Archive for August, 2007

the collective cosmic culinary experience

Friday, August 31st, 2007

We watch Top Chef. I can admit that in public. We also watch Tony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Alton Brown, and must even cop to watching the last couple episodes of the Search for the next Food Network star. Food is our muse. It is our obsession. I can also claim a few other obsessions (knitting, gardening) as can Don (searching for and collecting books), but they must take a back seat to the food thing. This means that anything food related catches our eye. Always looking for new titles on food, movies about meals, news stories about farming, sources of tools, equipment, ingredients. We are endlessly curious.

We were watching Top Chef this past Wednesday. Having missed the previous week’s episode I was hoping we would get a re-run before the current week’s show. Instead they were showing re-runs from last season’s finale. Ok, whatever, I’ll still watch it, because it’s food on TV. But they showed two hours of last year, and then instead of a continuation of this season’s competition, they aired some fluff: a throw down between Season 1 and Season 2. The particulars were not that important (although I found it interesting that each season’s winner was pitted against each other, and their dishes were the weakest). Oh yeah, and Marcel is Still annoying. But what I found compelling was at the end, when all the cooking was done, the judgment was handed down and the chefs all came out to mingle. Many of them had a glass of wine in their hand. The meal was done, the service had been survived, all the heat of the line was done, and it was time to enjoy themselves. But no watered down American beer for them. No, it wasn’t Miller time, it was Gigondas time. And that thing they had done to get all bent out of shape and worked up was the sublime pleasure of a delicious meal. It was a tiny little moment that flashed by. Most probably missed it. But I saw so much in that instant. And it made me smile.

It made me think of the vibe at the Foie Gras Death Match that Don and I were honored to have been invited to. The numbers of courses and their actual make up are of less consequence to me. Not because I was unimpressed with the phenomenal food we ate, on the contrary, I felt special for being in that moment with those professionals and that nourishment. But the vibe at that event was something unique that doesn’t happen all that often. Talented chefs playing in their field. Given (or taking) ingredients that inspire them, the platform on which to present them and then an appreciative audience for whom to cook. Kismet. Loud rock and roll blaring from the living room speakers. The absolutely domestic electric range. Plastic lawn chairs in the back yard. Riccio greets with the Magnum of magical elixir. The kinetic frenetic energy in that house was contagious. People comparing notes about vintages. Empty bottles line up. Prepped food appears magically. Razor sharp knives of various sizes materialize, flash, and then vanish. Pans sizzle, the fryolator percolates, right next to the drying rack, which is repetitively filled and emptied. It was a collective high. I never experienced that group inebriation that was purported to happen at Grateful Dead concerts. But I feel like I may now know what they were talking about.

I feel at a loss for the right words. Superlatives are hollow. I was just so turned on by the whole scene.

Portland food ROCKS!

Goatstravaganza report

Friday, August 24th, 2007
It seemed all of Portland turned out to celebrate the publication of The Year of the Goat. With Margaret signing books, Karl’s photos, goat cheese both local and from afar, goat meat bisteeyas, and a visit from Flyrod, a beautiful Alpine Milk Goat from Ten Apple Farm, it was bound to be a smash.The food, from our friends at Aurora Provisions, was a big hit, and some folks normally shy about goat meat found it a tasty treat.

Flyrod makes some friends.

Karl’s photos, in the series American Goat, will be on exhibit in the shop until September 23rd.

Life is good

Friday, August 24th, 2007

So I’m sitting in a white plastic lawn chair in a leafy back yard on a warm August evening, with a plate of foie gras poutine in one hand, and a glass of some delicious French grape juice in the other. I’m a little past half-way through the Foie Gras Death Match, a night of extravagance seldom paralleled in these parts. The list of indulgences is too long to recount here (but it must be said that Eric D.’s French Toast – coca butter brioche, seared foie gras, Maine blueberry jam, and bacon ice cream – was fan-effin-tastic). Many kudos to all the chefs and especially to Joe R. and John D. for hosting. I’ll be recovered by next year and ready to try again.

Calvin Lester

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

A short tribute to Long Island fisherman Calvin Lester, one of the last links to the Hampton’s fishing past appears in today’s NYTimes. I worry about when we’ll be writing similar stories about the last of the Maine fishermen and hope it won’t be in my lifetime.

Farmer’s markets in the news

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

It seems to be that time again, when newspapers write the farmer’s market pieces. The NYTimes has two right now, one on markets in Connecticut, and the other on buying from farm trucks in the fruit belt. We still like our local markets here in Portland, Wednesday and Sunday.

