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eG Foodblog: Megan Blocker - Food and the City

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#1 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 06:47 AM

Good morning, all!

I'm really excited about doing my first foodblog, and I can't wait to show you around New York City, my adopted hometown. This week we'll be hitting the opera (pre-theatre dinner and during-intermission Champagne make it food-related!), Babbo, a couple of markets, and loads of other fun spots. I'll also be cooking a whole bunch, and giving it my all to make something I've never made before...but more on that later.

I've lived in Manhattan since graduating from college in 2001, and have loved it from day one. At first, my forays into the New York food scene were exclusively restaurant-based - milking my California-based mom for dinner at all the new places I wanted to try when she was in town, while eating Kraft dinner or Ramen at home when she wasn't. At some point, I realized how much money I could save and how much better I could treat myself if I actually started cooking for myself. I always had the skills (I used to throw brunches and cocktail parties), but just never cooked for myself on a regular basis.

Well, that's changed, and if I'm still not the most accomplished home cook I know (and certainly not anywhere close to it here on eGullet), I am one of the happiest.

I live on the Upper East Side, a neighborhood known for its museums, its palatial Park Avenue apartments, and its (clothes) shopping. I'm hoping to show you my version of the Upper East Side, filled with tiny coffee shops and tinier produce shops, fantastic bakeries and even the occasional decent restaurant. But not to worry - we'll also be making visits to SoHo, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, at the very least.

I am off from work this week, since my mom is here from California, and am leaving right now to meet her for breakfast before she has to catch a plane home. :sad: But, I'll be back with a full report on breakfast and any adventures undertaken on the way home.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from all of you - is there anything you'd like to see me do this week? Any place you'd like me to visit and photograph to death for you? Anything you think I should make? I have a bit of a head cold, and am pondering garlic soup for dinner tonight. Recommendations are VERY welcome!

See you soon!
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#2 snowangel

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 06:54 AM

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from all of you - is there anything you'd like to see me do this week?  Any place you'd like me to visit and photograph to death for you?  Anything you think I should make?  I have a bit of a head cold, and am pondering garlic soup for dinner tonight.  Recommendations are VERY welcome!

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So, I was right when I guessed you were up next!

Yes to the garlic soup if you have a cold (I have one, too).

Would you please make me some madelines?
Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

#3 Safran

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 07:25 AM

Hey, Megan, this will be one cool week! Can hardly wait for the food and the pictures - I'll be visiting New York trough your eyes. Happy blogging!!!

#4 daniellewiley

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 07:29 AM

Yay!! I was hoping you were the blogger!

I will try to think of some NY things I miss that I'd like to see through your eyes.

Any chance you'll be going to Pegu? That's a place I'd really love to visit.
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#5 Jake

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 07:31 AM

Really looking forward to your blog, Megan. It's been awhile since I've been in NYC and I'm missing it desperately, EVERY photo will be welcome.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

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#6 wattacetti

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 07:43 AM

Photographing anything and everything would be great. More of those madeleines too (those were nice).

#7 Chris Amirault

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 07:43 AM

I'll be reading along, too, Megan! If you manage to make it over to the west side any time, there are some amazing Saudi dates at Fairway these days. And I'd second the motion for a trip to Pegu Club for a Pegu Club. :wink:
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#8 I_call_the_duck

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 08:18 AM

Megan,

Another vote for the madelines, and your carbonara.

Can't wait to see NY through your eyes.
Karen C.

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#9 Lori in PA

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 08:21 AM

Dumb-ish geography question that will make all NYCers shake their heads in silent wonder: Upper East Side? I've spent time in two main areas of NYC: Mt. Sinai Medical Center and the touristy stuff around the Empire State Building, et al. Is Mt. Sinai on the UWS or UES? I'm trying to imagine you in your environment.
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#10 monavano

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 08:24 AM

Megan,
I love your amazing posts and pics in the "Dinner" thread, so I'm looking forward to your blog. I love NYC and look forward to lots of photos and information about your local grocers, butchers, bakers, coffee shops etc.....

