Thank Squanto at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving–was a lovely holiday spent with the in-laws in Duluth outside of Atlanta, but I didn’t get to hunt as we were rained out! Bummer. however, after an aamazing southern farm-to-table lunch at JCT Kitchen, we had to stop in upstairs at Sid Mashburn’s, the best preppy style menswear shop in Atlanta and arguably the left coast (with the exception of J. Press in New Haven, maybe). I bought a lovely wool tie and gingham shirt.

My in-laws are first generation Korean-Americans, so the pre-thanksgiving meal consisted of several types of Kimchi (bok choy, cucumber, napa cabbage), stuffed prawns, and braised short ribs with chestnuts.

Because our initial union was not approved by the family, my wife and I had much to be thankful for. Our marriage earlier this year seemed to finally break the cultural barriers that kept me from getting to know her parents for the first four years of our relationship. In fact, our visit was a homecoming that saw years of tension melt away. As we sat down to the Korean feast the night before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but smile deeply at the miracle of the meal that was a long time coming.

Later that night, I set out to prepare the turkey–brining the 20 lb. bird in three cans of Guinness, kosher salt, water and Canadian Grade A maple syrup.

During the day, we visited the massive H-Mart, a Korean supermarket where we watched Kimchi made in bulk and had traditional street food (pancakes filled with red bean).

I forgot to take a picture of the finished bird, but here are the leftover sandwiches with my wife’s cranberry and Korean pear sauce, turkey, gravy and stuffing on rolls, yum.

Other lovely meals this holiday…

Drinks and piano music with my brother and his friend from Brazil at the Manhattan Inn, a Cinnamon Sidecar, Old Fashioned and Warsaw Mermaid (green tea vodka, sake, jasmine, creme de violette). Every time I go I order the Fried Wild Pollock sandwich…its the sea on a brioche bun.

Breakfast with the wife at Five Leaves, late of Heath Ledger, but fast becoming an institution on McCarren Park…the Big Brekkie and Merguez Scramble…

Last year we watched the NYC Marathon from Five Leaves over brunch, this year, we sat at the bar at the Manhattan Inn.

Its worth taking a moment to “thank Squanto” for Thanksgiving. Squanto was a native american of the Patuxent tribe in the Massachusetts coast. He taught the Plymouth Pilgrims how to hunt for eels and farm corn, contributing greatly to their survival. He spoke English because he had in fact been caught as a slave, nearly sold in Malaga, Spain, rescued by Friars and resolved to return to the “new world” after journeying to London where he lived for several years as a ship-builder, then joined an expedition to Newfoundland, and finally after a few attempts made it to his tribal lands. Sadly, most of his tribe and several other coastal groups died in an epidemic while he was making his way home. Amazingly, he settled with the Plymouth colonists (who were on his ancestral lands) and still–in the deepest spirit and meaning of giving–helped them to survive. The story of Squanto really is the story of Thanksgiving, its not just “thanking god” for survival, but continuing to hold love in your heart when your very survival is threatened. That’s the real lesson.

So I guess when all is sad and done, though the cultural barriers thrown up by my wife’s parents caused us years of pain–we were able to keep love in our heart, to continue to invite them into our lives at every opportunity, and love won out. Thank Squanto.

Saltie, the Shop and ‘burg Food Culture

So my wife and I decided to hit up Saltie in our neighborhood, Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. We had the finest sandwiches we’ve had all year. Our friends who live right down the street from Saltie put us on this place. My wife had one on Saturday and suggested we both go on Sunday. The cooks are alums of Diner. I’ve got nothing but love for this offspring by partners and Caroline Fidanza, founding chef at Diner and Marlowe & Sons, she’s done so much for food in New York, local purveyors, and hungry Brooklynites that she deserves the keys to the city.

I had the “Ship’s Biscuit” (soft-scrambled egg, ricotta). Sweet, melt-in-your mouth flavor with the hit of the salt on the ciabatta was a lovely combination.

