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.
For anyone else who actually watched Rockstar Supernova last year, you may recognize this as the title to an original song by Lukas, the winner of the competition and the new lead singer of Supernova. Geeky I know, what can I say? We actually watched that show. We never got around to listening to the finished album, but the competition was actually quite entertaining. The perfect thing for decompressing after long hours in the kitchen. Anyway, I didn't remember the lyrics of the song until I looked it up for this post. After the day we had I could only hear the chorus spinning through my brain.
You make my head spin
You make my head spin
Why? Why do you?
You make my head spin
You make my head spin
What makes my head spin? Seemingly endless meetings. I felt as though I didn't get a bloody thing done today. Truly. I hate going to meetings. I'd much rather send someone else and stay in the kitchen and cook. Unfortunately that is not always an option.
Tomorrow will be better, dang it. I'll make sure of it.
It's our day off today and I'm craving pizza. The nearest parlor is 30 minutes away in the closest town to where we are. We stopped by there last night on our way home from a shopping excursion in Bozeman. We were going to grab a pizza and bring it back to devour after we finished unloading the groceries. There was only one young girl working last night and she was seriously in the weeds. When we arrived, she was painstakingly constructing a pizza while another couple waited patiently to place their order. She greeted us rather timidly, refusing to make eye contact, and asked that we wait until she was done before she took any more orders. Ten minutes later we left. I wasn't sure if she was glad or sorry about our departure. She was doing her best. I had to respect her effort to exert a little control over what was clearly a difficult situation. It was getting late and we were starving. Since we still had to drive another half hour home and unload the truck it was time to cut our losses and hit the road. Today I'm still thinking about that girl and her pizza. Although I'm beguiled by the idea of a crusty, gooey pizza, studded with jalapenos and sausage, it's the image of that girl, alone in her kitchen that tugs at my imagination. I wonder what she was thinking and how she came to be there, all by herself. There's a story there somewhere.
Today is dedicated to relaxing and simply letting things roll. We've been getting too caught up in the small details of our new environment. It's hard not to over-analyze what we say and do, the best way to handle different situations, the best dishes to prepare, and the smartest way to build our pantry. It was a struggle to actually take a day off. We're only cooking for a small number of people this week and it almost feels indulgent to take a day off. We know we need it though. Sometimes it's hard not to lose yourself in the minutiae. There are so many new ideas to play with here. There are so many new people to learn from, here and through the website. People are asking tough questions and pushing us to work harder and learn more. It can be a struggle because there so many ways to second guess ourselves. We do our best to live up to it all.
I'm still trying to adapt to this new way of life. People are more relaxed here. They're neighborly and they smile a lot more often than I'm used to. The speed limits are high and often ignored. Very few people seem to be in a hurry here and the big clouds of dust from fast moving cars are often the out of towners. As a native New Yorker this can be tough to absorb at times. On the rare days when we leave the property it's showing me a different way of life. It's a place where a lady who's trying to buy a bottle of oil because her car is dead is gifted with what she needs. Upon asking if she could pay for it, she is simply told to pass it on. Spread the warmth and be kind to someone else. Situations arise and people simply go with it. Plans change, times change and it's all just fine. This kind of attitude is not my forte but I'm learning.
It's snowing in Bozeman today. How do I know this? I just got a call from our local FedEx delivery man, who drives the many miles from there to here with our packages, to let us know that he would probably be late because of the snow, but that he would be here eventually. He's going to leave our boxes on the covered porch by the kitchen door if we're not here when he arrives. You have to love that. He called before 9:30am so we wouldn't be left wondering where he was or what was happening. This is an especially good thing because he's carrying both our fish shipment and some wine for our personal consumption. Peace of mind is a wonderful and unexpected thing when it comes to deliveries. There are certain benefits to being in a small town, and we're discovering new ones every day.
