Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 Food Intentions: Update

In my effort to keep my 2008 Food Intentions alive, I've decided to post updates. To date, I have

  • roasted an entire fish (dourade), quite easily, stuffed with some fennel and lemon and the moral support of Liam (I am still a semi-recovering vegetarian who eats fish)
  • added salade to our dinner with my homemade vinegar to no avail (we still eat it to eat it and not because we enjoy it).
  • after a trip to Patrick Roger, I have inserted confiture into my day with little success, but might try this week with scones and pair those scones with a Chinese black after having a great one in Honfleur called gui hong.
Finally, you can see above a cheese course that I put together last week. Inspired by the ginger spread that Emily sent me back with me to Paris, I paired it with a pear and our new favorite: a 48 month-aged Gouda. Then, slightly inspired by reading an article in Saveur about how to pair ports, I got the idea of the sweetness of the gouda/ginger and the pear to pair with the bleu d'auvergne.

The pairings have made me happy for 3 days. Maybe 5.

Now, onto knowing more about my teas and picking up some salsify.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Honfleur Humor

I smiled at La Tarterie, as the husband of the chef in this tiny, butter-warmed restaurant said, oh, you speak English? You have a nice accent. I then said merci, and looked back out the sunny window over the harbor. As we awaited our homemade crepes, I saw on Liam's face that something was wrong.

L: You just told him you were British
LF: What? No, I said I speak English.
L: He said, are you British? Anglaise like British, not like anglais English
LF: Oh, whatever.
L: He said, you have a bit of an accent.
LF: Hmm. I thought he said I have a nice accent.
L: silence
LF: silence

and then the best crepes we ever had came. And so, even in Honfleur, which is like Saulsalito on a Sunday, lovely and peaceful and teeming with out-of-towners, I am unable to understand French. Even when the people are nicer.

Our weekend started with a scheduling glitch that had us in Le Havre for three hours before the bus to Honfleur. Le Havre is like the downtown of the city of my birth before renovation and if it were filled with only elderly women and young men of various backgrounds. There was a small market where an old man let his poorly rolled cigarette drop ash onto salsify and where women of all levels of crankiness lined up for scallops shucked on the spot. We admired the grime, returned to the train/bus station, and enjoyed a creme et croissant for 3.55 each and appreciated being out of the expensive city.

But when the bus arrived in cloudy Honfleur, we were happy to be greeted by a galichot ('not a pancake, not a blini'). Mine oozed with semi-salted Normandy butter and Liam's with anchovies, tomato and onion. I think this is where my French-confidence grew in Honfleur - out of a menu that translated chevre bouchette as "twig goat cheese."

The best translation though was one that took both of us to determine. After the lunch pictured above (I recommend the moules de creme), we stopped at a souvenir shop. I was cruising the boat-themed postcards while Liam focused on one that pictured a mussel on the half-shell, full on, and a french fry to the side. What it said, we discovered together (humor can stupefy even the Frenchest of Frenchmen): In Normandy, where there's a mussel. .. there's a fry. This was French that I could understand.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Un Piquito Note on Chipotle

The list of things that I didn't used to like include, in no particular order, olives, anchovies, roasted red peppers, chocolate desserts over other desserts, savory breakfasts, and chipotles.

Time and again, Jasmine and I would have a conversation that would go like this:

Me: Mac and cheese is my favorite food, except for the two times I've food poisoned myself with it.

Jasmine: It's one of my favorites too! What do you think is the best recipe?

Me: My favorite is Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese 101. Cheddar. Gruyere or Pecorino, and chunky bread crumb topping.

Jasmine: My favorite has chipotle in it.

Me: No offense, but ew. I hate chipotle.

Five months in Paris and a 5 euro can of chipotles later, I will admit that I'm hooked. It may be the Black Bean Chili I've made several times for American-yearning friends that has it's smoky goodness all in it, or it may be that Bittman taught me to mix up some yogurt with chipotle powder and lemon juice and call it a bean croquette dipping sauce, or it may be that like a small child, I finally just tasted it enough to appreciate it, but I'm hooked.

