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Forkplay September 25, 2013

Charlie Bird. Sip Sak. Loving My Clutter. Betty Crocker. High Road Aspirations.

Dear Friends and Family,


       You feel that special tingle as you stumble into Charlie Bird, thrilled to have found it after all. It's not where it's supposed to be, not at 5 King Street as advertised. Just follow the sounds of hip hop around the corner to Sixth Avenue.


      That electric charge is about somehow landing where it's really happening. Feel the heat of belonging in this narrow joint on the edge of Soho, with prints of boomboxes on one wall and half a dozen microphones as décor, already booked tight, weeks ahead. Not that I would be here if I hadn't found someone who knew someone who scored a table before 10 pm. Now I've landed with two friends at this tight little three-top on the mezzanine, fenced in by a perforated steel stairway that vibrates when servers leap up and down.


       The owners and their press bleats have suggested the food is Italian, American, New York. Let's just say it's vaguely familiar, but original and mostly delicious. The Tuscan chicken liver is no more Tuscan than I am. But it's luscious, salted with capers. And the service can be very grownup. Click hereto know what you want to eat on the off chance you score a table. 5 King Street. Entrance on Sixth Avenue steps South of Houston.




I picked up today's FORKPLAY red and pink from Betty Crocker's "Big Book of Pies and Tarts," see my confessions below.




Braving the Angry Turk


       "I see you have already met the infamous Orhan Yegen," I say to my friends, a bit late taking my seat at Sip Sak. It surprises me with its look, framed in green iron filigree, rather like a French bistro or an ice cream parlor. My arrival interrupts the perpetually grumpy owner in a stultifying lecture on how to eat Turkish food. But only for two throat clearings, then he is on again with how no one understands Turkish cooking as he does.


       "My friends are here to talk to each other, Orhan, not to listen to you," I say, when he continues to vent. A new Turkish friend has brought us here. It's her favorite place in the city for her homeland cooking. She is talking about entrées we might order. She doesn't seem to understand that Turkish main courses are usually heavy and disappointing compared to the brilliant starters. But that could be because she is from Turkey and doesn't know they are awful.


       I suggest everyone choose two different meze and we'll tell the server to bring them in waves. I am hoping we'll fill up on small plates and avoid the usually lackluster entrées. Click here to discover what we loved. And don't tell me there are no inexpensive places to eat on the East Side. 928 Second Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.




Hoarders and Declutterers


       Friends tell me that getting rid of your clutter is better than losing five pounds for making you feel younger. I do not doubt they are right. My niece Dana discovered how little she really needed when she moved from a sprawling farmhouse to a one-room cabin. My friend Chiara pared down dramatically when she bought a studio apartment and lost her vast storage space. She seemed positively ecstatic about sending suitcases full of stuff to the thrift shop.


       I am unduly attached to my clutter. I can't bear to separate from dresses I wore forty years ago and only need to lose 10 pounds to wear again. And then there's my red fox coat.


       So it was really dramatic for me and for those who despair of my hoarding when I took all the vintage handbags off the wall and started selling them on Etsy. Every week we add a few and sell a few. Recently a friend of a friend came to the office and picked out six bags, some for herself, some for gifts. Click here to see some of the new additions and don't just admire them, make me an offer.




Back to Betty


       I grew up with Betty Crocker. When I first began to do precious little dinners and a famous Christmas open house, I created amazingly delicious little tidbits with Crescent Rolls from Pillsbury. Later, of course when I became a restaurant critic I felt an obligation to cook and bake everything from scratch.


       I remember one long afternoon, when my then beloved husband Don, the Kultur Maven, was helping me in the kitchen by cranking our do-it-yourself old fashioned ice cream churn.


       "Why can't we just buy ice cream like everyone else does?" he asked as he tossed in more crushed ice and kosher salt.


       "Because I'm Gael Greene," I said. "And people expect this of me."


       Some years later when I found myself eating out eight nights a week for my column, I abandoned cooking. I wondered if Betty Crocker could entice me to bake again. "Send me a review copy of 'The Big Book of Pies and Tarts,'" I told the peppy young publicist at Houghton Mifflin.


       I ripped open the baggy and went straight for the Sparkling Cherry Pie and the Sweet Amaretto Cherry. The Cherry-Berry Pie didn't have a picture so I flipped to Starstruck Raspberry-Almond Pie, Peach Crumble, Gingered Apricot. I lingered at Mini Bacon Chicken Pot Pies and Impossibly Easy Mini Thai Chicken Pies.


       Then I actually focused on the recipe. Although the book opens with instructions for making a pie crust, most recipes suggested Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust. One specified a roll of Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookies. For "Jamocha" Ice Cream Pie, you don't even have to bake. How can I recommend this book? I wondered. I'm still Gael Greene.


       But then I decided to do rhubarb crumble combining two recipes. And yes, I bought a refrigerated crust and didn't tell a soul. But the point is, I baked. I had to buy sugar and flour and butter. I turned the oven on. (I had to remove everything I was storing there, but I did it.) I carried my pie to a potluck dinner and took all the credit. Get back your baking mojo and teach your kids to bake with this book. It's just $19.99, probably less online.




Ice Cream Junkie


       I gave up cooking and baking but I never gave up ice cream. I discovered Talenti in the handsome plastic packages with a screw-on top, surely the best packaged ice cream ever...and fell into love with the Sea Salt Caramel and the Dark Chocolate. But I save them for special occasions and keep Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia FroYo on hand all the time.  


       Recently I got a news release boasting about the greatest ice cream ever. I'd never heard of High Road, but was game to taste. A crate of fall flavors arrived this past weekend. They are the obsession of Keith Schroeder, 20 years a chef, caterer and culinary teacher, who gave up all else "to elevate ice cream to the truly exceptional." At first he sold his 90 flavors only to hotels and restaurants. But word got around and etc, etc, etc. Now Whole Foods has taken the High Road too.


       Is it the best ice cream sold in America right now, as Alton Brown is quoted? I would not be that rash since I have not been slurping across the country that loves ice cream. It is very good, really rich but not so rich that the flavors get muted. I especially like Praline Chocolate Tart and Crème Caramel. I don't love honey but I liked the idea of Honey Black Pepper. The Tangerine sorbet was intensely tart and strong but I can't say it gave me a new insight into sorbet. Try it and let me know what you think.



Photographs of Charlie Bird's farro salad and uni duck egg pasta, Sip Sak's feta-filled börek and brains, vintage Ann Turk purse and vintage silk handbag with the bakelite frame may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.