Tag Archives: whole foods

Say Cheese

Go Local at the Whole Foods Upper West Side

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul overcomes childhood cheese issues to go local in a Whole Foods spending challenge.

Growing up in Dallas, eating local was a choice between Pizza Inn down the road or a slightly further drive to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Despite living at a crossroads of America’s Breadbasket, it never dawned on us to wonder about the origins of the food stocking the shelves at the neighborhood Tom Thumb.  For many years, I suffered post-traumatic stress from my Dad’s love of summer sausage and chunks of Longhorn Cheddar Cheese.  He’d prance through the house with a Chivas and water in one hand, and in the other some slightly mildewed neon orange queso—a delicacy processed somewhere far away from cattle country.  I’d run the other way when he offered me a bite, while my little dog Winnie happily snapped it up.

So it’s actually with great triumph that I’m now able to appreciate a good cheese platter as the centerpiece of a party spread.  Even more so, when that cheese is not Longhorn Cheddar but from local purveyors.  Yesterday, as I stood staring at the cheeses on offer at the Whole Foods Upper West Side, I was once again reminded that I have a lot in common with these artisanal producers—we’re both crafting small batches of goodness for consumers who appreciate something more personal and not mass-market.  My product just happens to be a book.

My version of the Whole Foods local cheese counter is the Alphabet City Book Club parties that friends are throwing while I’m on tour across the country.  It’s an opportunity to share my passion for storytelling with a small group—and let’s face it, I like to put on a show.  To that end, I arrive with the Alphabet City Party-in-a-Box that includes everything a host needs to throw a book soiree—Alphabet City books, branded cocktail napkins, cheeky coasters, a faux Oscar statuette, and some party nibbles and drinks.  In New York City, for the event that my friend Bryan was throwing at his apartment near the Harlem-Washington Heights divide, the folks at Whole Foods Upper West Side suggested I shop for party supplies at their newest location and show friends that entertaining in style doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank.

Here’s the thing: I have Whole Foods in my blood.  In college at the University of Texas-Austin, I used to shop at the original tiny store on Lamar.  Years later, I call myself a “Team Member by Marriage” since my partner Chef works for them, as does my sister Paige in their corporate headquarters.  I even interviewed CEO John Mackey for a profile in Condé Nast Traveler.  So I know my way around the store.  And while I laugh politely when folks call it “Whole Paycheck,” I also know on my own literary-budget constraints it’s possible to shop there with a plan and with style.

With Bryan in tow, my goal was to load up on enough food and drink to satiate an after-work crowd of 12 for around $100.  Here’s my biggest tip—when at all possible, purchase the store’s 365 brand products.  It’s like buying generic, except that they are guaranteed quality and often are organic.  My favorite is the 365 Hummus—it’s delicious, sometimes the stores can’t keep it in stock, and it’s always a crowd pleaser.  One of my early NYC roommates Shannon taught me, “It’s not a NY party without hummus.”  Spice things up with a couple of different flavors—I like the jalapeno as well as the red bell pepper.  Pair with fresh cut vegetables—to save money, slice your own zucchini, squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, and cauliflower rather than buy the prepackaged slices.

A jar of 365 salsa is also terrific—and being from Texas I am picky about my salsa.  Beware: the HOT is very HOT.  Go for Medium or Mild for a party.  Pick up some 365 Tortilla chips and water  crackers that come in different varieties.  Have the deli counter slice some prosciutto very thinly.  Don’t forget to head to the Whole Foods Market Wine Store next door for some amazing bargains.  Even here, there are 365 brand wines—we tried the Madame Fleur Rosé, which was crisp and light and only $7.99.  And I picked out a 1 Liter bottle of Big Woop! red blended wine from Australia for $11.  The name made me laugh, and it turned out the wine packs a punch that even pleased Chef’s palate—and he’s a tough critic.

Bryan asking for cheese help

Now, spend your remaining budget at the cheese counter.  If you’re like me, and have a complicated history with queso that causes you to freeze up and become indecisive, you’re in luck.  The Whole Foods team members are experts—explain your situation and they’ll give you advice, offer tastings, and even applaud you when you tell them you’d like to feature local artisans.  At check out, make sure to offer up your own bags to carry everything home—each one will get you a .10cent credit.  Hey, it all adds up.

