Friday, July 21, 2017
I found myself across the pier from the mighty ship on the west side of Manhattan in a smoke-filled cafe with my friend Fabrizio. The game: poker. The odds: never tell me the odds! Fabrizio and I staked everything we owned for two tickets on the Breakaway. Fabrizio drew a poor hand and had no choice but to fold. All that stood in the way of a trip on the Norwegian Breakaway was a smelly, obese grocery baron named Otto von Trap. Von Trap showed his cards: a royal flush. It was my turn. "Oh Fabrizio, I'm so sorry, but tell your mom you won't be home for dinner tonight, 'cause we're going on the Breakaway!" I placed my 5 of a kind on the table. It was a thrilling moment. Von Trap bellowed and screeched, but he was beaten. We quickly grabbed our knapsacks and ran to the pier to catch the ship. "All aboard!!!" the petty officer screamed. We rushed onto the boat just in time.
The Breakaway pulled away from the pier and out of New York harbor and set east into the mighty Atlantic.
The ship was filled with bars, mediocre restaurants, a horrific buffet with people fighting over the last slice of cake or the last pizza slice (before more food is quickly brought), a crowded pool with people burning in the sun and drinking and dancing while loud club music thumps, water slides, a casino, event spaces for shows and activities, people lying out in the sun exposing their bodies which haven't experienced a moment of exercise in years, people ordering more drinks because why not and people taking more and more food even though they'll waste half of it but then return in thirty minutes to eat more, etc.
Later that evening, two first mates stood watch. The short one, Malloy, noticed something, but he couldn't quite make it out. It seemed to be very puffy, yet sturdy and dense. And white. Wait, could it be? Dear god, it was a giant mound of fresh cream! Also known as schlag. Malloy pressed the emergency button. "Schlagberg right ahead!" The captain ordered the engine room to shift the rotaries, and the ship slowly started to veer southward, but it was too late, and the ship's port-side rammed into the giant mound of schlag. The boat violently shook but quickly returned to a smooth course.
On the main desk, Fabrizio and I saw it all happen. Some of the schlag from the schlagberg fell onto the deck, and I bent down and generously scooped up some of the fresh cream and took a taste. "Now that's a fine schlag," I said.
Just then, we saw the captain and some of the first officers rush by. Fabrizio and I followed them and took position behind a door to listen in on a meeting.
"Sir, not one, but two compartments in the ship have been filled with cream!" an engineer said.
The captain seemed to understand but remained silent.
The engineer continued, saying what everyone knew: "the ship was built to sustain one compartmental creaming, but not two! The ship will sink - it's a mathematical certainty!"
"Mama mia!" Fabrizio let out. The officers looked over and saw us.
"Captain!" I said. "I know how to save the passengers."
"You have my attention," said the captain.
"I sampled some of the cream on the deck. It is a fine, dense cream. The cream is dense enough that we can fashion enough safety boats using the cream as the material for the boats. We'll need every crew member, but I know how to use the creme to make the boats."
The engineer started, "that's a brilliant idea, but it will take a man with incredible cream experience."
A crew member interjected, pointing at me: "that one's not up for it!"
It was my turn: "I've been all around this world and have stopped into many a cafe and bakery to sample the many fresh creams of the world. I've had the buns of Hong Kong and the tarts of Portugal. I've had the crema of Mexico and the schlag of Vienna. I can build the boats!"
The captain looked at me. "I know a good cream man when I see one. Our lives are in your creams."
I quickly laid out the plan for how to quickly assemble the safety cream boats, and the crew began work. The Breakaway was slowly starting to sink. Terrified passengers began screaming and running around the ship in terror and desperation. Good old Malloy, the same mate who spotted the Schlagberg, restored order and the passengers began lining up to enter the cream safety boats as we lowered them into the frigid ocean.
All souls on the ship safely boarded one of the many safety cream boats we assembled before the great Norwegian Breakaway completely sank into the dark waters. The annoyingly loud club music, the stupid murmurings of the idiotic and fat passengers, the noises from all the games and shows and dances, were all gone as we drifted in stunned silence.
Thousands of people sat and awaited rescue. The crew member who doubted I had the skill to assemble safety cream boats looked at me and nodded, showing his thankfulness for what I helped accomplish. But I knew our safety was precarious. The cream boats were sturdy and true and would stay afloat for as long as it took for a rescue ship to reach us. The engineering of the boats was not the problem. The problem....
And then I heard the shouting and knew it was happening. In one of the nearby boats, you could see it happening. Some of the passengers were so taken with the schlag that they began eating their own safety boats! "Stop! You're eating our safety boat! We'll sink!" a man screamed. Then you heard the same admonishment coming from other boats. Some passengers jumped off their safety cream boats and climbed onto other boats, only to find that the same thing was happening!