Two shout outs: to Jennifer for sending me a package a la americaine that included some powdered chipotle and to Tina who took a list of the things I missed here and included in her package, as you see above, two cans of chipotle. I have enough for a whole other year in Paris. Merci.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

One Vegan, One Fromagette, 4 Cupcakes ....

Paris has many delights. None of them involve cupcakes. We can all list the many reasons that cupcakes trump eclairs and macarons and even a Paris Brest, but for me, the main attraction is the icing. And so, with four days in New York and endless opportunities, Emily and I tasted four different vanilla cupcakes.

Babycakes. I was intrigued by gluten-free, sugar-free, etc. cupcakes. Having spent weeks and months overthree years avoiding food allergens, I am all about a place where you can get your cupcake on without stomach pain. I'm generally glad that I'm not allergic to aforementioned goodies because although the texture of the vanilla cupcake was amazing for a vegan one, I was disappointed with the flavor. I think that the other flavors (lemon, carrot cake) would've been better, but when I asked for the best one, that's what she gave me (the service was not the best there). A for accessibility, C for flavor.

Crumb. Emily and I embarked on a Sunday of cupcake fervor that started at Crumb. We were initially drawn in by their warm, sweet, cup-cakey air but when we saw behind the glass mounds of candied cupcakes, we weren't so sure. (Service aside: the guy was so taken with Emily, he could barely take my order) We did not have any desire for Reese's or Oreo and were glad to stuff large puffs of vanilla cake and cream in our mouths. Until we both began to chew and felt that sickly tannin-y taste on the back of our teeth, like the cupcake was from Safeway, but cost 10x as much. We put the other half back in the bag and two blocks later we dropped it in the trash. C.

Buttercup. More optimistic a few blocks over, we were welcomed by friendly ladies and a more chill, small-town bakery vibe. Despite bowls of flourescent icing hanging out catching the breeze, it seemed like a nice place to be (we tried to sit, but there wasn't room). This vanilla beauty had blue icing, but tasted really great - nice fat crumb and that buttercream sweetness that keeps you from eating too much but also calls you back again and again. There was still a depth of flavor that Teacakes gets in their icing that was missing, so I gave it a B+. (Emily was happy to finish it .)

Magnolia. Hopes were as high as the line was long. I spilled a large bottle of Smartwater on the floor while I held our seats and then cleaned up an end of a table for us to spread out our cakes and 2008 goals only to relinquish it to a trio who discussed cancer tests. Emily returned with two beautiful cakes (pictured above) and two teas and yes, Magnolia was the best by far. The cake was vanilla-y and even though it's crumb was smaller, I preferred it as such (Emily preferred the larger crumb) and the frosting was as close to Teacakes as I have gotten: sweet, vanilla-tinged, and leaving you wanting more (although I actually couldn't finish it). Pink is from red and no it's not a natural color, but it appealed to my aesthetic more than blue. A-

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Grilled Cheese and other NYC delights ...

My homesickness renders me more American than I had ever imagined and a cafe lunch of grilled cheese (cheddar) on rye with dill pickles and chips becomes homage to a life that I've missed. Ethiopian food exceeds my expectations with red lentils so spicy and distinct in their cinnamon flavor that Emily and I are in love with Zoma forever. An after dinner trip to a store called Organic Forever and my bag is filled with snacks of dried cranberry trail mix, small boxes of soy milk. fruit leathers, my dearly missed Barbara and her Shredded Spoonfuls, and Dr. Brommer's galore.

