Madhouse in a Boathouse

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It’s a nice thought: eating Sunday brunch in Central Park’s boathouse, overlooking a peaceful lake, watching the yellow and red leaves fall from the soon-to-be-naked branches. Certainly, it’s not an original idea; certainly, lots of tourists will be there. But can’t it still be enjoyable? How crazy can it get?

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Baked Red Kidney Beans with Chorizo

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Is cheating on a recipe like cheating on a test? I wondered that as I made the “Red Kidney Beans Baked with Chorizo, Chilli, Garlic, and Olive Oil” from Simon Hopkinson’s sequel to “Roast Chicken & Other Stories,” “Second Helpings of Roast Chicken.”

Simon, or Mr. Hopkinson (that feels more appropriate), calls for dried kidney beans in his recipe “soaked in cold water overnight.” I have a philosophy about recipes that call for dried beans soaked in cold water overnight: I hate them! Who plans a recipe the night before? I mean, ok, there’ve been times I knew I was having guests the next day where I made a cake ahead or marinated meat ahead, but I’ve never soaked beans ahead. I just refuse to do it; I use canned beans instead.

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Almond Cake in a Food Processor

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You know the author photos you see on the back flap of cookbooks? Imagine if one of them started talking to you.

That’s how I felt last week when I announced on Twitter that I was making Amanda Hesser’s almond cake (one of my all-time favorite desserts, recipe here) and Amanda Hesser herself, who’s a prolific Twitterer, Tweeted back: “I have a new way of doing the almond cake: mix butter, sugar, almond paste, eggs, sour cream & extract in a food processor.”

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Too Much “Top Chef”

May I gently suggest that there’s a bit too much “Top Chef” coverage out there? It’s a fine show, pretty entertaining, but there’s only so much I’m willing to read about the first eliminated contestants or “Team Rainbow” which, it should be said, is now being promoted by Bravo’s P.R. team in e-mails to bloggers. I literally just got this e-mail: “Last night on Top Chef, the one lesbian and two gay cheftestants crowned themselves ‘Team Rainbow’ in an impromptu genius (and adorable) move over a glass of wine. Now Bravo has created a ‘Team Rainbow’ t-shirt, so anyone can join the club.”

Genius? Adorable? I can hear the producers now standing on set: “Can we get all the gay contestants outside? Great. You guys are Team Rainbow; now say it on camera.”

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Esca

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It’s hard to write about Esca because Esca doesn’t seem real. The first time I ate there, it was for Chapter 8 of my book, the chapter where I met Ruth Reichl for lunch. I was so nervous that day, so focused on the person I was about to meet, that the restaurant didn’t feel like a real restaurant, it felt like a movie set, assembled for this scene in which I was about to participate.

Subsequently, I took Craig there for dinner after seeing a Broadway show. I tried to convince him it wouldn’t be expensive, that it wasn’t fancy, it was casual, that it was totally in our range. It was an absolute lie but we loved it and pretended that the check at the end was just a prop, much like the restaurant was just a movie set.

Now, if I say the word “Esca” after seeing a Broadway show it’s like saying a dirty word or casting a magic spell. A dirty word because spending that kind of money without occasion is obscene; a magic spell because once you say the word, it’s hard not to go there. I didn’t care, however, on a night two weeks ago after Craig and I saw the Broadway play, “Speed-The-Plow.” I uttered the word “Esca” and cosmic forces sent us hurtling down 9th Avenue to 42nd street, where Esca sat waiting for us, ready to indulge us once more.

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Food Blog Methodology

I’ve been known to write essays about the art of food blogging, most notably: How To Start a Food Blog and More Blogging Advice.

For those of you who enjoyed those essays and are working on food blogs of your own, I’d like to tell you a story. Monday morning I woke up and I looked at my site. At the top of the page was a picture of a giant pancake called a Dutch Baby from my post, Weekend Breakfasts. I was about to do a post about a new technique for making Amanda Hesser’s almond cake, suggested by Amanda Hesser herself (it involves a food processor), when I realized that a picture of a powdered-sugar covered almond cake on top of a picture of a powdered-sugar covered pancake might be redundant. So I decided to write about broccoli.

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Quesadilla at The Brooklyn Flea

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Hyperbole is the crutch of the lazy food writer. Take the post below this: “The Best Broccoli of Your Life.” With a title like that, of course you’re bound to read that post. And my enthusiasm, while authentic, is expressed in the most simplistic language possible; like all polarities–“good and bad,” “right and wrong”–“best and worst” are overly reductive, a 4th grader’s tools of expression, not an adult’s.

It is therefore with great humility and restraint that I must avoid titling this post what I wanted to title it: “The Best Quesadilla of My Life.” For the quesadilla I had yesterday at the Brooklyn Flea Market was, without question, the best quesadilla I’ve ever had in my life; yet, I’d lose all credibility if I had two “best of” posts in a row. So let’s just say this quesadilla, which doesn’t look at all like a quesadilla, is much closer to the “best” end of the best/worst spectrum that simple-minded folk like me revert to when writing about food.

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The Best Broccoli of Your Life

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You know you’ve done something right with broccoli when the person you made it for describes it to someone else the next day as “better than biting into a steak.”

Those were Craig’s words and they were a marked change from the first words he uttered about the broccoli, before he bit in: “You made broccoli for dinner? Broccoli and sweet potatoes?”

Then he did bite in and his eyes lit up. “Oh my God,” he said. “This is the best broccoli I’ve ever had in my life.” Later he said: “If parents made this broccoli for their kids, kids wouldn’t hate broccoli. They’d beg for it.”

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