That Old Black Magic

It all started with a burger. Or really, a cold, almost lifeless (but still delicious) sliver of a Shake Shack burger that I had saved for my brother. Maybe I should back up ūüôā

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m still reeling that it’s 2016, and probably will be until it’s 2017. Truly I tell you I only got adjusted to 2015 in August. No joke. And all that stuff that people say about life moving faster as you age – all true too. Scary true, actually. So holy crap, it’s 2016!

And as times marches on, so do major life events. My baby brother, the one that I so generously saved the slice of burger for, is expecting a baby boy this summer with his lovely wife, Holly. They couldn’t be more thrilled, and I pretty ecstatic too. You know how much I love spoiling my nephew Jackson and I’m SO looking forward to having another one to dote on!

In the light of all this wonderful news, I decided that Kyle and Holly needed a final hurrah in NYC before life changes forever. I convinced them to come down with me when I drove back down after Christmas and help me ring in the new year. Now, Kyle and Holly had been down to visit me before, but this was all pre-Single Girl. I had so many things to show them, places to take them and people for them to meet.

We managed to cram an insane amount of stuff into the few days they were here, including the usual holiday city stuff and New Year’s Eve celebrating. If I’m being honest, it’s a little bit of a blur. If I’m being super duper honest, there may have been some adult beverages involved in the weekend ūüėČ

Amongst all the fun, last Saturday was a stand out day. Kyle, who is a volunteer fireman, got to witness not one, but TWO firehouse cookie drops and see some pretty big rigs and old FDNY houses. He had requested a few things for the weekend, one of them being that, another to get drinks at Jack’s Fire Dept in Sunnyside (a great local’s spot) and the third being to have a real New York slice. We’re talking pizza, people, and I have to say I was a little nervous about that request. I can satisfy and serve up the other two, no problem. You want to see some firehouses? I know some guys. You want to go drinking at a firemen themed bar? I’m your girl. You want me to take to you to the best pizza in NYC? I got nothing.

My go to pizza of 5/6 years ago was a tiny place on 1st Ave by Theater for the New City called South Brooklyn Pizza. I was introduced to this place while doing a show at TFTNC by some of the cats I was performing with. It was great! Brick oven, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, garlic mash to spread on top. A few years go by and I head down there for a slice and find it has closed. Now I’m¬†really¬†out of ideas.

Like everybody everywhere, I had heard of Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn. And because I’m not an idiot, I know well enough to be wary of something that has been made into a nationwide chain and has become a tourist spot in NYC. I don’t really know much about the pizza game here, other than a whole community and hierarchy exists where you could lose friendships over your choice of pizza. Like a thick crust? You’re not a real New Yorker. Fold your pizza? You might be a terrorist.

I wasn’t about to disappoint my brother, so I set us off on a course to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see what we can google when we get to the other side. In the back of my brain, I remember reading something about a different pizza place, a “real” Grimaldi’s. A quick google search pointed us directly to Juliana’s.

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We pull up to the building, small, white, and somehow ‘clean’, with big picture windows and a red winter door. Written gracefully over the door is ‘Juliana’s’ in simple and feminine script. And as expected (hoped for, even) there is a long line snaking around the front.

We’re greeted by a gentleman checking us in and says it’s about a 45 minute wait. Well, we had just walked all around the city, hadn’t eaten in 7 hours, and I was a little punchy and ready to walk away. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed and we started our chilly wait.

We got antsy pretty quickly and started taking turns going to the deli next door for water and restroom breaks. I guzzled my bottle of water and as I went to throw away my bottle down the street, I saw that three doors down there was a Shake Shack! It was like the heavens opened up and I heard angels sing. In a flash of brilliance, I ordered a burger and fries for the three of us to share as an appetizer in line.

By the time I got back, Kyle was gone and Holly and I were next. Holly and I dove into the bag and decided to be nice and save Kyle a couple bites for when he got back. We ended up being seated before he came back, and I stashed the bag under the table with a few fries and a couple bites of burger.
Once we were settled at our table, I took a look around. The same white, inviting exterior was echoed inside. It was warm, cozy, and bright, decorated with pictures of Ol’ Blue Eyes. We decided on a large Margherita pizza with pepperoni and a nice bottle of Tempranillo.

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I don’t think any of us were actually expecting what came to the table. OH, THE PIZZA. ¬†Black blistered crust, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, flavorful rounds of pepperoni, and the sauce, oh the sauce! The perfect balance of everything you look for in a pizza sauce, in both flavor and ratio. Hey, I may not eat pizza often, but I’m pretty picky about it when I do.

