The party hasn’t stopped quite yet. It really should. I need to get back to work. Buuuut I think I will blow off one more evening. And then the next one… and then… next thing I knew, I gasp took an entire weekend off! What next? Vacation?! Unheard of.
That’s right, I took a weekend off. The whole entire weekend. I didn’t go into lab, not even once, not even for 10 minutes. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had two full days off. It was bliss. Is this what it’s like to have a normal job, with normal hours, to live like a normal person? You mean at the end of the day, normal people just go… home? And they do things? That aren’t work things? I had almost forgotten.
My parents were in Boston for Memorial Day (I hear that most people don’t work on this day. Curious). I skipped out of lab for almost sigh three full days. Much eating took place over the weekend (not to mention shopping and, umm, drinking). There was lunch at Eastern Standard, dinner at The Tavern, and a late lunch at Bouchee.
The recently opened Bouchee is on ritzy-ditzy Newbury Street, the paradoxical home of both Chanel and Condom World (at opposite ends of the strip, of course – there is a gradation of poshness on Newbury, starting with Hermes and Burberry at one tip and ending with the above-mentioned Condom World and, gag, Urban Outfitters at the other).
Bouchee is a fairly large, two story restaurant with a patio below street level, red leather booths and big, round light fixtures, much like Eastern Standard (this seems to be the trendy restaurant decor these days). The theme is French Bistro, and is adhered to with dish towels serving as napkins and menus printed on paper, wrapped around each towel.
I struggled to decide what I wanted to eat (not being entirely sober for close to a week does funny things to one’s taste perception) and finally settled on the quiche of the day with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, and bacon. This was easily the best quiche I have had. The custard was super light, almost like panna cotta, with no eggy taste or scrambled egg texture in sight. The pastry crust was flaky, toasted and perfect, neither too greasy nor too dry. The quiche flavorings weren't terribly pronounced but I didn't mind - the quiche itself was just that good.
Mom had duxelle-stuffed crepes with buttered lobster, asparagus and tomatoes. The crisp, fried crepes were wrapped around a minced mushroom filling – the dark mushrooms were so concentrated in flavor that I could smell the them from across the table once the crepes were busted open. The crepes were laying atop creamy and tender lobster chunks and asparagus. [Having lived in Boston for six years, I have been spoiled rotten: I can no longer eat seafood anywhere else. It tastes aging and awful.]
And then came dessert. Yes, dessert. What? You think that a bottle of wine, appetizers, entrees, and espressos with dessert is excessive for lunch? Ha. We had sweet crepes filled with a Grand Marnier tinted mascarpone cream, topped with fresh berries. This was good. Really good. Just sweet enough, with the slightest hint of orange from the liquor and enough filling to wet the crepes without squirting out under pressure from the fork.
And that's how we do lunch. My family is full of good eaters.
I have to leave la-la land and start working again. I gave my celebration my all. I cut no corners, skipped no bottles of wine, neglected no quiche, and went out almost every night. Six years of work had to be celebrated… or commiserated. Not sure which. I am, however, pretty sure I don't need to eat (or drink) for a good long while. Or at least until next weekend.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Since it looks like I have celebrated myself out of yet another night of sleep, I may as well fess up. I have been doing some heavy celebrating (read: drinking). I have waited for this for six long years and now I get to celebrate. The reason for my newly acquired perma-hangover? Box checking. Yep. I got my box checked.
Snicker away, I’ll wait…. Done? Ok.
At my school, to getting one’s box checked means, among other things, receiving an actual check in an actual little box on a form that says that the student may begin writing his or her dissertation. This means that... drumroll please! I am going to graduate as early as this fall, depending on when I manage to stop drinking, finish whatever experiments I have left, and begin writing. So that’s my news! In another month I will likely begin writing full time, leaving way more opportunity for eating, cooking, and writing about eating and cooking, which I am absolutely thrilled about. That, and getting a PhD ain’t so bad either. (as a future PhD I feel it acceptable to use ain’t… hope they can’t strip my title from me).
The most recent form of celebration was kindly thrown my Melissa, who grilled on her porch (hot commodity, that, in Boston – not only a porch, but one with a grill on it. Grills are illegal most everywhere). Melissa made the most unbelievable southwest marinated chicken breast – after marinating for an entire day, it was just about the most tender and moist chicken breast imaginablet. There was also plain old grilled chicken breast, doused in a barbeque sauce I have been meaning to try for over a year. It may be the best barbeque sauce I have had to date – it was thin, vinegary, spicy, and not at all sweet. I need to find other uses for the gallon of it I now have sitting in my fridge. Suggestions? I have no grill, illegal or otherwise.
