The Story Behind the Story – The Pickle Shack

ImageOctober 21, 2013 was the first night that Shamus Jones of Brooklyn Brine formally invited guests into The Pickle Shack – a restaurant that celebrates the culinary potential of Brooklyn Brine pickles, Dogfish Head beer and seasonal, vegetarian fare. Shamus often refers to occasions like these as a “game changer.” He said the same about the automated labeling machine for his pickle jars – anything that marks a turning point of significant value changes the game. And this night was no exception.

Shamus has asked me to arrive early and when I get there, he is carrying items up from the cellar and calling directions to the kitchen staff. Everyone has been working for hours, days, weeks, months to open the doors to The Pickle Shack and with only an hour until service, the hustle is tangible. Shamus is focused, but the light sweat beading on the curls of his red hair gave away his nervousness. He signals for me to follow him out back and on our way there he trades in his dirty black t-shirt for a classy, soft grey button-up that fits him perfectly. Only recently has Shamus decided to forgo the punk t, bleach-stained Levi’s and combat boots that he wore daily for more refined Parisian shirts and Italian shoes. When we get to the patio, Shamus takes a seat on one of the outdoor tables and lights up an American Spirit – a habit he’s trying to quit, but in the moment seems to be more like a meditation ritual than anything else. He is calm and collected but you can feel the vigor of his spirit. He knows this is going to be one hell of a night.

As we walk back into the shack, Shamus’ executive chef Neal Harden (formerly of M.O.B. and Pure Food and Wine) is dropping hop pickles into Dogfish Head glasses as a welcoming taste for guests to begin their night with an introduction to the pickle that started it all…

pickles at the pickle shack

Back in March, 2012, while Shamus was reading Sam Caligone’s, book Brewing a Business, he serendipitously got an email from Sam to the tune of, “Hi. I’m Sam, owner of Dogfish Head Brewery. You probably don’t know me but I had this crazy idea to make a pickle using our 60 minute IPA. I make beer, you make pickles – want to see what we can come up with?” To say that Shamus was beside himself would be an understatement. That email marked the beginning of a flourishing bromance that would not only be responsible for the birth of the Hop Pickle, but also a  fertile collaborative effort to create passion-driven, innovation ideas – including their second child, The Pickle Shack (which, by the way, has the largest selection of Dogfish Head beer in NYC).

Shamus has spent most of his life as a vegetarian and the dude loves a sandwich! So the concept of the shack was a no-brainer: delicious vegetarian sandwiches, fried pickles and beer. Duh. But don’t be fooled – this crew is serious about food. I was there the day that Shamus and longtime friend Neal sat down to discuss the future of The Pickle Shack, talk numbers, and seal a verbal contract that would put Neal at the helm of the restaurant. Besides food, a love of good beer has always united these two. Neal is a beer geek and phenomenal home brewer – he also makes one of the most drinkable IPA’s I’ve ever had. As Shamus and Neal got serious, there was nervousness, excitement, and eventually cheers and hugs as the deal was sealed.

menuSince then, Neal has been working like a mad man to create a solid menu of vegetable forward, seasonal plates that not only inspire the taste buds but also pay homage to the heart and soul of The Pickle Shack. Naturally, this includes a lot of ways to eat pickles, but more subtly, it means integrating things like Dogfish Head beer and pickling spices into a new line of Brooklyn Brine condiments and sauces that guests get to try first. In a sense, The Pickle Shack is more like a test kitchen that gets to push the boundaries of Brooklyn Brine’s already killer offerings.

tables and open kitchenIt might be called The Pickle “Shack” but this is no hole-in-the-wall. From the former Root Hill Burger space to opening it’s doors, the metamorphosis is stunning. Aesthetically, it has the same rustic and minimalistic charm as the brinery, with it’s reclaimed yellow pine wrap-around bar, open kitchen, brushed metal two-tops and antique French school chairs. Shamus’ love for all things French is no coincidence. As many people in the food and restaurant industry do, Shamus worked long and grouling hours through much of his twenties. Once Brooklyn Brine got it’s footing, Shamus was finally able to travel and he immediately fell in love with Paris. His style is simple and symmetrical. All of the tables and chairs match. Except one. The Carmelita table.