All in all, Bryan and I did pretty well within our budget.  The crowd at Bryan’s lovely apartment ate up the food selections along with a generous side of Alphabet City readings.  Now that’s a perfect local match.

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Kitchen Knightmares: Green Day Edition

Today on Alphabet City: Kitchen Knightmares returns with a special “Green Day” edition of natural remedies. Special Guest Stars: VitaMix 5200, Coach Farm’s Probiotic Yo-Goat

Please pardon the previously unannounced hiatus of Kitchen Knightmares, the spin-off kitchen series about improving my efforts to cook for Chef.  While KK was “off the air,” one episode picked up quite a devoted following in the Middle East—so if you missed Moroccan Halibut with Carrots make sure to check out Kitchen Knightmares: Something Fishy

One of my excuses for falling down on the cooking job is I’ve been doing battle with a nasty bout of flu-cold-allergies-infections for nearly a month.  In my overly dramatic mind, I was convinced I had picked up some exotic bug while on assignment in the tropics for Bon Appétit.  It took several doctors, including my own father-in-law, to dissuade me of that notion.  But it’s taken a couple of all-natural remedies from my Whole Foods peeps Paige & Chef to speed me into recovery.

Whole Foods ingredients to get rid of the whole cough

First problem: chronic cough, often keeping me awake at night, and making me sound like Lauren Bacall.  My sister Paige stepped up with this all natural cough suppressant that works for my niece Hannah—and it did for me.  Who doesn’t love a recipe whose active ingredient is Cayenne Pepper?

Texas-Style Kickin’ the Cough Syrup

1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 TB honey
1 TB apple cider vinegar
2 TB water
**Take about one tsp at a time, but okay to start with 3 tsp. Take as often as needed.

The syrup was super-easy to make.  I accomplished the task even after taking an Ambien when I couldn’t sleep for 48 hours thanks to being hopped up on a dose of steroids.  I imagine it was like crystal meth minus the sex.

Part of the blender looks fresh from a porno

Second problem: struggling intestines after havoc wreaked on them by a couple of rounds of monstrously strong antibiotics.  Chef used my stomach issues as a teaching moment about the power of Probiotics using Coach Farm’s Yo-Goat Cultured Goat Milk.  Although hesitant because I rarely drink milk of any kind, I was encouraged by the May issue of Bon Appetit.  Check out p. 46 for a quick explanation of “good bacteria” that may help regulate lactose digestion (for some reason it’s not online).  Plus, the goat milk packaging was cute, and Chef insisted that I could make a tasty smoothie using, what else, the VitaMix 5200, our newly adopted kitchen child.

Chef Juan Pablo’s VitaMix5200 Probiotic Smoothie Operator

16 oz. Yo-Goat Cultured Goat Milk (strawberry flavored even though Jamie Oliver would have a cow)

1 pint fresh blackberries (or other berry fruit)

1 pint mango sorbet (Chef made some previously in the VitaMix 5200, you could use store bought)

Honey to sweeten if berries not enough

Pour cultured goat milk in first.  Then everything else.  Start VitaMix 5200 on low, gradually increase speed, using special utensil (which looks like a sex toy to me) to mash down.  If you must use a traditional blender, make sure the sorbet is soft or you’ll blow your motor.  Cue product placement commercial for VitaMix 5200 with harried home cook looking exasperated as smoke comes out of a blender with voice over: Are you tired of burning up blenders?

Nothing comes between Chef and his VitaMix

I’ve been enjoying the smoothie for 2 days after refrigerating the extra, and my tummy seems on the mend.  But not my feelings—during my lesson with Chef, I think I caught him rolling his eyes when I got flustered at the controls.  Then, he muscled in and basically took over, clearly worried I might cause injury to his new baby.  I even caught him double checking the gadget after I cleaned it.

That’s okay, because I got my revenge.  My news ears/nose/throat doctor diagnosed me with allergy-induced asthma that is causing my cough.