Melissa also made grilled asparagus dressed with an herby vinaigrette and the most genius baked potato I have ever had. This put all other baked potatoes to shame (I hope they are hanging their heads low as I type this). The potato was sliced and layered with onions, pepper, salt, and butter, wrapped in foil and plopped on the grill. The potato steamed till it was done but the best part… oh the best part was on the bottom, where the potato got a really crisp and chewy crust. I may be ruined for all other baked potatoes forever.
Thank you, Melissa!
I should also mention that this celebration involved copious amounts of wine. I don’t feel so good. Again. I have given myself the rest of the weekend to bop around, but then it’s back to lab… for a little while longer.
P.S. I expound on the box checking experience in greater detail here, if anyone is interested.
I live in the oddest neighborhood. It is populated, in equal proportion, by ultra-orthodox Jews, loud college kids, and Russian retirees (I live next door to a giant retirement home half the windows of which are covered in tulle – a sure sign of Russian occupation). The elderly Russians are the funniest of the bunch. They very calmly, and with a great sense of dignity, promenade down the street in pairs or quadruples, all wearing berets. It’s the strangest thing – like an ex-Communist occupation rule that all people over the age of 65 must be in constant possession of a beret. Men, women, lap dogs, it doesn’t matter - they all have berets.
With such a neighborhood come certain perks. There are a ton of Russian food stores around (and Russian book stores as well, which is really convenient). Some days, I need a little boost, a little jolt of comfort and familiarity that mac and cheese approaches but can never quite reach. Every once in a while I need the kind of serenity and peace that a really good burger promises but doesn’t always deliver. When even Indian food fails to soothe (the community I grew up in was way more Indian than Russian), I turn to Russian food. When clicking my heels does me no good but I really want to go home – as in, I want to eat the food I grew up with, I stop by one of the many Russian grocery stores around my house.
A sure way to tell you’re in an authentic Russian grocery store? They’re rude to you. Yep, that’s how you know. I think I have successfully worn my local people down. They are constantly surprised to hear Russian come out of my mouth since I look so American (lacking a beret and all) and big smiles seem to work magic. Even a cranky Russian can’t resist a big smile. Well, except this cranky Russian. I can resist a great many things.
How do you say smorgasbord in Russian? For that matter, how do you say it in English? Well, that’s what I have here. A Russian comfort food bonanza, a smorgasbord of childhood favorites. I can already hear the “ewws”, but give it a chance. Eww later, read now. Clockwise beginning with the white shredded cabbage, we have: pickled cabbage, eggplant caviar, eggplant “Georgian style” with cilantro and walnuts (can you tell I like eggplant?), herring with dill, onions, and vegetable oil, and in the center, the piece de resistance - cabbage stuffed with ground beef and rice, poached in a dill-laced stock.
The store eggplant caviar will never be as good as my Mom’s (which is not to say that it isn’t good in its own right – it is, really), the pickled cabbage is almost (almost) but not quite as good as my grandmother's - tangy, crunchy, and light. The herring is fantastic – even my parents get grossed by how much I love it. It's salty and soft, dissolving at the slightest prod. The stuffed cabbage is beautiful – the cabbage leaf is soft but still has body, the stuffing is tender and infused with dill. It serves its purpose.
Sometimes I need to scratch that itch that misses childhood. Food is the quickest way to do it. Taste and scent memory is very potent for me – I can remember everything I have eaten at every restaurant for at least the last 10 years. Food helps trigger all sorts of other memories, some good, some horrible. Whenever I need to selectively trigger memories of me, the me I no longer am, the me two decades ago in my Mom’s house, food is the ticket.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
As JC correctly googled, a few days ago Melissa and I met Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini. Her first book has just been published and she is traveling around the U.S., doing book signings, dinners, TV shows… and stealing young and impressionable bloggers’ hearts.
Clotilde was the inspiration and cornerstone of SND. Without her, this marvelous outlet for all of my nonsensical ramblings and musings would not exist. I read her blog cover to cover, loved it, felt jealous and inspired all at the same time. Melissa and I took the plunge and started our own food blog. You are now reading the metamorphosed version of that plunge.
Clotilde’s book signing and dinner were held at Chez Henri. The printed menus on every table informed us that we would be served dishes from her new book. The chef and owner, Paul O’Connell, came out to say a few words about the dinner, followed by Clotilde herself. Warning: adoration overspill – she is perfect. She really is. It’s ridiculous. She has perfect skin, a perfect pixie nose, perfectly French imperfect bangs, giant, wide-set eyes that look even bigger in real life, and, and! she speaks perfect English. I am almost certain that her English is better than mine, and I have been in this country about ten times as long as she has (she lived in CA for two years).
But her blog and mine are about food, right? Not blogger worship, right?
