Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Food & Film

Taste What You See!

When you live in New York City, the film world seems ubiquitous.  Actors are everywhere, production crews and trucks seemingly inhabit all the streets (often to the chagrin of the neighborhood locals), there is always an industry insider, without exception, at every dinner party, and you can explore every genre of film at the thousands of movie theaters peppered throughout this sweeping metropolis.  For movie enthusiasts, like myself, it is one of the many reasons New York is an exciting place to live. 

There are a bunch of film festivals that make themselves at home in New York City;  some are quite famous -- like De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival or the New York Independent Film Festival.  But, my favorite, somewhat lesser-known festival, is happening this week  -- The Food Film Fest. This four-day event showcases short films solely dedicated to stories about food and its preparation. Interesting, right? But, what makes it a real night out is that a sample of the food being presented in the film is served to the audience while the film is being screened. Ingenious! And so much fun! 

What's more is the Food Film Fest helps to support The Billion Oyster Project, an ecosystem restoration and education program. The project is working to restore one billion live oysters back into the New York Harbor, through the help of New York City school children. You may not have known that oysters are a valuable natural water filter -- they help to keep water clean, and the New York Harbor needs cleaning.  But, sadly, oysters are near extinct in these waters. The Billion Oyster Project hopes to reverse that trend, to bring back the ecosystem that existed for thousands of years prior to the development of our city.  

So, The Food Film Festival is more than just a publicity show for newly released films.  It's an all-ecompassing night out, complete with entertainment, food, beverages and a deserving nod to a respectable charitable organization. 

If you are in New York this week and want to check out the Festival, tickets are on sale now for the 10th Festival: 

Always preparing for my own little food

Friday, August 5, 2016

In or Out?

Roy Lichtenstein's House I, 1996.

Do you prefer to cook at home or to dine out?  I like both. But, growing up, eating out was a treat. We must be in good favor, my sisters and I would think, if we were headed out for dinner.  For my daughter, who eats out far more than I ever did as a child, the preference is always to eat at home. Actually, unless there is a playdate somehow woven into the plan, she often complains about going out. Funny, how times have changed.

Below are 10 images that I snapped of food. Some are photos of food that I cooked at home and others are of food prepared in a restaurant.  Can you tell them apart?

Spicy Ceviche with pureed Avocado and Yams


Vietnamese Steak with Rice Noodles and Herbs


Tuna and Endive Hors d'oeuvre

Ceviche and Avocado

Endive with Smoked Salmon, Orange & Ricotta 

 Ricotta Cheesecake 

 Pasta Bolognese

String Beans with Garlic and Shallots

Chicken Fajitas

Chilled Summer Soup 

Answer Key:

All the of the photos, except one, are of food prepared at home.  
Which one was prepared out?
If you guessed the first one, you are right. The first picture is from my new favorite lunch spot in Manhattan, Mission Ceviche. Located at the Gansevoort Market in the fashionable Meatpacking District (353 West 14th St, Manhattan), Mission Ceviche delicately mixes the flavors of fresh fish, flash cooked in lime, with the perfect balance of hot pepper, red onion and micro cilantro; and each dish is made to order.  Popular with the budding tech crowd (the east coast offices of Google are just around the corner), Mission Ceviche proudly flaunts its Peruvian cuisine, and all the South American culture that goes along with its staple dish. 

Next time you are in the area, check it out! 

By the way, you can find the recipes for all the other dishes in prior Natty Dad posts.

Friday, July 29, 2016

My Old House Renovation -- Refinishing Floors

Here we go again!!

Floor Scrapers 

As I embark upon another home renovation, focussing first on the floors, I am reminded of this back-breaking image (above) from one of my favorite but lesser known impressionists -- Gustave Caillebotte.  We've come a long way from this, with modern floor sanding machines and all; but, as I discovered just this week in my home renovation, sanding the stairs is still done the same as it was 100 years ago -- mostly by hand!

Years back, I renovated this Brooklyn townhouse...

...and then we moved to this Brooklyn limestone...

...which I renovated, and sold...
and then last week we moved to this Brooklyn Heights house...

...which I clearly haven't renovated yet!!!

We went from this garden...

 ...which I designed (inspired by a trip to Tuscany)...
to this garden...

...yet to be designed!!

Oh dear!  What have I done??

In all seriousness, I love renovations. I love the process of bringing a home back to life, of resurrecting it, of breathing new life into it.  In New York City, and in Brooklyn in particular, opportunities to do this are everywhere. There is incredible and historic housing stock here.  Most of the houses in brownstone Brooklyn still have century old details. Most, that is, except mine!  Sadly, a former owner must have stripped the priceless detail out of the house, to save on construction cost. So, I have a formidable challenge for my new/old house renovation -- putting the detail back into the rooms.  It's a big project, but I am up for it.  After all, I have made a job out of it.

