August 2008

Attack of the Cucumbers!

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Patty Jang, a playwright who lives in Brooklyn where she is working on her play “Yellow Peril 3.0,” somehow sneaked her way into the mix. For the sake of not making her angry, let’s listen to her whine about cucumbers!]

We’ve all heard that the best way to eat is to eat locally, organically, and seasonally, but when you’re making a fruit tart that calls for out-of-season cherries shipped in from California, it’s hard to be a saint. To force ourselves into eating more responsibly, Lauren and I decided to join the Washington Square CSA, which gets produce from Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York. After fighting the hordes that swarm the Union Square Whole Foods, picking up our produce at the CSA is an absolute pleasure. While weighing out our share of stunning organic tomatoes, beets, and delicate salad greens, I congratulated myself for being a conscientious citizen of the Earth… until I saw the overflowing bins of cucumbers. For the last nine weeks, we have been bombarded with cucumbers. I’m talking pounds and pounds of cucumbers. Every week. I hate cucumbers.

A (Butter) Rose By Any Other Name

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. His old friend Mark Blankenship, who writes for The New York Times and Variety and has his own blog called The Critical Condition, talks to us today about a butter rose.]

Before I begin, let me thank Adam for the invitation to transform from a pop culture critic into a foodie. The world looks different over here. And more delicious!

When Adam threw open the doors of The Amateur Gourmet, I started paying a lot more attention to what’s happening on my plate. Or more specifically, I went to a wedding last week and got really interested in the food.

As usual, I was impressed by the fancy touches, like this rose made out of butter. Butter! I know, right?

But this time, I did more than just admire the butter. I started to think about why it impressed me in the first place.

Mercadito Cantina is Better Than Sex

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Today is a post from one of Adam’s closest friends, his old roommate Diana Fithian! You know Diana, you love Diana, and now you get to read a post written by her just for you. Aren’t you excited? Oh, and just so she fits in with all the mighty guest posters here on the blog, Diana is the author of “Girls on the Clock” which was recently performed at Brown University as part of their Playwright’s Rep. Take it away Diana!]

Really good Mexican food is hard to come by in New York. My boyfriend Mark is from Santa Fe, New Mexico and finds most NYC Mexican mediocre at best. I’m from Virginia so I’m maybe not quite as good a judge, my town didn’t even have a Taco Bell until I was in high school, but his high standards have rubbed off on me. One Mexican restaurant we both approve of is Mercadito on Avenue B between 11th and 12th, but the steep-ish price keeps us from going too often.

The Mexican gods must have heard our prayers because just a few weeks ago a new spot opened literally across the street from good old Mercadito: Mercadito Cantina, basically Mercadito’s cheaper, prettier, more fun younger sister.

The Science of Fressing

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Now comes a post from not just a friend of Adam’s, but a colleague: the director and producer of The FN Dish, Matthew Horovitz. Here Matthew shares with us his knowledge of all things Jewish, fishy and preserved–you’re about to get schooled in the science of fressing.]

When Adam asked me to guest blog for him, his only mandate was to “write about something that excites you,” so, naturally, my thoughts turned to lox. I recently attended a seminar at New York’s Astor Center at which the Don Corleone of smoked salmon, Mark Russ Federman, broke down all the possible science in the world of Jewish sushi. Federman is the owner and third-generation “Russ” of New York’s fabled Russ & Daughters, a mecca for fressers known far and wide.

Bellini’s Beijing Dining Faves

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. One of his friends, Jason Bellini, is a rock star freelance correspondent who you may recognize from his days as news anchor on LOGO, the gay channel. Jason filed this report exclusively for us while covering the Olympics; isn’t that cool? He’s our first official news correspondent!]

How To Raise A Four-Star Baby

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Today’s post comes from Phoebe Damrosch, author of Service Included, a book that Adam loved. Phoebe and her husband, Andre Mack, both of whom worked at Per Se, are recent parents and this is Phoebe’s account of raising a four-star baby.]

You know you’re food-obsessed when you go into labor and your first thought is “I should go to the farmer’s market now, before these contractions get any stronger.” So, two Saturdays ago, I roused my husband, grabbed the dog, and waddled the five blocks to our local market, stopping every few minutes to lean against a tree and moan. We stocked up on the deep summer bounty – peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, basil – knowing that we’d be curled up at home for the next few days. A few hours later, our son Finnegan was born in our kitchen. Not long after that, we were eating peaches on the couch, wondering whether they were really going to let us keep him.

