Music: Celia Cruz – Ritmo, Tambó y Flores
Some of my best memories of NY come from a wobegone time (5 years ago) when I would visit James and his old roommate Greg at their apartment in Greenpoint. I was much younger then and Greenpoint was only just simmering with the young folk. They lived in a beautiful building called The Astral. The Astral was built in 1875 as a residence for the Astral oil workers (Pratt Institute was built by the same architects). (Speaking of oil, Greenpoint was affected by the largest domestic oil spill in the history of the United States – starting with a leakage from the refineries in the 1950’s, it wasn’t discovered how massive the spill was until the 1970’s when the Coast Guard observed an oil streak up river into Queens)
James and his friends fondly nicknamed the building “The Ass-trail”…I had always thought this was because of how dumpy it was (turns out it is actually because of a plethora of good looking women who took up residence here). It seemed each time I would come to The Astral there would be an obscene amount of trash in front of the building…I’m talking a behemoth amount of trash; mattresses, desks, chairs, couches, you get the idea. Me, in my naivete, just assumed there was a lot of people moving out of the building all the time and they didn’t need their stuff. WRONG! I don’t know how, but James and Greg’s apartment was somehow a fortress against the growing bedbug population in The Astral that could not be reckoned with. This is why one does not go dumpster diving for furniture finds.
One day I went to take a shower in their apartment. My eyes focused on the black mold slowly growing in the corner. By the end of that summer that black mold (yes, I realize the significance of black mold but it wasn’t my apartment!) had sprouted mushrooms! I could go on and on and on about the internal shenanigans of The Astral (dog poop in the hallways, the super who staged pornographic photo shoots in the courtyard, you get the idea) but it really was a special place. From their apartment you had an unobstructed view of Manhattan and at sunrise, nothing could compare to this image. And I’ve failed to mention the proximity to the best Polish food in the nation!
We spent many a great night watching films, drinking booze and doing all sorts of other late night activities til dawn. B12A’s (the apartment #) crew ebbed and flowed (James and I jumped in half way through the apartment’s life) but most of the central characters remained the same. Over time we’ve gone our separate ways; us deeper into Brooklyn, Jamie and Katheryn around the corner, Greg and Sara even further into Brooklyn and Laura to film school in the Midwest.
To honor a forgotten time we made a feast for old friends. We had aforementioned folk over to eat a vegan small plates. We served empanadas, homemade bruschetta, hummus, roasted peppers and because I can’t live without cheese (even if this is supposed to be vegan) a wheel of baked brie with dried cranberries, pine nuts and brown sugar.
What you’ll need for the empanada dough (generally this calls for butter and eggs but I replaced those with vegetable oil and tofu and it worked wonderfully).2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup cold vegetable oil
1/4 cup whipped tofu
1/3 cup ice water 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in oil with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) lumps.
- Beat together tofu, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork.
- Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)
- Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together.
- Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.
- When you are ready to make empanadas, cut dough into halves and then each half into fifths.
- Roll small dough parts into circles.
- Place filling on one side of circle and fold over to create a half moon.
- Press two sides together with forks.
- Bake on 375 for 25 minutes.
1/2 cup good olive oil 1/2 cup chopped shallots (2 large) 1 tsp. kosher salt 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 4 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- Dice all the mushrooms and put them together in a bowl.
- Heat the olive oil in a large (11 – inch) Dutch oven or saucepan.
- Add the shallots and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.
- Add the mushrooms, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat for 8 minutes, until they are tender and begin to release their juices, stirring often.
- Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Toss in the parsley, sprinkle with salt.
For the Roasted Peppers: (This is my mother’s recipe)8 peppers (red, green, hot, mild – any) 4 cloves of whole garlic 1/3 cup of olive oil
- Roast the peppers in the broiler or on grill until skins start to brown, but don’t burn them. Watch carefully.
- Turn and roast each side for equal amount of time (around 10 minutes)
- Remove peppers from oven/grill and place in large paper bag, let cool about 10 minutes.
- While inside the paper bag (so juices don’t spill everywhere) peel skins from peppers. They should remove easily.
- Tear peppers into thin strips and place in medium sized bowl.
- Drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. Mix in garlic.
What you’ll need for the hummus: (I don’t know where I got this recipe from).4 garlic cloves, minced and then mashed 2 15-oz cans of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed 2/3 cup of tahini (roasted, not raw). 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 teaspoon of salt Pine nuts (toasted) and parsley (chopped) for garnish
- In a food processor, combine the mashed garlic, garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, 1/2 cup water, and olive oil.
- Process until smooth.
- Add salt, starting at a half a teaspoon, to taste.
What you’ll need for the Brie wheel: (I took this from a wedding shower I went to once a long time ago)
- Place Brie on small baking sheet.
- Put on brown sugar first, then nuts and cranberries.
- Bake in oven on 350 for 15 minutes until cheese and sugar are melted.
And for your reading pleasure, someone with similar perspective!