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I’m Too Excited to Sleep

Actually, I can always sleep, no problem. I've never understood those Ambien addicts. I just get in bed and close my eyes and I fall asleep. But my wholesome sleeping habits aren't issue here. Though I haven’t noticed it in a few weeks, I was most disturbed when maybe a month ago I discovered that Disney World had dug up that extremely old commercial where the little boy at the end says in a peculiarly endearing voice (I’m only ever swayed by the use of pipsqueaks in advertisements maybe 2% of the time) “I'm too excited to sleep.”

Seeing it made me feel like I was going insane because I know that thing must be at least a decade old. I swear, my sister and I used to laugh at that commercial and we haven't lived in the same city and watched American TV together since 1994. That kid probably has kids of his own by now. At the very least, he’d be in college.

It’s not a classic like that Mikey Life cereal deal, so I don’t think they’re trying to capitalize on nostalgia. And I can’t imagine that Disney World is so cheap that they’d be forced to re-use a twelve-year-old commercial. There’s nothing distinctly dated about it, the hairstyles are kind of neutral and the family is wearing pajamas rather than clothes so there’s little giveaway there either.

  Marketmap_1Slightly less baffling, but no less confusing is how I keep seeing Sonic ads when there aren’t any Sonics even remotely near NYC. And they're not planning on coming here any time soon, if I'm to believe their map. The nearest location is 123 miles away in Ephrata, PA. Isn’t that wrong somehow? Aren’t ads sold in targeted markets? When I first moved here I went nuts every time I saw an ad for Friendly’s because I’d never heard of such a place and it sounded so likeable. You know, friends and ice cream, it doesn’t get any better. But the only one in NYC, at least at the time, was at a Staten Island mall. I did end up going almost two years later (scroll to 6/13/00 if you’re that bored/curious–it was too much trouble to import ancient entries by date) and it was a bit of a freak show. I’m not sure if it’s worth a two-hour drive just for Tea & BLT.

Las Ramblas

Tapas are tricky. I love the little morsels, but I'm averse to the little rooms that usually go along with the package. It's not like I'm accustomed to large open spaces in NYC, but tapas in particular seem synonymous with long waits and being squished. Um, and I have my own issues with bar stools: one, my balance is horrendous, I feel like I'm going to topple over, and two, I have a fat ass, at least fat enough to mush over the sides of many stools' tiny circular tops.

I shied away from Tia Pol for ages because I thought it would be a nightmare, and it wasn't at all. Las Ramblas is more how I envisioned Tia Pol to be, if that makes any sense. Not a nightmare by any means, but bedroom-sized with a handful of nearly touching tables. When I arrived there were actually two spots open, but they wouldn't seat me without my dining companion so I waited the four-stooled bar. Of course, the place filled up in mere minutes and when James showed up we just ate at the bar because there was no telling if anyone was ever going to leave (we were asked if we wanted an open table about half way through, but we were already established where we were).

We didn't go wild with ordering, just four items, and pretty basic ones at that. Everything was likeable, but perhaps a notch below the dishes we had at Tia Pol (I'm only using them for comparison because it's the most recent tapas experience I've had, though it wasn't all that recent).

Simple gambas. There was something almost Caribbean about the preparation. Instead of simply sliced garlic, it was like they'd used a sofrito.

I'm scared of mayonnaise but love patatas bravas. And I never thought I'd say this, but these potatoes could've actually used a touch more aioli.

Albondigas, plain and simple.

Serrano and idiazabal. I could eat this ham and cheese all day.

Las Ramblas * 170 W. 4th St., New York, NY

Shoes and Forks

Bigfoot I'm a sucker for cheap, cute flats. Yeah, they're flimsy and slapped together with weird synthetic non-leather. That doesn’t bug me. What does is the weirdo sizing. I can't figure out why shoes of this ilk are generally available in whole and half sizes from 6-9, and then a 10. Of course I wear a 9 1/2. A 9 squeezes my foot and gives me blisters. I often end up buying a 10, but the back won't stay on and I get foot cramps from squeezing my toes to keep the shoes from falling off while walking fast or going up stairs. I'm trying to figure out the logic that would have them make shoes up to a 10 and make half sizes all the way up to 9, then stop and jump up a whole size. Of course, the sensible solution would be to buy higher quality shoes that fit, but why the hell should I have to?

