same camp as Whisky/Bourbon, in that it's said to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes and boost good (HDL) cholesterol.

The majority of what we drink at home is either one of the above straight up or on the rocks, or sometimes with the addition of these (or a combination of them): sparkling water, fresh lemon/lime juice, and mint/basil. But to make some cocktails, like my preferred Negroni or Margarita, a few other ingredients need to be tossed in. And then of course, there's wine, but you already know that red wine is good for you, right? After all, the longest-living communities in the world have this in common.

With or without health benefits, perhaps the best reason to enjoy a drink is just that—it's enjoyable. Obviously all of these potential good properties are swiftly cancelled out if enjoyed in excess, though, so let's all do as St. Thomas Aquinas suggested and drink (only) "to the point of hilarity". Cheers!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rituals

Handmade knit cotton napkins  |  Rituals on *sparklingly  |  http://sparkingly.blogspot.com
{  Freesia, orchids + stack of new, handmade knit cotton napkins  }

Do you know what does make me happy? I mean, really ridiculously happy? When my weekends include a hearty dose of polishing-the-home and gently-taking-care-of-myself rituals, plus lots of creating-of-things with my hands, like:
  • Freshening up our vases with new, vibrant blooms after a trip to my flower guy
  • Unpacking groceries and filling up bowls with onions and garlic and stacking washed tomatoes and lemons on platters across our countertop
  • Making an "old-fashioned" type of Sunday dinner with chicken soup or a roast birdie, and then packing up the leftovers for lunch
  • Dusting all the surfaces and sweeping the floors (and wondering every week how two very tidy people can create so much dust—I blame NYC, of course)
  • Adding drops of essential oils into glass pots of melting coconut oil and cacao butter every few weeks to make my lotions and potions
  • Pulling off the bedsheets and snapping on crisp, fresh new ones every other week
  • Giving some love to the plants on our windowsills
  • Knitting up a storm of useful things
  • Baking up some nutty, dense muffins and cakes

Raw Cacao Torte Muffins  |  Rituals on *sparklingly  |  http://sparkingly.blogspot.com
{  Refined-sugar/Gluten-free Raw Cacao Torte Muffins from two weekends ago  }
Coco-Carrot-Buckwheat Muffins  |  Rituals on *sparklingly  |  http://sparkingly.blogspot.com
{  Something successful from last Sunday's baking session  |  Coco-Carrot-Buckwheat Muffins  }
Almond + Blueberry Brunch Cake  |  Rituals on *sparklingly  |  http://sparkingly.blogspot.com
{  Refined-sugar/Gluten-free Almond + Blueberry Brunch Cake from yesterday morning  }

I don't think I'd have any trouble fitting in Laura Ingalls' Big Woods or Lucy Maud Montgomery's Avonlea. Or 1950, I suppose—which involves a larger discussion. Home or business world? Creativity or analytics? To-do's or status sheets? Grocery lists or punch sheets? Creating with my hands or popping open PowerPoint? Staring at a screen or starting at, for-the-love-of-all-that-is-good-in-the-world, just about anything else?

Hand-knit tank  |  Rituals on *sparklingly  |  http://sparkingly.blogspot.com
{  Hazy gray summer tank, in progress last week  }

Of course, the point of all that fluffing and buffing is to settle back with a book on the couch to admire my handiwork. While sipping on a tumbler of tequila or a glass of wine, depending on the season and mood. And some enjoyable show that doesn't require too much brainpower to follow along with on in the background to keep me company and because I don't enjoy silence.

And then Monday morning comes and back to the corporate world I go. So long, Little House.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I think it's time to stop knitting napkins

Handmade knit cotton napkins  |  I think it's time to stop knitting napkins on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Stack-o-handmade-knit-cotton-napkins  }
Three sets of 4 napkins each, all ready for company. I think of the two styles, I'm leaning more towards the fluffy, brioche-stitch ones. The linen-stitch ones, which make a nice, flat, woven piece are more "napkin-like", but I like the tactile quality of the brioche ones. Plus, it's just fun to say "brioche".

