This morning began early. (Side note: I’ve been asked a lot recently what I’m planning to do. I’d like to figure out a work day that consistently begins and ends at the same time. This whole work late, work early thing is wearing me out!) Anyway, it began early, running around the apartment gathering my tools and heading up to Mamaroneck to cook at the indoor winter farmer’s market that is there each Saturday morning. I had planned to make a butternut and bosc pear soup, sweet, simple and comforting, but alas, as is the nature of the fickle winter market, no pears were to be had. Instead, piles of cold weather and cellared vegetables were piled high so I created an off-the-top-of-my-head puréed winter vegetable soup with Indian spices and tomato chutney from the Bombay Emerald Chutney Company. For my intrepid audience who got to watch the creative process follows is the recipe for that soup. If you picked up a recipe card for the pear soup, I encourage you to make that one too – its delicious! If you didn’t get a card, I am including that recipe below as well.
Leaving the market, Mark and I decided to continue straight off the GW Bridge to Hackensack, New Jersey to the original White Manna Burger, rumored to be the ancestral beginning of White Castle. This side trip was inspired by a late night viewing of Harold & Kumar on TBS. (Its not all work for me, after all.) The teeny tiny building has been there since 1946 and hanging on the back wall is a pastoral depiction of the original landscape, complete with old cars and parasols. Now, it is wedged between an auto body shop and a rental car agency on an incredibly busy 4-lane highway. The parking lot alone is, well, a nightmare. Since I’m guessing the greenery of the painting was sold off in parcels many moons ago, now 10 parking spots, most legal, accommodate the enormous SUVs that New Jersians are so very fond of.
This would be fine on a Tuesday at 11am, but as the Earth begins its swing back towards warmth and folks are crawling out of where ever they were hibernating, we waited, flashers on, until someone left, jockeying with another driver who would later cut us in line because they knew the rules, but more on that in a second. Because it was warm and we were there at lunchtime on a Saturday, the lot was full and the line snaked out the door leaving us outside, then in the doorway then inside, then finally at the counter where we were witness to the kind of restaurant chaos that makes my skin crawl.
There is, as it turns out, no line. No system at all, really, just a few dudes and one Jekyll and Hyde type lady flipping burgers, making sure the dudes with her were happy and reprimanding unassuming diners, or worse, giving a blasé shrug, all of us on this side starving and crammed into a 4-foot deep space between counter and door.
A small stainless steel grill fries onions mixed with meatballs, slapped flat with a greasy spatula and yellow cheese on some (she mostly kept the orders straight) and then covered with the buns that were both steamed by the cooking onions and worked as sponges to absorb the burger fat.
One of the dudes cooking regularly came out from the back kitchen with fries, calling out “I’ve got two fries for here!” and we, like buyers at an action lunged forward, as much as we could without crushing the folks eating at the counter, and grabbed the fries before the guy behind, next to or under could snatch them.
If you go, the official burger ordering rule goes something like ‘when you make eye contact with the lady at the griddle, yell out how many and how you want ’em.’ My advice, just say a number and with cheese. Keep it simple. The whole “no onions, extra pickles, light ketchup” orders really pissed her off.
We got our fries, two orders, even though we’d asked just for one and 20 minutes later came our burgers. I’m not going to critique the burger, because it is pretty straight forward. There’s a flattened meatball, tons of onions, yellow cheese melting into the steamed, grease-soaked bun. And that is why you go and wade through the mayhem.
If you’ve heard me talk about local meat, and supporting a sustainable community, I hope you aren’t horrified. This is not either of those things, but is run by a guy who had some famous Italian and his family dining in the VIP section behind the register. I can’t put my finger on who he was, but he was somebody. But that’s kind of the best part. This place might be the great equalizer. Its not great but not bad, its cheap, its greasy, and perhaps the birthplace of American fast food. And, an hour later, rich Italian (fashion designer?) or me and Mark, you’ll wanna die. Or just lie down for a very long time.
But because I started my day (and will finish it with the spoils I bartered for soup with the farmers) locally and sustainably, I’ll take a pass, cross this off my places to eat before I leave the northeast list and sit with my gut reminding me of why I don’t eat like that on a regular basis.
Purée of Curried Winter Vegetables
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 T tomato chutney
1 T cinnamon
1 T nutmeg
1 T coriander
1 T garam masala
(use whatever spices you have/like. This selection was in my traveling pantry.)
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, washed well and sliced
2 quarts stock (I used 1 or chicken and 1 of vegetable)
Heat the olive oil in a pot large enough to hold all your ingredients. Add the onion and sweat until it begins to soften. Add the chutney and spices. Cook until fragrant (professionally known as “blooming.”) Add all the veg and stir to coat with the spices. Add the stock, bring to a boil and then simmer until the veg is all soft, 20 minutes, an hour, whatever it takes. The small you cut the veg initially, the faster it will cook. Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to purée until smooth. If you don’t like the occasional lump, pass through a strainer or chinois.
Cream of Butternut Squash & Pear Soup
2 T butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 cups peeled, diced butternut squash
2 cups peeled, diced pears
4 cups vegetable stock
ea Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper
Melt the butter in the bottom of a large soup pot. Add the onion and the celery and sweat over medium-low heat until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the squash and the pears and stir to combine. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is soft. (The time will vary depending on how small you dice your squash.) Use an immersion blender to purée the soup and pass through a sieve to remove any lumps. (You can skip this step if lumps don’t bother you!) Serve with a sprinkle of sea salt and a pinch of fresh black pepper. Serve with a piece of toasted baguette.