No Need to Be a Tourist Serendipity-ish Frozen Hot Chocolate

Like most New Yorkers, I hate tourists. Actually “hate” isn’t really an expansive enough word. In addition to loathing them I mock them as well. All of this negativity comes at a high price to my mental health. I have fantasies of tackling the groups of clueless wanderers walking four abreast down the sidewalk, preventing me from achieving my usual 3.5 mph pace. Then I see how huge they are and know I’d just wind up flat on my back from the impact.

What’s a tourist-hater to do when she becomes a tourist herself? That’s what happened to me recently when I finally traveled to Chicago. I’ve been curious about the Windy City ever since Bob Newhart brushed the snow off his coat before saying, “Good morning” to Carol. So when my friend and I were trying to find a place to explore that neither of us had been to, Chicago seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
You know when you have one of those great flying experiences that give you amnesia for all the times you’ve been delayed, cancelled, turbulent or otherwise miserable? That’s what happened to me on departure Friday. After panicking that I wasn’t allowing enough time to get to the airport, I arrived in record time and was even able to get on an earlier flight. When does that ever happen? Flying time was less than two hours, shorter than the trip suffered by all the poor souls heading out to the Hamptons on the LIE, and because I got in early I was able to meet up with my friend at the airport and not have to take the train into town by myself.
My weekend was off to a great start.

You probably think I’m now going to talk about how it all went downhill from there. I’m not. It was great. Not surprisingly I tend to get snobbish about every other city in America in terms of how it rates against my Big Apple. I do a lot of eye rolling and “nice try”-ing. But I felt very generous towards Chi-town, and humbled. Why humbled? Because I had no idea where I was, where I was going or how to get there. Yes, I was that person on the street holding a rapidly disintegrating map against the wind (and at one point, torrential rain) trying to understand North, South, East and West. Yes, I have an iPhone, and yes, there is that little map thing, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out. Just ask my sister who almost pushed me out of her car two weeks ago when I directed her a quarter-mile past the movie theater we were trying to find. (Please don’t tell Nieces One and Two that it was probably my fault Madagascar was sold out by the time we got there).

Anyway, I knew I had only one choice and that was to embrace the role of La Touriste. No, I didn’t gain 50 pounds and buckle on a fanny pack. But I did look up at tall buildings and say, “Wow, look at that!” And I didn’t care who saw me and I didn’t care what I would have thought of me if I didn’t know me.

Some weekend highlights:

Saturday afternoon: The architectural boat tour along the Chicago River (the one given by the Chicago Architecture Foundation )—well, at least the first 60 of the 90-minute tour. It poured for the last half hour and we had to seek shelter down below. Comfortable but hard to see the rest of the buildings the perky tour guide was desperately trying to discuss while getting drenched up top.

Saturday night: The tagliolini nero with crab, sea urchin and chile at Balena. Just typing that dish made my mouth water.

Sunday morning: Reading the paper on a bench by the beach (!) in the middle of a city.

Sunday afternoon: Seeing Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute. I have loved this painting since I first studied it in art history class. But it was the 1984 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George that infused it with real meaning for me. At the end of the first act the painting comes together and the music swells and for the first time in my theater going life, I burst into tears. Seeing that work of pointillist genius up close and personal was thrilling.

After the museum we did a quick tour of Millennium Park and it was off to the airport. I had a weekend that was just busy enough. It was a little taste of what the city has to offer but it successfully whet my appetite. Except…there were a few things I didn’t actually taste. that certainly fall under the “tourist” category. I didn’t have any deep dish pizza because I live in New York and nothing beats our thin pies. There was no more Marshall Field’s in which to pick up a box of Frango mints, just like my mother used to bring back from business trips. And there would be no Garrett popcorn because I don’t willingly stand in line in the blazing sun for anything.
The gathering of hot and bothered looking Garrett people reminded me of the crowds you see milling outside of Serendipity on East 60th Street waiting for their name to be called. Usually in the dead of winter and all for a foot long hotdog and some frozen hot chocolate? I would imagine about as many Chicagoans actually buy popcorn at Garrett’s as New Yorkers crowd into Serendipity. None.
But between the excessive heat and all this tourist business I couldn’t stop thinking about that damned frozen hot chocolate. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, think of a really icy, giant Frappucino, but instead of coffee, make it chocolate and then smother it with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Oh, then pour it in a goblet big enough for four people, stick in a few straws and slurp. Yes, it is that good. And the last time I had one I think I was nine years old at my friend Emily’s birthday party. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to wait outside in the heat or cold to dive into one of these venti haute-Slurpees, you can make one yourself in less than 10 minutes! Which is exactly what I did. And if memory serves, it tasted just like I remember.

