I Miss the Museums

Let me acknowledge up front that this is *definitely* a first world problem. But, going to museums (at Philip's suggestion, mostly) had become so much of a mental relief for me, pre-COVID. The whole experience, walking in, the expansive space, often high ceilings, the whispered (or sometimes not whispered!) discussions. Discovering something new and compelling or radical you never knew about before.

Feeling incredibly grateful Philip has a membership to the Met so we could stop in for a few minutes in the middle of our walk. From the time I was able to get in free to MoMA in 1993 on my lunch hour because the company I worked for was a member, I have valued the museum pop-in. SO GREAT. You can just wander around casually without the pressure of making the cash you spent on admission "worth it".

I've certainly seen some wonderful exhibits, just recently, at the Met "Making Marvels", the etchings, the daguerreotypes, the moon photos, "Play it Loud", Camp, so many more. At the Guggenheim, Robert Mapplethorpe. At MoMA, any and all architecture or design exhibits. The Jim Henson exhibit and the 2001: A Space Odyssey exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. Anything the Museum of the City of New York has to offer. And I was so looking forward to going to the Bill Graham exhibit at The New-York Historical Society.

But for me, the museums themselves are also an attraction. The buildings. The architecture. The social aspect. At the Met, drinks and a bit to eat at the Great Hall Balcony Bar, or on the roof if the season is right, or coffee in the Petrie Court Cafe. Walking through the glassware exhibit near the floor-to-ceiling windows above the American Wing Cafe. The swirl and beauty of the Guggenheim. Every time we pass it on our walk I feel a pang of loss. A wonderful dinner at Untitled at the Whitney. Walking through Fort Tryon Park on the way from the subway to the Cloisters. Then having a beer at a local pub nearby. Even when I went to the Louvre, as stunning as the exhibits were (including seeing the Mona Lisa!), what I remember most were the *rooms*. Each room you would walk in and gasp at how beautiful it was, especially if you looked up at the ceilings. I feel the same way about the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue, such a gorgeous structure. Thank goodness Patience and Fortitude are still out front for us.

For some reason, most of all my mind keeps going back to having a drink at Flora Bar at the Met Breuer. Listening to the architecture audio tour one of the times I visited the museum was sublime. (Hear it here.)

I realize things may not get back to exactly 'normal', but I dearly hope I can experience those beautiful rooms again.


Old-School Photos

Last weekend Philip and I went to his union Christmas party (the retirees are invited as well). In the past they've catered to the older members with having the event at an Irish bar with good food, but the last couple years I think they've swung towards appealing to the younger members, and have the event at one of those hipster bowling alleys with a DJ, mediocre food, and an arcade. I love bowling, I even have a bowling trophy earned in a youth league, but I wasn't up for bowling at a Christmas party. So we were wandering around in the arcade...and they had an old-school-looking photo booth! An we could even get our photos in the old-school film strip format!! This is the result...

Yes, it would have been even *more* old-school if it was in black and white...wait, there's an image effect for that!


*Tap* *Tap* Does this still work?

Just some musings, after I have finished both of the Duran Duran autobiographies that have been written, I read John Taylor's first because he was (and remains) my favorite. I just finished Andy Taylor's as well.

Duran Duran were my *most favorite band* in the 80s. Meaning the one I obsessed the most over. The lineage of my teenage favorite bands is thus: First band to have their posters on my wall: Journey, with big fold-outs of Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain. There was a short flirtation with Michael Jackson, I remember cutting out the thumbnail of the "Thriller" album from the Columbia House "x number of records-for-one-cent" ad and pasting it on my 8-track player!!

Then, it was Duran Duran. They really did capture the imagination, and they were a REAL band that played all of their own instruments, wrote all of their own songs, and did all of their own vocals for real, there was no autotune. I was a screaming teenager, and it was so thrilling to see them live in Hartford, CT on the "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" tour. But I was swayed by the feeling they were "superficial", so eventually I moved on.

My next favorite band was the Psychedelic Furs. Oh man, Richard Butler's voice...wow. I know I saw them live, I'm trying to remember where. I think it may have been the Agora (aka Agony) Ballroom in Hartford, the same venue where I saw Tears for Fears and passed out — it was overcrowded because "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" went to #1 after the gig was booked.