Cooking on your day off

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Last year at this time I was baking pies. Lots of pies. I will be forever indebted to that summer of pies for teaching me the touch. Cutting fat into flour is a truly visceral skill. I learn things by repetition, so making 36 pies a day taught me just how far to go with pie dough before it gets tough. I love having that knowledge. The tendonitis that came along with it? Not so much.

This year I am occupied in a different manner, Rabelais requires no pies, but much contact with food culture. So when I get a day off, I like to flex my underutilized muscle and play in the kitchen. We won’t go into how ridiculous that can be on a lovely summer day, but I am an odd obsessive individual. Sometimes the garden calls, much weeding and thinning ensues. Sometimes the kitchen flirts. Yesterday it was hot and humid. Not that horrifying middle of August humidity, but sticky enough. Somehow I was not up for frying in my own sweat in the garden. So instead I baked. Yeah, I know, hot. And what did I start with? Tuiles. I know, insane.

Lemon Tuile recipe from Alice Medrichs upcoming book Pure Dessert from Artisan, 9/5/07. I love Alice Medrich. Queen of Sheba torte from Bittersweet, yum. So when I heard she had a new book coming out, had to get my sticky paws on an advance review copy. She is working with whole grains (so is Peter Reinhart with his Whole Grain Breads book, also 9/07, from Ten Speed Press ) and I already hear you saying, dense, chewy brick like-baked goods. No thanks, did that back in the 70’s. Pushing aside any preconceptions I was intrigued by buckwheat strawberry shortcake, whole wheat sables and kamut pound cake. I like the flavor of buckwheat, but in these shortcakes they add this subtle haunting sweetness that is hard to identify, but lovely. The whole wheat sables were, by far, my favorite recipe so far. They are made with both all purpose and whole wheat flours, butter, sugar and (a variation that I love) cocoa nibs. It is a really simple cookie, but the nutty flavor of the whole wheat was a wonderful surprise, and nothing dense or brick like about this pastry. Light, crunchy, nutty, buttery this one goes into the repertoire. Want to try the variation with hazelnuts too.

But I did start with those Tuiles didn’t I? Damn, wish I hadn’t mentioned them. Somehow I forgot the class where we did Tuiles at ICE. Or maybe I am just remembering with rose colored glasses. Well, tuiles on a dry day can be a pain in the ass. Got to bake them just enough so that they are pliable when they come out of the oven and yet crunchy when cool. I had all intentions to make little pastry cups which I was going to fill with Lemon Curd lightened with whipped cream. Um, yeah. Well, I couldn’t get the little buggers into the muffin tins without breaking. Wasn’t this easier in school? In my defense, I don’t think the humidity was helping. If I could get them in the right shape, they wouldn’t crisp up. Even the ones that I left flat were chewy. Not a bad flavor/texture profile, but not Tuiles. I even tried rolling them up into cigars, they unrolled. Sigh.
Did make the lemon curd, which I will lighten with whipped cream, but will scatter with fresh blueberries.

Cooking on my day off….

Nature for humans…

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Verlyn Klinkenborg’s editorial in today’s NYTimes reacts to a recently published paper in Science which states that humans now occupy 17% of the global land surface, and that the remaining part must be managed for humans, as opposed to saved from humans. Klinkenborg’s opinion about this matches mine when he says, “My lack of faith in humans as global managers isn’t just a philosophical conclusion. It is based on the sorry, sorry evidence.” So now wilderness will no longer be wilderness, just another management project.

A blueberry boom?

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

The Guardian claims farmers in the UK are growing rich on a blueberry boom. Apparently, the British are big into the ‘Superfoods” concept, and hypermarkets like Tesco are encouraging farmers to grow more based on strong demand in the produce section.

Meanwhile in Maine, farmers were worried about low rainfall levels, but should be relieved by the rain of the last few days. Also, there is a shortage of workers willing and able to spend the labor in Maine’s 60,000 acres of blueberry fields picking the crop. Prices are up, which is good, but there doesn’t seem to be the massive public awareness which is driving demand in England.

Demand for cage-free eggs is way up

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

The NYTimes reports that the demand for cage-free eggs is way up, even as there remains confusion about what cage-free means and it’s real value in terms of nutrition and humane treatment of chickens. In the meantime, our chickens (seen here at a bit younger stage) remain cage-free and foraging on their own in the tall grass.

The Portland Food Map

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

A new graphical interpretation of Portland’s food scene has hit the web courtesy of Anestes Fotiades. The Portland Food Map offers a simple organizational chart of restaurants, markets, bakeries and other categories of food business. The map contains links to press reviews of each venue and Fotiades offers his own personal rating of those he’s visited, but urges all to follow their own tastes and whims when it comes to selecting from the huge list of possibilities.