Coffee, Croissant and Heartbreak

22 Jan

It has been a while since l last posted and I am sorry to say but this isn’t for you the reader, rather therapy for me. I know there are many who do not appreciate the exhilarating highs and depressing lows that football can deliver but for me as I remain 3000 miles from ‘home’ it is a tangible handle on my old life.

Having a quality coffee shop close by has quickly become an essential signifier of any good neighbourhood. Thankfully mine is closer than most meaning that I can literally wake up and smell the coffee. I have no daily need for caffeine, rather it is a rare treat and hence I cross my fingers for the best barista.

Today it was a good one, a perfect cappuccino from my favourite coffee wrangler made me smile in the freezing cold. It was only a short walk to Floyds which as to be expected for such a big game was full and noisy by 8.30am. A tense first half low on incident was followed by drama, action, intrigue and finally devastation.

I left bewildered, unable to accept that from being so close to elation my day was now drowned by the despair of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. If an emotion can be melodramatic yet genuine then this was it. Not even an excellent chocolate croissant devoured on the trudge home would elicit an upswing in mood.

Now I am left with the Sunday blues and questions of what if???????



12 Dec

There is nothing greater than the sandwich.

It pretty much encapsulates how I got into food, and to this day is still the thing that gives me the most pleasure.

I am not sure how it happened but bread was my first food love. The natural progression was then to fill the bread and from the  humble yet disgusting combinations of tuna, hard-boiled egg and ketchup to slightly less revolting concoctions, my love affair with the sandwich began. I will often spend far too much time and money going from store to store picking up ingredients just for the joy of putting it together myself. However sometimes you need to concede that the professionals have an edge and allow them to do the work for you. Hence how I came to be at the Court Street Grocers.

Somewhat implausibly for a store that only opened in late 2010 they won the 2011 Best General Store in NY Magazine, but over the last 12 months they have really grown into it. The store sells a selection of hard to find foodstuffs, some of which harp back strongly to the owners youth, others just delicious but not readily available. They also sell cheeses, salamis, dairy, seasonal fruit and some sweet treats, most notably  delicious ‘rugelah’ crafted by the owners father,  which are not really rugelah at all, but more strudel bites.

I digress, Turkey Club on Pullman.

It is at the back of the store where the magic really happens in a small open kitchen where all the sandwich ingredients are prepared in-house. Just reduced in price to a more palatable $12 this sandwich is of the kind that makes you fall in love. The ‘club’ supposedly invented in Upstate NY is often to be found on hotel lobby menus but rarely ever done right.

Court Street nails it on the head. On top, moist white turkey meat (and no this is not an oxymoron) with lettuce and bacon, then toasted bread with mayo all stacked on top of the more flavourful brown meat that has been confited and reheated on a grill to give it some crunch. Much like any great restaurant dish this sandwich has a perfect balance of textures, flavour and aesthetics.

While $12 plus tax and service should you wish is not cheap, it is large enough to be a very satisfactory meal, even better when rounded off with their signature rugelah.

NYC is a sandwich town so there are many good options in my neighbourhood alone, Van Horn does an excellent Southern fried chicken with pickled red cabbage. Ted and Honey have a fantastic pulled pork with coleslaw, and Frankie’s sandwiches are all great but try my latest favourite the roast beef with pepperoncini’s.

The Cyclist vs The Antelope

24 Oct

This photo taken in Jan 2011 shows how narrow the bridge is even when empty.

This is an interactive post, first of all you have to watch this very funny if a little unnerving You Tube clip.

Now imagine the course not to be the African Savannah but the urban jungle of NYC and more specifically the narrow tract of land that is the Brooklyn Bridge bike path. Admittedly the chances of being thrown from your bike by a galloping antelope (Hartebeest buck actually) are a little slimmer than a spatially unaware human stepping out into the path of an onrushing bike. However you hope that the human intellect at least offers some added protection.

It is true that the bike path is narrow, and in terms of urban planning a pretty poor solution since the entire width of the foot bridge can be no more than 12 feet and this is meant to accommodate pedestrians, tourists (they are their own sub species) and two-way bike traffic. The three city employees stationed across the bridge speak of the danger to all concerned.

Having made it 3/4 of the way across I suddenly saw my nightmare, a large female stepping over the white line and directly into my path. I dinged my bell, shouted and braked all before she had registered her misstep, even so our shoulders collided  and I was sent flying.

This is where mine and the antelope’s story meet. Watch again as the antelope heartlessly regains its own footing and travels on without even looking back to the poor stricken rider. Yes folks the antelope, (sorry big-boned lady) that hit me did the very same without even turning her head, she just carried on walking. Several passers-by checked that I was ok and also made the point that she had not even broken stride to see what she had just caused. Fortunately I only suffered a minor but painful cut to my heel as the wooden surface of the bridge was much more forgiving than asphalt would have been.