You see, I’ve conquered my hatred of tourists—as long as they (and I) are in other cities. But once you cross that bridge into my borough, sorry Buster, my rage starts bubbling up. So to protect us both I will stay indoors, planning my next trip to a place I’ve yet to go and sipping my frozen hot chocolate.

Note: This recipe comes from Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3. He is famous for deconstructing your favorite treats and converting them into home made formulas. Although he picked the below cocoas as the closest match to the Serendipity flavors, I used what I had in the house -- 3 tablespoons of Droste and 1 tablespoon of Hershey's--and it was great.

No Need to Be a Tourist Serendipity-ish Frozen Hot Chocolate
from Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3, Todd Wilbur 2010
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1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 tablespoons Ghirardelli cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Hershey's cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Scharffen Berger cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1 cup milk
3 cups ice

For garnish:
Whipped cream (buy a can. It's more fun.)
Chocolate Shavings (take a thick piece of chocolate and scrape away at it with a vegetable peeler. Voila, shavings.)


In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, dry milk powder, cocoas and salt until completely combined. Set aside.
In a blender, pour in milk, then add the cocoa mixture, then add the ice. (Do it in this order).
Make sure the lid is on securely and blast the blender until the ice breaks down into slushy bits

Pour frozen hot chocolate into 4 tall glasses, or one mega goblet. Top with whipped cream, sprinkle on chocolate shavings, stick in a straw and start sipping.

Yield: 1-4 servings


Mourning Nora Peach Pie

I never met Nora Ephron, but I feel as if I know her.  Or knew her.   Sort of. Like most women who consider themselves mildly amusing, Nora was an idol of mine.  A quick, confident wit who somehow managed to choose just the right words to express a feeling I had had so many times but never thought to communicate, her talent challenged me to try harder, write funnier, remember that “everything is copy.”  It’s interesting,  so often people who are successful in a field you wish you were conquering, or at least making a dent in, make us feel less than, jealous, smaller.  But reading or listening to Nora had an inspirational quality – an “I think I can, I think I can” little engine that could reaction.  So when I heard in the space of a few hours that 1) she was gravely ill and 2) that she had died, I felt somehow cheated.  As if had I known she was going to be gone I would have paid closer attention.  Or read her latest book or tackled a Julia Child recipe.

It seems odd to feel deeply about a stranger’s death and I’ve wondered why so many people I know (mostly funny women) responded as I have.  Whether we admit it or not, there are probably many of us who can recite whole passages from When Harry Met Sally.  It’s one of the few movies I own and whenever I am feeling like I need a comforting, familiar laugh, I slip it into the DVD player and pretend it’s 1989 all over again.  Although I still struggle with the idea that we’re supposed to believe that Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are the same age.  But that’s not the point.  Without that movie no one would have thought to call me “high maintenance” (an accusation which I think is facile and inaccurate) every time I order my meal in a fashion almost identical to Sally Albright.  But it’s the plot-turning scene when Sally seeks comfort in Harry after learning her ex is engaged that is way too resonant.

Harry: If you could have him back right now, would you take him back?
Sally:  No.  But why didn’t he want to marry me?  Why didn’t he love me? What’s the matter with me?
Harry:  Nothing.
Sally:  I’m difficult.
Harry:  You’re challenging.
Sally:  I’m too structured.  I’m completely closed off.
Ouch. That last line? Well, thankfully I’ve never received news like Sally did so close on the heels of a breakup.  But if I had, I’m sure I would have reacted the same way.  And thought those same thoughts. But wait, there’s more.
Sally (sobbing):  And I’m going to be 40!
Harry: When?!
Sally (still sobbing):  Some day!
Harry: In eight years!
Sally: But it’s there, just sitting there like a big dead end….

At the time I thought 32 was old, much less 40, and I couldn’t imagine having to confront those feelings.  When I watch the movie now the characters still seem older than I am, even though they were so much younger and it’s very disconcerting.  Not to mention, if I’d led my life thinking 40 was a dead end well, I’d be dead.  Or chronically depressed. 
It’s so nice to know that Sally was wrong.

It’s hard to watch a character like Sally without thinking there has to be some kind of personal experience on the part of the writer informing the incredible details.  And yet, why should there be?  Actors play characters that writers write.  Who am I to think there was any Nora in Sally?  But still. 

