Summer Camp Series: Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a great summer book. It follows Kya who lives alone in the marshes along the coast of North Carolina. Here are some activities I thought would be fun for the book. Tell me if you’ve read the book and have any other things in mind.


To Do

Do a little painting. Grab a basic set of acrylics and follow along with “how to paint a swamp

Go birdwatching. Even if you can’t go anywhere, you can try to identify the birds in your neighborhood. Audobon has a phone app for this! Bonus points if you have binoculars.

Visit a marsh. If you can go to one, then pack a little picnic (see more below) and make a day of it. A friend and I put on our masks and visited the freshwater marsh of the Ballona Wetlands. If you live in west LA, I recommend going. We saw some cool birds (including a great egret!) and it was overall really nice and beautiful.


To Bake

Real Deal Southern Caramel Cake – an incredible three layer yellow cake with caramel icing!


Additional Reading

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: if you want more southern lit from a female author. Bonus, it also involves a courtroom scene.

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman: if you want another protagonist who lives in a remote place and paint birds

Bog Girl” by Karen Russell: another female author from the south. A short story set in similar environment, but that’s about where the similarities stop.


To Eat

I saved this section for last because it is the longest. All the food in the book sounds dang good! Here is the menu I would put together from all the dishes mentioned. Choose one or two items from each category for a great picnic!

Basket of breads
cracklin cornbread
hush puppies (serve with honey butter)
yeast rolls
sour cream biscuits (add bacon or jam)

Sides
beans: red, butter, or baked
grits
hoe cakes
deviled eggs
chicken salad
mashed potatoes with red eye gravy
black eyed peas

Veggies
corn fritters
stewed turnips
collard greens
peas in butter
sliced red tomato
mustard greens
coleslaw
summer squash casserole

Entree
pimento cheese sandwich
backbone soup + biscuits
chicken pie
chicken and dumplings
cold fried chicken
chicken fried steak
fried pork chops
fried shrimp
fried fish with black pepper crust
grilled flounder stuffed with shrimp
seafood medley: mussels, oysters
ham trio: salt-cured, molasses, and fried
hot pork sausage

Dessert
banana pudding
peach cobbler
blackberry pie
blackberry cobber
pecan pie
4-layer cake
top any with a scoop of ice cream or hard cream


Book Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide

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Dim sum is the Chinese version of small plates and offer a large variety of food types. The Dim Sum Field Guide: a taxonomy of dumplings, buns, meats, sweets, and other specialties of the Chinese teahouse by Carolyn Phillips covers about 150 different types of foods that may be found on the trolleys in a dim sum restaurant. Each entry has is two pages – one with a black and white illustration, also done by author Phillips, and the second page a playful description following the field guide style with “genus” (name of the dish in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese), “identification”, “sauce or dip” that is usually paired with the dish, “nesting habits” (how you are likely going to see the food arranged), “origins”, and “species” (similar dishes). Phillips, who has written a recipe book on Chinese food called All Under Heaven, lived in Taiwan for eight years and worked as a Mandarin interpreter back in the states before retiring to work on her food writing. (Explore her writing here.)

The illustrations are charming, though color would probably be helpful for a few of the dishes with complicated linework, and include a cross-section view of the food to give an idea of dimensions and proportions. They also indicate what type of meats are associated with each dish as well as which dishes are vegetarian and vegan, which is very helpful. The book is broadly categorized into savory versus sweet with a few subcategories.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun to flip through and informative, and I would recommend looking over it before going to dim sum to feel more familiar or after if you wanted to learn more about particular dishes. I would only take it to the restaurant with a patient group of friends. Dim sum is a pretty fast-paced environment, and I can’t imagine a waiter being particularly patient if you stop the trolley to flip through the book for each dish before ordering.