Fighting broke out on all the safety cream boats. Soon, there was utter mayhem, a cacophony of screams and creams. Safety cream boats started sinking as too much of their structures were consumed by greedy people. My own safety boat started going down. Fabrizio and I were able to remove part of the cream structure and held onto it as a floating device. We paddled away from the chaos as people ate creams and drowned.
Soon, we were far enough away to avoid immediate destruction, but the water was freezing cold and we couldn't last very long. I started to become very tired and felt peaceful. I looked over and Fabrizio was already gone, passing to wherever it is we go when our physical bodies cease to function. I detached his arms from the creme floating structure and he dipped peacefully down into the waters. "I"ll never let go!" I say as poor Fabrizio sinks into the deep.
But not long after I too leave this world, although when the rescue teams find my body a few hours later my arms are still firmly latched onto the schlag.
"That was a man who loved creams," they all say.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
A stunning April day in Lisbon. The sky is vivid, crisp blue. There is a lovely breeze. It is going to be a comfortably warm day, and the morning freshness is invigorating! There is a tiny district called Belem, west of Lisbon's city center, known for its pastry houses. Lisbon is a city of incredible pastries, and the Pasteis de Nada is the city's great creation, an egg tart of tender crust and creamy, fluffy egg custard. Pasteis de Belem is known for its Pasteis de Nada's and all other manner of pastries. It's a quaint, lovely pastry shoppe and cafe. We order some excellent coffee with milk and tell the waiter to bring us an onslaught of various treats. "Sir, I want to be frontal assaulted by creams!" I scream. The egg tarts are incredible, so delicate and flavorful! This custard is so heavenly, it tastes as if it had been slowly beaten and whipped for years. It is slightly sweet but not too sweet. There is another pastry filled with a creme paste - yes, it has the consistency of a thick paste, with a nutty, excellent flavor. It is basically the best creme donut you've ever had.
Next stop, the lovely town of Porto. Now, I must say, Porto does not have as many bakeries and pastry shoppes as Lisbon, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a delicious creme there. One day I was strolling along the coast, a few miles from the town, and it was a misty day. As I stroll amidst the mists, I notice an incredible smell. "Wait, there must be some delicious cremes nearby!" I cry out. I follow the pleasant odors until I reach a cute little bakery specializing in French eclairs! Yes, Leitaria da Quita do Paco is literally a cremeria which makes eclairs in the finest French tradition. I order a classic and a hazelnut eclair, the latter, which the shopkeeper rightly points out, is much like a Ferrero Rocher come to life in eclair form. The cremes are exquisite. I sit outside in the mist and eat my cremes.
Finally, another noteworthy creme is also of the hazelnut variety. My companion and I dine at the trendy Cantinho do Avillez in downtown Porto. It is a great meal, and for dessert we order the "Halzenut³" - that's right, it's cubed. What arrives is the one of the finest cremes I've ever tasted. There are three hazelnut cremes of various consistencies layered in a glass, and each creme interacts and builds off the other, creating a cacophony of cremes! "This is an incredible creamy crescendo!" I blurt out, unable to contain myself. Many of the patrons in the bistro drop their forks and stare, but the professional server staff seem accustomed to such creamy outbursts. This Hazelnut cubed dessert is an amazing finale for a trip filled with wonderful cremes.
We hope you've enjoyed the continuing saga of cremes. Join us again!
Pasteis de Belem
Leitaria da Quita do Paco
Cantinho do Avillez
Sunday, May 14, 2017
I repeat my opening question: what do you do when you've discovered the best choux? The fact is, I don't know why this world is here - generations have come and gone, and generations will come and go, and for what? But after discovering the perfect choux, I realize I finally know my purpose. I order 8,000 choux to go and return to the creme cave - this will be my final charge. I clean up and put on my finest Wrangler denim and a crisp Target Merona casual shirt. I look in the mirror. This is it - don't get scared now. I take a seat on my La-Z-Boy chair. I open up one of my many boxes of choux and eat one whole. "It begins," I say, and I continue eating choux, inhaling them sometimes two or three or four at a time. I feel the creme filling me, expanding my organs, coursing through my veins, oh god my spleen!! How many choux have I eaten? Two thousand? I keep chouxing. My whole body is expanding - I keep growing - creming - until I don't look much different than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
By now there is no way to know how many choux I have consumed. I know there is no way to eat another choux without bursting. I pick up a choux and look at it. "Thank you for being such a tasty, wonderful, creme-filled friend." I smile serenely and take a deep breath. It's time. I place the choux in my mouth and chew and swallow. For a moment, as my creme self explodes, bursting out into the universe as a big creme bang, travelling faster than the speed of creme, I understand everything.
