Friday, November 28, 2008

New Age Mozz Stops Complaining about the West Coast

If you tire of detail, intricate narrative, or fascinating anecdotes easily, I recommend against eating amongst the anthropologists. However I find them to be the best of company, and hearken back to the cultural universality of manioc root on a weekly basis. This past week saw the divine summit of all things anthropological in San Francisco at the AAA conference, and your humble Mozzadrella was fortunate enough to attend.

I actually hadn’t been to the Bay Area—brace yourself for the geek quotient here—since high school, when I went to a Model United Nations conference in Berkeley, and THEN summer economics camp in Palo Alto. It’s a miracle I manage to dress myself, even though my style these days screams “professional kickball player.” At least that’s what the burlesque “ladies” at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge told me.

Though I really didn’t stray from the “Tenderloin” area where the conference was being held, the food impressed so much I will no longer vow to set all of California alight. I had been dreaming of Salt House, an industrial/rustic-chic haunt, and its braised short rib for three days. Though the cavernous interior amplified sound—we could barely converse with the people next to us—I had the most delicious cocktail I’d ever sampled. The “New London” features cold Hendrick’s Gin with a kaffir lime-ginger syrup, and a chili-cardamom salted rim. I swooned. I exalted. I had two.

I admired the sweet delicate quality of the roast beet salad, but the braised short rib with mustard crust sent me reeling. As you raised your fork to it, the meat fell apart like a warm savory bloom. As it was served atop brussels sprouts and fennel, my appetite waived away all sense of reason or discretion. In that moment I began to see the reasoning behind elastic pants.

After I recruited Tiny and Mark, I insisted upon Vietnamese food whilst in Pacific time. We went to Mangosteen, also in the Tenderloin area, where the quail was served table-side, flambé-style, the skin snapping with searing crispness. All of our fresh rolls were delicious, and will the Pho was a tad waxy, and the décor a little 7-Eleven, I’ll be thinking about that quail in the months to come.

I still find San Francisco strange—the constant smiling from strangers made me wonder if I was suffering from early-onset dementia—I did take squealing happiness in the Ice Cream Parlor/Laundromat down the way from our hotel. Genius!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mozz feels a little Wilted today, misses home

Indulge me a little concrete-clover love!

Upcoming events: Mozz's little sister is coming to visit! I am taking her to Sunset Park for Dim Sum, will drag her to Queens to see PS1, take her to the coop and have her help me carry bulk items home, and take her to Styleklash to benefit Harriet's Alter Ego. Anything else anyone can think of that's sister-suitable?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pre-PreFab, or the Modness of Tommy Edison

Thomas Edison is a rock star. Literally: the man created incandescent light. Voices can boom and resonate thanks to the microphone. Global financial markets expand and contract on his tickers. The man held 1,093 patents (true, his factory sucked fresh ideas out of young idealists, but still).

I was unaware until recently of one of Edison's most prescient ideas--in 1906 he conceived of one of the first mass-produced domicile solutions. The dream of affordable housing, according to Edison, could be made manifest in concrete molded residences.

"His system involved the use of elaborate forms and machinery for pouring a one, two, or even three-story house in a single operation, and offered concrete built-ins such as a bathtub. Sectional cast iron forms bolted together were to be assembled on the foundation walls to the height of the house, ending in a centrally located funnel into which the concrete was poured."

The first single-pour concrete house was built on Hixon Street in South Orange, New Jersey (I guess J gets a little more love). Turns out that the cast iron mold for the house was ungainly and unwieldy, so only 11 were ever built.

What makes a movie a "Movie Event"?

Just curious if anyone could suss out the difference. Lifetime seems to have way more "events" than movies, which would make it quite the service.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Alex Guarnaschelli ousts Giada as My Number 1

She's sharp. She's deadpan. Her last name ends in "elli."

Giada who?

"LM: If you were going to be known for any one thing how would you want people to remember you?"

