Recently in Food Category

openforumsexandthecity.jpgFriends of mine know how much I detest Sex and the City and the loathsome version of New York it celebrates. Among its more repulsive effects: the proliferation of downtown cupcake shops with long lines of midwestern ladies stretching from the Sex and the City tour bus to the shiny glass counters inside, clogging sidewalks, winding around corners. I have nothing against cupcakes, but I do not think you should have to stand in line for them, especially behind people who think that Carrie Bradshaw is someone to emulate.

Thanks to Teri Tynes, author of the always useful and edutaining blog Walking Off the Big Apple, we now know that Sex and the City has somehow managed to go back in time and infect the Village in the early '80s with an anachronistic love of red velvet and buttery frosting. Writing for Reframe about the Tribeca Film Festival, Teri gives us the down and dirty:

In an early sequence of An Englishman in New York, a film receiving its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, we see Quentin Crisp (John Hurt) walking -- well, more like floating, placing one foot in front of another as a ballet dancer on a tightrope, along MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. The year is 1981. As he turns and walks west down the charming and colorfully decorated Minetta Lane, it's possible to spot a chronological oddity in the background. In just a glimpse, a relatively new cupcake shop, opened in a small storefront in 2007 or 2008, appears on the shot of MacDougal. The shop, a cultural artifact of a later time, specifically Sex and the City, a cupcake-generating TV phenomenon of the straight girl's sexual revolution, might appear as an anachronism for some viewers.
Teri turns this anachronism into a smart reading of the film -- which sounds like a relevant supplement to this week's lectures in Writing New York. (The rest of Teri's piece here.) But the idea of the specialty cupcake's evil empire heading back in time is enough to make me want to make me run screaming downtown to that as-yet ungentrified neighborhood, Tribeca. Surely I'd still be able to afford a loft there ...

New Definition

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Gotham: a dark and complex Manhattan. Ingredients: Maker's Mark bourbon, vermouth, kahlua.

Source: The Redhead, 349 E. 13th Street New York, New York 10003,

The Gotham is one of a number of interesting drinks on the menu at The Redhead, which the owners describe as a "neighborhood restaurant." Not to be missed: the bacon peanut brittle! On Sunday, May 3, the restaurant is hosting its 2nd annual Crawfish Boil, starting at 1:00 p.m. and lasting until 10:00 p.m. (or whenever the crawfish runs out). It's $29.99 per plate and includes crawfish, sausage, corn, potato, artichoke, and roasted garlic. No reservations.

Tenement Museum Blog

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Tenement_museum.jpgAlthough it kicked off last fall, I've only recently become aware of the Tenement Museum's blog, which, like the museum itself, promises to be a great resource for New York history -- especially as it relates to immigrants and the LES (the blog seems to focus a lot of attention on immigrant and neighborhood foodways in particular). I'll be sure to add it to my daily reads.

Check out this recent post on foodstuff discovered while doing repair work on the 97 Orchard tenement, the museum's centerpiece.

City Ham

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I'm setting about making a white bean and ham soup, with leftovers from yesterday's Christmas dinner.

This year's ham came, I'm afraid to confess, from Whole Foods on the Bowery, a store with which I have an increasingly conflicted relationship (meaning I use it more than I should). The little pig was was tasty enough -- I glazed it with brown sugar, dijon mustard, and fig preserves -- and I'm sure the remains will make for a lovely soup. But I did feel a little guilty about the Whole Foods thing. While I was throwing about online for ideas about preparing what I'd bought, I made the realization (via this piece from the Times a couple years back) that I should have made my purchase at the East Village Meat Market or another local butcher. Oh, well. Next year. Or maybe I'll actually go for the traditional goose.

Thumbnail image for evmeatmarket.jpg

For more on how ham became a favored American food, see this recent piece by the cultural historian and literary critic David Shields.

And what was on your holiday table?

Thanksgiving Oysters

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Thumbnail image for main_oysters.jpgSeveral years ago at a friend's house in DC, we kicked off an annual habit of martinis and oysters before the big Thanksgiving meal. He and I shucked them ourselves -- my first time to wield an oyster knife -- and in spite of the fact that said friend sliced the side of his hand open that afternoon, we've repeated the habit every year since.

This year, for a much smaller dinner party, I ordered three dozen oysters from Wild Edibles: a dozen each of Wellfleets, Piper Coves, and Kumomotos (the former being hard to tell from one another, I thought, and the latter being almost a desert oyster -- a tiny little pocket of oystery goodness -- and a surefire crowd pleaser). The majority martini: a Plymouth Gibson.

Maybe it was the fact that we lived at the seaport when we first moved to New York, or maybe it was hanging out with a group of friends who occasionally got hankerings, around 2 a.m., to catch a cab up to Blue Ribbon in SoHo before they closed at 4. (Okay, we only did that once. More frequently we've stopped in at Shaffer City or, in our new neighborhood, Ed's Lobster Bar, which has the best lobster roll in the city, hands down.) Maybe it was reading Joseph Mitchell essays about the seafood-fueled adventures of Old Mr. Flood one too many times, but we've made it a habit to acquaint ourselves with local and imported varieties, differences of East vs. West Coast, and to order them in other parts of the world: Amsterdam, the south of France, or imported from New Zealand when we're in California. We've often lamented the days when New York's own oyster beds ruled the local roost.

In spite of having read and even taught sections of Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster -- his entertaining and informative history of New York City from the bi-valve's perspective -- I didn't realize that our current Thanksgiving tradition was merely resuming a long-standing tradition in New York and New England. Especially during the heyday of New York's oyster production (during the late 19th and early 20th centuries the city's waters produced around 700 million oysters a year) East Coast cookbooks unanimously and prominently featured oysters on the T-day menu.

Take this example from a turn-of-the-century cookbook, for instance:

Thanksgiving Dinner.
Like Christmas, Thanskgiving has its own bill of fare which has not been varied for many generations. Roasted turkey, pumpkin, mince and apple custard pies are served in almost all parts of the United States. A heavy breakfast, with chicken pie, and a late dinner are common rules. If shell-fish are in good condition, serve oysters on the half-shell or oyster cocktails as first course; if not, serve a clear soup. The turkey may be stuffed with oysters, or oyster sauce may be used in place of giblet sauce, or scalloped oysters may be served as a side dish. Oysters seem to be a part of the Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkins, corn, nuts, fruits and bitter-sweet are the choice decorations.

Oysters on the Half-shell
Consomme a la Royal
Celery, Olives
Roasted Turkey, Oyster Sauce
Cranberry Jelly
Potato Croquettes, Cauliflower
Chicken Pie, Scalloped Oysters
Lettuce and Apple Salad, Water Thins
Toasted Crackers, Cheese

The food history timeline from which I took this menu first associates oysters with the Thanksgiving meal in 1620s, though the trend seems to have taken a real upswing in the Gilded Age and endured -- at least in the cookbooks sampled -- until around WWII. What happened then? They probably became too much of a luxury, I suppose, and in the city, the local beds were long since polluted and harvested into depletion.

At the moment, the reseeded beds in New York's harbor are good for cleaning up the water only: we probably won't see these beds yield edible oysters in our lifetimes. But as for me and my house, we're doing our part to bring the oyster back to its traditional place on the Thanksgiving menu, even if it means expending a little fuel to get them there. 

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