#11 Rebecca263

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 08:45 AM

Yay, it's MEGAN! A week of froth AND substance! Please, your local stuff, and a shot of your kitchen, if you please?
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#12 Abra

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 08:50 AM

Cool, Megan! This will be fun, for sure. I'm glad you're going to Babbo, since I'm always looking at the gorgeous pictures in that cookbook. Other peoples' requests brings up a little question I've had for a while now - is it pronounced Peg-oo, or Peg-you? Either sounds weird to me!

#13 FabulousFoodBabe

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 08:57 AM

Megan, I'm very excited to read your blog. What a wonderful, vicarious thrill I'll get from this.

When you go to Babbo, do NOT tell Mario that I had a dream about him. :huh:

Oh -- and when you go to Pegu, if that one really big bartender is still there, get a shot of his pose when he shakes his thang (the cocktail shaker! Get your minds out of the gutter ...) The man really gets down and goes.
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#14 MarketStEl

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 10:10 AM

Dumb-ish geography question that will make all NYCers shake their heads in silent wonder:  Upper East Side?  I've spent time in two main areas of NYC:  Mt. Sinai Medical Center and the touristy stuff around the Empire State Building, et al.  Is Mt. Sinai on the UWS or UES?  I'm trying to imagine you in your environment.

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Quick orientation tip:

The numbered avenues west of Fifth all change to named avenues at 59th Street or when Broadway crosses them. The ones east of Fifth keep their numbers.

The avenues on the Upper West Side, from east to west: Central Park West (8th), Columbus (9th), Amsterdam (10th), Broadway (eventually 11th), West End (12th).

The avenues on the Upper East Side, from west to east: 5th, Madison, Park (=4th), Lexington, 3d, 2d, 1st, York (A). I think there may also be an East End (B) in a few places.

The major hospitals (except for Columbia-Presbyterian, which is all the way up in Washington Heights) are all on the Upper East Side.

Back to the topic:

I've never seen the inside of Zabar's or Fairway, so I'd really like to see pix of both, along with any of the good inexpensive places to eat in your neighborhood. As well as your kitchen and the obligatory fridge shot. I'm especially interested in the kitchen shot to see if a theory I have is proved or refuted. By way of explanation:

At lunch yesterday at a cute little old-school-Philly restaurant in Media, my überboss, the Assistant Vice President for University Relations, got to reminiscing of the time she lived in New York in the course of our conversation. I made the observation that New York abounds in decent, reasonably-priced places to eat just about everywhere you turn. I suggested that this was compensation for the astronomical cost of housing there, an explanation that my colleague took exception to, noting that she was paying more for her house in Media than her Manhattan apartment--but failing to note that she had a larger house all to herself whereas in Manhattan she shared a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate.

I didn't get around to my second explanation, which was that since the typical middle-class Manhattanite lives in an apartment with a kitchen you can barely turn around in, much of the time--especially for social occasions--it's easier to eat out than cook in. (To be fair, you will find kitchens of this type in Center City Philadelphia too. I almost moved into an apartment that had one a couple of years back.)
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#15 Cleo

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 10:11 AM

Dumb-ish geography question that will make all NYCers shake their heads in silent wonder:  Upper East Side?  I've spent time in two main areas of NYC:  Mt. Sinai Medical Center and the touristy stuff around the Empire State Building, et al.  Is Mt. Sinai on the UWS or UES?  I'm trying to imagine you in your environment.

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Mt. Sinai is on the upper (upper) east side, along Fifth Avenue in the upper 90's, low 100's. Across from Central Park.

This map should give you an idea of where things are. Hope that helps!

#16 tejon

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 10:32 AM

I'm so happy to see a food blog from you, Meagan! I've been enjoying your additions to the Dinner! thread for quite a while and can't wait to see what this week brings.
Kathy

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#17 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 10:44 AM

Dumb-ish geography question that will make all NYCers shake their heads in silent wonder:  Upper East Side?  I've spent time in two main areas of NYC:  Mt. Sinai Medical Center and the touristy stuff around the Empire State Building, et al.  Is Mt. Sinai on the UWS or UES?  I'm trying to imagine you in your environment.