So, the food. The following menu was prepared by the Chez Henri kitchen staff, following a consultation with Clotilde and with minor chefy touches from Paul O’Connell:
Sea Scallops and Mango with Parmesan Wafer
Mushroom and Cantal Cheese Tartine
Strawberry and Avocado Ceviche
Green Bean Salad with Pecans and Dry Cured Ham
Lamb Tagine with Pears
Flemish Beef Carbonade
(both served with anchovy mashed potatoes, zucchini and olives, and herbed couscous)
Chocolate and Zucchini Cake, of course.
It wasn’t restaurant food. It was home food. It was food I could see myself cooking on any given evening (and I have done, using recipes from her blog). There was no butter overflow and not a ring mold in sight. The soup was light and herby, the ceviche was more sweet than citrusy, topped with a perfunctory plantain chip by Chef Paul. The green beans were just barely cooked, with toasted pecans and a flake of rich, buttery, dry-cured ham. The lamb and beef, both in stew format, were falling apart tender, the thick and meaty gravy pooling around the couscous and potatoes. And of course, the chocolate and zucchini cake. It was very chocolaty, with no discernable zucchini, save for the caramelized zucchini round perched on top, which was great, as all things caramel tend to be.
When Clotilde came around our table to sign her book and chat a bit, I discovered that she also smells perfect. I was too busy staring to recall exactly what we talked about but I know that SND came up (ahem, was brought up, pointedly, by me), as did her impressions of having her food prepared by a professional chef. Overall, she was rushed and had little time to talk (all my delusional dreams of having her hook me up with her literary agent went up in chocolate-scented smoke). She didn’t get to all the tables before the evening’s end, which left quite a few patrons in a snit. I was hoping to get a completely ridiculous celebrity stalker picture with her but her publicist somehow, subtly and ably prevented that from happening.
After dinner, as most of the partially disgruntled people filed out of the room, the Chef came out and sat down to chat for a good long while. Apparently, both he and the rest of the kitchen staff were none too pleased to be preparing such simple, home style food all night. I think they missed their ring molds. Chef Paul talked about what he thought of Clotilde's book, how he interpreted her recipes, and how he plans on using the leftovers from the dinner for a special the next night, all cheffied up. It turns out that he also hosted the book party for Julie Powell's Julie & Julia a couple of years back, which sent another wave of blogger obsession rattling through me. I would have loved to keep talking to him, and he seemed in no rush to stop chatting... If only it wasn’t for that publicist, I would have gotten some juicy Boston restaurant gossip from him. She busted in just as we were getting to Barbara Lynch. Bugger.
About the book – I love it. I want to make everything in it, which is rare for me. I am not generally a fan of cookbooks – I lack the required patience and forethought. Clotilde’s book is different. There are half a dozen substitutions listed for everything, most dishes are ridiculously simple but still interesting and inventive. I can just tell tht I will be using this book till its food-splattered death.
P.S. Check out the interview with Clotilde in the Globe. I was wondering what all that flashing was about...
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
You are never going to believe who I met tonight. You will be jealous forever. Ok, maybe not forever but for a totally long time. I can't go into real detail at the moment because I am about two weeks behind schedule with this whole sleeping business, but soon!
I will say that it's not just bands I deify.
P.S. Just for the record, that word is "few," not "Jew". It threw me for a second.
This has been a most exhausting week and a most exhilarating one, all at the same time. I worked well over 80 hours, effed up more than I ever thought possible, and got to see two of my favorite (!!) bands in the teeniest of tiny venues, all in the same week. I am happy. And wiped out. But wait till I write about what is planned for tomorrow. Oh I am so excited.
All this working and band deification leaves very little time for cooking, and for food in general. I have subsisted on... hell, I have no idea. Adrenaline? Vending machines? Was that dramatic? I am also still a little mad at my knife and haven’t really cooked since the cutting-off-a-piece-of-my-finger incident. It is strange, I know, to hold a grudge against an inanimate object, but it knows what it did was wrong and I just need to hear it before I can move on.
Ken Oringer, of Toro and Clio, stepped in to save me. He very recently opened a new Mexican restaurant next to Fenway Park and down the block from half of the skankiest clubs in Boston (as in, about 300 feet away from my lab. Yay me). It is the oddest of all spots for an uncompromising, authentic, no-nachos-with-fake-cheese-why-do-they-even-call-it-cheese type of Mexican establishment. Red Sox fans usually want nothing that doesn’t come in a plastic cup or on a hot dog bun, but I hope some will make an exception. And an exception it is.
That picture at the top? That is true beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I am beholding. You are looking at a carne asada torta from Ken Oringer’s La Verdad. It is: a sesame seed roll made specially for La Verdad by Iggy’s – crusty and soaked through with juices from the meat, a thin layer of refried black beans (key here – not pinto beans, but black beans – way more flavor and tons more texture. Not all refried beans come in a can, for all you Red Sox fans), carne asada that’s just chewy enough – no one wants filet mignon on a torta - and marinated through and through with spicy things and citrusy things and wonderful things, Oaxacan string cheese – more elastic than mozzarella, with a slightly milder flavor, creamy avocado, and a subtly spicy and sweet chipotle mayo. Umm, yea.
