Shana Liebman

Articles by

Shana Liebman

Shana Liebman lives in Williamsburg and writes for publications including New York Magazine, Salon and Paper as well as her food blog, Monsters vs. Dinner. She is the fiction editor of GOOD Magazine and published the anthology Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish in 2009. After struggling to feed her two sons, she loves writing the “The Pickiest Eaters” column for Brooklyn Based.

10/21/15 9:43am
Lauren Gustus, head chef at Trivet. Photo: Trivet Foods

Trivet founder Puja Vohra hired Lauren Gustus, above, as head chef after falling in love with the food Gustus prepared for Vohra’s family. Photo: Trivet Foods

I am a grouch when it comes to food delivery. Despite the absurd number of options—Seamless, Grubhub, Caviar, UberEats, Doordash, Munchery, OurHarvest—I prefer my dinner to come from my kitchen, not a plastic container that traveled two miles in a messenger bag, and not a cardboard box that contains all the ingredients and none of the creativity. (See more grouchiness here.)

But Trivet—a new service delivering seasonable, healthy, locally sourced meals to Brooklynites—surprised me. The bag arrived at my door on a Monday containing neat, well-marked containers and the food was extraordinary. There were flavors I don’t cook with, complicated combos and seasonal vegetables I often avoid, and it was all restaurant quality. (more…)

05/04/15 10:57am
Landhaus, and their delicous slab bacon on a stick, is one of 100 participating vendors at The Great Bacon Picnic May 16 & 17. Photo: Oleander + Palm Landhaus, purveyors of porky goodness like slab bacon on a stick, is among the 100 participating vendors at The Great Big Bacon Picnic May 16-17. Photo: Landhaus

Landhaus, purveyors of porky goodness like slab bacon on a stick, is among the 100 participating vendors at The Great Big Bacon Picnic May 16-17. Photo: Landhaus

On May 16 and 17 the first annual indoor/outdoor Great Big Bacon Picnic launches in Williamsburg with live music, booze and bacon-filled dishes. This isn’t one of those “taste what my friend can make with bacon” events–Hill Country, Prime, Ovenly, Nick and Toni’s, Spitzer’s, Mile End, and Landhaus are just a few of the 100 participating restaurants and chefs. We spoke to producer Craig Taylor about his well-curated, rocking party whose guest of honor is more than adequately honored.

How is this one different from all the other major bacon festivals?

We are committed to a 35-to-1 bacon [dish] to human ratio, and will not sell a single ticket beyond that. Also we’re going to have a Bacon Bar. That’s right, a bar that serves unlimited bacon lined up for you to sample, as many times as you want. Plus we have an incredible menu of craft beers, ciders and spirits from mostly local companies including Bakon Vodka, Van Brunt Stillhouse, Original Sin Cider, New York Distilling Co., Kings County Distillery among others. (more…)

03/27/15 12:00pm

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.10.42 AMYesterday as I was spreading cream cheese on the 100th plain bagel of the month, I started to lecture Nate on the benefits of at least trying a different spread. There is butter and jelly, I argued. There is butter with jelly. Peanut butter and jelly, sliced cheese. There are all sorts of new combinations and foods to try. Life is rich and varied and food should be too!

Nate took a bite. “Mommy,” he said thoughtfully. “Is god real?”

So that happened, but it was an interesting time for this question because a small miracle has recently occurred.

My second kid, Mack (pictured on the right), is a terrific eater. I didn’t think it was possible after Nate and his plain-yogurt-only years but then along came Mack and the boy can eat. And the funny thing is he eats perfectly. He prefers eggs (usually “sunnystideup”) to bagels and cantaloupe to cake. He shuns carbs, consuming most fruit, vegetables and healthy proteins like fish and seaweed. Honestly.

Again, I have nothing to do with this little guy’s taste—he is a take-no-prisoners three year old. Mack eats what Mack wants to eat and on his birthday he wanted to eat cucumbers. When Michael explained the real point behind the Super Bowl: chips, pretzels, dips, salsa and Velveeta queso. Mack chimed in, “and carrots!” It’s weird a little.

