At times it feels like I just left New York; though it was three years ago (and nearly exactly to the day), The City still holds court as the single place I’ve rested my head for the most nights outside of my childhood hometown on Cape Cod. Just writing that feels odd; for as much time as I spent there, since I packed up our West Village townhouse that sweaty July back in 2011, so much has changed.
There has been a marriage, a new dog, two new cats, a few far reaching vacations, three rather large geographical moves which also spurred career changes, and ultimately times of great self reflection and growth. Given that we had a professional moving company hired to bubble wrap and duct tape every last speck of our tangible possessions and make them magically reappear (hopefully unbroken) halfway across the country, I left in what felt like a hurry; there was none of the usual ‘packing process’ per say, other than putting some Colorado appropriate clothing into a suitcase and waiting for the twenty-one-footer to show up with her crew.
My apartment remained decorated and fully put together until the day I left, lending a sense of ‘is this really even happening?‘ right up till the eleventh hour. We were lucky enough to manage to finagle a week spent on that dizzyingly busy island onto the end of our recent trip, and even luckier still to have two friends offer up their gorgeous apartment in SoHo – the same friends whose wedding we had toasted just a couple of weeks earlier (the little lucky duckies were still honeymooning in Southeast Asia!). I am so thankful for their generosity, as there is no better way to visit somewhere you used to live than by staying in an actual home. Being in a hotel would have made me feel like a stranger; a peeping tom creeping around trying to catch glimpses of scenery I wasn’t meant to enjoy. Having called the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, Gramercy, Greenwich Village, and the far West Village all home at one point or another in the six years we spent there, staying in SoHo was a treat, and the moment touched down I was eager to get out and explore.
I’m not sure this it is even possible, but Manhattan felt even buzzier, crazier, and more alive than I remembered. Even though the mercury was busting way up into the high 90s the day we arrived (and the humidity had my hair doing it’s best Medusa imitation – not my best look), the streets were absolutely mobbed, and that same frenetic energy came flooding back in a surge of sweaty excitement. With time, there is a certain way that you learn to navigate the busy streets, and there is a definite art of maintaining that familiar bob-weave-stop-start pace while simultaneously holding three shopping bags and a full iced coffee while sending a text and managing not to be struck by a yellow cab at a crosswalk or an errant bag of Thai noodles waving perilously in the wind off of a bike messenger’s handle bar. My chest swelled with pride and there was a noticeable pep in my step with the realization that I still ‘had it,’ and it felt so good to slide into the backseat of an Uber (because who takes cabs anymore?) and rattle off the cross streets of a restaurant without even consulting the Google.
New York has not entirely removed herself from me.
The week was so perfect; it was highly scheduled, containing lunch brunch and dinner dates (with coffee dates snuck in-between!) so that we could see each one of the good souls that we said goodbye to when we left. We had dinner at our favorite date spot, Dell’anima, just a literal stone’s throw from our old apartment, and James’ ordered his favorite chicken (split, deboned, and flattened with crisp skin), while I had my favorite octopus (charred and grilled with peppery greens and chorizo). We had a big group dinner at a Mole, where they dish up the best (the.best!) fried fish tacos (you can get them grilled, but do yourself a favor and splurge – you’ll thank me later) and cucumber margaritas, and then made a pit stop at The Rusty Knot for gingery moscow mules served up in obscenely large tiki cups. In the morning, I attempted to absolve my salty-rimmed sins with an early class at Flywheel, and even managed to coerce two of the prior evening’s rabble-rousers to join me.
We went out for sushi and unfiltered sake at Blue Ribbon, I had skate schnitzel and a dirty martini at The Dutch, and I finally saw what all the fuss was about over lunch at Jack’s Wife Freda. I bought exactly one-and-three-quarter pounds of candy at Sockerbit, and proceeded to eat all of it (!) in the span of the week. (Dr. Whitney Weiner, if you are reading this I’ll need you to recommend me a dentist in SoCal immediately, thankyouverymuch.) Bubble tea was drank, favorite boutiques were visited, and I even squeezed in a cheap mani-pedi – one of the few things NYC has to offer that is actually cheaper than anywhere else.