Buzzing with adrenaline I chased after the woman to try to illicit some reaction, if only a fudged apology, but amazingly she ignored my existence again and carried on walking. It seems ironic then that a week earlier I had been told by an overly aggressive driver that when he rides his bike he,”respects the car, because the car is what can hurt you”. The truth is it is not the car, the bike or the pedestrian that can hurt you…it is the human. So when out and about beware of stupidity, it surrounds us…….

Also check out this very funny NYC biking video….

Tokyo Bike Takes Manhattan

16 Oct

As a wedding present to my wife I bought her a bike. In part it was because I wanted to have a cycle partner for those days when nothing is better than exploring a city by bike, but also because I knew she coveted the Blue Gray Bisou Tokyo Bike more than any other.

We followed the signs from home that led us onto the narrow Brooklyn Bridge bike path and into the city heading towards the Hudson River where there is a picturesque path which travels up the west side of  Manhattan. From here it is a tranquil ride to anywhere from the West Village all the way up to Columbia University and beyond.

We however, had a lunch date in mind so crossed into the Village to check out the Spotted Pig. Long waits abound in the evening but we only had to wait 10 minutes for our spot looking directly into the tiny kitchen at lunch. I knew before I arrived that I had to try the much blogged about burger but Angela struggled to choose between the battered pollock and thrice cooked chips and the pumpkin salad. For some reason she picked the salad….

Lunch turned out to be delicious, the unadorned burger was juicy and flavourful (I opted to leave off the Roquefort cheese), the salad was apparently good and we enjoyed the devilled eggs and a not quite chocolate nemesis cake. (having worked at River Cafe I had hoped the chef, April Bloomfield had ‘borrowed’ the recipe). The service was the best I have experienced in a long time and reminded me how good a waiter can be. It was personable without being in your face and absent until needed, just the right balance.

We left very satisfied and with nothing pressing we entered the West Village and mooched for a good couple of hours. There are an almost unlimited number of nice stores, cafes and restaurants in this neighbourhood and should you become bored with them you are close to the Highline or The Hudson River Greenway, both are a great way to walk off lunch.

A Year In The Making

10 Oct

As we head into autumn it seems strange to think that I have now completed the seasons in NYC. When I first arrived on this adventure I did not know exactly where it would lead, but, I had a good idea. Fortunately all those tentative plans that I did not wish to verbalise for fear of scorching them have come to pass. I am now a married man, and very happy too, still awaiting my Green Card, but hopefully well on the way. I have made new friends, reconnected with some lost ones and been joined in this great city by old and trusted ones.

Whilst I left London for New York I slowly learnt that it was in fact Brooklyn that I was moving to. In terms of the culinary scene it is unrivalled. Everyday someone is starting afresh and pushing the envelope, there is still so much I am yet to see and sample. Life here is good. Everybody  struggles to survive the high cost of living, the grime, the noise, and all the other pitfalls of major city living but there is not a single opportunity that is outside of my grasp should I wish to seize it.

While my work future lies in the hands of the government there is still one great new adventure to look forward to in the coming year. Perhaps unlimited time off seemed appealing when I first arrived but it very quickly lost its sheen and now I yearn for a sense of belonging.

Again this is yet another post not really about food specifically, but I have learnt that while my life may revolve around food it is not always the most interesting part of the story and sometimes the journey outshines the destination.

Here are some of my favourite pictures from the last years food inspired escapades.

Giant pumpkins, the first photo I took…Oct 2010

Learning to bake…Nov 2010

Discovering Red Hook, my favourite place in all NYC…Dec 2010

Back to Brooklyn, after a short trip home to London the first thing I did when I got back was to head to the Brooklyn Bridge…Jan 2011

Using my new found…Feb 2011

The Brooklyn Kitchen, Foodie Heaven…. March 2011

London, BBQ with friends followed by serious poker…April 2011

Tiki Disco at Roberta’s, summer has arrived…May 2011

Getting away from it all, Amagansett…..June 2011

Friends and Family in town for my wedding….July 2011

Post wedding relaxation, Shelter Island..Aug 2011

Flushing Meadows US Open…Sept 2011

Biometrics, Bicycles and Bernstein

25 Sep

The overflowing pond at Green-Wood Cemetary following Irene

It’s funny how two such benign words when pulled together can have such great meaning. When you mention ‘Green Card’, most people in most places around the world instantly know what you are talking about. My personal quest to get my hands on one and the benefits it brings is in process. Some time in the next few months I will have jumped through all the correct hoops, having paid all the correct people to get the right paperwork I need to be considered a legal alien.

