Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pulla and Chai

In our quest to keep winter away, to reduce the amount of times we yearn for the Lake Merritt farmer's market in January or the fact my sweaters were nearly all 3/4 length when we left California, we continue to seek ways to enjoy winter, embrace it, endure it.

In this vein, there's very little that an expensive version of a daily treat can't fix - chai from Chaiwalla (purchased at bklyn larder). At $19/bag I was skeptical for months, "can this tea truly be any better than the recipe I've been using for 15 years from Sundays at Moosewood?" It's different, and it's worth it. A tablespoon of tea and sugar (I rarely add sugar to my chai - only if it's in the recipe do I add enough of it) combined with a cup of hot water and a cup of milk - heat until boiled - and we have creamy cups of fragrant chai at our fingertips (and still less per cup than the 3.55 cups purchased anywhere from Cafe Grumpy to Starbucks).

Along with the chai, we've been spreading pieces of pulla thick with butter and crunchy with my barely ground cardamon pods and pairing them each weekend morning, afternoon, and after dinner. I've made this recipe twice, happier the first time than the second - I braided it less evenly, had to cook it longer, and it wasn't as moist when finished - throwing one loaf in the freezer for the few days it takes us to eat the first. It sits on my desk all day, the aroma tempting me, until I dig into it mid-morning with a cup of gen mai cha (already had my black tea for the morning and need to wrap my hands around something warm but not as caffeinated) before I head down to lunch duty.

The sheepskin sleepers, flannel sheets, flannel pjs, willingness to turn on the heat as soon as we get home and the jaunt to Hawaii have helped us weather our 3rd east coast winter since college, but these small treats actually help us look forward to starting a day that might involve digging out the car or darting black ice and puddles on our way out each day - and in the end, it's cheaper per experience than knocking out each pre-Oscar-film we want to see at the Angelika (or BAM).

A Cheese to take Winter Away

The weekend before the coldest week thus far in Brooklyn, we went into Bklyn Larder, asking Liam as we made our way to the cheese counter, "what kind of cheese do you want?" and he replied, "a cheese to take away winter." We passed this on to the cheese guy, and because people at Larder are kind and fun and whimsical and love cheese, he gave us suggestions.

We started with a few that had been paired with Brandy recently - Wildspitz, a raw cow and goat that was funky and creamy and had the most delicious texture and weirdest aftertaste that we were immediately smitten. Following we tried Coolea, something about gouda style and Ireland and a rich orange glow that also ended up in our bag. Before we left, we made a quick swoop for some Gruyere, say, 14 oz of it, with visions of fondue in our heads.

On an evening with our electric heat on and darkness that fell at 4:50, Liam took the lead in heating the Austrian wine, shredding the gruyere (and emmental that we picked up later for texture), and stirring it all together to pair with the carrots and potatoes that I'd steamed earlier, along with local granny smith, a few cornichon and half of a baguette. Except for the part where we didn't get the Sterno and set up the pot and attempted to keep it from congealing in the pan pictured above, it was incredible - cheesy without being too boozy, creamy without being too stringy, covering the potatoes like the silkiest raclettes we had in France. It was delicious enough that I brought it to work the next day, sitting in a meeting with a spoon and knife fishing hunks of cheese out of the separated liquid and inspiring envy from my staff - just the way to take winter away.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dinner(s) a la Provencal

In the life I led before Principal-ing, we had people over for dinner monthly - thematic affairs based on that month's Cookbook Club selection or a new piece of kitchen equipment (housewarming fondue set!). I also spent a significant amount of time shopping, eating, selecting, tasting, and attending cheese club, dinner club and cookbook club. There was a lot of food, and a lot of community, and I maintained strong opinions about where to buy the best eggplant and the best feta a woman could buy for her Mediterranean feast.

As I pulled the tarte from the oven that we learned at La Pitchoune on Tuesday, and set out Madhur's crisp zucchini fritters, I remembered those days. The busy clanking of 30 minutes before guests and still need to heat the oil, dip the zucchini and give the soft yogurt cheese with feta one more stir.

I love this pace.

In fact, it's the same pace I love at 7:45 am when 100 students have trooped up 4 flights and are settling in for another day with some of the most fantastic teachers in this city, portfolios out, pencils sharpened, silently reading to themselves as they await the day's preparation for college.

I digress.

