Christmas in July

With New York City (and much of the U.S.A.) in the middle of a brutal heat wave, we need a little Christmas. Right this very minute! We need a little Christmas now!

And so to help alleviate the heat, the Couchsurfing Cook was inspired to write a song.
It’s sung to the tune of Mel Torme and Bob Wells’ heartwarming 1946 classic, “The Christmas Song” and is sure to put a smile on your otherwise red-cheeked (from the humidity) face.

Now I can’t promise that this song will prevent sweat from dripping down your brow and into your mouth as you stand broiling on a rush-hour subway platform, but perhaps humming it while lying in bed at 3 a.m. with a window fan blowing furiously at your naked body while you curse the used air conditioner you bought last summer on Craigslist (because a couchsurfer broke your new one) that’s so weak you wonder if it’s even worth the electric bill**, will make you feel at least a few degrees cooler.

**This is happening to the CS Cook right now!

With apologies to Mel Torme, the CS Cook presents “The Christmas in July Song”:

Piglets roasting on an open fire.

Piglets roasting on an open fire.

Sausage stinking up your clothes.

Sausage stinking up your clothes.

Ice cream cones, being sold from a truck.

Ice cream cones being sold from a truck.

That song will stop, with any luck.

Everybody knows cannoli and some funnel cake,

Everybody knows cannoli and some funnel cake.

help to make your clothes fit tight.

Help to make your clothes fit tight.

Hyper kids, with their mouths stuffed with sweets,

Hyper kids with their mouths stuffed with sweets.

will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know more food is on its way.
Like cotton candy spun around as if hairsprayed.

Like cotton candy spun around as if hairsprayed.

And every parent there is gonna cry,
when they learn corn costs five bucks to buy.

When told an ear of corn's five bucks to buy.

And so I’m offering this lemonade.

And so I'm offering this lemonade.

To locals and to tourists too.
Although you’ve been warned many times, many ways,
New York’s summer’ll make you brew.

Stay cool everyone!

Watermelons in red and green Christmas colors.

And for the strangest version of “The Christmas Song” you’re likely to see, click here.

Can’t We All Just Eat in Peace?

This past Monday was July 4th. So Liz, Ben, Petter (from Sweden, ergo the spelling), and I decided to celebrate the all-American holiday by taking a road trip (by bike, of course, being the eco-friendly Brooklynites and Scandinavians that we are) to explore our neighbor to the north. No, not Canada. A much more foreign place: Queens.

Where the heck is it??

Upon crossing the border, through the scary transition zone known as The Evergreens Cemetery (the final resting place of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lester Young, Isaac Asimov, and Walt Kelly of Pogo fame, among others), we encountered a native of this unfamiliar land, a lovely man selling fruit and sundry products.

Welcome Brooklyn strangers!

Wanting to appear natural in our newly adopted country, we decided to expand our oh-so-sophisticated Brooklyn tastebuds by trying foods we’d never had before, including:

Tiger Tonic

Good fer what ails ye.

Tamarind and Cassava Bread

Two new discoveries.

and Aloe Vera juice, una bebida inteligente (an intelligent drink).

Green is good.

But what surprised us most was a fruit we’d never encountered on the shelves of our local Trader Joe’s called quenepa or honeyberry. According to our new friend, you peel, pop, and suck the green darlings to savor their sweet-ish, gelatinous interior (but avoid the big pit!). All we could say as we peddled off was, “Viva la Queens!”

So happy, he's leaving Sweden.

From there we wended our way through the pine-filled woods of Forest Park, the unexpected mansions of Kew Gardens, and the iconic World’s Fair landmarks in Corona Park and Flushing Meadows.

And it was there (before getting on the subway because we were bone tired at this point), that we saw what makes America truly great: families celebrating July 4th. Among them:

Afghanis

Chicken kebabs on skewers.

Pakistanis

Grilled steak and chicken tikka.

and Mexicans and El Salvadorans.

Elotes on the grill.

That’s right, all the people who supposedly hate us or are here to undermine our way of life, happily honoring American independence in our public parks.

Makes ya’ think, don’t it?

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we could all just, as my mother might say, eat in peace.

And "You Go, Queens!"

With special thanks to Petter Bertilsson for providing the camera and taking many of the photos for this issue!

The Couchsurfer Who Changed Everything

Marcel as I imagined him...

Ah, romance! The dirty, little secret of Couchsurfing. Sure, sometimes it’s all kumbaya, joining the world’s diverse peoples in a platonic group hug. But other times, CSers just wanna have fun, at least with people whom they know have already pre-booked their ticket home.

Yet I can state unequivocally, that in over two years of Couchsurfing, no man (or woman) has ever broken my Bristol-Palin like chastity.

