Brooklyn & Manhattan: A Savory Rendezvous!

Alison and I met in an author chat room 2 years ago.

Last week, I was hosting a discussion in a chat room—Blue Sky Book Chat––about friendships and communities formed on-line. This was in the wake of a four-day food and book mash-up in Manhattan and Brooklyn with my son, Zan, and friend, Alison Ragsdale.

I met Alison–a Scot’s lass who has written several books set in her home country–two years back in a Facebook author chat room. We both were astounded that we shared so many common interests, and our friendship blossomed on-line.

Striped Bass over Lobster at THE GRAMMERCY TAVERN.

For me–perhaps for you, as well– prior to joining Facebook in 2008, the concept of forging friendships on the internet was foreign. To be honest, even a bit creepy.

Match.com had been founded nine years prior to Facebook, so (and this is solely my experience) meeting people on-line was synonymous with hookups and dating. A wonderful source if you’re single and searching, but the internet seemed dicey for simply finding pals with common interests.

The Queen of Manhattan Indies is Strand Bookstore. Zoom into this pic to see the books banned back in the day.

Whatever your feelings (or lack of) about social media, Facebook was a game changer for me. I’ve met hundreds of people on-line, particularly on this blog, who share my interests. Manhattan and Brooklyn—with their plethora of Indie bookstores and restaurants– were the perfect playgrounds for Alison and me to meet and romp.

We stayed at The Marlton in West Village, which once housed such notables as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lillian Gish, who “cooked tinned things and tea” using a sterno lamp in her room in 1913. Jack Kerouac wrote a couple of novellas while holed up at the Marlton and Lenny Bruce stayed there during his six-month trial for obscenity in 1964.

Renovated in 2012, even today, it retains an off-beat vibe and their tiny jewel-box rooms and included breakfasts are exceptional. I spent Halloween, 2014, there with several friends and it was such a blast, I’ll  never stay anywhere else.  (See this post for details on that little adventure.)

Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers.

Another bonus about the hotel (I’m not getting a kickback) is  some great Indie Bookstores (Strand Bookstore, Printed Matter), the Chelsea Market and seriously fabulous restaurants are all within walking distance.

As if the West Village weren’t enough of a feast, one day we Ubered into Brooklyn. One could spend hours perusing shops in the Williamsburg area of Bedford Avenue alone. We loved Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers, specializing in used and rare books.  We continued down and around the bend to enjoy  drinks at William Vale Hotel (their view from the rooftop bar is unparalleled) and dinner at Oxomoco, where tacos are not just a taco. (see their menu).

Breakfast Option at the Marlton

Such a fabulous get-away but it was manna to return to relatively sleepy little Ann Arbor and my hubby, chirping birds the only sound to break our silence.

Want a taste of books, chatter and friendships forged on-line? Alison and I extend an invite for you to join our group in Blue Sky Book Chat. In celebration of a recent re-brand, all the authors will be giving away a ton of books and swag through June.

You don’t have to buy a plane ticket, just meet us online. Your sofa will do just fine! As always, happy to answer any questions about our trip or the chat room.

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Culinary Kenya!

The first thing my son asked me and Richard upon our return from Africa was, “What did you eat?”

The “Big 5” includes lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and Cape Buffalo.

Not, “Did you see all of ‘The Big Five’ animals?“, or “Could you sleep knowing that lions were outside your tent?” No, nothing so pedestrian.

He was curious about our culinary options while we were on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Our safari guide, Matandeeka.

Let me set the record straight. We didn’t go there for the food. A top of the bucket-list trip, we went there to witness self-contained ecosystems where elephants, giraffes, monkeys, rhinos, zebras, hippos–just to get started–roam free.

On numerous photo-game drives, our savvy guide navigated us  through the great  parks in the Subsaharan, enabling us to glimpse how life may have looked before us humans arrived on the scene.

Lori’s and her conservation foundation, Amara, have spent the past 20 years engaging with Kenyans and helping them to preserve their environment.

African version of the American’s South, Meat and Three.

Another (more humbling) reason for this trip was to view Amara Foundation in action. The woman who spearheaded the foundation, Lori Bergman, is a good friend I met many years ago in Ann Arbor.

About eighteen years ago, she went on safari with her sister to Kenya. She returned to town, quit her job and  told us her plans were to engage with Kenyans to be of assistance in  preserving their amazing environment; to help eradicate, for instance, bush-meat and ivory poaching.

She moved to Kenya and founded Amara Conservation. The results of her efforts have been awe-inspiring. My Ann Arbor pals and I are so proud to be her friend. I could go on and on about her fascinating work, esp. in vulnerable Tsavo, but it’s all on her site.

But back to my son’s original question. What did we eat?