After that I'm certain it was all Marillion all the time — the U.S. hits "Kayleigh", "Lady Nina", and "Lavender" (and their accompanying videos!) were so brilliant, they reeled me in. All of their albums up through "Clutching at Straws" I absolutely adored. So I was so excited when I saw they were playing Toad's Place in New Haven in the early 90s, when I was still In Connecticut. I had never seen them live, and I was so thrilled to be seeing 'Fish in the flesh!'.

Well. There was no or little public internet then, so I had no idea Fish left the band and there was a new singer!! Quite a let-down, but they did play a good show. However, I really haven't gotten the groove of the 'new' Marillion, and I'm a huge fan of Fish solo. No diss to the band, they were SO MUCH as much a part of the early albums as Fish was (ESPECIALLY Steve Rothery's scathing, gorgeous guitar work), but I just wasn't as moved by the vocals and music of the subsequent albums.

Then it was pretty much as it comes...met a lot of people that introduced me to a lot more great music. 

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Why I'm giving up (or seriously limiting) wheat in my diet

I've decided to try to cut wheat out of my diet as much as possible. This came about through several stages (which I'll get into later in this post), but the final tipping point was this podcast on Red Ice Radio with Dr. William Davis (who wrote the book "Wheat Belly") which I found through the latest NonSensical Chef Rants podcast and Chef David Walker. (It's a great listen, and only an hour long.) Dr. Davis is a cardiologist, and explains how he observed dramatic improvement in his patients by prescribing a wheat-free diet. In researching the reasons for this, he discovered that the way modern wheat has been bred, it's incredibly unhealthy regardless of whether it's whole grain, sprouted, etc. and raises blood sugar higher than almost all other foods. The part of the podcast where he describes how modern wheat was bred to be short and stocky so it's more sturdy brought to mind the section of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" where they breed a short stocky class of humans to do the grunt work (perhaps an extreme comparison, but that's how it struck me). By the way, if you've never read "Brave New World" I highly recommend it, it's a quick read and I believe it's public domain so you should be able to get it online for free.

Anyway, so the podcast struck a chord. Although I don't believe I have any allergies or sensitivities to wheat, the health effects of cutting it out do seem compelling, so I figured it can't hurt, I may as well try it and if it doesn't work out I can always switch back. I'm not expecting the kind of dramatic results discussed in the podcast, but if at the very least it has a beneficial effect on my crappy blood pressure I'll be happy. I first heard of the "Wheat Belly" book late last year from Darya Pino's Summer Tomato blog, where she wrote what I feel is a well-balanced review. I did buy the book, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

In doing a bit of research, it does seem that Dr. Davis is advocating a low-carb diet in general. These posts on his blog break it down pretty well: Wheat Belly: Quick and Dirty ("unlimited" REAL cheese!!) and Can I eat quinoa? Carb counting basics. But for once in my life, I think it's doable. How did I get here?

The first big change was Philip teaching me how to cook and to buy better quality food. I went from eating Lean Cuisine for dinner (yes, I did that, *shudder*), to cooking simply-prepared meat, poultry, or fish with a steamed or roasted vegetable. I can't tell you what a revelation it was to be able to prepare these things myself, and it's given me a much greater appreciation for food. Another factor was reading about how much sugar the flavored fat-free and low-fat yogurts have in them on the aforementioned Summer Tomato blog, which convinced me to try plain Greek yogurt. WOW, so delicious and much more satisfying than the flavored yogurt.

The second big change was attending this wonderful class, Cheese & Wine 201: Live Better, Live Longer with my favorite "Cheese Guy" Max McCalman (who strikes me as a bit of a bon vivant, and I love a bon vivant! But I digress), which is all about the health benefits of cheese. Highly recommended if you're in the NYC area. One of the big points in the class is that cheese provides all the nutrition you need except for fiber and vitamin C. I had never thought of eating cheese for lunch, but with this philosophy I was finally able to give up highly processed frozen meals for lunch, and switch to a mixed green salad topped with warmed beans (usually black beans, my favorite), and a couple ounces of cheese on the side. Again, much more satisfying than what I had been eating and much healthier too!