We were lucky to take an in depth tour of The French Laundry while we were in Napa. One piece of particularly striking artwork on the wall headed to the kitchen was the opening menu from Per Se. As many people know, I have an affinity for menus, reading them and then day dreaming. It was certainly fun to snap a picture of this one during our journey. (zoom in to read the menu in its entirety)
I will begin with the fact that we normally do not check our luggage. For some reason we decided to do so today. Hmmm? We hoped it would be an auspicious beginning to our trip. Although it was actually rough going way before we checked our baggage. I over-filled Aki's coffee cup at four in the morning. Aki took advantage of the circumstances and spilled it down her white shirt a few minutes later. We then got in the car (late) and I was about to drive away, when I noticed that Aki did not have her purse or computer. She thought that I had already put them in the car for her, leading to a rather loud discussion in a very quiet, residential street. We arrived at the airport to see amazingly long lines at check-in. After an hour on line we reached the counter only to discover that Aki had somehow forgotten her license and had no photo identification. This led to having to stand on the longest security line and go through an extra security check. We barely made it to the gate for the final boarding call. Finally in our seats, we buckled in and waited for takeoff. Two hours later we were still waiting. Not only were we still waiting but we had watched our luggage get taken off the plane half an hour before, along with a large group of people headed for Shanghai. The air staff assured us that all was well. Our luggage was being put on the 8am flight, which was leaving before our 6:30am flight, and our bags would be waiting for us in San Francisco when we arrived. The cause of our delay was some sort of malfunction with the fuel line. They couldn't get any fuel on the plane and when at last they did get it to work it was very slow going. We finally took off close to 9:30am. When we arrived in San Francisco we discovered that our bags did not actually take off before we did. The plane that they had moved our luggage to also had mechanical difficulties and it would be at least two hours before our bags arrived. They could not guarantee our luggage would make it to Napa tonight and suggested that we remain at the airport until our bags (hopefully) appeared. One of the desk agents was very nice, while the other managed to imply that if we didn't sit around and wait for our luggage, any further mishaps were entirely our own responsibility. Needless to say we were in no mood to wait. Besides, Le Sanctuaire's newest outpost in San Francisco was closing at 2:30pm and this was our only opportunity to stop by. As it was now well after twelve, we ran to the car rental desk to get to town. Things didn't exactly improve at the rental desk but we did make it to the store with time to spare, when finally our day took an incredible upswing...
*Although our luggage had not arrived by the time we tumbled into bed at close to 11pm, thankfully it was at the front desk when we opened our eyes this morning. Hopefully the rest of the trip will be smooth sailing. At the very least, now we have our essential supplies.
I could not believe it. I still cannot believe it. I went out for a quiet lunch with Aki and my mom. We were catching up, something that a lunch without constraints allows. We ordered a number of dishes to share. Aki and I always share and Mom was game. The food was tasty. I was actually a bit winded during the beginning of the meal after having parked the car too far away and then running back to the restaurant while Aki and mom waited. As it turns out, Aki waited the longest as my mom had an almost equally difficult time finding parking. I, being me, and now having wasted too much time looking for a space was not going to succumb to a parking lot. I was going to find a spot. And I did, it was just at a one hour meter. S**t!!!! I could not take another parking ticket: its cost and Aki's lament, in the long run a lot is cheaper than a ticket. So, I popped into a cute flower shop and asked the owner if he would mind feeding my meter? He said sure. I handed over the quarters, mentioned it was the green jeep and was off to lunch, where Aki and my mom were still patiently waiting. Well, they did order a few bites in my absence although fortuitously the bites arrived at the table with me.
We ate, we drank, I caught my breath and took a moment to relax and catch up. During our lunch, one dish we had was strikingly good. It was based on a single ingredient, one which I stumbled across at Sunrise market, though I had not seen them in such fine, petite form, with such an exquisite taste as we had just enjoyed. So, after lunch, I stepped over to the service area and expressed my pleasure to our waitress. She said, she would ask the chef where the ingredient came from and where I could procure it. I handed her a card for good measure. I figured chefs share information.
