Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Les Fromagettes, Part III

On a Wednesday night at sundown in Prospect Park, the Brooklyn contingent of Les Fromagettes commenced. An original fromagette (aka a dairy queen), a new-to-nyc one, and me.

We loaded our day bags with chevre and cava and found a spot beneath a tree, just kitty-corner to the Little League fields, to spread Lively Run's fresh chevre across crostini and enjoy the delicious Picolin on baguette. I brought one I don't recommend (Tickelmore - range of textures, 'not too goaty' she said - that should have been my clue) and Sara had one from Union Square Greenmarket that we didn't like too much - "is that spice oil on the top?" I asked, "no, it's mold" Sara replied, and we peered in curiously to see the bizarre spread of mold across the top.

A thunderstorm came down and in its wake, two rainbows, and soon after that, fireflies.

We're back in action - an agenda, a book - Cheese Primer - and regular meetings have begun. Les Fromagettes des Brooklyn!

Bajan Food

A few weeks ago, when we abandoned plans for two weeks in Thailand due to the apartment purchase that gets closer and closer, we turned to Lonely Planet and flipped through to find a Caribbean island with the following: not too far, gorgeous beaches, no resort, good food, available flights and lodging. Descriptions of Indian and West African influence kept me coming back to Barbados, foods I'd never had like cou cou and cutters and snowy colored yams. Jet Blue had flights, we found a secluded guest house on a less populated side of the island, and packed our bags for five days of beaches, sun, and Bajan food.

Fish cutters were the first order of business when we arrived - these flying fish sandwiches with lettuce, cucumber, seasoned fish and Bajan hot sauce (picture a turmeric colored sauce with bits of red pepper showing through) are a staple. Our first cutter was at a casual shack of a beach bar that served only these, along with Banks beer or fresh coconut water. We enjoyed both along the breezy east coast and this one was our best on the trip. We had others - one at a plantation rum factory in a more tea-sandwich style, one in the airport - and while they were better than usual fast food or quick lunch choices, the first at Seaside Bar with its perfect ratio of salt bread to fish to hot sauce to cucumber, was best.

The hot sauce was served with everything from our plantains to start our dinner at Sea-U to the plate of fried flying fish with Creole breadfruit and okra (pictured above) to the fish cakes we had along the river in Bridgetown.

Not everything was hot sauce - there was a stone-heavy piece of bread pudding and a flaky coconut scone from Paris Bakery in B'town and sugar cakes. I prefer a bay leaf sugar cake, but the heady nutmeg one they made at Sea-U our last night as well as the coconut one I bought from a grandmother on a Saturday outside the major supermarket were the best. Coconut and banana bread started each breakfast, and better yet, at a mediocre tourist restaurant we had fabulous zucchini bread - toasty with cream on the side - to close a rainy, dark Sunday night dinner.

With the exception of a beach picnic of New Zealand cheddar on cream biscuits with a fresh mango and Pringles on the side, we ate Bajan the whole trip and loved every minute of it. Our last night at Sea-U we were treated to a Bajan Buffet - eddo soup (a variety of taro or dasheen) followed by seasoned fish, moonlit roasted sweet potatoes, squash simmered tender and plantains baked with cheese. There was also a discussion about the dolphin fish some people ate for dinner - I heard 'dolphin' and had images of The Cove. Only later, after a conversation reminiscent of French ones ("it's not an apple, but it's the shape of an apple and has a different taste" - quince):

Liam: Where do you get it?
Chef: right here at the fish market
Liam: Where do they get it?
Chef: they catch it
Liam: right here?
Chef: yes

did we determine it was a dolphin fish, aka mahi mahi.

We closed our trip with a sweaty trip to Andromeda Botanic Gardens with cool glasses of fresh squeezed juice at the Hibiscus Cafe before we crossed the gorgeous island again to head back to the airport with a full-on history of Bajan food tour with our cab driver, Ms. Thompson. Each beep beep and 'yiiiip' to her friends and colleagues along the road was a reminder that we were headed back to Brooklyn, a ginger sugar cake and coconut pastries in our bag for the plane ride.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Michelin in South Slope

For months, I have been skeptical of the Michelin mentions in my neighborhood. To me, Thistle Hill Tavern is too inconsistent - a great sounding menu but bizarre seating norms ("it will be just about 5 minutes" when the restaurant is half-empty), food that sometimes is fabulous but difficult to eat (roasted seeds! yum! in a cast iron pot so hot I burn my fingers every time I stick them in the pot to get the seeds ...) and sometimes isn't delicious at all. We ate there several times, and then I gave up (even after finding out one of the owners was Fat Mike. Punk In Drublic tunes float through my mind ... but those almonds in that weird pasta dish just ruin it!). Now, they have a B rating. Still staying out of there.

