Archive for the 'food and drink' Category

On the Waterfront: Kayaking in Red Hook

I’ve always been interested in kayaking, but never seemed to find the time or the opportunity to do it, especially since moving to NYC.  Growing up in Massachusetts and living in Connecticut for so many years, I used to enjoy canoeing on small rivers and ponds with my Dad and friends during summers of old. So with summer here again, I started getting the itch to give kayaking a go.  Now, I’m sure kayaking is not typically the first activity that comes to mind to most people when thinking of things to do in NYC.  But bear in mind: NYC is surrounded by water.  All you really need is a seaworthy craft, paddles, and a life vest and the water is your highway. Well, not if you’re a novice like me who’s unfamiliar with the local waters and the potential dangers.  So I starting digging around and found that there are a number of volunteer organizations around NYC that offer free kayaking tours on New York’s waters.  Most of these groups provide everything you need, including the kayak, paddles, life vests, basic instructions and a professional guide to watch over you.

Since I live in Brooklyn, I decided to give Red Hook Boaters a shot.  Red Hook Boaters is an all-volunteer organization devoted to providing safe public access to the waters of Red Hook, “to bring people to the sport of kayaking, and to promote education about, and care for, the coastal environment.”  During the summer months they offer free walk-up kayaking twice a week: Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 pm and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5 pm (schedule is subject to change). No previous kayaking experience is required. It sounded like the perfect introduction to kayaking in NYC. So on a hot Thursday evening after the 4th of July holiday, I decided to take a “7th inning stretch” with my son to Red Hook to check it out! And I wasn’t disappointed.

Red Hook Boaters located at Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park. The cove provides a great spot for kayaking as well as some amazing views of the Statue of Liberty.

RED HOOK: An Historic Industrial/Shipping Neighborhood Enclave

R-E-D H-O-O-K: this cute array of gigantic childhood “blocks” of boulders can be found right beside the cove at Valentino Jr. Pier. Notice the old red brick warehouses in the background–historic remnants of the once prosperous shipping port.

Red Hook is an eclectic neighborhood located in southwestern Brooklyn.  Its name is derived from its appearance as a tiny geographic “hook” jutting into New York Harbor.  Historically, Red Hook served as a thriving industrial port in the 19th and early 20th C. providing thousands of jobs to primarily Italian and Irish American dockworkers.  According to PBS.org, by the 1950s, Red Hook had over 20,000 residents, many of them longshoremen living in public housing projects built in the 1930s to accommodate the growing number of dockworkers and their families.  The neighborhood also had a tough reputation—with such notorious figures as Al Capone allegedly getting their start there as small-time criminals.  And that rough and tough reputation was evident in the 1954 crime drama classic, On the Waterfront, set in Red Hook, where a young Marlon Brando as a former boxer turned longshoreman takes a stand against a corrupt and powerful union boss. Between the 1960s and ’80s, Red Hook experienced a rapid economic decline precipitated by the loss of its traditional shipping business to New Jersey.  As the economy worsened, local crime increased.  Since the late 1990s, however, the neighborhood has been enjoying a slow but steady recovery as middle class artists and others have migrated to the former industrial shipping enclave attracted by its lower rents and a historic waterfront replete with old warehouses and cobblestone streets dating back to the Civil War era.  Today, it’s an eclectic neighborhood of local artists and artisans as well as an array of businesses.  And for tourists or New Yorkers looking for something different, Red Hook offers a great spot for exploration and recreation, as well as some outstanding views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

View from Louis Valentino Jr. Pier.  Lady Liberty beckons in the distance…

A taste of the artistic graffiti gracing one of the warehouses alongside Louis Valentino Jr. Pier.

Kayaking

Red Hook Boaters is located at Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park, a tiny cove graced by old brick warehouses on either side with a direct view of Lady Liberty across the water.  My son and I arrived just before 6 pm and a crowd of about a dozen people were already there waiting to kayak.  After filling out the necessary waiver forms and being fitted for our life vests, we were given a brief but informative lesson on how to safely kayak on the local waters.  The instructors then helped everyone climb into their kayaks one at a time and we were off.  Due to the potential dangers of strong currents and boat traffic on the open water, we were told to kayak only around the cove and the pier, which was just fine by us.  And in order to provide the opportunity for others to participate, we were limited to about a 20 minute excursion. That said, the experience and the opportunity to enjoy some outstanding views on the water was priceless!  And if this is your first time or you’re going with kids like I was, you’ll appreciate the chance just to get your feet–and likely you’re clothes–wet!  Advice: definitely wear a bathing suit and keep your camera/phones in a water resistant bag. Paddling around the cove with views of the guiding torch of “The New Colossus” to our west and the Freedom Tower rising from the ashes of Ground Zero to her north, I couldn’t help but think of the countless generations of people that crossed the ancient waters around us to discover a new land in pursuit of new lives and new opportunities… As a New Englander who moved to NYC for a new experience, I can definitely relate to that spirit of adventure and challenge.

