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The Ear Bar

Out of the way, down by the Hudson River, is an old neon sign that’s supposed to read BAR but has been burned out on the curves of the ‘B’ forcing the word EAR.  It’s attached to a small two-story building that looks like a house that at first glance might have been a fisherman’s home, a sailor’s respite or something else entirely.  For all that it might have been, what it certainly is, is old.

I call it the Ear Bar, but the real name is the Ear Inn at the James Brown House of 1817.  Many places in New York, much to a history buff’s chagrin, claim the title of Oldest Bar.  Pete’s Tavern, McSorley’s I’m sure.  One thing is for certain:  Ear Inn can give them a run for their money.  Built in 1817 for a man named James Brown, a black man formerly of General George Washington’s merry band of miscreants, this house has been everything.  An inn, a bar, a restaurant, a home.  Currently, it’s a Bar and Restaurant with the title of Inn on the National Registry of Historic Places.  They do their very best to make you feel right at home.

The ceilings are old slatted wood painted white, the sorts of things you don’t see anymore.  While most bars that try to be “old-fashioned” put the punched tin atop their patrons, this low wooden ceiling gives the comfort and closeness of a neighborhood bar with the sense that sailors sat back there in the corner drinking their rum and cat calling the ladies that dared enter for a libation.  But I’m romanticizing a bit.

Above the well-stocked bar, there are bottles of varying sizes, shapes and colors, things that would have carried wine and rum to Davy Jones’ locker if it came down to it.  They look to have a thin film of dust on the insides that can never be cleaned.  It’s well earned dust from history that rests in there.

Their beer selection is surprisingly good.  You won’t find much in the way of craft beers, but they do have their own house ale, the Ear Inn Ale is well-rounded and just the sort of ale you want to be drinking if you’re in the mood for an ale.  Not too hoppy, but just enough to give you that twinge of bitter.  They rock the Yeungling and the Guinness (which, let’s face it, if you’re in a sailor’s bar that is as old as this one, you’ll probably want either the house ale or a Guinness) along with a couple of other small breweries on tap.

To top it all off, the food ain’t too shabby either.  They make a mean shepherd’s pie, their burgers are pretty spot on; the cheese runs gets a little burned and crispy.  In my book, that makes it. and I can vouch for the Tuna Melt, though there are better options on the menu.  Everything comes with a tiny little pre-bagged salad.  While you wait for your order to come, you can draw on the tables with crayons.  The wait for food is usually a little long, so it’s nice to have something to occupy you.

There are two TVs with sports playing, there’s no jukebox to speak of, just a radio or an iPod behind the bar, but it really doesn’t matter.  This isn’t a jukebox joint.  It’s a working class bar that knows what it is:  We serve beer and burgers to fellas on the job.

It’s a great place.  Do yourself a favor and go.  Take a date to one of the oldest bars in New York.  Show your mom and dad the place that was built for a Revolutionary War veteran.  It’s out of the way, off the Spring Street C/E stop down by the water but it’s most assuredly one of the anonymous places that make New York famous.

 

Feasting

Happy Thanksgiving!

The organic, free-range, anti-biotic-free Turkey was twenty-point-oh-one pounds, smack in the middle of the eighteen-to-twenty-two range that we had slapped our twenty dollar deposit on.  There were about five pounds of Brussels Sprouts, soon to be seared and dressed with a fig balsamic vinegar.  The Lord only knows how much potato was mashed.  For lunch there would be soup made the previous day, a creamy butternut squash puree, which took up all the carrots that needed to be used for the skillet carrots with onions and garlic.  There were two pies; pumpkin, made from a cheese pumpkin, that all the farms at the market said were the best for pumpkin pie (they were right) and apple-cranberry, to be topped with a pumpkin ice cream.  Surprisingly, the cranberries were found fresh at the market.

Carrots had to  be brought in by a guest, as did dish detergent.  But in the end, everything, apart from the carrots and the canned pumpkin for the ice cream had its origins within three hundred miles of our house.