I miss dinner parties. Entertaining. Talking about markets and why we should have used a more commercial brie for the walnut salad and how did the basil infuse the sugar so well in the lemon basil sherbet. That's why this week was a shift - Cheyenne and Fernando over on Tuesday for dinner a la Provencal and a newly formed Principals book club where we promise not to talk about work and instead approach the same themes (family dysfunction, race relations, income levels, relationships) through recently published books.

Menu was in large part the same both nights - doubled up on the zucchini and sauce, made two tartes, and set aside fixings for two different
salades. Last night I supplemented with kale leftover from Sunday's juice fast that became kale chips, sun gold tomatoes sat with soft pulls of mozzarella and the end of the basil turned into a July salad and the puff pastry that encased the brie Tuesday became cheese straws the next day. Four of us finished sherbet the first night, so it was a fruit bowl on Wednesday.

Without jinxing myself, can I say I'm back in the swing of things?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Best Eats: Mid-Summer

With 3 weeks before I'm faced with a full staff of teachers and 6 until students, I figured it was time to capture the best eats I've had thus far this summer. Last week's Blue Hill dinner was, of course, fantastic, but there have been some other highlights as well.

Our return to Oakland was full of delicious bites - from eating Frog Hollow peaches and Recchuitti caramels on Becky and Chris' back porch to enjoying a glass of Sardinian white and a cheese plate at Adesso, good food and good friends. Jasmine and I had greatness at Commis, bar seating, with 6 courses of thoughtful dishes (beet soup with unripe pickled strawberries?), a return to the anchovy-amazingness of Dopo's house pie and her apricot dessert (along with Mat and Jennifer's cherry one) at our chilly 4th of July cook out.

By myself I've embarked on rediscovery, enjoying a grilled cheese with sun dried tomatoes, basil and caciocavello cheese at Ground Support, reading a Laurie Colwin book with a bag from Anthropologie tucked underneath the wide wood table. I've tried twice for Earl Grey at the Van Leewan ice cream truck and have come up with mint chocolate chip instead. After dropping an out of town friend off in Williamsburg, I parked illegally outside Saltie to get two chocolate nudges and a lavendar shortbread and we inhaled at the movies. Mornings find me sifting, whisking and enjoying Kama matcha with white toast and fresh butter.

Liam and I shared an old favorite, Fenton's Black and Tan (above) on the 4th and have delved into new and old favorites back in New York as well. One night it was banh mi, sweating upstairs at Num Pang, another, we slid into stylish seats at Balaboosta and dredged fried olives through labneh. This week, we re-visited the bigger and better Tanoreen and after gorging ourselves on our favorite mezze, ordered the "large" knafeh which is one of the best desserts I've had all summer. Shredded filo dough baked over two types of cheeses and comes to the table melting, crispy and just a hint of rosewater deliciousness. Dessert leftovers - the best kind!

My love affair with Pantaleo continues, and enjoyed it this week on a pole bean salad at Franny's, and hope to use it in salads for two gatherings here next week - which, looking at the forecast, will both involve salads -hopefully as good as the ones I had at Bebe's bday party in Pittsfield!

Vacation is over, summer hours continue, trying to soak in all of the heat and sun now so we can complain less come December, although today I think I just need to drink some water.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Several weeks ago, Liam was looking at my bank statement and asked what I was going to do with my 37,000 points from my credit card. I thought he was kidding. I ended up with transfer into my checking account for $375. This gave me the idea to spend this free money on a dinner. A dinner that I could enjoy best in the summer. To celebrate the end of the school year. Perhaps on a farm away from the city. Blue Hill it is.

5pm dinners for 8 courses are fine with me and we arrived early to tour blazing hot pastures and steam ourselves in the gorgeous green house. We met with a counsel of turkeys and then spied on garlic drying and butterflies and bees pollinating. We were stopped in the tisane garden and briefly told its history (much skepticism on part of staff who found us, but he was kind nonetheless), and then tried to figure out what to do with ourselves 4:30-5. Cafe was closed, chilly gift store open (we bought some cards), and then at 5:01 we were one of the first to enter the dining room (one never knows how long it will take to get there from Brooklyn!)