Boy am I f*%ing stupid. She came back with a smile on her face. She said, (in so many words) "the chef said it's a secret. You might be able to get them from Sid Wainer, though ours come from a very special source."
I was floored, I still am. Silly me. What was I thinking? Probably thinking too much. But seriously, why on earth would someone keep an ingredient source a secret? Truly why? Alright, sure, to be the only one to have something. That gets old quick. Imagine if all the small farmers who provide truly great ingredients to restaurants and kitchens were never talked about? They would go out of business. Think about chefs, creators, wine makers, china manufacturers who openly share ideas, techniques, and resources. If everything is a secret, then how the heck can we get better, improve, challenge each other to do better, tackle new ideas, climb higher mountains and drink a better cup of coffee?
It is not a secret, it is merely an obstacle to overcome.
Last week during our trip to MA we stopped in at a well known wine store in West Springfield. We had been to their sister store in Northampton many times and since they were temporarily closed for reconstruction we decided to check out their other location. Interestingly the places bore some physical resemblance to one another although our experiences were vastly different.
We wandered into the store and since the weather was warm I went straight to the sparkling wine section. I like to see what's available in the different wine stores and I was feeling the urge for something bubbly that evening. It looked like an impressive selection, an unusually long row of bottles stretching down the aisle. To give them credit there was a good selection of interesting bottles. Oddly though some of the bottles were repeated, so that halfway down the row I was experiencing deja vu. Didn't I just see that bottle a minute ago? That one too? They repeated several of the selections randomly and separated bottles by the same wineries so that a regular brut was six feet away from a vintage bottle and the rose from the same producer resided at the far end. It's a small thing. I just like to see all of the sparkling wines from the same producer closer together so that I can make an educated decision about which one to buy. It also seemed odd to repeat the same bottles in different places along the same row. Why not put them all together? Admittedly I no longer sell wine in a retail environment. The set up simply struck me as odd.
I went off to look for Alex and found him a few aisles over with a cart in hand that seemed to have quite a few bottles in it. As I walked towards him the salesman he was talking to enthusiastically threw a few more bottles in. I quickened my step and arrived to hear a patented spiel about the benefits of unusual wine varietals. As I peered into the cart the salesman targeted me with a wide grin. He then proceeded to inform me that I would not be familiar with any of the varietals in the cart because he was focusing on unusual wines for those who were willing to explore wine. By the way, there was no white wine because he liked red but since I was there he would add some white wines and with that, he took off down the aisle.
"You don't just drink that same old Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do you?"
"Well no, we drink a variety of different whites. This time of year we-"
"Great, I have some real beauties for you. Here's a Viognier, only $10.99, you'll love it!." Dropping it in the cart he grinned again and galloped off towards the Italian wines. "Wait right here, I'll be back with more."
I looked disbelievingly into the cart and furiously whispered to Alex. "What's going on? There's like fourteen bottles of wine here."
"He just asked me if I like wine and if I liked to explore. Once I said yes there was no stopping him."
I was sorting through the cart. "Malbec, three bottles of Malbec. We don't usually like Malbec. Carmeniere, there are three or four different bottles of Carmeniere. Are we doing a tasting or something? How much South African wine did he put in here. Are these all $10 bottles."
"I'd say it's more like a range of $8-$12 bottles."
"Did he even ask you what we like? Flavor profiles? Price range? Anything?"
"Nope, just went into his spiel and started throwing in bottles. I couldn't figure out how to turn him off. He's like a human steamroller."
The salesman headed back our way with three more bottles of wine, two of which were red. Thankfully another woman had questions for him and we were able to take our full basket and escape to the relative calm of the empty Bordeaux section. Before we left he advised us to save our receipt and take notes on the wines so we would remember what we liked. It was the best piece of advice he had given us and redeemed him a bit in my eyes. He was a salesman to the core but maybe he actually did love wine underneath the aggressive techniques.
