Thursday, December 31, 2009


Is anyone else as excited as I am? I don't really care what's going on tonight for New Year's Eve, I'm still trying to cement my plans. Tonight is the last night of 2009! I don't know about you, but this year was a rough one for me, and I'm looking forward to it being over and moving on to all the good things to come in 2010, of which I feel there will be many.

But first, let's set some goals first. Instead of one resolution that I will surely break after a couple days, I will try to set ten so I can pick and choose what I feel like striving towards, given the day and mood I'm in. I think this year will be all about choices, so having a choice of resolutions seems like a good start.

1. Most important. Be. On. Time. Stop being late for everything.

2. Eat better. (A bit subjective. Can refer to quality OR quantity.)

3. Cook more new dishes. (Bonus point if it overlaps with #2.)

4. Learn to walk in heels. And be a more sophisticated lady. This, obviously, can only be expected to occur once every month or two.

5. Get more tech savvy. (Blogging right now! That will be an easy one.)

6. Stop backdating blog posts. Eventually there will be a reader and they will notice.

7. Try to keep up with writing.

8. Thank more.

9. Love more.

10. Be happier than last year.

I already am. Happy New Year!

Year in Review

Okay. This is the last day of 2009, so let me assess the past year.

It was a rough one. I quit my waitress job just before the recession hit hardest. I spent months afterwards scrambling for employment, and learned that pride and impulsive decisions pay a higher price than stability. But they also keep you fighting.

However, good things came out of that situation. Learning to live close to the belt, or at the very end of the buckle, is an excellent test of discipline and character. A year of eating ramen and mac and cheese has given me a whole new appreciation for food, but also an interest in learning how to eat well on a limited budget- something a lot of us could use help with.

I learned that sometimes it is worth it to just barely get by, but to truly enjoy the work that you do. I taught cooking at an after school program in the Bronx with about 100 amazing kids who roused my curiosity in the kitchen, which had become comatose. I wrote more. I learned to rock climb, and fell into a world of adventurous spirits and new friendships. My old friendships deepened tremendously. I went to California for two months. I did a lot of soul searching. I learned a lot about my father through an epic move. I started blogging. And I'm reinventing my New York experience.

I have no idea what is in store for the next year- if things will get easier, if my career will clearly define itself, if I will get it together and make the right choices. All I know is I will trust that the path is my own. I will try with all my might to keep approaching food, pastry and life with a sense of curiosity and adventure. I hope you do the same as we embark on this new year together.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miss Managed

This is what happens when you have one too many glasses of wine before dinner and your friend knows someone who works at Mac who gave her a discount and you never wear makeup so it would be great if she could test her new eyeshadows and you didn't get enough sleep the night before so you aren't going to spend the energy arguing with her after you've already tried to fight her off.

On a brighter note (though it's debatable if anything could be brighter than that lipstick), I got a zillion things done today and felt like I earned an indulgent cocktail hour and late dinner. The new year is right around the corner, so I'm tying up loose ends and I'm ready to start fresh, in just about every aspect of my life.
Except for with my friends. I'll keep my friends just as they are. They are always worth the fuss, even when the fussing is over me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back with a Vengeance

Six weeks. That's how long it took for my laid back, West Coast approach to this city to run out. The rosey glasses I've been wearing are off; I'm looking at New York and seeing nothing but glaring flaws. Were all the obstacles and frustrations there all along and I just refused to see them? Are we going to go back to the love-hate relationship we went through pre-California?

It's been one of those days where I'm trying to get a million things accomplished and I'm not sure if I'll get through even one. I'm waiting for trains far longer than usual, and when they finally roll into the station at their own leisurely pace, I get pushed on by the angry mob behind me. Oh, why must bad moods be more contagious than the swine flu? A New York bad mood is probably a whole lot sicker.

On days like this, there is only one thing that can help: junky ice cream. I like to keep really good ice cream pure by eating it when I'm in a decent mood, so I don't associate it with being cranky. So for today, junky it is. I discovered this junkiest of junky ice creams at my local Key Foods. The flavor is called- wait for it- Party Cake.

I know. I would judge me, too. But if you've ever had cake batter ice cream (the flavor, not actually ice cream made of cake batter, or is it?), you will think differently. Think vanilla, with a little more milk and a butter aftertaste. It's fantastic, and for high brow foodies, you can find it at really great homemade ice cream shops. If you don't mind getting a little gritty, then there's always Party Cake.

Even better is that the brand is called Turkey Hill, which is an odd visual for a dairy product. Notice the neon-colored swirls in the bottom photo, reminiscent of the bubble gum ice cream I used to get at the Ice House when I was a kid (I would pick out all the gumballs and save them for later, leaving delightful rainbow swirls).

