There’s nothing like New York during the holidays. As many of you know, I spent Thanksgiving in New York this year visiting family, staying with my little sister in Soho and eating many, many cookies. And slices of pie. And cupcakes. I wanted to share a quick photo tour of our time spent bakery-hopping so next time you find yourself in the city, you have a sense of where to go and what to try.
And definitely never tire of window shopping, pondering brownstones I’d buy if I were wealthy, or… pie.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Four and Twenty Blackbirds is in Brooklyn and we fell for this quaint pie shop much like I knew we would. They’ve gotten a lot of press lately and are in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, but this is the place to come and seek out a good old-fashioned slice of pie served by two charming sisters who have successfully created a shop that’s drawing in the masses. We tried the maple custard pie and the salted caramel apple pie. Both were outstanding. Request a dollop of whipped cream and snag the seat by the window with the breezy curtains. Doesn’t get much better than that.
A few hours after wandering around Park Slope, Zoe and I hopped on a bus and headed over to Baked in Red Hook. If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m obsessed with these guys. And the small neighborhood bakery didn’t disappoint. We tried many things and brought a bag of treats home for Zoe’s roommates. Baked is known for their salted caramel brownie and the Brookie (half brownie/half cookie) and both are absolutely worth the trek to Red Hook. The Brookie kind of turned our afternoon upside down–it’s one of those things you try and wonder why no one thought of doing it before. And they do a darn fine whoopie pie: not at all dry, perfectly cakey and ultra chocolaty. It’s tough to nab a seat but there are benches outdoors and the block itself has a few cute shops.
Back in Manhattan, there’s a great new American bakeshop in Chelsea called Lulu. Much like Baked, they specialize in my favorite kind of desserts: nostalgic American baked goods. And they’re seriously not messing around. Their chocolate yodels were incredible and the selection of cakes is kind of like a step back in time. Our favorite though, hands down, was the red velvet yodel. It’s decadent and rich and you probably shouldn’t eat a whole one yourself, but you can always justify it with a brisk stroll around Chelsea Market (across the street) afterwards. A really charming spot not to miss if you appreciate retro desserts.
The Donut Plant
Valrhona donut? Yes, please.
My other sister Rachael and I had heard of this great place to get donuts in the city called The Donut Plant. Another bakery in an under-the-radar location, The Donut Plant rocks. Go here. Get their infamous square jelly -filled donut (another brilliant invention!) and any seasonal specialties that sound like they’d make you happy (the pumpkin was quite something). Share with a sister, a friend, a neighbor on the subway.
Maybe all you New Yorkers know the deal with this place, but the spot on 160 Prince Street that’s labeled “Vesuvio Bakery” has apparently been sold to another bakery but they haven’t changed the signage? We were a little unclear about this, but we were very clear about how amazing their chocolate chip cookies were. It was an impromptu, unplanned cookie–the best kind. When cruising around Soho, a good pick-me-up spot.
Clinton Street Bakery
The folks at Clinton Street Bakery are known for their fluffy blueberry pancakes. And there’s a perpetual 1-2 hour wait on the weekends which, truthfully, I always find a little annoying. But it was a sunny crisp Sunday in New York and I was meeting a friend for brunch and we had a whole lot to catch up on, so it was all good. Were the pancakes legendary? You know what? They may have been the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever had, actually. They were pretty darn good. I’m not sure they were ‘2-hour wait’ good, but you can always buy one of their amazing buttermilk biscuits to nibble on outside while you hang out and people watch.
Part of David Chang’s Momofuku mini-empire, Milk Bar is his little dessert off-shoot. I was smitten with this place. Smitten in a ‘I can’t talk right now, I’m taking all of this in’ kind of way. They do this really brilliant soft serve with innovative flavors in which you can actually taste the layers of flavor. It’ll make you look at soft serve in a whole new light. They’re known for their Crack Pie and Compost Cookie which we tried–both buttery, buttery goodness, and fun packaging. Standing-room only communal tables, good buzz and energy and desserts you don’t see every day make this a must-do on any NYC bakery-hopping adventure.
So that about wraps it up. There was also cappuccinos at Caffe Reggio–apparently the first ever cafe to serve cappuccino in the U.S. (really?!) We were lucky enough to eat at some great restaurants as well: The Little Owl, Blue Hill, Momofuku Noodle Bar and Craft among them. And if you haven’t been to Mario Batali’s Eataly, you really must see it. I wrote about our trip there on Bay Area Bites last week if you’d like to know more. There were so many other spots I really wanted to go to but there are just so many hours in the day. Any of your favorites you don’t see here? What’d we miss?
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.