We were irritated and frustrated with our experience. Worse, we had a full cart of wine that we would have to sort through and either buy or return to the shelves. The salesman was still lurking in the aisles where we had wanted to shop, although the desire to buy wine had pretty much vanished by then. We had a brief debate about shopping or fleeing and precipitously abandoned the cart and headed for the door. I felt a little bad about that but we had no idea where all of the wine went and didn't want to face the salesman and have to explain our reasons for putting it back. It was a new sensation for us and not one I'd like to repeat.
Here's the thing, we went in there excited to buy wine. We knew that they had a good selection and we do enjoy trying new things. We're not wine snobs per se, although we enjoy good wines. There are not a lot of $10 wines in our collection, mainly because I'd rather spend on quality over quantity. We usually enjoy working with sommeliers and sales people because they know their inventory better than we do and can show us new treasures. Had the salesman asked us a few questions he could have helped us find some new wines and made a sale. Instead we slunk out of the store, almost beside ourselves with annoyance and frustration and without wine. Not only that, we told the story over and over again to the people we ran into. Not to bad mouth, simply to get it out of our systems. We were pretty upset by the whole experience. It just goes to show you that in every profession, technique is so important.
We had an interesting conversation the other day with Ed. We asked him about why he took the Certified Master Chef exam and he replied "Because I just love to cook." He went on to explain that he never expected to pass (the first time he took the exam), he simply thought it would be a good experience for himself. Ed's a great guy, he's the kind of Chef that you would want to work for just to pick his brain and learn about food and cooking. The best part is that he's very open and willing to share his knowledge. He told a story about a Chef that he respected but didn't really know who reached out to him as a young Chef. The man invited him onto his kitchen and took him under his wing. All these years later I could see how the experience touched him. Ed's still close to that first mentor and he still loves to cook. He shares that spirit of camaraderie among cooks that is crucial to our professional community.
The conversation made me sit back and pause for a while. Alex and I occasionally talk about what's missing from the food scene lately and there was my answer. What I perceive to be missing is often the simple joy of cooking. It may sound like a cliché because it's such an obvious concept. Unfortunately there are many challenges and obstacles that go into opening and running a restaurant. There are many who do retain their delight in preparing food, many more who do not. It's a cyclical thing. There are also many more reasons for people to go into cooking now than there were twenty or thirty years ago. It's not always about being a good cook, it's also about becoming a personality and building careers on food. There are many different branches of the business that have flourished these past ten years. It's been a good thing for all of us. It's also changed the industry's personality in aspects both large and small. We've certainly lost and found the joy many times over the years. My goal this year is to savor it it more consciously. Frankly our lives have improved so much over the past few months that it is much easier to take pleasure in cooking, than it is to remember the stresses of the past. The real challenge is to retain the joy when times are not so pleasant and easy.
We've taken a private cheffing position for the summer. It will take us to Montana for five months, back to the mountains and the wilderness, trout fishing and big skies. Simply put, we took the job because we think it will be fun. There's plenty of cooking to be done and we're eager to be back in a kitchen on a regular basis. The property is beautiful and remote. We're in the process of trying to source out local products. We'll have a small staff to work with and learn from. Miss Patty will be coming with us to guard the kitchen door and we'll be back East in October. It's the best of all worlds for that fragment of time and we'll keep posting from Montana. Confidentiality precludes us from telling you who we work for or exactly where we'll be. On the other hand, the kitchen doors will always be wide open. We'll be driving across country right after Taste 3.
On another note we've been to the theater several times this winter season. Being in the city for a longer period of time allows us to be a bit more rounded and less food-centric in our diversions. I've struck out with my choices again and again, with Alex sitting through each production, musicals and drama, in his inimitable style, that is with relative good humor during and an acid tongue on the way home. Last night we finally found a winner. Allyson took us to see Wicked , her current favorite and a show that she thought even Alex could love. We both did. It was a wonderful production with an engaging story and first rate performances. It's a good illustration of how things can be different below the surface of what you experience. We ended our season on a high note. So if you haven't seen Wicked I urge you to go. Even the seats are larger and more comfortable than in your standard Broadway theater. It may not be the newest show on the block but it's definitely one of the best.