“Air conditioning is your friend!”  the doctor announced.

“I’m from Texas, you don’t to convince me!” I shrieked in excitement.

The doc explained that running an A/C in the bedroom at night helps filter out the pollen in the air.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  You see, Chef pretty much hates the A/C, something I can never understand since he’s from South of the Border.  It’s always a tense weekend in summer when I get out and install the window units.

But this year, Christmas in July comes a couple of months early—courtesy of a doctor’s note.

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BizSavvyBlogger’s Peek-A-Blog: From Me To You

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul peeks behind the lens of photography blogger (and fellow Texan) Jamie of FromMe-ToYou.tumblr.com

Howdy, and welcome to launch of this occasional series I’m calling “Peek-A- Blog.”

First, a little background.  My Texas roots run deep, and I’ve learned you never know where they might surface under the Big Apple tree.  Case in point: a little over a week ago, Chef sent me a link to a photography blog called From Me To You, excited that it featured pictures of some chili based made from a recipe he distributed at Whole Foods on the Upper West Side.  Frankly, I wasn’t too enthusiastic—how great can some beans and beef look?  But Chef seemed excited, so I thought I should try and be supportive.

When I clicked the link, I was blown away.

Not your typical food blog picture--From Me To You immediately intrigued me

The beautifully saturated and styled photo shoot was not the work of a Julie Powell home cook wannabe.  It was the highly artistic endeavor of a talented photographer.

Jamie makes pouring a can of Whole Foods 365 tomatoes look beautiful!

As I tooled around the captivating site, I discovered it was the work of a fellow Texan, and that meant one thing—we simply had to meet.

A fellow Rose from Texas...who I am dying to meet!

A few days earlier at lunch, my friend Adrianna who writes the hilarious dating blog Techromance had encouraged me to reach out to fellow bloggers that I admire, interview them about their path and development.  As a journalist, I liked the sound of that—a way to keep my interview skills fresh.  But I didn’t know where to begin, until I tumblr-d upon FromMeToYou—a fellow ex-pat Texan is just what the blogger ordered.  A few emails later and we were bonded like sorority sisters with a date to dish over margaritas at our favorite Lone Star spot in NYC—Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

Enjoy the peek!

JPB: The weather was so gross today that I couldn’t risk ruining my cowboy boots. Jamie: That’s fine.  Look at these!  My mom got them for me.  She called one day from Texas and said, “I’m in Dillard’s and these boots are 50% off with an extra 25% off.  They are NEW.  YORK.  BOOTS!”

Macy’s just can’t compete with a good Dillard’s sale, right?  Makes me kind of home sick.  All right, I’m having the Chicken Fried Steak Fingers basket because that was my Grandma Tommie’s favorite thing to order at Dairy Queen.  How about you? The Cornmeal Fried Catfish Fingers.  And a frozen margarita, naturally.

Yummy fried catfish pic courtesy of Jamie/FromMeToYou

Livin' it up in Blogaritaville. Pic courtesy of Jamie/FromMeToYou

How’d you wind up in New York?   Were you like me and wanted to move here since you were a kid? I dreamed of working at Vogue.  Honestly, I would lie in my bed just dreaming of working at Vogue—picture myself walking down the hallways.  I don’t know why because my mother wouldn’t buy any Vogues.  But I just saw myself working there.  I was in love with fashion photography.  The first time I was in New York was when I was 14, and I remember thinking, “I want my pictures up on those billboards!”

Were your parents supportive of your decision to live in Manhattan after studying photography at FIT? They wanted me to move home.  They’d call and say things like, “Why don’t you come back and shoot weddings?”  They didn’t get what I was doing.  With the blog, though, they really are starting to understand.

Do you find that your blog has developed and changed over time? When I started it last May, I used to post just a single image.  But then I decided I want to do longer postings.  I wanted to wake up and do whatever I was into or obsessing about.  And it just seemed like people really started connecting with my work.  My best traffic is usually Tuesday through Thursday—I guess people are bored at work.

