Wednesday, September 22, 2010


So. That 25 lb. box of San Marzano tomatoes? Yeah...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cake & Pie

Happy Birthday to me!

Pie? Cake!

Sunday at Ferragosto, we tried to find a bakery to have birthday pastries in. Since it was raining, they were all pretty crowded, so we needed a plan B. Luckily, Jon and I live one block away from Magnolia Bakery.......

I'm not sure how we all still had room for cake after all that food, but somehow, we each found just enough stomach real estate to fit in a GENEROUS slice of one of the best cakes I've ever had. Holy yummy red velvet with buttercream frosting, Batman! I usually am kind of indifferent about cake – a few bites and I'm good – but this one... THIS was GOOD CAKE.

I've never seen anyone frown when they are presented with their birthday cake. I think that no matter how many birthdays you celebrate, you never get tired of seeing your name in icing. It makes you feel... just really really good. I was super flattered and grateful to have gotten a birthday cake from Magnolia, and it cemented the fact once again, that I have the most best family ever.

Then, as per usual, the family birthday picture. It only took us a few tries to get it right.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I had bruises on my fingers Sunday morning.

ON MY FINGERS! From derby! I have no idea how they got there, but in my first moments of the day, I already knew one thing for certain. As I began to assess my bodily damage from the prior night's game, I rolled over, a few joints popped, and I uttered my first words of the day:

"Jon, the only thing that will make me feel better today is lots of Italian sausage."

Enter the family Danna.

Since Tuesday is the last birthday of my twenties, I decided that we should meet on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and go to the Ferragosto festival. Ferragosto is an Italian holiday from way back in pre-Christian Rome that celebrated the harvest time and the end of the growing cycle.

How do you celebrate Ferragosto? With lots of food and drink, of course!

Although it's been on my to do list for years, I have never been to Arthur Avenue and was really excited that the day was finally here. Arthur Avenue is a neighborhood in the Bronx often referred to as the real Little Italy of NYC. It has all of the shops, restaurants, history, and... let's call it character, that you get from the Little Italy in Manhattan, but without the tourists. The shops there have been around for generations and boast the best imported and fresh specialty Italian foods in the city.

I was a bit apprehensive about going on a day where there was going to be a street fair. People who live in NYC know that if you've been to one street fair, you've been to them all. No matter what the occasion or neighborhood, every street fair is a generic cookie cutter copy of the last, lined with the same handful of bulk food vendors, offering exactly the same lineup of bulk concessions: deep-fried dough things, gyros, sausage and peppers, gyros, grilled corn, gyros, smoothies and let's not forget the gyros. Throw in a bunch of tents selling weird wholesale clothes, tube socks and discounted overstocked crappy housewares and ta-da! A NYC street fair!

I mean, don't get me wrong, when confronted with a street fair, I'll stop for a snack of fried Oreos or an ear of corn, but as far as uniqueness and authenticity goes, these things are more annoying than the traffic they cause. Even the Feast of San Gennaro is partially guilty of the street fair curse!

Was Ferragosto going to be just another clone?

Porcetta, classic Italian roast pig


Instead of the generic street vendor parade, Ferragosto was all about the neighborhood. The restaurants extended their seating to the sidewalk so you could sit in the middle of the festivities. Commedia dell'arte performers roamed the streets. A majority of the shops had set up tents outside their storefronts and were serving up a great big smorgasbord of Italian goodness. (Can I use the word smorgasbord in a post about Italian food? Hmm.) Meat shops were cooking homemade sausage, porcetta and braciola. Bakeries were filling cannoli to order. Mozzarella makers were pulling cheese (and giving samples!). The seafood shop was shucking fresh clams and oysters – just walk your ass over to the counter and order up a few, slurp, pay and walk away.

The Danna family stuffing our faces as usual

Zeppoles, of course

A sfogliatelle. It's like the flakiest croissant and the creamiest cheese danish had a beautiful Italian love child. And this one was still warm from the oven!

Yes, I know. Pizza is everywhere. But not this pizza. Holy shit. Just, holy delicious shit

There were even a few cigar shops. Arthur Avenue Cigar Shop was rolling cigars right on the street.

Remember the part in Godfather II when they're in Cuba? Yeah...

When you got sick of eating – I laugh at the mere thought – there was always inside the shops to explore as well.

"What is it, Jon?"

Lardo is hard pig fat cured with herbs such as rosemary. You can slice it thin and eat it like any other cured meat. It can also be rendered down and used for cooking fat. There it is dangling from the pipe.

One of my favorites as a kid... along with pickled pig's feet. Not so much anymore...

Perhaps just some Nutella. But please note that the stack of jars came up to my thigh! HUGE NUTELLA!

Jon practicing his hand at being an Italian mom

I'm pretty sure this is what Jon pictures when he imagines walking into Heaven

"Jon, can you fit that cheese in your bag? What if we fold it?"
I think I am going to request that my house be made out of biscotti bricks. Mortar of chocolate glaze please

And what's a celebration without a little entertainment?

No, these are not the commedia dell'arte clowns. That's my family.

Extra credit if you can name that singer. I'll even give you a hint:

It's Dominic Chianese! Bronx native and actor who has appeared in The Sopranos and The Godfather II. Crazy? Crazy appropriate!

I will readily admit that hearing Uncle Junior from The Sopranos sing "That's Amoré" in the middle of an Italian festival on Arthur Avenue while eating a sfogliatelle with my loud Italian-American family felt more than a little cliché.