Shamus caught his passion for food while working in Seattle at two renowned vegetarian restaurants: Cafe Flora and Carmelita. On a recent trip back to Seattle, he stopped by Carmelita and learned that after nearly seventeen years in business, they were closing. He knew he had to take a piece of that space with him so the owner gracefully sent him two tables: one that we hauled to his apartment, and one that now rests in The Pickle Shack. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat at the Carmelita table, you’ll know you’re sitting with not only a piece of Jones’ history, but also his heart.shamus and sam

The crowd for tonight is mostly close friends, colleagues and a few lucky cats who happened to buy tickets to the event. As service winds down, Shamus and Sam take a few moments to talk about their story. If there is one thing that these two have in common, it is undying and persevering passion for the things they believe in. In a sense, both Sam and Shamus embody the American Dream. Neither started with very much capital or know-how, but each were determined to create something they could stand by. As Shamus begins talking about what this night means to him, he pauses and holds back tears. When he is able to speak again, he says that this is the greatest night of his life.

When Sam takes the floor, he smiles, puts his hand on Shamus’ shoulder and says how much he reminds him of himself ten years ago. It’s obvious that this partnership is more about genuine connection, creativity and exploration than it ever has been about just business. And for anyone who has ever eaten a Hop Pickle or sipped a Dogfish, we are eternally grateful for that.

As things wrap up, I am still sitting at my table, enjoying the last of my caramel drenched pear and bourbon vanilla ice cream. When I take a sip of water I realize I’m drinking out of a pickle jar. I smile. Everything is perfect.

~

Today, The Pickle Shack opens it’s doors to the public. And I hope that as guests enjoy their beautiful food and atmosphere, that they are in some way able to feel the love and passion that exists in every detail of this space – from the drinking jars to the Carmelita table. Today is a game changer and Shamus can now call himself a restaurant owner – a title that is as prestigious as it is frightening.

He still wears black Levi’s, but now they tend to be without bleach remnants from running production in the brinery. But all it takes is for him to roll up his Parisian sleeves, exposing his fully tattooed arms, to remind everyone that he’s still just a punk who plays guitar in a grind core band, cuts cucumbers with santoku knives while listening to WuTang, and also happens to make damn fine pickles.

shamus outside pickle shack

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So My Cleanse is Over… Now What??

Yesterday marked the last day of my month-long cleanse. Here is a re-cap of my experience…

Week 1 : Eliminated refined sugar and alcohol. Thoughts: Not going to happy hour on a Friday was a change of pace, which was also a good reflection of how our social lives impact our eating habits. Do the places I frequent and the people I frequent them with coincide with the healthy lifestyle I am trying to create?

Week 2: Ended up eliminating caffeine early (wasn’t supposed to happen until week 3). Thoughts: Having the effects of no sugar catching up at the same time as I released caffeine (and, oh ya, started my flow) was not pretty. A two day headache and three days of lethargy indicated that the magic of cleansing was working. Although I was drinking only one cup of coffee a day, I recognize how much I was using that as a vice- a quick fix to ease the 5:30am wake-up-call. But it wasn’t until Friday when I came back from the dead that I realized I didn’t need it.

Week 3: Eliminated all dairy and meats. Thoughts: Overall, this week rocked! My energy levels boosted tremendously and I felt alert teaching my 8am classes. Even my students commented on my energy. I thought that letting go of dairy would be really hard, but it wasn’t actually that terrible. I missed my Lebanese yogurt, only because it goes so well with kitchari! I was curious if eliminating dairy would improve the little bit of sinus congestion I have in the mornings, and it has. Another surprise was how much I didn’t miss meat. I took some time to learn more about meat and it’s effect on our bodies. My conclusion was that unless you have access to ethically raised, high quality organic meats, it’s best avoided. I did eat a small amount of salmon. If you’re curious about what fish to choose to eat, check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Week 4: Eliminated any hard to digest foods and focused on small, simple meals. Thoughts: When week 4 hit, my “scarcity reflex” jumped like it did in the beginning of the cleanse. I’ve learned that when I perceive that I won’t have enough food to satisfy my appetite my tendency is to overeat, like I’m trying to compensate for the difference. I call it my scarcity reflex. I’m not even sure where it comes from. I grew up with plenty of food on the table- I even did the grocery shopping for my entire family when I was 12 so I mostly go to eat whatever I wanted (and I wonder where I got my bad habits from!). Besides knowing that I can be one cranky beast when I’m really hungry, I’m still not sure why I perceive and react to scarcity the way I do. I’ll be pondering this one for a while…