"AG: That I make great soup always. I make a split pea soup with fried bacon and fresh peas in it that I really love. I also make a great clam chowder. It takes five days to make, but it's worth it. I think soup is a good barometer of chefs. It's beyond upsetting when you have a crappy soup. You can have the best steak in the world and the best cherry jubilee afterwards, but the feeling of being let down by a watery, crappy soup never leaves you."

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Higher Cause I'm On Board With

I give you, Sister Noella Marcellino, the Cheese Nun:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Back in Black: ‘Drella hits the Ground, Ponders a Leather Jacket

I am clicking-my-heels-happy to be back in Brooklyn. And while it’s taken me some time to arrange my furniture and purchase plants, I’ve slated a full fall syllabus of activities. Mozzadrella swoons with aplomb!

I turned 26 on Thursday, walked down to the Brooklyn Bridge to see the waterfalls, and tried fruitlessly to find an electric blue blazer. On recommendation from my pal J’Wep, I also visited the East Village Cheese Shop on 3rd Ave., near 10th Street. I thought him a mendacious yutz when he spoke of Jarlsberg for $5/lb. That’s a cock-and-bull fiction.

“Look for the butcher paper in front,” he said, “with unreal prices. I promise it’s there.”


As it turns out, cheap imported Swiss cheese is not just the stuff of daydreams—in addition to bargain brie, muenster, and feta pre-cut in the cooling case. The wheel selection at East Village is not for the haughty curdspert; these are pretty standard middle-drawer items: President, St. Andre, Fromager d'Affinois. And since there’s a no-tasting rule at East Village Cheese, it’s fitting that you basically know what you are going to get.

There were a few surprises, though, like Moriber, which is a French cheese with a thin tasteless band of ash horizontally bisecting the wheel, traditionally separating the “morning milk” from the “evening” milk. Now it’s purely decorative. Which I appreciate.

The bevy of soy cheeses was mysterious, perhaps because I find soy cheese puzzling in general. (I’ve never been comfortable with soy—it’s just too creepily versatile). In particular, the soy blue cheese struck me as too common in color to play-doh to take a chance on.

Speaking of chances, would it be just too stale for me to get a leather jacket? What if it was green instead of black?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mozzarella, an Unlikely Star, Opens in Midtown

I can't WAIT to go here next week!

"OBIKÀ is how Neapolitans say 'here it is.'

Obikà will open on Sept. 22 in the sculpture garden of 590 Madison Avenue, the former I.B.M. building.

'It’s about time,' New Yorkers might respond.

After more than a year of construction and red tape, the latest installment of Obikà, which opened its first mozzarella bar in Rome four years ago, will open on Sept. 22 in the sculpture garden of 590 Madison Avenue, the former I.B.M. building, between 56th and 57th Streets.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Haulin' these curds back to Brooklyn

What's that Mozz been up to, and why hasn't she been keeping it fresh? Answer: I'm moving back to Brooklyn, which I am amped about, and I've even been nesting. That's right, I put all of those hours of rapt HGTV-watchin' to work and painted.

I won't be spending sweat waiting for the PATH train with its mercurial sense of time, and I won't have to drive to the supermarket, which means I'll have more than beer and horseradish mustard in my fridge. And I'll be closer to all of the Mozzadrella-oriented adventures I want to tackle this fall.

I'll be up and running next week, in the meantime, there is something SERIOUSLY wrong with this. Michael Pollan has apparently made a dent in the zeitgeist.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fresh Mozz Phone Home!!!

I never thought I’d suffer from homesickness. I left the continent at 18, quickly locked down an apartment on Ave. Emile Zola, pivoted to the highway oases of Iowa, then motored (once via Greyhound) to freespirited and unleashed Montana (see below for details).

When people would ask me about home, I’d rail against the oppressive white sky of winter, the shabbiness of the Chicago Tribune, the toxicity of Cubs fans and their pickled valor.

All of a sudden, I miss Chicago. A lot.

This weekend, the El ran effortlessly (for me, at least). I shoveled deepdish to my face twice, saw Peter Sagal MC Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me with grace and poise, ate ice cream with Tiny in Bridgeport, drank Lienie’s where it was cheap and readily available, got a driver’s license (heaven help you!), hit the Botanical Garden, was smug about the Art Institute, and strolled along the Lake. It was damn near perfect.