While reading the book, I found myself not thinking so much about dumplings and taro root but about the complicated relationship between exposure vs ownership of cultural foods. Something in Phillips’s writing makes me a little hesitant, uncomfortable, and un-trusting (when she writes of “the Chinese people,” I cannot help reading your people). She has a post listing the twelve points she believes Chinese restaurants must follow “in hopes of an epicurean Reformation” that is silly bordering absurd. I understand it must be difficult to devote oneself to another culture’s cuisine (is there a right way to do it?). Beyond the language barrier and geographical barriers, there will be those calling you a fraud from both sides. To publish anything, really, is to open yourself to scrutiny. All in all, I do believe that Phillips’s love for Chinese food is honest and without ulterior motive.

So to address my personal discomforts, I hope to continue having conversations with patient friends and people more thoughtful than myself about what it means that a white woman is publishing only Chinese cookbooks, why are there so many white people writing about Asian food (and conversely why shouldn’t there be?), what does it mean for food to be authentic anyway, why do Asian foods seem so vulnerable to becoming trends recently (from pho to matcha to poke bowls), and what is the right? best? appropriate? way to appreciate food with particularly strong cultural ties.

Related:

Why Hunting Down ‘Authentic Ethnic Food’ Is A Loaded Proposition

How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food — then make it trendy

An Eater’s Manifesto For Chinese Restaurants

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

1Q84 – a list of meals

The plain descriptions Murakami uses to show the fairly mundane details about the characters’ lives are very comforting to me. He tells us their routines, the inventory of their closets, the ingredients in their meals. The meals are often described as simple; many strike me as quite lonely. Some meals are both, and very few are neither. At any rate, I have attempted to catalog what I think is a pretty complete list of meals across all three books and rank them in order of simplicity.

“the most famous French restaurant in the city”

“Have you decided?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” Ayumi said.
“So what are you going to order?”
“I’ll have the mussels, the three-onion salad, and the Bordeaux-braised Iwate veal stew. How about you?”
“I’d like the lentil soup, the warm spring green salad, and the parchment-baked monkfish with polenta. Not much of a match for a red wine, but it’s free, so I can’t complain.”
“Mind sharing a little?”
“Not at all,” Aomame saiad. “And if you don’t mind, let’s share the deep-fried shrimp to start.”

the dowager and I differ on what is simple

“A simple meal is all I can offer you, if that’s all right,” the dowager said.

The dinner consisted of boiled white asparagus, salad Nicoise, a crabmeat omelet, and rolls and butter, nothing more.

“Sorry, but these simple things are all I can make,” says Tengo, who uses the word simple lightly

Tengo washed the rice, put it in the cooker, and turned on the switch. He used the time until the rice was ready to make miso soup with wakame seaweed and green onions, grill a sun-dried mackerel, take some tofu out of the refrigerator and flavor it with ginger, grate a chunk of daikon radish, and reheat some leftover boiled vegetables. To go with the rice, he set out some pickled turnip slices and a few pickled plums.

if you think this is a repetitve meal, you should know what I eat for breakfast every day

Breakfast was exactly the same every day – dried horse mackerel and fried eggs, a quartered tomato, seasoned dries seaweed, miso soup with shijimi clams, and rice – but for some reason it tasted wonderful every morning.

Tengo makes “nothing special”

Grilling a dried mackerel and grating a daikon radish. Making a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu. Dousing cucumber slices and wakame seaweed with vinegar. Ending up with rice and nappa pickles.

I decided to look up wakame at this point

Listening to tracks like “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Lady Jane,” he made rice pilaf using ham and mushrooms and brown rice, and miso soup with tofu and wakame. He boiled cauliflower and favored it with curry sauce he prepared. He made a green bean and onion salad.

this sounds less nice when you know it is hospital food

Tengo had a salad, cooked vegetables, and miso soup with asari clams and scallions, washed down with hot hojicha tea.

Tengo is good with knives

Tengo chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsley, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. … When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame.

that’s all

The waiter came for their orders. Fuka-Eri still had her coat on. She ordered a salad and bread. “That’s all,” she said, returning the menu to the waiter.

[Tengo] ordered seafood linguine and decided to join Fuka-Eri in a glass of white wine.

curry and pie

Once the film had been processed and printed, he went to a nearby chain restaurant and looked through them in chronological order while eating a meal of chicken curry. … He called the waitress over and asked her about the day’s dessert. Peach pie, she replied. Ushikawa ordered a piece and a refill of coffee.