Mah ze Dahr Bakery
Friday, March 10, 2017
I'm a man who enjoys a fine tender.
When I was a boy growing up in the hills of Pittsburgh, one of the things I loved most was going to TGIF Friday's for food and fun. What did I get? I got the chicken tenders. But as a young boy, the establishment wanted to serve me the children's menu tenders, even though I was a generously proportioned young man. Tenders from the children's menu was not acceptable, so I insisted on the tenders from the adult menu - more tenders, more fries, more pleasure.
The tenders at Friday's were really quite sublime. The meat was juicy and plump and bursting with flavor. If you took a fork and pressed it ever so gently against the tender, there would be an explosion of juice because those tenders were so tender! Once, I applied a gentle amount of pressure to a tender and the resulting burst of juice hit someone at another table right in the eye! "Oh jesus my eye!" the victim screamed, falling to the ground writhing in agony. Unfortunately that poor person lost sight in the affected eye and sued. Ever since, Friday's has had to serve the tender with a sign that says "Caution: tenders may shoot juice missiles."
Anyway, back to the tenders. Yes, they are juicy and flavorful. The batter is also wonderful! A crispy and light batter. The tenders have all the flavor and pleasure you could want, but if that weren't enough, the honey mustard is incredible! We've all had our share of mediocre honey mustard dipping sauces, so how refreshing that Friday's serves a top-notch, flavorful, well-balanced honey mustard!
The fries are excellent and perfect for soaking up any of that remaining honey mustard.
Another nice thing about the adult tender meal is that it was served with a wonderful garlic breadstick. Think an Olive Garden-style breadstick, buttery and warm, and actually pretty tender in-and-of-itself. Double tender.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
But you know what? Most pizza in New York is adequate at best. The myth of the great New York slice is just that - a myth. Deep down we all long for that corner slice place that serves humble, excellent slices. But so often you grab a slice from a random place and your heart sinks as you realize the pizza is just not very good. Damn it!
Sal & Carmine's is a fantastic example of a slice place that actually is awesome. Grumpy Italian men (one whom passed years ago, the other who is not able to do much pizza making any more, now being operated by the grandson); neon lights, tangy, cheesy slices. This is what you want all slice places to be like and you imagine that a long time ago they were, but not now, not in this day and age when New York is not as great as it used to be.
'Twas a mild and foggy late January day and I decided to throw caution to the wind and try a new slice place! It's called Pranzo Pizza downtown, near the Staten Island ferry. I entered the shop and walked to the counter, where I could see the pre-made pies sadly waiting to be heated back up. No pride; no artisanship. Just drab, utilitarian pizza waiting to be bought by the next willing customer.
I ordered two plain slices and the pizzaiola happily tossed them into the oven. "Anything to drink?" he said with a stupid smile on his face. "Fuck you!" I said. When the pizza was ready and brought before me I took a look and became frustrated. Just as I suspected! The cheese had a terrible wettish consistency, the result of using sub-standard cheese and the re-heating process. The flavor was edible but boring and minimal. The sauce? I won't even go there.
The stupid pizzaiola kept smiling. "This is the best slice in New York!" he said. I walked over to him and mercilessly beat him, pounding his head into the pizza oven. He'll be all right....eventually.
Water Street, New York
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Once on the train we braced ourselves for our transfer at Times Square to the number 7 train. Upon reaching Times Square we exited our downtown express 3 train and were instantly greeted by the pungent smells of humanity crammed into a train station filled to capacity with people seeking refuge from the stabbing snow flakes. Oh god it was horrible, but we made it to the 7 train and headed into Queens.
As our train entered Queens and ascended above street-level we could make out the glimmering towers of Midtown, and the snow was shooting down stronger than ever. Every time we came to a station stop and the doors of the train opened we smelled the spices of the nearby restaurants and heard the screams of the people.
We arrived at the Woodside Station and quickly exited. A friend messaged saying he was running 30 minutes late, and we were scared that perhaps he had lost some flesh from the snow. We walked to Thailand's Center Point restaurant and entered a cozy little place, with all the tables filled with people joyously chomping down on larbs and papaya salads. The smell was absolutely thrilling and intoxicating.
We made it to back to our neighborhood and were walking back, and my romantic partner knew I was not satisfied. "If you must do this, you must do it alone" she said. "I understand," I said. We parted ways and I made the lonely walk to Magnolia Bakery, where I ordered a slice of caramel cake to-go.
Upper West Side and various locations
Saturday, January 7, 2017