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Hey, Lori! Not a dumb question at all. Mt. Sinai is indeed on the Upper East Side - it's on the western border of the neighborhood (5th Avenue), and is about 10 blocks north of where I live. The area of the Upper East Side I live in is also called Yorkville. Here's a link to an interactive map of Manhattan neighborhoods - hope it helps!

The Upper East Side is a big place, extending from 5th Avenue and 59th Street to 110th Street and the East River, by some definitions. :smile:

ETA: Just saw Cleo's contribution - thanks!!!

Edited by Megan Blocker, 22 February 2006 - 11:36 AM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#18 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 11:17 AM

Well, this morning went pretty much as planned...I met my mom for breakfast around 9:30 at a spot called E.J.'s Luncheonette. E.J.'s has three outposts in Manhattan - one on Amsterdam in the West 80's, one in Greenwich Village, and one near me, at 73rd and 3rd. This is the one Mom and I visited today.

E.J.'s is known for large portions of good, solid comfort food - nothing fancy, but plenty of hangover cures to be had, which may explain why they're packed to the gills on weekend mornings. This morning was pretty quiet, about half full. Mom had eggs overeasy, bacon and challah toast with raspberry jam. I had "crispy french toast," which is challah coated in egg, cornflakes and crushed almonds, then fried up in butter. Served with syrup and more butter. It was good - my cold is preventing me from tasting a whole lot, so it seemed bland, but it could just have been my impaired taste buds doing their thing - or not, as the case may be.

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Sorry for the small picture! ImageGullet and I were having a bit of a tiff...we've made up for now, but that picture was the collateral damage, I fear.

After saying goodbye to my mom, I walked uptown to Eli's, a market owned by Zabar's founder Eli Zabar. Eli's can be expensive - their produce in particular seems pricey to me - but they're great for cheeses, prepared foods and breads. Also, unlike Zabar's across town, Eli's is relatively sane, even on a Saturday morning.

I needed to grab garlic, onions and bread for the garlic soup I'm making this afternoon, and also needed to pick up some stock - I don't have much in the freezer right now, so I figure theirs is the next-best thing to homemade. Here's a photo tour of what I found!

Eli's entrance on Third Avenue, looking northeast:

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When you enter Eli's, you walk through a small florist's area, and then you hop on the escalator that will take you down to the market's main floor...

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The escalator dumps you into the produce section - I thought the citrus looked particularly good!

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After you pass through the produce section (where I ended up grabbing the aforementioned onions and garlic as well as a lemon for the endless cups of tea I'm drinking to combat my cold), you enter the prepared foods section. There's a small cooler with sandwiches (brisket with roasted onions on health bread is a typical offering), the requisite sushi, and then shelf upon shelf of soups, stocks, dips, dressings, and the like. This is where I picked up my chicken stock - I noticed that they are also carrying schmalz these days, though I prefer to buy that at the kosher butcher in my block.

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Close to the prepared foods are the olive and pickle bar and the cheese section. The photo I took does not do the cheese section justice - the service here is great, as are the descriptions of each cheese offered on the placards. I am not a huge cheese-easter, but usually serve some to guests, and the folks at Eli's are great about letting me know what will go well with my favorite olives and cornichons.

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I didn't get a chance to document them, but the meat and fish counters are great here, too - recently, the NY Times did an expose on "wild" salmon being sold at counters around NYC, and only Eli's was found to be carrying the real thing.

Before you make it to the escalator that will take you into the baked goods section, you pass through the dry goods area - nuts, dried fruits, coffee, vinegar and oils...all good, though, as noted above, slightly pricey.

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And, here's the view on the up escalator!

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The baked goods at Eli's are awesome - they have the most delicious mini-toasts that are great for parties, and their breads are amazing and relatively cheap. They also always have samples of at least one baked good available for tasting. Today it was some sort of coffee cake, and the gentleman whose hand is in the picture was really enjoying his third taste! :laugh:

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I was very taken by these muffins...

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But I was a good girl. I reminded myself that I was there for bread, and set myself to the task of choosing just one! At first I thought I might go with this one...