So now the big question is, “Now what?”

Although I did have a few visions of cheeseburgers today (which is pretty normal for me) I don’t feel like I need to go “binging” on all the things I’ve taken out of my diet. What is different from my cleanse experience last year is that I can feel my body craving a lot of the good foods I have been feeding it. I feel healthy, happy and overall have nice energy levels. My sleep has been good and it’s easier for me to wake in the morning. So I’m thinking to myself, “Do I really want to change?”

The short answer is: yes and no.

The long answer is that I know how good I can feel when I pay very close attention to what I’m eating. I also know that I love going out to eat and enjoy naughty treats like chocolate and cake. My plan is to slowly introduce some of these foods (sugar, alcohol, dairy, etc.) back into my diet in small proportions so I can see how my body reacts to them. I’m determined to stay away from coffee and other sources of caffeine. I’ve also realized that I plan a lot of social events around eating (out) and drinking. I know I’ll have to moderate that and be creative, like cooking for friends and finding other things to do than go to the bar.

Oh, and if you’re wondering… I broke my cleanse with a (half) sandwich: cheddar cheese, basil pesto and tomato on grilled wheat bread.

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Hump Days are Gone, Week 4 is ON!

Today begins the last week of my month-long cleanse. Here’s the synopsis so far…
Week 1: no biggie
Week 2: shoot me
Week 3: I’m bouncing off the walls with energy
Week 4: dunt, dunt duhhhh (we’ll see)

I was so elated to get out of my hump days of week 2 that by the time week 3 came around I didn’t even care that I was letting go of dairy. My energy levels have increased exponentially. I’ve been sleeping well and waking easily. Even my college students have remarked about how wound up I am in my 8am class. I practiced yoga every day this week and a few people have said that I look brighter, which is actually really great validation because I honestly feel brighter. My body feels strong and my skin is more clear than it has ever been.

Week 4 begins the week of healing. This week I’m eating very simple and easily digested foods. Oats, rice, lentils and an assortment of soups will be a few of my staples. There are two ideas about this…

First, if our bodies use less energy for digestion, they can focus their energies where we need them the most. This provides the body with more energy to heal rather than focusing on chomping our food. I can already say that if I wasn’t doing this cleanse right now I would surely be sick. The weather has been up and down- sandals one day, snow boots the next. Everyone around me is sick and hacking. I’ve had this faint cough at night just before I go to bed that I can feel my body overpowering. It’s amazing to feel an impending sickness and know that when I’m taking care of myself I can choose to stay healthy instead.

Second, simplifying the diet after eliminating food “triggers” like refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine and dairy (to name a few) sort of “resets” the digestive system. The idea is that once the body is “reset,” you can reintroduce foods into the diet and see how your body reacts. I’ve already begun to notice subtle reactions to foods. This week I realized that the whole grain bread and pita I was eating didn’t really make me feel too good. Although I decided not to experiment too much with gluten on this cleanse, I remember someone once describing how gluten “gums up” the digestive system. That’s exactly how I felt, gummed up. One night my partner and I shared rice noodles in broth and both woke up with sticky mouths and bad breath. Ick! These little nuggets of body knowledge are the real reason why I choose to “cleanse.” It gives me information about myself and about my body that no book or doctor could ever tell me.

