Coming Soon: Puerto Rico Restaurant Week

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
**

The dates for the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week have just been announced, and this year’s line up of participating restaurants promises to be the best yet. The event will take place May 14-20, and will feature prix fixe lunches ($14 or $19) and dinners ($28 or $38) at some of San Juan’s top restaurants.

Organizers have also partnered with some new, big-time sponsors, including JetBlue and several local hotels, so keep an eye on the event’s website for announcements of special accommodation deals.

Santaella, one of the restaurants participating in the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week, May 14-20.

Santaella, one of the restaurants participating in the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week, May 14-20.

Francisco and I have been writing about and photographing food and culinary culture in Puerto Rico since 2005, and have eaten at many of the restaurants participating in this year’s Restaurant Week event. We particularly recommend Fern at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, which is one of the few (if not only) participating restaurants outside metro San Juan.

If you want to know more about what’s in store for you as you eat your way around San Juan, the island’s capital, check out some of our recent articles about Puerto Rico’s current food scene:

Puerto Rico in 10 Plates: Bespoke Magazine

Puerto Rico Farm to Table: Bespoke Magazine

Puerto Rico’s New Culinary Superstars: The Latin Kitchen

Puerto Rico’s New Cheese Movement: The Latin Kitchen

And while you’re there, check out the recently protected Northeastern Corridor, which I wrote about for National Geographic Traveler.

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An Evening with Diana Kennedy

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
For the record, I almost skipped the evening with Diana Kennedy. The weather was bad, the Williamsburg location of her presentation was annoyingly inconvenient, I was tired, and my day’s to-do list was still long. Plus, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made an effort to go see someone renowned in their field, only to feel afterward that the balloon of enthusiasm I’d carried for them so long had popped unceremoniously, never to be refilled (I will never, for example, forget dragging Francisco to see the anthropologist Clifford Geertz– “He’s AMAZING,” I promised, “What a mind!”–only to be chagrined. Geertz was utterly incoherent and probably should have retired from public life by that point.)

The one and only Diana Kennedy.

The one and only Diana Kennedy.

But I’d paid $35 for a ticket to see her. I needed a break from the computer. And, of course, it was DIANA KENNEDY, widely regarded as the foremost authority on Mexican cooking, a woman who rarely makes appearances in the U.S. and who is advanced in age. This opportunity would likely not come again, so I bundled up, grabbed an umbrella, and headed to the G train.

The James Beard Foundation Award-winning book, Oaxaca al Gusto, one of many books Kennedy has written.

The James Beard Foundation Award-winning book, Oaxaca al Gusto, one of many books Kennedy has written.

For once, I was not disappointed. Kennedy, who is 91 years old, is in fine form, vital and entirely coherent and unapologetically outspoken. She is visiting the US (NYC this week, Austin this weekend) to publicize the launch of a foundation that she has established, a fitting continuation of her life’s work, which has involved more than a half century documenting in painstaking detail the culinary techniques and traditions of Mexico’s varied regions, including Michoácan, where she lives, and Oaxaca, to name only two.

The foundation will, among its many pursuits, digitize Kennedy’s extensive trove of documents, field notes, and photographs (and as someone who is wildly enthusiastic about digital archives and digital libraries, I couldn’t be more excited about this), making them available to anyone who has Internet access. At a time when the effects of the genetic modification of seeds, flight to urban areas, and ongoing geopolitical conflicts threaten both traditional foods and recipes in Mexico (and really, almost everywhere else), Kennedy’s longitudinal study of Mexican cuisine is nothing short of a public service.

As a Kennedy admirer, a Mexiphile, and a book collector, this was an amazing gift.

As a Kennedy admirer, a Mexiphile, and a book collector, this was an amazing gift.

Kennedy spoke at The Brooklyn Kitchen, a gourmet goods and kitchen shop and event space, in a free-flowing conversation with guests (a number of food journalists among us) about topics ranging from lard (“I want all of you to know I eat fat. There is nothing better than lard.”) to her travels around Mexico (“I wish my truck could talk, too; it has a lot of stories it could tell.”) to her thoughts about sustainability (“You better not invite me to your kitchen if you don’t want me to look at your garbage. It’s the first thing I’ll look at. I can tell everything I need to know about you based on your garbage.”), answering questions passionately until the moderator–not Kennedy herself–called it quits. She was equally effusive in her criticism and praise of every subject raised, and modeled what I think many more of us should be: outspoken, confident without being arrogant, committed to a cause, and as alive as a roaring fire. She also stayed on to sign every single attendee’s book– we each got to pick one of three books as a gift (which, truth be told, was another motivating factor for me to go to the event).