One of the best treats about going home is staying with Adrienne in Andersonville without being formally invited. I love the books, food, and furniture stores in that neighborhood, and she totally called me out on my lust for a distressed dresser: “It’s not ‘distressed’ Vanessa, it’s OLD. You’ve been living in Brooklyn too long.” Woof!

For sure Andersonville has a colorful bent, but it also has a distinct Scandinavian vibe (hence the functionalist/modernist furniture galleries) and the Swedish Bakery peddles solid kolachki, brioche, and imported dry goods.

(I’ve never seen these at IKEA. Maybe in the IKEA of my dreams?!)

The wholesome bakery assistants, who are pert in a sort of militaristic way, deftly swipe, box, and tie pastry with a precise economy of movement.

Later in the afternoon I went to visit my intellectual nemesis Dave, who has again outpaced me by taking up residence at Pastoral, an artisanal cheese shop in Lakeview.

Pastoral puts cheese front and center, but they also assemble sandwiches, sell cured meats, fresh crusty bread, and wine.

I caught up with Dave with he was rolling Prosciutto San Daniele (more delicate than the only slightly more popular di Parma).

Other identifying feature to note viz cured meat: San Daniele prosciutto is sold WITH the leg, which is referred to as a “trotter.”

Since it pays to be difficult, I asked Dave for a sheepsmilk with bite and character, the item with the bizarrest backstory, and for a series of action shots.

Item: Jamon Iberico is a Spanish cured porcine product with a production story that edges upon myth: the black-hoofed pigs feast only upon chestnuts to foster their exquisitely marbled tissue. At $89.99/lb, that fat should be salty silkworm spun through the meat!

Since Dave has taken such an intimate interest in all things fromage, I plan on peer pressuring him to guest blog here soon. All of his fierce food knowledge is going to waste in that lil blonde head of his!

For kicks, one of my fav photos of MT: the iron herd bull on the front lawn of the Montana Historical Society.

Medusa Marinara

Vik Muniz, Art Institute

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get your Gelato On

Not to be too patchouli about it, but I’ve got a lot of Karma. Not necessarily bad or good, just a massive steady stream of it—I find $100 bills, but I get stuck in elevators and fall down stairs. I’m that girl—the one with the story.

This summer has brought such a spate of events. (For example, I’m currently down both a state ID and a debit card.) Then I had the best. Weekend. Ever.

To top it off, I think I closed the gap on this farmer’s tan I’ve been fighting all summer long. This is extremely fortunate, because the tourists at the World Trade Center PATH station had begun to follow me with their eyes like a zebra at the zoo.

Anyhoo, the Fresh Mozz and Ms. Posanne spent Saturday exploring some of NYC’s gelato mainstays, and we set out to answer to question: what makes gelato different?

Image credit: Nodame

We started at Grom in the West Village, which feels like the confectionary equivalent of an old-style tiled bar where vested ‘tenders fix egg-white cocktails.

All of the gelati rest in gleaming climate-controlled containers, and our esteemed server doled out samples with effusive pride, as if to say: “No you absolutely MUST try THIS one next.” The optimistic melon and zippity mint were among out favorites, and the slushier “granitas” bloomed with a subtle effervescence.

Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti brought Grom and their particularity for ingredients to the Upper West Side from Torino in 2007, where it broke like Pinkberry—food bloggers marveled at the 30-foot lines outside their West 76th street gelato emporium. They opened their West Village location shortly thereafter.

Let me refine, for a moment: gelato (trans. “frozen”) is an Italian dessert that resembles ice cream but is not ice cream.

The major points of difference? Quality, milkfat, and air.

Ice cream in the fat plastic drums from Dominick’s doesn't use vanilla, I doubt they even use extract. And it tastes like cold wet sand. In contrast, gelato seeks to concentrate and essentialize the best aspect of the flavor, so every ingredient is top drawer: Bronte Sicilian pistachios, Amalfi lemons, Venezuelan chocolate, San Bernardo mineral water from Piedmont. (Grom also uses carob flour). The thickness and density also differ: ice cream primarily uses cream with a 10-18% milkfat content, while gelato holds the fat down to a low roar at around 8%. Since milkfat clouds and overwhelms the flavor of the overall product, a leaner frozen dessert condenses the flavor. Grom has a more upturned take: "Also, in our opinion cream tones down too much the incisiveness of the flavors."

