How do you show people that you love them? Alex does it by walking tirelessly up and down beside the pool where we are on vacation while Amaya sleeps peacefully on his shoulder. We're not much for Valentine's Day in terms of gifts and spending lots of money. Instead we simply take a breath and a moment to appreciate the ones we love. Less marketing and more communion makes Valentine's Day a holiday worth marking on the calendar.
In the digital world, everything changes, evolves, and transforms. We have been taking pictures of food for over five years now and have only occasionally taken the time to print them out and experience them on a wall. There is something evocative about the transformation from computer screen to reality. The idea of bringing tangible versions of our work to the table has been on our minds. Recent requests have spurred us to take things to the next level.
There is often the question, what should we put on our walls? What is artwork, what captures a feeling and inspires thought? We have created a gallery of our favorite images that will found inside the egg. We've received our copies of each print to check out the quality and clarity and they will be available for perusal and for purchase in about a week.
If you are in the Philadelphia area and are interested in obtaining one of the pre-release copies of these photographs e-mail us.
The best bakeries are happy places. How could they not be, people come to them when they are in celebratory moods, to order cakes or share some brownies and coffee. Even those who come in sad are there because they believe on some level the sugar will brighten their mood. How they feel afterwards depends on how much sugar they actually ingest. Alex had a craving for cupcakes and a little research sent us to Plainsboro, NJ to a bakery in a small retail strip. Upon entering the pink decor and happy staff were instantly welcoming.
The store itself was clean and homey and the baked goods arranged in the glass case were tempting. So much so that Alex returned to car with a dozen cupcakes and a cinnamon roll for the two of us and Amaya. Fortunately she had woken from her slumber so we took the warm cinnamon roll and his coffee back inside and added a lemon peel + ginger Mash soda and eventually a brownie. We ate and drank and Amaya happily wandered throughout and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. When we got home we discovered that the strawberry cupcakes were made with strawberry cake and frosting, which made us wonder why more places don't flavor their cakes, and their frosting was not as heavy as it looked, which was a good thing. The butter cream had the flavor of real butter and the chocolate frosted white cupcake was pretty darned edible. They were hands down the best cupcakes we've eaten in quite a while. The strawberry ones actually have us thinking about the perfect banana cupcake. Would the frosting be chocolate, caramel or peanut butter? In the meantime we've found a new bakery relatively close to our favorite Whole Foods and that is a very good thing.
June third, we had something to do. Our calendar has been a bit of a mess and we are juggling a number of projects. Juggling is good as long as nothing hits the floor. Our day started early, water leak and all. Something important loomed, Amaya's sixth month birthday, no that would be the sixth. We carried on with the day and finally simultaneously asked each other about what the heck was important today. Then it hit, it's our ninth wedding anniversary and we both plum forgot it. To be honest, I do not remember many of our anniversaries. I remember days and events by what we did together, what we experienced, how we laughed and cried, screamed and smiled. Days are days. Experiences are what defines them. So now, when we look back and even look forward we can always tell the story of the anniversary we both forgot and how it will be with us forever. It's funny because it's true.
I am not sure if the history of this tradition dates back to the origins of beer, donuts or the NFL draft. What I do know for sure is the NFL season starts fresh today and there is nothing better than chasing toothpaste mouth with a fresh donut and a cold beer. It has been many years since I have partaken in this ritualistic past time and more importantly longer since I have shared the secrets of draft day. As the baseball season seems to drone on and on, yes I know it just started, draft day is the glimmer of light in the otherwise painful professional sports spring season. The one recent caveat with draft day donuts is that now the draft does not start until four in the afternoon. Somehow the NFL did not check with those that wish to consume vast quantities of beer and donuts earlier in the day using tradition as a loose excuse for sugar and hops gluttony. If you get a moment, grab a donut and a beer and celebrate, the draft is only 72 hours of televised nothingness where we can begin to get our hopes up for the upcoming season with dreams of undefeated teams, 2000 yard running backs and touchdowns galore.