I’ve also noticed my mental and emotional states around food are slowly improving. I’m learning to keep my body relaxed even when I’m hungry and fight the desire to just put anything in my mouth to satiate myself like I used to do. I find myself having a little more willingness to wait for food if I know that what I will eventually eat is wholesome and what my body needs. This is by far the slowest piece of the learning curve for me. I’m working on it…

 

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Hump Days…

In two days I will be half-way through my month long cleanse.  The first week was surprisingly easy. I didn’t feel any noticeable physical effects or withdrawals. My body even craved simple foods like kitchari. The second week, however, was a bit rough. I started to supplement tea in the morning to replace my daily cup of coffee. On Tuesday, I had a cappuccino that nearly gave me a heart attack! My hands were shaking and my heart was beating at 86bpm. Ok, I know that isn’t that fast, but it felt really fast for me. Shortly thereafter I started my cycle which simultaneously wiped my body out. I felt nauseous and dizzy. Needless to say, I spent Tuesday in bed. I ate kitchari and drank almond milk. On Wednesday I decided that caffeine was the devil so I avoided it completely. What I received in return was a massive headache and energy levels in the negatives. Having an unusually heavy flow certainly didn’t help either. On Thursday, the headache continued. I took a 3 hour nap so I could muster up the energy to go visit a friend who I hadn’t seen in forever. I was still pooped. I started wondering if I was doing something wrong. I had been eating wholesome foods and avoiding devils like caffeine and sugar and yet my body seemed to hate me. When I did this cleanse a year ago I had one “hump day” in the first week where my energy levels were really low but after that I felt fine. That night I craved everything naughty under the sun: visions of beer and cheeseburgers and fries were floating through my mind like cotton candy clouds. I wanted soda and pizza and everything I had been telling myself to avoid. The week before I imagined dunking my head in a pilsner when I was sweating in down dog, but nothing like this.

When the alarm that I didn’t actually need to set woke me up at 5:30am Friday morning, I realized that I was pretty alert. I turned off the alarm and woke up again at 7:00 feeling awake and refreshed. I was over the hump! I went to my first yoga class in a week- a warm vinyasa. I did a lot of sweating and felt my body cleansing itself through my pores. I felt strong and happy. Sweet relief! Afterward I taught my community yoga class with a clear head and renewed energy. I also enjoyed a banana and peanut butter after class that tasted like heaven.

I have been feeling good since then and I’m continuing to avoid caffeine for the most part, even though I didn’t intend on giving that up until the last week. I’m looking forward to a much more productive week. Tomorrow begins NO DAIRY, which I’m both excited and nervous about…

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Kitchari Recipe

Kitchari, meaning “mixture,” is the combination of rice and lentils used in Ayurveda to calm the digestive system and promote healing in the body. Kitchari tends to be a very simple dish but it can be prepared in a variety of ways and tailored to any dosha. In the fourth week of my month-long cleanse, kitchari will serve as my main source of food and sustenance. Here is a kitchari recipe that I have truly come to love:

Although any combination of rice and beans can be utilized, I like combining basmati rice and french green lentils for my kitchari.

The rice is fairly simple to prepare. Check out Manjula’s Kitchen for a quick tutorial. Plus, Majula’s Kitchen is like the Pandora’s box of Indian cooking :)

Ingredients:
* 3 cups prepared basmati rice (or rice of choice)
* 3 cups prepared french green lentils (or lentils of choice)
* 1/2 yellow onion (chopped or minced depending on preference)
* 6 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
* 2-3 Tbs garam masala (I suggest Penzeys or Savory Spice Shop)
* cilantro
* sea salt
* ghee
* lebanese yogurt or kefir

I highly recommend buying good quality, fresh, organic lentils. Soak them in water overnight to shorten their cook time. Here’s a rundown of lentils from how2heroes.

In a wide saucepan, pour about 6Tbs of coconut oil into the pan over medium heat.
Add onions. Cook until soft.
Add ginger and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes.
Add garam masala. Cook for 20 seconds.
Stir in lentils and mix until lentils are completely seasoned.

Portion basmati rice into a cup or bowl. Add 1tsp (or more) of ghee to the center of the rice. Pour equal portions of lentils over rice. Sprinkle with sea salt to preference. Dress with fresh cilantro and lebanese yogurt (or kefir). Give thanks and enjoy :)

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Here We Go. Again. Cleanse.