Anyway, I now have a terrible eater and a perfect eater who only wants to eat whatever the terrible eater is eating. When we sit down to dinner Mack joins in the  “ew gross” chant even though he loves salmon. Usually I give Mack a separate plate in addition to the pasta/hot dogs/mac and cheese plate that I give Nate because he will inevitably ask for whatever he sees on Nate’s plate even if he doesn’t want to eat it. Basically I’m still cooking for a picky eater despite the fact that Mack is not one.

This winter I’ve tried to combine Nate’s core food groups (eggs, bacon, pasta, bread) in new ways. For example, my breakfast pasta. These pizza bagels and my DIY egg muffins. But I’m still not getting veggies or grains into my kids. Plus I’m tired of these same old ingredients. I want to make one creative, interesting, healthy meal for all of us. I want to be inspired. And that’s why I called mommy chef Paula Hankin. (more…)

03/02/15 10:30am
Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz and pastry chef Pam Yung of Semilla. Photo: Olivia Boddie

Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz and pastry chef Pam Yung of Semilla. Photo: Olivia Boddie

Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz and his girlfriend, pastry chef Pam Yung, were tired of cooking other people’s food. After working for years in kitchens such as Brooklyn Fare, Per Se, Isa, Degustation (him), and Roberta’s, Tailor, Room 4 Dessert (her), the longtime couple finally decided to give up a steady paycheck to do their own thing.

In 2012, they collaborated on Chez José, a BYOB popup serving creative, evolving, mostly veggie prix fixe dinners. The concept, creativity, and food were all theirs, and it was beloved by local diners and many reviewers. But the space, a by-day breakfast/taco joint in Williamsburg, was tiny—only 4-8 diners a seating. They needed a staff, a prep area, a liquor license and comfy seats.

Then Lake Trout, the Baltimore-style restaurant which served those amazing fried fish sandwiches, was forced to shut down and its owner Joe Carroll suggested José and Pam use the Havemeyer St. spot for Chez José dinners. After several months of success, Joe was interested in solidifying the partnership.

“We had a series of conversations during the fall/winter of 2013 and it just seemed like the right progression,” said Ramírez-Ruiz. Late last year he and Yung, with Carroll’s help, opened Semilla, which they consider a continuation of the spirit and philosophy behind the now-closed Chez José.

After an extensive renovation, Semilla is now a beautiful, minimalist restaurant that isn’t exactly big but is brilliantly designed to maximize space and function. Eighteen diners can sit around a blonde-wood U-shaped table for the daily changing “vegetable-forward” $75 tasting menu, which includes about 10 small inventive, rustic dishes. Past menus have featured burdock arancini with miso sauce and house-dried pepper; beets with fermented ramps, sunflower seeds and hay yogurt. Dessert might be fig leaf ice cream with buckwheat crumbs and a fermented grape granita.

The carefully curated beer and wine list features many lesser-known bottles, like a series of “complete” wines (which are briefly touched by the grape skin), some unusual sherries and top-notch dry ciders. There are two seatings every night, around 6ish and 8ish, and the restaurant smartly staggers the reservations—6:15, 6:30 etc.— so not everyone arrives or eats at once.

In the middle of the horseshoe table, the fantastically knowledgeable and approachable servers, as well as José and Pam from time to time, serve, clear, replace silverware, answer questions and suggest wines in a graceful, seamless dance. (Our server offered us a taste of a wine that had been previously opened, and one from a new bottle of the same wine, to compare the results of its aging.)

Despite their motion and proximity, the dining experience feels quiet and private. The courses are perfectly timed and spaced so that you are rarely eating the same thing as your neighbor, but may peak at what’s next. (Otherwise, the menu is a complete mystery; “José never writes anything down!” Pam said when I asked her for one.)

Plus the small kitchen only accommodates a few burners, an oven and one sous chef, so José must rely on skills he likely learned at Chez José —preparing and organizing many small components so each dish is ready to fire at multiple times during the evening.