So I had already cut out a lot of wheat products from my diet, with my regular breakfast being Greek yogurt, lunch greens/beans/cheese, and dinner meat/poultry/fish and vegetables. I am going to miss a few things though:
  • A bagel for breakfast on Saturday
  • Baguettes (usually have once or twice a week)
  • Toast and bacon with my eggs over easy on Sunday (Dr. Davis advises cutting out all cured meats, bummer!) — planning to serve the eggs on a bed of greens but I think I do want a substitute for the bacon. Perhaps a thin slice or two of steak?
  • Crab cakes, which we usually have once a week, but I can substitute fresh fish instead. I just wish fish wasn't so freaking expensive!
  • Pasta, usually have it about once a week. I'm hoping that farro flour pasta or farro itself is acceptable (love farro!), but I have to check into the carb content.
  • Beer - I actually don't drink a whole lot of beer, but I think I'm going to go with Chef David Walker on this one and make an exception, keeping it to high-quality beers that are really worth drinking.
The other sticking point of course is eating out. We don't eat out very often so it's not a huge problem, but I think I'm just going to wing it when we do. I want to take joy in what I'm eating, so if I end up eating something with wheat from time to time I'm not going to stress over it. For instance, at the West 3rd Common beer dinner on May 30th, you better believe I'm going to be eating and drinking everything! And if I'm somewhere that's known for fabulous charcuterie, I will definitely partake. For what it's worth, after having West 3rd's amazing fried chicken with mac & cheese and a Founders Brewing KBS on Tuesday (which broke all the rules—battered fried food, pasta, beer), I felt fantastic on Wednesday despite going to bed past my 'bedtime', so who knows?

I'll update here in the comments on how it's going. We'll see!


Pre-Valentine's Day Dinner

Neighborhood French restaurant Cafe du Soleil was having an amazing "pre-Valentine's" dinner menu I could not refuse: 3 delicious courses plus a bottle of wine for $59 for two!

So, stepping out in my best black go-go boots:

we headed out to the restaurant.

Philip and I had (as usual) an early reservation, and got the same cozy table by the front windows that we had at New Year's, nice! We did, as I expected, choose the same appetizer and main course: foie gras mousse, and "butcher" steak (also known as hanger steak, or onglet) rare with a peppercorn sauce and frites. Oh yeah!!

We chose the red Cotes du Rhone wine, a 2009 by Pont du Rhone which was quite enjoyable, I was impressed given the price of the menu!

First course: Foie Gras mousse:

This was truly heavenly!! Slices of foie gras mousse served with caramelized onions and toast. Mmmmmmmm, such wonderful flavor!

Second course:

The butcher steak, rare with peppercorn sauce (delicious frites with roasted garlic off camera):

Sooooooo great.

On to dessert:

A fantastic shared plate of red velvet cake, chocolate cake, and a lemony creme brulee. All good; my favorite was the red velvet, yes!!!!

To top it all all off, our server Maeghan was wonderful, the service could not have been better! So thrilled with the evening, thank you Chef Tivy.

Dinner at Marc Forgione, 11/20/2010 - My new favorite restaurant

(This entire post is going to sound like a schoolgirl gushing over Justin Bieber, but it really was THAT GOOD. Also, I love love love food but I can't claim to have the most accurate palate, so if I got any of the ingredients wrong mea culpa!)

I wanted to celebrate Philip and I's 'anniversary' of 5 years together with a fabulous dinner out. I originally booked a table at Blue Hill (NYC), where I had a fantastic meal with my co-workers last year and wanted to introduce it to Philip. But we had to cancel because it turned out he had to work the next day (there are a lot of good things about the TV/film business; predictability is not one of them).

Instead of rebooking at Blue Hill, I had another thought — why not try out Michelin-starred Restaurant Marc Forgione...

I had become increasingly aware of Chef Forgione over the past few months, first from a few mentions on Grub Street, then he started competing (and making some amazing dishes) on one of the best cooking competition shows, The Next Iron Chef, and finally I was so impressed by his cooking demo at the New York Botanical Garden in October where he made barbeque baked oysters, chili lobster with texas toast, and olde salt clams with black garlic jus and braised pork belly (recipes here and our photos here). All of that plus the incredible-looking dishes (and specialty drinks) that are regularly posted to Twitter and Facebook, and I just had to try it.