She had the “Scuttlebutt” (hard-boiled eggs, cauliflower, pickles, capers, aioli, feta, black olives). The bite of the pickle combined with the creaminess of the egg and salty brininess of the caper, the smokiness of the aioli–sheer heaven. Big bold flavor on a perfectly baked ciabatta.

I love Brooklyn dining so much that I’m going to make a special effort to record my meals in Brooklyn. Favorite ‘burg restaurants are the aforementioned  Diner, but I’m also a fan of Rye, Dumont, Pies-n-Thighs, Motorino, Dressler, Walter Foods, the Shop (awesome bbq), Fette Sau, Roebling Tea Room, Sel de Mer (awesome seafood), Enids, Manhattan Inn, Five Leaves…and don’t even get me started on Ft. Greene or Carrol Gardens/Cobble Hill…hmm ok, maybe we eat out too much! I think I might need the New Brooklyn Cookbook for Xmas! Maybe I’ll get it and make a few recipes for the blog.

Funny thing–working in marketing I come across alot of trend reports and its so obvious we’re in the middle of a revival of artisanal living trend. I’d hate to see a backlash against this trend because frankly, I can’t go back. I’ve never felt more connected to my food, community, and life as a consumer than in the last ten years. The skeptic might just call it another trend–but I think of it as a return to a simpler way of life–one I had in my life as a kid in various ways, but that we drifted away from as we migrated to suburbia and into young adulthood. My parents were never farmers, but they shopped farmer’s markets in Ohio, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania (love those Amish). My dad was a carpenter and builder so we weren’t shy around tools, at least the boys weren’t, so artisan was really just plain old living. It just seems a way of life that people have had outside of the city, seems to have made its way into it. Why Brooklyn? Why Williamsburg? My guess–in a city of immigrants, New York’s chefs got tired of trudging from Brooklyn into Manhattan’s high-end restaurants–and so they migrated downtown and stayed in their own hoods. The ‘burg has had for years a large number of Yankees, southerners or whatever,  move in and they’ve brought their tastes with them. Brooklyn has been at the crossroads of a resurgence for Americana because a wide variety of Americans make their home here. The strong DIY attitude has emerged in response to a desire to make Brooklyn look and feel more like home–a little bit of Tennessee or Ohio valley. Just look at the music, just as diverse, and a sampling of every sound from across the country, bluegrass, jazz, indie, rockabilly, EMO. Well, I digress, I think its these influences among others, are what drives the food culture here.

Just last week I came across a motorcycle shop-bar-cafe-speakeasy-bbq joint with “urban country club” services. While I was walking down Metropolitan I caught the scent of bbq on the air–but wait–it wasn’t coming from nearby Fette Sau–this was a bit different. I went in to the Shop and met J.T. (one of two J.T.’s who tends bar there) and proceeded to learn that they were indeed smoking sausage and chicken right there on a pit called Riggins.

Checkout the video:

Damn, now I’m hungry again.

First Hunt and Shadow Lake

My brother-in-law is taking me hunting this Thanksgiving down south, just outside of Atlanta on some private grounds (whitetail not turkey). I’ve never hunted before but I’m looking forward to it. I don’t expect to do any shooting, just watching. Once when I was about 10 or 12, I was out with my brothers and sisters getting lost in the wilderness around Shadow Lake (just outside Cleveland in rural Ohio), and I got a bit lost. I was on this long grassy road surrounded by a cathedral of trees.

Occasionally, the light broke through sending rays down on the path ahead. As I searched for my brother Blake, maybe 100 yards in front of me, a few deer emerged from the shadows to nibble on the path. I froze, can’t say how long I stood there watching. Finally, I heard my brother approaching from behind and I turned to him to shush him, when I turned back, the deer were gone… My siblings and I spent many years wandering the more than 100 miles of Cuyahoga’s connected Metropark system, 20k acres of land, from the lakefront to the Rocky River gorge. We used to climb the rocky shale bluffs and wade through the streams and rivers. In the urban areas–we played tennis in the National Junior Tennis League, and we would go to the zoo several times a year. Though Shadow Lake wasn’t part of the Metropark system, both parks enabled five boisterous, adventurous kids to go wild when necessary and grow up with grass between our toes.

