A Tale of Two Foodies

Fat, Drunk and Fancy.  I know what you’re thinking; this reeks of debauchery, excess and pretentiousness…. aannndd you’d be wrong.  What does it mean?  We’re glad you asked.  Fat, Drunk and Fancy is about living life with no regrets.  It’s that feeling you get when you sit around the kitchen table with family and friends, sharing a fantastic food experience or amazing cocktail, where you feel free from fear, where you start to believe your dreams can and will become reality.  It’s the good hurt in your sides from laughing and the soreness in your face from smiling with the family you love.  It’s a really, REALLY good time, all without Aunt Betty’s over dramatized dental issues.   It’s who Nick and Kim are, a couple that lives all of this, and their stories about how Fat, Drunk and Fancy will deliver some of those same good hurts.
In Kim’s words:

My earliest childhood memories are not of trips to Disney, Christmas presents under the tree, or any other “things,” but instead are consumed with holiday dinners, family gatherings, meals around one table or another, although most I recall were with my Grandparents.  I’d walk into their house on any given day, event or not, and it smelled like a home cooked meal — even if they hadn’t been cooking.  It was warm, it smelled like food, and I never felt anything in that house other than love. 

I remember too, dinners that my Dad hosted at his house – he would be in the kitchen preparing and cooking for hours, and we’d gather on the deck overlooking Lake Hopatcong, NJ enjoying the array of food that my Dad had prepared.  I remember always being so excited for those gatherings, or any gathering where I was with my family.  I would bounce around the kitchen while my Dad cooked, totally getting in his way, watching out the window for my Grandparents’ car to pull up, staring at the clock, wishing it to move faster.  My Grandfather loved sitting on the deck at my Dad’s, looking at the water, laughing with his family gathered around him. 

Food has been the bond that has tied my family together and the way in which we’ve always shown love for one another.  We’ve celebrated the holidays, birthdays, and each other over food.  We’ve mourned losses and shed tears over food.  My Grandfather passed away just after midnight on September 22, 2013.  That evening my family gathered around the dinner table, eating my Grandfather’s gravy and meatballs.  There were only a handful of containers of his gravy and meatballs left in the freezer.  I had never been so sad or experienced such loss in my life, but we did exactly what my Grandfather loved most.  We sat around his dinner table, in his home, eating his food, and we honored all that he had shared with us.  We laughed, we cried, but we were together.  We gathered around the table again when there was just one last batch of his gravy and meatballs left to be eaten.  Again, in his home, and around his table, we spoke of my Grandfather as if he was sitting there with us.

In the years since my Grandfather passed away, our family has changed and looks a little bit different now with the addition of my husband, Nick, my two step children and Nick’s family.  Our traditions have also changed a bit over the years, except for one thing:  the food.  It’s still very much a part of my family, and now the life I share with Nick.  

The way in which Nick and I have chosen to live and share our life was born out of love for family.  Food has always been a part of my family and now I yearn to create that same familial connection with the world, a connection that allows for the container to create a life with no regrets through a foundation of pillars that Nick and I live by and strive to inspire others to embrace as well.  We invite you to join us at the table where you are free to dream fearlessly, love hard, try new things and experience life on your terms.

In Nick’s words:

Food and family.  That’s the essence of my being.  There’s hardly a memory I have that doesn’t involve the people I love and the meals that we’ve shared.  I am the first born of a young couple from Brooklyn, NY, who broke down societal norms by blending vastly different cultures to make a family.  This may sound dramatic, but in the early 70’s a German Lutheran marrying an Italian Catholic was a big deal.  And so began a journey when yours truly burst onto the scene, and immediately was held over the Thanksgiving table, where my grandparents had my hand touch every piece of food to be served (I have a picture of this, I assure you).  Maybe that’s where my love of food came from.  Maybe it came from my strong desire to help and to be a part of the mix.  That led to the early demise of a lovely copper teapot (what happens when a three year old goes to make mom a cup of tea and doesn’t know there needs to be water in the kettle..) and a very soggy meatloaf (so you’re not supposed to fill the bowl of meat in the sink with water?) and numerous other mishaps that led to laughter and learning.  

