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Turning Over a New Leaf

Spinach The week before last James brought home a giant (like practically five pounds) bag of spinach from Rossman Farms, the ghetto produce stand down Third Ave. I agree that $2.99 for that many greens is a bargain, but I hate waste and there's no value in buying food you can't possibly use. (When I was a kid, my grandpa would do things like buy cases of canned water chestnuts at grocery outlets because they were cheap even though no one in my family really ate water chestnuts. As a teen I decided to try one of his donated old cans of clam chowder as an after school snack and let's just say that is possible for canned food to expire. The contents had turned pinkish and smelled piney and medicinal, which was only enhanced as I warmed it up.) I made four calzones one night, he made creamed spinach another and that only used up half the bag. By that point I was already bored with spinach.

I was going to say that we had spinach coming out of our asses, then last night we were picking up jerk chicken at Peppa's after watching Half Nelson (there's something about harrowing drug movies that makes me want to use drugs rather than stay away from them. The only part of the movie that made me sad was that he let his cat die) and there was a news blurb about the e coli spinach outbreak, so apparently sick people literally had spinach coming out of theirs. Uh, and died. I was like "see, that's what happens when you go overboard with packaged spinach." I totally cheated death. Or at least violent diarrhea.

Palisades Center

Palisades I'll admit I'm spoiled (and have a loose definition of what spoiled is) when it comes to malls. I get off on suburbia and have the only-in-New York-would-it-be-a-luxury of getting driven around New Jersey and Westchester on whims. This past weekend I decided to rough it and made the trek to the Palisades Center with two friends, Heather and Molly. Normally, I wouldn't rely on a subway, train and bus combo to go the 35 miles, but why not? It's part of a Metro-North one-day getaways package–it's not like we pulled this idea totally out of our asses. I had a day to kill and I see weekend work in my future so I wanted to seize a remaining free Saturday.

The thing about malls is that realistically you can find most of the stores in "the city." This probably wasn't so true ten years ago and nearly unthinkable before the '90s. Target isn't even the big deal it used to be now that we have (a shitty) one in Brooklyn (ok, two, but most New Yorkers don't go to or even know where Starrett City is). And we have Best Buy, H&M, Lord & Taylor, Macy's, etc. I like looking for the new shops that have yet to infiltrate Manhattan and the weirdo venues that would have no place here.

Forth_towneForth & Towne, The Gap for old women, a.k.a. over-35s (I still have a few years, thanks) is a good example. They sell four different lines of clothing: selected Gap styles, Allegory which is tailored, unhideous and reminiscent of Laura on Project Runway, Prize which is a little trendy and more casual, kind of Anthropologie, and Vocabulary which is definitely middle aged, very caftan-y. Maybe I'm decrepit because a lot of the clothes were likeable and came in my size, which I can't say about a lot of stores. As far as mid-priced grown women shops go, I thought Forth & Towne was more stylish than the likes of J. Jill and Chico's, which isn't saying much.

The strange camp belonged to Fred Meyer Jewelers. Fred Meyer is a NW one stop shopping grocery chain. Why there's a standalone Fred Meyer Jewelers in Rockland County is beyond me. I've never seen such a thing. They also had a store that only sold expensive wooden slides and jungle gyms, Jo-Ann ETC. Plus (which definitely doesn't exist in NYC) and something called Opus Entertainment that still confuses me. I was surprised to see a Kinokuniya–maybe there's a large Japanese community in West Nyack? I didn't see many Asian shoppers. All the ads taped up in the bus shelter were Spanish language promos for bands and other extravaganzas in local Mexican restaurants. But the bus stop might not be indicative of West Nyack as a whole. After all, we were the only white people waiting for the bus, but in the suburbs only poor souls and nuts take public transportation. I forget about these things sometimes.

Ferris Of course, I'm most fascinated by the food offerings. And their ThEATery had options in spades. There were all sorts of restaurants I'd never heard of like FOX Sports Grill and Cheeburger Cheeburger, and ones I've heard of but never seen in person like Q-doba and Fatburger. There was a big ad for coming attraction Café Tu Tu Tango, which I'm still baffled by. I totally don't know what they mean by "food for the starving artist." I ate at Fatburger, T.G.I. Friday's, Kohr Bros and Pretzel Time. Yes, four places. We were there all day, ok?

Palisades isn't just food and shopping, they have an ice skating rink, indoor Ferris wheel, post office and a shuttered comedy club, Rascals. The one thing they don't have and that I've never understood about American malls, is a grocery store. In Asia and Europe (ok, Singapore, Malaysia and Barcelona-I can't speak first hand to the rest of the continents) there's always a huge supermarket in the malls. Did I mention that this is an ugly mall? I'm all for inner beauty but there's a lot of concrete and weird neon and wire fencing and unused space and empty real estate offices and strangely pruned fake trees.