We could go into detail about how J. Kenji Lopez-Alt convinced us that Brussels Sprouts could be amazing, if only just seared in the pan.  We could outline that we needed a veggie, and Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for skillet carrots came to the top of the list.  We could even wax poetic about the meaty flavor of the turkey, a flavor impossible to get from store-bought turkeys that only seemed to make turkey sandwiches better.

We could do that.  But that would only serve to miss the point.

Thanksgiving, for us, was a feast.  An absolute feast,  a long table, nine people, enough wine and beer to flood a small Guatemalan village, and more food than most of us would see in at least another year.  It was a feast in honor of tradition and autumn bounty and the hardships of our forebears.  It was a feast honoring the trials that we all undertook.

It started off at five o’clock in the morning.  Hannah, her mother and sister all went out to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade out by Central Park.  They sat on the wall on 65th Street and watched cartoon characters, inflated likenesses of puppets, and assorted shapes and colors dance across the skyline, painting the holidays across the gray buildings.

Kermit the Frog was able to be puppeted! Even that size!

When they returned home, there I was, two cups of coffee in me, cutting cubes of bread for stuffing.  When our friends Heath and Gen arrived, we had lunch: a Jamie Oliver butternut squash soup recipe that I had made the day before.  Of course, at that point, there was one last cup of coffee in me and no breakfast.  As I was in the midst of cooking parmesan toasts, the cheese started to stick to the pan (which is what cheese does) and I freaked out.  “GAH!  The cheese isn’t…it’s sticking to the pan!  The soup!  There’s…It’s not good enough and there’s…the Turkey isn’t even in the oven yet and…”  To which Hannah calmly (read: irritatedly, as she also hadn’t had breakfast yet) asked me to leave the kitchen.  I did, paced a little, calmed from my caffeine and hunger inspired tantrum, had some soup and immediately felt better.*

The turkey (20.1 lbs) was fresh, picked up the day before and jammed full of bread, mushrooms, onions, celery, apples, cranberries and butter, rubbed with butter, salted and peppered, and was thrown into the oven.  There it lived for the next four hours, looked at only once, to check it’s status.  It came out, golden, moist and finished.  Nine people couldn’t even finish half of the bird, there were probably a quarter of the breast left for sandwiches.  There is another five pound whole breast in the refrigerator.  As I write this, Hannah is making another loaf of bread for sandwiches.

Oh Lordy Lou.

But in and among the cooking, which is important for a food blog to note, there was community.  Clare (of BeerGoggins) brought a couple of beers and her fella Adam (also of BeerGoggins) showed up later with piles more beer from the Beer Room at Whole Foods.  There were probably six growlers of draft beers, two bottle of lambic (a raspberry and a cherry), and a Saison.  There was wine, oh was there wine!  There are cases upon cases of Nero d’Avola, Blaufrankish, Gavi and Gruner Vetliner.  There was hot buttered cider with bourbon.

I'll fix this caption when I know what this beer was.

Clare learned Backgammon on our brand new backgammon board.  Heath ran around with our camera snapping the photos you see here.  Albert amused himself with Heath’s stories of God-only-knows-what.  The air was thick with lies, fibs, stories, turkey, liquor and celebration.

Clare learning backgammon

There were snacks:  leek confit, goat cheese and baguettes and a hot pepper balsamic chutney with pita.  We ate all day and when it came time to have dinner, everything came right together.  We sat down, passed food, pigged out, slathered our insides with cranberry bourbon sauce and gravy, clogged our maws with stuffing, lusted after the sprouts, fell into ecstasy at the smells and tastes that mixed beautifully.  We grew heavy.  When we tried to engage Adam in conversation, he said, “Can’t talk.  Eating,” and returned to his hunched posture and his face firmly planted in his plate.

Fit for kings

We rested for an hour, drinking and talking.  Abbie did the dishes, Paula dried, Gen cleared.  I regretted the amount of food I ate that night, knowing that I had to eat all the more in an hour.  And when that hour was up, when the dishes were all done, we dirtied up more.

