For many centuries, the soft inner bark of Broussonetia papyrifera has provided raw material for paper-making and cloth-making, especially in East and Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Often planted as an ornamental, the tree has been naturalized in New York thanks to its tolerance for pollution in less-than-gracious urban settings such as the roadside verge shown here.
Originally identified as a member of the genus Morus, which includes the familiar finger-staining mulberries, the paper mulberry is in fact only a close relative. Even so, the ripe red fruits are reported to be edible; if you know someone who's actually tried them, clue me in.
Tabodowe, the eleventh month of the traditional Burmese calendar, typically in February, is the occasion of this harvest festival. (Yes, harvest; the rhythms of the seasons in Brooklyn and in Burma are very different.) One customary festival activity is the communal preparation of the namesake htamane (tah-mih-Nay), a concoction of "glutinous rice, coconut slices, sesame seeds, peanuts and a generous amount of cooking oil."
Preparing htamane is very labor-intensive. In addition to oversized woks, the most notable tools are paddle-like ladles used to stir-fry shredded ginger, then to mix it with soaked glutinous rice. The real muscle work begins, however, when a given batch (this was the sixth of twelve) has thickened enough to be removed from direct heat. The wok is moved to a relatively shimmy-free location, in this case atop an old automobile tire resting on the floor, and held fast by several gloved hands. What was vigorous paddling becomes even more concerted as coconut, peanuts, and ultimately sesame seeds are combined into the increasingly coagulated mass. Typically, more strong hands hold each ladle near the business end, both to guide it and for extra leverage.
The resulting savory snack, shown with a fork but commonly eaten with fingers, is then portioned out; most will be eaten on the day of the celebration itself, or afterward. It's not appreciably better warm than cool, with one exception — the slightly burnt scrapings from the wok (not shown) are "the best part," several of the htamane crew told me. I don't disagree. Though I can't provide the transliteration of its Burmese name into English, should you ever find yourself at a htamane-making event, ask for "joe."
Htamane Pwe At the America Burma Buddhist Association and Meditation Center 619 Bergen St. (Vanderbilt-Carlton Aves.), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn 718-622-8019 www.MahasiUSA.org (The 2014 celebration, held a day after these preparations, was on March 2)
Kedgeree ($10 per pound) is a distant relation of South Asian khichuri (one of many spellings), which often comprises rice and lentils cooked together and eaten with fish. Common wisdom maintains that returning British colonials brought the dish back home, where smoked haddock and hardboiled egg soon took hold as typical if not defining ingredients. Kedgeree does commonly employ one seasoning, however, that hearkens back to the days of the Raj: curry powder.
Though the dish was once widely employed to transform last night's leftovers into this morning's breakfast, at Mermaid's Garden — which cold-smokes its own haddock — kedgeree is the very point.
As for the shop's pristine (and well-annotated) display of seafood, the striped bass shimmer as brightly as any you'll see, and the periwinkles are still nimble enough to hobnob with the whelks.
Braised kale on ciabatta ($8.95) brought to mind a great vegetarian option at Shorty's (nee Tony Luke's). Once known as the "green sandwich," essentially this was the shop's celebrated "roast pork Italian" without the pork. The current name, "broccoli rabe sandwich," preempts what must have been a common question with a blunt answer (and eliminates the option of spinach, which to my taste doesn't have enough bite). But the newer name surrenders something, too. There's satisfaction in visiting a favorite feeding ground and knowing what's what without having to ask, in being one of the guys and not a johnny-come-lately.
This evening the only mystery was for my dining buddy — from our table, she couldn't quite see the menu board behind the counter — who guessed that the ciabatta was spread with a particularly nice hummus, when in truth it was a luscious fava bean puree. In short, nice sandwich.
Lincoln Station 409 Lincoln Pl. (Washington-Classon Aves.), Crown Heights, Brooklyn 718-399-2211 www.StationFoods.com
"The strawberry is awesome," she said. Sitting on top, in the first photo, that's a good version of maple — a flavor I seek out whenever possible every autumn — but as my server made clear, the pure, slightly sour strawberry is an ice cream for all seasons. Also shown, seeking shelter under a shade tree: a precariously perched scoop of root beer ($5).
Once the chef of pop-up Tchoup Shop leased kitchen space here for prep work, his New Orleans chow soon found its way onto the Dean Street menu, too. The bread for this shrimp po' boy ($12) is firmer than the classic baguette-like, fluffy-crumbed loaf, and, atypically, it's toasted — adaptations to cooler climes, perhaps. But not only is it fully "dressed" like any proper po' boy, with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo, it's dressier than most: The lettuce is leafy, not simply shredded iceberg, and the mayo is tweaked with scallion. The shrimp are generous in number, and plump; they would appear plumper if not for the logjam of fries.
Black cow float (one scoop, $4.25), root beer ice cream swirled with milk chocolate. Note that this was a very hot day, and when served, the consistency was more like ice cream and less like a float. Nice texture, even so.
Ample Hills Creamery 623 Vanderbilt Ave. (at St. Marks Ave.), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn 347-240-3926 www.AmpleHills.com Closed Monday