It ended up being a lot of effort for hair color and batteries, my only purchases, but it's about the journey not the destination. I've been a little worried about my recent self-chosen pay cut and frankly, I don't really need anything. I have too many clothes, shoes and bags as it is (of course they're all cheap and not a la minute, but do I really need skinny jeans and "The New Clean" anyway?) and I don't require "work" clothes to do my work.

I'd definitely go back to Palisades Center, but I'd probably bum a ride. See a few more mall photos.

Palisades Center * 1000 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack, NY

T.G.I. Friday’s West Nyack

Tgi_fridays_mac_and_cheese I was bummed that we didn’t get to eat at Cheesecake Factory during my Palisades Center excursion but we couldn’t risk the hour wait because the last bus back to the Tarrytown train station left at 9:45pm. I would hate getting stranded in the middle of nowhere just because I had to have a Tex Mex Eggroll. T.G.I. Friday’s only had a five minute wait, which was about all I could stand for anyway.

I was secretly happy to try T.G.I. Friday’s because I’d just been talking about their new appetizers. If it was solely up to me I would’ve gone for the battered, fried green beans. But when dining with companions that aren’t your boyfriend you have to be more accommodating. If you’ve been with someone for seven years it’s ok to fuss about things that don’t matter, but if friends and acquaintances want to eat fried macaroni and cheese (I know, I’m the only person alive who’s lukewarm on mac and cheese) it’s no great shakes. Tgi_fridays_quesadillaI’ll try anything fried. I just noticed that Cheesecake Factory does a similar item but served with creamy marina. Why is the marina creamy, anyway? Don’t tell me it’s more cheese.

After a couple Ultimate Electric Lemonades and a Double-Stack Quesadilla, I was fortified for the bus, train, subway journey back to Brooklyn. I didn’t get home till midnight but all the cheese, sugar and grease kept me going.

T.G.I. Friday’s * 1000 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack, NY


There is a closer Fatburger in Jersey City, but I never get to Jersey City. JC is more of a place you pass through. Yes, as it was pointed out to me, we could've gotten cheaper burgers and fries at the Wendy's also in the Palisades Center. But perhaps Fatburger's value exceeds the 99-cent offerings at its fast food competitor.

Fatburger For one, we received the most pleasant service ever in a mall (or most NYC sit down restaurants, for that matter). Your food is brought out to your table, staff comes around and checks on you and brings you things like ketchup and napkins and drink refills and they clear your tray when you're done. And they smile.

The food is cooked fresh to order you get to choose your burger toppings-I had almost everything-pickles, relish, mustard, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce, no mayo. There is a bit of an In N Out vibe to the place, and since that chain comes nowhere near New York, Fatburger clearly has an edge by default. I had a Baby Fat and skinny fries, which was more than enough and way better than average. I was trying not to ruin my appetite since it was late for lunch but too early for dinner.

When asked my name I didn't spell mine out because I was curious how it would be interpreted. Krista is so not an unusual name but people mangle it 90% of the time. My receipt came back as Crysta like Crystal without the L. Creative.

Fatburger * 1000 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack, NY


Schwartzs Pastrami is like bbq to me, one of those meaty technique heavy cooking processes that I don't quite have a grip on. People are very opinionated about methods, resulting flavors and regional styles. Me, I'm completely naïve and unqualified to make any sweeping statements so I'm just giving a quick synopsis.

Schwartz's is like the Katz's of Montreal, if that means anything to you. In Montreal they call their style of brisket viande fumée (smoked meat) and I honestly don't know what separates it from what we do to our meat in America (I'd have to do a side by side taste test). Schwartz's sandwiches are smaller and more manageable than the towering NYC deli styles, but they only cost $4.50. (I was just poking around blogs where people were saying that they couldn't finish their sandwiches, which is ridiculous because I was just going to say that I thought they were the perfect size, filling, but not sickeningly so. Maybe I have an eating disorder.) We got two apiece and some pepperoni sticks for the road. You can also ask for lean, medium fatty or fatty cuts. Only a freak would get lean. I played both sides with the medium.

Schwartzs_sandwich There's always a line. It's not initially apparent, but queuing on the left is for a table and the right is for take out. We stood awhile in the left hand formation before deciding to get our sandwiches to go because we needed to get on the road back to NYC. But it looked like tables popped up with regularity. At least while waiting you get a chance to see how others order (and a glimpse of the briskets piled in the front window) so you look educated when you eventually reach the counter.