Ushikawa buys noodles

Then he went to a soba noodle shop and ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth.

beer and barbecue

The three nurses ate and drank a lot, and Tengo couldn’t keep up. As they got livelier, he sat beside them, quietly eating a moderate amount of grilled meat and sipping his draft beer so he didn’t get drunk.

breakfast foods for dinner

He drank some tomato juice from the fridge, boiled water, ground coffee beans and made coffee, toasted a slice of bread. He set the timer and cooked a soft-boiled egg.

Tengo gets more on my level

Tengo was hungry, so he fried some eggs and ate them with the cauliflower. He made some toast and drank two mugs of coffee.

I think the portable stove makes it sadder

He heated a can of chicken soup over a portable stove and carefully sipped it with a spoon. He ate two cold rolls, then polished off an apple, peel and all.

definitely the saddest meal

He opened a tin of corned beef, spread some on a roll, and ate it, standing up in the kitchen. He drank a container of lukewarm canned coffee. Nothing had any taste.

Tamaru’s “simple dishes”

They were simple cucumber and cheese sandwiches on brown bread, but were subtly flavored.

more wakame but a pretty lame dinner 

At five thirty he made a simple dinner. … He made a tomato and wakame salad and ate a slice of toast.

snacks that I too can make

Feeling a little hungry, she took out some Camembert, cut a wedge, and ate it with crackers. When the cheese was half gone, she washed a stalk of celery, spread it with mayonnaise, and munched it whole.

a sad description of breakfast but at least he enjoys his lunch

The next morning, after a breakfast of cheese and crackers washed down by instant coffee. … Before noon he went to the discount store near the station and bought a small electric space heater. He then went to the same noodle place he had been to before, opened his newspaper, and ate an order of hot tempura soba.

like… airplane food?

He brought my meals on a tray and then took them away when I was finished. They used paper plates and flimsy plastic knives, forks, and spoons. The food they brought was ordinary prepared food in silver foil packages – not very good, but not so bad you wouldn’t eat it.

a spartan lunch

Lunch was usually a green salad and fruit.

sometimes sandwiches

Occasionally he would have a light sandwich, but usually he ate nothing.

a hot breakfast

As he ate his hot breakfast and drank tea, Tengo went over the events of the previous night.

a plain breakfast

She made herself a pot of coffee, toasted some bread, and boiled an egg.

a simple breakfast

She got up every day at six thirty and had a simple breakfast.

 

In conclusion, I have learned that all characters (perhaps except Tamaru) have much higher standards for their food than I do.

The Bloody Mary Club: Bespoke Kitchen

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The Bloody Mary Club hit up Bespoke Kitchen a while ago, because we had to see the famous Mary’s Walk of Shame with our own eyes. Richa spotted a picture of it on Instagram and we just *knew* we had to check it out for ourselves.

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Mary’s Walk of Shame is a whopper of a cocktail and it was the absolute highlight of our meal. It’s a bloody mary topped with grilled cheese, maple bacon, pastrami, sausage, pork belly & pickles. The glass has a spicy salt rim.

The restaurant itself is very modern but in a charming way, not a clinical way. We made reservations but the place wasn’t very crowded, so I’m not sure if it was necessary. We ordered the biscuit bites (with fried chicken and gravy, naturally), shrimp & grits, short rib benedict, and Angie’s croast (which is a croissant french toast hybrid). Bespoke Kitchen is all about locally sourced ingredients and “New York style” food. Our food was okay, but the Bloody Mary was the highlight of the meal. Afterall, if I really wanted to eat a good shrimp and grits or biscuits and gravy, I’d be looking for an actual soul food restaurant, not a hip West Village “New York style” restaurant.

But honestly, the Mary’s Walk of Shame is worth a trip to Bespoke Kitchen on its own. It was practically a meal in itself. We were so full from the process of drinking the first one that we didn’t have room for a second drink – that’s almost blasphemous as far as Saturday brunches are concerned! We all agreed that next time we would hit up Bespoke Kitchen for a cocktail before going somewhere else for brunch.

