New York, NY (...and Points North)

Last year Memorial Day had me holding vigil at an ICU in the Sierra foothills, with the other shoe dropping: my rapid separation from a job at which I was unhappy anyway.

This year the month of May ended on a higher note: a much better job, no friends hooked up to IVs and mom comfortably moved into her new home (bonus: she got to keep her kitties).

Once again I found myself locked in a pressurized aluminum tube miles above terra-firma, this time en route Occidental for a mix of work and fulfilling familial obligations...

A rare clearing on top of an Adirondack hill on a muggy May day.

Under better circumstances Lake George could be seen in the distance. Here I frolicked with my cousin Sam's two puppies, Jenny and Buck, miniature mutts that looked to be part beagle and part terrier, like a normal sized puppy that someone had put in a Honey I Shrunk The Kids machine set to 50% size.

They defended me from threats seen (and mostly unseen) as I darted in and out of May showers to grill steaks over charcoal and hardwood culled from nearby forests.

Oscar's Adirondack Smokehouse is in Warrensburg, New York (over the river and through the woods), a sleepy Adirondack town that features some wonderfully spooky Victorian landmarks. I felt compelled to purchase branded swag ("Have some of what we're smoking," and "You can't beat our meat!"), a half ham, smoked Adirondack trout, tongue wurst and sliced capicola ham.

Steaks and fresh sausage were obtained just down the road at Jacob's and Toney Meats (The Meat Store of the North!). Apparently I missed out on their deli sandwiches, which cousin Sam enthusiastically endorsed as "the bomb."

Ruben Harvey Neill (grandpa) and a very tiny but  remarkably Ron Neill looking Ronald Harvey Neill (dad).

His wife and eventual widow, Mildred, my grandmother was a woman who cherished order and propriety. One evening she had labored to produce a grand meal for Mr. Neill and kids, Ron and Jane, at their home in Akron.

The phone rang.

Mr. Neill very calmly listened, nodded and occasionally would say "uh-huh," and "I see."

After a few moments he said to the person on the other side of the phone "I'll be right there."

To Mildred's great consternation, Mr. Neill put on his jacket and hat, heading toward the door.

A truck driver, an employee of Mr. Neill, had been arrested somewhere in central Ohio.

The charge was that the truck was over- or underweight, a common ploy by local constabulary trying to shake down truck drivers.

The driver happened to be black.

Being black and in a central Ohio jail in the 1950s was a dicey proposition, and Mr. Neill felt obligated to settle the matter then and there rather than have his employee suffer unnecessarily.

Both he and Mildred had fled the Deep South to start a new life in Akron, but they knew that even in the north, far from Jim Crow, their African-American friends, colleagues and employees faced many obstacles.

Central Ohio in the 1950s was deep Ku-Klux Klan territory and dinner would have to wait.

After all I was sleeping in his mom's cottage just a little bit down the road from their homestead, so I didn't complain when Sam grabbed, opened and drank a bottle of Saranac Pale Ale, then another.

"Anything I can do, cousin," he finally asked, and sure enough I had a task in mind knowing that Aunt Jane would be bringing over pound cake made using Mildred's recipe (a recipe Jane archived into an omnibus edition presented to immediate family members named "Meals With Mildred").

"I need these cherries pitted," I said pointing to an actual bowl of cherries – a housewarming gift from Jane that I had been idly picking at for a few days.

Cherries Samuel:
  • 2 cups bing cherries pitted.
  • 4 tablespoons of table sugar (the pantry lacked this, however I found a plastic container of Domino sugar packets for tea),
  • 1/2 cup of the finest screw-top, big bottle Cabernet Sauvignon as you can find in The Big City (Glens Falls, NY),
  • Pinch of salt,
  • A few good grinds of coarse cracked black pepper,
  • Zest of 1 lemon,
  • Juice of 1 lemon,
  • 1 shot of Grand Marnier.
Bring the cherries, sugar, salt, pepper, zest, juice and wine to a rapid simmer over medium to medium high heat and allow juices to thicken – about 10 minutes.

