The Beauty of the Brownie

23 07 2008

First, thanks to all who racked their brains to come up with food ideas for Marina. We did indeed end up with some great suggestions.

In the end, I think the winner turned out to be the brownie, which is an often overlooked American food, but a goodie (pun intended) nonetheless. And she went home with not just any old brownies. No, I sent Marina on a mission to one of my favorite places in New York City: the industrial-chic gourmet garden that is the Chelsea Market.

This cavernous brick building is lined with some of the best-smelling shops in the city, which in turn sell some of the best-tasting foods. It’s also an American food icon in its own right, given that it’s the former headquarters of none other than Nabisco, maker of such all-American favorites as the Oreo Cookie and Barnums Animal Crackers. Today it’s got something to make any foodie happy, from the creamery to the Italian market. (It is also, I might add, a favorite haunt of the Russo parents when they visit.)

Perhaps the strongest and most decadent smell that comes from the Chelsea Market (disregarding the occasional fragrance of fish, of course) wafts blissfully out of Fat Witch, purveyors of, in their words—and I wholeheartedly agree, “Manhattan Magic,” aka the best brownies. Ever. I was first turned on to Fat Witch early in my New York experience by a good friend, Terri, who had it at the top of “must do in Manhattan” list when she visited. One bite of fudgy goodness and I understood why.

These brownies are everything a brownie should be: dense (without being too heavy), chocolately and incredibly delicious. And with varietals so like the Snow Witch (white chocolate brownie) and the Red Witch (with dried cherries) there is one to satisfy every craving. There are even Brownie Babies for those times when “just a bite” is enough (read: NEVER).

And so, off Marina goes to Brazil, with an I Heart NY T-shirt and bag full of Fat Witches. And I, perhaps, have found the alfajor of North America.

An Addendum

18 07 2008

I am still thinking about Marina and her food question. Had a long conversation with Jessica last night and it seems the answer always comes back to apple pie. Or any pie I suppose. They do indeed call it American Pie, don’t they?

Anyhow I think perhaps we’re on to something with the BBQ sauce suggestion, and I will definitely check into root beer as well, which makes me think of an interesting travel tidbit. Many moons ago, when I spent a month in the car with two college girlfriends gallivanting across the country, we found ourselves in Atlanta.

Now, there is much to see and do in Atlanta, but when you’re just passing through you must be selective. Here is what we chose to do: 1) gorge ourselves on everything Johnny Rockets had to offer since we hadn’t eaten in, I think it was 22 hours? 2) Wander around downtown and in Underground Atlanta, which happens to be a pretty cool, uh…shopping mall. And 3) Visit the World of Coca Cola. Yes, there is actually a World of Coca Cola, and in that world one learns various facts about the sweet carbonated substance. The most memorable part, however, was neither the “world’s largest collection of Coke memorabilia,” nor was it the “fully functioning bottling line,” but the tasting room.

At the end of the tour one finds oneself in a tasting room with more than 60 different varietals of soda. Yes, we tasted various types of coke and coke-like products from all over the world, including, but not limited to, some terrible concoction made with an excess of ginger (no, it was not ginger ale) that I remember coming from Italy. At the end of our tour around the world via coke we were all—as can only be imagine after 60-plus tastings of random sticky sweet substances, AND more Johnny Rockets than is USDA recommended—feeling rather sick.

A few conclusions to this story:

1) It hadn’t occurred to me (or for a long time at least) how much the varietals of soda can be definitive of different cultures. In Spain, for example, I was addicted to Fanta Mandarina, even though I never drank orange soda at home. Fanta Mandarina is entirely different, and I even tried Orange Fanta in South America, but it simply wasn’t the same.

2) Today I discovered that Inca Kola is also made by Coca Cola, (but has its own, very cool, site), meaning that I most likely tasted ithe electric green substance which is ubiquitous in Peru, many years ago; in Atlanta of all places. For those who are wondering, Inca Kola resembles Mountain Dew in color, but is much more similar to Cream Soda in taste. That or bubblegum.

Sabor del Peru

3) Root Beer might just be the thing for Marina to take home, though I worry about her suitcase.

4) Thinking about the World of Coke reminds me why I don’t really drink soda any more. Except when I’m in a foreign place and have to try their version…

Doing as the Peruvians do (with a Spaniard - there's that shrinking world again).

Small, Small World – And a Conundrum

18 07 2008

For people who love to travel, the world seems like a very big place. Massive. As in, It’s-so-huge-that-I’ll-never-possibly-get-to-all-the-places-I-want-to-go GIGANTIC.

But then there are times when something will happen to make you realize how small the world really is. Like, for example, when you meet a girl in Buenos Aires (who happens to be from London), and she then becomes a great friend. It’s an even smaller world when that initial girl emails and says that her friend (who happens to be from Brazil) is going to be in New York.

And so one Sunday afternoon you find yourself in the Lower East Side (of New York) drinking beer (from Belgium) with Marina (from Brazil) who met Liz (from London) at Carnaval (in Brazil)—and you’re all linked through Argentina (from which no one involved happens to hail). Whew. Looks like travel makes it a small world after all. Sorry for annoying song reference. It was inevitable.

True story? Funny you should ask. Yes. It most certainly is a true story. I showed lovely Marina around New York on Sunday, and marveled at her marveling at New York (and the fact that she had yet to meet a New Yorker who was actually from New York). Then on Tuesday I went with Marina to see the New York Philharmonic play (for free) in Central Park. Through her met numerous other small world souls (from all over the world) through an organization called Couchsurfing, which requires a blog all its own but for today’s purposes helps travelers meet people and find free places to stay (making the world less expensive and thus smaller).

And now for the conundrum. The great thing about having someone in town who isn’t even from America is that you really get to see New York (and the US) through a different lens. And you find yourself explaining things that seem so commonplace, such as leaving your credit card at the bar to keep a tab open and what is a Zagat.

But then there was a question I couldn’t answer. “What types of food are very American?” Simple enough, right? Hot dog. Apple pie. Watermelon? (And then I get stuck in things like hamburgers that seem repetitive.) But it turns out there was more to the question: one goes to Italy and brings home Limoncello; you get champagne from France, alfajores from Argentina (you didn’t think I’d not mention those, did you?). But what should Marina take back to Brazil from America?

And hence the conundrum. I have no answer. She surely wouldn’t bring back hot dogs. Or apple pie or watermelon for that matter. Bourbon is American, but who wants to bring that back? If she were in San Francisco I would suggest Ghirardelli chocolate, but given we’re in New York that won’t do. And thus I’m stumped. So. Thoughts? If anyone can shed light on this little dilemma, please, please enlighten me. And Marina.