Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles Day One Hundred Seventy (Distant Observations from Close-By: Hurricane Sandy)

Distant Observations [of Hurricane Sandy] from Close-By (by Beth George)

October 29, 2012 – late night 

Cloistered in my living room on W. 187th and Cabrini watching the screen report on the unfathomable destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.  The reality of Mother Nature’s assault on my adopted City is brought to me via CNN. 

With a simple click of the remote all sense of chaos disappears, until it hits me that I cannot get off of this island.  All bridges, tunnels, and subways are closed.  Highways are flooded.  If you have not been ordered to evacuate,  official orders are to stay inside.   But, it is so peaceful in my apartment and on my street.  Perhaps, someone has made a mistake?

Came here seeking refuge in the vastness, anonymity, and opportunity of the Big Apple. Landed here in the Heights by chance.  The enclave of Hudson Heights within Washington Heights is among the cheapest of the safest neighborhoods in Manhattan.  Little did I realize that it was also among the safest when an unprecedented storm hits the City.

Being home to the fortress-like Monastery, known as the Cloisters, should have been a hint of the Heights protective nature.  It’s no surprise George Washington chose it as his headquarters during the Revolutionary War given its location perched above the Henry Hudson boasting the highest point in Manhattan. So I sit in my solid apartment fortress in the City of all Cities sheltered from the angering wind and rising waters watching the screen, wondering, and thinking, “Maybe I should pray tonight.”

October 30, 2012 – even later than the night before 

The Seal of NYC
While this neighborhood has been protected, the pain of the City permeates throughout its veins.   The wind has died down, the waters have started to recede, but the lives lost will never be forgotten, and destruction at every level – below, on and above ground  - is unthinkable.  What will happen? 

The subway system, the grand equalizer of this City, the way 5 million people – regardless of wealth, race or class commute throughout this extensive beehive of boroughs, and into neighboring NJ, is closed.  Many of its stations are under water.  How will the millions who make this City churn get from here to there while this 108 year old subway system is gasping for breath?

This City is so vast, so diverse.  Who could believe that so much destruction could happen in one place in one night? Enter Mother Nature, perhaps with Mankind messing her up a bit.

Solid little fortresses in Hudson Heights are protected from the wrath.  Grand high rises in Mid-Town are threatened by an errant storm-damaged crane teetering menacingly over Mid-Town.  Breezy Point Queens, a tight-knit coastal community, was devastated by raging fires leaving 80 homes (most recent count 110) burnt to the ground.  And, communities along the coast in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are underwater.  Nearly a quarter of a million people are without power.  Cars are floating down Wall Street; Lower Manhattan virtually has been swallowed by the sea; the tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan are underwater; rail yards are under water; and the Battery has been battered.

But, it is the subways, the grand equalizers that are haunting me.  How in the world will they pump out the water and get these veins pumping again?  The words of Joe Loda, the MTA chief keep echoing in my ears “The worst disaster the mass transit has seen in 108 years it has been running.”

Yet still, I sit in my quiet little fortress in Upper Manhattan and I have seen none of this.

October 31, 2012 – wee hours of the morning

I should be asleep, but I can’t.  The screen reminds me that NYC is not the only place crying.  All of NJ has been declared a State of Emergency.  Governor Christie says it’s some of the worst damage he has ever seen.  Seaside, NJ has been buried by sand, reminiscent of the City of Pompeii, yet these homes instead of being locked in time will be washed out to sea.  Hoboken, our neighbor to the West, is under water, half of its residents trapped in their homes.  And, the list goes on.  And, next we hear from neighboring Connecticut – also underwater.  And the list goes on.

Yet still, I sit in my quiet little fortress in Upper Manhattan and I have seen none of this.

This bliss won’t last.  I will venture out, but in the meantime, I will do something that I do not do often.  I will pray. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles Day One-Hundred Sixty-Nine (Of storms, neighbors, and sweet things to eat). Guest Blog from Courtney Young.

This is a Guest Blogpost from one of my favorite NYC finds: Courtney Young - professional dancer, wonderful mother, accomplished baker, loyal neighbor, and one hell of a Spelt Right bagel demo-er!

"The hurricane is coming to New York City.  The subway is stopped, shops are shuttered and city slickers are staying sheltered.  I love this kind of day.  Normally life is rush here, hurry there, off to work, time for school. .  . A day like today when the city is literally shut down allows me to stay in my apartment, enjoy my family at a relaxed pace and accomplish some of the to-do’s I have at home.  The list of course is quite long - everything from design, create and install curtains in our bedroom to painting a kitchen wall with chalkboard paint so that the kids and I have a spot for daily inspiration, to baking graham crackers in autumnal shapes.  

Today, I don’t have the supplies I need for curtains or painting so the graham crackers win.  I’ve wanted to make them since I was at a girl’s weekend over the summer with my sister and friends in Minnesota.  One of the woman, Stacy May, casually mentioned that she makes her children graham crackers.  I must admit, I figuratively rolled my eyes as she handed me a copy of the recipe.  Who has time to make graham crackers?  The thought never once occurred to me.  Aren’t the store bought ones perfectly acceptable?  Then the competitive New Yorker in me kicked in and I figured if Stacy May in Minnesota could do it then Courtney Young in New York could do it better.  I would certainly be a superior mother if I could navigate the confusing world of the city pre-k admissions process AND make homemade graham crackers.  I had to improve upon them though. 