On the water! It’s amazing to feel the glide of the water beneath you while taking in some of the dramatic and tranquil views.  A rewarding experience…

After our dalliance with a mere drop in the bucket of the great waters surrounding New York City, we took a couple of hours to explore the surrounding community.  As mentioned above, Red Hook is a really unique, eclectic neighborhood worth an exploration in its own right.

Here are a few suggestions to check out during your visit:

Work up a bit of sweat while kayaking?  You might want to check out this old Red Hook ‘institution’: Sonny’s Bar is a local saloon located inside an 1850’s era tenement apartment on cobblestoned Conover Street, just a short walk from the waterfront and Valentino Jr. Pier.  The old decor inside might remind you of the bar where a conflicted Terry Malloy took Edie on their first date.

Sunny’s Bar: one of the oldest running bars on the Brooklyn waterfront. The 19th C building and cobblestone street takes you back to a different ara.

For a more family-friendly experience with an eye towards the nabe’s maritime history, check out The Waterfront Museum, a free museum housed aboard the 1914 Lehigh Valley Barge #79. The museum is designed to promote NYC’s maritime heritage and an understanding of the importance of the Harbor and the local waterways as highways for commerce, culture, and recreation.  Check the website for details.

View of Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79, home of The Waterfront Museum.

‘Potted’ plants aboard the Barge.

After checking out the Museum, take a stroll through a beautiful public garden located right next to the Barge.  In addition to enjoying some amazing views of New York Harbor and the Verrazano Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, this local ‘greenway’ offers a nice spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the colorful flowers. If you didn’t bring lunch or a snack, swing by Fairway, a unique and popular family-owned grocery store chain whose Red Hook store, located in a large old brick warehouse right on the waterfront, of course, boasts one of the largest grocery markets in NYC.  And in the unlikely event you don’t find what you’re looking for at the deli, check out Fairway’s Patio Grill, which serves burgers, dogs, BBQ, and lobster rolls, while offering beautiful views of the harbor.

The public garden invites you…

A close-up of some of the public garden’s flora.

Another popular option for dining is the Red Hook Lobster Pound located on nearby Van Brunt Street, where you can enjoy succulent Maine lobsters and lobster rolls.

Regardless of where you dine, and there are many other options, make sure you save room for dessert at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies.  If you’re a fan of key lime pie or just want to see what the hype is all about, you definitely can’t miss a sample of the sweet, tart pies Steve’s has to offer.  Simply divine, especially on a hot afternoon or evening in Red Hook.  And if you can’t find it, keep a look out for the signs to show you the way!

At an intersection in Red Hook. Notice the sign pointing towards the key lime pie?

Still heading in the right direction for Steve’s…

Finally! Like an oasis in the desert! Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. If the are doors open, buy some pie then, ’cause they might be closed if you swing by later. And if you aren’t sold yet, according to my 7 year old son, it’s one of the best pies in the world.

There is so much more to see and enjoy in Red Hook.  I’ve merely scratched the surface here.  I highly recommend you visit Red Hook to see the neighborhood for yourself.

Getting There

If you don’t have a car, Red Hook is accessible by subway (the F and G trains to Carroll Street and you’ll have to walk a bit) and the bus (the B 61).  I recommend using HopStop for determining the best way to get there by bus/train.  There is also a ferry service between Manhattan and Red Hook’s IKEA.

Well, hopefully, I’ve inspired you to take a “7th inning stretch” to try kayaking along Red Hook’s historic waterfront and to further explore some of the jewels of this eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood.