Finish with the liquor (flambé if you are fancy, which I wasn't, having an electric stove).

Sauce will continue to thicken as it chills.

The delightfully "ripped from out of an episode of Scooby-Doo" Emerson House Bed and Breakfast.

The property appeared to be for sale, which both saddens me (I'd love to stay in it) but piques my interest (I'd like to own it... when I win the lottery).

"I love it!"

I was showing Lily's proprietor Bart Tekmitchov the picture above that I had posted on Instagram.

"I'm putting on the bar's Facebook page," he said.

"If you can get the internet to work," I had been at war with the dueling suck-tastic Time Warner Cable internet and extremely churlish cellular service in downtown Bolton Landing, an approximately half-mile stretch of New York State Route 9 along Lake George bookended by Mohican Point and the turn-off into the Sagamore, where a young Rachael Ray surely delighted all with her proclamations of "yummo!" and "delish!"

Bart is an odd but honest broker, earnest, goofy and deeply devoted to his mother and sister. Every hessian in clogs and check-tooth pants and every waitress and bartender in town fills the stools along the bar at Lily's when the resorts shut down for the night and the blue-hairs head for the hills.

Lily's often doesn't open until 9PM and is just getting into full swing by 2am, long after polite society has hit the hay.

In other words, my kind of bar.

I can imagine a 21 year old Rachael Ray tossing a few pints back after a long shift at "the sag," and I can even imagine me not loathing a rougher, saltier of the earthier version of her prior to becoming the instrument of The Food Network's slow demise.

Of course she likely would have posted up at The Brass Ring instead, in the basement of the Lakeside Lodge and Grille. Lily's former incarnation was a notorious biker bar up through the 70s, 80s and into the 90s famous for near nightly violence and otherwise criminal behavior.

Still, I wouldn't mess with the regulars at the new kinder and gentler Lily's (that is Bart's mom's name) as they are surely expert at wielding knives.

The gentlemen at my 9- and 10-O'clock were members of a local folk group of some notoriety in the 1960s and enjoyed peppering their anecdotes with "as you do when you are on LSD..."

As one does indeed.

Uncle Stretch is piloting the Saint Louis, a 1896 Elco electric-motor "woodie" owned by the Bixby clan during their heyday.

A generation later Harold M. Bixby reused the moniker, this time on a new-fangled flying machine named "The Spirit of St. Louis."

The rest is history.


The home office, week of May 31st.

New York City.

I had flown into JFK the week prior, getting in close to midnight on a Friday evening. My boss was in Detroit meaning that I would have to figure out some way to get the keys to the office where I would retire on a cot they had set up in one of the "meeting rooms."

This eventually required me to obtain said keys from a doorman in SoHo, which had a sort of cloak and dagger feel. The person whose apartment the keys were obtained from was himself out on his own Saturday adventures.

I would post up, get up at the crack of dawn and head to Penn Station to take the Ethan Allen Express northbound to Saratoga Springs.

One week later and I would return to Penn Station. I returned to the office to find my Colombian coworker Mau typing away – he would occupy the cot, which he had dubbed "my apartment" and I would crash at my boss' Bowery loft.

Enough with the mise en scene, however, now that I had encountered Mau in the real world instead of our hours of video conferencing via Google Hangouts it was time to break the ice with a shot of Aguardiente that he had brought from the Antioqueño region of Colombia.

The drink was not dissimilar to ouzo, but not as sweet (this bottle was "sin azucar", or sugar free, presumably there exist more saccharine varieties).

I relayed an anecdote how I encountered Jimmy Fallon at the beloved and defunct Room 237 annex bar of the also beloved and defunct Bellevue Bar in Hell's Kitchen, who upon being recognized offered to buy me and my friend shots of Ouzo, which he continued to do well after the bar officially closed.

Now he runs The Tonight Show. Boggle.

I also introduced Mau to Ingress because I am a very bad person.