Handmade knit cotton napkins  |  I think it's time to stop knitting napkins on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Brioche-stitch, naturally-colored handmade knit cotton napkins, up close  }
Handmade knit cotton napkins  |  I think it's time to stop knitting napkins on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Bright brioche-stitch, handmade knit cotton napkins, fanned out  }
Handmade knit cotton napkins  |  I think it's time to stop knitting napkins on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Linen-stitch naturally-colored handmade knit napkins up close)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stirred, not shaken

Restocking my home bar at Astor Wines & Spirits  |  Stirred, not shaken on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Restocking the bar at Astor Wines & Spirits  }
We're not what you'd call "drinkers", but neither are we teetotalers. A nice glass of wine on a regular basis or a proper cocktail on occasion versus shots at the bar or weekend binges is how we do it.

But it had been quite a while since I'd had a nice cocktail at home—which was entirely caused by our lack of ingredients. We always have a decent selection of wine, a bottle of whisky, and usually a bottle of spirits picked up on vacation in the Caribbean (Antiguan Rum, Mexican Tequila Reposado), but as for the additions to mix a non-straight-up drink, we were a bit deficient.

After comparing costs for the specific spirits I wanted across local wine stores (since they offer free delivery in Manhattan when you spend a certain amount), I went with Astor Wines & Spirits for my hefty order. The store itself, an eco-friendly, landmark building near NYU and Union Square, is just lovely, and they offer classes and tastings at Astor Center, their "school", but given the heatwave, I had no intention of lugging bottles home, so to the website I went!

Now you may have already gauged from all I've written on the general theme, but just in case you haven't: I'm a big believer in food as medicine, which trickles nicely over to drinks as medicine. Cocktails did originally start as tonics to heal the stomach and mind, after all (medicinal mixology, if you will), before giving way to the hedonism-inducing concoctions of today.

I've always been a fan of what my friend calls "old man drinks", i.e., stiff, bitter, not-at-all-sweet cocktails, like a Negroni. So first order of business was getting the ingredients for that: Gin, Bitters (Campari is the bitter of choice for a Negroni) and Sweet Vermouth (usually Martini & Rossi). But while poking around online I discovered something upsetting: Campari changed its formulation a few years ago to remove the cochineal (a beetle secretion used to dye food, cosmetics, and textiles red) that gave the spirit its iconic neon hue, in favor of the horrid Red #40! Dislike.

When I was researching this absurdity I came across Medicinal Mixology, a really great site with the goal of resparking:
"the practice of crafting restorative healthy cocktails using the purest ingredients availableresulting libations will titillate the senses, promote physical wellbeing, and soothe the soul."
and they also note,
"if you want to avoid drinking neon-hued drinks with ridiculous names that are too embarrassing to say out loud, then you might like what we’re doing. We don’t claim to be experts; in fact, we’ll make mistakes and you’ll hate some of our recipes, but we’re here to provide resources and experiments for those interested in improving their well-being one glass at a time by avoiding artificial additives."

Match that inspiring mission with clean design, glossy pics and witty writing, and I had my afternoon reading break material! While the site no longer seems to be updated, there's a plethora of really interesting tidbits and recipes that you might enjoy, if you're anything like me.

The authors have some background and history on the whole Campari hullabahoo, as well as suggestions for how to replace Campari (and incorporate a much more interesting vermouth). I went with their suggestions and purchased Gran Classico Bitter to replace Campari and Carpano Antica Formula for my vermouth. I kept my own counsel for the gin, though, and bought Bluecoat American Dry Gin (to be honest, even though I had tried it before and liked it, I would have bought it anyway, because how you can resist great language like, "Assert your independence with Bluecoat"?).

