The Heart of an Octopus

Did you know that octopuses love to cuddle? Most likely, the answer is no. I was also unaware of this specific behavior but it is in fact true. While rolling solo in NYC, I practiced yoga every morning at a studio called Yogamaya on 135 West 20th street. I am now on day thirty something and still counting. My new goal is to reach 50. Stay tuned. Prior to my arrival, I ordered a Manduka mat online to keep at the flat and purchased a package at the studio. What a gem of a place. I especially enjoyed the yoga as I gained a bit of "me time" each morning. My routine entailed a quick walk to the studio (676 steps to be exact), practice, sample different coffee shops in the neighborhood and return home to enjoy breakfast with my folks. Every morning I had the privilege of practicing with a new instructor. Come day three, it became apparent to me that in addition to the careful instruction regarding correct form, what I so enjoyed about this place was the messages we were asked to consider over the course of the hour together. One of my teachers was in the middle of a book called The Soul of the Octopus. I think she originally thought this book was about something else but it wasn't. It focuses on octopuses. So one morning she spent six glorious minutes regaling us with interesting facts about octopus. Firstly, the plural word for octopus is octopuses. I assumed the correct term was octopusi. No bid Breyer. 

Octopuses are masters of survival. They are tremendously adept at blending in with their surroundings. One was clocked at changing colors 170 times over the course of one minute. They have a beak (yes, a beak like a bird), are very intelligent and in addition to employing a penchant for cuddling, octopuses are real play horses. These mischievous characters are known to escape from their tanks and like to splash one another with water when in jest. Kate told a lovely story of a certain octopus's affection for his trainer who he hosed with water each and every time he saw her. This perplexed the scientists but after significant time they realized that there was rhyme to this playful octopus's reason. This might sound a bit perverse but I was especially interested in learning about this curious mammal thanks to a recent Andrew Zimmern episode. Chef Zimmern and a Greek friend cooked an octopus. They let it braise in its own juices, which were uber fresh because the octopus had been plucked from the sea that very morning. They added a pureed tomato, the juice of an orange, a bunch of garlic and dill and let it simmer for around an hour. Judging by the positive praise and trademark sounds coming from Andrew, it was the business. 

If octopus is on a menu, nine times out of ten I am going to order it. In Charlotte, I eat the BBQ octopus at Customshop. I think it is the city's best. Upon moving to Charlotte six years ago, this was the very first restaurant in which I ate. I read that someone there once upon a time had something to do with a Mario Batali haunt in NYC. A fellow NYC to Charlotte transplant, just like me. I ate octopus twice while in NYC. The first sample was at the Corkbuzz Wine Bar in Chelsea Market. This is the second venture of Master Sommelier Laura Maniec. In addition to the octopus served with fresh corn and green garlic salsa verde, we enjoyed chilled garden peas, homemade potato chips and in honor of her outfit opening soon in Charlotte, my mother ordered the pulled Carolina BBQ sandwich. Washed down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, the meal as well as service were both sublime. I am on pins and needles waiting for Corkbuzz Charlotte to open. I am convinced that a proper wine bar serving food and offering classes is exactly what the Queen City needs. My second sampling of octopus was at the Waverly Inn. This appetizer arrived with peanut potatoes and lemon. Both were divine. After learning of octopuses fun-loving nature, the jury is still out if I will have the grit to prepare one in my own kitchen. We shall see.

It goes without saying that NYC is a spectacular city indeed. Adventures and surprises (both good and bad) at every corner. A great place to get lost. Never a dull or lonely moment. Lace up your sneakers and take to the streets. Last Saturday night, we hosted a dinner party for my three bosom pals from UNC days and their husbands. After carefully constructing the menu over a pair of days, my mother and I were armed and ready to tackle the grocery landscape.  We spent the latter part of the morning and early segment of the afternoon rushing around to grocers and cooking. Our poor doorman thought we had gone bananas when upon leaving for the fourth time, we finally conceded that we kept discovering new items to buy. Always venture to a grocery store armed with a complete list. We had three working lists and while effective it was certainly not efficient. One shop had this and the other was missing that. We came home with everything we needed and then some. Anyway, whilst standing in line at the Trader Joe's one day, a gregarious fellow asked if I had forgotten anything. In fact, I had. Pomegranate seeds for my roasted cauliflower and farro salad. No problem he said and he ran to procure two punnets. Genius. To have people manning the grocery line inquiring as to any forgotten items. Given the fact that lines begin a football field distance from the cash register, such care is key. Another factor for consideration is that one can only carry so much. Perhaps this excuse explains the number of our trips.