That is, until Marcel.

From the moment we met, I knew Marcel was different: gentle, funny, willing to share the tiniest details of his life as if we’d known each other forever.

Initially, I swore I wouldn’t “out” our love on the blog. But now that I’ve changed my Facebook status to “In a relationship,” I’ve decided it’s time to let the world experience, as I did, the man – and day – I’ll never forget…

____________________________________________________________________

After Marcel and I awoke (he on his air mattress, I on my off-the-ground, queen-size bed). I suggested we hit the Lower East Side for breakfast at Panade, a “puff” cafe known for their sweet and savory choux pastry concoctions.

Panade girls staring at Marcel and me.

Marcel, having never experienced “puffs” in his country, the name of which I can never remember, took delicate bites of the cheese and rosemary and declared it better than the leaves he usually eats.

Choose your puff.

From there we walked to the Union Square Greenmarket, a perfect spot for people watching, as well as purchasing fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat, all by local purveyors, and at sizes even Marcel could chew.

Foolishly oblivious to the difference in our heights (did I mention Marcel is rather small?), I noticed his feet were worn to nibs by the time we arrived at the market! Helping steady him with my hand, we momentarily touched and, just then, something ineffable passed between us; at that moment, I knew our connection was much stronger than merely our mutual love of sleeping for free in other people’s homes.

After sharing a handmade Dutch pretzel (was he imagining us entwined?), he asked if we could stop at the Apple (PRODUCT PLACEMENT) store, to send an email. Immediately, my mood deflated. Was he writing to his girlfriend in his unpronounceable country to share with HER the fabulous day he was having with ME?

My hopes for love dashed, I sulked off to check my own email when, strangely, one from Marcel magically appeared on the screen: “THANK U FOR THE MOST PURR-FECT DAY OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!! I’M FALLING IN LOVE WITH U!!##$$, MARCEL!@#$%”

Our eyes locked across the crowded Apple store. We rushed into one another’s arms, the other guests too immersed in their iPods (PRODUCT PLACEMENT) to notice. After that, there was nothing, not even the fact that Marcel’s country only sells PCs, that could come between us.

Marcel and I relax at Sanctuary T.

Exhausted from the Apple store – and the excitement of our newfound love – we decided to recharge at Sanctuary T. There, in the dimly lit, Asian-influenced room, Marcel and I sipped mood-enhancing teas, grew tipsy from tea-infused cocktails, and ate tea-dusted main courses, secure in the knowledge that whatever herb or caffeinated beverage we imbibed could only further stimulate our feelings towards one another.

But just then, a dark cloud of recognition jolted us from our reverie: our day of love was nearly over, and soon Marcel would have to return to his difficult-to-locate-on-a-map country. Could our love withstand the oceans, mountains, hurricanes, mudslides, tsunamis, and occasional locust infestations, that routinely pummel his impossible-to-spell nation?

Teas and tea objects on display.

But there was no time to ponder, as night was upon us, and it was time for dinner.

Amazingly, Marcel had taken the initiative to read the New Yorker in the bathroom of my apartment earlier that day, and recommended we check out Millesime, a restaurant that had recently opened in a former no-man’s land (the East ’30s) that had begun trending hip.

Tiffany roof at Millesime.

There we found the Carlton Hotel, a Beaux Arts-style building built in 1904, recently renovated into a fashionable boutique hotel and now home to Millesime and the downstairs M Bar. As we entered the airy restaurant with its Tiffany glass sunroof, red leather banquette, marble bar, and candle-lit tables, it was as if – not only Marcel and I but the entire room – was aglow!

The dinner only heightened the exquisiteness of what we believed would be our last night together, beginning with the perfectly chewy yet crusty bread served with wine and olive tapenade, moving on to the perfectly prepared lobster on a bed of ice with house-made cocktail sauce and aioli, and ending with a simple yet elegant dessert consisting of a honeycomb square paired with a salty, French cheese.

The dining room at Millesime.

It was only then I saw Marcel crying.
“Why are you sad, my love?” I asked, barely able to contain my own tears.
Because,” Marcel squeaked, “We’re at the most romantic restaurant in New York, and I have something to give you.
He lowered his already small body down further to the ground and knelt on one knee.
Will you marry me?
Before I could answer, the wait staff burst into applause.
“Say, ‘Yes!'” they shouted.
And I did, amid tears and laughter, as a waiter lifted Marcel from the ground and carried him in his hand for all to see.

Downstairs at the M bar, we celebrated and danced, snacking on lamb chop lollipops and Basque-style popcorn, while the DJ spun songs from the ’50s, because Marcel said it reminded him of home.

