Saturday, July 26, 2014

From Gate E6 at Logan

pretty and pink, like Quik strawberry milk
In the last 56 hours I’ve swum in the sea, eaten 3 lobster rolls, and tried my first and last raspberry fizz at the Oxford Creamery in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts near my in laws’ summer house. The woman at the counter made it sound like a tasty berry-flavored egg cream (milk, soda water, syrup), but it was a bland and watery waste of (not very much) money. I can’t recommend the fizz, but can recommend the Creamery’s lobster roll if you're ever in the area. A couple other things to recommend:

-The Betty Ann Food Shop in East Boston. Five minutes from Logan Airport and ideal for when you're just off a miserable redeye. Miserable redeye -- redundant? The Betty Ann Food Shop opened in 1931 and still feels like 1931 inside, where donuts cost 80 cents and the woman behind the counter calculates your bill on an ancient cash register. Apparently they used to sell other baked goods, but the cases were empty on the morning Mark and I turned up. Just donuts, and they were wonderful -- delicately spicy, coated in crusty sugar, and still warm. My favorite was the jelly donut. As Serious Eats put it, they're “heavy for the size, like good grapefruits.”

-These. I don't know what to call them -- peanut butter-cup-stuffed Oreos? Such a mouthful. Isabel made them with her aunt and cousin and they were waiting when Mark and I arrived in Massachusetts. Delicious and so rich that one bite sufficed. But what a bite.

One of these summers I need to dedicate myself to exploring New England coastal cuisine. On the surface it all looks so mainstream -- chicken fingers, buffalo wings, chili -- but then you look closer and see the kale soup and chicken Mozambique. 

Next year. We collected our children from their grandparents and tonight we're taking another redeye, this one from Boston to London, for the second part of our vacation. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

It was a short affair, but passionate

Bread is in the eye of the beholder.
June 10: The recipe for a “life-changing” gluten-free bread appears on Food52. Gazing at the picture, you shake your head. Calling this brick of nuts and seeds "bread" is like calling soy paste shaped into a cylinder “sausage.” You write a note to a friend: “I would eat this -- it looks very crunchy and tasty -- but it's not bread. In 30 years we'll be scoffing at the ridiculous things we cooked and believed about nutrition in 2014. It's the honey-sweetened carob brownie of our era.”

You tell ‘em, Jennifer. What a snot. But you grew up on health foods and look where that got you? You’re no healthier today than all your friends from the 1970s who got to eat real brownies.
July 15: You stop by your sister’s house to drop off the DVDs of Borgen. She says, “I want you to taste this strange health bread Margi (friend) made.” She toasts and butters a slice of dense, seedy bread and presents it to you. You take a bite. It has a complex texture and nutty flavor with just a hint of underlying slime. The slime doesn’t bother you at all, just adds to the complexity. You say, “Oh my God, this is amazing bread! I love this. Where did Margi get the recipe?” 

Justine: “Food52.”

Sigh. Of course.

July 16: Why are all the people who work at Whole Foods so young and groovy and all the people who work at Safeway so . . . not?  Do the managers at Whole Foods look for fabulous people with nose rings who are saving for a trek through Nepal while the managers at Safeway look for downtrodden lifers with kids? Honestly, you prefer Safeway, but for today’s errand -- buying the ingredients for that delicious bread -- you must endure Whole Foods. You search around and finally have to steel yourself to ask one of the groovy clerks: “Where can I find the psyllium husks?” It turns out they're about 2 feet away from the chia seeds, also on your list. Then, so the cashier can be sure you’re a real nut, you grab a bottle of a coconut probiotic drink from the refrigerator case. 

July 17: You mix the dough, which isn't beautiful and springy like yeasted bread dough, but a damp, rough, swarthy paste. You let it sit for a few hours and then bake the paste. You cut a slice. Divine. It has the rich flavor of coconut oil and that pleasant hint of slime -- from the psyllium husks? the flaxseeds? -- plus lots of gentle crunch. Perhaps it’s a bit crumbly, but you can fix that in future loaves. 

July 18: Mark was skeptical but loves the bread. He calls it “birdseed bread” and toasts it for breakfast and dinner. You eat a piece with butter for your afternoon snack. YUM! A new staple for the household. You don’t personally care that it’s gluten-free, but appreciate that it’s so full of fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids from the chia seeds. You’re not sure exactly what fatty acids are or why Omega 3s are good, you just know they are. 

July 19: You have a piece of the bread for breakfast with some avocado. Maybe the coconut oil flavor is a bit unctuous. Perhaps there's still a place in your life for the occasional Acme baguette.

July 20: You have another piece of the bread with butter for a snack. Today, it brings to mind an under-seasoned veggie burger. You can't finish your snack.

July 21: You think about having a piece for breakfast. You stare at the remainder of the loaf, oily and coarse, and try to think how you can make it palatable. Peanut butter? Jam? Yuck. No. What happened? You adored this bread only three days ago! Mark looks at you looking at the bread and says, I'm done. It’s bread you can only take in very small doses.” 