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We all took turns ‘oh my god’-ing and moaning over the flavor explosions that we happening in our mouths and happily finished the whole thing. We paid our check, thanked Michael for the excellent service, and headed out.

Even though we had just eaten an entire pizza, I hadn’t forgotten about that sliver of Shake Shack burger we saved for my brother. I know it sounds gross, but dude – even cold, that stuff is amazing. As Kyle was polishing that off, we chatted with that gentlemen that greeted us when we came, whose name is John. He mentioned he just moved here from the west coast and hadn’t had Shake Shack yet. Say what???? But it’s right next door! I said, “Wait here, I’ll be back in ten!”

Sometimes I get struck with an idea and go with it. This was one of those times. I came back a few minutes later with a burger and fries. I introduced myself, handed over the bag and a card, and said enjoy it, and pass on the kindness, and have a good night!

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The look on John’s face was absolute surprise. “Seriously?”, he said. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” As we walked away, Kyle said kinda quietly, “You know, I kinda wanna start doing this at home.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. Not that he would do something like that, my brother is a great guy. Surprised and, well, proud. Inspiring others to do their own acts of kindness is why I do this. Seeing in action brings me a joy that’s indescribable.

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Which is how I found myself on an A train last night, heading to Juliana’s with a plate of cookies on my lap. ¬†My experience that Saturday was such a positive one – the ambiance, the people, the service, THE PIZZA – that I wanted to return the favor and say ‘thanks’ with a plate of my signature cookies. ¬†My second experience was similar to to the first, but even better. ¬†Throughout the night, I got to meet and chat with the individuals that keep the place running. ¬†There’s Janavia, the cashier with a bright smile who popped up behind me to thank me and tell me how delicious the cookies were. Or the pizza runner who deposited my pie and with a shy smile looked at me and quietly said, “Thank you for the cookies.” ¬†I got to hear about John’s transition from 25 years in sports television to managing an extremely busy and popular restaurant. I even made an Astoria connection with Dave, a server there who lives in the ‘hood! ¬†I haven’t met the man himself yet, but from what I gather, this ‘welcoming in’ and sense of family is just par for the course. ¬†And those are my kind of folks. ¬†After 7 years of being a resident of New York City, and more specifically, an Astoria resident, I’ve finally found a reason to travel to Brooklyn. ¬†I can guarantee you, it has been worth the wait.

Bacon Fat Gingersnaps Recipe

Hey hey hey! ¬†So I know that you all loved my recipe for vanilla cake and vanilla buttercream. ¬†I took them to The Queens Kickshaw where I know they were appreciated, I ate a couple, and I know some of you went home and made this too. ¬†This warms my heart to see such love being spread through baking, and gets me excited to, because I am working on Single Girl Cookies book! ¬†Totally my own things, independent and not sold in any way, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now. I believe i mentioned it before, then got sidetracked with life. ¬†A collection of anecdotes, things I’ve learned along the way, and of course – RECIPES!

Today I want to share with you a really unique recipe that a friend sent to me from the New York Times for gingersnaps, but gingersnaps that call for bacon fat instead of any other fat such as butter or shortening. ¬†Based on a traditional Swedish recipe, these do remind me of Christmas, not only for the ginger part ala gingerbread men, but for the fact that the only time i eat bacon anymore is when I’m home with my family and we are all gathered for breakfast, like at Christmas. ¬†In fact the bacon fat I used for this very batch came from the last time i was home and my mom cooked pounds and pounds of bacon for all of us. ¬†The very¬†first time I made these, I cooked pounds and pounds of bacon and probably ate a pound in the process. ¬†Needless to say, I was a little sick and my apartment smelled like bacon for a week. That being said, these cookies were worth it.

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Bacon Fat Gingersnaps

3/4 cup bacon fat (It took me 2 lbs to get a full 3/4 cup)

1 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsps baking soda (I might try less next time, like 1 1/2 tsps)

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together, cover and put in fridge to chill for a few hours.  I left mine in all day while I was teaching voice lessons.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. ¬†While that is preheating, take the dough and roll into tablespoon size chunks. ¬†Put your extra sugar in a small bowl and roll your doughballs around in there until covered. ¬†Put them on your cookies sheet approximately 2 inches apart. ¬†The original recipe calls for parchment paper or a Silpat or something – I’ve never used anything and never had a problem. You can now choose to flatten them for a flatter, crispier cookie or leave them as balls (like I did this time) which resulted in a thicker, chewier cookie. ¬†Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes.

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I like to dust mine with sugar (again) when I am finished, they just look so pretty that way.  Now share them with friends and neighbors and enjoy the love!