You get a lot of reader responses.  Do you enjoy those? The comments are the best part!  They are so motivating.  Sometimes I get “your picture reminds me of childhood,” or “your photographs made me so nostalgic.”  One of my favorite comments is “you’ve inspired me to try photography again.”  I also answer tons of camera questions.  What kind of film.  What kind of exposure.  I really try to respond to each one.

That’s a lot of work! It is.  You know that blogging can take a lot of work.  I spend about 30% of my day working on that day’s blog post.  50% emailing back and forth either comments or questions.  And the rest of the time marketing my blog in different ways.  I twitter a lot to specific markets.  That’s how we connected.  I twittered about my photos from a Whole Foods recipe, and then the company sent along the link to others.  Before I go to bed, I obsess over Google analytics.  New York and California are my biggest states, then Texas, I think because of my family.  Right now, I want more readers in Paris!  I’m obsessed with Paris.

Reading your blog, I realize that unlike me, you don’t expose much of your personal life. For a very good reason.  I would like people to focus on my personal work, not my personal life.  My work is up for discussion, not my life.  But my work is very personal, it reveals a lot about my passion and obsessions and my life.

Like a novelty t-shirt, I put my life out there for all to see; Jamie prefers discretion

How do you come up with the categories on your blog? They all come out of my own life.  “Dinner and a Movie” developed from what was really date night.  I was trying to save money, and cook at home, and watch movies, and at the same time I was interested in photographing food.  So I just decided to marry the two together.  Based upon that, I started reaching out to food stylists and chefs and really working on food photography.

Any new additions coming up? Well, a new feature called “Flavor of the Month” comes out of my obsessions.  Sometimes I get obsessed with something for a while—like grapefruits—and I crave them and eat them everyday.  Then I wake up one day and it’s passed, and I’m on to the next thing.  I thought documenting that would be a great ongoing feature.  Because I only do original content, I was having a hard time finding a way to tell people about all the amazing blogs I am obsessed with.  But if I have a regular feature about my obsessions—I can take those things, photograph them, and make them mine.  That’s what I’m going to do with your book.

Will you promise to make me look as good as those grapefruits you shot? I’m going to surprise you with a real Texas twist.

Jamie took one of the best photos of me in a long time; can't wait to see what she does with the book!

Anything you miss about Texas? The Mexican food, of course.  I will eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner when I’m home.  And I really miss the thrift stores and antique stores.  I’ve gotten some bargains that are so amazing that I won’t tell people where the stores are.  I’m talking a full-length fur coat for $10!

You would fit right in at Vogue.  Will you wear it to our next lunch? No, but maybe to your book launch party!


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Kitchen Knightmares: Quick (Down Home) Cassoulet

Today on Alphabet City: JP returns to Kitchen Knightmares cooking Quick “Down Home” Cassoulet courtesy of Mark Bittman

As life settled back into a routine in the New Year, it was time for me to live up to my commitment and get back into Wednesday cooking mode for Chef.  So last night marked my return to the Kitchen Knightmares arena.

My new special advisor in this endeavor is Mark Bittman.  I’ve always liked Mark’s take on food (and not just because his daughter turned up on the 4th of July with a friend of mine at our summer rental in Provincetown a couple of years ago).  His “Minimalist” approach chronicled weekly in the New York Times always makes sense to me, sort of a more approachable Michael Pollan.

His cookbook Kitchen Express is right up my alley—recipes arranged seasonally so you are using the best ingredients.  Even better, Mark wants cooking to be uncomplicated—so there are no exact measurements in the recipes, and each one should take under 20 minutes.

Quick (Down Home) Cassoulet (“down home” is my addition—you’ll see why)

As Mark explains, “This version is far from strictly traditional, but it maintains the spirit of the original and takes less than 20 minutes.”

Here was my process: sautéed some chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes.  Then I added some sliced turkey sausage (leaner than traditional).  After a couple of minutes I added a drained can of blacked eye peas (my Southern touch which I’m sure would have the French rolling their eyes; you can use any white beans you want, but these peas are a Texas New Year’s tradition so I figured I’d throw ’em in), a drained can of butter beans, a can of crushed tomatoes.  Throw in a bay leaf, some fresh thyme and salt and pepper.  It simmered for a little while to cook the vegetables.  And then I served with a sprinkling of bread crumbs.  See how easy that is to follow?  Hard to go wrong.