Several days ago I read a post by Seth Godin. Read the piece. Alright, now that you are back the blank page scenario makes a bit more sense. For those who opted not to read the piece, the synopsis is that if you have nothing wonderful to offer, wait until you can create something great and then produce, publish, and sell it. Last night we returned from more travels, this time Montana, and I was planning on writing about what we were doing, seeing, etc. Yet, after airport delays and frustrations my voice was more apt to write "back from Montana." Look, that would have been fine, but that is not me. Well, actually at times it can be or has been me, but readers don't always need to experience it with me.
So, back to the blank page. Imagine a tasting menu where you are dining and everything is progressing well and then, for your next course, you get a blank plate. It is empty, just white in front of you. It gives you something to think about, although not necessarily what you were expecting. After some time a waiter clears the dish and the menu continues. Look, that does not happen in real life, I know. What if it did? What if people were willing to edit themselves down to nothing when, at certain times, nothing produces a better result? I understand this is a far fetched concept, though I believe the idea and the process of the examination of self and creativity are woven into the blank page concept.
One more point, even though you are serving up a blank page, that does not mean that it is the only thing you have to offer. In the wings there can be pages of ideas, plans to be refined, dishes to be polished so that soon that blank page will be full, it will morph into something that is as creative and polished as you want it to be.
What is Taste 3?
TASTE³ brings together more than forty of the most compelling writers, thinkers, chefs, winemakers, journalists, artisans, and executives as speakers and hosts, joining 300 attendees who are every bit as tapped-in. TASTE³ will thrill, tantalize, engage, intrigue, provoke, and inspire both its audience and its speakers. The single-track program is broken into themed sessions filled with hard-hitting, engaging short-format presentations. Sessions are interwoven with breaks with networking opportunities and interactive exploration.
TASTE³ is presented by Robert Mondavi Winery. In the spirit of founder Robert Mondavi’s vision, passion and leadership, TASTE³ aims to push the exploration and marriage of wine, food and art.
It's happening this May 6-8 in Napa Valley. We're especially excited about this year's Taste3 because we are going to be there. We're looking forward to catching up with old friends, meeting new people, learning something new, visiting some of our favorite wineries, eating well, and most importantly, creating something exciting for people to taste at the final celebration. It looks as though there will be a myriad range of topics relating to food, wine and life to explore. A special thank you to Richard Haake, the Chef at Mondavi Winery, for inviting us to participate. If any of you will be there please stop by and say hello. It should definitely be an event to remember.
We'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who commented or emailed about Inky. We appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to reach out to us during a very difficult time. Inky passed on Friday evening surrounded by people who loved him. He was sweet and loyal and full of love. He was the best companion anyone could ever wish for. We were lucky to have him beside us.
for breakfast. Even when I do my best to work through stress my diet gives me away. I even managed to muck up my standard no fail chocolate chip recipe this week. Instead of the delicate, buttery, chewy bites that Alex adores I ended up with something puffy and cake-like. They were soft and gave easily as my teeth sank into them with a satisfying slowness and the melting chocolate and butter unwound slowly across my palate. Alex was not happy and shared that fact with some good natured ribbing. Regardless of his opinions, he easily ate his fair share. I realized afterwards that these cake-like bites were exactly what I needed to get me through a difficult stretch, so perhaps my unconscious mind knew what it was doing.