Once my spirits arrived I stirred our Negronis up (no cocktail shaker in the house! must remedy this) according to MM's recipe and while I liked it, it was a little too sweet for me. Next time I'll just do ½ oz Sweet Vermouth. The traditional Negroni recipe calls for a 1:1:1 ratio, while Medicinal Mixology recommends:

For 1 Negroni (that dials down the sweetness)
1 ½ oz Gin
1 oz Gran Classico
¾ oz Sweet Vermouth

We enjoyed these potent potions on Homemade Pizza Night, a pretty regular occurrence around here, as you may have noticed. I like having semi-regular rituals like that, where the basics are always the same: we get regular dough for R and gluten-free flatbread for me (let's be real: I can't be bothered with making two homemade doughs from scratch on a school night!), dribble on some tomato sauce, and then on goes whatever bitter greens are fresh in the fridge (Arugula and Escarole are favorites of mine), followed by whatever appropriate cheese we have (regular mozzarella or Bufala). Sometimes if I'm feeling the need for a more substantial pizza, I crack an egg on top before sliding it in the oven.

Going against everything I said above about enjoying the occasional proper cocktail, I had to experiment with my other spirits the next two following nights. Drink #2 was a Margarita, something I practiced making while in North Carolina earlier this month, enjoyed before a Mexican-inspired beef and peppers sautè.

I already had a bottle of Clase Azul Tequila Reposado from Mexico, but I picked up another bottle that seemed intriguing from Astor Wines: Familia Camarena Tequila Reposado. The bottle I had is definitely a sipping tequila, and apparently the Camarena can be, too, but it's also good for cocktails. I like my margaritas mouth-puckeringly tart, with just the slightest hint of sweetness, so I do:

For 1 Margarita
 1 1/2 oz Tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz Triple Sec

I don't like the well-known Cointreau for Triple Sec, so I went with a less sweet, more intensely citrus version featuring Sicilian oranges (naturally): Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec.

Finally, before taking a self-induced-hiatus from cocktails, the last night called for a much more low key Tequila Shandy (4:3:1 ratio of sparkling water, beer and Tequila) for a refreshing prelude to a dinner of Barramundi in a tomato/lemon sauce.

And now I shall be sipping sparkling water and lemon until this coming weekend!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Almost an American

Civics Lessons for the U.S. Naturalization Test  |  Almost an American on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Our coffee table reading material for the last month  |  Civics Lessons for the U.S. Naturalization Test  }

Last we heard, R was waiting to jump through his final hoop for American citizenship: an oral English exam, a written English exam, plus a test on American history, politics and laws. I was considerably more angsty about the whole affair than he was (naturally), and gladly quizzed him from the booklet above whenever he asked.

And then one morning last week, we walked up to 26 Federal Plaza, although perhaps "sweltered our way up" is more accurate, and stood in line for the security checkpoint. At which point I was told the romantic Christmas gift Roberto gave me a few years ago was not allowed inside. The heavily-weaponed guard told me I could either "surrender" my mace (which means I won't get it back), or I could put it somewhere for safekeeping until after our appointment. No way was I going to walk all the way back home, so I ran out and hid it under the rose bushes out front—and when some women looked at me all squirrelly, I had to explain what I was doing so they wouldn't set security on me.

Once all that was handled, we headed up to the 7th floor and waited for R to be called. I'll admit, I was a little peeved that I wasn't required to go in with R. After all, he's getting citizenship through marriage to me, and I've never met with an immigration officer! He's been interviewed at the US Consulate in Naples before immigrating to the U.S., and a few times here in NYC, but I've never had to join him for one of those joint interviews that cover questions like, "What side of the bed does she sleep on? How does she take her coffee?", etc.
USCIS offices, 26 Federal Plaza  |  Almost an American on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services  |  26 Federal Plaza  |  Manhattan  }

Which means that when R was called in, he was asked to come alone (carrying the hefty folder of documents proving our legitimate marriage and cohabitation that I put together). He was gone for just under an hour and the exam ended up being fairly easy—R already speaks near fluent English (that he picked up over the years, he never really studied) and he can write well enough when necessary (because he never studied, sometimes he still writes phonetically), so that just left 100 possible questions like, why did the colonists come to America? Who wrote the Federalist Papers (this is one of the ones I didn't know)? Who's your representative (and, here's another I didn't know)?