Before we started in on the pie, we tried Adam and Clare’s inaugural homebrew, named “Rye Are You Mad At Me.”  You will have to keep a weather eye on BeerGoggins.com for details on that.  My review:  Outstanding considering the issues that went into it.  I was there at the first and considering what we witnessed, it’s a miracle there was even a bottle of anything other than anger to pour.  But on a serious note, for their first go at home brewing, they made a very drinkable beer that indicates they will have huge success in future beer-speriments.

Mad Hops earns his title

Then there was pie.  Pumpkin made from a for real roasted pumpkin topped with homemade whipped cream and an apple cranberry pie with pumpkin ice cream.  I had the pumpkin pie.  Hannah had the same.  Adam and Heath, in an effort to out do each other, had one of each.  I can’t imagine they were terribly comfortable.  I certainly wasn’t.

Piiiiiiiiiiiiiiies.

In the end, Heath and Gen had to head out, Adam and Clare stuck around a bit to try to finish up the beers.  They ended up leaving with most of the beer they brought.  Albert and Paula sacked out on the couch and Abbie took to knitting.

We did what you do at Thanksgiving.  We rung in the holidays properly by celebrating.  We got full and drunk and happy and had wonderful food and camaraderie.  This is something that we feel many food blogs seem to forget about.  The meal as social event.  They talk about how to caramelize the sprouts, or how to get your cookies just right on the bottom, or what they feel like when they eat their waffles, but they seem to forget that we are social creatures and that our meals should reflect that.  In our dinner, we honored the food traditions from all over the world: Eat together.  Drink together.  Make merry.  And we did.

BUUUUHHHHHHHHH!

And I hope you did too.

*Remember:  If you’re cooking for 9 people or more, be sure to eat breakfast and plenty of it.  You’re working hard.  Otherwise, you’ll throw a pan out the window and scald your elderly neighbor who’s off to see her grandkids and possibly could call the police on you, which would not make for a happy Thanksgiving whatsoever.

A Vegetable Matter

It’s a funny thing to be, as they say, a carnivore, an omnivore, that unique creature that is as at home eating leaves and seeds and beans and roots as it is feasting off the murder of some creature that once roamed (albeit stupidly) across this great land of ours. The arguments for either side (Vegetarians/Vegans: Animals shouldn’t be hurt, they have feelings too. Carnivore/Omnivore: Screw it, if it bleeds, it’s on my plate) are compelling. But let’s be honest here. The front teeth, the large beaver-like buck teeth and the grinding and masticating molars are pretty much built for veggies. You wouldn’t be able to eat a carrot without them front chompers and you wouldn’t be able to get your nuts and seeds all ground up. It’s just what we’re made for. (now, those pointy teeth, that’s a whole ‘nother bucket of fries. It sure as hell ain’t for eviscerating a lettuce.)

For the longest time, I was of the opinion that dinner was MEAT>VEGGIE>DESSERT. A potato, a salad, a side of peas or spinach and you’re set. As long as you had the meat there. Well, kids, it just ain’t so.

Do you realize, you can eat vegetarian and not even know it?

Let’s say you make spaghetti. You whip open a box of pasta and a jar of spaghetti sauce. Boil pasta, heat sauce. Plop it on a plate and look at that. No meat touched that plate (that all changes once you throw your pound and a half of unverified ground beef into the pot, but I digress). That is just one example. There is an infinitude of awesome food that you can make that’s vegetarian, hearty and you’ll never even notice that you haven’t eaten a bite of meat.

Take for example tonight. Hannah and I had creamed mushrooms on toast and a half a bottle of a really nice wine. The only animal product came from the butter and the cream, and since we know exactly where those came from, we know the animals weren’t harmed in any way and they live happy lives. We can be proud of that.  Me?  I’m full and ready to pass out to some Doctor Who.  David Tennant will always be The Doctor for me.

But the best recipe we have for a meal that we constantly go back to, week after week, month after month is Chana Masala from Molly Wizenberg.  Absolutely fantastic.  You have onions, and tomatoes (and if you can get the San Marzano ones on sale, please do.  Lordawmighty. We also like Muir Glen Fire Roasted, diced tomatoes) and chickpeas and the only animal product that is in this meal is the post cooking addition of sour cream or yogurt if you are so inclined (which I am, thank you very much) – if you’re a vegan, or partial to abusing the acidic properties of ingredients (which Hannah is, thank you very much) a squeeze from a lemon wedge is just fine too (or so she says). Add a Brooklyn Lager to that meal and an awesome Astoria Pita, and you will eat until your guts burst and you pass out from pure and utter simplistic bliss.