Schwartz's * 3895 St. Laurent, Montreal, Canada

Shrugging it Off

New things I discovered on my way to and while in Montreal.

Shrug_1 Dulce de Leche Oreos: I always find something great at Wal-Mart. This time I got a cheapy chocolate-colored velvet shrug (I know, I'm not fond of that weirdo short length either, but I'd brought a too-slinky top to wear out later without realizing how chilly it was north of NYC and needed something brown to match my skirt and to just kind of cover up my upper arms and chest. There's something demented about wearing a $10 jacket to a $300 meal, but it makes more sense to me than people spending hundreds on an item of clothing and starving, which is very New York) and a box of new limited edition dulce de leche Oreos.

Unfortunately, they just kind of taste like sugar and not much else. I'm not one for declaring anything too sweet or too rich, but these just hurt my teeth. The fact that they've been in my possession for a full week and I've only eaten two is a testament to their lackluster performance as a cookie. To be fair, I don't really like most prepackaged cookies anyway (same with canned soups). When M&Ms went all melting pot and introduced dulce de leche candies, I don't think they were that successful either.

KitkatDark Chocolate Kit Kats: We had these in 2004, but I don't think they've stuck around. Initially, I was confused by two different dark chocolate Kit Kats at Couche-Tard (that name will never cease to make me chuckle). One was noir (just because it was in French) and the other was Xtra or some such. The only clue to their difference was the little picture on the front of the packages. Noir had dark chocolate on the outside and Xtra had dark chocolate and a chocolate wafer, hence the Xtra (I also found out that there's a cinnamon limited edition in Canada). Anyway, they tasted typically Kit Katty. I was hoping they'd be more like British Kit Kats, which use a creamier better tasting chocolate. I don't know why American (and apparently Canadian) mainstream candy bars always taste so bland and waxy.

Cheese: We took our chances on some random cheese from a European type deli that's down the street from Schwartz's whose name I can never remember (we ended up there last time too). I'm sure we could've tracked down more exquisite varieties at a proper fromagerie, but our choices ended up being more remarkable that I would've expected. In fact, I've eaten bread and cheese for dinner the past four evenings. That can't be good for you.

I always have to pick a blue but don't love the extreme sharp styles. Geai Bleu (blue jay) from Brigham, Quebec, just looked mild and it turned out to be smooth and creamy. I also like to have a soft cheese and settled on Cendré des Prés because I couldn't figure out why it had a black stripe through its center. It turns out that's from maple wood ash, which sounds kind of creepy but isn't. James likes straightforward hard cheeses and isn't into adventuring so I talked him into getting a raw milk Comte Juraflore like we'd been served two nights before at Anise. I honestly don't know what the taste difference is between a raw milk and pasteurized variety, but this Comte is crazy-you can't stop at one slice. I should buy an FDA approved wedge for comparison.


Anise_interiorI had to have one "nice" dinner in Montreal since I felt compelled to mark my seven year dating anniversary somehow. The trouble was that we didn't decide to go to Canada until Thursday and most higher end establishments are closed on Sunday and Monday (the technical date) and Saturday reservations with 48-hours-notice isn't the wisest. Brunoise and Le Club Chasse et Peche wouldn't work, but Anise, another on my list was doable.

Coming off my recent Spain extravaganza. I wasn't completely bowled over. But that's hardly a negative because Barcelona and environs set the bar fairly high. I think I'm just used to past Montreal visits when the exchange rate was more in our favor. I'm cheap, duh, even when celebrating (and not footing the bill). Currently, it's almost one to one so a $90 bottle of wine is really a $90 bottle of wine. I'm focusing on wine here because I thought the list was slanted a bit heavily towards the higher end. Anise_breadSpain is unusual because wine is a bargain even in expensive restaurants. We had the six-course tasting menu for $70, which was absolutely reasonable, and ultimately opted for the $115 version with wine pairings because it would be tough, given the choices, to spend any less anyway.

I appreciated the Middle Eastern inflected dishes, which isn't something you typically find being done in the U.S., at least not in New York. We have nouveau sorts of Indian, Latin American, Chinese, Thai and so on, but I've yet to sample this style. In a way, it's very Montreal in that both French and Lebanese food are popular in the city.

Pardon the off-color photos. I'm no whiz in the best of circumstances, but the room was very dim and moody. There wasn't even candlelight to rely on.

Watermelon shot with mint, arak and feta cube
This opener scared me. Melon is easily my least favorite food and the licorice-ness of the arak was pungent. It was nice with the cheese, though.