I am still brimming with inspiration and putting words to smiles is not always an easy task. Here is a sneak peek at a neighborhood, actually our new neighborhood, farm, which we were able to get a better look at today. What lies beneath the tunnels only scrapes the surface of the greatness this farm has in store. It turns out we cooked for these artisan farmers a few years back when we were on Martha's Vineyard. Where were we? Well the question is more like where are we? We've relocated to Bucks County, PA, just outside of Philly. This photo was taken today on a tour of Blue Moon Acres with Kathy, Jim, Ashley, and Shola. It was a great reintroduction to possibilities and passion.
Sometimes life just gets in the way of cooking. Our daily posts have stuttered a bit lately and for that we apologize. Life has take a few twists and turns that have kept us mostly out of the kitchen several days a week. We could write volumes about real estate, house hunting in another state, negotiations (three different bids and still no house, it's a buyers market in my dreams), and raising a baby but that's just not what this particular website is all about. So please bear with us as we push through some challenges in our personal lives, we'll keep up here to the best of our abilities. In the meantime, check out our twitter feed labeled as Off the Cuff Ideas in the side bar. Here we are able to present our musings in their rawest of states.
Sometimes distractions pull focus, taking us away from tasks and projects. Sometimes a distraction allows us to see what our blinders had previously blocked from view. If you become distracted take a closer look at why. It may be a new opportunity wrapped up and ready to be opened.
Clearly we're operating with a few distractions at the moment. One of which is cooking dinner for a group of people that has just been cut in half, less than an hour before the meal is to be served. This is not a catered affair, simply a choice meal with friends and family. Still, there is an abundance of prime ribeye at the ready, soon to be the basis for tomorrow's inspirations. Some might see this as a minor catastrophe, others as a benevolent twist of fate. Only time will tell what will happen next.
We eat words, we consume them, very often we disregard how they taste. Words and random thoughts can create a mental obesity. We are constantly bombarded by an excess of superfluous information for the brain. Sure they may be sweet and creamy, salty, heavy, warm, and enjoyable. Fast food for the brain. What happened to slowly cooking and eating a meal, starting with a single pristine ingredient and slowly building the rest around it? How can we streamline the diet for our brains? Limit the internet. A day without computers. A mental vacation that feels impossible to take. What can we do with a day without that constant stream of information, that mental crutch? I believe it is important to write longhand occasionally. Forget email, forget twitter. Why do we use these things? I am not quite sure. I do not even know if I would be able to stick to my own plan. Simply imagine it, a day of conversations and books, a day without static and unnecessary distractions. Maybe that will be a day that I renew my acquaintance with myself.
How do we get the flavor of seared foie gras into a terrine? We did not begin with this question although in retrospect it would make a good story about how we developed a dish. I keep trying to pin point creative moments. I want to calculate how to harness idea generation and creativity from inspiration to execution. I have just finished the twelve week program detailed in The Artist's Way. It was more difficult than I imagined and I did some things well and others not so much. I am not that into collages, they make me feel like a little kid, idling along and just passing time away.
It turns out that sometimes the mind needs to simply let time flow by. That is when ideas grow. Just because you cannot watch the growth of a seedling does not mean that it isn't happening. Creativity, ideas, improvisation, crafts, and skills need to be practiced, rehearsed, nurtured, and released. While I have achieved great success in the first twelve weeks I now realize there is much more to be done. It is exciting to be part of an evolution, particularly our own.
Sometimes not finishing a dish is the ultimate compliment. While a dish, an idea, and a creation are intended to be fully consumed, the recipient may not have the capacity for full consumption. Alternatively a dish can be so good that just a few bites are needed to satiate the palate and create a feeling of contentment in the diner. In these cases, the recipient has two chooices, to consume more than is satisfying or to leave food on the plate. Often over-consumption can lead to discomfort and actually take away from the initial pleasure derived from the first few bites. The small adjustment of leaving a few bites on the plate can make all the difference. The memory of the moment can be elevated from one of slightly painful excess to the pleasure of finding a truly indulgent experience with no negative repercussions. As a chef, I have often checked plates as they came back to the kitchen to make sure that the guest finished everything on the dish. And when they did not I usually started an inquisition with the wait staff. Yet personal experience has taught me that a clean plate does not necessarily equal a happy consumer. We all have different palates and different appetites. It is almost impossible to tailor portion sizes perfectly to each diner. As a chef it is more important to know how much the experience was enjoyed, rather than how much food is left on the plate. No one wants to end a meal feeling as though their stomachs are stretched to their outer limits, instead our goal is pleasureable satiation. It's a fine distinction and an important one. As always the key to good food is in the details, part of the trick is understanding which ones are the most important.