A year to the day, my partner and I decided to give up refined sugar for a month. I had no idea that such a seemingly small goal would completely alter the way I eat and view food forever. Here we are, a year later, returning to that same goal to once again bring some heightened awareness into our diets. This time, however, our cleanse will be a modified Ayurvedic Cleanse, inspired by Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health.

Over the period of a month, we will be eliminating refined sugar and alcohol (week 1), red meat (week 2), caffeine, dairy, all meat (week 3) and all sugars (week 4) to begin my Candida cleanse. Each time a food is eliminated, a more nutritional food or healthy practice gets put in its place (take out the bad, put in the good). In my experience, the first and the last week are the hardest. The first, because energy levels are low as your body is looking for that sugar rush it’s used to getting. The last, because the diet is so simple (and, ok, a bit boring really) that it becomes incredibly hard not to satiate the appetite with all the amazing foods we have available to us. And that desire to satiate myself with foods of all kind is EXACTLY why I’m doing this cleanse again.

I’ve had an enormous appetite since I was young- a true Pitta by nature. I once had eight jumbo tacos as a teenager and didn’t even bat an eye. After surfing for an afternoon, it wasn’t uncommon for my friend and I to share a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream before having dinner. During snack break in high school, my diet consisted of three chocolate chip cookies followed by a bag of cool ranch doritos to compliment my cup-o-noodles and lemon-lime Gatorade. And I wonder why I had acne? My skin was begging me to stop!

Gaining knowledge about the food/body/mind experience is an amazing process, but it’s not the primary goal of this cleanse. This time I’m focusing on my mental and emotional connection to food. One pattern I recognized during the last cleanse was my tendency to be completely unhappy and unsatisfied when I had wholesome, albeit boring, foods in front of me. At times I was so “over” eating rice and beans (the staples of week 4) that I would even not eat them. With a little perspective on the situation, I realized how privileged I am to have a plethora of delicious, organic foods at my fingertips. Being able to cleanse and negotiate what I can and cannot eat is in itself a privilege. On any given night I can eat Thai, Italian, Indian or whatever my taste buds desire. But when I strip my diet down the bare essentials, I never feel satisfied…

I force myself to think about how many people on this globe would bend over backwards for a small, healthy meal. People who dream of rice and beans but stare at empty plates at night. And yet I shun it, because I can. I guess I’m just not OK with that. So this time around, I want to do things a little differently. I’ve set intentions to begin a meditation practice. My goal is to meditate every day in the fourth week. I’ll be focusing on slowing down around eating practices (instead of my normal inhaling tendencies) and gratitude.

Do me a favor – remind me about gratitude in about two weeks?

P.S. I was thinking about my cleanse while driving on Flatbush Ave. and looked up and saw this sign. I laughed and thought to myself, “I know.”

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New York in December

To say that the past month was full of beautiful rarities would be an understatement. First of all, I got to share a couple weeks with my two beautiful sisters. They live in California and Michigan so the three of us being under one roof for such an extended period of time is beyond rare. I love them so much. I wish I could see them every day. We are each so very different which makes being around them all the more fun. I’m pretty sure we each think the other two are completely crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My favorite highlight of us being together was watching one of the most rare of rare winter solstice eclipses. We set our alarms for 2:30am so we could wake up and watch just as the moon turned into a deep red ornament hanging in the sky. It was amazing and also cold. The night was so clear I had to wonder if the universe had planned her eclipse just for our enjoyment.

Not only did I get to experience my sisters + rare eclipse. I also got to experience my sisters + the blizzard of 2010. We hibernated in grandmas house and watched the snow pour down just like we did as kids. And when we started to get cabin fever, also like we did as kids, we taught our younger sister how we had fun. This entailed taking a small amount of money to the local stationary and drug store to buy an assortment of Nerf guns and odd toys to entertain us back at the ranch. We ended up playing a few rounds of target practice while simultaneously playing paddle ball and yo-yo. Just like old times. Only the nerf guns now have laser beams and require batteries.

It is months like these that I am reminded of how truly blessed I am…

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