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Original recipe courtesy of the New York Times here.

My Favorite Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe

When I was growing up, my mother would bake all the time. I mean, all the time. ¬†That’s how our Famous Heitmann Cookies got to be so famous. ¬†They went everywhere with us, to every function. ¬†And if they didn’t, well…there was some hell raised, or at least a half-joking-but-not-really comment like, “What, no cookies this time?? ¬†Come to find out, my mother bakes as a form of stress relief. ¬†That is how she unwinds after a long and stressful day. ¬†Is it a coincidence that I recall a big spike in cookie making around my adolescent years? ¬†I think not.

For me, baking has always been a fun thing to do, although not necessarily a stress reliever. ¬†The dishes, the clean up, the having to have self control to not eat everything… you know how it goes. ¬†But yesterday, I finally got how my mother feels about baking being stress relief. ¬†I had just come from the post office in an attempt to retrieve some packages that I’d been waiting on. ¬†I’d elaborate, but I’m sure I need to say no more – you’ve all been to the post office before. ¬†When I got back home, the only thought in my head was “MAKE VANILLA CUPCAKES”. ¬†So like any Single Girl that has her priorities straight, I made myself a nice ice cream sandwich, ate that, then got down to business. ūüôā

A week or so ago, I posted a many-tweets-long recipe for vanilla cupcakes which is my go to recipe.  Along with that tweet, I promised to publish a blog post with the recipe in a concise format, not spread throughout 6 or 7 tweets, haha.  I love a good, rich vanilla anything Рice cream, cupcake, pastry, etc.  Vanilla often gets a bad rap for being bland, but before that, we had practically nothing!  Vanilla was an exotic spice at one time, and was used not only for food consumption, but also as a beauty product.  Women used to dab a bit of vanilla behind their ears when perfume was too expensive.

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I found the base to this recipe on allrecipes.com and like I do with everything, I tweaked it a bit. ¬†This recipe is the one I go to for making my cakes. ¬†It s perfect on its own, does well with fun additions like fruit, sprinkles, or whatever else comes to mind. ¬†It’s also SO super easy, and just as easy as making a box cake, yet a thousand times better. ¬†Enjoy, happy baking!

Single Girl’s Go-To Vanilla Cake Recipe

1/2 cup butter (one stick)

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup whole milk/half and half/heavy cream

Mix the first four ingredients together, adding one at a time. ¬†Because I’m a time saver (read: lazy and don’t want to wash extra dishes; but then again, I¬†am saving water by not adding more dishes, so I’m also a doing good things for the planet! ¬†Go me!) I don’t bother with mixing my dry ingredients in a separate bowl, especially when there are only two. ¬†For this I put both of them on top of what’s already in the bowl, then I make sure I mix really well. ¬†Now, for the last ingredient, I like to se whatever is richest on hand. ¬†Today it was half a half. ¬†I’ve used heavy cream (my favorite) and whole milk (also very good). ¬†Mix that in, pour into 12 cupcake liners and bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes. ¬†You can also use a 9 inch round pan and bake at 325 for about 25 minutes. ¬†Ovens are so tricky, so it’s best to keep an eye on it and test when you think it may be done. ¬†Your tester or knife should come out mostly clean when checking in the middle.

Let them cool and frost! ¬†I like to use my buttercream on these, and the recipe is below. ¬†This is a good thing to whip up while the cupcakes are cooling after you’ve done all your dishes.

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Vanilla Buttercream

Half stick of butter (softened)

1 lb bag of confectioners sugar

3 or 4 teaspoons of vanilla (to taste)  I like mine strong

Sometimes I add a little bit of water to get things going when mixing. ¬†Mix ingredients together and hope you don’t make too big of a mess!

And of course the last step is to share with friends and enjoy! ¬†So easy, right? ¬†Shoot me a message one any one of my social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) – I’d love to see photos of your finished creations and hear how your baking experiences went!

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Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

We are in the throes of lazy summer. You feel it, I know you do. ¬†It’s that odd blend of New York feels at this point – it’s August and we’re all hot as hell, but starting to feel that bite in the air telling us that fall is right around the corner. ¬†We say things like, “There’s still almost a month until Labor Day!” and rush around to try to cram as much summer in as we can. ¬†But on those days off, I feel like just being lazy in my air conditioned apartment instead of being ambitious and going to the beach. ¬†And because it’s August, most days I literally do not know what day it is. ¬†Given a moment of thought, I can usually come up with the day, but date? ¬†Forget about it.