Since the American history test was administered orally, that counted as the oral English exam. You had to answer 6 out of 10 correctly, and as R got his first 6 right (yay!), they stopped there. Then he was asked to write down a few sentences in response to a prompt for the written oral exam and that was it!

He walked out carrying a sheet of paper saying his request for citizenship was being recommended for approval and that if it goes through (and no reason it shouldn't), we would receive a letter in the next few weeks with the date and time of his oath-taking ceremony!

Thisclose to being 1 down, 2 to go!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Almond detritus

How not to make almond butter  |  Almond detritus on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Starting with the best of intentions  |  How NOT to make almond butter  }

My ears are ringing like you wouldn't believe and I'm festering in a puddle of failure.

See, I had a few cups of almonds in the freezer and I wanted to make homemade almond butter. But, I made one huge mistake—which led to, what I hope is not permanent, tinnitus.

I've been reading about the benefit of activating nuts to make them easier to digest (which calls for soaking and then drying/dehydrating). So, I soaked my almonds overnight, rinsed them this morning (at 6:58AM—why so early, I have no idea), and then foolishly, foolishly, tossed them right into my blender to begin pulverizing.

Everything I had read online about homemade nut butters say you have to be patient, but at most it will take 10-15 minutes to go from a pile of nuts to smooth, creamy almond (or whichever-nut-have-you) butter. But, a cumulative 55 minutes later, I'm here to tell you, that is rubbish.

Well, rubbish if you do what I did, and soaked your nuts first without drying them properly afterwards.

After my first, mind-splitting 20-minute session, I dumped the nuts back out, spread them on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven to try and dry them out. While they were doing the shake-and-bake in the oven, I peeled and diced up some carrots to make carrot-coconut-buckwheat muffins (which thankfully turned out okay, so at least one success this Sunday morning).

When the almonds seemed as dry as I could get them, back in the blender they went, and another few anxiety-ridden, loud-as-hell, blasting-my-ears-off sessions in the Ninja later, I still had a pile of soft, kinda oily, almond mush. Nowhere near butter.

So my sad little almond clumps are now sitting in the fridge, to be turned into some sort of baked good later this week. And once my hearing has returned, I may try this again...with dry nuts.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Feasting at Eleven Madison Park

There are a couple of restaurants in New York that are just known.

Known for their verging-on-absurd tasting menus, the impeccable service, the crazy chefs, the gorgeous dècor and the impossible-to-get reservations. A few that come to mind are Per Se, Daniel, Megu, Masa, Alain Ducasse, Le Bernardin and Gramercy Tavern.

And of course, Eleven Madison Park.

Kitchen Tour |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Kitchen tour before our molecular cocktail  }

Where I was most fortunately invited as a guest last week.

Thank goodness, too, because the restaurant only serves a 16-course tasting menu (both at lunch and at dinner), offered at $195 per person.

I had heard of the restaurant because it's so highly-ranked (one of the top restaurants in the world and the Swiss chef, Daniel Humm, has received a James Beard award, etc.) and it's apparently quite innovative (molecular gastronomy and all that).

Now, I didn't know I was invited until the day of, which is probably good because otherwise I would have been so hyped up, but instead, I just "prepared" by reading a few Yelp reviews that got me really excited because they all seemed to talk about the same good things: incredibly attentive service, a fun and surprising presentation with dishes that are actually recognizable and appetizing (not always the case, apparently, in these molecular gastronomy situations), and an overwhelming concurrence that it was completely worth it. The last is especially shocking because, let's be honest, that price tag (before tax and tip!) is quite steep.