Lentil soup, pita crisp
This was like a fancy dal.

Goat gigot tartare scented with spices and marjoram, allumette potatoes
Yes, raw goat meat. I was amused by this dish because I'd just read a bit on Montreal by Alan Richman and he ends the piece with looking at Anise's menu in the window and being kind of horrified by the inclusion of duck tartare. I don't think duck has anything on goat as far as creeping Americans out. I have no problem with the furry beasts, raw or cooked.

Quail breast crusted with pine nuts, stuffed date with almonds scented with orange blossom water and cubeb
James I were joking, holding up the Lilliputian quail bone up to our mouths and pretending to nibble. But damn, if this wasn't one of the most amazing things I ate, miniscule or not. I love sweet and savory combos with the same passion that I loathe melon and extreme bitter flavors. Nuts, dates and dark meat blend wonderfully, creating a bisteeya effect (even Emeril makes bisteeya). I could imagine a duck leg being done this style in a heartier portion. Learn about cubeb, unless you're already a culinary historian. I had no idea what it was.

Venison shawarma, parsley salad with sumac, hummus coulis
A perfect example of doing something fairly traditional, but amped up. Despite the baby proportioned quail dish, we were very full by the time the shawarma was presented to us.

Raw milk comte, onion sprouts and hazelnuts
I need to start learning more about creative cheese presentations because all the little flourishes really make a difference.

After three glasses of wine and a lavendar syrup champagne cocktail, the finer details get lost. But there was gooey chocolate dessert and parting cookies.

Anise_dessert Anise_cookies

Anise * 104, Rue Laurier Ouest, Montreal, Canada

(Battered Fried) Beans, the Magic Fruit

I was initially disturbed by that TGI Friday's commercial promoting their "radically new appetizers" where they poke fun with some hippy girl lamenting, "Why would you go and fry green beans? What's next? Holding air hostage?" I was like oh jeez, now they're battering deep frying vegetables (and frying mac and cheese and parmesan crusting quesadillas and calling them Sicilian).

Uh yeah, like the Japanese have been doing with tempura for, I don't know, centuries and they're ok (demented porn, shut ins and suicide fixations, aside) And the Japanese aren't generally fat so fried green beans must be good for you. Of course, tempura is served with a soy based dipping sauce and Friday's appetizer comes with something creamy and 99% fat like Cucumber-Wasabi Ranch.

On the Asian note, dry-fried green beans are amazing. I've used this recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking before. She also includes a pork-less version which is better than you might expect.

I also got all knee jerky yesterday when I kept seeing subway ads for ABC's new series, Ugly Betty.  The image of a "fat" Hispanic actress combined with the word ugly didn't sit well with me. But from what I've gathered it's a re-working of a wildly popular Columbian telenovela from the early '00s that's since been a hit in Mexico, Germany, The Philippines and elsewhere. I was reading message boards and people seemed worried that "Columbian humor" wouldn't translate. Now I'm wondering what exactly passes for humor in Columbia. Isn't Nina Garcia, Elle fashionista/Project Runway judge, Columbian? She seems pretty un-funny so my hopes are not high.

The gist seems to be kind of a Devil Wears Prada without the makeover transformation, like the ugly girl stays ugly and prevails. Once again, I have my doubts. The only other show I can think of with a "fat" major character, Less Than Perfect, (love how it needs to be pointed out in the title that she's not ideal) eventually slimmed down.

I've never watched Grey's Anatomy but was bored enough to sit through two freaking repeats last night and I totally don't get its appeal at all. I do like that Patrick Dempsey (and Chris O'Donnell-I was just thinking about him a few months ago, not because I particularly like him, I was trying to think of a male actor who seemed big and then disappeared like Teri Hatcher who went from Lois & Clark to doing C movies with Henry Thomas and now is hot again) is getting work and that they've cast that Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé guy as a Seattle bar owner, but that's about it.

Oh yeah, I also wanted to see Sara Ramirez, the blubbery actress that everyone was boo hooing about last season. I finally got a glimpse and I'm still not convinced that she's fat. I mean, she's fat like America Ferrera's fat (and she appears to have easily shed 20 pounds since her Real Women Have Curves days), which only means not boney. I'd rather be a fat Mexican than that blonde actress who plays a doctor who always looks like she's crying, been crying or about to cry.


St_hubert While combing Montreal’s outskirts (St-Léonard, to be precise) for second hand shops like my favorite Pacific NW chain Village de Valeur (Value Village in the U.S., duh) I was tempted by all the bright and shiny restaurants we were passing on Jean-Talon E.