Keep in mind, the Brooklyn Tart's philosophy is to appreciate food on all levels.

Let's get this party started.

I think I'm feeling better already.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

From the Other Side

I'm getting ready to leave Jersey City and get back to Brooklyn. I can't wait. Jersey City is nice in a lot of ways; it's close to downtown Manhattan, it's quiet, it's clean. I get it. But there's something about it that isn't for me. As much as I hate noise, the police sirens and music blasting from a hoopty idling at a stoplight, the gospel music pouring out of the church down the street, the hipsters comparing benders from the night before- those sounds are what make my neighborhood my neighborhood. I think I need a little chaos and dishevelment.

The JC does have some incredible views of the city, simply breathtaking at night or dusk:

This shows part of the 9-11 memorial along the waterway, constructed out of surviving metal:

Here's a view from the tip of Liberty State Park. If you look closely, you can see the edge of Lady Liberty's arm peeking from behind the water tower.

What I don't like are all the high-rise luxury condos.

At that same park, there's a cool old Colgate clock, which is nicely juxtaposed against the backdrop of Manhattan.

I did really like the Paulus Hook neighborhood and all the pre-war buildings. I wish the new apartments could find a way to harmonize with the originals.

One thing's for sure- whenever I'm somewhere else, it really makes me appreciate Brooklyn. Here I come!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Barking and Pastry

I find myself back in New Jersey with Max and Stanley again, enjoying a quiet holiday while I house and puppy sit. This is my third time staying with them, and I think we're pretty comfortable with each other by now.

Many of you would find the prospect of spending Christmas alone depressing and boring. I actually recommend everyone spending at least one Christmas away from family, or even completely solo. Not only does it make you appreciate your family a whole lot more, but it lets you do a lot of soul searching only true solitude can allow.
With that, I must say I hope this is my last Christmas alone for a while. That is no offense to Stanley and Max, who are wonderful company, but I've spent more holidays on my own than a healthy young woman with a loving family should. For a couple years, I made Christmas out to be a dreaded affair that only caused strain on my family and friends.
I have since shut that book and look forward to decorating gingerbread houses with nieces and nephews who adore me, random dogs knocking ornaments off the tree, and a good mix of cheek pinching and awkward conversation with neighbors and in-laws.
But for now, there is music, macaroni and cheese, warmth, and two cheerful dogs in a clean and quiet apartment. It could be a lot worse. I'm going to really enjoy the lap of luxury with some baking, and treat the dogs to some homemade dog biscuits.
Dog treats are actually easier to make than cookies and if you're a dog lover, you should give it a try. If you've ever flipped over a container from the pet store, you know how many weird and disgusting ingredients get added. I opted to make some minty vegetarian treats, just to give the guys a little help with their tuna breath.

You can find cute cookie cutters at kitchen stores. The bones are pretty standard, but I do like the mini fire hydrants:
Here's the recipe:
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 T dried mint
2 T dried chopped parsley, or 1/4 c. fresh
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, cornmeal and herbs in a large bowl. Add oil and water and mix well. Roll out on floured surface to 1/4". Cut with cookie cutters and bake for 40 minutes or till lightly browned. Turn heat off and let dog treats dry out in oven for at least one hour.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Truffle Maker

Here is a photographic journal of how a classically trained pastry chef makes truffles at her tiny apartment in Brooklyn while holed up during a snow storm.

First, the ganache: one part cream to 2 parts chocolate, add a little liqeuer for flavor and a little butter for smoothness.

It is so true that the messier the job in the kitchen, the more fun it is.

I do most of my cooking in my jammies, which mimic the fit of chef clothes.

And don't worry, I washed my hands between licks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another Holiday Party

Oh, holiday party. Just when I thought I'd had enough of you, you sprang another one on me. This time, it was at Bar Toto, my old stomping grounds in Park Slope. My lovely ex-colleague turned wonderful friend, Valerie, invited me as her guest to join the crew as an adopted Totoan. I used to work there ages ago, but that place has long stayed under my skin as one of the top hoody establishments in Brooklyn, as it is for so many Park Slopers.

You can imagine my surprise at the invite, especially considering that my presence at last year's Christmas party turned into me arm wrestling everyone at the bar ... and WWF wrestling some people in the street at the next bar. But then again, maybe that's the exact reason why I was invited back this year.

Here's me and my lovely date, who also happens to be one of the sweetest people on the planet:

Let the wine flow, the lasagna be served, and the party begin!

Note: there are some parties where no dancing is required. This was not one of those parties.

Luckily, the bar was stocked enough for us.