What I can tell you is I’ve had a few really awesome days that my brain lumps together as one moment in time experience, starting with my cookie drop on Thursday. ¬†I finally, FINALLY made it to Advanced Radiological Imaging on Astoria Blvd and 30th Street. ¬†I thought they closed at 5, but when I got there at 4:55, there was a waiting room full of people, one person at the window, me, then another woman walked in with her (assumed) son right after me to check in. ¬†So I’m waiting there for the person n front of me to finish up and just as she does and I get to the window, something inside me compels me to say “Uh, you know what? ¬†I”m going to let this woman behind me go first. ¬†She’s clearly a patient and I’m going to take a moment, so…” and let this other woman and her son (let’s just assume it’s her son and go with that) step up to the window.

Have you ever been in a situation where as it’s happening, you are a little incredulous and think, how this would’ve been different if I didn’t just make that choice? ¬†Sure, we’ve all been there. ¬†Well, i watched this and thought, “Good thing I let her go first. ¬†This poor guy’s gonna need a cookie after she gets done.” This woman proceeded to step up to the window and give this guy the biggest Attitude, and I mean attitude with a capital ‘A’. ¬†First off, she assumed the little information she gave him was enough to find her. ¬†He asked for the proper paperwork and she balked. ¬†He finally found her in their system and she said, “See, you had it there, you just had to look for it.” ¬†Strike one. ¬†Really strike two because she approached him with an attitude.

So the kind gentleman at the window proceeds to type at his keyboard and try to get her and her son registered when he asks, “Do you speak Spanish?” ¬†Now, to be fair to him, this woman had an discernible accent and could have been from a number of backgrounds. ¬†It was also in a part of the neighborhood that I know has a high Hispanic population, and maybe based on her name? ¬†I don’t know, but given that there is a high percentage of New Yorkers that speak Spanish as their first language, or are fluent in both Spanish and English, I thought it was a fair question. ¬†And having been on the customer service on of things before, I would bet my life his question was asked in an attempt to make her experience easier and more pleasant. ¬†She clearly did not think so.

Upon hearing those ‘oh-so-foul’ words, she recoiled and said, “What is it¬†your business is I speak Spanish?? ¬†I don’t speak Spanish!! ¬†It’s none of your business! ¬†What does it matter! ¬†I don’t speak Spanish!! ¬†That’s none of your business!” ¬†As my eyes darted around the room, I could tell I was not the only one there that thought, 1. This reaction was a bit much, and 2. Whoa. ¬†Crazy Lady.

Strike Three.

She and her son step away to fill out whatever paperwork in needed and I step up to the window, cookies in hand, big smile on my face, and eyes wide from what I’ve just seen. ¬†“Hi!” I said, “I think I’ve come at just the right time. ¬†I’m here to deliver these cookies to you!” ¬†And so I began making a connection.

Being that it¬†is a medical office afterall, I didn’t want to take too much of anyone’s time, but didn’t want to drop and dash. ¬†I found out the kind man’s name is Eddie and we had a novel’s length conversation with just our eyes about what just went down. ¬†I gave him my spiel, the other ladies behind the window seemed pretty excited about the cookies, and I left feeling like some actual good had been done.

As I made my way to the N train, the full weight of what just happened hit me. ¬†I had just witnessed karma in all her glory work right in front of my eyes, and instantaneously. ¬†What had prompted me to let that nasty woman go ahead of me? ¬†And I’m pretty sure I truly made Eddie’s day because I was there with a plate of cookies after he was berated, restoring his faith in the kindness of fellow human beings. ¬†He had done the right thing, was kind to her, and did his job well, and was, in a way, rewarded with cookies. ¬†And as quickly as I had that previous thought, I thought, “Holy shit. ¬†Karma can just as easily go the other way.” ¬†I think I experience a lot of goodness in my life because I¬†do¬†good. ¬†Not to say that bad things don’t still happen, and believe me, they do. ¬†But I truly believe good things happen to good people.

I have to tell you, the rest of my interactions with people in the customer service side of things that day were stellar. ¬†I mean, above and beyond amazing. ¬†I think people can read and feel my positive energy and react positively to it. ¬†You may think I’m nuts, but try it for a day. ¬†i dare you. ¬†You will be rewarded in ways you never imagined.

Does anybody really know what time it is? ¬†Does it really matter? ¬†As long as you are doing the right thing, making the good choices, and living your life as best you can, I don’t think it does. ¬†For now, I’m continuing to move forward, taking it one day at a time, and in my immediate future, that means finding out where Advanced Radiological Imaging will send me. ¬†Stay tuned…