A guilty woman’s tour of New York

There are lots of ways to see New York. As a tourist, you go to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Central Park. If you’re an art lover, you head straight to the Metropolitan Museum and, especially if you like saying it out loud, MOMA.

If you’re me, you eat a lot, discover a whole lot of what you don’t know, and feel guilty about both.

Take this for example.

Wouldn't we all

Thanks a lot, David Barton Gym. This is supposed to be motivational, I know, and in a world where there are TV series featuring serial killers as heros and chemistry teachers making meth, I shouldn’t be surprised. The sign looks a bit strange because like a lot of New York buildings, it’s being renovated and the scaffolding protects passers-by. Who presumably have murder on their minds.

But of course, after a couple days taking huge, salt-and-butter laden bites out of the Big Apple, I was starting to think such ghoulish thoughts sounded good.

Visiting my sister Cara, chef of a darling restaurant, Cafe Ghia in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, means eating. A lot. She and our other sister, her twin Leah, are only 30 years old and ridiculously active. A few 1,000 calorie “starters” (what we in New York are now calling appetizers) sit lightly on their yoga-trimmed and cycle-pared thighs. Add 18 years and a lot of sitting around on your ass blogging, and such delights tend to drag down one’s derriere considerably.

So there’s that guilt trip: eat your way across New York and no matter how much walking up and down stairs to the subway you do, you still arrive back home in Kentucky with a newly minted double chin and a drawer full of jeans you can’t zip.

Chelsea HotelHere’s something else: The Hotel Chelsea. Heard of it? Maybe? Well, maybe I had too.

“It’s famous for something,” Leah allowed, as we walked past it to get to the Doughnut Plant next door. (Mmmm doughnuts. See above.)

“Well, it’s also closed,” I announced, seeing the sign on the door.

“Probably bedbugs,” was my mother’s Regis and Kelly-informed opinion.

Well, as it turns out, it too was being renovated, as a group of pretty good-looking guys rolling giant iron carts to the curb told me. Their accents were as thick as the iron too. I felt like I was in On the Waterfront. They couldda been contendas!

As it was, they approved of my photographing the building, wisely acknowledging its fame. I snapped away, wondering, what for?

Leonard Cohen! I know right?Ah, how good of the Chelsea, to provide historical-markeresque plaques for the rubes from the hinterlands. Reading along, I learned this was the famous hotel where writers would go to write, holed up in their New York-fueled frenzy, churning out Pulitzer Prize winning novels and one Great American Novel after another.

Welcome to the ChelseaGuess what? Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while at the Chelsea and oh, who else stayed there? Just a few nobodies like Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, who wrote On the Road there.

Good stuff! Why then, the guilt? Oh, because I majored in LITERATURE for Pete’s sake! Literature of the English language! The literature written by people like Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac. You’d think the name “Chelsea” might have penetrated my consciousness at some point. Not to mention all the musicians who flopped, dropped acid, or were murdered within its walls (Nancy, girlfriend of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Viscious was found murdered there.) I SAW SID AND NANCY!

Ah well, I’m an older, wiser, and more well-traveled woman of the world now. I may have to slap on the Spanx and hold my breath for 15 minutes to get into my jeans now —  but by golly, I’ve eaten octopus and rabbit in Brooklyn and consumed pizza and fried dough in Manhattan. And I’ve stood on the sidewalk before the buildings where John Lennon died (the Dakota) and Nancy Spungen expired (the Chelsea).

Maybe it’s not necessary to do any killing to look better naked. Hanging around  New York literary hotspots might just make me thin by association.

Grab it by the business end

There are at least two Lexington businesses I refuse to patronize, based solely on the names. They could be marvelous purveyors of their chosen products and I’m doing myself a vast disservice by sticking my nose in the air, my fingers down my throat and braying loudly for the world to hear: “There is no way on God’s green earth I would ever buy a Big Ass Fan.”

Not that there’s any danger of me needing any  large, energy efficient industrial ceiling fans or commercial ceiling fans — but as I find out on their website, they now deal in residential ceiling fans. So perhaps there is cause for concern. But no matter: I restate. It would be a cold day in hell before I would blythely purchase anything so crassly named. Not because I’m a prude, mind you — ask anyone I work with, or my husband for that matter and you’ll learn I’m apt to curse like a sailor if the occasion warrants. No I just object to the reality-TV shaped world around us, which has led us to the conclusion that Big Ass is a perfectly good name for a serious company.

I’m certainly not the first person to notice Big Ass — they’ve garnered world-wide attention with their audacious marketing, which is apparently paying off in sales. Cretins the world over are responding. What, I ask, is next? Where do you draw the line? Cool as Shit Air Conditioning Inc.? Fuckin-A Furnaces?

No — the secret to successful vulgarity is strictly in naming your company with the business end in mind. See Butt Rubb BBQ, a restaurant near my home. Clearly, in order to capture the public’s imagination, you’ve gotta keep the behind in mind.

Despite my nearly 10 years as a vegetarian, I now enjoy barbecue and eat it semi-regularly, thanks to a husband who grew up in Owensboro, Ky., the middle of a barbecue-obsessed region of the state, Western Kentucky.  Oh I started slowly … deigning only to eat chicken in my vegetarian-to-omnivore transition years. Which is why my family still hoots about the time, at an elementary-school sports banquet catered by another local barbecue restaurant, I heartily dove into the “chicken” barbecue. The thing was, I was pregnant, uncomfortable, bored, and starving —  to hell with vegetarianism today, I gotta eat. On and on I went about the deliciousness of this chicken barbecue. On the way home, Claire tentatively asked, “Uh, Mom you know that was pork barbecue, right?”