As for my own review, post-meal?

Clambake  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Clambake with Razor Clam, Parker House Roll, and Chowder  }

I have to say everyone was spot on about the service and the presentation.

We were seated (each of us with our own seat-slider-inner) and the ladies were presented with a purse hanger (so essential!) and asked if we had any dietary restrictions before the dinner officially began.  Part of the concept of the restaurant is a focus on NY delicacies, so the first course kicked off with a sweetly-wrapped box containing a savory black and white mini cookie.

And then we proceeded from there for 4 hours until the final course, another box, but this time with a sweet black and white cookie inside. In between were the 14 other courses that were all extremely interesting and beautifully presented. We were also granted a tour of the kitchen—which was the exact opposite of anything you see on reality shows like Gordan Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. It was pristine and gleaming, and ran so smoothly with just a gentle hum, no yelling or banging around of the sparkling copper pots at all.

The nice thing is that we weren't just paraded around the stations, which would have been awful as I'd have felt so in the way. Instead a bar-height table was set up for us along the wall in the middle of the kitchen, where we could take a look around and learn about the restaurant's operations (here's some trivia for you: the kitchen is open 24 hours a day! Apparently there's always someone there either cleaning or prepping one aspect of the menu at all times). After properly guffawing over that tidbit, a pastry chef came over to demonstrate a special cocktail that involved nitrogen to make insta-sorbet, which was layered over muddled cherry preserves and topped with gin.

Then, back to finish the rest of our courses, which included a magic trick to deliver the final one (we each picked from a deck of cards, but this deck of cards had ingredients on them instead of a number and suit, and somehow the ingredient we chose was magically the flavor of the chocolate that had already been secreted under our dessert plate).

Lamb  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Lamb: Crisped w/Leek, Bibb Lettuce & Meyer Lemon + Roasted w/Freekeh, Mint & Leek  }
Pretzel Picnic Basket  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Picnic basket with Greensward cheese, Pretzels, Mustard and Pickled Strawberries  }
Tableside Egg Creams |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{ Tableside Egg Creams with Vanilla and Seltzer  }
Mint Sorbet |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Mint Sorbet with Fernet Branca and Chocolate Ganache  }

But, the real finale for me was the presentation of one, chef-signed (!) copy of the restaurant's beautiful cookbook (but really a coffee table book) to each of us from our generous host. This tome is seriously a work of art and it details the history of the restaurant, how it's run, the schedule and many of the dishes. Given the exacting standards and the variety of ingredients, this will definitely be more of an inspiration than something that will sit in our kitchen to be splattered on.

Cookbook |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Pretzel course served w/Apple Brandy, presentation of cookbook and final wrapped cookie  }

We also didn't know anything of the menu ahead of time, and were only presented with a written copy at the end (so I could see exactly where I blacked out).

Tasting Menu |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Summer 2013 16-course Tasting Menu at Eleven Madison Park  }

And since that picture is a bit grainy, here's the entire menu served on July 8th, 2013:

CHEDDAR: Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple
SEA URCHIN: Snow with Smoked Cantaloupe and Razor Clam
TOMATO: Gelee with Summer Beans and Saffron Oil
SURF CLAM: Fava Bean, Meyer Lemon and Green Garlic
LITTLENECK CLAM: Clambake with Razor Clam, Parker House Roll, and Chowder
FOIE GRAS: Terrine with Black Truffle and Asparagus
CARROT: Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments
LOBSTER: Poached with Snap Peas, Morels and Sweetbreads
NETTLES: Creamed with Fingerling Potato and Goat Cheese
LAMB: Crisped with Leek, Bibb Lettuce and Meyer Lemon; Roasted with Freekeh, Mint and Leek
GREENSWARD: Pretzel, Mustard and Pickled Strawberries
MALT: Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer
MINT: Sorbet with Fernet Branca and Chocolate Ganache
SHEEP'S MILK: Cheesecake with Mango and Peanut
PRETZEL: Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt
CHOCOLATE: Sweet Black and White Cookie with Apricot

All of my dishes were prepared gluten-free and my favorites were definitely the Carrot (composed tableside with a meat grinder used to make the carrot puree that we then swirled with our mix-ins and sauces—like quail egg, horseradish, mustard, pea mousse, sesame seeds and chili oil—to create our own tartare), the Lobster, the Nettles and the Sheep's Milk.

