A Picnic on Liberty Island

Picnic on Liberty Island - Statue of LibertyI’m taking a little break today from my tastes of home theme to post my first recap of the NYC trip I took earlier this month. I’ll be posting recaps sporadically, covering various parts of the city. First up, Liberty Island.

I’ve been to New York three times in my life, and all three times I’ve visited the Statue of Liberty. For people who grew up around it, it may be a no-big-deal tourist site, but as someone who grew up in the landlocked center of the country, it was something I only knew by way of history books, photographs, and movies. Standing large and majestically, it was the stuff of storybooks.

Hopping on a ferry and riding across the water from Battery Park as the statue comes closer into view fills me with a kind of awe. Imagining all of the people who have found their way to it – from all around the globe – and the feelings they were experiencing makes it a must-see celebrity of the trip. As the Statue grows ever larger in sight, people crowd around the edges of the boat, speaking a myriad of languages, and taking photographs with the statue hovering behind them. With excited smiles, they beam, capturing the moment.

Statue of Liberty - a picnic on Liberty IslandAfter making one’s way off the boat, there are picnic tables, a gift shop, and bathrooms, and a huge lawn with a magnificent view of the New York City skyline.

New York City skylineNYC skylineOn my first trip to NYC when I was in high school, I made the long trek up the inner spiral staircase to the crown. I remember peeking through the tiny windows as more tourists waited behind me, quickly taking a photo as we passed. The second time I visited, it was just a few months after 9/11, and the crown was closed to visitors. This time the trip came up with fairly short notice, and the crown tickets had already been snatched up. (You have to buy them about three months in advance.) By the time I was ordering, there was just one ticket left to get to the statue’s pedestal. So I purchased one pedestal ticket and then just a general boat ticket to get to Liberty Island.

David and I were joined on the trip by our friend, Katrina, from Suburban Snow White. Katrina also was only able to get a boat ticket. However, when we got to the Will Call ticket booth, since one member of our party had a ticket for pedestal access, they freely gave additional pedestal tickets to the rest of the group. It was a really lovely surprise.

Picnic on Liberty Island Picnic by Statue of LibertyWe were going to be getting there around lunchtime, and I’d read online that the food options on Liberty Island were of the fast food variety and pretty uninspiring. So the night before, we all went to Whole Foods and picked up some picnic-worthy lunch items: a couple packs of baked tofu (that I opened with scissors before leaving since you have to go through an airport-style metal detector), roasted red pepper hummus, grapes, raspberries, crackers, and Cassucio, a nut-based cheese by Kite Hill. I’d tried their White Alder in the past, but this was my first time sampling that particular flavor.  It’s a squishy, mild cheese that was a tasty indulgence since it isn’t sold where I live.

After filling our bellies, we made our way to the pedestal entrance. Bags have to be checked and put into lockers, and no food is allowed inside of the Statue. We locked up our bag and headed up the 215 steps to the pedestal.  (There’s also an elevator option available, but we decided to skip the line.)

Statue of Liberty pedestalWhile the view is better from the bottom of the statue where you can take it all in, there’s something so bucket list-worthy about seeing it from the inside. It brings it all home that you’re really there. The area around the pedestal is a tight squeeze, and so I can see why they have to limit the amount of people who are allowed at one time. One high school girl was having a rough time of it because of the height and was sitting on the floor with her back up against the concrete looking positively ghostly.

Statue of Liberty face replicaWe headed back down to the base to walk around the museum inside. They have drawings and pictures of the statue being made, a life-sized replica of her face, and an area that features the responses of early visitors to the statue.

Finally, we walked around to the front of the Statue for more photos, waved goodbye, and took the ferry back to where our trip began.

Statue of Liberty

Chopped Returns: Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Fresh Plum Salsa

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Plum SalsaOn the show Chopped, chef contestants are given random mystery ingredients and are then forced to figure out a way to use them in one cohesive entrée, appetizer, or dessert (depending on the round).