Completely non-related, but I'm not into seperate posts per topic:

Is it PR or just good luck when a new restaurant opens in a relatively isolated (yet rapidly hipifying) corner of the city and instantly get tons of press? I can’t count (well, I could but I’m busy with more serious things at the moment) the number of times I’ve seen The Good Fork mentioned in the past two weeks. Last week it got the New York underground gourmet treatment, today it was $25 and under in The New York Times. I hit it up last week, primarily because it’s near my apt., and was like what’s the big deal? It was certainly likable, but not any more than lots of other likable places. People are just fixated on Red Hook lately.

I will say that I’m quite stoked (yes, I said stoked—that’s how freakin’ stoked I am!) for the mysterious Fairway that was slated for spring 2006. It’s going to be great, a huge real grocery store that’s nearly impossible to reach via the subway. A paradise for the local riffraff and intrepid shoppers.

It’s a Mockery

If I don't watch it, I'm going to turn into Rachael Ray, mangling traditional food with shortcuts and messed up ingredients. I'm not ashamed. Last night I was in a pinch and wanted to make something easy with stuff I had on hand, so I turned to a packet of Brahim's instant rendang that I bought at a Carrefour in Singapore.

I find many of the packaged pastes in Asia to be a notch above many mainstream American counterparts, but maybe I'm just thinking of McCormick taco seasoning and powdered alfredo sauces (James likes the Knorr carbonara sauce, but I'm not completely convinced).

KangkungfixingsThe Brahim's is a just add chopped meat and water and simmer affair. Simple. But I didn't have traditional beef on hand, or even chicken in its ideal form. Using boneless, skinless chicken breast instead of a hacked up chicken was very American of me. I definitely prefer the bones and the skin, but I had two giant bags of breasts from Costco in the freezer that needed to get used. Plus, somehow I can justify the oil and coconut milk when using a leaner, albeit less flavorful, cut of poultry.

I needed a basic vegetable side dish and thought of stir-fried water spinach, kangkung, kangkong, whatever you like to call it (not king kong, however) but that's not going to happen on a Sunday night in Carroll Gardens. Korean deli spinach is as good as it gets, and it sufficed.

Mock Kangkung Belacan

5 bird chiles
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked in water and drained
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 bunch of spinach
1 tablespoon oil
¼ cup water

Puree chiles, garlic, dried shrimp and shrimp paste in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Fry paste in oil for about four minutes (normally, you'd use 3-4 times the oil, but I'm skimpy with cooking fats and use a nonstick pan). Add the spinach and water and toss until wilted and cooked down.

Serves 4


I'm not really bothered by strong smells (I think I'm permanently stuffed up) so shrimp paste doesn't bug me. It is pungent, though, so novices beware. We opened up a bunch of windows and you could still smell the belacan fumes all night. Also, a pinch of sugar probably would've been a nice addition, but it didn't occur to me until right now.

Post-Easter Bliss

Target422 I've been on a few NYC Target excursions since my last Linden, NJ adventure, but they were nothing to write home about. I always feel more satisfied by New Jersey, and it's reflected in my receipts. I blew $131 like it was nothing.

That's what happens when you buy clothes. I mean, the most expensive thing I bought was a green and brown striped drop waist dress for $24. $131 wouldn't even get you a dress at many stores. I also picked up a black drapey number for $19 (which I think might be too big, believe it or not, and now I'm having a dilemma because I doubt they'll have much of a selection to choose an exchange from at the closer Atlantic Center Target). And a couple springy pastel shirts, one with cute pink glass-like buttons.

All Easter candy was 75% off, and unlike the marked down holiday sweets aisles I've seen in NYC, there was still abundance. Rows and rows of pastel goodness. I limited myself to a 47-cent four-pack of Cadbury eggs.