Look how dreamily that Carrot dish was presented—I only wish I had a picture of the gleaming meat-grinder-turned-carrot-grinder that was attached to our table to create those silky mounds:

Carrot Tartare  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Carrot Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments  }
I finally arrived home a little after 11PM, completely satiated (although, with a teensy craving for steak tartare—ha!). I don't know if I'd ever have indulged in that meal on my own, but I'm beyond grateful that I was lucky enough to have been treated to what can only be called an experience (not at all a mere "dinner").

P.S. We were also sent home with a beautiful bag containing a mason jar with Eleven Madison Park's homemade (gluten-free for me!) granola.

P.P.S. Apologies for the quality of most of my photos, but as the evening wore on and the sun went down it became hard to get a good shot—and this wasn't the kind of place to activate my flash in!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Popping by the Swedish Consulate

Consulate General of Sweden in New York |  Poppping by the Swedish Consulate on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Consulate General of Sweden in New York  }

In the ongoing, but hopefully rapidly winding down saga that has become my bureaucratic life, I visited the Swedish Consulate earlier this week for my residency interview. What I thought would be a pretty cut-and-dried experience (husband was born a Swedish citizen, wife has the right to live and work there via marriage to said-husband, so, we just fill out some forms, write a check and we're done—right?) turned out to be a bit convoluted—at least initially.

I submitted my request online at the beginning of the year, which called for filled-out forms, proof of marriage and our life together, and payment, naturally. Since the Swedes wanted to know where we'd live when we arrive if they granted my residency request, they required that my mother-in-law fill out paperwork, too, confirming that she would let us stay with her until we get set up.

But after she filled out her forms, we were then asked by the Immigration Board in Sweden to confirm where we live and work in Sweden today (and to provide proof of such), despite the (obvious) issue that we currently live in NYC and are in fact asking permission for me to live and work in Sweden. How can we give proof if we haven't received permission for me to do just that? Why would I rent an apartment or buy a plane ticket without the legal documents necessary?

Silly Swedes.

So after some more strongly-worded emails, things seemed to be sifting out and I finally received notice two weeks ago for my interview this week (it would have been even sooner if I was in town). Oddly enough, the Swedish Consulate here seemed to be moving ahead, while the Migration Board in Sweden was still asking for more documentation of our non-existing life in Sweden (foolish).

I was told to come alone and bring the original documents I had submitted online (marriage certificate, passport, bank statements, tax filings, apartment lease, etc.) to meet with them. So I armed myself with all of that, and donned some cerulean blue pants and a cornflower yellow silk top (I'm a big believer in wearing bright colors anyway, but a subtle nod to the Swedish flag via my outfit was definitely on my mind, too) and headed up to Park Avenue in midtown.

The Swedish Consulate is not nearly as charming and lovely as the townhouse completely committed to the Italian Consulate—instead, the Swedish Consulate is housed in a huge edifice and takes up a few floors—but on the welcoming side, they had a plate of fresh kanelbullar waiting for visitors and I was in and out in 20 minutes!

My interviewer (who shares the same name as my mother-in-law, which I took as a good sign) asked me super straightforward questions, like my husband's name and date of birth, where we were married, did I marry of my own free will, why do I want to live in Sweden and what type of work I do and that was it!