Our recent dinner was a series of earthy, uniquely textured but unpretentious dishes, like a lentil cracker with creamy parsnip and trout roe; a flakey sandwich made with slaw and buckwheat groats between two dehydrated cabbage leaves; ribbons of cooked beets enveloping morsels of velvety beef in a marrow-rich foam. Perhaps the most delicious event of the meal was Pam’s rich blue barley and flaxseed sourdough bread with fresh butter and sour buttermilk. In fact, some diners were there only for this bread, and maybe a couple glasses of wine. It’s that good.

It’s an impressive and passionate operation—every night is a different menu of creative and complex dishes that are constantly evolving as the chefs tweak, edit and invent. Even the bathroom has a twist—a one-way mirrored window that looks into the efficient kitchen.

Amidst all this hard work, Chef José found some time to chat. (more…)

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11/07/14 10:09am
The cure for a hangry kid: Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls, a treat to make and way healthier than they sound. Photo: Shana Liebman

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls, a treat to make and way healthier than they sound. Photo: Shana Liebman

To Whom it May Concern,

Enclosed please find my resignation letter. It has come to my attention that I am no longer able to work here. I have not completed a sentence, much less a thought, in 24 days. I spent over 160 hours in Halloween-costume negotiations, which finally concluded with the Batman one—from last year. I have made multiple, delicious meals that were not consumed nor cleaned up. I believe my abilities are not being met with appropriate appreciation. Also my head hurts and my voice is shot from screaming “stop screaming” and “Stop hitting your brother with a sword.”



Obviously it’s been a tough week. The kids are not eating meals and becoming hungry then cranky. A friend who is having the same frustrations calls it “Hangry”– what happens when a kid doesn’t eat meals, then gets hungry and angry. Then he asks for snacks. Mom resists because snacks mean no meals but eventually she can’t take the hangriness anymore and she gives him a snack. It’s a vicious cycle that us non-French moms seem paralyzed to resolve. (more…)

10/09/14 12:32pm

The Lennon Bus is parked outside of Williamsburg’s Northside School today till 5.

Happy birthday John Lennon! Today would be the 74th birthday of the legendary singer/poet/artist, and to celebrate, the Lennon Bus has arrived in Williamsburg.

The nonprofit bus has been touring the country for 17 years, and launched its New York residency in September with founder Yoko Ono. Several New York institutions vied for the chance to showcase the multi-million dollar studio bus today, Lennon’s birthday. The winner was Williamsburg Northside School.

The enormous studio-bus is currently parked in front of the school’s new building on N 7th Street and Havemeyer where kids are invited aboard to play instruments, record their voices, check out a 360-degree video of themselves and learn how music is made with professional engineers. They have until 5pm today to become rock stars.

09/17/14 4:58pm
One way to break out of the same sandwich rut: mini quiches, something Lunchboxblues blogger JM Hirsch packs for his son. Photo courtesy JM Hirsch

One way to break out of the same sandwich rut: mini quiches, something Lunch Box Blues blogger J.M. Hirsch packs for his son. Photo courtesy J.M. Hirsch

This summer Nate went to a camp with no microwave. It was a beautiful, earthy, spirited camp but it was nonetheless a camp at which Nate could not heat up the only three lunches he eats: hot dogs, pizza and pasta. We were left with one option: peanut butter (actually soynut butter since camp forbade peanuts) and jelly sandwiches.

Not surprisingly I was way more disturbed about this situation than Nate, who is very happy to eat soynut butter and jelly sandwiches every day, forever.

All summer I tried coaxing him into trying something new. “Please can I give you another kind of sandwich? How about cheese? Turkey? Turkey and cheese? Remi loves turkey and cheese.”

But Nate stuck to the same story: “Remi is five. When I’m five I will eat lots of sandwiches.”