And while you may have guessed that gelato or higher quality ice cream has less air, the number is actually quite surprising—its between a quarter and half, pumped directly into the unfrozen liquid. By contrast, gelato only has 10% air, leading to a creamier end product.

I think we love gelato it because also possesses a mystical quality; it hoodwinks the palate into conjuring the ideal form of a flavor. For a moment, we forget that oranges are round and heavy, almonds and their bite, or coconut’s grainy pieces, and in that second gelato flash mimics the essential character of the flavor in another form. At the same time it surprises with a new dimension to a food you thought you knew well, you thought were well acquainted with. Ms. Posanne put it best when she said, "It's like the Jetsons, it's like a flavor pill from the future."

Il Laboratorio del Gelato does this best. It was started by Jon F. Snyder, who also brought you Ciao Bella gelato and sorbet. After he sold Bella (at the ripe age of 25), he founded Il Lab which produces its mod rectangles of tasty on the Lower East Side. There we found enlightening flavors like Guinness (which I didn’t taste) and ricotta (which I did, and it was one of the most delectable pillowy textures I’ve ever crossed).

It might be a little less traditional, but the new insights into the “ideas” of flavors were provokingly satisfying, and made me reconsider my taste expectations.

To cleanse our palates between tastings, we went to Murray’s cheese shop, which might be heaven on earth.

Throw in some glasses shopping, bocce in the park, and savory waffles and color me happy.

Lastly, I’m working on coming back to Brooklyn. More details, as we say in the business, “t/k.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Achievement; Defeat

Sorry, project meatless...

After braving the hour+ line at the Shake Shack today, victory was mine. I drank from the chalice of victory...and bought myself the finest hot dog in all the land.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Loving Lemon Pledge

The veneer between persuasive and pushy is both thin and permeable. On good hair days, when the back cowlick of my crown does not resemble Alfalfa from The Little Rascals, I fancy myself “persuasive”…but I do harbor a tendency to foist limoncello onto unsuspecting guests.

I introduce limoncello as highbrow, haute, and an acquired taste for an advanced palate. “Some believe limoncello tastes like lemon Pledge” I’ll condescendingly dismiss, “when it’s actually the nectar of the Sorrentine Peninsula, using the most choice Amalfi lemons.” (Some acquired tastes just need a little push toward the summit of appreciation).

Upon first imbibing, limoncello frequently meets with sour expressions. However, the “lemon pledge effect” wears off after 10 minutes or so, and I notice that deniers usually pour themselves a second splash: I’ve won another patron over to the cause.

For those who are unfamiliar, limoncello is an Italian liqueur that hails from coastal Italy, often Sicily, easily recognized from its arresting neon color and cloudy opacity. Served freezer-chilled in cordial glasses, the dense thickness coats the palate with a robust wallop of lemon flavor. And while I usually engineer the liqueur’s image as “delicacy,” the truth is somewhere closer to “bathtub punch” because of its simple list of ingredients and rustic production process. However, store-bought ‘cello tends to be too syrupy and a little waxy, so I thought I’d try my hand at Italian moonshine.

6 lemons
1 fifth of high-proof vodka or grappa
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 bottles (or mason jars)

Step One:

Peel the zest of all six lemons with a peeler or a box grater, ensuring that you skim only the skin and leave behind the bitter pith. Purists will use Sorrento or Eureka lemons—in our liberal arts version, we used lemons. From a plastic-mesh bag.

Step Two:
Go ahead and add the zest to the high-proof vodka—I used 100 proof Smirnoff—which will draw more of the lemon oil from the rind.

I’ll let Charles Perry from the LA Times do the math for you:

“Using 100-proof Smirnoff 57, the usual recipe will give you a limoncello with the same alcoholic content as commercial varieties: 60 proof. If you use the more common 80-proof vodka, on the other hand, you'll have to steep the peels longer to get as much flavor out of them, and the recipe will give you a 50-proof limoncello.”