Inky is fading slowly. He's sick in a very big way. This past week we've been back and forth to the vet with him more times than in the past year. He's been my faithful companion for what seems like forever. He and Patty walked down the aisle ahead of us when Alex and I were married and they've been with both of us for the duration. He was a rescued dog and has beebees in his hip and chest. Inky is the sweetest, gentlest dog and has won over many who claimed not to like animals. As he's aged, his hips have gotten progressively weaker and he can no longer walk very far. Through it all he's been unflaggingly cheerful and energetic, within his capabilities. Last week the system started to break down. It seemed to be just a urinary tract infection. Now he can't eat, can't keep anything down, he's feverish, he trembles and shakes more often than not, he's listless, there may be a growth in his intestines and this morning Alex had to carry him downstairs from the bedroom. It's all happened with dizzying speed. He's the best damn dog ever and I see some tough decisions ahead.
The cookies? Well caffeine and sugar will get you through anything, or so they tell me...
-Sit back and enjoy the wait. Island time is different and part of the local flavor. Don't fight it, relax into it.
-Go with the flow. Order martinis and manhattans at your own risk. Realize that their daquiris and pina coladas will always be better than gimlets because that's what people drink here.
-Enjoy the rain. The view is still better here than wherever you came from.
-Swim, in the ocean. Pools can be found almost anywhere on earth, clear blue waters not so much.
-Try something new, because stumbles seem less painful here than they do in the city.
-Smile! Because inevitably someone else will smile back. Enjoy the moment and leave your cares behind.
Fresh is catching a few fish off the side of a boat, perhaps some small snapper, a small spotted grouper , several spiny fish with large eyes that we threw back into the water, and one large striped grouper. A little while later we moved to shallow waters to look for conch and spiny lobsters. There were no lobsters to be found but several large conch were there for the taking. Then we moved to the beach where our captain fired up a charcoal grill and cooked the fish. Alex found the hot sauce tucked away in his stash and helped concoct a spicy conch ceviche with lime juice, two different hot sauces and salt which he tossed with some of the the romaine leaves meant for Ceasar salad. There was beer, sodas, rum punch, barbecued chicken and ribs, rice and beans, garlic bread, Ceasar salad, fresh fruit, and cookies. It was a veritable feast along an almost empty Caribbean coastline that was too beautiful for words. You'll have to imagine the view because I left the camera on the boat. It was serenely beautiful and that ceviche was amazingly fresh and delicious. We're enjoying a couple of days in the tropics and then it's back to the hustle and bustle of the city. Wish you were here!
OK, they make a tasty burger. I got the Shack Stack which was a couple of of cheeseburgers, a mushroom and cheese thingy which is deep fried, lettuce, tomato and shake sauce: mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and special seasonings. As I said the burger is good. I also tried the Chicago style dog. It was not so good. The bun was dry and after eating half a stack, well it just seemed uninteresting. The real reason I went to the Shack was for the pie oh my. It is supposed to be frozen custard with a slice of pie blended in and then topped with whipped cream. On day two of the Shack's seasonal run they were mixing in pumpkin pie. Not bad, though when you hear the staff talking about the strawberry-rhubarb pie arriving tomorrow you feel a bit short changed. Oh yeah, and what happened to my whipped cream? It was MIA yesterday.
I mean what screams SPRING louder than strawberry-rhubarb pie blended into vanilla custard? I also learned something else, I like sweet cream ice cream/custard with my pie better than vanilla. Vanilla's a bit overpowering in this scenario. It seems to take away from the mix-ins rather than support them. Mind you, they do not have sweet cream custard at the Shack, I am just expressing my new found revelation.
What the shack does have in surplus is memories. The smells remind us of the beach, a backyard barbeque, a trip on Sunday to go get a frozen custard or a concrete. We will stand in line for a taste of these memories. And when the taste lives up to the memory, as with the burgers, all the better. More often than not we end up just waiting in line like lemmings chasing after an elusive whiff of past pleasures.
Michael tagged us for this an embarrassingly long time ago. We wanted to make sure we actually did it because Michael's a friend and we hate to leave any request unanswered. It's kind of a tough one, five (interesting) things about us that you haven't read about here already...