Kitchen I renovated over 10 years ago in Brooklyn

When working with architects and contractors, the most important responsibility for the homeowner, from a financial and a practical standpoint, is to be clear and concise. Knowing what you want saves time and saves money.  Making changes after work commences causes more work for the crew, which costs more money for the homeowner. My contractor tells me almost every day that he appreciates that I know what I want, that I make firm decisions, and that I am clear.  Everyone's life is easier.

As I start this old house renovation, my first priority is to refinish the floors.  On the parlor level,  where the living room, dining room and kitchen areas are located, I am re-doing all the floors. I have chosen a herringbone pattern (below). And while I will keep the wood width to the standard 2 1/4" (to keep costs down), I chose a slightly longer plank, to give a bit more length to the rooms.

In the entrance way, I am using a whimsical marble (Arabesque Mosaic, from Waterworks). It's a small space (40"x40"), but it is sure to have a substantial impact.  It will also give a knowing wink to the past with it's classical pattern. I cannot wait to see how this looks, once installed.

For the upper floors of the townhouse, I not replacing the floors, but rather refinishing them.  The plank is more narrow than I would have chosen, but it is durable -- red oak.  Originally, it was done in a natural finish, but the heavy polyurethane finish has yellowed and looks a bit drab, if not down right dated.  I have instructed my floor experts to refinish the floors in a solid brown, without any hints of yellow or orange.  I chose Special Walnut stain (224 by Minwax) and we are using a flat, water-based sealant to prevent discoloration and yellowing.

A portion of my red oak floors just after they were sanded.  I rather like the natural color. 
Above is a portion of the the floor that was just stripped.  The area along the edges is not yet sanded and still looks very orange.  The natural, post-sanded color is gorgeous. I am keeping my daughter's room in this natural color because it is light and airy and clean.  But, it reads a bit modern for the whole house, so I am going with a brown stain (Special Walnut) everywhere else.

The stairs in this photo have not been sanded or stained, but the floor in the foreground has refinished.  All the orange tones are gone, thankfully! 
Refinished floor in Special Walnut and coated with a flat sealant. 
So all of the floor decisions have been made.  And most of the sanding, staining and sealing work on the upper 2 floors is complete.  I am pleased with the results and I am moving to the next phase of the project -- the stairs! Stay tuned...

Despite all this renovating, I am still trying
 to get out and enjoy summer in the city!

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Loaf

It was a picture-perfect spring day when I snapped this image (above) -- it's the "wings" of the new World Trade Center transportation hub in lower Manhattan, with the Freedom Tower as the backdrop. The station cost an unmentionable 4 billion dollars to build, but may be worth the money.  Not only is it highly functional, connecting multiple train lines, it also showcases commendable architecture.

 On first glance, I thought the spiky wings were meant to resemble the crown of the Statue of Liberty, an obvious symbol of freedom. But this was not the intention of the clever Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava (seemingly, all the American architects were on vacation when the project's RFPs were submitted!).  Rather, he was inspired by a dove being released into the air.  And the wings help produce an inspiring, cathedral effect (reflecting on 9/11). On the inside, the wings also effectively allow light to shine through. It's beautifully done.

 Stylish architecture is becoming rare in my beloved New York City, where most of the new buildings seem rather rectangular and uninteresting.  In a city filled with pioneers, it's hard to understand why the buildings look, well, like buildings.
 They are not so ingenious, not so New York, not so American.

Speaking of American, the 4th of July is just a month away. Is your menu planned?  

What's more down-home all-American than a big old meat loaf?  And I have a recipe that is surprisingly fresh for summer.  Instead of red meat, I use turkey meat, and I fold in multiple colorful vegetables. The result: a light loaf.
It makes a great sandwich, too!

Here is what you will need:

1lb ground dark turkey meat
1lb ground white turkey meat (turkey breast)
1 large onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 eggs
3 slices of day old bread
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cup carrots, cut in small cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh or dried parsley
1/2 cup maple syrup
pre-made turkey gravy

First up:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, sauté 1 tablespoon of olive oil with diced onion and the tomato paste for about 3 minutes (until onion is soft and the paste has dissolved). Set aside to cool.

Soak the bread in the milk for about 2 minutes.  

Boil the cubed carrots for about 3 minutes, just to soften them up a bit.  Combine carrots with peas and corn.  

In a large bowl, fold together the white and dark meat with the sautéd onions as well as the peas, carrots, and corn. Wring out the bread slices and crumble into meat mixture.  Add the eggs and the maple syrup. Season with salt, pepper and parsley. Mix it well.  

In a large baking dish, form the loaf into large round dome and salt the top. 

Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Let the loaf rest for a few minutes before serving. 