But I digress.

My problem with naming your product Butt Rubb Barbecue is the ridiculous statements you end up making …

“What’d y’all do last night?”

“Oh, I got some butt rub.”

You see the problem.

“What’s this charge on your expense account here, Bob? Big Ass what?”
“It has nothing to do with my trip to Bangkok, Jim. Just go stick your nose back in your spreadsheet and keep it out of my ass.”

I blame reality TV, which has made the nauseatingly outrageous antics of the side-show segment of the population as common as dirt. But I also point a finger at politics where in places as composed and deferential as Wisconsin, people are flipping the bird at one another as a matter of course.

I can’t say that I’ve come to any conclusions about all this. I’ve completely neglected to mention the restaurant that has caused me to make abundant sour faces for years, Hooters, which coyly uses an owl in its logo design like we don’t know what the thrust of the place really is. I only know that in Lexington, at least, if you want to achieve international success and/or a really sweet level of notoriety, just come up with a name for your business that is guaranteed to make you the butt of lots of jokes.

Don’t worry, though: in this climate it definitely won’t come back and bite you in the ass.

Perfect pizza

I’ve become a little obsessed lately with homemade pizza because frankly, if I may modestly say so, it’s delicious and far better than any pizza I’ve ever eaten — either in a restaurant or in anyone’s home.

Yes, yes, I’ve been to Chicago. Yes, I know about New York. I’m sure you have your favorite chain pizza pie that you’d rather eat than anything else. But part of the reason I like my pizza is that I’ve refined it over time, added things that worked and dropped the things that didn’t, won a whole family full of fans, and developed a product that, when consumed as leftovers the next day at work, inspires slitty eyed envy among my coworkers.

Not that this is the main benefit, of course.

I have a bread machine, and in it I make the crust. If you have one, you probably have a crust recipe. Here’s mine.

Pizza Crust

Add ingredients in order listed. Time in bread machine: about 2 hours

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 and one-half teaspoons yeast for bread machines

Set machine to white dough setting. When it beeps after kneading, add one teaspoon dried basil, one tablespoon wheat germ, and one tablespoon Ralston whole-wheat cereal (optional).

When dough finishes, allow to sit in the bread machine at least 15 minutes. Punch down and divide into two discs.

Here’s is where I probably differ from the purists: I roll out my dough with a rolling pin. Yes, all the recipes tell you to push it out into a circle with your fingers. Bah. It never goes into a circle. I love my crust rolled into a perfect circle and if it compresses it, I can’t tell and it still tastes great. So roll away!

Oil two pizza pans with olive oil. Roll out dough into gorgeous perfect circles and lay then in your pans. Drizzle with olive oil and use a pastry brush to coat the surface. Top with your favorite toppings, bake 20 minutes and serve.

And now for my astonishingly good pizza sauce recipe!

Pizza Sauce

1 large can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes, including juice

1 can tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon dried parsley

Parmesan cheese to taste (about 1/4 cup)

Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and blend until smooth. Add more salt if necessary. Makes enough for about three pizzas, so you’ll have sauce left over if you’re making your own crust.

Here’s an array of toppings. I usually also include some spinach, which I wilt slightly in the microwave first, then drape across the pizza. Sauteed eggplant that’s been cut into tiny pieces is great. Also good is Onion-Cheese topping, which you can use in place of tomato sauce, or in addition to.

Onion-Cheese Topping

2 medium onions, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oil in a small pan. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until the onions caramelize. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then add cheeses. Stir well.

Put your pizzas on the lowest racks; what I normally do is give each one half-time on the low rack. One of my pans has lots of holes on the bottom, so it usually spends more time on the top.

What are your favorite toppings? Share your pizza secrets here!

Bless you, my children

Today is Good Friday, a day I thought I’d invite Pope Benedict XVI to the blog to bless each and every one of you as you prepare your hearts, minds and souls for Easter Sunday.

I took this photo several years ago, obviously at Christmas time, at the Buca di Beppo in Louisville, a completely fun dining experience. The whole place is rigged out like a 1950s Italian-American Catholic family restaurant, or something. I’m not sure precisely what they’re trying to convey, other than hilarity. You also have to walk through the kitchen to get to the restaurant. Inexplicably, there are framed granny-panties on the wall of the women’s restroom.

Anyway, if you have a big crowd, like we did, you can request the Pope Room, which features a lot of pictures of popes both past and present. In the center of the table, behold, a bust of the current pontiff. The first time I went, John Paul II was the resident pope.

I’ve had popes on the brain since earlier this week, too, when I moped about Goober Shoes. My friend Alert Reader Holly — yes I totally stole that from Dave Barry — let me know that the Pope’s shoes actually have their own Facebook Fan page. (Yes, I “liked” it. What did you expect?)

Snap! They’re red and they’re gorgeous. They’re not wingtips, but they’re certainly wasted on a man for heaven’s sake. Well, he is The Man when it comes to the Catholic Church, so I’ll give him a pass. Wear those red shoes, Benedict!

Can’t you just imagine the Easter Bonnet with these babies?

Wait a minute. Why is it so hot in here? What am I doing in this handbasket?

Have a blessed Easter, everyone.