I booked a Saturday night table (so there would be no chance of having to cancel) at 5:30pm — a time I know that most people (at least most people my age) would balk at, but there were no later reservations and I actually enjoy eating early. It tends to be more relaxed, and when you know you're going to have a multi-hour meal, starting early ensures you're not still eating past midnight.

We arrived a bit early so we went to the bar. I don't usually order specialty cocktails, but I heard they were very good here, so I decided to try the red & green apple vodka, ginger, rosemary, and coriander cocktail, and Philip had a beer. I was a little leery of ordering something with apple and vodka, that conjuring up images of sickly-sweet green apple martinis while I prefer savory drinks, but I needn't have worried — it was a great way to start off the evening! The cocktail was gorgeous (this photo is exactly what it looked like), and the scent of the rosemary sprig along with the other spices were heavenly! The bartender told me the balls of apple are prepared somehow so that they taste like apple pie, sooooo good.

After a few minutes we were taken to our table, a cozy corner spot right past the kitchen (photo here, we were at the table all the way to the left), and we loved it. The old stereotype is that sitting near the kitchen is bad, but that was absolutely not the case — in fact, it turned out to be a very good thing! (More on that in a bit.) The ambiance is warm, inviting, rustic, and romantic. There was rock music playing, but the volume was perfect, i.e. audible but not so loud that you can't have a normal conversation (similar to Babbo and Torrisi). Here's a photo of the dining room. It's described often as a trendy place, which I can see (particularly on the bar side), but there is absolutely no attitude, everyone was so friendly and accommodating.

Our server Erica (who could not have been more pleasant and helpful) came over and introduced herself, and we took in the menu. I love tasting menus so I was so happy to see that they offer one. I did want to get our server's opinion first though, as I'd heard that at some restaurants the a la carte dishes are better. (I've read that over and over again about Babbo, and in fact our server there gently recommended against the tasting, but I had to do it anyway, lol. It was amazing nonetheless, and it's an excuse to go back and do a la carte to compare.) But Erica was very enthusiastic about the Forgione tasting, indicating that it really is something special where the Chef presents an overview of his cuisine. Sold! The chili lobster dish the Chef prepared at the NYBG was also on the menu that night, so we decided to go all-out and share that as well. Since it's a spicy dish, Erica offered to see if the Chef could serve it in the middle of the tasting so it didn't overpower the more delicate early courses. It turns out that was no problem, and we were on our way!

We were served some tasty potato rolls with herbed butter. I later realized that they were being warmed inside a gorgeous cast iron-type stove in front of us (in this photo you can see the stove on the left, our table on the right, and the entrance to the kitchen in between). Although I wanted to save room for the meal, I couldn't resist having them, yum!

I was hoping Chef Forgione would be in the restaurant that night, and I had read several interviews where he said he felt it was important to be in the kitchen. But Chefs can't be there every night, and this being the night before the Next Iron Chef finale there could have been a promotional event or something going on. But, I spied him walking through the restaurant and I was thrilled — Chef Forgione will be preparing our food, yeah! Little did I know what we'd be in for...

Our amuse bouche (or, more accurately, amuse bouches!) was served, and a few moments later Chef Forgione himself appeared at our table! We chatted for a bit about Next Iron Chef and the NY Botanical Garden event, and he joked about how he didn't want to be known as the lobster-killing Chef (at NYBG he demonstrated how to humanely kill a lobster and was shocked when it seemed like everyone in the audience was taking a photo — yes, including us, lol). Then he explained the amuse bouche: we each had four small bites which the Chef explained were interpretations of sandwiches — corned lamb and veal, banh mi, pumpkin puree, and mushrooms that were inspired by one of his Grandma's dishes (aww!). They were all delicious; the banh mi blew me away because it was so tiny but it tasted *exactly* like a banh mi, how the heck did he get all of the flavors in there?? The mushrooms were surprising (in a good way) because it looked like it was warm but was in fact cold, and had (to me) a slightly bitter orange flavor. The adventure had begun!