My kitchen memories are grounded in Sunday mornings with my father.  We were the Catholic half of the household (my sister and mother made up the Lutheran contingent), and would head to Mass at 9am… every…Sunday…  But then it was off to DiPietros in Maplewood, where I would gaze longingly at the provolone drying in the window while my dad bought fresh bread and with any luck, a piece of fresh mozzarella.  We’d hop back in the car and immediately tear off the heel of the bread and start munching.  For most of my life I thought that’s how bread was supposed to look when it came in the house!  For the rest of the day the house smelled of garlic and onions, frying meatballs and simmering gravy.  Sunday dinner was an institution and has remained a staple throughout my life.  The same was true for trips to Grandma’s house in Brooklyn and even on longer trips after the relocation of many family members to Florida.  

My mother did not share that same passion for food, likely scarred by bouts with Dinty-Moore beef stew and various organ meats hitting the table.  She does, however, have a sweet tooth, and her excitement for all things chocolate carried over into her son (albeit I don’t discriminate against other sweet flavors).  She’s in her element outdoors and packs a mean Fluffernutter for lunch on the boat.  She is the balance in the Italian diet and provided green things (read: vegetables) and other variety at home.  

From a young age I loved cooking and sharing food with friends and family.  I became a rabid fan of the Frugal Gourmet, and by the time I was 10 had a subscription to Gourmet Magazine.  There were authentic Chinese meals prepared with family friends, curried lamb roasting over a charcoal grill, and an obsession with making the greatest cheesecake of all time.  I always noticed that food brought people together, put smiles on people’s faces, and could brighten the darkest days.

Through the darker times in my life, food was my escape, my comfort when I couldn’t find direction or happiness.  It brightened up some tough times, and helped put life’s challenges on the back burner, if even for a little while.

Now, with my wife Kim, my two kids, our huge combined family (of which her’s accounts for 80% of the crowd) the kitchen is always open, and the sun is always shining.  We welcome people into our home with a smile and the prospect of an amazing experience.  Our kids shed the stresses of the day and try new things every time they are with us.  Food and family naturally go together, and that is the rule in our home.

Goodbye Sucks

Living life with no regrets is a powerful thing.  It makes life fun and free.  However, with the highest highs come some powerful lows, and today is one of those times.  Kim and I have a friend, who over the past few years has really become family.  She lived a mile from our home, and would frequently be an unexpected, but always welcome guest.  There were trivia nights at the bar, sushi expeditions, and even the occasional “accidentally drunk” evening.  The dynamic among the three of us was amazing, as though we had always known each other.  Our respective families became families, and the bond that we formed together will never be broken.  Our times together were, and are, amazing.  So a funny thing happened a few weeks ago…
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The search for a new job led our friend on some interviews, and those interviews became offers.  Before long an offer became acceptance, and acceptance brought with it reality.  Our time together was drawing to a rapid close.  Now, we knew New Jersey was not where she was going to plant roots, but we were hopeful.  As it turns out, change was in the air.  Big change.  Like, other side of the country change.  Her new job would take her to California, pretty much as far away as she could get (with no disrespect to Hawaii and Alaska).  Kim didn’t want to talk about it.  Ever.  She pushed that reality off as hard as she could, because pain is not something we readily embrace.  I felt it too, but dove right into talking about it with our friend, while Kim worked through her feelings.  As the weeks grew shorter, reality started sinking in.  Apartment hunting, clearing out her New Jersey apartment and countless dinners with friends and family to say goodbye.  Two weeks of training in California, then a brief trip back for the last hurrah.  That was this week.  Today was the day.
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We met her and her boyfriend near the airport where he parked for the weekend.  They have a wedding to attend in Cincinnati so he’ll be back, while she will continue onto her new adventure.  The drive to the airport was quick, the chatter lively.  Parked and in the terminal we approached security.  This was it.  The moment Kim wanted to push off was here, and staring her in the face through the eyes of our friend.  It was hug time, and cue the water works.  I amusingly mentioned to Jason (our friend’s boyfriend) that they were going to miss their flight, because once one is locked in a Kim embrace, there was no getting out until she released you.  Much to my surprise she released, but the tears continued.  I went in for the hug with our friend and smiled, and made her say goodbye while looking me in the eye, because she too had to cry if Kim was crying.  It worked!  With an arm around Kim we watched as they walked toward security, down the terminal and out of sight.  Our dynamic, though unbreakable, changed.
Kim and Maya
No more random stopovers at the house.  No more impromptu happy hours.  No more mailing it in when cooking Indian food (that’s a story for another day).  We’ll see her again, several trips are already booked, but it’s different.  Her presence, her energy, is going to be over two thousand miles away.  That’s hard.
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As we walked to the car, I commented to Kim, “we need to find some new fucking friends.”  Tears became laughter, as I followed with the question, “too soon?”   A few text messages between the four of us pre-flight and it was back to our day to day.
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None of us have any regrets about the time we spent together.  We were and continue to be family.  We laughed hard, we lived life to the fullest together.  The tears and the sadness are not of regret, but of the deep sense that this chapter ended around 11am in Terminal B at Newark Airport.  We all saw it coming, but it doesn’t hit you until it’s happening.  That’s the low of living life with no regrets.  You never want it to end, and when one chapter does, those tears are the great memories rushing back all at once, and that’s overwhelming.
So travel well Maya.  We love you, and we’ll miss you, but we WILL see you soon.  Good luck, keep in touch, and stay Fat, Drunk and Fancy.