Michael Laiskonis has written an incredibly insightful and useful piece on cooking. Read the whole piece, don't skim, you might miss something.
Grant Achatz is bringing Alinea to NYC for an evening. This Thursday, November 6, 2008 is Alinea at Astor Center and guests will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with Grant, sip Laurent-Perrier Champagne, experience several tantalizing tastes from the book and the restaurant, and go home with a cook's ultimate party favor, a signed copy of Alinea. Rumor has it there are still a few tickets available, so if you have the evening open and the available ducats, you should definitely check it out.
And last but not least, there is a video of me, not realizing that I was being filmed, playing with liquid nitrogen as I prepared powdered Delice de Bourgogne for the dinner we prepared last Saturday.
Rumor has it that the next new episode of Food Detectives, which was scheduled to air tomorrow, will feature a segment on cooking with liquid nitrogen. Although looking at the website tonight it may have been moved to October 2 at 8:30pm. Admittedly it's late & I'm exhausted so I may be reading things wrong. Anyway we taped a segment with Ted on liquid nitrogen featuring four different applications. Don't know what will actually make it through edits onto the show, but it should be fun to find out...whenever it actually ends up on the air.
Thanks again to everyone who came to my panel discussion this afternoon and our class this evening. It was a pleasure meeting all of you and we hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did.
We've landed in New Orleans and all is well. We were able to check into our hotel room early, which was a blessing. It is very conveniently located in the French Quarter and we have already consumed a few good meals. There's just something about the South. The atmosphere is laid back, the people are friendly, and the food is good. What more could we ask for?
Actually we're having a bit trouble sourcing ingredients for our class on Monday. It's a minor blip and I'm sure we'll work things out one way or another, The class may have to evolve according to circumstances. On the bright side we've had quite few "aha" moments since we've arrived, thoughts that will definitely translate into new dishes for our kitchen. For example, one of the items at dinner tonight was barbecued ribs with pickled watermelon rind. The pickles were unusual in that they were very tender and deeply spiced, actually reminiscent of apple pie filling, so much so that the couple next to us who recommended the dish actually thought they were apples at first. It was our first fall pickle experience, a day early, and it's making us look at pickles from an entirely different angle. We're ready to move away from light, crunchy summer pickles into something a little deeper and richer for the cooler months. Who says pickles have to be crisp and light? Our next pickle will definitely be something a little bit more.
A chef and his wife were in town for the Congress and we were chatting with him about where he ate yesterday. Lunch was Jean Georges and dinner was Chipotle. When we asked him how he ended up at Chipotle he reminded us that his wife is pregnant. Apparently they were walking down the street when she turned to him and informed him that if she didn't eat in the next ten minutes they would be having a huge fight. Chipotle was nearby and she had dinner in under ten minutes.
Apparently some pregnancy symptoms are universal. Alex pretty much has this same window between the time I tell him I'm hungry and a major meltdown. Let me tell you, the meltdown only has to happen once before the daddy to be learns to take your hunger pangs seriously.
This evening I had the opportunity to see the construction of a huge event, Star Chefs 2008. I was there for a walk through, more designed for those presenting rather than speaking, though it was well worth the trip. I had forgotten how much work takes place behind the scenes to put on such an event. Tonight I caught a glimpse. I caught up briefly with a few friends, though I spent more time observing with an awestruck expression. I had the opportunity to meet a few chefs whom we have admired for years. It was an incredible feeling to actually be able to say hello to them and to share my enthusiasm for their inspiring work.