By this point our drinks had dwindled, so we took a look at the wine list. I prefer red wine, so I asked Erica about the cotes du rhone, and on her recommendation we chose the Cotes du Rhone Les Peyrouses. It was incredibly complex, we loved it.

Then we were on to the first course: hiramasa tartare, avocado, sechuan button, toasted pinenuts, and saratoga chips. The server who brought it out instructed us to start with the teeny, tiny sechuan button (actually a flower blossom) and roll it around in your mouth, then the metal spoon, then the dish of tartare. Wanting to have the full experience I started with the sechuan button and wow — it actually made my mouth tingle! Then on to the spoon (I believe some of the tartare was in there), and the dish of tartare, in a very flavorful sauce. The chips were very good too, a great start to the meal.

Next we were served a barbeque baked oyster, paired with a small glass of Stone Levitation Ale which the Chef came out and described for us. This is one of the dishes we saw the Chef prepare at the NY Botanical Garden, and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical — I really love raw oysters, would it be too cooked through? Would the barbeque sauce overpower the delicate oyster flavors? I needn't have worried, it was wonderful. The oyster was just warmed and the sauce was not heavy at all, there was still plenty of fresh sea goodness. How the heck did he manage to do that?!?

Then we shared the chili lobster with texas toast, the Chef's take on singapore crab. Sliced up lobster tail, claw meat, and thick toast to soak up the spicy sauce, soooo good. Philip thought it was a bit too spicy for him — maybe because he was the first to dip his bread and the sriracha was floating on top? — but I thought the heat was just right (I like spicy, but not to the point where you can't taste anything). You can see the Chef preparing the dish here.

Next came what I think was my favorite dish of the night, delicata squash ravioli with pumpkin seed oil and fried sage. This was just so sublime, at least as good as anything we had at Babbo. I could have eaten a HUGE bowl! I can't wait to go back and try more pasta dishes.

Then we had the whole baby halibut to share, with cauliflower puree and sauce "proposal". The presentation was gorgeous, the fish was filleted and the bones taken out, served with the intact skeleton bones standing perpendicular to the fish. Stunning! I adore halibut and it was delicious, the mild but incredibly flavorful white sauce pairing perfectly with the fish. After a few bites, I looked at the bones and realized, "Hey, the bones are fried — we can EAT them!" I heard about this, but never tried it before. I split the skeleton with Philip and it was fantastic, crispy and light. Chef Forgione came out to check on us again and I enthused over the crispy bones! More about the dish here.

On to the meat course...we each could choose what we wanted from what was available on the menu, so I had venison (love it!) and Philip had duck breast. Both were very, very good. Then we had a palate cleanser, a small glass of moscato sorbet — wonderful!

Then we were served two different desserts. Philip had the peanut butter terrine, which was wonderfully decadent. I had a dish that I thought I heard as apple sally or apple sandy, which was served in a glass with apples and ice cream (a rich vanilla I believe), with fantastic cinnamon-coated sticks of bread (or cake?) surrounding it, topped with whipped cream and candied bacon (yeah, baby!) and warm delicate little orbs of cinnamon-coated apple on the side. Of course we had to have after-dinner drinks as well; I went with the Osborne tawny port, and Philip had the banana-infused Jameson which sounds weird but it worked!

The meal was just outstanding, and the tasting menu was an incredibly great value. We were so well taken care of in every way, and I was so impressed that the Chef took the time out to explain the dishes and chat with us, that was totally unexpected! The thing I loved the most is how innovative and passionate for the food Chef Forgione is, it absolutely shows. There were so many wonderful surprises but not in a gimmicky way at all. Philip, who enjoys food but doesn't freak out over it like I do, was more enthusiastic than I've ever seen him about a meal. I actually felt a little bad that we ended up eating each course so fast, I didn't want the kitchen to think we weren't savoring every bite (we were, oh yes!), but after the first bite you just couldn't stop.

The next night was the Next Iron Chef finale, and it was GREAT to see Chef Forgione win while remembering our wonderful meal! Site Meter

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Hanging in an Irish bar on the Upper West Side called the Dead Poet, with a fabulous soundtrack from the jukebox including The Stooges, The New York Dolls, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, The Ramones, etc., etc. Great place to hang out! Site Meter