Aside from the heavy Indian influence of options (think dals, chapati, biryani) in Kenya, the typical offerings we enjoyed in Kenya and Tanzania transported me back to my childhood.

Having grown up in Alabama, what us Southerners  consider our heritage dishes were actually brought over via the Atlantic Slave Trade. For during the 16th through 19th centuries, with the slaves came their agricultural  practices and recipes.

Hop 'n John (Good Luck Pea Dish)

Hop ‘n John, a beloved Southern Rice & Pea Dish, had its roots in West Africa.

Yep. That lip-smacking Meat & Three found at every Southern diner worth its salt has it’s genesis with the roasted meats (Nyama Choma), sautéed collards (Sukuma Wiki), and an assortment of legume concoctions such as Beans and Corn (Githeri) served  in Africa. Let’s not forget the okra, black-eyed peas (I’m looking at you Hop ‘n John), peanuts and and a cornmeal staple (oh well, grits) on today’s typical African plate.

 

Uncomfortable to be sure that an enslaved people brought me my beloved soul-foods, at the very least I give credit where credit’s due. And the feasting continued upon our return to Ann Arbor.

Kenyan Fish Stew

Good friends, Terri and Frederic, hosted a dinner party upon our return featuring African fare (see lead picture). Terri made a delicious Swahili Seafood Stew.

She found the recipe online and for good reason the dish tasted so familiar; the recipe was crafted by a Kenyan chef.  It was superb (she used tilapia, a sub-Saharan staple), and I look forward to making it again before hot soup season disappears.

Other recipes we enjoyed–a colorful couscous salad and Apricot Chicken Stew— took their influence from Morocco. A cuisine unto its own, it does, at least, share the same continent (-: I took further license making a classic Indian Dal, which as I mentioned, was served throughout Kenya. Terri’s table was truly a melting pot of colorful and exotic flavors, like the great continent itself.

 Happy, as always, to supply travel or culinary details, if you desire! Happy Trails!

Education is key!

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful Soups!

Hunkering down into the folds of winter, my body begs a slowing down, a turning inward, a  respite from the frantic pace of December. The seasonal change also brings a change in what I’m craving–– at the moment, soul-nurturing meal-in-a-pot soups. Below, I’ve mapped together some of my well-tested global favorites. (For dozens more, check out the drop down menu on the right.)

Scarola e Faciole: White Bean and Escarole Soup with Pancetta

Scarola e Fagiole: White Bean and Escarole Soup with Pancetta. This is a hearty soup enjoyed in the wintry months in the Campagna region of Italy. It’s a delicious  way of showcasing escarole, a slightly bitter green, delightful in this recipe.

Pozole (Traditional Mexican Soup)

Pozole: Traditional Mexican Soup. This is an abbreviated version of a Mexican classic typically served during the holidays. I love the combination of hominy and salsa verde in the brew but the garnishes are what give it personality.I make mine with fistfuls of cilantro, topped with creamy avocado.

Turkish Lentil Soup with Roasted Eggplant and Yogurt

 Turkish Lentil Soup with Roasted Eggplant and Yogurt. Nothing is easier than making a soup with red lentils. Honestly, it’s about as easy to make as it is to open a can– the lentils  break down into creamy, buttery richness in no time. I added roasted eggplant and sour cream to this feast of simplicity.

Gumbo Ya Ya

   Gumbo Ya-Ya  My sister-in-law is going to be dancing in one of the Mardi Gras parades (the Krewe of Poseidon) this March and I’m beside myself with jealousy (-: She’s been practicing with her group, the Disco Amigos, for months, the troupe recently watched and endorsed by the director of Saturday Night Fever, no less. This recipe is in honor of Susanne! You go, sistah’ soul. You go!

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

Thai Chicken Soup  Ahhh…lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chilis. What could be better aromatherapy than a combination of these simmering smells to shout: I’m awake! I’m alive!  And if you’re suffering from a cold, this may be exactly what the doctor ordered to clear your sinuses. The next time you’re craving chicken soup, try this one on for size.

Korean Hot Pot

 Korean Hot Pot  This most ancient of Asian recipes is a party  in a bowl. I had a hot pot in China that included duck’s feet but I promise you that this recipe does not incorporate the “delicacy”; I took the liberty of substituting chicken and tofu. It’s replete with other goodies such as kim chee, soba noodles and watercress (why not?).    

In February, hubby and I travel to the warmer climes of Kenya and Tanzania on safari (and to visit an old friend), to glimpse the way the world might have looked before mankind.  It’s one of those trips we’ve been saying we’d do forever, but the expense, the vaccines, the two consecutive overnights in airplanes to get there have been a bit off-putting.  But, sigh, it’s the sub-Saharan. Free-range elephants, lions, zebras, rhinos…if not now, when?

In the meantime, Unazungumza Kiswahili? (Do you speak Swahili?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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