When you’re expecting a baby, everyone warns you that your life is about to change. They are right of course, but not only in the ways that one would imagine – sleepless nights, endless laundry, etc. What I noticed right away was that I had suddenly moved to Sesame Street. Until this point, I had often felt like an intruder in the historically African-American, increasingly African, quickly-gentrifying neighborhood. But overnight, my feeling about the place changed. Suddenly the people who make up my world – in my case a world revolving around food – were cooing over the baby, hugging me, and telling me about their own children. Neighbors introduced themselves when I sat on the stoop in the evenings and stopped to chat in the grocery store.

During our first week together, I took Finn on the rounds, narrating all the way: here’s the Senegalese bakery with the killer coffee and almond croissant; these are the red velvet cupcakes that your mama has been eating for the last nine months and now sincerely regrets; this is our wine shop; this is Carlos, the world sweetest health food store owner; this is the best Ethiopian restaurant in the city; and this is the 24-hour deli where you’ll (hopefully not) buy your first beer and cigarettes.

When Adam wrote asking whether I would write a guest post on the blog, he suggested that I talk about “How to Raise a Four-Star Baby.” I think the first step is to give birth in a kitchen, if only so that later you can utter phrases like “what do you mean you won’t do the dishes – you were BORN in a kitchen!” or “what do you mean you don’t eat vegetables – you were born in a KITCHEN!” Of the next step, I’m not so sure. We’ve been holding garlic, tarragon, and Oregon Pinot up to Finnegan’s nose, imagining the neurons multiplying. Four-star or no, the people he meets, the foods he smells, the sound of the Mister Softie truck driving by – a world is taking shape. And I am doing my best to make it a delicious one.

Southern Harlem highlights for munchkins of all ages:

Les Ambassades (almond croissants, mango and ginger juices, cafe au lait)

2200 Frederick Douglass @ 119th St.

Make My Cake (red velvet cake)

121 St Nicholas @116th St.

Zoma (Ethiopian cuisine)

2084 Frederick Douglass @113th St.

Harlem Vintage (friendly neighborhood wine store)

2235 Frederick Douglass @ 121st St.

Interning at The Spotted Pig

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Today’s post comes from Dan Ahdoot, a stand-up comedian (see his website), who spent part of his summer, this summer, working at The Spotted Pig. This is his story.]

I’ve always been obsessed with eating good food. After reading books like Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and more recently Bill Buford’s Heat, my obsession took me from the dining room to the kitchen. In a masochistic way, I craved the kitchen’s insanity and abuse that was depicted in such raunchy candor in these books. So you can imagine my surprise, and in a weird way, my disappointment when I walked into the kitchen at The Spotted Pig on my first day as summer intern, greeted by a tender, sweet-faced woman named Nicola who practically hugged me and said: “Hey Dan, welcome to The Spotted Pig. We’re excited to have you.” What? No hazing? No ‘who the fuck are you’? Is The Spotted Pig the Romper Room of kitchens? Seeing Nicola’s arms as we shook hands suddenly dispelled that fleeting thought. Her arms are not only tatted up, they’re also covered with burn marks…deep, violent, permanent burn marks. You know that scar from 1st grade you show off whenever a scar contest starts? She’s got about 15 of those on her right forearm. Nicola was the perfect person for me to meet first because she embodies the kitchen run by head chef April Bloomfield. A very sweet exterior, coupled with a truly hard-core interior.

What Broadway Stars Eat Before A Show

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Today’s post comes from none other than Hunter Bell, co-author and star of the hit Broadway musical [title of show]. The New Yorker called [title of show] “a joy from start to finish” and The New York Times hailed it as “a fresh new musical worth cheering.” Today Hunter tells us all about what he and his castmates eat backstage. Take it away, Hunter!]

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) British novelist and essayist.

I like that Virginia Woolf, but I think I might add to her list “star in a big Broadway show well” too.

So whom is this presumptuous guest blogger messing with V. Woolf’s classic quotes? Hi. My name is Hunter Bell and I have the honor of guest blogging for FN rockstar Adam Roberts. I am the book writer for a brand new original Broadway musical called [title of show]. (Yep that’s really the name!) If you don’t believe me go to and for further proof come to NYC and swing by the Lyceum Theatre to see our new hit show. [title of show], in short, is an original musical comedy that chronicles it’s own journey from inception to opening night. If that made your head hurt, all you need to know is that it’s ninety minutes of super fun with a lot of great music, starring myself, along with my co-creator and composer/lyricist Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff, and Larry Pressgrove. (Oh yeah, and we actually have a shout out to the Food Network in our show too! Really!) But enough shameless [title of show] plugging, let’s get to the food part of this thing!

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