Gift Guide: Handmade Soap by DiPalermo Body

"Every year around this time, I get asked by fans, friends, restaurant-goers and publications what my go-to gifts are. This year, My team and I have decided to feature a few artisans who are making great products that are perfect for the holidays. Whether it is fancy soap for my mother or a really rad apron for one of my colleagues, or the flight of roof-top honey for the person who is impossible to shop for here are some essentials that could I know I will be giving this year. First up, Jessica Morelli from New York City."- Marcus  

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 1.40.55 PM What is the name of your company and what do you make?

Jessica Morelli: The name of my company is di Palermo Body.  I make artisan skin care made in small batches using only natural and organic ingredients. At a young age my Nona (grandmother) taught me how to garden, the importance of eating organic food and living a holistic lifestyle. ‘di Palermo’ means of Palermo, which is where she was from so di Palermo Body is in honor of her. How did you get started?

JM: Five years ago I bought a bar of natural soap at a small shop and fell in love.  I didn’t even know people still made soap from scratch.  I immediately was hooked and had to find out how I could make it myself.   Coming from a large Italian family I loved to cook.  I found that making soap was much like cooking, and creating a formula is just like creating a recipe, you just don’t eat the end product.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 1.41.07 PM : Where do you produce and sell it?

JM: I currently make all the products out of my 5th floor walk-up Manhattan apartment; tight quarters but organization is the key.  Etsy is my main online platform and because of it I’ve been able to sell  all over the world.  I have retailers in LA and Chicago and am hoping to find a few in New York that are a good fit in the coming months. Of all your collection, what is the best for a holiday gift?


JM: Whether you give a bundle of 4 soaps for $25 for your sister, a sugar scrub for someone at the office for $12, or a single bar of soap as a stocking stuffer for only $7,  all of my products are within a price range that is perfect for gifts.  How do you see your audience changing over the past few years? Is there more an interest in artisan products and how do you see that growing?

JM: Over the five years I’ve been making natural products my market has always been people who understand the importance of using natural products for both their skin’s and the environment’s benefit. More and more people are finding the value in handcrafted goods, its nice to see people wanting so support small businesses. Favorites:

Ristretto Sugar Scrub and Soap

This scent, coffee and lemon, is a natural deodorizer and works great in the kitchen eliminating the scents of cooking like garlic, onion or fish.

Conjure Soap

This scent, vanilla and vetiver, has a more masculine appeal to it and a great label. Men like fancy soap too!


How to Make Apple Butter

photo 1Autumn tends to have some of the best produce. It’s like nature’s last kiss before winter begins and the farmers market sees the influx of root vegetables. The best way to take advantage of autumnal flavors, just like the produce of spring and summer, is to preserve and can what you are able to so you can enjoy them year round. Apple Butter is a great way to save your prize from a day of apple picking. Don’t be afraid to keep the apples with the bruises—they make the butter all the sweeter.

Here’s a recipe for a Maple Apple Butter that will be great on your morning toast tomorrow, in the beginning of February or the end of July.

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Marcus & Amanda in Conversation

PicMonkey Collage
PicMonkey Collage

The Rare Books Room downtown at The Strand Bookstore, served as the perfect backdrop to discuss Yes, Chef—the room was nothing short of magical, with a library rich in content, an audience feasting on the words of Marcus and his hostess and a thick summer air that settled over the space causing us all to lean in a little closer. Sitting in front of stacks that included first editions written and signed by Stephen King and volumes of The New Yorker, Marcus spoke candidly about the stories that fill the pages of his memoir and reminded the audience that his world truly is an inspiring one. The Q&A, hosted by New York Times writer and Food 52 founder Amanda Hesser had Marcus reliving moments of his early days as a chef, offering advice to those searching for that one inspirational meal and of course, finding time to reminisce with Hesser who once had the opportunity to impress Marcus in the Aquavit kitchen with her cooking, writing and grasp of the French language when she shadowed him for a piece written for the Times. So rarely do you find a conversation so engaging. Hesser, bold as always, was not afraid to ask the questions that often times seem off limits and Marcus was appropriately frank in his answers, not shying away from questions about death, drugs and gentrification.