The weird thing was that our fast food like McDonald’s and Wendy’s (and even A&W, which we found in Kuala Lumpur too) were well represented, but they didn’t seem to have our casual dining chains. There were places that looked like Applebee’s or Macaroni Grill from afar, but turned out to be establishments I’d never seen before. I couldn’t even tell you their names because they didn’t stick.

Chicken I wanted to try regional fast food. I’ve been to Tim Horton’s a million times so that wasn’t necessary. I saw an orange and blue hamburger logo advertising a place called Harvey’s, Roasters with a cock’s comb cutely designed into the a in their name, but I was drawn into St-Hubert’s feathery embrace.

The counter girl didn’t speak any English, which I’ve noticed happens if you get like 20 minutes out of downtown Montreal. It’s totally baffling to me because how do you watch TV and listen to radio and live in a predominantly English speaking country and not pick up the language? Of course, fast food is about combo meals and backlit color photos so words aren’t of utmost importance. But there are options and I got totally lost on one of her questions despite possessing cursory French language skills. Dark or light meat had me confused for a while. I wasn’t as stymied by the traditional or creamy coleslaw inquiry.

Sandwich I tried the #1, which is a quarter roasted chicken sitting atop what looked like the bottom half of a hamburger bun, french fries, soda and coleslaw. James got some bizarre sandwich, #5 possibly, which struck me as totally British. Who else would put gravy and peas on white bread? Maybe Australians would do that too. I’m not sure and I’m afraid to ask the handful that I work with.

While getting drinks I noticed a self serve machine with a nozzle like an institutional coffee carafe. The label said barbecue sauce, which I couldn’t resist indulging in out of sheer curiosity. I pushed the spigot and hot steamy gravy streamed out. I’m still not clear on how this is bbq sauce. I’d say it was more like peppery gravy, though it wasn’t the same as the sandwich gravy.

SauceSauce confusion aside (that's it on the left) the chicken was really good. Normally, I’m more of a fried chicken girl. It’s easy to forget the beauty of a rotisserie grilled bird. This location was a St-Hubert Express. I have no idea how that differs from a regular version, though I did catch a glimpse of one on Rue St. Denis and it looked like there were sconces and frosted glass details. Fancy.

Later that afternoon, we saw St-Hubert branded gravy, poutine and bbq sauces in packages and cans sold in the supermarket and picked them up. I see a culinary adventure in my future.

St-Hubert * 7190 Rue Michelet, Montreal, Canada

Gus’ Red Hots

Gus Do you know what a Michigan is? I’d never heard of such an edible until we made the mistake of believing an I-87 roadside sign with the generic symbols for food and gas. Ten winding miles later we were in Willsboro faced with nothing more than a ratty convenience store/bait and tackle shop. There wasn’t much in the way of sustenance, they didn’t even have seltzer water, the only thing I could’ve dealt with. James picked up a soda and dill pickle Lay’s. The only thing that caught my eye was an upside down paper plate covering an empty metal vat with “We’re out of Michigan sauce today. Sorry.” chicken-scratched on its back.

Gus_michigansStill starving, we took our chances a few miles up in Plattsburgh, due to a highways sign that said Gus’ Red Hots. I’m a freak for chains in big cities, but there’s no need for that in little towns. I knew red hots were hot dogs. What I didn’t know is that they’re also Michigans. I’m a weirdo who doesn’t like hot dogs so I convinced James to order the combo meal so I could at least look at them. Michigans are essentially chili dogs. These came with a sloppy joe looking meat slurry that had a faintly sweet cinnamony aroma like Cincinnati-style chili. Chopped onions are optional. Gus_french_toastThey don’t use typical hot dog buns, but a top-sliced bun almost resembling white bread. James insisted these are common, though I swear I’ve never seen them.

I had french toast, eggs and bacon. The staples were all diner good, but I was disturbed by the default three mini packs of Smart Balance and synthetic syrup. Being an inexplicable condiment skimper, I only used half a vegetable oil spread and a third of one syrup container anyway. Gus_bearBut whatever happened to butter and maple syrup? Heck, we were only 22 miles from Canada.

I love discovering new regional specialties (and bear art–I loved the painting over our booth)New to me, I mean. Obviously, upstate New Yorkers have known about Michigans for some time. Me, I’m only hip to bar food staple Buffalo wings. Apparently, Michigans can also be found in Montreal, which is news to me. Chili dogs just feel completely un-Canadian. Maybe if they swapped the ground beef for gravy and cheese curds, I’d be convinced.

Gus’ Red Hots * 3 Cumberland Head Rd., Plattsburgh, NY