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Mexican Delights

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

This morning, I picked up the current issue of The New York Review of Books and discovered Alma Guillermoprieto’s The High Art of the Tamale, as fine a piece of food writing as one could ask for. In reviewing Diana Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy , Guillermoprieto tempts the reader to book flights southward immediately, out of excitement for the described delights.

[Kennedy] was coming from the drab kitchens of postwar England, and in Mexico City just a short walk through any neighborhood market was enough to make her swoon: armfuls of blossoms the color of gold, the smoky perfume of dried chiles gusting through the corridors, the racket of a dozen vendors vying for her attention, waist-high pyramids of unheard-of vegetables, pumpkins of every description, gourds, melons, purple amaranth plants, shocking-pink cactus fruit, blood-red hibiscus flowers, and, above the general din, the metallic cries of the vendors…¡cómpreme, marchantita! Buy here! Buy here!

And then to huddle at a market stall and wait for an industrious woman in braids to chop up some barbacoa and onion and cilantro and spoon it all over a tortilla and hand the steaming morsel into her eager hands…Heaven.

And Guillermoprieto tempts the reader to book flights southward immediately, also, in fear that these delights won’t last long.

. . . the ecological and cultural devastation Mexico has been undergoing. I could go on at some length about our garbage-lined highways, the almost daily loss of native species, the forests logged by lumber black marketeers, drug traffickers, and landless settlers, the slow attrition of our beautiful markets thanks to the likes of Wal-Mart, and the takeover in local Wal-Marts of everything fresh by everything processed—for one small example, the replacement of locally grown raisins by imported dried cranberries—but I won’t.

Read it all. And book your flights.

Categories: Culture, Food, Writing

Travel Nightmare, 2

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, okay, it wasn’t really a travel nightmare, but it wasn’t such a great experience either, and my last post was called Travel Nightmare, so this seems like as good a title as any for this one.

That last post described the start of our trip to New York early last Saturday morning. This one is about our return trip Tuesday night. We were on an 8:00 PM flight out of JFK, with an announced delay earlier in the day of at least 15 minutes, and we were through security around 6:30 PM. With time to kill, we headed to the Delta lounge, for which we had privileges, and found a corner with three seats. Joel settled in and plugged in his phone. We headed over to check out the snack options — crackers and cheese, a packaged hummus spread, celery and baby carrots — and I grabbed a couple of the baby carrots as Gail moved on to the bar. As I caught up with her, I started chewing a carrot, and suddenly I bit into something really hard, like a small stone.

I didn’t quite know what to do. I didn’t want to swallow it, but had no napkin to spit it into. And anyway, a carrot? What could be stone hard in a carrot? As Gail ordered something to drink, I deposited the contents of my mouth in my hand, then threw it out. I then got some water, picked up some hummus spread and crackers on the way back to our seats, sat down, and wondered just what it was that I spit out. A clue was that something sharp in the back of my mouth was stabbing my tongue. A little investigation and I realized my tooth had acquired a sharp point. That stone must have been some dental work, or part of the tooth itself.

What it was exactly would stay a mystery for a while. I determined that the troublesome tooth was #18, the one in front of my rear left wisdom tooth. Fortunately, it wasn’t yet 4:00 back in Seattle, so the dentist office would be open. I called and made an appointment for the next day, yesterday.

The plane we were flying home on was late into JFK from Las Vegas. We boarded some 45 behind schedule, but thanks to weak headwinds and the enormous padding built into the schedule (what was once scheduled for 6 hours was scheduled for 6 hours and 40 minutes), we were just a few minutes late, landing a little before midnight Seattle time. Yesterday morning, I was off to the dentist.

The diagnosis — the carrot broke off part of my tooth. I spent the next 1 3/4 hours in the dentist’s chair. When I got home, the left side of my mouth was so numb, and my tongue so uncomfortable, that I could hardly talk. Gail thought I was over-doing it a bit with my mumbling. And I couldn’t eat comfortably either. I tried to eat some cheerios, but gave up. For the next hour, I was convinced some cheerios had lodged under my tongue, but I couldn’t move them out with the tongue and couldn’t feel them with my fingers. Every 5 or 10 minutes, after abandoning the preceding effort and figuring I just had to wait for the anesthetic to wear off, I’d try once again to find those elusive cheerios. There had to be a reason my tongue was so uncomfortable, talking or eating so difficult.

Finally, around 3:00 in the afternoon, I made one more effort and hit paydirt. There was something in there for sure. I grabbed hold, pulled, hoped my mouth wouldn’t turn inside out, and out came one of those hard cylindrical cotton rolls dentists stick in mouths. Relief! I could talk again. My tongue felt normal. Maybe I could even eat again.

But carrots? Forget it. I’m done with them.

Categories: Food, Travel

Lark, Oxtail, and More

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve had a pretty good run of dinners the last few days, thanks to Gail and Joel. i was thinking a brief rundown might be in order.

Wednesday: On Saturday night four weekends ago, we tried to eat at Lark, but couldn’t get a table. No problem. We simply went three blocks up and ate at La Spiga, where we had such a good dinner that we returned two weeks later to celebrate my (non)-birthday. There was a problem though, which is that Gail had bought a $100 voucher for Lark a year ago for $50 and it would expire two nights ago. Plus, I wasn’t showing sufficient enthusiasm for going. So it was that Gail announced to me last Monday that she and Joel were going to Lark on Wednesday. I decided to join them.