New York was a whirlwind of root beer and soy bacon cheeseburgers, of kukicha tea and endless cups of green carried down the street just because I could. Enormous Whole Foods and fingers trailing along the Dagoba bars for my two favorites knowing that these are nothing compared to what I can get in Paris, but buying Lavendar and Roseberry anyway. Tiny bagels with guar gum filled Philadelphia and a fat cinnamon-raisin one with a cup of Chai in a cafe that stinks of coffee beans and Sunday mornings and the Times in my hand and it could beat out a Sunday walking along the Seine.

And there was Mexican - huevos rancheros in the West Village at a tiny cafe that Sara seemed to pull out of pocket, enchiladas with mole and salsa verde after a basket of chips with salsa as orange as queso fundito if it were made of Velveeta and guacamole at our table. At Zabar's, I bypass refried beans to stick Vermont Cabot Cheddar and peanut butter in my bag.

I return with a larger suitcase after breaking the small one and filling my bags with more sweatshop filled clothing than I imagined from Old Navy and Urban Outfitters, no yoga mat, and piles of magazines. I have no idea how my job interview went, it was as rigorous as I could have imagined and tiring and led me to some of the best homemade mozzerella west of Italy, but I feel lucky to have gone and seen friends and embraced consumerism and follow election coverage in real time. I find out on Friday how it went.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

New York here I come ....

List of things to get in New York:

  • dried chiles for mole

  • some jack/Asadero if I can sneak it in my bag

  • chili pepper

  • Trader Joe's snacks

  • Dr. Brommer's soap free of all preservatives coating me in French cleanliness

  • Tom's of Maine Peppermint Toothpaste

  • generic Claritin, a fat bottle of Advil, and contact solution that doesn't cost $25

  • yoga mat (not an 'exercise' mat 1" thick)

  • clothes that were probably made in a sweatshop (children, I'm very, very sorry)

  • upscale Mexican in the style of my most favorite Tacubaya (Berkeley)

  • aged Vermont cheddar

  • a cupcake

  • a cup of tea with Emily, with Kristen, and with Sara

  • a job?

NB: I am finally legal to visit France for a year! Last Friday we went to the prefecture to see if it were possible for me to travel to NY on my non-official carte de sejour and five minutes of a woman gossiping to Liam about how hard her job has gotten as a public servant since 1979 later and the laminated goodness which probably cost us, in total, close to $1000, was in my hands. Vive la France!

Monday, February 04, 2008

45 hours in Bucharest

Monica is the Romanian mother I never had. We arrived in Bucharest to a snack that was essentially what you see here - salade russe, roasted red peppers, smoky eggplant and onion, and a selection of cheeses - and that was just to hold us over until our dinner reservation.

Monica cooks the best food I've had in a long, long time. When I asked her, over a vegetable borscht (some kind of fermented base in there that makes it look like minestrone but taste like it could win a revolution against a communist regime...), what was Romanian and what wasn't, she looked at me a little crazy, kind of like - enjoy your food and stop asking questions, when meanwhile, I was scheming to figure out how I do research and make this stuff at home. I just don't have enough Balkanic Food knowledge to know exactly what to do to "put the fish eggs in a bowl, add some oil, and mix ..." (like aioli, but how many eggs?) or "put the mushrooms in a pot and boil.... mix cream and flour ... mix."

It's like saying French baguettes are just some flour, starter, water and let it rise before you bake it.

We went to the market there, and after scoping out piles of fresh horseradish next to pickled, and trios of hot peppers laid out on plywood across milk crates, we stepped into the cheese market: to my untrained eye it looked like 10 kinds of feta in a row sold by men in white coats wearing little felted black hats - but having tried these the day before I knew some where salty, others sweet, some stunk of barnyardy sheep goodness and others a crisp goat tang.

My most favorite was this dish that started with 7 kilos of fresh farm cheese (we went to another part of the city to pick it up from her friend) that Liam's dad whipped with some salt, and we then spread on toast. 120% fat cream cheese au naturel. Incredible.

While I work on Monica to open a restaurant (I thought Paris, New York or Oakland), I am on a search for how to do this at home. It might be dangerous - we eat enough here already!