Only downside to Mark’s recipes is there is no nutritional information—that comes from Mark’s belief that if you generally eat correctly, you don’t need to watch that stuff.  But since Chef and I are trying to get back on the weight-loss wagon, I had to total up the calories myself.  Good news: one serving is about 300 calories!

Result?  At Judge’s Table, Chef agreed it was delicious, and that it warmed the tummy in the dead cold of winter.

I’ll invite Mark back to be my cooking coach anytime.

Note: Live on the Upper West Side?  Make sure to stop by the Whole Foods on 97th and Columbus on Wednesday nights around 6pm and check out Chef’s “tasting night.”

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Kitchen Knightmares: Boyfriend Trouble

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s crush on dancer Jakob causes problems in his cooking for Juan Pablo.

I’ve decided to forgive myself for mistakenly substituting Sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem Artichokes) for Parsnips in this week’s challenge: Greek-Style Penne with Lamb, Parsnips, Tomatoes, and Cinnamon from Bon Appetit’s November 2009 issue.  The fact is I wasn’t paying attention while shopping because I’ve been distracted by a boy.

Jakob, the object of my schoolgirl affection

On Tuesday, for the first time ever, I actually called in to vote for a contestant on a TV competition.  I’m a late convert to So You Think You Can Dance but have quickly developed an enormous crush on Jakob (how cute is it that he spells it with a “k”?).  My Dancetestant Boyfriend is terrifically talented, cute, and humble.  I know, I have a schoolgirl crush, and I can’t help it.

I waited with excruciating anticipation until the show’s host announced the phone lines were open for voting.  And then dialed 1-888-TEMPO-10 and then panicked.  Was that Jakob’s number?  I scanned the DVR back and melted all over again as my beloved looked right into my eyes and held up all his fingers.  I punched my phone again, and voted not once, but three times.

Then a flash of shame took hold and I stopped myself from hitting the redial button to vote again.  What was I doing?  How did I become this person?  I had officially jumped the shark and become a crazed fan.

And so on Wednesday, I raced through the aisles of Whole Foods Chelsea desperately trying to round up my ingredients.  I needed to get home to watch the results show before cooking for Chef Juan Pablo.  And that’s how I was taken in by the Sunchokes Switcheroo.

Definitely add the fresh parsley as a garnish, unless you're SJP

Turns out, the little tubers are a pretty good substitute for parsnips (confirmed by Chef).  And, my passion for Jakob helped him advance to the Final 8.  When he makes it back to NYC, I’ll invite him over to celebrate.

Recipe Reaction: Easy and delicious recipe to make.  Next time I’d add a little bit more cinnamon than recipe calls for to punch up that flavor.  FYI, when shopping at Whole Foods, ground lamb is usually found already packaged—not behind the butcher counter.

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Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul shares outtakes from his interview with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey

For his interview with me just published in the December issue of Condé Nast Traveler (CLICK HERE to read online), Whole Foods CEO John Mackey showed up in hiking shorts, a polo shirt and walking shoes, and was immediately taken with the attachment that turns my iPod into a voice recorder.  I suggested he buy one to tape his interviews since he believes he’s frequently misquoted in the press.  But the man who runs one of the most admired companies in America doesn’t an own iPod iPhone.  He’s definitely not your stereotypical CEO.  And that made my interview with him a breathe of fresh air.

CORRECTION: The lovely head of PR at Whole Foods Kate Lowery, who was in the interview, corrected me that John has owned MANY iPods over the years, used them on his hikes, and was an early adopter of the technology.  He didn’t have an iPhone at the time of the interview, but does now.

DISCLOSURE: Even before the interview, I knew that John wasn’t your typical CEO as I had met him several years ago when he was in New York and wanted to attend an event I was organizing sponsored by my client The Economist.  Somehow, he mentioned to my sister Paige (who works for him/Whole Foods as part of the Digital Media Team) that he’d like to attend the event if he could get tickets, and my sister said she could probably make that happen.  When he showed up at the event, he didn’t want to sit in the VIP section I had reserved for him, but preferred sitting close to the stage with all the other general admission ticket holders.  He also thanked me profusely and genuinely for getting him tickets.  Again, unlike most titans of industry who would think their CEO title automatically gained them privileged access.

John spent a little over an hour with me at the bright and open Whole Foods headquarters in Austin back in June—just before he published his controversial health care op-ed in the Wall St. Journal.  Although I may not agree with his take on America’s most pressing problem, I appreciate that a CEO is willing to step forward, take a passionate stand, and not be milquetoast.

He was just as forthcoming and warm in our interview, and here are a few of his tips and thoughts that didn’t make it into print because of space constraints.

Whole Food’s Whole Planet Foundation microcredit loan programs in partnership with Grameen Bank give loans not just to those in the developing world, but entrepreneurs in Jackson Heights, Queens.  I asked him about that and John’s answer is a testament to the immigrant experience and spirit.

JPB: Many people think microcredit in the developing world, but I was intrigued by your microcredit program in Jackson heights, Queens.

Mackey: Initially when I heard about the idea for loans in the United States I thought “that’s never going to work.”  No way.  The money is going to be taken and not paid back.  I was very cynical about it.  What I didn’t understand is that the majority of those loans were being made to first generation immigrants…Think about how much courage it takes to uproot yourself to another country where you don’t necessarily speak the language, you don’t understand the culture.  It’s an immense act of courage.  So most people aren’t going to do it.  So the ones who do it are already self-selected for initiative, energy, intelligence, courage.  It has been the secret of America since it’s founding.  We’ve enabled smart ambitious people to be able to come over here and improve their lives.  So it’s mostly immigrants these loans are going to.   And that fits in with Whole Foods Markets because our New York stores have people from over 65 different countries working in the store.  I think that’s amazing.  And they are ambitious, and they’re wonderful.  I just love our team members.

On a “lighter” note, I asked John about the difficulty in traveling as a vegan.

JPB: Any favorite places to recommend to other traveling vegans?

Mackey: Well in New York City, my favorite restaurant that I will always go to—usually multiple times is called Candle 79.  It’s on 79th and Lexington.  It’s great.  And the people that own it and manage it are wonderful people.  In London, I discovered this place called SAF, it a new vegan restaurant called Simply Authentic Food.

This past Sunday, Chef and I took John’s recommendation and headed to Candle 79 after a day at the Met.  Unlike vegan spots in Alphabet City that are spare and earthy crunchy, Candle 79 is plush and romantic with stylistic dishes.  Not everything was spot on—the special salad of the day with cranberry beans was bland and in need of salt and citrus.  But our plates of creamy hummus were perfectly spiced (read Frank Bruni’s NYT review.)

With a couple of glasses of biodynamic wines, we toasted John Mackey’s passion and commitment—his vision has definitely changed our world.

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40, Love: Creamy, Not Crunchy

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul opens up about a life long battle with a quirky eating disorder

How is it possible that until last week I wasn’t aware that November is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month?  After all, I love peanut butter so much that I ate only that sticky brown goodness for an entire year when I was five years old.  That’s it.  Just creamy peanut butter spread on one piece of white bread, folded over, no jelly.  I insisted on eating that treat for every meal for twelve months.

I will eat it right out of the jar

My mother Gay (indeed, her real name) just went along with it until my regular check-up at pediatrician Dr. Moore.  He noticed an odd muscle deficiency for a child of my size.

“What’s he eating?” Dr. Moore asked.

“Peanut butter,” Mother replied.

“And what else?”

“Oh, that’s it.  Peanut butter for every meal.”

“Now Gay, you can just let him eat peanut butter.  You’re the mother.  You’re in charge!”

Rather than dig down to the root of my odd eating disorder, mother avoided it by making sure I avoided the addictive substance—she banned peanut butter from the house.