I was able to pick up an advance copy of the Star Chefs program, really a softcover book, which delves into the minds of those involved in this culinary collaboration. The fact that just a few hours later our copy is already taking on the patina of a well worn book speaks of the talent involved and the quality of the material.
is one of our favorite months. The weather is usually beautiful, sunny, not too hot with the beginnings of foliage transforming the landscape. This coming weekend is the Star Chefs International Chefs Congress and we are lucky enough to be attending and participating in a panel discussing chefs who blog with Andrea Strong, Michael Laiskonis, and Traci Des Jardins. The congress is a great opportunity to learn new things, connect with old friends, and hopefully make some new ones. Please come up and say hello if you're going to be there. We always enjoy meeting readers, after all, you're the reason why we continue to do this.
The weekend after that we are traveling down to New Orleans. The trip is a mixture of business and pleasure. I will be on another panel, this time for the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs National Conference. The topic for that one is Cutting Edge Cuisine, Is it a Boy's Club and I will be joining the discussion with Susan Spicer and Elizabeth Faulkner. There don't seem to be that many women involved in the panel's description of cutting edge cuisine (i.e. molecular gastronomy) so it should be an interesting discussion. It's rare these days to find a type of cuisine that actually seems to be somewhat split along gender lines. We'll be talking about whether or not that's really the case and why that might be happening.
While we're in New Orleans Alex and I are taking a day or two to relax and explore, a minivacation of sorts before I won't be able to travel far and the newest addition to the family arrives. So, if you have any suggestions for great places to eat (more local and less break the bank type joints) or interesting things to do, we'd love to hear them. We're capping off the trip with an evening class at Savvy Gourmet, on Monday, September 22, 2008 at 7pm. That evening we'll be working with liquid nitrogen, caramelized white chocolate, and a few other fun dishes from Ideas in Food.
Tomorrow morning we're heading out to Rhode Island. It's a yearly pilgrimage, at least it is when we're actually on the East Coast and able to go. It means seeing friends and family that we don't get to see very often and it means fresh seafood, salt air, and the sound of the ocean from morning till night. What more could anyone ask for? Well, I would love to bring the dog and the cats but fortunately my mom is babysitting the beasties for us while we're gone. We'll miss all of them while we're away. It's a luxury to know that Mom will be holding down the fort. We'll be posting from the road and we're actually bringing some work on vacation with us. Not that we're complaining, almost anything is easier at a beach house. Now if we could only figure out how to live in one year round we'd be all set.
It was great to see an article on chef blogs by one of our favorite food writers in the LA Times today. And we pleasantly surprised to see that we were mentioned. A friend of ours sent us a picture of the article. And yes, that is our website in the background on his computer screen. (Thanks Mark!)
What is exciting about this article is that more and more chefs are starting blogs and sticking with them. We can honestly say that Ideas in Food has been instrumental in our own culinary development, refinement, creativity and quest for tasty. It's been a great experience for us and our readers have been a fountain of new ideas. We look forward to more chefs finding their voices and creating new inspirations for us all.
I wish. How often do those words roll across your tongue or at least pass through your mental lips? The difference between "I wish" and "I did" is not that big, yet crossing that line sometimes seems impossible. The risk factor involved in turning wishes into reality can become a huge mental obstacle. It is amazing and inspiring to look at the success stories around us while we ponder the "hows" and "whys" of what we're going to do next.
They say that easiest way to complete a large task is to break it up into manageable pieces:
What is the first step we need to take right now?
Where are we going to improve?
What do we need to let go of?
Who are we going to enlist to help us champion our dreams?
What are the next five steps?
If the creek isn't rising, today is as good a time as any to begin.
Happy New Year!!!
From our family to yours! Whatever your reasons to celebrate, do it with gusto and enjoy the moment. We are t hankful for so many things this year and we wish you all of the luck, happiness, health, and good cheer that the world has to offer. Happy Holidays everyone!
...and by the way, Santa brought us a video camera this year which means there will be interesting things ahead for Ideas in Food. That is, once we figure out how to use it!