A list of ingredients greeted us, as well as a kind waiter who guided our ignorance about wine and patiently listed the restrictions we may or may not have in order to let the kitchen know for our menu. Suspending narrative in the interest of detail, the courses were as follows:

  • "little bites" - vegetables from the garden speared on pins to grab and eat with a sesame spritzer (cured meat for Liam with flatbread the shape of Africa)
  • fried (tempura?) was beans and zucchini with batter and sesame seeds
  • salad of fresh greens and flowers with apricot kernel yogurt (see above)
  • an onion roasted for 17 hours on all kinds of charcoal (including those made of pig bone and corn cob) with several toppings: creme fraiche (ate it with a spoon!), olive tapenade, currants, and pesto'd vegetables.
  • "this morning's egg" coated in breadcrumbs, fried to a poached degree, and sitting on curried summer beans
  • braised arctic char on top of clam and corn chowder
  • fabulous ravioli filled with corn, pickled peppers and basil. Liam had eggplant with "pig parts" on top
  • Maine lobster with tomato confit and more greens from garden (Liam had Hudson Valley beef)
  • wineberries and elderflower sorbet and ... tapioca pearls...
  • grilled corn ice cream on top of cornbread with roasted peaches and blueberries
  • local strawberries and cherries
  • tisane of orange basil and anise hyssop (see below)
From the dining room to the terrace, we loved the setting and service. Some of the dishware was more for looks than practice (am I not cutting my fish correctly that my fork, knife, and side by side seating next to Liam doesn't allow me to cut without hitting his elbow or side of round dish?), when I would have been fine with less fancy, more functional. Service was lovely and attentive and very kind when we became full and couldn't finish our 5th course.

To celebrate a great first year of the school, a warm full summer with my husband and my not-so-secret dream of one day heading back to France to raise goats and make cheese on a farm - we had a fantastic dinner!

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 goals, summer version

In January, I sat down and wrote food goals for the year. Ambitious, and yet bizarrely practical, la fromagette goes to work (didn't need 30 min dinners in Paris).

Winter gave me time to hit three - I soaked chick peas and froze them, pulled out adzuki and formed them into bean croquettes, went back to "meat" for quick weeknight dinners of tacos, buffalo wings, and chik patties. I drank a lot of water, for a week, and when that trailed off I faithfully drank 16 oz of whole leaf darjeeling at 6:30 am to transition from home to school to the frozen doorway where we greet the students every morning. I boiled whole wheat grains and topped them with yogurt, cranberries and pears, and brought it to meetings where teachers swooned and accused me of spending too much time on breakfast when I saw it as a time saver that was keeping me healthy each morning. I kept up the treats - a bar of Mast Brothers chocolate (newest favorite has roasted hazelnuts), the roasted hazelnuts, endless boxes of olive oil tortas, and as spring came - peas, rhubarb compote, and radishes.

We went to Saltie once, and today dined for a second time at breakfast at Locanda Verde. Big goal of Summer 2010 - Blue Hill at Stone Barns (tiny replication of confirmation email above) dinner this week. We will leave the city early in order to stroll the gardens, the pastures, and the vegetables. My two weeks of vacation will come to a close, but my summer hours and goals will continue through August - almost like the hours of a normal person (8:30-5) - time for tea, toast and perhaps, even working out before work. If not, I'll be in the window at Cafe Grumpy with a SCRATCHbread scone and chai latte, either way - it was bound to be part of my goals for the year.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Matcha Source!

Some time in the cold of winter, I found a link to this matcha site on a tea blog Kristen sent me. Immediately, I sent away for a tiny tin, curious about how it would own up to those leftover, somehow, from Berkeley Bowl (or from a pricey, but still not as flavorful, tin from Mariage Freres that Liam picked up for me last summer in Paris).

Modern, green, nifty, "sift. whisk. enjoy," I ordered a bamboo whisk and whisked away. The vegetal, soft taste was the freshest I'd had, and as soon as this can was complete (refrigerated in between uses), I put out the cash to order the entire set (whisk with more bristles! a celadon stand for it! a bamboo spoon to truly get the 'two almond-size' scoops!).

Tea-making became a moment and that moment was one that I enjoyed last year, before I even had this whole school thing in front of me every day. 3 hours of a calm, caffeinated focus. I was down.

I ordered one for Kristen, stayed on the mailing list, and was delighted when I found out they opened a pop-up store in SoHo in June (now extended through July). I dragged Liam and a litany of questions about achieving the foam level I had only seen in pictures - how are you getting that foam? Is it my water? The temperature? My whisking? (answer: keep my water hot, decrease my water in half, and ensure I had a N/Z method of whisking, never a circle)

I am in love. With matcha.