The Black Manhattan – come to the dark side

So I get a fair amount of crap from my lovely wife about my affinity for a certain cocktail: the black Manhattan. This is a drink I make at home (I’m enjoying one as I write this post actually) and order out whenever I get a chance (or remember). It’s also true that I have taught several bartenders across the country how to make this drink, simply because they weren’t familiar with it. That doesn’t make me special, it makes me a fan of the drink! So, how did this love affair with a particular libation come to be, and how can one do it at home? So glad you asked because I’m ready to share!

My first experience with the black Manhattan was two years ago in Denver. The location was Matsuhisa, a to die for sushi joint that is part of the Nobu Matsuhisa’s group of restaurants (yes, that Nobu). If you’re in Denver and are craving sushi, make your reservation now. I’ll wait.

So I was the first in my party to arrive, so I did what any self respecting traveler would do, I headed to the bar. There I perused the menu and settled on the “New Brooklyn.” My bartender informed me that the cocktail was better known as the Black Manhattan. One sip and I was hooked. Be sure to order one when you get there and get hooked as well.

So after several cocktails, I had a new favorite. Obviously my intention was to bring this back home and enjoy it out and about, as well as while sitting on my couch. A few weeks later it was off to a local haunt to meet some clients and my lovely bride. Of course I ordered a Black Manhattan, but I was met with a puzzled look. Education time my friend! After a quick lesson and insisting that the bartender try the drink, a new favorite was available (Addams Tavern in Westfield NJ now makes an excellent Black Manhattan). Ever since I have been spreading the good word of this cocktail, much to my wife’s embarrassment!

So what is this lovely drink? It’s quite simple and only requires one addition to a well stocked home bar. Rye is the preferred base, but you can certainly use bourbon. I enjoy it with Bulliet or Angel’s Envy Rye. The second ingredient is Averna, a Sicilian liqueur that replaces the sweet vermouth that traditionally makes up a Manhattan. Two parts rye, one part Averna. A few shakes of angastora bitters and an orange peel, and you have a masterpiece on your hands (and in your glass). I typically enjoy mine with a large cube, but you can certainly enjoy it up if that’s your style. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, try it. Let me know what you think, and if you’ve become completely obsessed with it, to the point of annoying your spouse. Only then have you truly arrrived. Now to finish my drink…