I didn’t come into contact with it again until I was a teenager and moved in with my father (a judge appointed by the nation’s second peanut farming president Jimmy Carter), stepmother and little three year-old half-brother James.  Fortunately for the newest Buchmeyer toddler, peanut butter addiction didn’t run in the family and he was allowed to have jars of it in the house for his lunch.  Now there was a serious problem—I devoured it before his nanny even had a chance to slather Welch’s Grape Jelly onto the bread.  Fortunately, my stepmother Chris performed an intervention and peanut butter once again disappeared from the shelves (or at least it was well hidden from my view).

Only a couple of times in college did I fall off the peanut wagon—mostly around times of high anxiety like exams, boyfriend break-ups, and late night post-theater rehearsal munchies.  But when I moved and became the star of Alphabet City in 1996, the stress just got to me.  With little money in my pocket, and combing the aisles of Key Foods for a food substance that would carry me through the end of the work week, I turned not to Ramen Noodles, but to Peter Pan.  That’s when things really got sticky. Continue reading


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Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Today on Alphabet City: Susan’s birthday conjures up an unexpected famous face.  Guest star: Graham Norton

Birthdays on Alphabet City are always “very special episodes.”  My 40th birthday last year was shot on-location in Sydney.  Juan Pablo’s always involves some over-the-top food segment featuring a star chef.  And Susan’s typically lasts all month with both heavy amounts of travel and food.  But last night, we celebrated Susan’s 35th birthday a little differently with a 5-course meal prepared by Chef Juan Pablo (full menu provided below) in our Washington Heights brownstone.  I was reminded that the last time we threw a party in our home for Susan—exactly five years ago for her 30th birthday—a celebrity talk-show presenter mistakenly appeared.

Back when I first became a trained publicist, instead of traditional invites for Christmas and birthday parties, I sent out Press Alerts—an insider joke for people working in the entertainment industry—inviting people to come to a cast party on the set (my apartment)—encouraging their “publicists” to submit names of clients who might want to be invited.  For Susan’s 30th birthday party at my apartment, I announced on the press alert that the event was happening at a new “underground East Village club.”  But anyone who knew me well, and had been to the party many times, recognized the address as my apartment.

The night of the party, I opened the door to Marc, a sweetly gullible TV-producer friend of mine who had taken the Press Alert seriously.

“Um, hi, so what is this place?  It’s so underground that it looks like a real apartment.  I guess normal is the new cool,” he said.

He was trying desperately to look hip and in-the-know and not a bit surprised by the glaringly bright kitchen lights and wafts of garlicky spaghetti sauce.  He twitched nervously and motioned to his friends standing nearby.

“These are my friends Kathryn and Graham.”

He had brought along the local TV entertainment reporter who thought she might score a scoop, and British chat-show host Graham Norton.  Graham thought he was being escorted to the latest invite-only club—one that was on the cutting-edge of chic tucked away in a tenement building with no sign and no velvet rope.  I smiled at my little ruse.


Guests at an Alphabet City party include Entertainment Reporter Kathryn, TV Producer Marc, my dear friend Susan, and TV Chat Host Graham Norton and friend

“Welcome to the set of Alphabet City, the sitcom of my life.”

After the initial shock wore off, Graham grabbed three plastic cups filled with wine, a plate of meatballs, and sat all night on the sofa talking to my dog Winnie’s groomer Evelyn and dog-walker-au-pair Kasia.

“Young man, that was the most authentic New York City evening I have ever had,” he hugged me on the way out.  “I do hope I can be a guest star on future episodes.”

Graham’s surprise appearance boosted the Alphabet City ratings as well as the attendance at future parties—friends never knew who might show up.

Five years later, we didn’t need a talk-show host to boost our ratings or celebration of  Susan’s 35th birthday.  Instead, Alphabet City‘s own celebrity Chef Juan Pablo prepared  a 5-course meal that included a Thomas Keller French Laundry recipe for cheese gougéres, a salmon and caviar terrine, seared sweet scallops in beurre blanc sauce, gnocchi with butternut squash and mushroom reduction (also a Keller receipe), and a Tom Colicchio recipe for slow braised “fresh bacon” or “pork belly.”  I’d never seen a pork belly fresh from the butcher—seeing the little nipples is a little much, but it sure tasted amazing!  Later, my own Kitchen Knightmare pastry talents were on display with a Bon Appetit recipe for Caramelized Pumpkin Flan and a Whole Foods recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding to which I added chocolate chips.