Grocery shopping in NYC is not a game. A bit of caution, do not wear flip flops as I did one morning. It quickly became apparent that I was begging for a pinky toe or naked ankle to be compromised. New Yorkers adhere to a New York minute and shopping is no exception. People are there to shop, pay and leave. One's free time is expertly managed. Duly noted and don't you dare stand in the way of anyone. This being said, we had fun grocery shopping and we were easily lured at every corner. Whole Foods invited us to take home fresh peonies, which are in season and were visible everywhere in Manhattan. Fairways challenged us to change our minds about our evening's dessert. In lieu of apricots and cherries for a homemade crumble we switched to granny smith apples and pears. A small bodega begged us to take home a couple of bottles of Fever Tree tonic water for our guests libations. We mixed and matched and substituted accordingly. Even a trip to procure bagels and cream cheese one morning was a tactical exercise in agility. A secondary stop at Foragers Market for smoked salmon was just as boisterous. Ditto picking up carrot juice for plumping my sultanas at Organic Avenue. No pondering, no dilly dallying, no occupying coveted real estate. You get in and you get out. And smile.

The day before our dinner party, we went to my father's favorite butcher in the city, Otomanelli & Sons Meat Market on Bleecker Street in the West Village. If you are in need of any type of meat from steaks to pork to brats to kangaroo, hit them up and ask for Gerry. He is one of the original owners sons. We spent almost an hour watching Gerry cut 11 New York strips and masterfully butcher them. The day before was national burger day. We had ventured out to Williamsburg to procure what I know to be the best; a medium rare cheeseburger from Diner. I told Gerry of my penchant for cheeseburgers and he said it is a shame to overwhelm the flavor of terrific beef with cheese. He winked and told me that he mixes his beef with salt and pepper and all he needs is a red onion and pickle. Duly noted. He said if we planned to prepare burgers in the near future to return and he would mix us a special blend. Return we did and the burgers comprised of brisket, tenderloin tips and sirloin were unlike anything we had ever eaten before. In fact, they were especially grand after a day of exploring the Highline, heading north on 11th avenue to Gotham West Market for Ivan Ramen noodles followed by Ample Hills Creamery for crack caramel ice cream, which is caramel ice cream with chocolate covered Saltines in it. I can devour two sleeves of Saltines in one sitting. Anytime you want to combine this salty element with sweet cream to yield a delectable juxtaposition, count me in. From here, we cut over to East 57th street to run an errand, survived the selfie stick wielding crowds on 5th avenue and finally pointed south to return home. I took a nap that afternoon. For supper, my Dad stuck to Gerry's advise and held the cheese. 

On the evening of the dinner party with my compadres, with a stocked al fresco bar and Cher bellowing, we prepared a magnificent spread to accompany our beef. It was the second night of Manhattenenge. This biannual phenomenon takes place when the sunset is aligned with the east and west streets of the city's grid. The first one of 2015 was predicted for the Friday night at 8.12. So at 7.45, my parents and I ventured out into the streets with the rest of the city to bear witness to this excitement. Long story short, inclement weather put the kibosh on sun visibility but the views were still splendid and it was grand to see 23rd street partially closed a cause of camera carrying folks. So on the second night of the sunset, whilst we did not participate on West 23rd street, we did enjoy a glorious evening. More important than the scenery and our grub was the incredible company. I have known these three girls since I was 18. My friendships with them are the ones where you can pick up directly where you left off no matter how much time has passed in between. Our halcyon times together are always marked by endless laughter, stories and chatter. There are now babies in the mix alongside wonderful mates. I am a lucky gal indeed. The only missing piece was Matthew. He was manning the fort on the home front. 

The below dish was one of my favorites that we served. A cinch to prepare and packed with flavor. If you are in need of a dish to take to a summer cookout, this has your name all over it. Next time we cook at Reynolds Ranch, I will be serving this. Happy summer friends and bon appetit.

Snap Peas and Green Beans with Arugula Mint Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appetit


1/2 cup of raw almonds - toasted
2 garlic cloves - chopped
2 cups of arugula
1 cup of mint leaves
2 oz shaved parmesan 
1/3 cup of olive oil
12 oz snap peas
12 oz green beans
The juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp red chili pepper flakes
Kosher salt

Let's Tango

1. Toast your almonds for ten minutes at 350 degrees. Once toasted, take 1/4 cup and add to your food processor. Also add your garlic, arugula, half of the Parmesan, 1 cup of mint and olive oil. Puree. I added 2 TBS water to make the mixture more uniform. Hoorah, you have pesto. You can put this aside.

2. Steam your beans and snap peas separately. I like mine crisp not soggy - around 3 minutes. Once steamed, I put both in a large bowl with water and ice cubes to chill for around five minutes. Now drain the water and dry off accordingly.

3. Add the greens to a large bowl along with 5 TBS pesto, juice of the 2 lemons, kosher salt and pepper. Mix carefully to coat.

4. Now transfer your coated greens to a large platter. Sprinkle with the remaining toasted almonds, parmesan and a handful of mint. Another pinch of salt and crack of pepper will also do.

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