Yet Nora wrote enough about herself to give us a sense of “her.”  Or so I thought.  Like her wonderful essay in the New Yorker about leaving her beloved and crazy West Side apartment building, or how she got the cooking bug or how she felt bad about her neck, or her small chest etc etc.  But did she ever make herself totally vulnerable and transparent?  I’m not sure.

Last year my friend Abby interviewed her at the JCC around the time her book, I Remember Nothing, was on the bestseller list.  The rapport between them felt easy, relaxed and respectful.  They had a prior professional history; Nora was profiled in Abby’s book, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish.  Anyway, the evening was going along swimmingly but at a certain point I realized that despite Abby’s incredibly deft questioning, Nora was only going to reveal what she wanted to reveal.  And I was hungry for more.  There’s a glibness and a remove to the idea of everything being copy.  It means you are going to be the observer, the synthesizer, the one holding the cards.  And I suppose that’s okay.  Why should a person spill her guts to a room full of strangers?  But at the same time, some real fragility would have been nice.  And now I know just how fragile she really was at the time and understand why she would have been particularly careful in her presentation of self.

All of this adult history to one side, the biggest impact Nora Ephron had on me was actually in 1983, when I read Heartburn over the summer.  Somehow, despite being a teenager, I connected to the voice of Rachel, a 38 year old pregnant mother cuckolded by her husband.  I still can’t figure out how that happened but I’m so grateful it did since at the time I was not the most enthusiastic reader and Heartburn helped me get back on track and ultimately become an English major.  Anyway, the rhythm, observations and tone have stayed with me for almost 30 years and I still remember the hunger pangs I felt while reading Rachel’s/Nora’s recipes seamlessly woven into the prose.  There was a great scene in the film adaptation of the book when Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, after they met and before he cheats on her, eat spaghetti carbonara in bed.  I remember thinking that was just about the most fabulous thing that could ever happen.  How little I knew about myself.

Today, I would no sooner twirl sauce slicked pasta in my bed than eat the garlic she probably put in it.  And now we’re back to being Sally-ish.

All of this Nora reflection had me reaching up on the shelf for my copy of Heartburn ($3.95 back in the day) and looking at the recipe index it was clear I had to bake her Peach Pie.  It was heaven to make because the crust took seconds in the food processor and required no fussy rolling.  Slicing the peaches took minutes while the crust baked for a bit and whipping up the eggy quasi-custard filling took even less time.  The result was sweet and juicy and just the thing for summer peaches I’d picked up at the farmers’ market.  Make it and you won’t be sorry.  Just remember that if you want to have it a la mode you’ll want the pie to be warm, but if you want to top it with Greek yogurt to cut the sweetness, it should be cold.  And don’t let anyone call you high maintenance.   With thanks to Nora.

Mourning Nora Peach Pie
From Heartburn, copyright 1983, by Nora Ephron
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1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) cold and cut into small pieces
2 Tablespoons sour cream (I used reduced fat and it was fine)

3 peaches, peeled and sliced into 1/2" wedges
3 eggs yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1/3 cup sour cream


Preheat oven to 425F, butter a 9" pie pan
Put the first four ingredients in a food processor and process until the dough forms a ball

Put dough in the pie plate and pat it out till it covers the bottom and sides of pan 
Bake crust for 10 minutes

Remove crust from oven and reduce temperature to 350F 

Arrange peach slices on the crust in concentric circles
In a medium bowl combine egg yolks, sugar, the 2 Tablespoons of flour and the 1/3 cup sour cream and stir until fully incorporated and smooth and pour over peaches
Cover pie loosely with foil and bake for 35 minutes
Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes until center is set

Let cool, slice, serve and top with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened Greek yogurt
Yield: 6-8 slices


Patriotic Pound Cake

Happy Fourth of July!  I hope you are looking forward to free time, friends, fun and fireworks.  This pound cake is the ideal base for just about anything.  I topped mine with a dollop of Greek yogurt mixed with a little brown sugar and a mix of strawberries and blueberries.  Do as you please and have a great holiday!

Patriotic Pound Cake
from Barefoot Contessa
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

A mix of red and blue berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
Vanilla ice cream of Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.
Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes. Take them out of the pans, place them on a baking rack and allow them to cool completely. Wrap well, and store in the refrigerator.
Serve slices of pound cake topped with yogurt or ice cream and your favorite patriotic berries.