But it still made me smile. Big.

Ché grande giorno!

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

The farmer's market is overrun with tomatoes and hot peppers! It's mid-September, and it's a culinary bull-market! BUY BUY BUY!

Saturday at Union Square Farmer's Market. Pre-derby game. Coffee, cash and an empty tote bag...

This creepy guy is a "lion's mane" mushroom

Please don't stab the Italians

Not pictured is the gigantic 25 lb. box of San Marzano tomatoes we bought... stay tuned...

More from vacationland

So we went to Portland. And we ate. A LOT. Aaaand that was just part of our vacation. Off to Jacksonville!

We hopped on a one-hour flight from Portland to Southern Oregon to visit Jon's grandfather, Fa, and see some of his cousins who were also visiting.

We call these planes "Buddy Holly Killers"

Jacksonville is an old mining town set up in the mountains of Southwest Oregon, (a quite beautiful, yet ear-popping car trip). The landscape is like someone mixed a Pacific Northwest mountainy forest with the dryness and heat of a desert, lots and lots of farmland and then threw in a shit load of vineyards for good measure. Now I'm well aware that this type of biome probably has a name, and half of you are probably like, "duh, Sherry, it's a shrubland/montane forest/coniferous wonderland". But to a girl from New Jersey who's opinion of what qualifies as a mountain is quite laughable, it's just crazy – in a good way.

Jacksonville has a very old-timey wild west feeling, especially downtown. 

Downtown Jacksonville (photo from:

Jon and I don't get much outdoor adventure time in NYC, you know, with the pavement and all, so outside activities were certainly in order. There was river swimming, hiking and a trip to the Rogue River for some rafting.

Jon, sporting his "vacation outfit", complete with french-fry print swim trunks

I never get to be in the pictures

Rogue River

Big Andy, little Andrew

As normal as it gets


Robbie: "I'm on vacation. I'm not rowing."

Besides being all adventurous and Boy Scout-y, we also spent a lot of time just relaxing at Fa's house, which is always nice.

View from the back deck

Deer and turkeys run around like pigeons in Jacksonville, except people actually like them

Andrew watering the flowers


A game of pool at the J-Ville Tavern

And of course, it wouldn't be a worthy entry if there wasn't food involved. And if there wasn't food involved, it probably wouldn't be my vacation.

Luckily there's a great farmer's market in Medford, so we headed out to brainstorm and buy supplies for a dinner party for Fa and a few of his good friends.

The food here is so fresh. It comes from farms like, on the other side of those trees

Fresh tricolor corn

So sweet and ripe you can eat it raw! This is such a great treat, something I do with fresh Jersey corn as well

This is the "Sherry stop taking pictures" look. I get that a lot

Then there was a quick stop in Fa's garden for some more fresh pickins. Due to a late frost, there weren't any ripe tomatoes yet, a big bummer since they were SOOOOOOO good last summer, but the abundance of green beans more than made up for it.

And then, it was time to start slaving in the kitchen.

Jon braising the lamb

Here's that look again

I think cooking in someone else's kitchen is a real treat. Besides the game of Memory you play trying to recall in which drawer you saw that meat thermometer, oven mitts, tongs, and measuring cups, it's a really welcome change to be able to fit both of us in a kitchen comfortably. Unlike fabulous Manhattan living, we get to have our very own work spaces – without using the top of the fridge – and don't have to worry about clocking each other in the face every time we reach for a pan. We can actually use the sink and the stove at the same time without wanting to piss for territorial rights, and there are no ankle-nipping cats to look out for underfoot.

And this is what we came up with for dinner, all fresh and all local:

Appetizer of grilled fig and chévre crostini with honey and black pepper.
Local all-natural lamb leg stuffed with baby arugula, chévre and garlic

Green beans in butter sauce with white wine, garlic and morel mushrooms, roasted corn salad and the stuffed lamb

And really, what's a successful dinner party without a decadent dessert? I worked a little magic and a rolling pin and turned these babies:

into this:

I call it the "Black and blue Pie". Get it? Get it? It's a derby pun! HA! And boy was it tasty.

Everyone went to bed stuffed and happy, possibly with crumbs still stuck to their faces.

Note: 8 bottles of wine were consumed between 7 people.

The next morning, our last in Jacksonville, Fa decided that he would make his famous popovers for breakfast. Popovers are like eating a fresh pastry, an omelette and pancakes all rolled up into one delicious, eggy, decadent package.

I have been waiting 3 years for these babies, and oh man was it was worth it! Jon and I make popovers with Fa's recipe occasionally for weekend breakfasts, and they come out really good, but not Fa good.

One last look around the garden, and behold! One perfectly ripe tomato just for me!

Mr. Fly trying to wrestle me away from the delicious tomato. Guess who won?

Somebody had mentioned something about an alpaca farm nearby, so with a little leg clinging and pouty face-ing, a stop on the way out of town was arranged.

STRANGER DANGER! Alpacas on alert

AHH! How could you not love these?!?!


And then, with a little fuzzy alpaca fiber teddy bear from Fa to hold me over until I get my real alpacas and some poop on my flip flop as souvenirs, it was into the rental car and back to Portland for some more food and a plane trip back to reality.

This is Jon's traffic face. This is my cheesy-dance-music-on-the-radio face.

Until we meet again, Fattyland.