Close that mason jar or bottle and leave it out, at room temperature, for a week. (I gave it a little hustle routine about once a day to mix it up.)

Step 3:
Drain the lemon peels from the infused vodka, which should have a deep yellow color at this point. (Note: if you are not using a mason jar, have another receptacle ready for the last step—those lemon peels cling to their former home, and do not easily extract themselves from inside the bottle.)

Step 4:
Stir the sugar and water together over low heat to create the simple syrup, and reduce by half. Let the syrup cool to room temperature.

Step 5:
Pour the simple syrup and lemon infused vodka back into the mason jar or bottle, careful not to fill it to the brim, and stick it in the freezer. The liquid should grow cloudy after 8-9 hours in the ice box, but I left it there for another 4 days.

The result: a far more buoyant, crisp flavor than store-bought ‘cello, and a use for my beloved, physically-challenged cordial glasses.

You can also use different citrus fruit to customize your 'cello--I've seen limecello, orangecello, and I'm told tangelo, blood orange, and grapefruit all make zesty incarnations of this theme.

Photo credit: Shamballah

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bizarre Morning Ritual

In another installment of “Mozzadrella’s Midwestern Manners” I have to note and lament a certain behavior I’ve noticed since venturing Eastward. I find it counterintuitive and gratuitous, bordering on the excessively meticulous.

I am talking about the ritual of carrying to-go coffee in a bag.

Both self-contained and effortlessly portable, paper coffee cups elegantly mesh form and function! Why on earth would someone destabilize a vessel of hot liquid by placing it in a permeable paper sack with little material integrity?

Now the American tic of walking with a hot beverage is a practice I do appreciate—when living abroad, I found it irritating to forcefully “savor” my coffee while seated and immobile. But when asked: “Do you want a bag for that?” as I’m served deli coffee, I can’t restrain my unsightly grimace.

My hypochondriacal nature could interpret this habit as a shielding from others, or preserving the leisurely experience of drinking coffee by waiting to enjoy until arriving at your final destination. Neither rationalization satisfies. Do native New Yorkers have a sense of the reasoning behind this distinct custom?

Image credit: katerw

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fire, Ice, Camp

This week has presented a flurry of baffling and particularly distressing challenges. Early Wednesday morning the fire alarms in my apartment building unleashed their sonic terror, and with my guests I proceeded down to the ground floor, surrounded my murmurs of “I hear it’s real” and “No, it’s not a drill.” In my grandpa pajamas, we waited in the rain for hours, learning in dribs and drabs that yes, the fire was the floor below my apartment, and watching the fire truck posse grow in strength. Once we received the green light to return to the apartment, we found ourselves locked out: the management had stripped out our core lockset to make way for the firemen, and replaced it with the wrong one. I finally reached my bed at 8:30am, damp and depleted.

I decided to take the afternoon off, and hit some of the Jersey City food targets I’d been meaning to visit on the weekends. Sam and I stopped at Taqueria on Grove Street, which has solid enchiladas and tortas (hard to find in New York, where bland Tex-Mex seems to satisfy most appetites) and headed to Erie Street for dessert.

Full disclosure: I prefer the savory to the sweet. I’d much rather have camembert than cannoli (heresy, I know!). To a person with this disposition, get thee to Torico’s homemade ice cream parlor. Torico’s (the name stems from a contraction of “all good,” “todo”+“rico”) has opened every spring for the past 38 years, and is known for its unconventional and innovative flavors.

From top left: Poundcake, Ube, Green Tea, Lychee, Jackfruit, Ginger. I know, I need to refine my photo-taking skills, I just butcher it.

Torico’s makes ice cream every day, all day, and gets ideas from both divine inspiration and customer requests. They were very obliging, encouraging us to taste the guava, the coconut cream, the pumpkin. Most intriguing was the Mamey fruit flavor, which had a curious blend of strawberry and nutty essences.

