Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Evil of Banality

Errol Morris, Standard Operating Procedure: a recipe

  • Whimsical, ironically inappropriate theme music.
  • The Interrotron (cf. Panopticon)
  • Images of total abjection, framed in gorgeous swathes of emotionally distancing black screen.
  • Near-autistic, acontextual commentary by quasi-illiterate, shell-shocked Appalachian youth.
  • Complete, utter lack of historical/cultural context.
  • Dramatic, beautifully photographed re-enactment of the deaths of actual human beings.

Three better recipes

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dining in and out in Portland

We visited our Portland, ME branch in mid-August. We had a fine time, and a lot of really spectacular food. Portland is a truly lovely city. The locals are friendly, the weather was perfect - particularly to a Texan suffering through weeks of 100-degree plus August days - and the food culture there is remarkable.

I particularly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the places we ate. If you've recently visited a popular place in NYC, San Francisco, or Austin, TX (to name my three most recent big-city dining experiences), you will appreciate what I mean. In these cities, you make your reservation days or weeks in advance, arrive at the restaurant well in advance of your reservation time, then proceed to sit or stand at the noisy, crowded bar until the host staff deign to seat you. I'm typically fine with this - I don't like to think of waitstaff hustling the current occupants of my table-to-be out of the restaurant before they're ready - but the whole experience can be exhausting, expensive, and loud. If you're from Austin, think Lambert's or Vespaio on a Thursday or Friday night. I only get a bit resentful when I feel the place in question is kind of purposefully engineering this sort of crazy atmosphere to engender 'buzz' (e.g. Vespaio with their dumb 'no reservations' policy).

I will pause to note that I fully realize that I sound like a curmudgeon. Setting the fact that I actually am a curmudgeon aside for a moment: I totally get the fun of wedging one's self up in a noisy, happening restaurant, spending too much at the bar while waiting for a table, elbowing pretty/sweaty people,etc. This, in fact, puts a gloss on "hunger" that perhaps these hyper-urban spots satisfy in a very specific, deeply interesting, way. That's all great, I'm all for it. I'm just making the point that it's nice to have options, that sometimes you want to actually talk to your dining companions, etc.

Portland is a small town with a disproportionately large food subculture, so eating a good meal there is relaxed and leisurely in a manner I'd never experienced. A caveat, I suppose, that I'm writing from an extremely limited perspective, using a small sample size of two places: Evangeline and Bar Lola.

Anyway. I want to write a bit about Evangeline. Evangeline is a small (maybe 10-12 table) place in Portland's West End - the classic "clean, well-lighted place," if you will. I immediately liked the feel of the space - there were young parents with babies, slightly tipsy/raucous service workers at the bar, all good things.

Evangeline was cool - we ate the calf brain fritter, the roasted marrow bone, the hake, the duck breast, the baby vegetable, the lounging on the couch sucking milk from the teat of a baby goat while the rancher blowdries its feathers chicken, the red bow on its tail removed only seconds before slaughter pig. Etc. You get the idea. Locally-sourced food, thoughtfully & enthusiastically prepared in a very pleasant environment. It's easy to get earthy-crunchy, I-heart-Michael-Pollan rhapsodic about this sort of thing, but I enjoyed every second of this meal.

It was all very delicious and ethical. I was feeling good about myself - righteous, even. Then, they brought out the sexy food. Soft, stinky cheese in a spoon, balanced on a wine cork, with buckwheat honey and candied hazelnut. Melon sorbet in cold melon soup. Baked figs over a port reduction. Syrupy, inky cups of espresso. The real sensual deal.

In sum: good meal, truly excellent finish.

More on our home-cooked seafood and foraged wild blackberry meal in my next post, + bonus video.

Friday, May 23, 2008

...and the kitchen sink

Once in a while I get a craving for this dish when I'm in the mood for one-dish food with loads of veggies with some protein. It's one of my favorite healthy comfort foods. Reminds me of my grandma's famous goulash that my dad loves so much.

This version has ground turkey, red cabbage, carrots and green beans--all fresh organic veggies. I've even added cauliflower before, which was delicious.

The sauce is just a not-too-Italiany pasta sauce. I need a different sauce inspiration for next time (any ideas anyone?). Starts off with sauteed onions and garlic with an ample amount of chili flakes and cayenne.