Here you can see the Bowery infested by dirty Shaper scum (one of many harmless derogatory terms used to refer to the Enlightenment faction in-game, depicted in green; their opponents are the blue team, the Resistance, which is my team; frogs versus smurfs).

Hey! Ho! Let's go!...

...Get a burger at DBGB!

Yes, that famous punk venue the Country and Blue-Grass Bar was now only a memory, but upscale brewpub DBGB pays homage to the legacy of CBGB.

Chef-owner Daniel Boulud is a quintessential New York transplant: a Michelin rated French chef-cum-citizen of NYC who is said to have been spotted late at night at CBGBs or the Bowery Ballroom.

Duff's Brooklyn, the reincarnation of legendary Hell's Kitchen dive bar The Bellevue in Bushwick.

Probably good advice.

Sunday after a night of heavy drinking we repaired to Chinatown for dim sum.

Our first choice, a popular tourist destination situated in a dining room the size of two football fields that apparently would go through tens of thousands of shu mei dumplings on any given weekend day was quickly abandoned in favor of ducking into a smaller Szechuan restaurant around the corner.

We at Chowbacca! are religiously opposed to waiting in line for food.

Old Sichuan on Bayard between Mott and Christie, bordering old Little Italy and Chinatown fit the bill.

I even got my boss to eat the tripe and ox tongue, served chilled with tongue numbing Szechuan peppercorn hot oil, a signature Szechuan dish and one of my favorites since trying it just last year at Szechuan Gourmet in Cleveland, of all places.

Just down the street from Handsome Dick Manitoba's Bar, a temple of all things punk in the Lower East Side is Sunny & Annie's Deli, a 24-hour gourmet delicatessen with a dizzying array of sandwiches – many of which appeal to the sensibilities and cravings of the intoxicated.

Any sandwich with the house fermented kimchee is a winner.

This is what $500 of kitchen gear looks like. We got everything we needed for the office kitchen for half the cost of the Williams and Sonoma All-Clad pots and pans set one co-worker was eying.

A regrettably dry blood sausage and empanada on Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn after a long night at Duff's.

Selfie in SoHo.

One colleagues opinion of #foodstagramming.

The Egg Shop in NYC.

A trio of low-light shots of dishes at The Clocktower, a newly opened Midtown hot spot at The Edition Hotel.

Craft cocktails, fancy menu, up and coming London chef – check, check and check. Definitely check it out if you are flexing an expense account, and be sure to enthusiastically tip your wine captain, as that could be my little sister Missy.

After all that work hunting down kitchen equipment in the Bowery of course I am going to use that occasion to host a dinner party at the office. I recycled a few Chowbacca! favorites: spatchcocked chicken (24 hour brine, 24 hour air-dry in the fridge), Frito crusted ham, kitchen-sink collard greens with smoked Oscar's bacon, a purée of root vegetables in milk with cheese and butter.

Office Party Root Vegetable Purée Of The Now:

  • 2 large Russet potatoes, cut into 2" cubes,
  • 2 large parsnips cut into 1 1/2" discs,
  • 1 large turnip, cut into 2 1/2" cubes,
  • 1 1/2 ounces of sharp cheddar, roughly chopped,
  • 1 1/2 ounces of Emmentaler, roughly chopped,
  • 2 ounces of butter,
  • 1 pint of whole milk,
  • 1/2 pint of heavy cream,
  • 6 ounces of IPA or lager (whatever will you do with the remaining 6 ounces?),
  • 2 tablespoons of dry parsley,
  • 1 bay leaf,
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped,
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced,
  • Salt and pepper to taste,
  • Extra virgin olive oil.

Sweat garlic and shallots in olive oil over medium heat until they begin to turn translucent and lightly brown.

Add root vegetables, bay leaf, some salt and pepper, milk and beer and top with water if needed.

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour or until vegetables are fork tender.

Be careful because this will boil over if it gets too hot.

Return to a boil, add cream and reduce until the liquid starts to thicken.

Remove bay leaf.

Purée with an immersion blender.

Stir in cheese and parsley.

Adjust seasoning and cover. Mixture will thicken as it cools.


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