Not only is this dish simple, delicious and down-home, it also presents itself nicely for both casual and formal gatherings! Everyone loves it! 

Since this loaf does not produce enough juice to make gravy, it's easiest to buy a pre-made turkey gravy.  I prefer Pacific's organic turkey gravy, which can be found at most organic food shops, Whole Foods or at Amazon. I often doctor up the gravy with juice that may drain from the loaf and/or with a bit of butter. 

When re-heating the loaf, slice it into pieces and cook in the gravy on the stovetop.
 It's even better the next day!  

Enjoying the newly opened farm stands on eastern Long Island

Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating Greek Myths

Greek Mythology Party for Nine Year Olds
Soft, pale pink ranuculus paired with blushed purple digitalis -- these are the flowers I chose for our daughter's 9th birthday party.  So perfect, they didn't look real! 

Soon after returning from a relaxing spring break beach vacation, I felt, as I do every year, the pressure of our daughter's quickly approaching birthday, always an extravaganza in our family. This year I was going to make it easy on myself, and suggested that I take her and two or three of her closest friends to a broadway play, followed by dinner in her favorite restaurant, and then cake, ice cream, presents, movie, and sleepover at home. It's perfect, all planned out, done!  That fabulous idea, flawless in every way, was shot down, instantly: "I can't possibly choose just a few friends, dad, someone will get left out!"  I couldn't argue with my sensitive, cognizant little gem. So, once again, as has been the case for the last 8 years, I started planning a large spectacular show, with loads of pomp. Really, it's like Christmas all over, but in spring!

The theme our daughter chose for this year's party:  Greek mythology acting party.
Piece of cake, I thought, on it!
Think again, dad!

The first element in any greek party -- costumes. How difficult could it be to make 20 togas?
A full day of work is what I have now learned.

I started by schlepping into the Manhattan garment district to buy muslin fabric.  After combing through multiple stores, filled with every conceivable, dated fabric, and after painstakingly haggling on prices, I finally scored. 50 yards for $50.  Next up, securing the golden chord belts.  Six more stores, more haggling and even a squirmish (a simple misunderstanding with a salesperson who had heavily broken English), I happily settled on 20 drapery ties -- rather expensive, but perfect.

Suggesting that the hard part was behind me would be an oversimplification. Assembling the togas was harder than I had thought. I cut the bolt into 40 inch pieces. Pulling this diaphanous fabric taute and attempting to cut it as straight as possible is not as easy as it would appear when working with a large oversized bolt.  After getting each piece cut, I then folded them in half and cut a T in the center.  The top of the T was cut into the fold (approximately 9" long) and the perpendicular part of the T was 5" in the center.  I then folded the flaps down and ironed them into place. 
It was nearly a full day of work, start to finish! 

Ideally, I would have liked to garnish the edges with greek-themed ribbon, but even I have my limits! 

The final costume item to manufacture -- the laurel leaf hair piece.  For this, gold and green silk leaves were delicately affixed to metal wire, one by one, by my good friend Jasen.  The wire and leaves can be found at most craft supply stores, or better yet, on Etsy.  At the onset of the party, the pieces were affixed to the hair using bobby pins.

By this point in the party preparations, the script had been chosen (Scholastic has a decent selection), acting teachers had been hired, invitations sent out, greek menu planned, birthday cake ordered, and give-away bags purchased. Everything was moving along in the right direction.

Next up -- set design.  For this, I commandeered close friend and accomplished artist, Tati Nguyen, to  assist.  While our kids played on the terrace, she painstakingly drew out ionic columns (complete with detailed greek wave motif) onto large sheets of paper. We then applied a fixative spray, mounted them to boards, and tacked them to the garden lattice.  Another day of work!

After that, we hung thick white cloth to form the stage curtain, attached greek-blue ribbon throughout the set and completed the staging with large iron candelabras and other ancient looking props.  It was perfect...

...really perfect! And, on the day of the party, after fitting the children in their togas and headpieces, it became magical. There is something simple and pleasing about children in matching uniforms. All the goddesses looked stunning in their laurel leaf up-dos and soft draping togas with matching chord belts.  It was like stepping back in time, a couple thousand years.  

But, before you attempt to take on a Greek-themed kids party, be sure to carve out enough time to make it all happen.  Customizing and personalizing a party for kids of any age and of any theme is a luxury.  

I am thinking BounceU or the local bowling alley works for next year..., I am sure it will be another extravaganza!

By the way, if you have a child that is pre-teen, don't be surprised if they request a similar party.  Thanks in part to Rick Roirden of the Percy Jackson book series and graphic novels such as the Olympians by George O'Connor, kids have a keen and growing interest in mythology. These greek themed books are gaining popularity and are a far cry from the dense Homer we all studied years ago.