(SB) Beloved readers old and new, it feels like quite some time since we last sat down and got into it in a non-advice capacity. I believe that the last time we met I was noting my surprising turn towards a newfound productivity. I am sorry to inform you all that this was a short lived course of events. Instead, I’ve found myself in a fugue state of Craigslist and StreetEasy as Willis and I look tentatively beyond our !!! SUN-DRENCHED MONSTER TWO BEDROOM !! in Inwood and across the river to Brooklyn. Please let me know if happen to have a lead on a reasonably priced, light-filled, and joy-infused unit, because, believe it or not… the process is bad!
While my daily ritual of contemplating the legibility of my earning potential alongside the harsh realities of a market deeply committed to mitigating landlord risk by betting on squares and worshipping at the altar of a W-2 has indeed yielded some useful insights about the ravages of capitalism, I have been unable to focus on my dissertation when the lure of a map-based search function is in easy reach. (Another request: please don’t tell anyone my committee about this newsletter.) But, as my horoscope assured me this week, healthy plants sometimes benefit from a repotting. Now that I think about it, perhaps this is advice that someone might also share with Andrew Cuomo.
If you’re new to our humble publication, it goes without saying that you should go ahead and count yourselves among our merry and motley crue of friends. We welcome your emails, questions, comments, gossip… send it our way at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Here’s what I ate this week:
Last week, I tried my hand at these stupendous Crab Toast with browned butter mayo, made with my City Island leftovers. Strongly recommend if you happen to find yourself with some extra shellfish.
I also found it in myself to make Hana Asbrink’s genius peach, tomato, and soft tofu salad with mint-y balsamic dressing and a version of David Tanis’ vegan Mapo Tofu that included some leftover giant lima beans. I strongly recommend adding Sichuan peppercorns to your next bean braise.
(JS) Sweet readers, August is upon us and I am desperately trying to remind myself that does not mean summer is over. Perhaps it's my premature seasonal depression, but as soon as the sun starts setting before 8:30 PM something inside me begins to panic that it’s the beginning of the end. (SB: Is it not?) The ongoing wave of breakthrough cases thanks to the tridelta variant and her newest panhellenic premium economy sister certainly doesn’t help with that feeling, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. To combat this mounting anxiety, I’m bravely committing to weeknight plans of all sorts – impromptu dinner dates with eclectic, fridge-cleaning menus, masked movie nights (see Zola, skip The Green Knight), sunset park hangs with or without edibles – basically, all sorts of Piscean fucking around on school nights before the start of our weird ass super senior pandemic year.
Besides disassociating from the news by exclusively listening to The White Lotus soundtrack (life imitates art!), here’s what I’ve been eating:
If you can believe it, tomatoes – sometimes confited for a simple pasta with anchovies or stewed in a summer pilau a la Meera Sodha, but most often just sliced and stacked on toast with Kewpie mayo and a pinch of salt
Speaking of tomatoes and mayo, I also cannot stop thinking about the BLT I had last week from Edith’s, specifically the Hawaij smoked corn mayo that sweetened every bite; at home, I’ve been doctoring up my mayos (mayeaux?) and pretty much all creamy condiments with Brooklyn Delhi’s roasted garlic achaar
Lots of crumbly summer bakes, including previous newsletter faves like my Nanny Reeva’s categorically good blueberry cake and a kinda wacky olive oil, turmeric, and ginger spin on this (gay lil’) tart from Claire Ptak
Before we *tiktok voice* get into it, we’d like to express our gratitude to Alicia Kennedy for including ~this old thing~ in her recent “On Other Newsletters” roundup. We’re truly honored to be in such brilliant company. If you’re not already reading Alicia’s work, then 1) look inside yourself and think about your decisions, 2) smash that subscribe, and 3) make sure to check out her other excellent recs!
SALTY SIPS: Chanh Muối
(SB) Several weeks ago, emboldened by the warnings of my server, I sampled the iced limeade at Banh Mi Zon in the East Village and was captivated beyond my wildest dreams. It was fresh, and salty, and deeply satisfying on a hot and humid day, made of mysterious yet familiar fermented limes, seltzer, and a little simple syrup. The cut up citrus at the bottom of my glass tasted a lot like the salted gooseberries my mother loves, and as I took a sweaty break with my summer rolls in a little parklet, I found myself texting friend of the letter and secondary source for most things Viet cuisine Monique in search of what these delectable little morsels might be. She kindly let me know that I was probably enjoying some chanh muối, and I quickly got to work assembling my own using this blog post as a guide.
The process is fairly simple. First, identify some kind of glass jar for your preserved lemons (I think that Banh Mi Zon uses limes, but I had lemons), and sterilize with boiling water. Next, dissolve a quarter cup of kosher salt in about a cup and a half of boiling water and remove this mixture from the heat. Cut the ends off three to five lemons (however many you think will fit in the jar), then nearly quarter them, so that they look like little citrine venus fly traps. Liberally salt the insides of the lemons, stuff them into your jar, then cover them with the brine. Do what you need to do to make sure those suckers stay submerged, trying your best to avoid contamination, and leave them on the counter for three weeks (or so.) When they’re fully fermented, fish out as needed with a clean spoon – don’t rinse them – muddle at the bottom of a glass, and fill with seltzer, or a sweetened soda, and dust with chaat masala. I bet they’d do great with some gin and a large cube of ice. Heat exhaustion who? Dehydration what?
TMYK: Sarde in Saor(t of)
(JS) Although we were in fact not gifted food internet’s tinned fish du moment, it’s no secret that both my co-editor and I live for a sardine moment. Previously we’ve enjoyed the canned variety quickly braised to complement slow scrambled eggs over rice and blended into keftedes lovingly described as “fish-fragrant falafel.” We’ll eat ‘em straight up, though preferably with some crackers, a knob of butter, and a pickle or two. And a love of pasta con le sarde famously occupies the center of our venn diagram with the late *ntonin Sc*li*. Rather than suffer in hot girl silence, I’m choosing to see this tragic PR oversight as an opportunity to share a beloved recipe for fresh sardines. Well, sort of.
Flavorful, oily fish like sardines tend to spoil faster than steakier varieties, hence the tendency toward tinning (or fermenting; garum girls wya?). However, another common way to stretch their shelf life is to marinate them in vinegar, a preparation variously called escabeche, scapece, escovitch. The Venetian version of this is sarde in saor (roughly, “in flavor”), a classic cichetti served throughout the day and into aperitivo hour, where the fish are lightly fried then cured in a sweet and sour concoction of onions, pine nuts, and raisins, vinegar, and sometimes wine.
In the past I’ve followed a loose combination of recipes from Russ Parsons and Emiko Davies, as well as the version from London’s Polpo printed in Spritz, but the method is more or less the same across the board. Dredge your cleaned and gutted sardines in flour then lightly fry until golden. Most recipes call for neutral oil, but I’ve certainly used olive oil in an understocked AirBnB kitchen and lived to tell the tale. A more delicate chef might butterfly the fish for easier consumption, but I’m a simple man of simple pleasures (wink). Seasoned readers know I usually loathe frying at home, but these were truly a piece of cake. That said, if this wholehearted endorsement still isn’t convincing, you might try this version from Saveur which starts with broiled sardines.
Drain your fish on a paper towel-lined plate, wipe out your skillet, then add a healthy glug of olive oil. Sautee thinly sliced onions over medium-low heat until golden – yellow onion is traditional, but red works if you want a pop of color or just don’t want to go back to the market. What’s most important is to slowly cook them down to concentrate their flavor. Once they’re soft and sweet, add white wine vinegar, wine (if using) and bay leaves, then simmer to reduce. Stir in raisins and pine nuts – I’ve subbed in currants and slivered almonds, thanks to a combination of frugality and laziness (are we sensing a theme?), and nobody complained – then allow to cool. Lay your sardines in a baking dish, pour the cooled marinade over the top. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple days before serving. These are excellent at room temperature or fridge cold – either way, a little toast is nice for sopping up extra marinade, and I found myself rather enjoying them as a sort of tartine, heaped on a slice of crusty bread spread with a layer of Greek yogurt.
IF YOU LIKE PINA COLADAS: Try Coco Martinez
(SB) I’ve been feeling soft and wistful about my neighborhood (Inwood) as of late. Most obviously, it’s beautiful up here in a way that few places in the city are: wild, with big skies and a park you can get lost in. Most people have been around a good while, and we all know the characters about town. There is really no better place to have a pina colada in the tristate area. Several of these factors came together recently when I sampled a transcendent coconut margarita at a recently rebranded Inwood Farm (neé Indian Road Cafe). For those who aren’t as up to the minute on the goings on uptown, Indian Road Cafe is one of the swankier farm to table options on offer in this neck of the woods, beloved in the Before Times for their Wednesday evening bar trivia, monthly drag queen bingo, and weekly Brunch with a capital B, right on the northern corner of Inwood Hill Park. During Covid, they slung delicious to-go Bloody Mary’s and opened up their bathroom to park patrons, remaining generally beloved until the owner, Tom Bosco, revealed he had voted for Donald Trump and would do so again to The Times. Filled with righteous indignation, I boycotted Indian Road, watching from afar as they switched names (but not ownership), back again, and once more.
The day that the Electoral College called it for Biden, the neighborhood exploded with a kind of exuberance that I will never forget. We shouted with our across the way neighbors, popped champagne on the roof, and took out the compost to what felt like a street party. On our way back home, I locked eyes with Tom emerging from a car and running into Indian Road — a sweet full circle moment. That is to say, my antipathy has since faded somewhat, my boycott has lifted, and I cannot stop thinking about that marg (JS: Cocos’s Revenge, if you will).
Eager to use up as much of our liquor stash before pulling up roots at the end of the month, I found myself trying to recreate it without any tequila or mezcal on hand. After a little research, this coconut martini, which uses Coco Lopez and lime juice in lieu of vermouth, caught my eye. I tried my hand at the instructions as written, using the lavender vodka friend of the newsletter Alison gifted us alongside a little watermelon juice and a splash of vermouth for good measure. The results were far too sweet for this salty girl. For science, I was back at the drawing board. This second time around I used a simpler formula: two parts lavender vodka, one part regular coconut milk, one part watermelon juice, and a healthy squeeze of lime — shaken and poured into a glass, with coconut rim. I’m happy to say I can recommend the results… it’s perhaps just the cocktail to sooth the dull itch of apartment hunting in this city.
PERMANENT ROTATION: Pan bagnat in all shapes and forms (and at all elevations). Soggy never tasted so good.
(SB) I’ll admit it: I have a predisposition towards believing that a new piece of stationery may indeed solve my problems for good (JS: That’s why we connect). This season, I’ve been eyeing these ink+volt planners (thanks, algorithmic overlords), dated beginning in August.
(JS) I’ve often found myself tempting fate when it comes to cooking with extra ripe bananas, dangerously skirting the boundary between delightfully funky and straight up foul. I imagine this banana vinegar from Rancho Gordo is a safer bet, offering rich and delicious (“but never cloying!”) banana flavor in bottled form.
(SB & JS) First of all, we wish Stephan Jenkins’ style choices matched his musical talents. But also, we’re always game to learn about the Official Drink of this newsletter. Lucky for us, this deep dive into all things Bloody Mary by Brian Bartels just flitted across our radars.
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