The nominations for the 2007 Food Blog Awards are now up and there are just three days to cast your vote in any and all categories. What is truly exciting about these awards is that each year we are exposed to a great number of new bloggers that we may not have found on our own.
We are nominated for the awards for both Best Food Blog-Chef and Best Food Blog-Group and we would truly appreciate your votes. Although we certainly will not try to sway your opinions in any of the other categories, we do encourage everyone to vote for each award. And as you cast your ballots for your favorite blogs, we hope that you will take a moment to visit the websites of the other nominees, you are certain to discover many hidden gems. We certainly did. There are some very passionate people out there, sharing their love of food with the world. Thank you to everyone who threw our names in the hat. It is our honor and pleasure to be recognized for this site. Thank you all for stopping by.
We missed the boat, but you don't have to. Menu For Hope 4 is now live. There are incredible prizes being offered. While this year we did not donate a prize, we will definitely be buying some raffle tickets with hopes of winning one for ourselves. So come on, check out the list of amazing donations that our fellow food bloggers have put together. People who love food and wine tend to be a generous bunch and this year is no exception.
And for those that want to see beyond the prize, as we all should, here is the information on where your money will be going. It's a reminder that somehow there's still not enough food in the world because every day there are still people going hungry.
Recently I walked into a restaurant with two companions. I smiled as I approached the host stand. The nearest person, who happened to be female, smiled back and said firmly "I'm sorry, we're fully reserved until 7:30pm." I looked around the more than half empty dining room, it was 5:30, we had gone to a matinee and were hungry for an unusually early dinner. Then I smiled back at her and said "That's fine because we have a reservation." She was flustered and I was annoyed. What ever happened to hello?
She was apologetic and we shook it off and had a perfectly lovely dinner. It was a very interesting experience though. When you're turned away like that, before you've even opened your mouth, it's a bit mystifying. You wonder if there's dirt on your face or if your clothes are ripped or otherwise sub-par. Apparently someone behind me had held up three fingers, to indicate that there were three of us, and she took that as a sign that we were looking for a table. Of course we were, it being a restaurant and all, although we did have the foresight to book in advance. We weren't going to, because we knew that it was a an off time that usually isn't busy, thankfully the New Yorker in me insisted on making a reservation.
It made me think about service and why she wouldn't have said "good evening" and started a dialogue before rejecting us at the door. Is the city so big that restaurants can afford to turn people away like that? I understand the delicate balance of seating a dining room and not overloading the kitchen. I also understand that restaurants are in business to make money. It seems to me that if a place is practically empty you might want to employ a bit of diplomacy in sending people away, even if the room will be full in short order. Just a note, we were there for a good 2.5 hours and even though it did get quite busy, they never did fill up all those empty tables.
It's the last Saturday in September and the weather is amazing. We've escaped to Fire Island for the weekend and it is beautiful here. There are a few benefits to the free lance life and the freedom to escape the city with a cooler full of goodies is one of them. We spent the morning walking along the shore line and exploring different neighborhoods. It was a great change of pace and perspective. Fire Island is simply a giant sandbar that has been partially paved and populated. The bay is on one side and the ocean beaches are on the other. The space in between is just a few blocks. In September, here and in many of the summer places like Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, you have all of the beauty with almost none of the hassle of July and August.
We're staying with family and as you walk along the street the view of the bay is like looking through a keyhole. It is a very focused view of nature and it makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland, which is a good thing. I've been in a bit of a rut lately and the smell of the ocean coupled with good red wine and beer can chicken is helping to raise my perspective. I walked along the beach this afternoon and it was surprisingly crowded. People were surfing and fishing and simply enjoying life. The light on the water was lovely and soothing and the waves danced with a magic that is often lacking in every day occurrences. I rediscovered the fact that at the right temperature (cool) and texture, you can make your heels squeak as you drag them along the sand. It was a primitive form of music, and inspiring nonetheless. So take a moment, enjoy the scenery, and just breathe slowly and deeply. You'll be amazed at what can happen when you let go of the reins.
