Cooking with Myra:
June 7, 2011 at 1:07 a.m.
By Myra Starkey
This is Part I of a two-part series.
Hannah had been looking forward to the trip to New York City for months. She had just finished her first year of medical school and was suffering severe brain fatigue. She had visited New York once before on a mission trip with the Trinity Episcopal youth group, but had mainly just worked in a soup kitchen. She had missed much of the city's bright lights, shopping, interesting restaurants and Broadway plays. This time would be different.
My friend, Mary Ann, had planned the trip for her three daughters and had invited Hannah and me to go along. It had been awhile since I had spent continuous days with Hannah since she got married a year ago. She now lives in Houston with her husband, Ben, and we were both anticipating our time together. The main purpose of the trip was to relax, but I hoped a lot of the relaxing would be around a table of food. I was not disappointed.
Lidia Bastianich and her son, Joe, have a restaurant called Becco. Mary Ann made reservations there for our second night. We were having an early dinner, so we could see the play "Mary Poppins" on Broadway.
The restaurant is rather small and the tables are set close together. Since I usually like to stroll around and look at other peoples' entrees before I order, this lack of aisle space made that rather difficult. The best I could do was survey the closest diners.
I chose to split an entree with Hannah, because we had been eating all day, and I had eaten a large cupcake only an hour before.
Most of the patrons were having pasta dishes, but we opted for swordfish served on a bed of arugula and roasted tomatoes. Meggie, one of Mary Ann's daughters, chose the veal Parmesan, which was at least 10 inches across and could have fed the entire table.
The food was good, but my mind was on the play we were about to see, and so I was too distracted to really enjoy the food.
I am a Mary Poppins fan and have wanted to see the play for years. I never dreamed I would see it on Broadway. When I was a child, I pretended to be Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins, always referred to by her first and last name, would stand with her umbrella in one hand raised above her head, her toes pointed outward and her large bag in her other hand, and she would rise into the sky. This is probably hard to understand, so you should just check out the movie and see for yourself. I know all the lines of the songs like, "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" and so one might imagine how I would behave in a crowded theater, sitting next to eight-year-olds, who barely know who she is. After all, Julie Andrews, who starred in the movie, was popular in the sixties when I was a child. I must admit that the actress playing Mary Poppins looked just like her as she flew across the audience and up into the air holding her umbrella and bag just as I had remembered.
After only two days, I had already fulfilled one of my dreams (the play), so I was content to do anything anyone else wanted. The girls wanted to shop.
Mary Ann has a fear of subways, probably stemming from the fact that some people get mugged there, so she prefers to take taxis. I have no such fear, so Hannah and I proudly secured a map and began to navigate through the city underground. Since a taxi cab holds only three passengers and there were six of us, Harper, another daughter of Mary Ann's, usually traveled with us while her mom and other two sisters rode in the cab. We began to make a game of traveling from one place to another, with one team racing above ground in the taxi and the other in the subway below.
On the third day, we decided to go to SOHO, which actually means, "South of Houston Street," to do some shopping.
Knowing that we were going there I had already mapped out the station and train we needed to take, and I was fairly certain that we would be the winners that day and beat the others to the store. We arrived at the shop ahead of the others and while Hannah and Harper began to shop, I went in search of coffee, noting the time we had arrived.
I found a cute bakery selling giant chocolate chip cookies and ordered a latte. With cookie in hand, I made my way back to the J. Crew store, where I found Mary Ann waiting at the door. I explained that we had arrived so quickly that I had enough time to find a bakery. Mary Ann said that they had been delayed because they had gotten in the "Cash Cab."
I saw the "Cash Cab" show once on television, so I knew exactly what she was talking about. I stared in amazement thinking maybe I was being teased, so I asked what the cab driver asked them for their questions.
I should stop and explain that the "Cash Cab" goes around New York picking up unsuspecting patrons, and then when they get inside all these lights and bells go off inside the cab. The cab driver asks them a series of trivia questions and if they get them right, they win big money.
Each question is worth progressively more money, or the players can just get out of the cab with the money they have won to that point and not risk a wrong answer, which would cause them to forfeit their winnings.
Knowing how it all worked, I quickly asked what questions the driver asked. Mary Ann patiently explained, "He asked what was in a bouquet garni?" The group answered that it was a tied bundle of parsley, thyme and bay used to flavor soups and stews. I threw my head back and winced. Of course, I knew the answer . some people have all the luck.
She went on to explain that second, he asked what gnocchi (the Italian pasta) was made from and they had answered "potato" and won a total of $400.
I eyed her suspiciously thinking I was surely being duped, so I said I wanted to see the money. If she had really been in the "Cash Cab," the bills would be crisp and new, and this would prove it. She smiled sweetly and pulled the bills from her wallet, all brand new.
I stood there eyes wide, vowing never to ride the subway again . until she started laughing. Apparently, the girls had planned the ruse and I had fallen for it, hook, line and sinker.
Our next stop was Lombardi's Pizza.
Lombardi's is famous for being the first pizzeria in New York and was founded in 1905. The building is a conglomeration of many small rooms, joined by narrow hallways and flights of stairs.
We were led to an upstairs room packed with people. We ordered a pepperoni and sausage and their famous margherita pizza. The pizza was delicious. The crust was crispy and light. The margherita pizza was lightly topped with tomato sauce, cheese and basil and oozing with mozzarella. This is how pizza should taste.
Since I could not get the waiter to part with the original recipe I have combed several cookbooks and come up with this variation. Enjoy.
Part II coming next week.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.