1. Alex has only one kidney. It's an anomaly that he was born with. They only discovered it after years of football and lacrosse when he had an x-ray during a routine examination. What this means to him is that he drinks lots and lots of water to keep his system clear and functioning well. What that means for the both of us is that he goes to the bathroom a lot. As in we know where most of the decent public bathrooms are all over NYC.
2. We are suckers for a good night's sleep. Years ago in Maine we were renting a furnished apartment. It came with a Select Comfort bed. That's the one with an air mattress that you can adjust by number. We loved that bed and vowed to get one of our own some day. When that day came, we went to the store to check out all of the new options and discover our new sleep numbers. We actually discovered that all those years ago we had been using the wrong sleep number because we didn't really know what we were doing. Go figure. Once we brought home our new extended queen-sized bed and programmed it with the proper sleep numbers, we were in heaven. You really do sleep better on the right mattress. We'll never go back to those coil mattresses at home again.
3. We struggle every day to come up with great food ideas. Truthfully, there are few meals we enjoy more than a perfectly roasted chicken with bitter greens and butter roasted potatoes. Let's face facts though, people don't go out to upscale restaurants for food they can cook at home. That's what the The Food Network is for. Add to that the fact that we would go insane if we had to roast chickens every day of our lives and that sets us up for a never - ending quest for delicious food that also manages to be fresh and interesting to our slightly jaded palates and to those of our guests. It may seem like there's an endless parade of ideas in the notebooks and on the site but it's a choppy process. There are days when we come up with a plethora of inspirations and many more days when we have nothing at all. The key is to write them all down when they appear so that when you need that extra bit of stimulation you have it at your fingertips.
4. I cannot eat foie gras. It turns my stomach, has since the first time I ever tasted it. Sometimes I can deal with tiny amounts of torchon. I absolutely cannot handle seared foie. Alex adores the stuff. When we go out to eat, especially during tasting menus and their ilk, occasionally he pays the price for my aversion. For example when we dined at Masa, he told the woman who took our reservation that I did not eat foie gras. She did not speak English very well and the result was that neither of us ate foie gras, in spite of the fact that the shabu-shabu was one of the things that he really wanted to try. A smart woman once told me that compromise in marriage means that sometimes you get what you want and sometimes he gets what he wants. No one is ever really happy on the middle ground. That was one of those times I got what I wanted and unfortunately he didn't. Thankfully restaurants have become much more flexible and most are happy to deviate from a set menu to ensure that we both get what we want when dining out.
5. We're just winging things here. Honestly, we are not tech-minded at all. Thank goodness for templates. I'd love to create cool slide shows like Pim or a rotating banner like Adam or a totally cool map like Tana. We can cook reasonably well, research with the best of them, and take pretty decent photographs. We're good enough at all of those things to be happy with what we publish here. When it comes to writing code and mastering software we're still pretty much at the kindergarten level. We're learning though, and eventually we'll climb that mountain too.
Since most of the bloggers we know have already participated we won't tag anyone else. Thanks Michael that was fun! Made me think happy thoughts on a gloomy Thursday evening.
I have lost a week. At least most of one. Literally and figuratively. I have not gotten the flu in some time, though when I get sick it is like most things, all or nothing. Anyway, now that my brain is unclogged and my body feels that the last of the beatings is over I can think about food. Actually, as I lay in bed I had thoughts of food and dreams of aromas. I knew I did not actually want to eat the food at the time, though the thoughts of certain foods really stuck a chord. Remember a perfectly toasted English muffin with golden brown nooks and crannies, the cold butter filling in the valleys and clinging to the peaks. That smell, sweet butter and toasted muffin and the point when you put just a light drizzle of honey on top for intermittent bites of sweetness. What about macaroni and cheese, really good macaroni and cheese. It could be a blend of cheeses though not assertive loud talking cheeses, creamy and rich with cut up strips of bacon, not lardons, with a light caramelized cheese crust not one of those bread crumb toppings. And what is important about this mac and cheese is that as it cools as you eat it, it must not turn gummy or solidify. The smell of chocolate chip cookies, the browned butter and chocolate and sugar bouncing off the oven walls finally creeping up the stairs to me in bed. And the smell of roast steak the caramelized meat bits those flavors mingling with tender meaty steak, that captured my thoughts. Then there is french toast. A cinnamon and Grand Marnier egg batter, Steve's maple syrup, Diane's creamy and tangy butter and the smell of the forest: pine, spruce, cedar, juniper, fallen leaves and trees, a earthen must mingling with crisp air perfuming the room with just a hint of fresh brewed coffee. And finally a butterscotch sundae. Sure some hot fudge is there, though it is the sweet and salty butterscotch, served hot, melting the ice cream mountains into rivers which just kind of had me at hello.