I expect that the Thanksgiving hunt will be a long slow process. Lots of stretches of sitting still and waiting. But its fall and the colors should be spectacular. The time spent with my brother-in-law will be good enough for me. I really love venison though, so fingers crossed.

Recently came across this great post reminding hunters how to get home safe…

Kensico and a Passion Rekindled

I’ve developed a special place in my heart for Kensico Reservoir up in Westchester. Now, I live down in Brooklyn in a steel and glass box, but my closet is full of rods and tackle. After too long not fishing, I decided to start fishing again. It started two years back, with a guys-only family fishing trip to Lake Anna, down in Fredericksburg, VA where my brother is sooo lucky to live a mere 30 min. drive from. We got skunked all morning and then hooked-up with a bunch of tasty catfish. That’s pretty much all your gonna catch on a Pontoon boat. When I got back to NY, I realized I needed to bring fishing back into my life. Soon after, after I spent the night at my friends place in Long Beach, I caught my first stripers surf fishing. It was one of those “we weren’t supposed to catch anything” midday activities where you go and pull two +30″ at the wrong time of day–RIGHT in front of his apartment building. Sheer joy.

I grew-up fishing Lake Erie and waters all around the Cuyahoga, which is a spectacular fishery for smallmouth, walleye, perch. I have a fondness for a place called “Shadow Lake” outside of Cleveland, Oh. Not only did I catch my first rainbow there, I caught a dog (our family dog Duke–but that’s a story for another time). So, I’m a freshwater fisherman at heart. I was amazed to learn of all the amazing freshwater fishing within an hour’s drive of Gotham. Kensico, Croton, Armonk–all amazing, beautiful, well-kept secrets. These reservoirs are all state-owned, and incredibly well-regulated by the DEP. They are part of the Catskill Watershed that supply New York with our freshwater supply. There are no power boats allowed, no homes with big ugly docks, and these manmade lakes appear isolated and empty, blessedly devoid of human habitation…and then there are no paths and piers  either. If you want to explore the reservoirs you’ll need to buy and stow a rowboat on them. The permitting process isn’t complicated and I’m seriously considering putting a boat on Kensico. Its just a gorgeous reservoir. Actually, the reservoir was built in 1915, damming the Bronx river. In some places its over 60′ deep. And that means good habitat for Lake and Brown Trout, also, largemouth and smallies. The trout are stocked but the bass population has settled in on their own I think. The remains of the town of Kensico are somewhere at the bottom of my favorite lake.

Kensico Dam this is one of the most impressive dams I’ve ever seen. Also, there’s a lovely little park right in front. On the way up to the reservoir, you start climbing a road up the valley. You get wonderful glimpses of the lake through the woods, and if you look carefully, you’ll see “jonboats” tucked up in the coves. Here’s the dam being built 95 years ago…hmm, the centennial is coming up. Hope they celebrate this amazing work of engineering.

I’ve pulled some gorgeous smallmouth bass out of Kensico, right off the bridge on Rye Lake… the place is flush with smallies and yes, these suckers fight. I hauled in these aggressive ones going after my stickbait as a massive school of shiners was swimming up back and forth. Two of these babies leapt clear out of the water. I did make a mistake with these though–I kept them before the season was open. Some of my fishing buddies scolded me for that one–always check your season dates. I didn’t mean any harm, but there’s a reason for the season, not to mention the DEP could have busted my ass. Oh, and you’ll need a fishing license, AND DEP reservoir permit, if you intend to fish the reservoirs. The DEP really does check. They’ve got powerboats on the water.

It took me three trips to land my first “Laker” (Lake Trout). Kensico isn’t an easy lake to fish, it take patience and getting to know the other fisherman, the holes, the season.