Beauty and perfection, all down the street from lab. I am saved from a slow and painful death-by-Cheetos.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Get ready. There is a rant coming on.
Food has leaked into every crevice of our daily lives. It’s everywhere. It can be a fashion statement, it can define who you are (all those who refuse to eat seafood for no particular reason, please see a therapist), it can be a hobby, a profession, a distraction, or an addiction. Now it can also, apparently, find you a mate.
I stumbled into Whole Foods late one night after yet another day of Chinese water torture at lab (you think I am being melodramatic, don’t you. Well, you’re wrong) only to walk straight into a podium encasing a well-heeled lady, asking me if I would like to sign in for Whole Foods Singles Night. Umm, no. Thanks though. I am self conscious enough in every other aspect of my life – I don’t need to think three times before putting anything in my shopping cart for fear of being judged for it. “Wow, is she really going to eat that? Who eats that??”, so on and so forth.
The place was like a club for grown ups, some yuppie, some old and bordering sad. There was datey music on, and I swear to you the lights were dimmed. There were little stations set up throughout the store offering samples, which was neat. I was forced to break up the most uncomfortable of all inter-gender conversations I have ever had the misfortune of walking into. Come on! You can’t stand in front of the olives and not expect to be interrupted, even if the topic and timbre of your conversation could put a yippie Chihuahua into a deep sleep. I grabbed what I needed and ran, did not walk, to the train. I have severe curmudgeonly tendencies.
The food weirdness continued. I had the Ikea experience this weekend. I have never been to Ikea before and did not have a good idea of its personality. The personality? Effin’ large, with a searing case of ADD. It is beyond large. It is a city. It exemplifies American excess as no other store… and it’s Swedish! There is food at Ikea. Food has infiltrated furniture. I skipped the Swedish meat balls at the weird institutional/Waco compound cafeteria to stock up on Swedish specialties at the shop. I have a tendency to buy the weirdest thing I can find, just to try it (ergo the above-mentioned shopping cart shivers). This weird thing may beat all other weird things for years to come: smoked cod roe in a squeezable metal tube, with a happy grinning Swedish-looking child pictured on the outside.
The novelty of the space-traveler tube was worth the purchase. The contents of the tube... not so much. The texture of the spread was nice, with crunchy roe suspended in a creamy paste. The taste was another story. It was painfully salty with timid hints of dill. Once the dill faded away, the bitterness came in – the over-fermented, over salted, mineral, aspirin kind of bitterness that lingers even after you try to wipe it out with rye crispbread after crispbread. You know what this spread is? It is Marmite, the sequel. Except worse. It is worse than Marmite, I kid you not. Perhaps I spread it on too thick, or maybe I am lacking some Swedish genes necessary for full enjoyment of this, umm… condiment? Medieval punishment? Polar bear toothpaste? I don’t know.
And finally, the last case of food invasion: FoodTV on the gym TVs. That is simply cruel and unusual. I would rather not stare at Paula Deen tipping a third stick of softened butter onto unsuspecting fish in her “Cooking Light” episode while I am on a treadmill, trying to keep sweat out of my eyes and my hands away from my piercings. Nor do I need to see her dropping doughnuts into a vat of grease (she doesn’t even bother calling it oil. She says grease. I appreciate her honesty) while angrily punching my age into the merciless elliptical. Does it really need to know my age? Is that truly necessary? Does it also need to look into my shopping cart and try to “figure me out”?
I love food, y’all know I do. I love food in a restaurant, in a kitchen, on a picnic blanket, on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean, or cross-legged on the floor at 3AM after too many beers. I do not love food at the gym or at the household goods store, nor do I love my food to become my dating service. That’s what I have a mother for. Sorry, Mom.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
The second round of restaurant reviews I wrote for Nature Network Boston is up! Although seeing my name in print has lost its new car smell, it still gives me a thrill.
Again, opinions, judgements, criticisms, and other points of view regarding the reviews are most welcome.
In other news, the restaurant critic for the Boston Globe is stepping down. I am very excited about this because I never liked her very much (and neither did the people on Chowhound) for the following reasons (I have given this much thought): 1) I don't think she liked food - she said that she works by eating only two bites off everyone's plates, including her own. She routinely sent full plates of food back. That's a travesty. 2) She constantly complained about her job (of all the crap jobs in the world she complains about hers??). Finally, 3) She gave only $$$$ restaurants more than two stars. I hope that the next reviewer hired by the Globe (pick me! pick me!) is a little less crotchety, a lot more light hearted, and a much better eater!