Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sailing Along With Key Lime Cupcakes

I have always loved having a summer birthday. Though my childhood pool parties have now been replaced by cocktail soirees and birthday dinners on my roof deck, it always has felt particularly festive to celebrate in an outdoor venue on a balmy summer night. I have several weeks to plan my next birthday celebration, but my friend Laura just raised the bar on fabulous birthday party locations, for twenty-five of us boarded the Pioneer Schooner at South Street Seaport last night in honor of her birthday. What could be more festive than sailing around lower Manhattan at sunset while surrounded by friends and family? If you add some killer Key Lime Cupcakes to the equation, you can consider yourself officially celebrated in grand style.

Laura is one of the most beautiful and big-hearted women I know, and I have always appreciated her quick laugh and generous spirit. She kept me sane throughout our six-year Broadway run in the orchestra of “The Producers”, not only in the pit but also while commuting together through the Times Square mayhem surrounding our theater, and there were countless Sunday nights when I joined Laura and her husband Tom to watch the latest episode of “The Sopranos” or “Six Feet Under” while quaffing gin&tonics. (They had HBO; I brought the gin.) She is my closest neighbor from whom I can borrow the proverbial neighborly cup of sugar, although our kitchen requests of each other tend to be a bit more specific, such as “Can I use your Kitchenaid?” or “May I borrow your silicone baking mats to make those incredible New York Times chocolate chip cookies that we love so much?” And she is definitely one of the most genuinely enthusiastic taste-testers for whom I have ever had the pleasure of cooking.

Laura and Tom love sailing on the Pioneer, the 100-foot schooner which does daily harbor tours from South Street Seaport. When she decided weeks ago that she wanted to celebrate her birthday by taking an evening sail with friends, we all literally hopped on board. I volunteered to make the birthday cake, and after batting many ideas back and forth, we decided that cupcakes would be the easiest thing to manage. Two of the flavors that kept coming up in our discussion were key lime and coconut, so I decided to create a special birthday cupcake for her.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Floating On Limoncello Memories

It has been raining intermittently all week here in New York, but I am ready for some consistent sunshine. Even though this has been the coolest June in recent memory, I am ready to delve into my treasure trove of fun summer recipes and share them with you. Certain days conjure up specific culinary memories for me, especially those of the revelatory sort, and today happens to be such a day for it was on June 27th three years ago in which I was introduced to one of my all-time favorite summer desserts. And it would be my great pleasure to introduce you in turn to the Limoncello Float.

I was doing a recording session with Kelli O’Hara and Harry Connick Jr. on this very day in 2006. I’d always thought Kelli had such a magical quality each time I’d seen her on the Broadway stage, and I was thrilled that she was recording her debut album, “Wonder In The World”. I was excited to work with Harry Connick for the first time, and my enjoyment on the gig was definitely enhanced by the presence of Cenovia and Lorra who were also in the violin section. As they have been two of my major partners in culinary capers over the years, it is no surprise that our conversations frequently turn to new restaurant discoveries or recipes we’re longing to try. This particular morning was no exception, for before the recording session even began, Lorra was waxing eloquently about a marvelous meal she’d enjoyed at a new restaurant in Chelsea called Cookshop. Her enthusiasm ratcheted up yet another notch as she described the limoncello float that was the exquisite clincher of the meal. It sounded like the perfect treat on a blisteringly hot summer day, and I spent the morning daydreaming about how that would taste. When the producers called an unexpectedly long lunch break in between our recording sessions, the three of us immediately hopped in a cab and made our way downtown for those limoncello floats.

I felt very happy and calm the moment I walked into Cookshop, appreciating the minimalist space that was filled with lots of light and countless glass vases of joyful sunflowers. Lunch was delicious, but the limoncello float was out of this world! Served in an elegantly tall glass, the alternating scoops of lemon and strawberry sorbet bobbed up and down in soda water, creating a kind of liquid sunset. And when I stuck my straw into the bottom of this frothy lemony loveliness, the first thing that hit my taste buds was the limoncello liqueur that had settled in the bottom of the glass. It was unexpected and totally beguiling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Key Lime Cosmos To Assuage Your Travel Woes

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my Key Lime Cosmopolitan, which made a rather exuberant debut in Oklahoma this week, of all places. I’ve gone from AK to OK in the space of a week this June, with a brief NYC stint in between, having culinary adventures all the while. I began this month on a boat with my extended family, sailing down the breathtaking Inside Passage of Alaska while being treated to a sumptuous feast for the eyes and soul as well as the taste buds. But I have now traded fresh Alaskan salmon and snow-capped mountains for the land of great barbecue and enormous skies, for I am now in Bartlesville, Oklahoma with the Amici New York orchestra where we are performing at the OK Mozart Festival.

This wonderful group is made up of some of my favorite musicians in New York. Even though we often have great musical experiences together during the year, there is something very refreshing about playing with these colleagues outside of our normal environment. There is an incredible spirit in this group of musicians, of whom many have performed at this festival nearly every year since its inception 25 years ago. Great friendships have formed, not only between members of the orchestra with one another but also with many of the faithful audience members, and it is a very special thing to be part of this OK Mozart Festival which is so beloved by the local community.

However, we were definitely an orchestra collectively in need of a cocktail the other night. Can I tell you why we all desperately needed a cosmopolitan, a key lime one or otherwise?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Baked Alaska Amidst Mountains

My family’s Great Alaska Adventure continues, and we are all drinking in the outrageous natural beauty with real joy. My camera’s lens is completely inadequate to capture the enormity of these sights, for the mountain ranges are too majestic to be confined in a small frame. Neither can the true glory of a late-night ocean sunset by captured with my little digital camera, but that hasn't stopped me from photographing my way through this trip with abandon.

I am still floating on the memory of our train ride up the White Mountain Pass yesterday. After docking in Skagway, we ascended the old Yukon mining trail in a wooden railway car and were treated to one jaw-dropping view after another. Our enormous ship became a white speck on the horizon as the train carried us higher and higher still. We saw an enormous black bear lurking amidst magnificent trees as we made our way to the summit, and there we encountered the most pure white snow I've ever had the pleasure of seeing . Once again, my photos don’t do justice but I know that I will certainly daydream about these visuals when I am back home in the concrete jungle of Manhattan.

The fourteen of us occupy three tables at dinner each night, and I am very proud of my 7-year-old nephew, Mac, who has been a delightful addition to the dinner table. He has also been very adventurous in the culinary department this week, which is an excellent quality to have when your nickname is Little Chef. Mac is cultivating his seafood appreciation on this trip and I’ve watched him devour a different salmon preparation nightly. On the day that we docked in Sitka, my parents took him to a place that served reindeer hot dogs, a local delicacy that Mac decided was the most delicious hot dog he’d ever tasted. Because of this positive experience, he didn’t hesitate to order the Vegetable Soup With Reindeer Sausage at dinner that night, and he drained the bowl to the last drop. I was very impressed.