At the end of the evening, I felt new.

If you’re not familiar with Kennedy and have even a casual interest in Mexican culture and food, I recommend her cookbook-memoir, Nothing fancy: Recipes and recollections of soul-satisfying food. She has written several other books, each one a gift, full of knowledge and the passionate curiosity that has driven her for her entire life.

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New York City from East to West: 47th Street

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
It’s spring (finally!), which means I can resuscitate “New York City from East to West,” a series of posts I started a couple years ago; each one takes you on a quick but appreciative cross-town journey that’s faster and, I’d like to think, more enjoyable than a ride on the bus. No matter how many times I’ve walked a certain street featured in the series, I inevitably see something I’ve never noticed before.

Today, I walked across 47th Street, starting on First Avenue, right outside the gates of the United Nations.

Outside the United Nations. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

Outside the United Nations. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

It’s one of those places that most New Yorkers have probably never visited (we have); if they have they’ve probably visited only once, which is too bad. Apart from the general building tour, which is interesting if you’re intrigued by politics and diplomacy, the UN hosts art and educational exhibits and its grounds are studded with sculptures, gifts from member nations. I’d wait to visit though, if I were you; an ongoing renovation project, which was scheduled for completion in 2013, has not yet finished.

Just across the street, on the west side of First Avenue, is Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a strip of park that runs the length of the entire block from First to Second Avenues. At the eastern end is Dag, a café with both indoor and outdoor seating.

Dag Café. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Dag Café. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

At the western end, you’ll find a farmers’ market each Wednesday. On the northern side of this block is the Church of the Holy Family, built in 1965 on the site of a former stable.

Interior of the Church of the Holy Family. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Interior of the Church of the Holy Family. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

It’s a small church, but a lovely one, especially this time of year, as it has a small pocket garden attached to its side. The garden is far less busy than the plaza across the street, and is a peaceful spot if you want to sit and read or, as I did, feed your kid.

If you’re the hungry one, press on to 47th and Park, where you’ll find a diverse line-up of food trucks plating up everything from Korean and tacos to Korean tacos.

Food trucks. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Food trucks. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

If you want to eat al fresco, there are plenty of places to join the Park Avenue office workers who have also picked up their lunches from the trucks.

As you keep making your way west, you’ll find two entrances to Grand Central Terminal, which may surprise you, since everyone associates 42nd Street with Grand Central.

One of Grand Central's many far-flung entrances. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

One of Grand Central’s many far-flung entrances. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

“No one is quite sure exactly how many entrances there are….” wrote journalist Rick Lyman on the occasion of the transit hub’s 75th birthday (it just celebrated its 100th last year), and that seems to be true– I can’t find any definitive, official count either. Here, though, at the corner of 47th and Madison, are two: one with escalators and, a few paces behind it, an elevator entrance; they both opened in 1998.

Just across Madison, on the northwest side of the street, you’ll find The Center for Fiction, a spot for book lovers I stumbled upon for the first time about a year ago.

Center for Fiction. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Center for Fiction. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Both a literary events center and bookstore, their stock is strongest, as the name suggests, in fiction, but browse their shelves of used books in the back room and on the carts sitting on the sidewalk, and you’ll find non-fiction titles as well.

If you’re working on your own novel, you might want to step into Phil’s Stationery at 9 East 47th Street. It’s just the kind of store we’re in danger of losing here.

Phil's Stationery. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Phil’s Stationery. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Staples and Office Depot, it is not, which is precisely why it’s so fabulous. It’s a cluttered mess, especially toward the back, where piles of dust-covered boxes with old, corded phones and other relics of technology sit haphazardly, blocking the aisles and serving no apparent purpose. But you’ll also find some unexpected treasures: a box of calligraphed ink stamps, an odd little music box, that sort of thing. You probably won’t find what you’re looking for (I didn’t); it’s definitely the kind of place where you go without any object in mind.