It was the day after Hurricane Irene struck and had it not been for the fallen trees and branches littering the streets you would have never known. The sky was an unbroken blue, but somehow the sun was restrained, making the five-mile ride a pleasure rather than an endurance test. My Biometric appointment (finger prints, photographs and signature) was out in Bay Ridge a distant suburb of Brooklyn and since the trains were still a little unreliable after the 48 hour shut down I saddled up and peddled my way out.

Each neighbourhood I passed had its own identity stamped on by the immigrants that had settled it. Italian, to Polish, to Mexican, Chinese and the Hasidic Jews until at some point near Bay Ridge they seemingly melded together so that one street had a synagogue, the next a giant church and still one more a Chinese community centre.

Once inside the process was pretty painless, just one of those soulless waiting rooms with an LED number screen waiting for the count to reach 34. I read a very funny story from Calvin Trillin’s Eating With The Pilgrims and before I knew it my number was up.

Ever prepared I had found a couple of eating options for the way home. I left Bay Ridge and cycled towards Sunset Park and had some Tacos. They were tasty enough, very cheap and best of all served with the kind of luminous Fanta that they banned in the UK about 20 yrs ago. However this was by no means the highpoint of the day, as just around the corner lay Green-Wood Cemetery, a landmark I had read about but never visited.

Much like Highgate and I am sure Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Green-Wood has a gravitas that extends beyond just visiting its silent residents. Being the highest point in Brooklyn it played a pivotal role in the revolutionary war with the British. It also happens to be one of the largest green spaces in NYC with views to the Statue Of Liberty and deep into Manhattan. Unfortunately bikes are not permitted into the grounds which seems obscure since cars are, but on foot you are able to spot details that may otherwise have passed you by. Hence it was whilst reading up on the history of the revolutionary war that I stumbled upon Leonard Bernstein’s grave. Not that I have any great connection with the composer, it just amused me to have spotted his modest headstone amongst the many grander memorials.

I spent a good hour wandering the grounds barely scratching the surface of the 478 acres. Green spaces like this are so rare and valuable in a city so densely populated. The cemetery offers weekly tours on their own trolley bus, that I am sure give a real insight into the history of the whole place, (this is definitely one of those ‘Not For Tourists’ NYC gems). I on the other hand wandered aimlessly until I decided to head back to the land of the living, only stopping on my way out to have a quick chat with George, the security guard who happily filled me in on his spooky experiences of working nights.

Come On Irene

28 Aug

It’s 6.30pm and all the excitement has died down, people are back on the streets and some businesses are open.

While it seems like a damp squib now it is worth noting that had the worst happened and we were to have been hit by a category 3 hurricane we would not be laughing, but at the same time, it is quite amusing that this city that mocked London’s inability to cope with a snow storm last winter is now the one at a standstill.

From 12pm on Saturday the entire MTA transport network was shut down leaving the streets empty and offering the vast majority of businesses little option but to shutter. So while Friday saw mass panic in the supermarkets, Saturday was eerily deserted streets with last-minute duct taping of windows and Sunday, some strong winds with the odd fallen tree.







All in all nothing to panic over and time enough for people to have a little fun.

TREE FALLS and yes we heard it so we know it happened



Thankfully whatever the weather GOD goes to work……


A Perfect Evening

26 Aug

Perfection is something you strive for but never reach, unless you were never striving for it in the first place.

Plans are great, but mostly they involve a lot of effort and it is difficult to judge the results objectively once you have invested so much. Last minute is obviously unreliable and has potential for disaster but it also lowers the bar allows for the magic of chance.

Saturday last was that perfect evening happened upon with as little organisational effort as is possible when meeting friends.

I wish to clarify the ‘magic of chance’ quickly as there is nothing worse than getting to the point where everyone is hungry but no one knows where or what to eat and invariably you end up at the lowest common denominator which is never a good place to be.

I only leave eating out to chance when I know a neighbourhood well enough to be aware of the options, or that I trust the people I am with  to leave it up to them…..a rare occurence as anyone who knows me will testify.

On this occasion I had the luxury of both options. My original thought had been to return to the Good Fork a restaurant I really enjoyed on my last visit, but our friends had other ideas and thanks to them we had a delicious dinner in the garden of HOMEMADE.

