The Week In Review

I haven't been writing much here, this week.  It has nothing to do with us heading to Italy in 12 days, 7 hours, and 32 minutes.  Really.

I mean...  just because I've been spending every waking moment looking at maps, train schedules, events, and attractions for our 15-day vacation doesn't mean I haven't been cooking.  I have been.  But I must admit that The Vacation has taken up most of my time.

It hasn't been about planning the vacation. Tickets are bought and apartments are rented.  We have tickets to get there and places to stay when we arrive.  It's more about learning the lay of the land.  Studying maps and figuring out where things are, what's going on, how to get from Point A to Point B.

While there are a few things that I definitely would like to see - and we have bought some advance tickets -  for the most part, it's doing what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it.

The one thing we have NOT done is search out restaurants or take restaurant recommendations from friends.  We're going to be in Italy.  The food is going to be good.  As I said in the Travel Blog, I’m not a fussy eater.  Some of the best and most memorable food I have ever had in my life has been street food. I’d rather eat with the locals than a celebrity Chef del giorno. Really.  Don't get me wrong.  I absolutely love a great meal prepared with the best ingredients with the utmost care and skill, but both of my feet are generally planted down here in reality-land.

Your best whatever and mine would probably be different, anyway, because so much of what makes something "the best" is more than the ingredients or presentation.  It's the weather, the lighting, the comfort of the chair, two glasses or three glasses of wine...  Was the waiter flirting with you as you ordered and what was the wait?  Were you seated immediately or did you have to wait for an hour for your table?  It's amazing how horrible a wonderful meal can be when the peripherals were off...  It's also amazing how wonderful an otherwise mediocre meal can be when the stars are all aligned...

The whole reason for going is not to see everything we can see - it's more about experiencing the culture and being a part of it.  It's why we have rented apartments instead of staying in hotels.  I worked in hotels for close to 15 years.  The room amenities and decorations may vary, but at their core - they're all the same no matter where you are.

So...  where was I?!?

Ah, yes.  that wonderful Blueberry Tart up there.  It was quite simple.  A single crust blind-baked and filled with a vanilla pudding and topped with blueberries.

I have a standard pudding I make and just tweak it a bit for a firmer or looser consistency.

Basic Vanilla Pudding

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp butter

Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan.  Add milk and whisk until smooth.  Cook over medium heat until thickened – about 3-4 minutes.  Beat egg in small bowl.  Add a bit of the hot milk mixture to the egg to temper.  Add it all back to the pot and cook until thickened – another 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter – stirring until butter is melted.

If you want it a tad thicker, use two egg yolks and a couple of scant cups of milk.  Thinner?  Add a scosh more milk.  Basic.

Now...  man does not live by dessert, alone - although I'll hit the dessert buffet before the entrees if they'll let me - so we have had a few other goodies.  A green bean salad, for one...  Fresh green beans, tomatoes, red onion, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  And just because I had three slices of bacon in the 'fridge, crumbled bacon on top.  It carried us through a couple of meals - along with Mom's Potato Salad.  A salad I cannot make in a small quantity.

With grilled pork chops and roasted potatoes.

With BBQ'd Short Ribs.

A salad with grilled chicken.

And another salad with grilled pork chops.

So the culinary week in review is posted.  The Travel Searching is still ongoing.

And Mad Men Monday is back tomorrow.  I skipped it this week because we didn't watch it until Thursday.  But with just two episodes left... something special is going to be called for...



New York, New York

We did a spur-of-the-moment trip up to New York yesterday.

It was Pride weekend, and with the passage of same-sex marriage in New York a couple of days earlier, it promised to be a bit of a raucous celebration.  We had to be a part of it.

We got into the city just in time for lunch - and experience parade-goers know one can never get raucous on an empty stomach - we headed to Eataly at 23rd and Broadway.  It just happened to be right on the parade route.

Eataly, for the uninitiated, is a huge food emporium put together by Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali.  It's an unbelievable experience of food court, restaurants, and groceries.  And it ain't cheap.  (But to put it in perspective, at Penn  Station on the way home we had an appetizer platter at TGI Fridays and two drinks that cost the same as our lunch.  And the service was surly and there wasn't a pleasant employee in the place. The better deal - by far - was Eataly.)

We wandered the areas and settled on lunch at Le Verdure - the vegetarian eaterie.

I had peaches and portobello mushrooms with greens and balsamic vinegar.  The peaches were perfect.  The mushrooms meaty and flavorful.  The balsamic wasn't the cheap stuff.  The sweet, the bitter, the sharp tang...  It worked perfectly.

Victor went for a caponatta.  Roasted eggplant and roasted red peppers with pinenuts.  It was stellar.  Both of these will be replicated at home.

Our dining companion two tables over was one of the latest cooking stars, Curtis Stone.  He just did an appearance on Good Morning America this morning.  He's easy on the eyes...

Eataly is huge.  There are breads, cheeses, meats, dried pastas, fresh pastas, fabulous-looking desserts...

Dried pastas range from about $2.69/lb to $6.99 and more.  They looked great, but we didn't buy.  We have a cabinet full of pastas right now.  Maybe next trip.

But they did have a great variety of sizes and shapes.  I had a lot of concepts and ideas running through my mind.

Fresh seafood.  Lots and lots of fish.

And the cheeses.  Oh.My.God.  The cheeses.

There aren't enough hours in the day to consume the amount of cheeses I wanted to bring home.  It was breathtaking.  There's just no end to my love of cheese.

And then we found the bakery counter.

A score of different cakes and even more individual desserts.  Calorie-laden gastronomic goodies.  I was in heaven.  Again.

Having been a baker, I just love the colors, textures, and flavors.  I also know just how difficult it is to try and replicate things like this at home.

I wanted two of everything.

If we lived in new York, this would not be my daily grocery store.  But I'd definitely be down here on a regular basis.  It was a lot of fun.  There were enough unique items at a reasonable-enough price to make it worthwhile.  They also had ridiculously over-priced items, as well.  Shop smart, as they say...

But our real reason for being up in the city was the Gay Pride Parade.  It was time to head back outside.

New York is wall-to-wall people on any given day.  Throw a parade into the mix and it really becomes crowded!  Fifth Avenue was jammed solid with the most wonderfully-diverse people imaginable.

Just a wondeful, fun-loving crowd.

And I do mean crowd.

There were the scantily-clad disco-boys showing off their wares to bare-breasted ladies

and everything in-between.

It was really a celebration of people.

From all walks of life.

It really was diverse.

With both fun and somber messages.

Of course we had to pay homage to The Stonewall, where the modern gay rights movement started 42 years ago.

I've had more than a couple of cocktails there in the past and I do have to say the place was pretty much a dive, but I haven't been inside in 25 or so years.  It may have changed a bit.

The neighborhood has changed, too.

It was a great time in a great city with great people.  We had some really fun conversations with celebrants all over.  The young guy in the subway station who started taking off his veil - until we convinced him it was a good look on him!  The young girls on the subway, the guys across from the Stonewall.  And our sweet waitress at Eataly who couldn't wait for her shift to be over at 4pm so she could join in the festivities.

I've always loved New York but have been a bit disillusioned recently because of just how much everything costs - from hotel rooms to theatre tickets to getting there in the first place.

But all of that was swept aside yesterday when I really saw New York at her finest.

I was proud to be a part of it...

New York,  New York.