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And this is one of my favorites...

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But then I decided on this one:

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On my way toward the checkout counter, I passed the salad bar. This is one of my favorite take-away spots. I'll stop by after work and grab a piece of chicken or a cornish game hen, slap some green beans with garlic in there, and head home.

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I hit the dairy section briefly to pick up some eggs, and saw this gorgeous L'Escure butter. Yum. I resisted temptation, though.

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Finally, I made it out.

And now I'm home, and will soon start on the garlic soup!!!
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#19 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 11:25 AM

Cool, Megan!  This will be fun, for sure.  I'm glad you're going to Babbo, since I'm always looking at the gorgeous pictures in that cookbook.  Other peoples' requests brings up a little question I've had for a while now - is it pronounced Peg-oo, or Peg-you?  Either sounds weird to me!

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Hey, Abra! I'm psyched for Babbo, too! :smile:

Pegu is pronounced "Peg-oo." Weird? Perhaps. But freakin' good, too! :laugh:

Sounds like a trip to Pegu is in my future...I am a slave to popular demand. Likewise, I will definitely make a batch of madeleines at some point!

Now, Fabulous Food Babe, I would never tell Mario that you had a dream about him...though I'm curious to know what it was about, myself! As for pics of the bartenders at Pegu, you can count on it, if they're not too camera-shy. Maybe it's time for my ultra-zoom spygirl lens? :wink:

I didn't get around to my second explanation, which was that since the typical middle-class Manhattanite lives in an apartment with a kitchen you can barely turn around in, much of the time--especially for social occasions--it's easier to eat out than cook in. (To be fair, you will find kitchens of this type in Center City Philadelphia too. I almost moved into an apartment that had one a couple of years back.)

I think this is probably true - I've been lucky to have decent-sized kitchens during my tenure in New York, but I've also sought out apartments with that feature. Most people who live in studios (like I do) have kitchens that are essentially a couple of appliances in the corner of the main living area. I have a separate, eat-in kitchen, and though it's not big on counter space, it's big on room to move - which is nice, especially when people feel the urge to help you out in the kitchen!

As for the abundant, affordable food making up for the lack of entertaining space, I do think that's true. You can eat better for less in New York than in most places, I suspect. Of course, you can also spend more for complete crap. :laugh:
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#20 Smithy

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 11:40 AM

Hey, Megan! Welcome to the world of bloggers!

I'm already enjoying this blog. I've been in NYC once, long ago, and I enjoyed the visit. It'll be fun to visit vicariously. I especially enjoy seeing the variety of foods available in big cities, and it looks like you'll make a good show of them.

Where in California does your mother live? If it isn't too far OT - are you originally from the West Coast, and if so, what brought you east?

I don't know enough about NYC to make requests, but everything suggested so far sounds great. It's never occurred to me to wonder what Babbo's is like inside; all I know is Mario's cookbooks. Of course we want to see what your kitchen looks like, too.

Blog on!

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#21 Kouign Aman

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 11:54 AM

Megan, Im very much looking forward to your description of your neighborhood's little treasures. Thanks for blogging!
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#22 bleudauvergne

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 11:59 AM

Wow what a great beginning! I'm happy to be visiting New York vicariously! :smile:

#23 Lady T

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:12 PM

:biggrin:

Marvelous! It's been nearly three years since I visited NYC. I look forward to an update.

Artisanal (speaking of gorgeous cheeses) didn't impress me immensely when I last tried it. Have you been there? May I hope for better, more recent news?

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#24 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:12 PM

Thank you all so much for all of your good wishes! This is one of the reasons I love eGullet so much - people are so supportive and encouraging! :biggrin:

OK, cheezeball moment is over for now!

Where in California does your mother live?  If it isn't too far OT - are you originally from the West Coast, and if so, what brought you east?

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Hey, Smithy!

My mom currently lives in Fresno, and has been there for a little more than six years now. She moved during my senior year of college. I was born and raised in Connecticut (Greenwich) and went to boarding school in New Hampshire and college outside Philly. I'm definitely a born and bred Northeaster, and much more a New Englander than anything else. However, NYC always had a special sort of allure for me when I was growing up nearby, and I always pictured myself living here as an adult.