We follow her recipe to a T, using about 5 shakes of cayenne pepper as the only deviation.  Sometimes that doesn’t even happen.  We’ve made it so many times that I think we skip a step every time.  It’s never the same way twice.

What I mean to say is, it’s in our regular rotation and, as a die hard meatosaur, as someone who will, when left to his own devices, eat three enormous hot dogs in rapid succession, that’s saying something.  Actually, I kind of want it now.

Damn these blogs.

Molly’s recipe follows, exactly as she has it on her blog.  I just copied and pasted it, with apologies to Molly.  (But for real, go check more of her recipes.  She’s never let us down.  Her book is good too!)

Chana Masala

When I’m not hovering next to him with a pen and paper, Brandon makes his chana masala by feel, tasting and tweaking, stirring and sniffing. The recipe that follows is our joint effort to make his rendition reproducible, and to make it user-friendly for those who love a good, prescriptive recipe, myself included. You should feel free, however, to taste and tweak as you see fit. It’s the Brandon Way.

This chana masala can be served in two different styles: with a half-cup of whole-milk yogurt to smooth and soften the flavors, or sans yogurt, served with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of fresh cilantro. I prefer the former, but Brandon leans toward the latter. Either way, this dish is even better the second—or third—day.

Good-quality olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp garam masala
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 Tbs cilantro leaves, roughly torn, plus more for garnish
A pinch of cayenne, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6-8 Tbs plain whole-milk yogurt, optional
A few lemon wedges, optional

Film the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven—preferably not nonstick—with olive oil, and place the pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is deeply caramelized and even charred in some spots. Be patient. The more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be.

Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Add the cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and fry them, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely. Pour in the juice from can of tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves, using your hands to break them apart as you add them; alternatively, add them whole and crush them in the pot with a potato masher. Add the salt.

Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, and cook for another five minutes. Add another 2 Tbs water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Stir in the yogurt, if you like, or garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro. Serve.

Yield: About four servings

Thanksgiving + Moving

Wow. There has been quite a lag over here in this little space.

The good news is we’re moving! The new apartment has ample lighting, and more importantly, it is safer. No more hiding the camera behind cavernous rows of homemade pickles to prevent it from being stolen (again).

Expect a recap of our Thanksgiving next week. It is bound to be a good one, because this year we have so much to be grateful for – the new apartment is near the top of this list…

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This weekend is prime tomato season, so we’re putting up sauce for the winter!  We’re also making another batch of Bread And Butter pickles and lordy-lou the house already smells awesome from Hannah’s Buttermilk Bread.

* Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
* Bread and Butter Pickles
* Finishing touches on Limoncello
* Paella with Chicken and Fresh Littleneck Clams
* Spanikopita with Braising Greens and Fromage Blanc

Here we are mid-August and into prime tomato season. So what are we making this weekend? KETCHUP!!!!!

* tomato ketchup
* peach boubon preserves
* pepperoncini
* pickled hot peppers
* pickled eggplant

What are you making this weekend?

Editor’s note. Oh, people. Were you expecting pictures? How about an update on the excellence of homemade ice cream? We’re sorry. It’s the best I can do to muster typing without errors. Thanks to a cheap-o wine glass turning into a razor sharp weapon in my right hand, mangling two of my fingers, I am out of commission in the kneading, dish-doing, and photography departments. Matthias is busy taking care of everything. We will be back as soon as I am back at 10 fully functioning digits.

This weekend sour cherries just went out of season at the Greenmarket and Hannah got three pints for $4 and four lbs. of cucumbers for $5. That means syrup and pickles!!!! Full list is below:

* Sour cherry syrup
* bread and butter pickles
* garlic dills
* blueberry jam
* eggplant parmesan with homemade sauce
* ciabatta bread
* mint juleps

And most importantly:
* ice cream.

What are you making this weekend?

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