I was shocked to see how much has changed; my old neighborhood, the far West Village, is absolutly blowing up – there are even more designer flagships and expensive shoe salons moving onto the hallowed cobbled streets, and you can practically see the Meatpacking district bleeding heavily downward into what just a few years ago was still a quiet little enclave. It is a surreal place to visit when you haven’t been back in awhile, for on every old corner there is a new restaurant or cafe, and even though they are crowded and appear to thrive, it’s a little sad knowing that in three more years time, they will most likely be replaced with a new iteration of themselves, and probably owned by someone else. There is a strong undercurrent of change that is palpable, but at the same time it is that unwavering ebb and flow that somehow makes it all feel quite normal – very much giving meaning to the old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
When it came time to leave, I felt strangely at peace with the idea of leaving and getting on a plane to fly back to California. I think for the past three years I’ve almost avoided going back, as I was worried I’d be too sad, or miss the wonderful energy that The City has, but instead, as I packed my (oversized) suitcase I felt like I’d had a wonderful bear hug from an old friend. It was the perfect amount of time and I caught up with so many people who are important in my life, and I was positively giddy at the idea of coming home to the avocado ranch and to Montecito, and to the little life we’re cultivating and curating out here on the West coast. And when I got back home I made some chocolate mousse; mousse that was inspired in part by a small gratis dessert that one of my favorite restaurants in the East Village bestows upon you after you’ve finished your lobster roll. It was a restaurant that I unfortunately missed during my week there, but I just couldn’t shake the idea of a little pot of chocolate mousse from my head, and came up with this super simple version kicked up with the addition of sea salt and a tiny bit of lightly-sweet soft-whipped cream. If you are a chocolate lover, this is nothing short of to die for – it is intensely chocolately, packed with very good quality dark chocolate, and has a perfectly velvety and dense consistency. A few sprinkles of flakey sea salt on top and in the custard take the whole thing to another level entirely, and being that you can make this dessert a day or two ahead of a dinner party, there isn’t one thing about it not to rave about.
Salted Dark Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Cream
Makes 6 enthusiastic (read: large) servings or 8 more reasonably sized
Inspired by many recipes, but mainly this one at Bon Appetit.
To make the chocolate custard below, you can use a double boiler (or metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water – just be sure not to allow the bowl to touch the water), or you can do it directly in a saucepan – so long as you are VERY vigilant to regulate the heat and stir constantly so that you do not scramble the egg. I do mine directly in a saucepan (what a rebel I am!), but if you are nervous or new to this sort of thing, try the double boiler to be safe.
Be sure to use the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on – you’ll be able to taste the difference. I used Scharffen Berger 62% and it was divine.
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup good strong coffee or even espresso, chilled or at room temperature
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp flakey sea salt plus additional pinches for topping (like Maldon)
6 ounces best quality dark chocolate (should be 60-75% cacao), finely chopped
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp sugar
Find 6 or 8 vessels to pour your mousse in – they can be anything from teacups (bonus cuteness factor points if they are vintage!) to ramekins to small juice glasses. You won’t be cooking the vessels at all, so be creative and use whatever you like, so long as they are food safe.
Using an electric beater, beat 1/2 cup cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form; cover the whipped cream and chill until you’re ready to use it. Rinse the beaters and keep them out, you’ll need them again later.
For this next step you can use a double boiler (or metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), or you can do it directly in a saucepan – see the note above when making your choice. Combine the egg yolks, espresso/strong coffee, salt, and 2 Tbsp sugar in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water or directly in your saucepan over medium low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is lighter in color and almost doubled in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 160 degrees. It should take you 3 minutes or so to get to this point; do not let the mixture boil – a thermometer is very helpful here if you aren’t comfortable going by looks alone.
Remove the mixture from the heat. Add the chopped chocolate and whisk it until the chocolate is totally melted and the custard is very smooth. Let the custard stand until it has cooled significantly (stir it occasionally to help it along) and is at room temperature.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and sugar in another bowl on medium speed until they are foamy, and then increase speed to high and beat until firm peaks form.
Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate custard, and then fold in the whipped cream until it is just blended and you cannot see any white streaks. Divide the mousse among six or 8 ramekins or cups, and chill the mousse until it is firm, at least a couple of hours. You can make the mousse up to a day (or even two) ahead, and keep them in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to serve the mousse, take them out of the fridge for at least 10-15 minutes to soften a tiny bit. While they soften, make the vanilla cream. Put the vanilla, sugar, and heavy cream in a bowl, and beat just until it holds soft peaks (we want creamy and fluid whipped cream here, not too firm). Put a dollop of cream on top of each mousse, and then sprinkle each mousse with a pinch of flakey sea salt.