Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Walk Through the Village

(the photos are of top: the official Magnolia cupcakes and bottom: our version of the heavenly desserts)

This weather has been uncanny. But the unseasonably mild Saturdays, where the sun is shining and everyone outside is wearing sweaters - just sweaters - is really killing whatever work ethic I had left. Just over a week ago, it was one of those Saturdays and I was feeling quite anxious. I realized that I had just under a guaranteed five months left in New York, yet I had not ventured into many a "dining landmark." So, with Jon in tow, I took the 1 to Times Square and transferred to either the N, Q, R, or W to Union Square.

When I say Dining Landmark I do not mean Alain Ducasse @ the Essex House or Nobu or Babbo. I mean those locations where you have to wait for the ONE specialty of the house. The few locations that tourists are willing to venture to even though they're not near Times Square or the World Trade Center site. And the places where even New Yorkers - who will risk their right arm to keep a subway door open (to safe a few minutes) - will wait and wait and wait.

After getting out of the station we noticed that a few of the Greenmarket vendors had actually set up shop. Tempted but unwilling to shell out $3 for a loaf of bread (only because I knew it would be gone within hours) I passed by the stands and instead stopped by the vender selling politically charged buttons. Since the strap of my sling-backpack is lined with buttons I generally get a lot of attention when I pass by such vendors. These buttons were a tad too big for my liking but I bought Jon a Ghandi bumper sticker for his fridge and the man gave us a Hindu Vegetarian Cookbook for free. Wow, warm January weather makes New Yorkers really nice.

We walked along Tenth Street where we passed the remains of Second Avenue Deli. Tragic, isn't it? After taking a few snapshots (other passerby were too) we continued our trek east, and Jon was amazed by the row houses gracing the streets. Times like these make me grow slightly jealous of the NYU crowd even though I love Upper West Side and Harlem architecture. These were just so... dainty. Like ones that you would see in the Food Network's Gingerbread House competition.

Eventually we were on 10th and Avenue A and I was confused because we hadn't passed Veneiro's yet. THAT'S the type of dining establishment that I was talking about. While I tried to call everyone in my phonebook that might point me in the right direction, I finally walked up to 11th and saw the sign. After entering into the crowded take-out section and grabbing a number Jon and I proceeded to wait a good 20 minutes for three - yes three - cannoli (one for my friend Julia as well).

We then walked westward along 11th and inevitably through Historic Greenwich Village. Somehow I have never paid attention to these houses, but damn are they gorgeous. Again, I can only aspire to live there but... WOW. They're just these old, classy, pre-war brownstones that have the type of "landmark" feel to them. Of course, to tone down my envy I said to Jon "well, this is soooo unliveable. There aren't any grocery stores nearby." Then I spotted a Fresh Direct box laying near a trash receptacle. I could only imagine a giant truck parking itself on this prim and proper New York street.

Eventually we hit Bleecker and from the smell and the mob ahead of us I knew we made it. Magnolia Bakery. The line was at least 50 deep and wrapped around the corner with a mix of international tourists, college students and tried-and-true locals. The scent was like that of a cotton candy machine - really sweet and warm. I realized that we were probably in line near the ventilation because as we grew closer and closer to the door the scent vanished. After waiting (rather impatiently) for our cupcakes the bouncer - yes, they have a bouncer - allowed us into the tiny bakery. We bought 14 cupcakes (there's a limit of 12 per person) and a small banana pudding since that too is one of Magnolia's gems. We devoured a cupcake a piece in the nearby park, sitting at a chess table, and brought the rest back with us to the dorm.

Later that evening, with Julia we partook in a sweetfest of cannoli and cupcakes and I realized that THIS is what I'll miss about New York. Not necessarily the items themselves but just these independently owned (albeit rather sold-out) specialty shops. Aside from Veneiro and Magnolia there are the Pickle Guys, Crif Dogs (which I have never been too), Doughnut Plant... you get it. They're the type of place that won't have substitutions, where when the product's gone then baby it's gone (I've been to Doughnut Plant when there were only 2 varieties left - at 3pm), and where New Yorkers will actually wait their turn. How do bakeries and pickle stores get people to act civilized?.

Of course, once the cupcakes were gone Jon was going through withdrawal so I whipped up a new batch. Since the actual cake of the cupcake was not very memorable I bought a box of organic vanilla cake mix from Whole Foods (the subject of my next blog) and so the dessert was - as Sandra Lee would put it - Semi-Homemade. The Buttercream Frosting is what is what draws the masses into the itsy-bitsy storefront and thanks to my KitchenAid Stand Mixer it was a cinch to make. Here are the pics of the authentic and homemade Magnolia cupcakes.

Magnolia Cupcakes
- make some cupcakes according to the instructions on a box of cupcake mix
Frosting (as in the official buttercream frosting):
2 sticks of butter (1 cup)
6-8 cups of confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. milk
2 tsp vanilla (you can be more generous here)
food coloring

Cream the butter and 4 cups of the sugar. Add in the milk and vanilla. Now add in the remaining sugar gradually until it has the consistency of a spreadable frosting. You may not need to use all 8 cups but when I made it I used about 7. Add food coloring of your choice until the frosting is pastel colored. Put frosting in piping bag and squeeze out said frosting in a circular motion over each cupcake until each one is covered in buttercreamy goodness. Garnish with sprinkles. (Enough frosting for 24 cupcakes at least)


At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are killing me woman. Scones, schmones, I miss the East Village and Magnolia (the banana pudding with Nilla wafers, mmmmm)and H&H and everything else--you especially! The following concepts are completely unheard of in England: the warm wrap (like at the Wrapp), deli meat that they actually slice for you, pancakes, Twizzler Pull and Peels, and so much more. Have you been to the Life Cafe yet? That's what I want to see a blog entry about! But Whole Foods is a good idea too. Way back when I first moved to NYC, you had to trek to Chelsea for your fix. Now there's Columbus Circle and Union Square and Chrystie Street's coming soon. Go and have the sesame brocoli and these hazelnut rice crackers and think of me!


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