Turtle + the Wolf

Turtle + the Wolf

It started with a bomb cyclone, followed right behind by a polar vortex. In other words, it was winter in New Jersey, so suck it up buttercup. We committed to a monthly dining experience with my wife’s cousin and her husband, and this was the maiden voyage of this culinary adventure. With much fanfare and anticipation, we made our way to Upper Montclair for our first experience with a two year old gem, Turtle + the Wolf. The culmination of chef Lauren Hirschberg’s lifelong dream, the setting was perfect for the evening. The warm lighting and inviting staff left the chill of the arctic air outside far behind. Dark wood with an industrial feel, lit primarily by the open kitchen to our right. Audible under the hum of a lively crowd was music that would make Alt Nation on SiriusXM proud. Our table was at the mid point of the long narrow restaurant, perfectly situated for the meal to come.
Our server, Ben, met us with a smile, opened our wine, and gave us a minute to peruse the menu. This is not an extensive menu, but that is a thing of beauty. If you do it right, you don’t need endless options. Also, as a BYOB, the wine list started at home, and it was a selection we would not have otherwise found on a wine list anywhere. This is a strong nod and shameless plug for our friends at Vincent Arroyo Winery, and their 2014 Winemaker’s Reserve Petit Sarah. Make your way to Calistoga and get acquainted with them now.
Now, there are restaurants who have daily specials, or the catch of the day, but I can’t say I’ve seen the Berkshire Pork selection of the day. Pork equals happiness, so sure, I’m in! What, pray tell, is the pork of the day? Ben revealed that today it was pork belly, and all was right in the world. Additionally, there was a sea bass crudo, as an alternative to the yellow tail crudo on the regular menu. A few more minutes, plenty of laughs, and we were ready to order. One of the lessons we teach my children is that we try new things. Looking at the appetizers, that was necessary for all involved. Ordering for the table is a pleasure, and this was no exception. The sea bass crudo, chicken liver mousse, seared fois gras, and the steak tartar made the cut. Upon arrival, these appetizers clearly stole the show. The sea bass was a clean and refreshing departure from the other rich dishes, topped with sliced jalapeños and a citrus and oil drizzle. The chicken liver mousse was firm to slice, but spread on the accompanying crostini with ease, accented by a mustard seed relish. Topped with a perfectly placed egg yolk, the steak tartar was creamy and delicious. And, oh, the fois gras! Seared to perfection, with a concord grape reduction and roasted peanuts. Our wine cut the richness perfectly, with not a single morsel remaining on any of the plates. This was a glorious beginning!
For our entree selections, we cast another wide net. Clearly the pork belly had to happen, as did the duck pot pie (DUCK.POT.PIE), short ribs, and the roasted butternut squash. There was nothing low calorie about this meal (well, maybe the squash) but with a proper glass of wine, who’s going to complain? All were cooked perfectly. For me, the pork belly was a contrast within itself. Crispy on the outside (I mean like cracker crispy) and tender and juicy below the perfect crust. The duck pot pie, tucked inside a pillow of pastry, was creamy and rich (thank you duck heart gravy). The short ribs fell off the bone and the accompanying potato purée made each bite a symphony of flavor. The squash was also tender and flavorful. Now, these meals were delightful, however we had one consistent observation. Each could have been enhanced with some salt. The flavors were begging for a punch, to jump off the plate and explode. A heavier hand with the salt would have put them over the top. No one left disappointed however.
Ben was a perfect host, great personality and just enough attention paid to our table. He arrived with dessert menus in hand, and clearly this was not a crowd who knew how to say no. We went with the appetizer approach and selected an assortment of treats. We limited it to three selections; the Zeppole with fig preserves, Maple pot au creme, and the Chocolate – Peanut Butter Tart. Thank God for coffee, because these desserts were decadent! The zeppole were surprisingly light, the others not so much. This is not a complaint. After our plates were cleared, we lingered and talked, never feeling rushed. It was another excellent culinary experience with wonderful ambiance. On an otherwise cold and dark winter night, Turtle + the Wolf provided a memorably warm experience.

Yale Terrace Brewery

Ever since we started this adventure, we’ve wanted to pound the pavement from a local perspective.  A little visit to Facebook, and a post from the Cranford Patch, revealed a golden opportunity.  A mere two miles from us was a new venture in day two of their soft opening.  We wanted to grab a cocktail anyway that afternoon, so off we went to Cranford NJ.  Were this a summer day, we could have easily walked, but it’s December and it was cold, so the five-minute drive was our option.  As luck would have it, there was a spot directly in front of our destination.  Behold, Yale Terrace Brewery.

The downtown brewery and tasting room is a welcome addition to Cranford.  Among the countless restaurants, bars, coffee shops, Yale Terrace Brewery is a special treat, and kudos to the town for helping to make this happen.  Other towns in the area should take note (Westfield, I’m looking at you).  From outside you could see the stark green wall by the bar, and the accent walls (which we learned were created entirely of pallets that one of the owners broke down and finished himself), and a bustling crowd enjoying what we were about to become part of.

