December 27, 2009

Why I wished I lived in Santa Monica, or at least spent, say, every February here

In a word, the Santa Monica farmer's market. I've been here less than a week, but have already been to this market twice. It's hard to get over strawberries, blueberries and rhubarb in December, a time when growers are deserting New York City's green markets, and all you can find is some squash and apples. And if you miss that frozen feeling underfoot, the city has just opened it's own little outdoor skating rink at 5th Street and Santa Monical Boulevard.

December 25, 2009

Christmas Lights

My latest foray into Brooklyn was to tour the over-the-top Christmas decorations of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, Brooklyn with my favorite Brooklyn guide Tony Muia. Tony likes to brag about Brooklyn's size and clout: its population is bigger than Boston's and Philadelphia's combined, and it claims everone from W.H. Auden to Shelley Winters as native sons and daughters.
We even passed the high school of Scott Baio! Another thing is that no one does Christmas lights like the residents Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. 84th Street is ground zero for the lights extravaganza in the latter neighborhood, a warren of large mansions owned by guys who allegedly made their fortunes in cigars or selling Porsches. Residents hire professionals to deck their houses out with inflatable Santas, giant nutcrackers, nativity scenes and choirs of angels. The bigger the displays the better, and gaudy is good. Con Ed bills can run up for $10,000 a month, and one guy even set up his own radio station so passersby can tune into his Christmas music and watch a computer coordinated lights display on two adjacent homes.

This week we're in Los Angeles, where we've viewed Christmas lights in Santa Monica, Hancock Park and Monterey Park. The residents of St. Alban's Road in San Marino drape their monumental evergreens with colored bulbs every year, but it's more stately than in-your face.For sheer zaniness nothing compares to Italian- and Irish-American Brookyn. And the end of the tour canoli stop at Mona Lisa Pastry Shoppe and Cafe? Priceless.

Have a Merry Christmas!

December 6, 2009

Myers of Keswick

I had a lot of fun last week with the two Myers behind the West Village British grocery store Myers of Keswick, Peter Myers and his daughter Jennifer Myers Pulidore. This year, the Hudson Street shop is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I love it because it’s my go-to source for PG Tips tea, scones, McVitie’s HobNobs, and for Husband’s beloved Maynard’s Wine Gums, which are gummy bears that aspire to more complex flavors.

Store founder Peter demonstrated how to make authentic Cumberland sausages—a mixture of pork shoulder, loin and belly, salt, white pepper and dried sage and parsley —that have a delicacy of flavor and surface snap that are hard to beat. The recipe was handed down to Peter from his father, Tommy, who ran his own butcher shop in the town of Keswick in England’s Lake District.

Peter, who is retired now but still likes to come around the store during the holiday season to help out, learned how to make the sausages when he was a 14-year-old apprentice butcher, and probably could turn them out in his sleep. He showed me how to extrude the ground meat, spices and herbs into hog intestine casing and then deftly twisted them into a triple-stranded chain of links. “I’m the only Cumbrian making these sausages in New York,” he crowed. Although the shop turns out a variety of sausages, the Cumberland is the only type Peter eats.

His sausages, bangers, meat pies and Cornish pasties have won him a loyal following of ex-pats, including a number of rock stars. Keith Richards had just sent his driver in from Connecticut to pick up four pounds of bangers the day I visited, and Peter says he’s shipped sausages to Rod Stewart and Elton John as well.

Another of Myers of Keswick’s claims to fame is that it’s probably the only shop in the West Village whose cat has her own Facebook account, and was once world famous. In April 2006, Peter’s 11-month-old black cat Molly became trapped between the walls of the building for two weeks. Her plight became a cause célèbre first locally, then nationally and internationally. Satellite dish-equipped trucks in front of the shop stopped traffic. Cat psychics, cat psychologists, and cat fanatics descended on the store and kept vigil around the clock (“Nutters, in my book,” says Myers). The New York Post sent a person dressed up in a mouse outfit to the shop to try to lure Molly out.

Eventually a passerby who lived in the neighborhood (who somehow had remained ignorant of the furor), inquired what was going on. It turned out that he was a sound technician. He went home and came back with a microphone on the end of a fishing rod. After waving it around for a bit, the technician pointed to a wall above the meat counter and said, “She’s there.”

“He was spot on,” says Myers. “We had to drill a hole in the wall. The cat was stuck in a drain pipe.”
I asked Peter’s daughter Jennifer what the store’s most popular products are. Here they are, in no particular order:

Tea: PG Tips or Typhoo
Meat pie: Myers’ own pork pie
Crisp: Walker’s Cheese and Onion
Sweet: Cadbury Flake, a flaky milk chocolate bar which, when stuck in a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is called a “99” for the 99 pence it costs to buy.
Cheese: Stilton or Irish Cheddar
Biscuit: McVitie’s Digestives or HobNobs
Christmas item: Myers’ own mince meat pie

For more on Myers of Keswick, stay tuned for my article on the store in the January/February edition of Edible Manhattan!