Journal entries from October 2009

Duck U.

My latest fantasy?  A Peking Duck cart, set up smack in the middle of Times Square.  I can't stop thinking about it; there's a place out in Flushing that sells wonderful squares of crisp duck skin tucked into little buns with scallions and a squiggle of Hoisin sauce for a dollar.  It's a luxurious snack, and if you set one up in midtown Manhattan there would surely be lines around the block. 

Laurie, Margy, Nancy and I bought the buns, and then went back and bought more. As we devoured the rich little tidbits we began designing the cart, the signage, even the uniforms.  We named it Duck U, and for an entire evening convinced one another that we really were going into the duck business. By the next day the fantasy had faded. Still, for about an hour every day the idea comes floating back, and I find myself dreaming of ducks.  Or at the very least, dreaming of eating those extremely delicious little duck buns.



There's an upside to not having a job: Once again I get to wander the city, following my feet and my appetite.  The weather has been a gift - bright, shiny Indian summer - and for days I've been roaming around with my favorite people. Talking, walking, eating, arting.  One day we walked down to Madison Square Park and ate Shake Shack burgers on the lawn before spending the afternoon devouring art in the Chelsea galleries.  Another we rode the 7 train out to Flushing for soup dumplings.  We found the oldest church in America out there - a quiet Quaker building ithat looks so out of place in that bustling neighborhood. Five minutes away, we descended into the Golden Mall, a vibrant, throbbing, pungent underground warren of tiny restaurants that reminded me of the way Singapore hawker centers were before they were sanitized into pristine cleanliness.  The food down there was superb - great floppy buns filled with chives, bean threads and eggs, and lamb burgers that tingled on the tongue.  Sichuan dumplings, alive with chiles. In one corner a man from Lan Zhou was hand-pulling noodles in one spot while a woman from Xian made knife-cut noodles a few feet away.  It was all dizzyingly delicious, and it cheered me up enormously.   


Impromptu Pasta

When Mitch and Robin showed up last night, I had just finished making the tomato gratin and washing the  salad.  I was beginning to peel the potatoes. Robin glanced down at them and said "What's for dinner?"

When I replied, "You said you were bringing a big Porterhouse," her face fell.

"I completely forgot," she said.

"Oops," I said; we didn't have much in the house.  I opened the freezer and peered in. When I saw the hand-made sausage from heritage pigs I smiled.  "No problem, " I said, "I'll make pasta sauce with this.  It'll be a great dinner."

In the end, Mitch decided to make fresh pasta, so we were all in the kitchen together, drinking wine, eating the liver pate I'd made earlier, spooning up bits of sauce.  It was a terrific meal - and much more fun than the meal I'd planned.  Cheaper, too. 


Final Feast

Launch party for Adventures with Ruth last night was bittersweet: The last Gourmet party, ever.  There were so many people there who mean so much to me, from my colleagues at the magazine, to the production crew that traveled for the show. Friends too, who just showed up to lend  moral support.  Lots of great food, including wonderful little sea urchin crostini.

But I have to say the best part was afterward, when a big group of us went off to Congee Village.  It's my favorite place for an informal party; they have karaoke rooms downstairs where you can be ridiculously silly in total privacy.  (It would be nice if you could turn the lights down a bit, but perhaps that's asking too much.) We feasted for hours, tearing  gingered crabs apart with our teeth, grabbing chewy slices of  raw geoduck off a bed of ice, chewing on pork ribs and pork intestines and slurping up noodles. At the end we slowed it all down with bowls of congee, the most comforting food on earth.  And then we faded off into the early morning dark, wondering when we'll see each other again, and under what circumstances. 


Wild Ducks

Wild ducks! That's my answer to today's angst. Taped Fresh Airyesterday, and I was so sad and tired I think I was babbling andcompletely inarticulate.  The piece is going to air today, and the onlything I can do while waiting to see how much of a fool I've made ofmyself is cook.  I think I'll make a lemon tart - seems perfect forboth the weather and my mood - and then figure out what to do withthese ducks.

My neighbor showed up with them on Sunday.  Huntingseason had just begun, and they were the first he'd shot.  "I don'treally eat much duck anymore," he said, "so I'd like to know thatsomeone is going to do right by them."  Think I'll go down to thefarmers market and buy some kale to make a salad as a first course, andsome berries and apples to cook with the ducks.  Starch?  Rice maybe? Or a kind of orzo risotto with lots of onions and chicken stock? 

If I'm lucky I'll get so absorbed I'll forget to listen to the radio show.


Looking Back at Gourmet

Stella's curled up next to me, purring.  Hailey's at my feet.  I'm getting ready to tape an interview with Terry Gross, and I've been thinking about the pieces that made me proudest at Gourmet. There were so many that transcended recipes and dealt with food as culture, science and politics. 

These are the ones that came immediately to mind:
The first farm issue ten years ago, with all the articles on hard times for farmers, and how they coped. The Latino issue, with that terrific Junot Diaz piece.  David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, which drove so many people crazy.  Barry Estabrook's piece on tomato slaves, which had such a profound impact. His early piece on problems with fish farming, which also had an impact. The stunning piece about transfats, and how the bad news about them was kept from the public for more than 20 years. Daniel Zwerdling's piece on chickens. David Rakoff on Jews and bacon. Bruce Feiler's hilarious adventures as he tried to buy his way into restaurants.  All those gorgeous Ann Patchett essays.  Francis Lam on omelets. Michael Pollan on Joel Salatin. Aleksandra Crapanzano on falling in love in Paris.  Ben Cheever working at Cosi. John Haney's Fair Shares for All. Phyllis Richman on land trusts... the list goes on and on. 

I am so sad that it's over.


What now?

While we were creating, it didn't feel right to be posting here. But now that Gourmet is, sadly, a piece of the past, this is where you'll find me.

At the moment I'm still working on Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth, which debuts this weekend on public television.  Right now I'm viewing the rough cut of the China episode, getting really hungry as I watch myself and Dean (Fearing) cooking spicy eggplant, the best sweet and sour pork I've ever tasted (the secret is a syrup made from osmanthus flowers), and wonderful little egg-wrapped dumplings.  We were in Yangshuo, a stunningly gorgeous part of the world. The whole time I was there I had the surreal feeling that I had walked right into one of those achingly beautiful 16th century Chinese ink drawings.

I'm still on booktour, too, and as soon as I know where I'm going to be, and when, I'll post that.  Right now I can tell you that I'll be reading at The Book Loft in Great Barrington this Saturday at 1, and I'll be in Philadelphia on October 26th.  Tomorrow I'm going to be talking to Terry Gross on NPR.

You can follow me on Twitter, too.


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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.