Lately, I’ve been flying up to Boston almost every week for work. Its a 35 min. flight that takes you up the coast over Westchester into Connecticut and into the Boston-area. On a clear day, its quite lovely. I always sit on the left side of the plane so I can get a good look at the reservoirs and lakes from the air. I spot Kensico, note my favorite holes, the bridge and smile. Last week I was up in Boston again for an “offsite”. I brought the rod and my tacklebox. I figured if it sucked I could bolt and maybe throw one in the Charles River, but it was not to be. On the drive home, I realized, however, that my route would take me right by Kensico. I had about thirty minutes before the sun set. I whipped off 684 and high-tailed it down to the bridge. Nine casts later I hooked up with something big. I figured it had to be a carp but as the fish came up I realized I was on to my first Chain Pickerel. Gorgeous. Rows of sharp teeth. Catch and release. I didn’t have my camera, but I’ll never forget it. Here’s a fine example.

Writing Soothes

Yesterday was a bum day at work. The kind of day that just wrecks your confidence in people and perhaps even your choices. I should have seen it coming, I spent the weekend pining for a house. I’m in ‘nesting’ mode and that usually means long visits to to browse homes upstate. The Poconos, the Catskills, along the Westchester Reservoirs. I spent most of Sunday with football in the background as old ranches on 2.3 acres whizzed by my screen. This one caught my eye…but it was too close to town, too manicured.

Now, I’m priviledged. I live in a condo in fashionable Williamsburg, with a view of arguably the most social park in the city, McCarren Park. …it has resurfaced tennis courts. I can get my hipster on by just walking outside.

But a man isn’t a man until he makes a homestead. Growing up on a teacher’s salary, my family of 7, sometimes 8, moved around a bit, but we stuck to the outskirts. The rural lands where big houses were cheap and easily accommodated a sprawling growing family with not a lot of money. I attended  (seriously) a one-room schoolhouse in Concord, NH, like this one in Croydon.

Anyway, I digress–at work yesterday–I was reminded that when people are ugly, its often when they’re trying to act “pretty” and “nice”. Coupled with my dissatisfaction that I was far away from owning a home (my savings have been consumed by other things this year), and “pretty-ugly” behavior, I felt a kind of ache in my chest.

Finally, I was able to scratch it late last night–by cracking a key chapter of the novel I’m writing. Here are a few of the research materials, below, held up by tall-ship bookends acquired at Brimfield this fall.

Writing soothes the soul. The ache has faded. Writing is a tough and lonely affair, but oh so deeply satisfying.

The Things I Look For

I’m a big fan of projects like the selby that go into folks homes and muck about until you form some sort of impression of them. Having a bit of a background in ethnography, I thought I would introduce myself through some visual observations–a quick tour of my some cherished things. Now, since I’m showing you around, you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you I out-smarted the antique salesman in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul to buy this Ottoman Empire stamp (its true!).

I will do an extended post on my Turkey visit in the near future, but here are pictures of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul where aforementioned stamp was purchased. We bought a number of rugs, and textiles. Half the fun was in the bargaining.

Haggling for Kilims

Here are the three watches I own: a Luminox Navy Seal 3000, vintage Omega dress watch, Bell & Ross Vintage 126 XL.

They range from sport casual to dress, but each has a pedigree that says quality, craftmanship, heritage and utility. I once was in an airport in the gulf of Florida when a self-professed watch fanatic came up to me and asked me about my Luminox. He was gushing, wanted to know if i was military. I told him they weren’t that hard to come by–but he was willing to trade me his Rolex right off his watch. He struck me as one of those impulsive guys with a lot of money who didn’t care about the details. I couldn’t in good conscience trade a $200 watch for a $5000 one, though i was tempted.

Luminox is 16-yr old company, Swiss-made, and got on the map by becoming the official time instrument of the US Navy Seals. Bell & Ross, known more recently for its square dial and crown, is actually just a twenty-year old brand. Omega, of course, is much older, founded in 1848. Vintage Omegas from the 40s, 50s, and 60s have recently come into vogue and can be had at very affordable prices, far under 1k. I got mine at Jack Spade in New York on Warren Street. As a veteran in advertising, I’m partial to great brands. Legacy (or story) + Quality+ Design + Exclusivity = love it.