I bought a tin of the kind for discerning drinkers along with the lovely white tea bowl (above) forced Liam to get an iced matcha, and hope to go back before they close.

My goals for the summer include reading 10 books, going to a farm dinner, finding a personal trainer at the Y to get into a routine I can keep up over the year, and spend each morning reading the paper, drinking tea and eating toast at my leisure - so far, it's been nearly all matcha.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Cooking Class at La Pitchoune

In 2006, I was reading My Life in France as we left Liam's family in the south of France. His brother-in-law saw the book and mentioned that he and Liam's sister managed a property called La Pitchoune. I dropped the book. Then I explained that I was just reading about Julia's time there. We were on our way to the airport, so it seemed it would have to wait until a future trip.

March 2010. Liam gives me a birthday card that says, "lunch at La Pitchoune." I spend five dreadful minutes thinking he means some French restaurant that I've never been to. I rack my brain. He's smiling. He's saying, "think!" My French feels very, very far away. Finally, I realize - La Pitchoune!!!!!

Julia's former house sits up on a small road just 5 minutes from Liam's sister and her family. His sister and brother-in-law knew the place well - they've been helping to rent it for years - and suddenly we were on our way to cook there with the current owner, Kathie Alex, who, among other things, cooked with Simca. As we entered the kitchen, and I saw Paul's pegboard marked with the places for Julia's items, I looked at Liam and smiled.

We cooked a menu for someone like me who "really likes vegetables." Pictured is the tarte tatin aux legumes - named after the dessert since the dough is baked on top and then flipped to serve. We followed that with a salad with fried brie and finally individual pear tarts. There was an apero of verrine of egg, olive tapenade and tomatoes with a kir and a taste of Kathie's nicoise olives, but truly, the best part was hearing Kathie's stories of her own culinary career and where it meshed with Simca and Julia. We ate tarts on Julia's plates and wondered which pastry fork came from her and which from Kathie. We watched peppers roast in the modern oven and spied on pegboard outlines from long lost items.

As we ate the fabulous lunch with glasses of wine and talked about living in France (the electrician came today - I made the initial appointment a year ago! Why are Americans drinking so much water with lunch? What are the benefits of store-bought puff pastry?), I thanked Liam for my best birthday present ever.

And now he knows how to cook another meal too.

Friday, February 26, 2010

As we patiently await the arrival of spring, we're pretending in small ways - sitting in the car in the sun to pretend it's warm, cooking with canned tomatoes to try and create summer, and of course - eating ice cream. We've been frequenting a pan-asian coffee shop of sorts in Ft. Greene for Vietnamese coffee (my absolute smoky sweet favorite) and a pot of chai, and this visit we ordered ice cream sandwiches - one espresso with chocolate chip and two ginger with ginger. Amazing. The crunch of chocolate chips with espresso and the cool spice of ginger sent me beyond snow, snow and more snow and a bit closer to the sweaty nights in our building in the summer where I give in and turn the AC on all night. Almost.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Last year I set an ambitious list of food intentions. I bought Korean chiles, made Korean food a few times, and recently added the bulk of them to homemade chili powder. I never got to flavored cheeses, although I'm committed to cheese only from bklyn larder now. No cheese club, but I'm trying again. The breads never got baked, but they were replaced by piles of whole grains. There were parties before the school, and now that there's the school, there need to be more parties. A few food adventures - Atlantic Avenue, a foray into Flushing, Brighton Beach and Tanoreen. More to come. The 3-star restau was Per Se, and there was also Le Bernadin for my birthday, the latter with bizarre service and a gloriously impromptu singing of happy birthday by a server who had recently forgotten about our table. I have continued to cook dinner, although the time with which I can make it has decreased 50%. At least.

2010 Food Intentions
Drink 16 oz of water first thing each morning.

Dinners of high quality, in less than 30 minutes (freezing, prepping, cooking on the weekends to facilitate)

Whole grain breakfasts each week.

Blog 2-4x/month.

More food adventures - Japanese and Indian to start.

Dining out at an increasingly Italian list: dell'anima, Marea, Blue Hill, Mailano and more Williamsburg bites at Sel de Mer and Saltie.

Delicious treats that make me look forward to lunch (like olive oil tortas with anise pictured above)

Continue to run a school, cook dinner and enjoy food through June.

Bonne Annee!