You take the remaining chunk of bread down to the dung pit, a.k.a. yard, for the chickens, but the goats head butt the birds out of the way so they can have at it. Bullies. If they'd asked nicely, maybe you'd let them keep it. Instead, you take the bread away from the goats and crumble it into tiny pieces that you scatter all over the yard. The chickens devour the crumbs, which means their eggs will be full of Omega 3s, whatever those are. You just know they’re good for you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

College trip, spudnuts, 18 years

Four hours later I started googling diabetes. That's how terrible I felt.
I took Isabel to look at colleges in the Pacific Northwest last week and she found two to which she will definitely apply and would happily go. I’m glad I’m not the one applying to college in 2014 because I’d never get in. I’m not being falsely modest. Three words: high school calculus. 

It was a beautiful trip and I’m already sentimental about our time together. How many more trips will there be for Isabel and me? There was fierce heat, lots of driving, lots of talking, lots of listening to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which was on the “suggested reading” list issued by my school every summer when I was growing up and therefore of less than zero interest to me. I'm glad I got over that, because it's gripping and wonderful and I highly recommend the audio version for a long drive.

In terms of food, the Spudnut Shop in Richland, Washington was the highlight for me, not because the spudnuts were so fabulous (they weren't), but because I've had a thing about spudnuts for 25 years. Do you know about spudnuts? They're donuts made with potato flour and there was once a chain of spudnut shops across the United States. Only a few dozen remain. You may be wondering what makes a spudnut special and I would say: nothing! Nothing at all. Maybe they're marginally lighter and fluffier than an ordinary donut. Maybe. Marginally. But the name and concept caught my fancy when I was young and impressionable and now I get excited whenever there's a chance to visit a spudnut shop, so when we found ourselves 40 miles from Richland, we made the detour.

You don't need to go.
This place was a total . . . let’s just say it was cluttered and "real." The donuts were pale inside, pillowy, and yummy, but not significantly better than what you'll find at your local supermarket. I'm still glad we made the pilgrimage. It gave me a momentary thrill and now I can cross it off the list.

We ate some other tasty things on our sojourn: the strawberry birthday cake ice cream, wonderfully rich and jammy, at Salt and Straw in Portland. The cream-filled donut from Voodoo in Eugene, which might have been Isabel's favorite food of the trip. A humongous tub of buttered popcorn at the movie theater where we saw Maleficent. How bad for you is movie theater popcorn? I can't bring myself to look. 

The day after we got home, Isabel flew off to visit Mark’s family in New England. Since then, Mark and I have been on our own. Half the time I'm blue and filled with dread of the coming empty nest, half the time we're having fun. So much more fun than usual. It turns out that constantly nagging people to start their homework, feed the chickens, and put their dirty socks in the hamper is stressful. Who'd have thought. We celebrated our 18th anniversary this past weekend by going to see Venus in Fur (**) and Life Itself  (***), then dining at Tommaso’s, a dated and lovable Italian restaurant in North Beach. We ate clams and veal saltimbocca and Mark drank a cup off coffee with the meal and I drank a glass of wine and felt very happy and very lucky. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Sorry, but there's just nothing like a pretty face

This morning I read a review of a restaurant called Trou Normand written by Michael Bauer, the veteran San Francisco Chronicle critic. I stopped when I got to this paragraph: 

The food embraces you like a warm hug. The space is alluring, but not altogether comfortable - it's like a woman who doesn't have the prettiest face but still attracts attention for how she puts herself together.

Gag. Couldn’t continue reading. There are thousands of unpaid, unedited restaurant bloggers who would die of shame if they published a paragraph so trite, muddled, and offensive. Do newspapers have a death wish? 

Flour kept me busy this week. There are two types of coconut macaroon: rich and lean. Rich macaroons call for egg yolks and/or sweetened condensed milk and tend to be sticky and heavy, while lean macaroons involve little more than coconut, egg whites, and sugar and are generally snowy white and a little grainy. Joanne Chang's are some of the best I've made in the "rich" category. As you can see in the photo, they got a little singed, but that didn’t diminish our love for them. Highly recommend. Recipe is here.

Even better than Chang's macaroons: her coffee ice cream with cacao nib brittle. (Chang says it's one of her favorite recipes in the book.) The recipe is here and you should try it.The cacao nib brittle is great, but a big hassle and not strictly necessary so I probably won't include it next time. Coffee is Mark's favorite ice cream flavor and I've tried a number of recipes. This is our #1. I might stop here.

Finally, Chang’s almond-anise biscotti are good, though they're the dense, floury type of biscotti and I prefer the kind that are super-brittle and porous, like coral. Do you crave biscotti? I don't. I think that's the beauty of biscotti. They're not addicting. You can stop at one, which isn't the case with, say, chocolate chip cookies. I'm not sure whether desserts should really be "irresistible." Do other cultures know something we don't?

I finished up Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger, but that’s for the next post.