____________________________________________________________________

Now that we’ve caught our breath, Marcel and I have decided to divide our time between New York and the land mass he calls home. Happily, we both still love couchsurfing and continue to host people when they come to visit. We do though still sleep in separate beds. After all, I don’t want to crush him.

Marcel was kind enough to make this video to share himself with all of you. I think you’ll agree, he’s just as described!
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To recreate my perfect day with Marcel, we encourage you to visit our favorite places:

Panade: 132A Eldridge Street
Union Square Greenmarket: From 14th – 17th Street between Broadway/University Place and Union Square East. Open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Sanctuary T: 337 West Broadway
Millesime and M Bar: 92 Madison Avenue

恭喜發財! Gōng xǐ fā cái!

Congratulations and be prosperous, now give me a red envelope! – Chinese New Year’s greeting

For those who don’t live in a multi-culti city like New York, it’s possible you were blithely unaware that Chinese New Year began yesterday.

This is the Year of the Rabbit when we’re supposed to eat carrots, hop around, and have sex as often as possible. I don’t know if any of that’s true, but I just added it to Wikipedia for the heck of it.

Now in 50 years, we’ll all know when Chinese New Year is because, by then, the Chinese will rule the world – if not the universe and most of the alien galaxies – which means it’s only a matter of time before we’re counting on abacuses, silverware as we know it will have disappeared, and our grandchildren will be speaking to us in Mandarin so that, not only won’t we be able to hear them, we’ll have no idea what they’re saying.

To give those of you who’ve never experienced Chinese New Year a 50-year leg up on the competition, I’m sharing photos of what it was like yesterday in New York City’s faux Chinatown; I mean faux only in the sense that, in the real China, people probably don’t hawk “I Love New York” T-shirts alongside their black market “Black Swan” DVDs.

The air was chill that morning, but the streets felt warm as we wandered among crowds dressed in bright colors, some beating on drums. Policeman stood by while firecrackers popped and cracked. Even they had no intention to stop the fun.

Firecracker droppings

Dragons shook and danced their way into stores, sending New Year’s greetings and asking for gifts. Store owners obliged by giving the dragons money in small, red envelopes. I’m told it goes to the benevolent associations and not the gangsters. Hey, what can I say? I’m cynical. I live in New York City.

Dragons roam the streets.

My co-workers and I celebrated by having lunch at Joe’s Ginger, the country cousin, though no less delicious, version of Joe’s Shanghai.

Joe's Ginger at 25 Pell Street

My co-worker, also named Joe, suggested we order soup dumplings. I’d never had one before. They sounded scary.

Filled with fat mounds of pork with soup snuggled inside – all of it held together by a spiral twist of sticky dough – soup dumplings pop a dollop of liquid in your mouth if you’re not wise to the fact before biting down. Joe advised we poke a tiny hole in the sack to let a little juice slip out first. Ha! I’m no fool! I knew to tuck a napkin under my chin to prevent squirtage.

Plate o' soup dumplings

Then we shared plates of cold noodles with sesame sauce and Shanghai-style eggplant with garlic. The eggplant had a little pork too. It was an awful lot of pork in one day for a nice Jewish girl like me, but I didn’t want to be rude so dug in with the others. Of course, God punished me later that day by having me lose my subway Metrocard. Darn you, God!

After lunch, and despite being stuffed as dumplings, we went scheming for dessert. First we hit the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, but the scoops were expensive – $3.75 for flavors like green tea, lychee, and almond cookie – so we kept walking.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory at 65 Bayard Street

Heading back to the office, we found many shops closed for the holiday, but luckily one of our favorites was opened: EVERYTHING FROSTED! And whether you like cupcakes or not, you have to admit it has the best name in the whole, wide world.

John Wu, owner of Everything Frosted at 105 Mosco Street

The owner, John Wu, makes cupcakes in exotic flavors like pink champagne and tiramisu and in Chinese flavors like jasmine with vanilla bean frosting and green tea with black sesame frosting. He trained under the Executive Pastry Chef at the White House. Do you think that means they served cupcakes for dessert at the recent White House dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao?

Joe liked the cupcakes so much, he bought six. Each one cost $2.50. A lot less than that $3.75 ice cream cone!

Now $2.50 times six equals…uh…uh… Well, if I was one of those whip-smart Chinese kids, I’d have figured it out by now. Too bad I’m just a dumb-ass white lady licking frosting from my fingers, when I should be using them to count!

Joe’s Ginger, 25 Pell Street, 212.285.0333
Chinatown Ice Cream Factor, 65 Bayard Street, 212.608.4170
Everything Frosted, 105 Mosco Street, 212.227.9828

There Will Be Blood

rib roast

Was I wrong to long?