***

Cheat Sheet:

Bloody Mary:
Liquor Base: Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Perfectly slurp-able
Spice: Not too salty – the toppings add all the salt you could want
Fixin’s: Grilled cheese, maple bacon, pastrami, sausage, pork belly, pickles & a salted spice rim
Overall Rating:  4.8 out of 5

Bespoke Kitchen is located at615 1/2 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014. http://www.thebespokekitchen.com/

Running in the Family – A Sinhalese meal

We are having a formal dinner. String hoppers, meat curry, egg rulang, papadams, potato curry. Alice’s date chutney, seeni sambol, mallung and brinjals and iced water. All the dishes are on the table and a good part of the meal is spent passing them around to each other. It is my favorite meal – anything that has string hoppers and egg rulang I eat with a lascivious hunger. For dessert there is buffalo curd and jaggery sauce – a sweet honey made from coconut, like maple syrup but with a smokey taste. – Ondaatje

For my last Running in the Family post, I wanted to explore Sinhalese food since I truthfully didn’t recognize half the foods in the above passage.

While hoppers are like thin, crispy pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk made in a bowl-shape (which look really incredibly delicious), string hoppers or idyyappam are steamed and springy in texture. Their name is fairly evident once you’ve compared the two types of hoppers.

 

Egg rulang is a scramble of eggs and sliced onions. Papadums I have actually had before but never learned the name of! They are thin and disc-shaped, typically made from a black gram flour or a variety of other materials like lentil, chickpea, or rice flours. A typical variety I’ve had include ground black pepper and garlic.

Now, I’m not sure what Alice’s date chutney is like, but this chutney recipe is sweet and tangy with ginger and red chili spices.

chutney

Seeni sambol is a sweet caramelized onion relish that, like what I’ve been learning about Sri Lankan food, comes with a punch of spices.

Mallung, also called mallum, is a dry dish of cooked chopped greens and coconut. One version with kale is shown below. Brinjals are what we know as eggplants!

Finally for dessert, a buffalo curd with jaggery sauce is like a yogurt and honey mix.

Here is an excellent introductory article to Sri Lankan food. More egg hoppers! They look so good.

A Literary Cocktail Party inspired by Arrowsmith

literary

I would call Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith a “pretty serious book”, but one of my favorite things about it is its setting within the Prohibition Era. We see the protaganist, Martin Arrowsmith, going into speakeasies with his friends and sneaking into the back rooms of warehouses alongside the general public warnings on the dangers of drinking and gambling. I think this especially stood out to me as the other Pulitzer winners set in this era have all shied away from any mentions of drinking. Without further adieu, I invite you to The Ice House in the West Indies to join Martin Arrowsmith for his signature “rum swizzler.”

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This is Barrio 47, but I imagine The Ice House is similar to this

The Ice House, that dimmest and most peaceful among saloons, with its cool marble tables, its gilt-touched white walls, had not been closed, though only the oldest topers and the youngest bravos, fresh out from Home and agonizingly lonely… were desperate enough to go there, and of the attendants there remained only one big Jamaica barman. By chance he was among them all the most divine mixer of the planter’s punch, the New Orleans fizz, and the rum swizzle.

rum swizzle.jpg

Recipe courtesy of Liquor.com

Bermuda Rum Swizzle Cocktail:

  • 4 oz. Gold Rum
  • 4 oz. Black Rum
  • 8 oz. Pineapple Juice
  • 8 oz. Orange Juice
  • 3/4 oz. Grenadine
  • 6 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake vigorously with crushed ice, and then garnish with pineapple, oranges, maraschino cherries, and any other tropical fruit that catch your eye.

Although I’m glad we no longer have this law, it’s a period of time that I don’t know much about and am intrigued by. I suppose finding a book on the Prohibition should be added to my to-do list!