I also picked up a $9.99 cherry printed Luella Bartley bag, Neutrogena moisturizer, Kashi granola bars, Clairol Herbal Essences conditioner (I've just started buying this brand because it actually does smell nice, but I wouldn't for years because I hated their orgasmic commericals so much) Always maxi pads (don't laugh-I know people think pad-wearers are losers, but you can't stop me) and a most surprising wood grain pillow that matches the skirt I bought back in January.

Target * 621 W Edgar Rd., Linden, NJ

The Good Fork

I didn't go in expecting my socks to get knocked off–I just wanted to try a new nearby restaurant, hype, be damned–and well, my socks are still on. Not to say there was anything amiss with my food. I wanted it to be more distinctive. I think a lot of the appeal of places like The Good Fork stems from the quirk and trek factor. The same attention probably wouldn't be paid to a similar eatery in say, the West Village.

Forksalad I started with a glass of Malbec and a salad of bitter greens, cubed beets and an apple-potato latke type wedge, topped with goat cheese. These are the types of salads I enjoy, yet never make at home because there are too many components for my weeknight patience. Then I moved on to the roast chicken, which I know is usually the most boring thing on the menu, but I'd been eating pork all week thanks to Easter leftovers, and it was so hot out I didn't feel I should eat go too meaty.

The mashed potatoes seemed awfully sweet, and now I realize they were pureed with parsnips. Very nice with the carmelized, braised leeks. The black bean sauce was a touch salty, but it did punch up a potentially bland dish. The chicken was chicken, despite being from Cloonshee Farms. I'm sure if you put a plainly prepared Tyson drumstick and a free range hormone-less leg in front of me, I'd be able to detect a difference in flavor, but frequently fresh, organic meat is lost on me.

Forkchicken Surprisingly, we were seated promptly at 8pm. I got a little nervous when asked if we had reservations. The thought had crossed my mind, but I didn't call ahead out of principle–um, which principle, I'm not sure. Maybe the neighborhood joint principle. The staff seemed a little frenzied, though everyone was pleasant and accommodating. There was a slight insidery vibe, which is only to say that the host (owner?) seemed to know everyone. Maybe I'm just jealous because I'm not a regular even at places I go regularly.

$74 was a touch more than I'd typically spend on a Thursday night dinner for two, and I don't mean that in a Brooklyn should be cheaper than Manhattan way. People get up in arms if you complain about prices in the outer boroughs. I'm just thrifty. I wouldn't say The Good Fork is a prime destination spot (at least not yet–hasn't Red Hook been on the verge for the last decade? Who knows Fairway and Ikea will bring to the mix) but it is a nice option if you live in the general environs and are sick of the Smith St. offerings.

The Good Fork 391 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn, NY

Sixteen Pounds of Joy

Irrational & Impromptu Easter Dinner Menu

Spiced Caramelized Cauliflower Florets
Creamy Artichoke Dip with Pita Chips
Roasted Asparagus with Sage and Lemon Butter
Potato Gratin with Mustard and Cheddar Cheese
Fresh Ham with Cracklings and Pan Gravy
Italian Cheesecake

* * *

Every so often I become irrationally influenced by the food media. Last Wednesday’s “Got a Crowd Coming Over? Think Big” in the New York Times convinced me that I needed to cook a humongous fresh ham.

However, this gung ho undertaking posed a logistical problem. It turned out that I was going to be home alone on Easter, so thinking big wasn’t the wisest. But I’ve never been terribly astute and once I want to make something, it’s impossible to get out of my head. So, I invited a handful of friends over. I’m not sure if eight constitutes a Timesian crowd, especially when that number includes a few vegetarians and a couple stray Jews (how come calling someone a Jew is pejorative while Jewish is ok? Forgive me, I wasn't raised amidst diversity), er, nice Jewish girls.

Side dishes seemed relevant, just in case no one was feeling hammy. I went for the simple, hearty and economical approach, nothing sophisticated. My criteria for ingredients were that they had to be found at Western Beef (my favorite all-purpose NYC grocery store) where I assumed (rightly) that my fresh ham would be readily available. The smallest roast available was a little over 16 pounds, but at under 20 bucks for the whole porcine shebang—how could I resist? And the Lee brothers (they are siblings and not “partners,” correct?) thought they were getting a steal at $1.59/pound. Please, try $1.19. Western Beef never disappoints.