The menu is simple, broken down into snacks, salads, sharing platters and open sandwiches. It is perfectly suited for sharing and as soon as the first snacks arrived we knew we would be happy for the rest of the evening. This was no culinary masterpiece, the  food as the name suggests is reminiscent of a meal you would put together at home having stopped off at some nice food store. Good olives marinated in warm oil with citrus zest, a garlicky artichoke dip smeared on a baguette, potatoes roasted with garlic and a spicy chipotle aioli. The salad was refreshing and light, with slightly tart granny smith apples, rocket and fennel.

The setting was idyllic, in some ways we could have been nowhere else other than Brooklyn, yet it also reminded me of a tiny Italian trattoria. We sat in candle light surrounded by walls on three sides and looked out onto a rough garden growing tomatoes, herbs and veggies used by the kitchen.

It is worth being reminded that all the finest food in the world cannot improve the company you are with but the opposite is true, as good friends and tranquil setting can turn a good meal into a great evening. We finished dinner and took a walk around Red Hook, which is like no other place in New York.

A perfect evening……..

All The Posts I Did Not Write

18 Aug

This post is mainly about not wanting to post and in some way an explanation into the diminishing number of posts I have written over the last couple of months. I got married in July and in going through all the things that I did not get done in the run up to the joyous occasion I discovered a trove of photos all taken with blogging in mind.

It would be a lie to say that the build up to my nuptials meant that I did not have the time to blog, in fact a lot of the non blogging was due to a paralysis of thoughts. Every time I sat down to write something I came to question its worth: why would any one want to read it? I would go as far as to say I have become reluctant to blog. I have always been doubtful as to the value of one persons thoughts over another, especially when one is not even a professional (in the sense of not getting paid for it), yet here I am back again.

I am determined now at the very least to make it 12 months as a blogger, so here is a selection of posts that never quite got written up.

This slushed ice drink immediately took me back to those heady school days where you could pop into the newsagent and buy a neon Slush Puppy and get the best sugar rush going. The Kelvin Natural Slush Co has taken the concept and upgraded it. All natural flavours, no additives just good old fruit puree. You start off with a base, such as the lemon one I chose and add secondary seasonal flavours, such as strawberry, for full menu and truck location see there website. It really is a delicious treat on a sweltering day.

The best tuna sandwich in the world, well in my opinion. I have been trying to perfect this for years and I still struggle to get it spot on every time. These are my choice ingredients and top tips; spend money on good tuna (in fact only buy good tuna), make it a day in advance the flavours come together much better, and use slightly more of everything than you think you should. There really are very few things finer than a great tuna sandwich!

Homemade lemonade cannot be beat. Recipe, 1 litre boiling water, handful of mint leaves, 250 ml  sugar, mix together and allow to cool. Add 500ml freshly squeezed lemons and mix well, again this actually tastes better the next day. Feel free to add a little more or less sugar and lemon to taste.

I Have no green fingers, the best I could do was to try to keep my brothers herbs alive as he willfully ignored them. But as the heat cranked up here salads became the only home eating option the expense of having to buy fresh herbs began to grate. So I began my own little garden. The basil was a random experiment that happily worked. By snipping a healthy stem and giving it water and a little sun it sustained itself until it went into a rooting cycle. At this point I simply planted it and gave it some organic fertilizer and watched it shoot up. I now have basil, coriander, thyme, parsley, mint and rosemary all growing on the roof.

I have decided that my corner of Brooklyn is in the midst of a burger war. In the last 3 months four fast food style burger joints have opened within a mile radius, with two more due to open. The real lines will be drawn (quite literally) when Shake Shack opens in autumn. In the meantime Smashburger came out on top against Five Guys (they opened 2 different locations) and 282 burger.

Last but by no means least is Blue Marble Ice Cream, which definitely deserves its own post.

Thier strawberry ice cream is so good that come July, when they still had no stock of it (all flavours are made seasonally), I was forced into emailing them to find out when it would be returning. Fortunately the answer came back as the following day, I was ecstatic and first in line. It is a 3 time a week habit right now, so hard to ignore when it is literally feet from my doorstep. I feel like I am ruined for all other ice cream, certainly strawberry wise, this simply is the best I have ever had!

Lucien Freud

22 Jul

Sad news that the artist Lucien Freud passed away today.

Reminded me of a place I used to work where he was an everyday regular, always looking slightly disheveled in his painting overalls. He seemed like a shy man but every so often he had wicked grin that told of deeper mysteries.

As I remember he drank a Lattechino, dryer than a latte but milkier than a cappuccino, something he delighted in having made up himself, oh, and he was partial to an almond croissant always paying with crisp £50 notes.

Can’t say I am a mad fan of his art but there is definitely something to be said for someone willing to show people at their least flattering rather than their most and truth be told I always wished I could get him to doodle on a napkin.