Once you cross Fifth Avenue, 47th Street becomes a gauntlet of wheeler dealers; you’ve entered New York’s Diamond District. Scheisters from Brazil, Africa, and Brooklyn stand outside businesses, ready to whisk you inside for a nice engagement ring or “statement piece” (What this one says is entirely up to your interpretation):

A "statement piece" for sale in the Diamond District. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

A “statement piece” for sale in the Diamond District. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Keeping west, you’ll find other places like Phil’s and the Diamond District, spots we’d be worse off for losing. Who knows about these two theaters, for example, which lie just beyond the better-known Ethel Barrymore Theater (currently showing “A Raisin in the Sun,” featuring Denzel Washington, who plays his part on the same stage where “Raisin” debuted):

The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

and

The Actors Temple. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

The Actors Temple. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

This is why it’s good to get out and walk the streets, even without a destination or plan to guide you: to learn these places exist and to get to know more about them.

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Saturday Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Text & Instagram Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
There are recipes I dance around for a loooong time– years, in some cases.

Should I make it? Should I not? What if the outcome’s a disaster? What if I waste perfectly good ingredients? Have I built up the skills to pull this one or that one off?

Cinnamon roll recipes fell into this “Maybe, maybe not” category. Baking, as I wrote about the empanadas a couple weeks ago, can be challenging enough without the added task of rolling dough into a spiral and cutting its pliant, slightly quivery mass into perfect rounds that hold their shape and filling… a task that, for someone who considers herself not particularly adept with spatial tasks, seemed really daunting (especially at 2 AM, which is when I was finishing the job).

But yesterday, Mariel and I were talking about recipes and she said she wanted to make cinnamon rolls. What kind of mother can say, “No, let’s not do that one; it’s too hard”? You don’t say that to your kid. Instead, you say, “Yes! Let’s try it!” and hope that you can pull warm, doughy, perfectly sweet rolls out of the oven at the end of it all.

The finished product- not too bad for our first try!

The finished product- not too bad for our first try!

And we did.

Either I’ve gotten better at baking or I’ve been lucky with good recipes lately, though I suspect it’s a bit of both. We used Deb Perelman’s recipe, an adaptation of Alton Brown’s recipe, as our point of departure. We omitted fresh cranberries and replaced them with some dried cranberries, added slivered almonds, and cut the amount of light brown sugar to 3/4 cup, as we didn’t want cloyingly sweet rolls. We didn’t make the frosting and we didn’t have buttermilk, substituting a half measure of milk and a half measure of orange juice (which makes a sort of buttermilk).

And they were perfect, especially for a sunny Saturday morning.

If you decide to make these yourself (don’t be scared!), do be sure to roll the dough into a log that is as tight as possible. The tighter it is, the easier it will be to cut. If you don’t want to bake all 12 rolls that the recipe yields at once, do as we did and cut the log into thirds and store the other two in your freezer for another morning.

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Opening in New York: Xavier Carbonell Exhibit at Jadite Galleries

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
It is often the case that people I meet while traveling stay with me, by which I mean that they stay in my mind and my heart. Though there are some wonderful exceptions, I’ll never see most of those people again. The memories of our encounters remain, but our paths don’t cross again.

Sometimes, though, life intervenes in an unexpected and exciting way.

Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell.

Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell, a wonderful couple I met in Catalunya a few years ago. Rosa and Xavier are both artists and from the moment I stepped into their home and studio in the town of Olot, I knew they were exceptionally special people. Though our time together was brief, they made a powerful impression on me, and I left feeling grateful for our encounter, but sad that I’d probably never see them again.

And then, an email. Rosa and Xavier were coming to New York! Xavier was having an exhibit of his paintings at Jadite Galleries in Manhattan. Could I come? They’d love to see me. And so, here we are, two years later, about to see each other again.

Jadite is a small gallery that’s considerably off the artsy circuit of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, but it’s been a mainstay on West 50th Street since it opened in 1985. Many of the artists it features are from Europe and Latin America, and Xavier, who has exhibited here before, will be showing works from a series called “Travels and Paintings”. The show, which opened on April 3 and has the artist reception tonight, will run through April 26.

Categories: Art, Catalunya, New York | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment