moss terrarium

This was easy to do and brings a bit of the forest into my life. It is the first thing I see when I turn off the alarm. Take a glass cylinder and put some rocks at the bottom for drainage. add soil and then the moss. Keep moist and out of direct sunlight.

This is the forest it came from –  in November before the snow.

wines for the holiday table from the east village wine geek

Keith Beavers is passionate about wine. He loves to drink it and he loves to talk about it. He gets visibly excited when you walk in with your grocery bags, tell him what you are going to cook and ask would he please recommend a wine for it. He will then dart around the store waving his hands at bottles talking about fruit and tannins. He is geeky but accessible. It makes sense in the end, the wine is always excellent with the meal and you learn. He is the East Village wine geek and the purveyor of the Alphabet City Wine Company located right on Loisaida Avenue (Avenue C), and established in 2007.

I asked him for ideas about choosing wines for the winter holiday table. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, even though you see ads everywhere showing Thanksgiving turkeys with mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles, Keith points out that the US is multicultural and people bring dishes from their own cultures to the table. In his home, with an Italian background, lasagna was served alongside the turkey. In my family home, the turkey was served with white rice and black beans instead of mashed potatoes.

So, Keith suggests you choose a wine that will work with all the flavors on the table. For whites, aim for a crispy wine with nice fruit such as a Pinot Grigio or wine made from the Pecorino grape. A Chardonnay is also good but you should ask your wine merchant to suggest one with minimal oak. “If it’s got too much oak you will lose the complexity of the Chardonnay”, says Keith. For reds, he suggests wine with medium body, with a good balance of acidity and fruit. Ask for a red that is “fruit forward and dry”, that will give you a good balance for the variety of the food served. A Montepulciano will get you there or maybe a Pinot Noir.

Bottom line is find a wine merchant you trust says Keith. They should know all the wines in their store and should not be pretentious. They should not talk down to you and they should have a range of price points in their store. The majority of wines at Alphabet City Wine Company are between ten and twenty dollars. I asked Keith why he named the shop Alphabet City and he said because it grounds him to the community, it is not an abstract name, it is a place, it is tangible and rooted. Recently he was in a wine bar in Paris at 2am and he set his business card down on the bar for someone. He realized then that he carries Loisaida around with him.

olga’s cuban black beans

This is my mother’s black bean recipe. She let me tinker with it a little when I grew up and we would cook Christmas Eve dinner together. She used to use Goya beans and one day I brought organic beans and after that she never wanted to see another Goya bean again. She used to put in a splash of wine for the acidity and one day I asked if we could try balsamic vinegar and she liked it much better. Beans do not photograph well, so there are photos of the cook instead.

Always use organic beans. Not only do they taste better, they also cook up faster. Since beans take hours to cook, I always cook 2lbs at one time and freeze half in smaller containers to defrost later for easy weekday meals. These beans are very healthy as they are vegetarian and have almost no fat (only a bit of olive oil which is good for you).

Olga and her dog Belinda

Olga before she knew how to cook black beans

1st step – make sofrito, which is a tomatoey base used in Latin American cooking that is inherited from Spain. There are different versions of sofrito by country. What I outline here is the Cuban version. I cook up a batch and then freeze in small containers holding about 3 or 4 tablespoons each or wrap in plastic and put the little bundles in a freezer bag to pull out one by one as needed for future bean cooking. It is truly a base for many dishes. You can add the sofrito to chicken, meat, fish, or starchy veggies such as potatoes or eggplant, or as a topping to polenta to add flavor.

Splash of olive oil in a sauté pan
1 med to large yellow onion
1 med green pepper
1 med red pepper
2 to 5 crushed garlic cloves
1 large can crushed tomatoes – try to get the ones from Italy
Fresh or very good quality dried oregano (I use the Dominican oregano found in Latin American groceries)
Salt and black pepper

Sauté the garlic, onions, peppers until soft. Add the crushed tomato and spice. Stir and cook till tomato thickens and is no longer soupy. It should be very fragrant and turn from a red color to an orangey red color. Cool then freeze in 3 – 4 tbs portions.

2 lbs organic black (turtle) beans
Balsamic vinegar (2 tbs)
Sugar (2 tbs)
Olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper
3 tbs sofrito

Soak the beans overnight if you want to save cooking time but organic beans cook up pretty fast. Cover the beans with 2 inches of water (do not add salt till they are fully cooked). Boil the beans medium heat till soft – about 2 hours. Stir periodically to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add more water if needed.

When the beans are fully cooked add the sofrito, sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. You can add a little splash of red wine for flavor too and if you wish, a bit more olive oil. Simmer for at least 2 hours stirring every once in a while to make sure they don’t stick. When the broth is thickened and no longer soupy and thin, they are done. You can speed up the thickening by spooning out about a half cup of beans and mashing them with a fork and putting them back in. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning.

got the vanity

I searched for a bathroom vanity for two years. I found only two options for miniscule New York bathrooms, either a cheap pressboard thing like I had before or super expensive designer type vanities that looked like they were meant for someone’s foyer bathroom. Everything nice and well-priced was too wide.

This pressboard vanity was installed in all the apartments in 92

I thought about taking an existing piece of furniture and sawing holes in it for the pipes and plopping a vessel sink on the top. I scoured Ebay. I looked at adapting nightstands which are narrow. I kept my eyes open at yard sales and went to Gothic Cabinet and found nothing that was under 25 inches wide, looked good, had storage and did not cost a thousand dollars. Finally, I found Ikea hit all the notes with their Godmorgon series of vanities, sinks and faucets. The whole shabang – vanity, sink and fancy faucet cost me $360!

Ikea Godmorgon vanity in grey

Godmorgon vanity with Odensvik sink and Dalskar faucet

In a tiny bathroom you have to have storage

almost done

The light coming into the bathroom is blinding after we lived with dark green slate for so many years. I wanted a deep bathtub but cast iron was beyond the budget so I opted for an acrylic Kohler Archer tub. The toilet is a water saving dual flush with clean lines – Toto Aquia II.

dual flush toilet

deep soaking tub and white marble shelving in the niche

bathroom floor is in!

Finally, the Cuban floor tiles that I chose were installed. They are from the Cuban Heritage Collection at Villa Lagoon Tile. They are encaustic cement tiles. Tiles like these are prevalent in other places like Spain and Morocco. The technique came to Havana Cuba in the late 1800s and local designers quickly developed patterns that were unique to Cuba. This book Havana Tile Designs is a good source of patterns.

floor tiles installed