I am now curious about the reason these foods and ideas permeated my thoughts. Sure, they are comforting, but there is more. What it is, I have not quite figured out, time will help tell the tale.
Here's a link to a lyrical, sensual and slightly disturbing essay by James Sturz over at Leite's Culinaria. I just finished reading it and thought I would share. It's a beautiful, thought-provoking piece about the pleasures of eating meat by a clearly talented writer. And of course, for anyone who hasn't heard of Leite's Culinaria, it's a one of those places in the Internet where you can always find something interesting to peruse, so do a little exploring while you're there. It'll definitely be time well spent.
One of the nice things about being back in New York is that there always seems to be something to do. Unexpected invitations come our way and we are usually happy and willing to answer their siren call. One of these summons came Tuesday morning when an email arrived from Jeffrey Steingarten letting us know that there was a demonstration happening that evening at the French Culinary Institute that we might be interested in. Alex called the school to find out if there were seats available and we were off.
It turned out that the demonstration was part of an open house for the school. Most of the audience were people either interested in attending FCI or members of the press. We were the oddballs. It was fine though, we're used to that. There was a short speech by the Vice President of the school which was followed by a presentation by Lee Anne Wong, of Top Chef fame. Although I've worked with cooks who attended FCI I didn't know much about their curriculum. They have some fascinating programs and I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued by the information. There's a lot to learn in Soho and beyond.
The demonstration was given by Dave Arnold and Nils Noren, their Vice President of Culinary Arts. The presentation was on the use of new classic food techniques and ingredients such as transglutaminase, methocel, agar agar, carbon dioxide, and both pressure and low temperature cooking. They created a dish based on the classic Turducken served with Jerusalem artichoke puree, mustard greens, a currant and agar condiment, and a sauce enhanced with a pressure cooked garlic paste. The turducken was created as a roulade with the longest cooking meats (turkey and chicken) on the outside and the meats meant to be less cooked (duck, squab) on the inside. This was so that when the cooking was finished the outer meats would be fully cooked and the inner core a pretty medium to medium rare. The light and dark meats were separated by a stuffing which created the look of a bull's eye when you sliced the finished product. The beverage du jour was a mix of fresh vegetable juices and carbon dioxide to produce happy bubbles for the audience. The presentation itself was informative, especially for the lay-person, and entertaining. The dish was served to the audience towards the end of the presentation and the sparkling juice was served afterwards as people talked to various admissions representatives.
Jeffrey came in partway through the presentation and afterwards we were able to meet him in person for the first time. He introduced us to Dave and we spent some time chatting in the auditorium. Listening to Jeffrey and Dave was like watching a volleyball match as the good-natured comments flew back and forth across a playing field. They were both quite engaging and very erudite about their particular passions. It was great fun spending time with them. We came away from the evening with scores of new ideas to play with and a desire to track down a CO2 tank to make our own carbonated beverages. There's nothing better than being around like-minded people to fan the flames of creativity.
PS: Dave if you're reading this, the drink I was thinking of was Chicha, fermented from maize and sometimes chewed by the maker before fermentation in order to help release the starches.