A few years ago a Chopped-style competition was added to the Vegan MoFo fun with all vegan ingredients. (I entered one of the competitions with this stacked polenta with cashew cream.) It’s loads of fun trying to make a meal out of incongruous ingredients, and it’s an exciting creative challenge.

Well, last Friday Chopped returned! The challenge ingredients were:

  1. Jalapeño
  2. Radish
  3. Oolong tea
  4. Fresh prune plums

So just like your average ordinary everyday dinner, right?

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables and a Plum SalsaLike some alternate universe food-themed Tetris, I spun the ingredients in my mind until they would all fit together. And in the end, I sided on this – Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables and topped with a Fresh Plum Salsa.

I started by cooking the barley in oolong tea with a pinch of saffron. When the barley was nearing the end of its cooking time, I pulled out my favorite grill pan to grill radishes, artichoke hearts, and slabs of tofu.  In a separate pan, I sautéed onions and garlic, added the barley, grilled items, and chopped Castelvetrano olives. Then I topped the tofu with healthy dollops of a spicy plum salsa made with jalapeño, onions, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice. Finally, I served the barley paella with cilantro and more lime wedges for squeezing.  (While the grill pan was hot, I also grilled a plum for dessert.)

Saffron-infused Barley Paella with Fresh Plum SalsaHooray! The dish really worked! The spicy sweet salsa added a wonderful fresh kick against the salty paella. And the grilled radishes were a revelation. I’d never cooked them that way before. I tend to just add sliced radishes to salads and not much else, except for the occasional banh mi sandwich. Cooking them took away a lot of their pungency, while making room for the smoky grilled flavor.

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu and Spicy Plum Salsa

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Fresh Plum Salsa

Serving Size: 3 to 4


    Fresh Plum Salsa
  • 4 plums, pitted and chopped medium to small
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeño, chopped small (or more depending upon your heat preference)
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 Tablespoon loose oolong tea
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pearled barley, rinsed
  • Organic canola oil for brushing tofu & vegetables + 1 teaspoon
  • 1 10 ounce package super firm tofu, cut into 4 equal slabs (I like the sprouted tofu from Wildwood.)
  • 10 small radishes
  • 8 jarred artichoke hearts, drained & halved
  • Squeeze of lime
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped small
  • 12 Castelvetrano olives, pitted & chopped
  • Garnish: slices of lime, cilantro leaves


    For Fresh Plum Salsa
  1. In a small bowl, combine plums, onion, garlic, jalapeño, lime juice, cilantro, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  2. For Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables
  3. Fill a small bowl with hot water. Add loose oolong tea to a tea ball, and steep the tea in the hot water along with a pinch of saffron and salt. Steep for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the tea ball from the bowl, and add the tea/saffron water to a medium-sized pot along with pearled barley. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then turn the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for 40 minutes.
  5. During the last 15 minutes of cooking the barley, bring a grill pan to a medium-high heat. Lightly brush the tofu and radishes in oil and grill on all sides until browned, flipping when necessary. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on the tofu, along with a pinch of salt. (Depending on the size of your grill pan, you may have to work in batches. You don't want to overcrowd the pan, so that everything grills evenly with dark grill marks.)
  6. The artichoke hearts won't take as long to grill, and so simply brush them with oil and lay them cut-side down on the grill for the last three minutes of grilling.
  7. In a separate medium-sized skillet, bring the final teaspoon of canola oil to a medium heat, and sauté the garlic and onions until translucent and fragrant. Add the cooked barley to the skillet and Castelvetrano olives. Stir to evenly combine.
  8. Top the paella with the grilled radishes, tofu, and artichoke hearts.
  9. Serve immediately with slices of lime and cilantro leaves for garnish. Top each slab of tofu with a healthy dollop of spicy plum salsa.

Thanks to the folks at Vegan MoFo for a fun challenge! To check out the other contestants, visit the links in the comments of this post.