He reminded us that “women are the most influential women in dining” yet somehow men seem to run the show. He brought us all back to Harlem, explained the difference from Brooklyn and told us the importance his success means to the community and to the visitor. “If we’re going to bring you all the way uptown you know we have to do it right.” He told us that Red Rooster is not just in Harlem, its grown in Harlem reminding us that nearly two-thirds of Rooster staff are Harlemites, but that there are also the electricians, designers, interns and retail neighbors that he and his staff utilize on a daily basis. This is the definition of a locally owned business.

After the discussion, the audience waited patiently for their books to be signed, snacking on cookies from Red Rooster’s soon-to-be-unveiled Nook. A few lingered in the stacks as Marcus packed his things, both in awe of the treasures at Strand and amazed at the drive, passion and story behind one person’s life.

Mastering the Macaron

Trends come and go in the world of pastries. For awhile, cupcakes ruled the world,  making appearances throughout pop culture and the ovens of single girls everywhere, we can thank Carrie Bradshaw for that. Whoopie Pies moonlighted for a minute and now the French Macaron seems to be the trend for the sugar-induced.

Macarons are actually Italian in origin, dating back to 1533 during the reign of the Medici family. The original macarons were simple almond cookies, with the word sharing its etymology with “macaroni”–both meaning fine dough. It wasn’t until Catherine Medici married Duc d’Orleans who would later become King Henry II of France that these meringue cookies took on status as a French treasure. For a long time macarons stayed simple and didn’t become a sandwiched treat until the 20th century when French pastry became much more sophisticated and whimsical. Other than being symbolic of Parisian Romanticism, what makes macarons so special is that they seem to be something impossible to make at home. Trust should always be placed in the pastry bag of experts, but should you moonlight in the world of macaron making be prepared for a few false starts. Fear not, because after a few failed attempts you will have worked out all the kinks and have sweet little delectable pillows of almond joy. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. A Silpat made for macarons works the best for an unsteady hand.
  2. Ground almond actually means ground almond flour
  3. The more food coloring the better as the macarons brown when cooked, the brighter the color the less browning will occur.
  4. Don’t over mix your meringue or the macarons will fall
  5. A glass of wine is necessary to retain sanity

Click here to read Ashley’s recipe for the perfect Raspberry Macaron. 

If you’re not an adventurous baker oozing with finesse, leave it to the pros. Here is a list of NYC macaron-eries:

The Ladurée on Madison Ave between 71st and 70th Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center, La Maison du Chocolat, Madison Ave. between 78th and 79th streets Macaron Café on West 36th Street Bisous Ciao on Stanton between Ludlow and Orchard

Photo: Fabienne D.

Eating on the Lower East Side

While Harlem has some great advantages, there is a different, yet slightly similar appeal to another neighborhood with an equally rich cultural background; the Lower East Side.

LES does not always have the prettiest streets, the most convenient of bus routes or the glitz and glam of some other neighborhoods, but what it lacks in those departments it makes up for in authenticity, grittiness and character. During the day it is like any other neighborhood; bodegas are on every corner with the community cat taking perch, sandwich shops serve up lunch and boutiques sell the best commodities they have to offer. At night, the neighborhood’s lights attract New Yorkers away from their homes and to the vibrant scene that gives this town the nickname, The City that Never Sleeps.

This is an old neighborhood, one with residents that have never left, stores that have stayed open for decades and a deli that has been in business since 1888. It was once a farm, then a tenement neighborhood, then a working-class Jewish community that now shares the streets with Latinos, Chinese, Bangladeshis, Japanese, Ukranians and countless other immigrants.This was once called Little Germany, Corlears Hook and Crown Point. Now its comprised of the East Village, NoLIta, Chinatown, Alphabet City, Bowery and Little Italy. This is the neighborhood of immigrants, the history of America.

Any history buff would find days worth of exploring in this part of town, the Tenement Museum on Delancey and Orchard offers a wonderful series of walking tours, but truly the best love affair to have with this neighborhood is found in restaurants. There is no other part of the city that showcases such a wide selection of food in a radius of this size.

Old School New York:

On Allen Street, just south of Houston stands a well-known spot, frequented by the hungry: the landlady who has lived on Suffolk since 1970, the Wall Street Broker out for a rowdy evening with friends, off-duty NYPD and tourists visiting for the week. there’s Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House. This place is quintessential LES, celebrating homestyle Jewish cooking.