What makes it even more interesting is the texture of fresh arugula underneath a piping hot serving. Combines the salad and main course in the quest for simplicity.

And I love the design of the cabbage...

Friday, April 4, 2008

bad blogger, no biscuit

I liked this NYTimes blog about Frank Bruni's thwarted attempts to get into the new Momofuku restaurant, Momofuku Ko, due to their completely online, wholly egalitarian reservation system. Jill and I ate lunch at the original Momofuku on Mother's Day 2006 - just strolled in, sat down, and ate one of the most sublime meals I have ever had (a picture of one of the noodle bowls we ordered is here). This meal was part of our culinary tour of NYC, where I set myself the challenge of eating a memorable meal at least twice a day. We ate a lot of amazing food - Cafe Boulud, Shake Shack, Bleecker St. Pizza, the cafe at the new MoMA , hot dogs at Yankee Stadium - but Momofuku was hands-down the best (and one of the cheapest, I'll add - about $35 for two, compared to the $300 we dropped at Cafe Boulud, or even the $50 for two hot dogs & two beers at Yankee Stadium). I found all of the restaurants I chose by reading local NYC blogs, by the way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Maine Branch Bakes Bread

Here you have it. The first-born no-knead bread in the family. We're getting cigars made: "it's a loaf!"

And here, the family inheritance, is Michael's first sourdough starter, rising its way into a fluffy mushroom cloud.

And finally - said sourdough loaf, including starter, leftover squash, and polenta.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I've figured it out

Rabbits eat cabbage, and rabbits breed like, um, rabbits. Thusly, cabbage breed like rabbits.... or something. Anyway, there's a lot of it in the crisper, and everytime I look there seems to be more. I spend far too much time thinking of things to eat that contain cabbage, and I'm not quite ready, as coffeehound proposes, to begin making sauerkraut. Then we would just have a lot of sauerkraut which, being somewhat labor- and time-intensive, I would feel guiltier throwing away than I do regular old cabbage.

So, I made fish tacos, topped with copious amounts of shredded cabbage. These tacos were unbelievably good, better than any I've ever had, and super-easy thanks to The Minimalist's red-fried fish recipe.

I have suffered, in the past, from a fear of frying. When I was younger, and my mother went out of town to visit her parents, my dad would pan-fry steaks at alarmingly high heat. My mother would come home from her visit, look at the grease-splattered stove, hood, ceiling (seriously), and proceed to cry and/or yell. My parents, in fact, both had "secret" foods that they would prepare and eat only when the other was away - pan-fried, extremely rare steaks for my father, hot dogs and tacos for my mother. Both of them tried to make my brother and me complicit in their furtive little culinary exploits, but I was firmly on my mom's side in this matter. Hot dogs and tacos - awesome. Bloody, charred-on-the-surface steaks - disgusting.

To his credit, my father did at times take me on solo outings to fill what everyone in my family referred to, with an affection that at times veered into alarm, as my "hollow leg" - that is, a proven, demonstrated ability to put away enormous quantities of food, relative to my size (very small) and age (very young). For example, as a nine- or ten-year-old I was able to eat, in one sitting, an entire large pepperoni pizza, or two enormous chopped barbeque beef sandwiches with fries + chocolate malt, etc. Occasionally I would throw it all up later, in the middle of the night (not on purpose), but so what? Although I see now, in retrospect, that the "late-night barbeque sandwich event" of 1976 brought these gorge-fests to a screeching halt.

I'm not that way anymore - I haven't been for a long time - and there are no secret foods, here, now. Having someone to cook for is a daily pleasure, and an expression of care, small and incremental. The frying of fish was easy, clean, and the results very, very good. We did not have to clean the ceiling. A head of cabbage was consumed. All was well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

We're deep into the longueurs of the winter box now, and I can't bring myself to post photos, or descriptions, of cabbage + various protein plates. I have, in fact, become somewhat of an expert at cooking cabbage, but I cannot muster the will to expound at length on the process.

So, a pet picture. Here, Tucker works for what is seemingly a treat, but is in reality a prescription dental biscuit.

The Maine branch is apparently working flour variations of The Minimalist's No-Knead bread recipe, albeit with less than exemplary data collection and variable control methodologies. I'm hopeful there will be a post on the topic soon...