It is important to get your hands dirty. Last week I had the pleasure of climbing a thirty plus foot tall tree and giving it a haircut. This week for my outdoor therapy I decided to try my hand at doing a bit of patio repair. It is really just one big puzzle when you look closely, the pieces are just a bit heavier.
What I have learned is these trips outside our kitchen keep the juices flowing instead of getting stale and stagnant. Now I am not planning on going into the landscaping or masonry business though I have come to appreciate the work it takes to keep the world beyond the kitchen doors in working order.
At a recent dinner out, the food was good, the wines were delicious, the company was even better, and the dining room was somewhat disconcerting. The restaurant was downstairs and they made the most of the subterranean atmosphere by creating a setting that celebrated it's identity as a cellar. The upper dining area was bordered by the wine room and the brightest spot in the lower level of the room was a window onto the kitchen where diners could watch the choreographed chaos in action. The disconcerting parts of the room were the tables where the diners were sat.
The actual tables were large and well spaced and well, high. The table tops were taller than average and the chairs were somewhat shorter than average. They made up for this shortcoming by being unusually deep. For a larger person, this probably encouraged lounging back in the chair so that their knees did not bang against the table-top. For those of us who were more petite, it meant than there was no chance of leaning back into the chair without halfway reclining in a rather awkward manner. Thus I spent the meal at the edge of my seat, with a ramrod straight back and still my food was practically at eye level. The wine glasses were of fine crystal and of the overly large style that seems better suited to giants than human beings. The cutlery was also grand and heavy as befitted such a setting. The effects of this seating arrangement was that the formally attired service staff towered over the table and the diners were left feeling somewhat like awkward children at the grown-ups table. It was a subtle method of intimidation and quite effective. Looking around the room you could see well dressed people, half hidden behind their plates and wine glasses, looking up at their captains to ask questions or place orders.
The seating actually started a discussion about why certain types of restaurants are usually uncomfortable. In casual, high turnover places the seating is deliberately uncomfortable in an effort to keep people from lingering. In old-school fancy restaurants, it seems as though people are made to feel uncomfortable in order to keep them in their places. In an age where fashion is increasingly casual, we were called multiple times and reminded that jackets were required and that jeans and sneakers were unacceptable. I love good food as much as the next person and I can't help but wonder why it must so often be cloaked in fancy trappings and pretentious, snooty service. As a culinary student scraping together money to dine in top restaurants, I was often made to feel slightly inadequate, as if, in spite of having the money to pay the bill, I would never actually deserve to eat in their establishments. Times have changed and with new generations of chefs and restauranteurs, things have relaxed. Food that was once considered fine dining can be found at many different levels of service. Establishments designed to make the diner feel good about being there have become common place except at the highest price points. This seems odd to me because why would we want to pay more to be treated as less. There are a few fine dining restaurants that are welcoming even if you wear expensive jeans under your designer jacket. The dinosaurs may still exist, the smart ones are starting to change with the times. People are beginning to realize that they don't need to feel humbled in order to enjoy their food. Dining is supposed to be a pleasure and we should support the restaurants that make it one. Then as time goes by, the rest of them will embrace the new way of dining or eventually become extinct.
Picture this, a reunion lunch on a Monday in Manhattan. A woman and her husband are meeting her mother after several months absence. They are meeting for a late lunch and so do not make a reservation. The restaurant is open straight through till dinner and is usually easy to get into after 1pm. The couple arrives first and are greeted by three hosts at the front door. The restaurant is clearing out after the lunch rush and while not empty, is certainly nowhere near full. The couple lets the hosts know that they are waiting for her mother, she's Japanese, and then settle down at an outside table to peruse the menu and wait, and wait, and wait. The woman calls her mother's cell phone repeatedly but there is no answer. Several people check in with the table and they politely decline to order food as they are still waiting for the third member of their party. An hour later they are slightly peeved, getting concerned, and starving. They order food for themselves and their absent family member in the hopes that she will eventually arrive. Another hour later they have finished their food and are contemplating going by her apartment, as there's still no answer at home or on the cell phone, to make sure everything is okay. They ask for a check and he makes a quick bathroom run. As he returns from the bathroom he sees the absent family member finishing up a solitary lunch at the bar. She is cranky and concerned and frustrated with her afternoon. Upon her slightly late arrival, she checked in at the host stand looking for her daughter and son in law and was told they must not be there yet. Somehow during the two-plus hours that they were there, no one from the hosts to the server to the sommelier/manager type person, who served wine and commiserated about the possible causes for the delay, made the connection between the solo woman at the bar looking for a couple and the couple on the patio waiting for a lady. Nobody was actually at fault, per se, still three afternoons were basically ruined by circumstances. This just reinforces my belief in the importance of pro-active customer service. Yes, they all should have looked for each other a bit harder and she forgot her cell phone, but it was almost comical to see the light bulbs going off over people's heads as they saw the two groups find each other. (She was sitting almost beside the host stand.) Sometimes the obvious is not so easy to find.