Then there's Fonda - if Dona Tomas moved to Brooklyn, decreased in flavor profiles, and added lots of raw onions, you'd have Fonda. The cheese (without chorizo) and dipped in home made tortillas is good, but the mains all taste the same - veg, shrimp, Liam comparing to meat, we find they're pretty similar. Last visit I had to eat a bite of salty shrimp, then dip into refried beans for relief from the salt, then into the tasteless rice, then decide I should focus on texture, not flavor. Cafe de olla is a good way to end the meal, and desserts are ok, but last time I was there the cilantro in the fresh made guacamole was so musty my resentment for $10 guac increased. Also mentioned in Michelin.

I get it - some anonymous Michelin rater lives in my hood and skulks around eating at these places and nominates them at some meeting just to get them mentioned since there are less places around here mentioned, but really? Are there not standards any more for mentions? And now that there are ratings for cleanliness, are we not paying attention? I've lost a little faith in Michelin - but now we're moving up the Slope so I'll never run into this anonymous reviewer anyway ......

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cardamon to carry me to spring

Cardamon Vanilla Pound Cake. Chaiwalla's chai tea. Cardamon gelato on ginger pear crisp.
More pulla.

Since the plan for making it through winter with fondue has been working so beautifully, I've decided on cardamon to get me through March. Longest month. Spring still too far away. Brief warm spells only slight distractions from freezing mornings. 5pm light is still nice, but it's not light out when I leave work. Kale and broccoli rabe and canned tuna have gotten us through, but we still long for spring greens.

Enter cardamon(m).

For the last three years I've made myself this pound cake for my birthday, toasting it as the week goes on and topping it every day with sweetened whipped cream. Milky cups of tea are still getting us through Saturdays without the heat on but I needed something spicy. Sweet. Fragrant. Hopeful. Cardamon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fighting Winter with Food Traditions

At the Valentine's at Home Dinner Table last week, Liam and I talked through traditions we want to establish for our family. Liam wants us to integrate traditions that are from our childhood - for him, clamming, boating and hanging out at the beach in Newport. As we talked through summer traditions and travel dreams and plans, we eradicated our pot of fondue au cremant, our new favorite recipe. It's been part of making-it-through-winter plan, along with bringing back the traditions of other places we've lived - gallette des rois (pictured) for example (although this one was stale and returned to Almondine Bakery).

In addition to fondue au cremant, we have relied on grapefruit split in half after dinner for dessert, steel-cut-oats toasted with butter and spiced and finished with milk cooked on Sunday for the week, variations on pasta with tuna and tomatoes from Marcella's silky sauce to a chunkier canned version Jasmine sent our way with olives and chick peas, 2 California stem-on satsumas as an after-lunch snack and of course, loaves of pulla to keep it spicy and comforting when it's 21 outside and 7 with windchill.

Just heard the weather report - he said that we still have significant storm systems that come each year in March. I'm hoping for a snow-free birthday, longer days in just a few weeks and one more month of the woolliest suits until spring rears it's green head.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Food Intentions

2010 was the year to pare it down. Working on preparing food in advance to lend itself to dinner in less than 30 minutes and eating more whole grains for breakfast, all the while figuring out to do it all the first year of the school.

By the time the new school year started this summer, I'd figured out more dinners, caught up on the blog and dined at Blue Hill (another picture to the left). By the close of 2010, I'd eaten so many olive oil tortas I'd finally tired of them, dreamed of a few more food adventures, and continue to force myself to drink more water each day.

I also spent a lot of my energy in 2010 attempting to read 50 books (and by 1/1/11 I had!) and figuring out how to double the size of my school and staff with still just one of me. I met my goal of going to the gym more often and with the help of a trainer, am working out enough that I needed to eat more as well. We dined at many old favorites and new, and I did my best to chronicle this through yelp.

2011 - I'm going to keep reading, but put my focus back on writing and finish my YA novel.
When it comes to food, I still need to figure out a system for cooking more on Sundays (initial forays into freezing shells stuffed with mozzarella, ricotta and radicchio worked well), drink more water, and eat whole grains in the winter for breakfast. I also want to go to a new restaurant each month - right now I'm thinking about Franco-Korean pastries, new Italian places, French restaus in hotels with a focus on fish, and the elusive Korean taco.

As part of my writing goal, I also plan to blog more. Really. I do. Bonne Annee!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pulla and Chai

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

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

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

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

A Cheese to take Winter Away

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

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

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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dinner(s) a la Provencal

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

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

I love this pace.

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

I digress.

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

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

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