Now I wait...again—although the woman did tell me that she saw no reason why the wait would be long, so fingers crossed!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Coffee mornings at Gasoline Alley

Noho's Gasoline Alley Coffeeshop  |  Coffee mornings at Gasoline Alley on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{ Coffee shop mornings via }

Now that I'm back, I take my weekday morning coffee at a bar in Noho, instead of at the table in a breakfast nook overlooking a horse paddock. Have to say, last week's view was pretty damn good, but this week's isn't so bad, either.

A guy named Patrick (no, seriously, @aguynamedpatrick) recently shared an Instagram video (click the 'via' link above) that perfectly captures (one of) my local coffee spot(s) (the other being La Colombe). Go watch it real quick.

So breezy, airy and delightful, no? Plus, a cute couple kissing out front just makes it perfect.

Gasoline Alley is run by Australians and they just serve basic coffee drinks (no venti-caramel-mocha nonsense) and a few pastries. And of course homemade, hefty-sized kombucha ($5) which is delightful, especially on IF days. My usual order is a cappuccino ($4), which is one of the best I've found in the city. Perfectly frothed with pillowy milk that lends a lushness and a slight sweetness to the cup, and espresso that's not too bitter.

They also used to serve Brooklyn's Mast Brothers Chocolate at the best prices I've ever seen, but they don't keep them in stock anymore, unfortunately.

If that isn't enough to convince you of the awesomeness of this place, and persuade you to stop by if you're nearby—look, there's a bike hanging from the ceiling for no conceivable reason!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Dixie 4th

Carolina Country  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Carolina Country: a crazy shade of green thanks to all the rain  |  July 2013  }

Yesterday I woke up at 4AM, got into a car, and wound along country roads, past quiet homesteads and barns to the airport for the first flight out to JFK. By just after 8AM I was back in the rat-tat-tat and buzzz-buzzz-buzzzzing of New York. My regular view could hardly compare with the vibrant and verdant view I had just left (see: above).

I had just spent a cozy, homey 4th of July holiday down south in North Carolina with my fellow "y'all"-saying brethren, while poor R remained up in New York with the Yankees (another instance of our opposite schedules being a giant pain). How ironic that his US Citizenship Interview + American civics test + English exam are rapidly approaching (less than two weeks away!), and he couldn't even celebrate Independence Day properly.

When my friend whom I hadn't seen in almost two years (this is what happens when you have a whole country between you) invited us down to visit her family with her at their new'ish house, I was thrilled. The chance to take a break from the city, spend time with my friend and her great family (seriously: so great), and be thisclose to some horsies and a crazy loveable dog? I bought a ticket as soon as I could!

R already knew he wouldn't be able to join me because of work, but I'm glad he didn't mind me popping down here alone. Unless you count quick little afternoon jaunts across or up the Hudson and East River, and of course that all-too-short amazing trip to the Caribbean, I've only left the city two or three times total so far this year and you wouldn't believe how excited I was for some fresh country air, farmer's markets and open spaces.

Runway View at JFK  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  This is why you always fly out of JFK in the morning...and hope for no rain  |  July 2013  }

Getting there was a teensy bit problematic, though. I foolishly packed my red leather bag (that I bought at the markets in Florence 8 years ago and lovingly carried wrapped in towels and plastic for the remaining 2 weeks of my trip through Italy) instead of a rolly suitcase. I must have forgotten that that (heavy) bag is better suited to car trips...or to carrying when R is with me so that he can carry it.

So there was that. Then there's the fact that I had to go to work first. Walking to the subway, descending into its sticky depths, and then trudging to the office, working for a few hours and then repeating made for an intensely disgusting state of things. I was hot, damp, and I had burst a few capillaries in my shoulders from the weight of my luggage.

The last few times I've traveled I've taken a car service, but this time, since I wasn't leaving at some awful time, I decided taking the subway made more sense (plus saved $100 round trip!), especially since I had to head out at rush hour.