I have been lucky enough to have the time to watch both the sun rise and set. That is not easy, particularly in our business, and yet I cannot tell you how inspirational it is to watch the natural evolution of light. I cannot point to exact moments of inspiration, though I know that in being exposed to light, color contrasts, unfiltered noise I come away with new thoughts on food, life and what is possible.
We collect books. I fancy mainly cookbooks, Aki will collect anything from cookbooks to home improvement to mysteries and science fiction paperbacks. Books provide an escape. They provide a point of reference. In our line of work they are often a resource. Last week I heard about the tornado in Brooklyn, the closing of subways and the soaking of Marie's basement. I was concerned when I heard that the roads and sewer systems flooded. I was more concerned when I heard the basement of the house had been filled with over a foot of water. While there seems to be no major structural damage to the house, the basement, our temporary storage facility had been ravaged. What do a couple of chefs store? Books. Well, books and wine and a few other odds and ends. However, the wine is stored in styrofoam packaging and it has its own protective barrier, a glass bottle, so I am a bit less concerned about it. The first priority is the library. The paper books are stored in cardboard boxes. Paper and water do not mix well. Wet cardboard boxes filled with books in a hot and humid NYC become giant petri dishes for fungus.
Today we discovered that a good portion, although not all, of our books have become home to large amounts of mold. In going through the mildewed boxes I traveled down memory lane. A container of all our Ducasse cookbooks, the complete collection, now decorated in fuzzy colors, reminded me seeing La Riviera d' Alain Ducasse for the first time and then being able to score a copy at Books for Cooks when I traveled to London to cook for a bit. That was also where I picked up my El Bulli El Sabor del Mediteráneo, currently out of print. Books do not only provide recipes, inspirations, ideas, benchmarks and points of reference, they provide memories. Each book is a remembrance of where and when we bought it and what was happening while the book was read. The information between the two covers is important. The recollections associated with any tome in our library is what makes each and every volume special. Books themselves are (mostly) replaceable, the memories are priceless.
I happened to be outside taking photographs this morning when one of the grounds-keepers came by to pick up the trash. I had a plate full of stone fruit, gorgeous golden light spilling across the deck, and everything seemed right with the world. Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of banging trash cans and muttered curses. A huge wave of negative energy washed through the area. Although I was close enough to hear what was happening, I couldn't actually see what was transpiring behind the wooden slats separating me from the garbage area. Normally I would offer to help, in this case the cursing was of such a virulent nature that it seemed prudent to keep my distance. He finally loaded up his truck and left. I went back to snapping photos and promptly put the incident out of my head.
Later on I made a trip out to the trash area with a load. I quickly discovered the source of that young man's frustration. There had been some recent rain and as a result there were a couple of inches of water in the garbage cans. No doubt he was splattered with dirt water as he hefted out the bags. I would have felt sorry for him if he hadn't left the water in the cans so that the guy on duty tomorrow could have the same pleasant experience. It's his last day so he knew that he wouldn't be picking up the trash again. So I tipped the trash-free containers over the drain by the entrance to the trash area and emptied out the water before putting my bag in a can. It was not a difficult thing to do. Being pro-active is easy. Leaving the makings of a mess for someone else, that's garbage.