Eventually I'd like to try some other cities on for size, but I really do love it here.

On a side note, the garlic soup (from the new Cooking of Soutwest France) is simmering on the stove. I just chopped two onions and half a head of garlic, and didn't smell any of it. WEIRD! Stupid head cold. :angry:

Edited by Megan Blocker, 22 February 2006 - 12:21 PM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#25 Chufi

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:16 PM

Ooooohhh Megan! I can't wait to see the foodworld that looms behind those glorious bowls of risotto, and the plates of golden madeleines...

I went to Babbo when I was in New York 2 years ago.. it was the best meal we had in NY.. so I'm very excited about you going there! This is going to be a great week!

#26 Darcie B

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:17 PM

Wow what a great beginning!  I'm happy to be visiting New York vicariously!    :smile:

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What she said! I have only been to NYC once, and I would love to go again. This blog will make do until I can afford another visit.

Any and all bakery pictures would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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#27 Jake

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:37 PM

Hi Megan, although you mentioned you were off this week I wonder if you might elaborate on what you do when you are working. I'd also love to know where you picked up your cooking skills, at what age, and any "defining" moments in your culinary adventures if that's not asking too much!

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#28 mizducky

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:46 PM

Hi Megan--lovely blog already! I enjoyed the shots of Eli's--partly because I always got a kick out of the often-idiosyncratic layout of Manhattan grocery stores. :smile:

Myself, I wouldn't mind more explorations of typical New York "joints"--coffee shops, bagelries, some of the bazillion little ethnic places. And I'd really love it if you were inspired to fight your way through the line into Barney Greengrass with camera in hand.

#29 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 12:46 PM

And, for those of you who really want to see where the magic happens ( :wacko: ), here are some shots of my kitchen.

It's small on an overall scale, but for your average Manhattan kitchen (and especially in a studio), this is pretty big. It's about 15 by 10 feet, so there's plenty of space for my table and chairs. The one downside is that there is, quite literally, no counterspace. The sliver of it that exists next to the sink is used to hold my dishrack (no dishwasher :sad:). However, my little kitchen cart, together with my table, are more than sufficient for me - it does make collaboration in the kitchen tough, though.

This is the view of the stove, sink and fridge, as seen from the entrance from the living area.

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This is the kitchen cart, which sits on a wall at a 90-degree angle from the stove and fridge...I do all of my chopping and dicing and slicing here, and it's also where I put my mixer and food processor when I use them.

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That pepper mill on the left is an heirloom, handed down to me from my grandmother. My kitchen table (you'll see that later when it's not covered in papers!) is also from her, an early American farmhouse table with (my favorite part) a drawer underneath one leaf!
"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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#30 Megan Blocker

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Posted 22 February 2006 - 01:04 PM

OK, one last post before I head off for a much-needed nap...I know, I know, poor me! :laugh:

Here's the mis en place for the garlic soup:

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From left to right, you can just see the flour canister (wasn't going to dirty a prep bowl with one tablespoon!!!), 2 medium onions, finely chopped, red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic, chicken stock, and schmalz. Yum, schmalz.

Here's the onion and garlic, just added to the pot with the schmalz:

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And here's the soup, after simmering for 30 minutes:

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You then add in two eggs, separated - the yolks are mixed with vinegar, the whites with some reserved stock. However, before doing this, I spooned off about two bowls' worth, knowing that I probably can't enjoy this soup to its fullest right now. I'll save those servings for later in the week.

Here's the final product, with a hunk of that bread!

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As predicted, I could not taste a thing, even when I added loads of salt and pepper. The texture of the soup was lovely and velvety, though, and the bread was great. I can't remember the last time I had such a huge head cold! Hopefully this symptom will pass...I may be forced to pour chiles on everything... :wink:

All right, off to bed for some healing rest...and tonight, it's to Samson et Dalila at the Met!

Edited by Megan Blocker, 22 February 2006 - 01:05 PM.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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