Since his birthday was still months away, I was forced into research mode and luckily I stumbled upon Lunch Box Blues, where AP food editor J.M. Hirsch blogs about the lunches he packs for his nine-year-old son Parker. He started the project without great expectations, but right away, he said, “The response was great. I totally underestimated how frustrated most parents feel about lunch.” Hirsch has many smart, out-of the-box ideas about what constitutes a healthy lunch that he shared with me below, and in his book, Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go. Plus he’s a good cook and a busy dad who doesn’t want his son, or himself, to be bored by the 180 lunches he’ll pack this year. He quickly became my idol. (more…)

07/14/14 2:29pm
Two ingredient pizza requires just flour and yogurt for its crust. Photo: Shana Liebman

Two ingredient pizza requires just flour and yogurt for its crust. Photo: Shana Liebman

Because I am a nerd-mom, writing this column has inspired me to dig a little deeper into the tombs of picky-eater scholarship. Who knew they were so vast? You could, and probably will, get lost in all the books and blogs covering almost every aspect of this subject.

One thing seems clear to me however—it’s all about the parent, and there are several types of parents of picky eaters:

The Hiders: Veggie purees in muffins; chocolate pudding made with avocado.

The DIYers: The kid helps shop, cook, bake. It’s about feeling included and empowered.

The Distracters: Use special-ordered Japanese vegetable cutters to make cucumbers into stars. (Okay that was me. And yes it failed.) Thread fruit through bamboo sticks. Make food fun!

The Philosophers: Taste training (really!), charts and games. Think habits not hot dogs.

And then there are The French: Put delicious food on plate. Eat. (more…)

06/02/14 2:00pm
For the pickiest eaters, there's always pizza. Photo: Shana Liebman

For the pickiest eaters, there’s always pizza. Photo: Shana Liebman

We’ve all met this kid before. He only eats pasta with butter and plain oatmeal. Or Cheerios and French fries. Before I had children it was impossible for me to imagine that I—a home cook, a frequent restaurant-goer and occasional reviewer, a grocery-store devotee and lifetime subscriber to Gourmet—would call this kind of kid my own.

But as fate would have it, I have a picky eater. His name is Nate and he is adorable, smart, funny, warm, creative, talented and a terrible, no good, very bad eater. His staples are hot dogs, cheese sticks and pasta without sauce. He refuses all vegetables and fruits and everything slightly outside his comfort zone. Which is everything. It started when he was a baby (he was revolted by his first piece of avocado) and at age 4, he’d rather forgo TV than eat a snap pea.

I have gone through the stages of grief: 1. No way not me! 2. I can change him with my clever cooking. 3. I will punish him until he changes. 4. I don’t care. Let him starve. 5. I cracked the code! 6. I don’t care. Let him starve. 7. Help!

Miraculously, Nate recently ate a carrot and nodded in approval. I got so excited that I served carrots with every meal and as a prerequisite for every treat. That is until Nate, under the adoring gaze of his grandparents, refused his one baby carrot. I pushed and threatened and 30 minutes later when he finally finished the tiny carrot, he made a weird gagging noise, came over to me and threw it up in my lap. (more…)

07/24/13 10:17am
Sun July 28, 2013
Free movies, DJ parties, Brooklyn Flea food and a bar are all putting a new spin on the South St. Seaport.

Free movies, DJ parties, Brooklyn Flea food and a bar are all putting a new spin on the South St. Seaport.

While Brooklynites may feel a bit Smorgased out, or at least happily full on Chinese BBQ porkbelly and fresh lobster rolls, the South Street Seaport, still suffering from Sandy, could use some more artisanal treats and foot traffic. Thankfully the Brooklyn Flea has brought Smorgasbar to Front Street, right near the Wall Street ferry stop, making the touristy area a lot less heinous. From 11am until 10pm each day, Asia Dog, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Brooklyn Oyster Party, Fonda, Landhaus, Milk Truck Grilled Cheese, Pizza Moto and Red Hook Lobster Pound serve reasonably priced deliciousness that you can eat at a picnic table on a quiet cobblestreet block. Of course there’s also a bar (in an old shipping container), which not only serves local beers and wines, but will add a shot of your favorite poison to the virgin Kelvin Slush Company slushies. If Governors Island is your most adventurous destination on the ferry, think of this as another place to stop. Thursday nights from 6-11pm the Brooklyn Flea has a weekly, outdoor DJ party called Seahouse at the Topsider bar on Fulton Street, and Wednesdays through Sundays the Seaport itself has programmed more DJs, free movies, and other activities, all in an effort to make the area safe for cool New Yorkers.