We were greeted warmly upon entry by the crew, as well as by the patrons who were there before us.  We grabbed two seats at the hand crafted bar and were asked the standard question upon entering a brewery in the state of NJ, “would you like to take a tour?”  Obviously the answer is yes, because not only is it interesting to learn the brewing process, but to hear the story truly relays the passion of the brewers themselves.  Tom guided us to the back of the brewery, where a single still sat.  He explained the process and the still they used that actually submerged the grain in a large metal device, best described as “a really big tea bag.”  He also explained how most of the downstairs is taken up by the various beers in different stages of the brewing process.  You could see the excitement in Tom’s voice and demeanor, this was his pride and joy.

Back to our seats at the bar (which had plugs, USB ports and hooks under the bar in front of our seats), and the next big question, “what would you like?”  Being enthusiasts for all things food and drink, we made the obvious choice: everything!  As luck would have it, one can order a flight of four beers, so we ordered two flights and selected virtually everything available from the blackboard at the center of the bar on the green wall.  Our bartenders, Nick and Scott, were fantastic, great conversationalist and knowledgeable about the product.  They also had a great dynamic between the two of them and worked well with us to coordinate our selections.  We were presented with two boards and eight glasses, and the tasting began:

  • #19 Yale Quad – Delicious, with more bite than the IPA’s (Kim’s note: yummy, a touch sour)
  • #26 Yale Oatmeal Stout – Wonderful rich stout (Kim’s note:  Ok, didn’t feel “stouty” enough)
  • #24 Yale Imperial IPA – Great smooth beer, not overly hoppy (Kim’s note: Not my favorite)
  • #19 Yale Pale Ale – Very light and drinkable (Kim’s note: Eh.)
  • #9 Wellington Raspberry Sour – The only sour we’ve ever enjoyed
  • #8 Borden Bourbon Espresso Stout – We so wanted to love it, but espresso beers have that bite of coffee that makes it almost tart
  • #161 Main IPA – My wife’s favorite, again not too hoppy
  • #132 Euclid Saison – another clean crisp beer, a good representation of a saison. (Kim’s note:  Just OK.)

Nick and Scott took a genuine interest in our opinions of the beers we tried, and we were honest with them.  My wife enjoyed the 161 Main IPA whereas I favored the Oatmeal Stout.  We were both surprised by the Wellington Raspberry Sour, as neither of us are sour fans, but this was quite pleasing.  We then had a robust discussion about the Borden Bourbon Espresso Stout.  We shared our passion for such an idea (being fans of both bourbon and espresso) but were consistently disappointed by the execution, no matter where we’ve tried similar beers.  We talked about ways to cut the inherent bitterness that espresso has, especially in a beer, and figure the guys at Yale Terrace will figure it out.

As we sat enjoying our brews, we observed patrons from all walks of life.  Friends of the brewery, businessmen stopping in before heading home, a family of four with their dinner from Vinnie’s Pizza & Pasta which is conveniently located next door to the brewery, friends stopping in for a drink before a movie across the street, and the newlyweds reviewing the whole scene (that’s us).  A true cross-section of this suburban New Jersey town.

As we moved on in our selections (my bride had the Yale Quad, while I opted for the Oatmeal Stout) we began a conversation with Pete, who with Tom and Vinnie (the owner of the pizzeria next door) made up the ownership group of Yale Terrace.  Pete spent what felt like an hour with us, and the conversation was amazing as we learned about the home brewing and blind taste tests he and Tom would run with friends, the challenging regulatory landscape for breweries, and a tremendous history of brewing in New Jersey.  His vision was to create a local brewery, much like those that existed prior to prohibition and the power of large breweries and distributors.

We also learned their history, from growing up in West Orange, to the origins of the names of their beers, each an address of relevance from their pasts.  Soon the walls will include the back stories of these addresses turned beers, and we can’t wait to return to learn more.  Each of the owners has a full-time job, but it’s clear this is their collective passion.  That passion is reflected in the quality of the product and the atmosphere throughout the brewery.  This is a fun, comfortable and approachable place, certainly worth the stop before we headed out for dinner.  There will be many return trips, and the rotating taps will make it a new adventure each time, but the welcoming atmosphere makes this a place you want to return to soon and often.