Cheers!

iCinco de Mayo! Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Beans

With May upon us, it’s time for a ‘7th inning stretch’ to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!  Every year, especially across the U.S. and parts of Mexico, that means it’s time for a fiesta!  What exactly is all the fuss about?  Though some confuse this holiday with Mexico’s independence (which is on Sept 16), it actually commemorates the victory of a vastly outnumbered Mexican Army force over the French Army, considered the finest army of the time, in the town of Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862.  Unfortunately, Mexico’s victory, while both significant and symbolic, was short-lived, as the French would subsequently defeat the Mexican Army and, in 1864, install an Austrian archduke as Mexico’s Emperor, Maximilian I.  (Incidentally, Maximilian’s imperial reign would last only 3 years before he was overthrown by Mexican republican forces.)  Some have argued that Mexico’s victory at Puebla, while a major morale boost for the Mexican Army at the time, may have had significant consequences for the U.S., which was in the midst of a bloody Civil War in 1862.  It has been argued that, had the Mexicans lost the Battle of Puebla, the French might have more actively supplied the Confederacy, thereby further prolonging the American Civil War.  So, Americans and Mexicans together have good reason to celebrate Mexico’s victory.  Today, in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily celebrated in the Puebla region where the original Battle was won.  In the U.S., it has become a major celebration of Mexican-American heritage (propelled in part by an extensive beer marketing campaign, of course).  All in all, it is yet another great reason to enjoy some fine Mexican cuisine.

In honor of Mexico’s victory, here’s a relatively easy and healthy Mexican-inspired recipe with a unique twist.

Cilantro-Lime infused Quinoa with Black Beans

yield: Makes 4 servings

total cooking and prep time: Less than 1 hr

Quinoa is a so-called “super-grain” from the Andes region of South America.  It’s relatively easy to prepare and said to be packed with proteins.  It can usually be found in the rice aisle in most American supermarkets.  I like to think of quinoa as an alternative to rice or bulgur.   This recipe makes a great stand-alone entrée or side dish.  It also goes great with nachos as a party starter!  It’s vegetarian-friendly and can be vegan-friendly by using vegan butter substitutes.

Verde: Lime, chopped scallions and cilantro.

What you need:

Grated lime zest  of 1 lime

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (or fresh-squeeze 1 or 2 limes)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (or vegan butter substitute)

1 tablespoon olive oil (or vegetable oil)

1 cup quinoa rinsed

2 garlic gloves

1 (14- to 15-ounce) can of  black beans, rinsed and drained

2 medium tomatoes, diced

4 scallions, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Optional:

2 to 3 avocados

Large (10″) soft tortillas or hard shell tacos

cumin

sour cream

Preparation:

Basic Quinoa Recipe (this basic recipe can be used as a base for many quinoa recipes):

Mince the garlic.  Simmer 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pot and add garlic. After about 1 minute, stir in quinoa and add water (about 2 cups of water for 1 cup of quinoa).  Add a dash of salt, and boil uncovered, until quinoa is almost tender, about 12 to 18 mins.  Occasionally fluff the quinoa with a fork to prevent sticking.  Season as desired.  (I like to add a dash of dried oregano.)  When quinoa is tender and fluffy, remove pot from heat.  Let stand, covered for about 5 mins.

Quinoa simmering in water.

Lime dressing:

While the quinoa is cooking, whisk together lime zest and juice, melted butter, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.  Let cool.

Diced tomatoes, black beans, lime dressing, cilantro and scallions await mixing with the quinoa.

When the quinoa is dry and fluffy, add the lime dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients (cilantro, scallions, and beans) and salt and pepper to taste.

A vibrant collage of colors! Quinoa mixed with lime dressing, cilantro, beans, and scallions. Ready for serving.

Optional: serve with large 10″ soft shell tortillas, toasted taco shells, or with tortilla chips, as an appetizer.  Spice it up with your favorite hot sauce.

For soft shell tortillas, heat a large skillet and add a touch of oil.  I like to dust the soft tortillas with a dash of ground cumin on both sides to give it some extra flavor.  Place on the skillet for about 20 to 30 seconds on each side or until the tortilla starts to lightly brown and crisp.  Remove and place on a serving tray.

Toasted flour tortillas dusted with cumin.

Add a scoop of quinoa, a dollop of sour cream, and some fresh, sliced avocados.  Wrap up the tortilla and serve warm!

And to properly toast Cinco de Mayo, wash it all down with a cold cerveza of course!  While many may prefer the traditional Corona with lime, I recommend Negra Modelo, Dos Equis Amber, or a Bohemia.

Tortilla with quinoa, freshly sliced avocado, and sour cream. And a glass of Negra Modelo to wash it all down. iDelicioso!

iGracias! Thanks for visiting.

La Semana Santa: A Couple of Spanish Recipes

For those of you who don’t know, I am very fond of Spain and Spanish history and culture.  I first became enchanted with Espana over 13 years ago on holiday and, as a result, it’s drawn me back on several occasions since.  And when I can’t travel there, which is often the case, I continue to enjoy sampling the many diverse wines, cheeses, meats, and tapas…  In honor of Holy Week (La Semana Santa), the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, and the religious processions during this sacred week for which Spain is renown, I was inspired to prepare a traditional Spanish dinner of Sopa de Ajo Castellana (garlic soup) and seared scallops with saffron.  If, like me, you are feeling in the mood for a Spanish siesta but can’t pull away for a holiday to the Iberian peninsula, try a couple of these Spanish recipes, which you might enjoy in lieu of a trip.