Don’t expect a romantic dinner for two, but a more than lively party that has not missed a beat for the last thirty-something years. The walls are plastered with photographs of previous patrons, there’s Alka Seltzer offered at the door, vodka frozen into blocks of ice, live accordion music every night and a menu like no other. There’s schmaltz on every table, thats right, rendered chicken fat placed on each table as if it were butter waiting for bread. There’s chicken liver to order,  prepared table-side, potato pancakes and the signature dish, an enormous tenderloin covered with enough garlic you’re sure to not get a kiss from your date.

Cheap Eats:

Vanessa’s sits on the cusp of what is known of Chinatown, but is just blocks from hipster bars and music venues. Because of this, it attracts a diverse crowd--Oh yeah, and the dumplings!  It’s hard to ignore the authentic charm that oozes from everything in this building, from the Bubble Tea, the army of cooks on the line and the little old grandpa in the back who hand stuffs each dumpling. The prices are more than reasonable, four (very) satisfying dumplings for $1, boiled or fried and served in a variety of flavors--the best is the pork and scallion--or 50 dumplings, frozen, for $9. That’s a steal any New Yorker can appreciate. The pork buns and sesame pancakes are also worth snacking on. Think of heavenly, delicate, pillows filled with pork or pekin duck, Bejing-style and you’ll have the right idea.

If you’re looking to take an after-drinks approach to your eating adventures, be sure to hit up the LES’ newest spot, Little Muenster on Stanton between Orchard and Ludlow. Little Muenster is the brain-child of Adam Schenider and Vanessa Palazio, two hospitality and lifestyle specialists who offer the late-night crowd a plethora of fancy grilled cheese to satisfy anyone’s craving for comfort food. You can find a simple classic  or something more delectable, Muenster and Gouda with Pastrami and cumin seed..  Oh, and then there’s the bone marrow butter as an up-charge to any sandwich. For the adventurous, there’s nothing that could make a sandwich better.

For the vegetarian wandering around LES there is no better place than a tiny little grocery/deli just off Houston with a line of taxicabs out the front called PunjabiSpecializing in vegetarian Indian food, Punjabi has a limited menu, with about 4 or 5 options all costing under $6. The building is nondescript, a tiny spot with  tiny green awning. The food is authentic, they sell homemade Chai and the appeal to eating a meal and buying a Bollywood video to watch later. Rumor has it, this spot is 24 hours and one of the city’s best kept secrets.

Culinary Giants:

Only blocks away from the rowdy bar-goers and Houston traffic, the sidewalks on Clinton Street are relatively quiet and the shop windows dimly lit. Here you’ll find one of the neighborhood’s best spots.  WD50 is more than noteworthy. WD50 is the award winning brainchild of Wylie Dufresne, a so-called forefather in the molecular gastronomy movement.  The 67-seat eatery shows off the innovation Dufresne is known for, creativity that is a level beyond astonishing, but still approachable for the average diner.. Familiar favorites grace the menu, but of course come with a twist. Notable dishes; the Foie-lafel, a take on a street food classic and the eggs benedict, which showcases Dufresne’s love affair with eggs.  WD50 is a neighborhood gem that attracts fans nationwide.

A quick walk north or an even quicker cab ride will put you in the heart of the east side, in the area now considered to be The East Village. Here is where David Chang’s mini-empire sits. Chang, a one time student and employee of some of the greats, Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Dufresne too is an alum,) and Daniel Boulud, has created the Momofuku Restaurant Group, featuring his restaurants noodle bar, ssäm bar, ko, má pêche, seiōbo, and the bakery milk bar, all situated in the East Village.

Momofuku Noodle Bar is the original restaurant sitting on First Avenue between 10th and 11th streets. It serves a thoughtful menu of ramen favorites with  seasonal touches, that is small enough to manage but still wide in variety. Portion sizes are ample, spice is plentiful. Momofuku ramen is hard to pass up, with its perfectly poached egg and divinely cut fishcakes, the shrimp, pork or mushroom buns are the best found outside of Chinatown and do not underestimate the soft serve ice cream. Similar to Dufresne, Chang’s restaurants are the proud winners of numerous awards recognizing not just the menus success, but representing the blood, sweat and tears that are shed to keep a restaurant relevant in one of the oldest neighborhoods in “The City that Never Sleeps.”