(Mamey fruit: a.k.a. San Domingo apricot or South American apricot)

On its face, the mamey is not an especially alluring fruit—let me assure you it’s a delicious, subtle experience. After much dithering, Sam ordered the avocado, which also possessed a delicate, understated refreshingness—an exceptional translation into the realm of confection.

(Sam being encouraged to stop vacillating between flavors and pick one already.)

As you can see from the photograph, Sam was in dire need of a haircut, so we stopped at Balance, the salon-cum-vintage clothing retailer next to the ice cream shop.

The interior of the shop features a rich, overstimulating décor—vibrant stuff, kooky stuff, in a retired-costume-designer sort of a way.
Hats, scarves and other props line the stylists’ stations, as if they just might burst into “I Feel Pretty” from overexposure to perm fumes.

We couldn’t track down a stylist that afternoon, but I plan on giving the salon a shot after my hair grows another ¼ inch.

Torico’s: 20 Erie St, Jersey City
Balance Salon: 18 Erie St, Jersey City

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mozzadrella on the Move: Bensonhurst

Bensonhurst is fecund terrain for both d-list fame and hardscrabble scandal. Joey Fatone grew up here. So did Marissa Tomei. Solidly Italian for the past century, in the 80’s the area came to notoriety through a link to “the Teflon Don” John Gotti—a car bomb exploded on 86th street with Gotti as the intended mark. In the early 90s, the Reverend Al Sharpton was attacked and stabbed in the chest while he was leading a protest through the neighborhood.

Like Arthur Ave., Bensonhurst prevails as one of the last distinctly Italian regions in the city. Unlike other touristy areas, this neighborhood performs strictly for itself—rich in a sort of earnest pride, undiluted by irony, fully embracing its garishness. Flags on the sidewalks wave brazen and brash, serve as gatekeepers for record stores, pastry shops, and ravioli artisans.

SAS Italian Records makes its presence known blocks away. It sounds like a parade mixed with a tornado drill siren on a loop. SAS acts as part cultural embassy (it imports countless records and tapes, in addition to Italian shave creams and body washes) part kitchen supply resale shop, part bocce uniform outfitter. Looking over the sparkly porcelain masks and cherubic Jesus mini-statues, I instantly understood my Grandmother’s early adoption of Precious Moments figurines. There is literally no accounting for (or, perhaps, genetic resistance to) taste.

One wall of the store is completely covered in little horns—as keychains, as necklaces, as review-mirror ornaments. Yes, little horns, also known as cornicello (or corno, or cornuto) symbolize virility in Italian and Italian-American culture. Originally linked to the horns of pagan moon goddesses, and later the Virgin Mary, the cornicello is the epitome of Italian bling culture. According to lore, these horns protect against the “evil eye” which harms “nursing mothers and their babies, bearing fruit trees, milking animals, and the sperm of men -- the forces of generation.” My father, I am told, proudly donned a cornuto ‘neath, or entwined with, his tufts of chest hair in the open-collared 70s.

On closer appraisal:

Elena identified with the wooden soldiers (we think?) featured in the window.

At Queen Anne’s Ravioli Shop, I finally uncovered the mystery of the home-ripened fetus-looking cheese!

“Scamozza” is a dried mozzarella, with a more robust flavor, and a slightly harder tooth. After drying for about 24 hours, the cheese resembles the low-moisture part-skim mozz we might find in the grocery store, thereafter, the cheese comes closer to percorino or parmesan in texture.

Off for sweets. Villabate Alba Bakery has marzipan down to an art form: the craftsmanship looked more like model planes than sugar and ground almonds.

We acquired a neopolitan crème, cannolli, pignolli and fennel-seed “S” biscuits, and hunkered down with cappuccino at Bensonhurst’s old man social club. There we overhead resigned husbands trade horror stories about their wives, challenge each other to pugnacious rounds of bocce later in the afternoon.

Bensonhurst is roughly bordered by 13th-20th avenues, 63rd-86th streets in South Brooklyn near Coney Island.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dumbo-style Scary

Yes, those are wrapped in plastic.
14th st NW & Rhode Island Ave., Washington DC