Every 28 days, I crave meat. Bacon. Hamburgers. Skirt Steak. The desire always presages what, in the parlance of our times, is quaintly referred to as “that time of the month.”

For three years, however, I dated a man who was macrobiotic. A man who never ate red meat. Around him, my carnivorous urges felt embarrassing. Shameful even.

Helpless to stop the hormonal deluge, I spared him my animalistic longings by sucking bones in secret. Returning from these sanguinary sessions, I’d fear that he’d taste charcoal on my breath or spot an incriminating barbecue stain on my collar, thereby dooming the relationship forever.

Yet despite our gustatory differences, I found myself falling in love. And so, as lovers often do, I hid from him the more salacious details of my past culinary dalliances, like the time I ate a bucket of Hecky’s Ribs after a failed audition or when an ex-boyfriend and I took mushrooms then ordered one too many burritos from a Mexican place on Chicago’s West side whose cleanliness was highly questionable.

I was ultimately humbled though by his nutritional certitude. Of course it was wrong to eat animals, any fool with a graduate degree knew that. If I was honest, I’d even shared his beliefs, back when I was an idealistic vegetarian sleeping on futons and lugging casseroles to potlucks in my hubristic youth.

ribs

I wanted love -- the whole hog.

It was New York that hardened me, I now realized. In a city requiring testosterone to survive, I’d become unfeminine by eating meat. With his help, I’d change my evil ways. Become pure again. Virginal. Or at least a respectable pescatarian.

In all fairness, he was a fabulous cook. One of the best I’ve ever had. He could do things with miso and seaweed no man had ever done for me before. And his wild Atlantic salmon — steamed simply with garlic, ginger, and tamari — was a revelation; fish still redolent of its aquatic self.

But the relationship wasn’t without challenges. Problems began as early as our third date when I suggested eating at a restaurant; a proposition he found distasteful. It wasn’t until years later — once we were already enmeshed — that he explained his belief that our constitutions are affected not only by what we eat, but by the manner in which food is prepared. Enjoying a meal born out of a chaotic restaurant environment was for him as abhorrent as ingesting sewage. Needless to say, we dined almost exclusively at home.

Still it pained me when, after nearly three years of romantic and culinary bliss, I nonetheless felt compelled to admit that I’d grown weary of our all-macrobiotic diet, and wondered if we could perhaps spice things up a bit, you know, cook something Italian or French, say, using only locally grown and organic products, of course.

The situation worsened a few months later when I asked, gently I thought, if we could eat out once a month, his manhood seemingly bruised by the suggestion.

Then one night, as we sipped kukicha tea in the living room after another of his healthy and delicious meals, he said impassively that he thought it might be best if I moved back to my own house, where I’d thankfully kept a second set of dishes, anticipating just such a moment.

The discovery a few weeks later that he’d been cheating on me was admittedly a shock. Yet I found myself oddly comforted when I learned about the woman who’d stolen his heart and satisfied his appetites where my own attempts had failed.

Understandably, she was Japanese.

Durian in Winter

Durian in Winter? Who knew!

Very pleased to announce a new feature on the Couchsurfing Cook. It’s called The Daily Discovery.

Every day — or as often as I can — I’ll post a photo and tagline chronicling my adventures finding fun and funky food in New York City.

Today’s DD: Durian in Chinatown. In 1856, British naturalist Alfred Russell White described the durian as “A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes….It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect.”

It’s one of those love ’em or hate ’em foods that are worth trying at least ONCE before you die. Notice how the guy serves it: Cut crescent shape slices from the top, then scoop out a log of pale, yellow flesh. Spoon up and enjoy!

Leave a comment if you can think of other foods that may smell odd but taste great!

When the Pie was Opened


One of the great things about biking in the city is how you wind up randomly discovering places you might otherwise miss while rushing past in a subway or car.  Today on my bike home from Prospect Park to Carroll Gardens, I stumbled on a new restaurant in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn.  The outside facade was done in whitewashed brick and the Ye Olde English lettering used for the name above the door made me feel as if I’d arrived in a small British village by way of the Gowanus Canal.   Appropriately the cafe’s name was similarly quaint “Four and Twenty Blackbirds.”  And the blackboard out front said it all:  this restaurant specialized in pie with a capital P.  But what amazing flavors of pie! Strawberry/Balsamic…Chess…Lavender/Blueberry.   Having only a dollar in my pocket and needing to get to the optometrist by 6:00 p.m. to pick up my new funky glasses, I couldn’t stop to eat.  But I’m definitely returning soon to see what dainty pies they set before this queen.  (Sorry, bad joke.)  This could become my new favorite writing locale.

Address:  439 Third Avenue at 8th Street
LINK:  http://birdsblack.com/

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