Lucky for me, several months earlier, Beth George, owner and creator of Spelt Right Baking, moved into my neighborhood.   Since then I’ve been enjoying her breads, bagels and pizza dough and have suspected that my family’s health is better off for them.  As of late, I’ve even been assisting Beth at demos at Whole Foods and telling customers about the benefits of the Spelt Right Baking Co. My zeal for this ancient grain has been growing.  Spelt Graham Crackers it is! 

So at 9:30am on hurricane day with Blythe (age 15 months) in the Ergo Carrier on my back and William (age 3) as my very enthusiastic helper we took the graham cracker to the next level.  The process is incredibly easy. William loved operating the big Kitchen Aid mixer and cutting out the pumpkin, turkey and leaf shapes.  Blythe was delighted to sample the dough. All of us including daddy, Scott, enjoyed eating them.  Beth and her family even gave them an enthusiastic Spelt Right approved thumbs up.  Her only suggestion was to add two tablespoons of molasses next time in order to keep them moist.  Great advice.  I’ll try it."

Here is the recipe. . .

2½ Cups Organic Spelt Flour
½ Cup Dark Organic Brown Sugar
½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Baking Soda
½ Cup Butter, chilled and cubed
¼ Cup Honey
¼ Cup Water

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2.    In a food processor or mixer combine the first 6 ingredients.
3.    Add cubed and chilled butter and pulse/mix until it resembles coarse meal.
4.    Add honey and water and continue to mix until it all combines.
5.    Remove and shape dough into a flat disk and place between two pieces of parchment paper.
6.    Roll dough out until ¼ inch thick.  Cut into crackers or shapes.
7.    Place cookies on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes (less time for smaller shapes).
8.    Cool and serve

Beth’s daughter Olivia suggested we make homemade marshmallows, melt chocolate and make S’mores.  Great idea.  Might have to save that for the next hurricane though. 

PS:  Thank you William for the modeling!!

Lunch Box Chronicle Day One Hundred Sixty-Eight (In the Shadow of the Storm, Make, Bake, Eat Cookies)

This day is beyond surreal.  One of the largest natural disasters is about to hit NYC, and I'm waiting impatiently in my apartment for all hell to break loose.  All public transportation is closed - no subways, no buses, no rail service.  All flights are cancelled.  The threatened eleven foot water surges have caused the closure of the tunnels.  More than a quarter of a million people have been ordered to evacuate from their NYC homes.  

The talking heads on the t.v. are murmuring non-stop, holding on to swaying trees, sopping themselves, repeating to us again and again The Obvious.  This storm is going to be Big.  Bigger than Big.  How-to-survive messages from friends and family who are out-of-state and out-of-country are appearing on my Facebook, in my email, and through texts.  

All kids are home from school - indefinitely.  The apartment building has become a refuge for all the children, huddled together, roaming the halls and apartments as if the world belongs to them; playing make believe, and showing the adults that a hurricane is nothing but a chance for all kids to just be kids.

Somehow, this close living, the quick stop with neighbors to share goodies, the endless play of the kids in the building, the Super making storm preparations, all make this impending event seem less lonely, more communal, and perhaps safer.   But, what do I know?  It is only the shadow of the storm that has reached us thus far.

So, I retreat to doing what I do best in these situations - cooking, baking, and writing.   Here is a recipe to offer a little bit of calm before the storm.   

Whole Grain Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies.

1 cup (2 sticks) of butter - REAL BUTTER softened
1 and 1/2 cups organic cane sugar (this stuff has sooo much flavor)
2 TBL pure molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking SODA
2 eggs
1 teaspoon REAL VANILLA 
1 1/2 cups organic whole spelt flour
1 cup organic white (sifted) spelt flour
12 ounces mini semi sweet Ghiradelli Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, beat butter until smooth.  Add sugar and  molasses.  Keep beating until smooth, add in eggs and vanilla.  Keep mixing.  In separate smaller bowl, mix together spelt flours and baking soda.    Beat flour mixture into butter mixture, slowly adding in the flour.  Stir in chocolate pieces.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake in 375 oven for about 10 minutes.  Because these are spelt, they tend to flatten out.  Done when edges are slightly brown.  Transfer to a wire rack for cooling.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One-Hundred Sixty-Seven (Sweet Trio-Spelt Right Dough, Figs, Walnuts)

Daily I am reminded of the gift in friendship.   This past month has been a testament to the value of friendship, both new and old.  Just before leaving for a 5 day journey to visit my dear friend Veronica of 32 years who lives in Mexico, I had dinner in NY with two friends of 3.2 months.   May, I just say that both encounters were precious.

Jess, Ruthie, and I had an evening of shared recipes, shared clothing, kvetching and kvelling.  Our newly formed sweet trio shared traditions from our respective cultures.  Thank you Ruthie for the Yiddish, and I shared some Lebanese cooking traditions.  For dinner, we collaborated to make my favorite recipe flayir bil-flayfli, walnut pepper pies.   We topped off the night with a sweet dessert for this sweet trio.

Here is the sweet trio recipe for you to share with your friends, old and new.

Spelt Right dough, fig paste, and walnuts.  Perhaps, we should name it, TRIBESSIE (for Beth, Jess, and Ruthie).

Preheat oven to 450F.  Thaw and rise Spelt Right dough in package.   Cut in 10-12 small pieces.  Flatten the pieces in rounds.  Set on well oiled baking pan.  Blend 1/4 fig paste, 1/2 cup walnuts together.  Place a dollop of the mix in the center of the dough.  Make into triangles.  Bake at 450 for  15-20 minutes.

Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy.