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8.23.2012

Essex

I MADE IT! By which I mean, I managed to not go into labor before, in the middle of, or in the days immediately following the opening of Essex. VICTORY.


I imagine that I will very soon start cursing the fact that I am still pregnant, but for now, I feel like I should be given a medal, or a cocktail. Since neither is a viable option, I made myself a pan of flapjacks and ate a quarter of it in one sitting.



I haven’t written a lot about Essex here, not because it has felt like any less of a big deal than Delancey, but because the first half of this year, which was when the project began to move forward, ate me alive. There were a couple of months when, in my own head, I had to pretend (la la la) that Essex wasn’t actually happening. But last Wednesday, with great help from a lot of people, it happened. Essex is now open! Every Wednesday to Sunday! Starting at 4:30 pm! I’m so proud of it, proud of Brandon for dreaming it up, proud of our staff for working so hard, proud that we actually did it and that I didn’t have the baby while hunched over the computer in the office, formatting the cocktail menu.

In the early days of Delancey, I was too busy making salads and mistakes and popsicles to reach for my camera and take pictures. I have pictures of Delancey under construction, pictures of Delancey just before opening, and pictures from months after opening, but I have almost none of its first weeks. So this weekend, I sneaked into Essex in the few quiet, golden moments between set-up and opening time, and I snapped some.


Essex sits directly next door to Delancey, in the former home of Bella Umbrella. Even before we learned that the umbrella shop was moving out, we had talked about someday opening a bar there. Maybe it could work hand-in-hand with Delancey, we thought, and be a place for people to hang out before or after dinner. As we began to think about what we would want our bar to feel like, and what we would want to drink there, and what we would want to eat there, the idea grew. Since this is our neighborhood, we wanted it to feel like a neighborhood place, but with exceptional cocktails. Even more, we wanted to sort of geek out with it, to make a lot of the cocktail ingredients in-house - and not just bitters, but liqueurs, fernet, vermouths, and sodas. That thinking then quickly extended itself to the food. If we’re going to serve pretzels, let’s say, we should make them ourselves, we decided. And we should serve them with Brandon’s homemade mustard. And while we’re at it, hey, maybe you could eat a whole meal at Essex!  Maybe we could serve open-face toasts with clothbound aged cheddar and house-pickled peppers. And maybe that lacquered and smoked pork shoulder that Brandon has been tinkering with since May. And maybe spot prawns caught nearby, with a pot of chile-spiked mayo. And oh, oh, OH, our own version of a Thin Mint! We could play around, we realized, and really make stuff - stuff that didn’t necessarily fit at Delancey.


We decided to call it Essex because, in Manhattan, Essex and Delancey Streets intersect, and the Essex and Delancey subway stops share a station. Our Essex and our Delancey share a staff, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a hallway, and an overstuffed office that gives me heart palpitations. Like Delancey, Essex was designed by Katie Caradec (my cousin!) and Pantea Tehrani, of tbD.


And to really keep it all in the family, Brandon named our first liqueur, made from three different kinds of citrus and aged for four months in rye barrels, after my dad. It’s called Burg’s Extra-Special Orange. Burg will have been gone for ten years, ten years, this December, but if he were still around, I think he would have claimed this bar stool as his designated seat. Maybe we should have a plaque made for it. Maybe someday.

British Flapjacks
Adapted from my recipe in Bon Appétit, March 2010

Because I really did eat a quarter of the pan in one sitting, and it would be mean not to share some with you.

1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
½ cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) golden syrup*
2 1/3 cups (210 grams) quick-cooking oats (not instant or old-fashioned)
Pinch of fine salt
Crunchy salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel, for finishing

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square metal baking pan. Combine the butter, brown sugar, and golden syrup in a heavy medium saucepan.  Stir regularly over medium-low heat until the butter melts, the sugar dissolves, and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Add the oats and fine salt, and stir to evenly coated. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, and press it out in even layer. Bake until the top is golden (the edges will be darker), about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack, and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Then cut into 4 squares, and cut each square into 4 triangles. (The mixture will still be soft and a little crumbly; just do the best you can.) Allow to finish cooling completely in the pan. (The flapjacks will firm up as they cool.) Before serving, top with crunchy salt to taste.

*A type of syrup popular in the UK. Available at some supermarkets, specialty foods stores, and British import shops.  (If you live in Ballard, like me, you can find it at Ballard Market.)

Yield: 16 servings, if you have a lot of restraint.

8.09.2012

All of it

Hi, all. I’ve received a number of concerned e-mails and comments in the past few days, wondering if the quiet around here meant that the baby has arrived, so let me say first: NO BABY YET.

I am, however, in my 36th week of pregnancy. And as of about ten days ago, I finished writing the manuscript for my next book - or this draft of it, anyway. There’s still plenty of revising and hand-wringing to do, but at least I now have something to improve upon.  And Essex, the bar we’re putting in next door to Delancey, is opening in less than a week. (!) Lots of Big Life Stuff. Huge Life Stuff. Giant Life Stuff.


Oddly enough, or oddly for me, I’ve been feeling okay with it. It was only this past Tuesday afternoon - as I stood in the dining room at Delancey, surrounded by power tools, cases of newly delivered wine and vegetables, upended chairs, slips of paper, wine samples, and dozens of jars of housemade bitters and liqueurs - that, for the first time, I felt like cowering in a corner. And screaming. Just briefly.

But mostly, it’s been okay. And I’m glad for that, because I want to be present for all of it, for every stupidly stupidly stupidly full minute of these last pre-child weeks: the late-night pizza at Delancey, the Essex menu-planning meetings and spot prawn tastings and cultured butter tastings and beer-boiled pretzel tastings, the errands, the quiet moments between errands, our fifth wedding anniversary, the half-days off, the feeling of driving around with the stereo* up and no baby yet in the backseat, no one to take care of but myself.  It feels right to pay attention now - to this summer, to my life Before. I know that sounds very final and dramatic and sort of sad and possibly even apocalyptic (dun dun DUUNNNN), but I don’t mean it that way. I just mean that it feels good to be in the middle of so much, and to pause and look around. Because I know everything will look different soon.


I took the photographs in this post over the past two weeks.  The ones of Essex, in particular, were taken last Friday. They’re already out of date. Along that wallpapered wall, there’s now a walnut banquette and a row of porcelain sconces, and there’s white marble on top of the bar and walnut cladding along its face. About an hour ago, pendant lights were being hung. I cannot possibly say enough complimentary things about our friend Joe Burmeister, the man who’s overseeing the whole mess and making it into something with actual shape. This time - unlike three years ago this Sunday, when we opened Delancey - Brandon and I are not the ones swinging the hammers. That may be part of why I’m not writing this from a psychiatric ward.

Instead, I’m eating my weight in tomatoes. No small feat, given that my weight is something special lately.


I’ve also made that blueberry crumble I mentioned in my previous post, and a fresh blueberry pie, and a peach crumble, and a loaf of zucchini bread. It was all tasty.


But to be 100% honest, none of it made me feel like writing about it. The truth is, I think I like a bowl of raw blueberries, or a few slices of peach, or a pile of plain roasted zucchini, more than anything interesting that I could make or bake from them.  The Life Lessons of Molly Wizenberg, age 33¾.


(Alice shares my sentiment.)

More soon.

* I’ve been listening to R.E.M.’s Murmur since I was 14, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. The best song, in my opinion, begins at 26:51.

P.S. Sarah Coffey! Are you reading this? You sent me (via Delancey) a very, very kind card and baby gift, but in a moment of overzealous straightening-up, I threw away the envelope with your address on it. Gah. If you’re reading this: thank you.