Well, if you stick to meat. They had like every iteration of Mexican and South American cheese, but no white cheddar. I didn’t think white cheddar was a specialty item, but I was sticking to my guns, no stressing over the meal, no foodie sourcing of ingredients. So, sharp orange cheddar it was.


The artichoke dip was merely a device to try and use up at least a fraction of the half-gallon Costco jar unloaded on us last month from James’s parents (at least I like artichoke hearts—there are like three big bags or gingersnaps that have been stagnating at the back of our downstairs shelves for over a year). Unfortunately, after scooping out 18 ounces, there was still more than half left.


It’s nice when vegetables are a hit. I ran out at the last minute in a pair of holey sweats and giant t-shirt with dark brown hair dye stained into the collar because I feared the two bunches of asparagus I’d purchased the day before would be insufficient. I was right, and thank god no one of any importance saw me looking like I belonged on secretly videotaped What Not to Wear footage. I could’ve done with more cauliflower, which was intended as a snacky appetizer instead of filling the house with jelly beans and Cadbury eggs (besides, I knew James would be sent home with chocolate bunnies and Lindt truffle eggs because that’s been the routine for the past three years). The sugar and spices render the florets caramel-sweet almost like candy, not Peeps candy, but a savory, semi-healthy (never mind the massive amount of melted butter used to adhere the cinnamon and paprika) treat.


Thankfully, I ended up with six ham-eaters, but even at a generous pound per person estimate, that still left a good nine pounds of meat, allowing one pound for the bone. The cracklings were also a nice touch, but then, I’m abnormally fond of crispy skin and fat. I see tacos (this is one of my favorite recipes—I’ve been using it for years) and cubanos in my future. I’m sure there are more uses for roast pork, but those two top my list. And certainly, freezing is always an option.

Ham & gravy

I deferred to neighborhood bakeries for a last-minute dessert. I’m not even sure what I bought, some sort of Italian cheesecake with either candied fruit or rice pudding pellets (I’m not sure which) strewn throughout and a lattice top. It was a non-special order item that was still warm (too bad I’d be refrigerating it overnight) when I spied it at Brooklyn Bread Company around the corner from my apartment. Yes, I’m Italian food ignorant.

Mystery cake

P.S. How the hell do you center things in TypePad? Not being able to control my HTML is one of the many things about blogging that drives me insane. No matter what I do, my text and images align left.

Please Keep off the Grass

Corndog To the person who found my site from searching "hi fi grotto corndogs": I love you (or not, out of curiosity I ran a simpler search on hi fi grotto and got only two hits, a freaky My Space guy and another posting on America's #1 Conservative Community). Weirdly, I didn't find my site at all using those keywords so I'm not clear how the original searcher got here from Google, though I am very familiar with Grotto corn dogs.

I swear I've written about The Grotto before, though I can't seem to find any evidence of it. It was (and likely still is-it's listed on Yahoo yellow pages) a dumpy little food shack across the street from Gresham High where all the stoners hung out because it wasn't school property and you could smoke out front. I was never a druggie, nor a rocker, but I did smoke, so yes, I'd often be hanging out front of the Grotto at lunch (though not usually before school, which was for the more hardcore).

Everyone called it The Grotto (which isn't to be mistaken with this Grotto, which will come up frequently if you search Gresham and Grotto) but there was a leftover '60s style sign on the side of the building that said Hi Fi Grotto, perhaps its official name. I don't recall if there was a sign in front or if it was even a proper restaurant. I'm not sure if it was even open during the evening, and it's not like non-school related adults ever set foot near there. It wasn't like Arnold's on Happy Days, there were a few seats, but most people would bring food back to the cafeteria. And while it was fronted by metal-heads, all social strata ate there. It was run by an older woman who had lots of dated signs plastered everywhere that said things like "please keep off the grass." I don't know that '80s teens even were hip to that pot lingo.