SOPA DE CASTELLANA (CASTILIAN GARLIC SOUP):

Garlic soup is a traditional peasant soup that hails from the Castilian region of central Spain.  Think Don Quixote de La Mancha, noble red wines, and olives.  This soup is typically enjoyed in winter, however, it can be prepared any time of year.  It has been rather windy and cool in NYC this week so the timing is perfect, IMO.  Rumor has it this soup is also great for curing hangovers…

Servings: 4 to 6

Total Time: 30-45 mins

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
  • 4 cups of chicken or beef stock (water or veggie stock are adequate substitutes)
  • 8-10 slices of day old crusty bread (i.e. a baguette), cubed
  • 4 eggs (optional)
  • optional: 1 1/2 ounces Spanish serrano ham, chorizo or prosciutto, diced
Instructions:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it starts taking color but not fully brown, 3-4 minutes. Optional: Add diced ham or chorizo and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the bread and cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring to coat the bread in oil.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the paprika over the bread and toss to coat evenly. Return to the heat, add the stock (or water), heat up until it simmers; cook for 10-15 mins.
  3. If you have them, fill 4 oven-safe bowls with soup and carefully slip 1 egg into each bowl and leave to cook in a preheated oven at about 390 degree F for around 10 mins. Serve the soup very hot.
  4. OR: If you do NOT have oven-safe bowls like me, gradually add the eggs to the soup, stirring constantly to form long threads.  (The eggs are not necessary to the recipe, but are a traditional ingredient.)
  5. Serve.  Feel free to add shavings of your favorite cheese on top.  I suggest Manchego, a popular Spanish sheeps-milk cheese with buttery, nutty notes.

SEARED SEA SCALLOPS WITH SAFFRON

This a simple recipe for Galician-style scallops.  Galicia is a region on the north-west coast of Spain, famous for its seafood-based cuisine as well as its regional wines, of which Albarino, a white wine, is arguably the most popular.

Total Time: 25 mins

What you Need:

  • 12-16 large sea scallops
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion (or 1 shallot), chopped finely
  • Optional: 1 to 2 ounces of Serrano ham or chorizo, cut into pieces the same size as the onion
  • 2 teaspoons of finely chopped parsley
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
  • Juice of a lemon

Instructions:

1.   Rinse and pat the scallops dry and salt each side with the kosher salt. Set aside for 10 mins.

2.  Add the olive oil to a large frying pan or skillet and heat over high heat until it’s near the smoking point. Lower the heat to medium-high.

3.  Lay the scallops on the hot oil to sear. Do not move them for at least 2 minutes. Shake the pan a bit to see if they release themselves. Once they do, lift out and put on a plate, seared side facing up.

4. Once the scallops are all seared on one side, add the onions (and ham if desired) and saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring often to pick up any stuck-on bits from the pan.

5. Crumble the saffron over the pan, then add the parsley and sherry (or white wine) and stir well to combine. Return the scallops to the pan, seared side up.

6. Let this boil down vigorously until the wine is almost gone, then turn off the heat and remove the scallops to the plate as you did before.

7. Place the scallops on a dish and spoon out the onion-ham mixture on top of the scallops with a drizzle of lemon juice.

You may want to enjoy these dishes with a side of crusty bread and extra virgin olive oil for dipping.  Wash it all down with a dry white vino such as Albarino.  Personally, I went with a simple bottle of dry, still (as opposed to bubbly) white wine from Penedes, a region near Barcelona well known for harvesting grapes used in the production of Spain’s cavas, or sparkling wines.

Above: seared scallops with saffron, garlic soup, bread and Manchego cheese with a side of extra virgin olive oil.  I enjoyed my meal with a glass of Pares Balta’s Blanc de Pacs, D.O. Penedes, Catalunya, Spain 2010.  This wine is a relatively inexpensive ($12) dry organic crisp white with minerals, subtle peach, and floral notes.

For an aficionado like me who is always pining for the next trip to Spain but can’t make it right now, I hope these recipes will take you on a quick culinary trip to the Iberian peninsula.  And if you’ve never been there, perhaps you’ll be inspired to pay Espana a worthy visit.  Buen provecho! (Bon appetit!)


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