Additional Reading:

  • Font courtesy of Manfred Klein
  • Curious about the difference between gold and black rum? Apparently there are four types of rum.
  • Check out our first Literary Cocktail Party post here, featuring Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
  • Arrowsmith was the 1926 Pulitzer winner, and Sinclair Lewis was the first (and only) writer to refuse the prize. Read more about it here.
  • Fun fact: 1926 was also the year The Great Gatsby was published. Some people would say that Gatsby deserved the Pulitzer much more than Arrowsmith did.

The Bloody Mary Club: The East Pole Kitchen & Bar

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Most recently, the Bloody Mary Club went to The East Pole for brunch! New York weather has been a little indecisive this month, but the morning of brunch was lovely and we snagged a great table outdoors. The East Pole is a popular after-work destination for cocktails, so I was eager to try not one, but two Bloody Marys!

Left to Right: Peach Bellini, Spicy Maria, Bloody Mary

I got the Bloody Mary, which was vodka, “market tomato juice” and fresh horseradish, garnished with celery and an olive. It definitely tasted like fresh tomato juice, and it was a light and refreshing take on a Bloody Mary. Most of the items on East Pole’s menu were just like this – light, fresh, and well seasoned. We started with a pastry basket followed by Eggs Florentine, Avocado Toast topped with soft boiled eggs and hot sauce, and a cheeseburger with a side of “duck fat chips”which were really savory potato wedges. The Eggs Florentine was definitely my favorite. I’d skip the pastry basket and avocado toast next time and try something else.

Counter Clockwise: Eggs Florentine, Avocado Toast, The East Pole Cheeseburger

Richa got the Spicy Maria so we could  try both. This had a jalapeno-infused tequila mixed with the same tomato juice. This one had a weird aftertaste that we couldn’t quite put our finger on. There wasn’t much of a kick at all – we could hardly taste the jalapeno – and we were a little disappointed. Richa said she would definitely stick with the Bloody Mary next time. Iris’s Peach Bellini was good, but I would say it was pretty standard – not a bad choice, but nothing to write home about. Overall, I would say it was a pretty successful brunch – great weather, a beautiful venue, fresh and filling food that didn’t leave us groggy, and lovely company! We’ll definitely be back to try a different menu sometime!

***

Cheat Sheet:

Bloody Mary:
Liquor Base: Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Pretty standard – just juice, no pulp or surprises
Spice: Not spicy or too salty, a very fresh and light drink
Fixin’s: Horseradish, Celery, Olive
Overall Rating:  4 out of 5

Spicy Maria:
Liquor Base: Jalapeno-Infused Tequila
Viscosity/Texture: Again, pretty standard – just juice, no pulp or surprises
Spice: Disappointingly bland
Fixin’s: Celery, Olive
Overall Rating:  1.5 out of 5

The East Pole Kitchen is located at 133 E. 65th Street, New York, NY 10065. It’s tucked away in a little alcove, so keep your eyes out or you might walk past it twice like I did! http://www.theeastpolenyc.com/

The Bloody Mary Club: PJ Clarke’s

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P.J. Clarke’s is a New York staple (although according to their website, there are also now locations in Washington, DC and Brazil!) with dark wood and red checked tablecloths. They’re renowned for their burgers and Bloody Marys. Any New York Bloody Mary list would be incomplete without a visit to P.J. Clarke’s, so I headed over to the one at Lincoln Center with some classmates for a late night snack last week. Who says Bloody Marys are only for brunch? In my book, it’s never too late for one.

IMG_2740The Original Clarke’s Bar Bloody Mary comes with olives, a wedge of lemon, lime, and a stalk of celery. The drink is very salty, so you’ll need a few glasses of water while you’re drinking. The glass is rimmed with some sort of vinegar & sugary syrup – this was the highlight of the drink. I would highly recommend ditching the straw to get the full experience. I would say this variation is a classic; you’ll never be disappointed because you’ll get a consistent drink every time. However, half the fun is trying new interpretations! If you’ve never had a Bloody Mary before, I think this is a good place to start to get a strong foundation. I would give this a solid 3/5, a perfect baseline to get acclimated to the world of Bloody Marys.

