Thursday, July 16, 2009


Beer Meets Food is taking it to another level, ladies and gents. The picture you see before you is nothing other than our yearly garden plot here in the Heights, the one we've been yammering on about for four years. See it? See the little lettuce heads and the sage bush and the five kinds of basil? See my Hudson River rocks, which are totally shiny naturally? (They're in the front by the lemon thyme). See how the parsley is trying to stage an escape, and see the Thai basil behind it? See how I have, like, one marigold? See the fried chicken smell wafting through the air from Mamma's Fried Chicken? No? Well, it's generally so thick you can see the chicken smell, but maybe the wind was blowing a little leeward this morning.

Foodies and people-who-tolerate-me everywhere, prepare yourselves for a series as rooted in the natural world as the flesh of a rutabaga, as verdant and grassy as our neighbors' marijuana supply, as flavorful as the language used on the streets here in Washington Heights, in the pulsing heart of the Dominican Republic. Did you think I lived in New York City? Think again. Or don't think at all, as might be more comfortable for you depending on workload--and check out our hood for yourselves. Wander through the streets, sipping a cafe con leche that you asked to have with "no" sugar so that you only got a heaping tablespoon. That's right, kids, Beer Meets Food is taking you on a whirlwind tour of our very own community garden, with recipes inspired by growing plants, in our new installment:

Baseball season never felt this locavore-agrarian!


*(with special guest appearances by
Stinky the Redolent Subway Crackhead and

The O-No-He-Di'En't-3 am Screamers)

Let's talk about purple basil for a second.

Purple basil has a similar flavor profile to its cousin Italian basil, but we find it to be a bit more concentrated, less sweet than the classic Italian "sweet" green basil, and it carries more touches of pepper and anise. This is all relative, by the way--purple basil is bred specifically to filter the green out of it, and in consequence the strains are not always consistent regarding flavor. I've heard it called bland, which isn't the case for ours, but I can certainly see how that might have happened. In any case, the leaves are generally a little thicker, more durable. And also purple basil is more awesome, because it's purple. Purple things rule.

(Not to get off topic, but seriously, even if I didn't have a girlfriend called Purple, how awesome are purple things? Like beans, and sweet potatoes, and...daring old women's outfits? I approve of purple things. Besides, they're good for you. Lots of antioxidants.)

THE RECIPE: Herb-Topped Slurp Noodles

1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 inch of peeled ginger, grated
6-8 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flake
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 star anise pod
2/3 pound asparagus, thick ends peeled and trimmed, cut into matchsticks
1/4 of a small red cabbage, cored and sliced very thin
1 handful (the pre-wrapped portion we used was 3 ounces) buckwheat soba noodles
3 handfuls each fresh mint, purple basil, and chives, sliced thin in a chiffonade
1 bottle Weyerbacher Zotten Belgian Pale Ale.

1) Heat both oils in a stock pot and add ginger, onion, garlic and red pepper flake. Saute until fragrant and golden, a little over a minute.
2) Add chicken stock, soy sauce, and star anise. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
3) Add cabbage and cook for another 3 minutes.
4) Stir in asparagus and bring back to a simmer, cooking for about 2 minutes longer.
5) Clear a space in the broth for the soba noodles. Submerge in the broth and simmer until cooked through and just barely tender, about 3 minutes. Adjust seasoning--add a little agave or salt if needed.
6) Garnish with the fresh herbs, to taste. Open Weyerbacher Zotten. Enjoy together.

Zotten is a new special-release offering from an Easton, PA craft brewery called Weyerbacher who make pretty damn killer specialty brews. They're a local outfit who like to bill themselves as being artisanal, which is perfectly fair--they don't brew too much and let anything lose consistency, while on the other hand they make an impressive variety of seasonal styles. Specifically, the Zotten is an American Pale Ale, so very crisp and clean with Centennial and Cascade hops, but brewed with a Belgian abbey yeast strain. The stuff is good. You should drink it in a garden.

This is me smiling in my garden. I'm smiling for three reasons: first, I love my garden. Second, I am not shoveling the mulch you see underfoot. Last week the garden administrator ambushed Gabe and me as we were coming out the front door of our apartment building.

NANCY: We just got these three forests' worth of mulch delivered free of charge in seventeen city dumptrucks. It's all sitting right here in a big pile. And as you can see, here are several extra shovels.

US: Awesome. That is so tight.

NANCY: There are some wheelbarrows over there.

US: You must feel really comfortable being so equipped for any eventuality.

NANCY: Since the mulch is on the sidewalk and it's going to rain in an hour or so, how would you feel about grabbing a shovel?

US: Poor. We feel pretty unenthusiastic about that idea, in all honesty. We were steps away from the subway. Well. Ok, fine.

So with stellar arguments like that backing you, what you end up doing for the next hour--wearing little black leather pumps, no less, and hell yes the gents on our street laughed at me--is shoveling mulch. If you're me, and you're starting to crack and you see kids coming down the sidewalk, you also start saying things under your breath like, "Hey kid, wanna play a shovel game?" I tell you, with Dominicans, that proposal goes over like a lead balloon. I think my favorite moment came when one of my fellow shovelers remarked in rapt shock (and also in Spanish) after about forty minutes of this that I hadn't put down my shovel once, and I replied (in English), "Setting my shovel down is no way to make this pile of mulch my bitch."

But I digress. The third reason I'm smiling is that the garden is so much better this year than in years past. You would not believe the sort of crap people used to sling at each other in this joint, while other more docile people sat shivering and hugging themselves behind the tool shed murmuring, "I like plants. Why? Why choose rage? Why are the hoes sharpened to knife points? Dear God. I like plants so much." This place used to be a seething hotbed of Machiavellian political intrigue, a place where being feared, or loved, or both, was not enough--you needed a mastodon with distemper. But this year...this year is going so well. And see? We have mulch. That's why I'm smiling. More to come in the next installment of Beer Meets Food's EXTREME SUMMER GARDEN SERIES.