I can vouch that the lasagna was terrific. We all made our mass pilgrimage to our favorite dive bar, Commonwealth, afterwards, but that seems to be the last thing I remembered from the night. And I thought I was on my best behavior after the antics of last year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fragility and Frigidity

Has anyone else noticed how ornery people are just before Christmas? It is even more blown up in New York, when one cranky person has the domino effect power to rub their mood off onto every person who crosses their path.

It all came to a head for me last night at rush hour when I was on a 1 train so packed with people that a woman actually blocked any more people from boarding. She started pushing everyone back like a lunatic, while people on the platform insisted on trying to make room. It's times like that I was lucky to have a seat, or this shaky domino would have toppled over in a second.

So we're down to the wire, we're all working hard and ready for a break, we have to be emotionally prepared to face our families in a couple days, and there's still a ton of shopping to do. The streets of Manhattan are jam-packed, oh, and there's heaps of snow, making us cold, wet, and late for everything.

I get it. I really do. I have even been known to throw some elbows on the train (which is my own personal indicator for when I know it's time to get out of the city for a couple days). But at the risk of sounding obvious, what about the Christmas spirit? Does everyone get asshole allowance until the streets are properly plowed and all our purchases are made? It seems that everywhere I turn, someone has their own Christmas grumble and list of grievances.

So let's make that our own personal indicators- that when you are pushing on the subway, you should treat yourself to a cab ride or walk a few extra blocks. If you're cold, have a hot chocolate and put on an extra layer. When you are tired of waiting in lines and are snappy at the store clerk about getting too many ones back, then stop shopping. Take a deep breath. Put down the credit card. We have morphed the meaning of this holiday into a warped tribute to consumerism, with lots of competition thrown in.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and can't bring yourself to spread Christmas cheer and kindness, at least try not to knock over the ornery dominoes. Maybe we can't love our fellow men every day, but pushing them off the train is not the answer!

I wish all of you happy holidays and success in tackling those never ending to-do lists. But if you need to set the list down for a minute just to get into a happier mental state, then I beg you. Please listen to your indicators.

No photos for this post, so for a look at better dominoes to knock over, check out this video here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Artichokes and Egg Nog

Holiday parties are the best. As if being with great friends isn't enough, there's good music, good food, drinks, and at this time of year, lots and lots of spiked egg nog. I know a lot of people who hate the stuff, but to me, there's nothing better. It's like drinking creme anglaise laced with extra yolks and rum. I can't get enough of it- I even put egg nog in my coffee instead of half and half.

Meet Bob, my friend Coty's wonderful bulldog. I'm his occasional nanny. Bob loves to party, even more than I do.

I tried the soy egg nog, just to be open minded. It wasn't bad, but I'll stick to the real stuff from now on.

Our friend, Sarah, made her delicious secret artichoke dip recipe. I couldn't get her to dish it out, but she did let me know the ingredients:
-artichokes (obviously)
-red and green pepper
Otherwise, I found a pretty good recipe here from Paula Deen.

It took everything for us to keep Bob away. Are there any pet-friendly substitutes for mayonnaise?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tim Burton and American Folk Art

Desperate for culture, I ventured to MoMa last night for free Fridays. (You'd be surprised how many wonderful things you can do in New York on a shoestring, or for next to nothing. Even someone as frugal as I am can reap the benefits of the city sights.) Many of the museums have a free day once a month or more for people like me.

The big draw this visit was the Tim Burton exhibit- I was lucky I got there right when the doors opened at 4, or I wouldn't have gotten a time slot on my ticket. The exhibit was so crowded, lots of the Friday night crew gets turned away. This featured the artist's work throughout his life, including sketches and early videos he made as a child and young adult. In addition to being a genius director and producer, Tim Burton is an incredibly talented writer, illustrator, and photographer. Wish I had some photos to share, but there was a very strict no-camera policy by the gestapo security guards.

I was allowed to take pictures everywhere else:

Including new work by Gabriel Orozco:

One of my favorite paintings, Henri Rousseau's The Dream:

And lots of Monet's Waterlilies, which are displayed in seven large panels on the second floor. These always bring me instant calm, even in the Friday night hoard of visitors.

The photos don't do it justice, but here's a close up to get a better idea:

An added bonus is the gem of The American Folk Art Museum, just next door. This is a real treasure, not so hidden in Manhattan, but very often overlooked. And it's also free on Fridays, often with live music and receptions. Don't miss the enormous crocheted rug discovered in a woman's attic, made entirely out of recycled Wonderbread bags.
And on the same block is The Modern, a restaurant icon, which I have yet to visit. The list of things to do gets something added to it every day!