***

Cheat Sheet:

Liquor Base: Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Thin, but not watery
Spice: More salty than anything else, definitely not spicy
Fixin’s: Celery, Lemon & Lime Wedge, Vinegar-Sugar Rim
Overall Rating:  3 out of 5

The Lincoln Square P.J. Clarke’s is located at 44 West 63rd Street, New York, NY 10023 http://www.pjclarkes.com/lincoln-square/

 

The Bloody Mary Club: Delicatessen

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Delicatessen, known for its take on “International Comfort Food”, is located in the Lower East Side. Because they don’t take reservations for brunch, we went at 10:30am right as the restaurant was opening. (Shout out to Richa for showing up first two months in a row!) The decor is modern and sleek, and I think it would be a great place to people watch in the summer when all of the glass walls are open onto the sidewalk.

The Bloody Mary at Delicatessen is known as the “Stacked Mary,” and it is definitely stacked. There’s celery, olives, cucumber, pickled vegetables, a lemon wedge, a shrimp, and a bacon salt rimmed glass. This is the kind of Bloody Mary that I envision people drink while tailgating at football games and create at those make-your-own Bloody Mary bars that I keep hearing about.

The Stacked Mary

The vodka and Bloody Mary mixture was smooth, savory, and well seasoned. I happily crunched on the celery while waiting for our food to come out, and I dunked the shrimp into the drink halfway through to give it some flavor. While I didn’t eat the olives, I loved the “stacked” presentation of the drink and would have been disappointed if there were no olives.

Continue reading

The Bloody Mary Club: Jacob’s Pickles

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Richa, Iris, and I met up for a Bloody Mary brunch for the first time since July! It’s been awfully hard for us to find time when everyone’s able to make it, but we decided what better time to get back on track than the New Year? Jacob’s Pickles has been on our list of places to go to for a very long time, because Iris has never been! It’s an Upper West Side staple of Southern inspired food – fried chicken, biscuits, grits, and of course, Bloody Marys! We showed up at 11:30 and there was already a two hour wait! It’s definitely worth the wait at least once, so we put our names down, and went to a coffee shop across the street to caffeinate and catch up. Jacob’s Pickles will text you when your table is ready.Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 11.10.47 PM

This is the Holy Grail of Bloody Marys. Just about everyone at the restaurant was ordering this, which Jacob’s Pickles calls the Bloody B.L.T. In it is Tito’s Vodka, thick cut bacon, a jalapeno pickled egg, and a leaf of lettuce. My advice is to eat the egg first, drop the bacon into the mason jar, and guzzle away from there! Iris agreed and says, “It’s packed with spices and easy on the eyes” which is true, this is one very attractive drink! The drink has just the right amount of Vodka, spice, and pulp. It’s not an extremely spicy drink, instead it’s a quite refreshing complement to the food. This is about as good as it gets, so I think it is officially the best Bloody Mary on our list!

If you’re not a Bloody Mary fan, the second most popular drink seems to be the Jam Jar, which is house-infused strawberry gin, lemonade, and slices of strawberries. It’s light, refreshing, and just tart enough. IMG_2520.JPG

The food itself was also divine! We got mushroom gravy smothered fried chicken on a biscuit, the honey chicken & pickles biscuit sandwich, fried green tomatoes, and, of course, fried pickles. The food portions were huge, so we weren’t able to finish everything, but trust me, there was nothing left in our mason jars!

If you’re someone with a hearty appetite at 9am, I would recommend trying to get there when it opens to beat the crowd. However, since the portions are pretty large and heavy, I think it’s more afternoon food. It’s perfect if you want to go to the Museum of Natural History first, or if the weather is nice, you could nap in Central Park first.

***

Cheat Sheet:

Bloody B.L.T.
Liquor Base: Tito’s Handmade Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Medium thickness, just enough pulp and spices for texture, but not thick enough to require chewing
Spice: Just enough to add flavor
Fixin’s: Bacon, Lettuce, and a Pickled Egg
Overall Rating:  5 out of 5

Jacob’s Pickles is located at 509 Amsterdam, New York, NY 10024. http://jacobspickles.com