We happened to catch the first episode of Tuna Wranglers on the Discovery Channel the other night. It's a two-part series, chronicling the adventures of blue-fin tuna farming off the coast Australia, complete with shark-wrestling in the pens. It's was entertaining and informative. For anyone who wants to learn more about where their fish comes from, you should definitely check it out.
I had a moment to reflect on a home brewing project I undertook with two good friends in College. We named the company Three Chief Brewing Company, after the fact. Why? Well we were three chiefs, each with our own ideas, mindsets and beliefs about how the brew should be made, what ingredients it should have, how long it should ferment, and how long it should stay in the bottle. We were all concerned with the minutia of making beer. We all wanted our signature to be preserved in the bottle. We each thought that we did all the work while our counterparts (the other chiefs) were only concerned with their personal visions of the perfect beer and not the practicalities of cleaning bottles and doing the dishes. Pretty stupid and yet a contagious thought process.
Was the beer any good? Heck yeah, it was a tasty brew. It's just that in the end we realized that Three Chiefs is way too many.
I should really categorize this idea as just beyond my front door. I walk in pine forests at least once a week, and walk by pine trees daily. We have used spruce in a fair number of dishes, we were surrounded by them in Colorado, so it seemed natural that pine would eventually figure into our cooking here. It is just that it took so long for us to integrate it into a dish.
As the thunder clouds stacked in the sky and the lightning sparked like steel on flint, my mind wandered to the tall lightning rods which surrounded me, the pine trees. I reached out and grabbed a handful of the needles and just pulled. The smell was fresh, clean and of the forest. This was not Pine Sol or another chemical smell. The moisture in the air and the resin on my hands united into a brilliant olfactory sensation. And so I needed to get this essence as light and fragrant as it is into a dish.
Powder could work. I could make pine needle powder. I started with pine needle oil, an infusion of the needles and olive oil which I strained. I then mixed the oil with tapioca maltodextrin. The result was pine needle powder. This powder became the unity I needed for a dish I was working on with musk and honeydew melons. It brought the flavors together and in reflection, the pine flavor made the dish.
When I hand you hot plates with hot food to take to the dining room and you stop in the butler's pantry, put down the plates, eat a few leftover shrimp from the cocktail hour--making sure to get plenty of sauce, wipe your mouth, then pick up the plates again and finally, head into the dining room...I CAN SEE YOU! Truly, I can. I'm glad you like the shrimp, but seriously, it will still be there when you get back.
A guy and a girl are sharing a house. She lives on one side, he lives on the other and they share the front and back porches. They work together and are casual friends. She comes home from work one day to find a dead bird on the porch, closer to her side than his. She is tired and is dismayed by the small corpse on her doorstep. She goes knocking on her neighbor's door to see if he has a broom and hopefully, will help her get rid of the bird.
"You have a broom in your closet. You have a dustpan." He responds. "It's for the bird right? You can use your broom to get rid of it."
She leaves, and as she's going to get her broom she realizes that he's already seen the dead bird and simply left it there for her.
She goes back, "You saw the bird? And you just left it there???"
"Well yeah, it's under your window. Your window, your problem."
Is chivalry dead? The story made me wonder. I know that women have demanded equal rights, but we still appreciate good manners. My husband has them. He has never left any small corpses for me to clean up, and with our cat there have been many offerings left outside our door. It's not that I can't handle it, I've always had hunting cats, it's just something unpleasant that he automatically takes care of so that I don't have to. He opens doors for me and carries the heavy packages. I always offer to do my share and more often than not he declines my assistance. These are small gestures that resonate because they show that he cares. Although I must admit, he does them for everyone because he's a good man. He understands the subtle requests for assistance cloaked in innocuous questions by people who don't want to impose on his good graces. He understands that it's not easy for people to ask for help. So he usually pitches right in without forcing them to make the request. It's good manners and it's a nice thing to do for other people. What happened above, well he's usually a very nice guy. It's just that sometimes people don't want to be bothered with helping someone else. People no longer seem to remember that they may need help someday too.