At some point, a Christian guy who had kids who attended our school, bought the place and tried to reach out to troubled teens. Once I even got dragged there after-hours (that answers my question as to whether it was open at night) to some group counseling thing by a friend who had to attend a session. It was like AA for kids. I didn't need to be counseled, I was raised pretty straight-laced, but my pals tended to be types with alcoholic and/or problem parents (now that I think about it, one friend's mom died of a heroin overdose and another's mom had shot herself in the head, but didn't die and as a result had a glass eye and strange vocal chord inhibited voice) or drug problems of their own, and I would tagalong to their creepy shit like this (as well as get talked into driving to scary houses in the woods to buy drugs, despite not being much of a partaker).

The Grotto owner gave this friend a job selling sheet music at his piano store, and I do recall dropping her off once and that she had to snort crystal meth before heading in and told me I could chew the bag if I wanted (obviously, his attempts at employing her, trying to give her religion and making an upstanding citizen out of her weren't working too well).

Anyway, I never ate a Grotto corndog because they've always made me queasy (I also don't eat hotdogs, which people find hard to believe since I'm a junk food nut)  but I was very fond of their super-fried fries with special sauce that was likely just ketchup and mayonnaise. But I'm glad to see there's someone out there with nostalgia for Grotto cuisine.

Not My Nature

Not only is there a Xeroxed plea taped inside the bathroom stalls (well, technically, one stall) at my office for women with eating disorders to call a hotline, but there is also a disgusting plastic bottle of liquid soap that magically appears maybe every other day and is completely consumed by day’s end. Sometimes it’s chamomile, sometimes it’s lavender, but the icky product is called Liquid Nature, which doesn’t seem to be a legit consumer brand, as it turns up nothing on Google. There’s something cheap and gross about it, I’ll use the neon pink crud from the built in metal pumps before I touch the most unnatural stuff.

But what bothers me about it, other than it looking skuzzy (even lower brow than St. Ive’s—I know Suave is rock bottom, but there’s something about St. Ive’s that seems more off) is how quickly is gets used up. It’s like I’m surrounded by OCD hand washers—there are mountains of suds left behind in the sink—and apparently, pukers. Maybe they’re scrubbing all the regurgitation evidence from their fingers? Either way, there’s something seriously afoul in this office, and the bathroom behavior might be the least of it.

Csea I know people think it’s silly to waste so much time and resources on a stuck cat, but I like cats, so too bad for the naysayers. But it has gotten out of control—bringing in an animal therapist, playing “soothing” whale sounds (do cats like mammoth water mammals? Whales, and all other sea creatures, scare the crap out of me) and my favorite: using a box of crying kittens as bait, hoping to trigger her maternal instincts. Fuck that. I know cats are animals, hence prone to natural impulses, but who says a female cat can’t resist the mewling of feline infants? Maybe the furry crybabies got on her nerves. I’d stay in the wall too. Ok, those kittens are pretty damn cute—Molly’s just heartless.

davidburke & donatella

I'm more of a fast food salad luncher, but in a perfect world I could do a two-hour fine dining meal on a daily basis. The $24 d&d price fixe is a pretty amazing value. Unfortunately, the circumstances completely distracted from any joy I might've derived from an otherwise swank meal. As they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. I knew that when my department's director asked my supervisor and me to lunch that it wasn't for leisure's sake. Let's just say that this is the most disgruntling office I've ever worked in, and leave it at that.

I certainly didn't take any food photos during this business-esque meeting, though the presentation would've warranted it. Initially, you're presented with popovers in adorable individual copper pans. I chose the lobster bisque with green apple essence ($15 alone at dinner) as my first course, which comes in a deep bowl with a long cylindrical lobster-filled egg roll laid across the top. The crisp skinny tube is designed to look like a firecracker with a little fuse sticking out one end that would be a mistake to eat.

Their market salad was speckled with shrimp, chicken, goat cheese, Asian pear, walnuts and bacon. I lost interest about 3/4 of the way through, the precise moment when the serious talking began. I didn't even finish the damn thing, which isn't like me at all. I was able to eat most of my generously portioned caramelized apple tart. One glass of Riesling was hardly enough to get me through this afternoon annoyance.

davidburke & donatella * E. 61st St., New York, NY