After arriving at the airport breathless and a wee bit grungy, I wasn't so sure it was such a great idea, though. And then of course I get to the airport and the signage is all whackadoo so I wound up at the wrong terminal and than had to run with my bag banging against my hips only to get to the right gate in the right terminal to find 5 flights waiting to leave from the same gate and mine pushed back 90 minutes, thanks to the storm. When we finally boarded we ended up sitting on the runway for another 90 minutes.

Eventually I get there at midnight and my friend (who sweetly took over the bag situation) and her sister are waiting for me at the airport and they whoosh me back to their family's house and I wake up the next morning after sleeping in the most comfortable bed to this gorgeousness:

Grazing horses  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Horsey morning—they're wearing masks because all the rain drew out loads of flies  |  July 2013  }

Over the three full days that I was there we kept busy barbecuing, bonfire-ing and boating plus lots of petting of the animals (ponies and puppies), porch-sitting, and puttering about aimlessly:

There was a trip to the Farmer's Market (which included my first full-on meal down South, so obviously fried chicken and fried green tomatoes were on my plate), a drive out to Fearrington Village to visit with one of my college roommates (whom I haven't seen for an even longer time—and oddly enough, she just moved to the next town over), and a ride out to Jordan Lake to try out my friend's brother's new boat and specially-purchased tube.

There was also the paging thru of Bon Appetit and Martha Stewart magazines while watching silly TV, meandering out to the vegetable and herb plot for some fresh-picked greens for our meal, the making of homemade ice cream (which was then churned on the back porch!), the building of a bonfire and roasting of s'mores over it to the soundtrack of our very own fireworks going off, a walk through UNC Chapel Hill's campus and, I finally learned how to make a proper margarita (a very useful skill).

Country porch and BBQing  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
 {  North Carolina July 4th feast prep  }
Boating on Jordan Lake, NC  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Boating and tubing on Jordan Lake  |  4th of July 2013  }
UNC Chapel Hill  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  A little jaunt to the UNC Chapel Hill campus for a collegiate stroll  |  July 2013  }

But you know what I really loved? The house itself. It was such a perfect setup (which was of course made even better by the kind family that filled it!). Think: wide front porch, open kitchen and double-height living room, second floor balcony overlooking the living room, outdoor deck with a gazebo, screen porch with a lounge area and a dining area, and all of that opening onto a beautiful, literally rolling lawn that led down to the horse paddock (which also has a bonfire pit). There were just so many pretty and cozy areas of the house to sit and chat or watch the dogs and their crazy antics. Speaking of, look at this face!

Border Collie at rest  |  A Dixie 4th on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  One of the dogs of the manor  |  North Carolina  |  July 2013  }

Such a lovely time.  So glad I got to tag along down to Dixie. A very happy 4th of July, indeed!

Monday, July 1, 2013

2013 in pictures: June

Hey there—are y'all surviving sans Google Reader?

I am...just barely. I chose Feedly as my new service, and you can find me there or on Bloglovin', or if you use another service, here's my RSS feed. Feedly is a little prettier, but it doesn't always show images very nicely (for instance, this post will be all sorts of whackadoo over there).

Speaking of, thus concludes my PSA...Click below to catch up on June!

{ Sublime weekends  |  Jun 3, 2013 }
{ All the small things |  Jun 4, 2013 }
{ Date night, sort of  |  Jun 6, 2013 }
{ Turmeric tummy tamer  |  Jun 10, 2013 }
{ So-called "Bella Vita"  |  Jun 11, 2013 }
{ The case for Svenska  |  Jun 12, 2013 }
{ An Italian intermezzo  |  Jun 18, 2013 }
{ Home linens  |  Jun 21, 2013 }
{ (Not) cavorting with the masses  |  Jun 24, 2013 }
{ A smorgasbord of Smorgasburg  |  Jun 26, 2013 }
{ Tacos, tortillas, tequila!  |  Jun 28, 2013 }
{ Knitty in the city  |  Jun 29, 2013 }