Can you see the pig's nipples?


Looks like bacon!


Salmon and caviar terrine was the first thing Chef ever cooked for Susan


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40, Love: Share, and Cher alike

Today on Alphabet City: A fight with the community teaches Jon Paul a lesson in Cher-ing.

With the approach of Thanksgiving comes the end of our CSA—community supported agriculture.  We buy a “share” that goes directly to support Windflower Farms in upstate New York—and every Tuesday from June through November we pick up our produce at a local distribution site outside Fort Washington Collegiate Church on 181st Street.  We call it Ch/Share Night since the soundtrack I put on each week is a mix of that Cher’s tunes.  We treat Ch/Share like a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge—what meal will Chef Juan Pablo (or Susan) come up with that night?  (Here’s a link to a local news segment about weekly dinners.)

The challenge for me has been the “community” part of the CSA.  There’s a simple 2-shift work requirement during the season, which seems simple enough—and a great way to meet your neighbors.  But not for me.  Over the years, I’m always getting into fights with people.  There was an altercation with the lady I asked to move it along—she was holding up the line while picking out three perfect red onions as if her life depended upon it.  There was the tiff with the fellow who didn’t like me telling him it was his responsibility to bring his own bags to pick up his share—why was it my fault he showed up unprepared?  There was the exchange of words with the woman complaining to me about another delivery of kale—I’m just a volunteer, not the farmer, eat more greens.

This season I’ve been irked by an increasing number of parents letting their toddlers rummage through the vegetable and fruit bins as if we’re on a Sesame Street skit.  A couple of weeks ago, a father laughed as his kid wiped snot from his nose all over the apples. I couldn’t hold my tongue anymore, and tried to be as nice as I could.

“Hey, it would be great if you keep your son from handling all the fruit.”

“Since when did the share become anti-family?” the father screamed.

“Sir, I’m not anti-family.  I’m pro-child control.  It’s flu season after all.”

“What are you a Republican?”

“Okay, take it down a notch.”

“Come on Johnny, this mean man doesn’t want you to have apples.”

Yep, that’s me.  The Wicked Witch of the Ch/Share. Continue reading


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Kitchen Knightmares 2: Porky’s Revenge

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul does battle with his Pork Demons

Last week’s Kitchen Knightmares rancid pork disaster did little to dissuade me of my suspicion about the “other white meat.”  But with the deadline looming for me to prepare another meal for Chef Juan Pablo, I decided it best to try and climb back up on that pig.  Truthfully, I also happened to be in Whole Foods Union Square without a cell phone signal and was unable to call up any other recipes on my epicurious iPhone app.  So, I grabbed the one item seared in my brain—pork tenderloin.

In case you missed last week’s Kitchen Knightmares episode, this recipe for Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Tangerines and Chili Sauce comes from the November issue of Bon Appétit.

Drum roll please.  A hit!  Even if I do say so myself—I completely forgot that Chef Juan Pablo was working late at an event that Whole Foods sponsors called Eat Sweat Blog.  So I’m home alone eating, sweating and blogging by myself.  And proud of myself for mastering the art of pork stir-fry cooking.


This one looked good and was edible, too.

Couple of notes on the recipe:

  • I used Clementines instead of tangerines because they are in season now and looked delicious and they tasted great.
  • I doubled the amount of Chinese Five Spice because the small bite I had last week didn’t have as much of a punch as this Texas native likes.  And boy did this one have a kick.
  • Last week, I only had Peanut Oil on hand but this week I used the recipe called for Sesame Oil and I do think that made a flavor difference (discounting the rotten meat flavor).

Overall, a big win for Kitchen Knightmares despite the fact that my favorite chef   wasn’t around for Judge’s Table.  I’m pretty sure this week I wouldn’t have been eliminated.  And now, I’m free to move on to cooking something else.

Now anyone out there have a recommendation for a good iPhone recipe/shopping list app?

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