As the website explains, Lark’s “menu features small plates of locally-produced and organic cheese, charcuterie, vegetables, grains, fish, and meats, all prepared with a signature focus on flavor and quality.” You can get a better sense of how they implement this by looking at the on-line menu. Each page of the menu has the note, “Our menu consists of small to medium-sized plates. We encourage family-style sharing.” And our waitress suggested that the right number of small plates for three people was 7 or 8. We had never eaten at Lark before. Therefore, it took us a while to sort through the menu and come up with an acceptable list of shared items. Here’s what we ordered:

From the cheese menu, “Smokey Blue: rich, hazelnut smoked blue.”

From the vegetables/grains menu, “Sunchoke soup with chestnuts, brown butter and duck confit” and “Rosti potatoes with clabber cream.”

From the charcuterie menu, a goose prosciutto that’s not on the current on-line menu, so I can’t quote their description. It came with marcona almonds and a balsamic spread. And we ended up with two plates of it through some misunderstanding, which was just as well given how few of the thin prosciutto slices came on each plate.

From the fish menu, another item not listed online, bacon-wrapped cod.

From the meat menu, “Meyer Ranch hanger steak with Provencale sunchokes, truffle sauce.”

Oh gosh, this isn’t adding up. What else could we have had. Oh, also from the vegetables menu, “Sautéed half wild mushrooms with garlic, olive oil and sea salt.” And maybe one other dish that I’m forgetting.

They came in waves. The cheese. Then the soup and prosciutto. Perhaps that’s when the mushrooms came also. The fish and steak. The potatoes at the end. They were fabulous. But then, everything was.

I think if I were to order for myself in a traditional way, I would have had the soup to start, the steak and potatoes next, and then dessert. Speaking of which, we ordered three desserts. I chose the chocolate madeleines with Theo chocolate sauce, not currently listed on-line, which is how I would have finished my meal if just ordering for myself. They were bite-sized and there must have been about 20 of them. (I shared.) Joel chose a tarte tatin. The menu lists “Bartlett tarte tatin with Calvados caramel and vanilla ice cream,” but on Wednesday the tarte tatin was made with pineapple. Gail had the mascarpone cheesecake.

We were glad we went.

Thursday: I don’t know where the idea came from that we should eat oxtail, but Gail and Joel decided Thursday was the night for it. They must have planned the whole meal. All I know is, when I came home, the meat was cooking on low heat and with Gail out until later, Joel got the sauce and the polenta going. Gail helped Joel finish on her return and then plated a beautiful meal. I wish I had taken a picture of it. The oxtail pieces sat atop the polenta, with the sauce ladled over it all. The raisins and blanched celery gave the sauce an interesting texture. The meat came right off the bone and was delicious.

Who needs Lark when you can eat so well at home?

Friday: Joel was out Friday, so Gail and I were on our own. I called from my office and we entered into a long debate, as I resisted the idea of going all the way up to the Northgate area just to get Indian food. But Gail was convinced that Saffron Grill was our best bet, as other long-time favorite Indian restaurants have declined, and I finally relented.

I know. I should always relent. A hard lesson to learn. Dinner was excellent. And the place was packed. It’s an old Denny’s, which is to say, it’s much larger than the typical Indian restaurant. Cavernous. Yet we were lucky to get a table.

What did we eat? Well, we’re pretty predictable. We always start with pappadam and vegetable samosa. Then we have Tandoori chicken tikka, chana pindi or (in this case) chana masala, and then, if we get a third main dish, lamb korma. Plus roti. All were superb. We don’t usually get dessert, but Gail insisted that I try their baklava. I should explain that in addition to Indian food, they serve Mediterranean food, which is why baklava finds its way onto their menu. And the waiter brought us a complimentary second dessert, kheer (rice pudding, with nuts and cardamom). I’m not usually much of a rice pudding eater, but given that their kind offer, I partook. Pretty good.

Saturday: As I mentioned in my basketball post last night, we found our way to Northlake Tavern, where we more typically eat on Friday nights. Not much to say. I love it, for unaccountable reasons. Salad. Pizza. Pear cider. And a thrilling UW overtime victory over Arizona in the Pac-10 championship game.

Sunday: Gail and Joel made a chicken stir fry on rice. Broccoli. Pea pods. Bamboo shoots. A great end to the week.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Catching Up

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Has over a week really gone by since my last post? Well, I can explain. Not that I need to. Basically, it’s been a busy week on the work front, starting with a dinner meeting last Sunday evening that was the initial event of an intensive 48-hour review process I was chairing. I’ll confess, that dinner was at Luc, which I wrote about last June, so I hardly have anything to complain about. Then again, I wasn’t complaining, was I?

Luc is the more casual younger brother to neighboring Rover’s, the fine French restaurant I have written about several times, both owned by famed local chef Thierry Rautureau. It opened just last May and we’ve had dinner there three times, breakfast just once. For my business last week, we had two work dinners to plan for, with a list of recommended restaurants provided to us, most of which were near the university and some pricing guidelines. I was studying the list when I suddenly realized that Luc would be perfect. And so it was. Simple food beautifully prepared.

For the record, I started with the evening’s special salad, frisée with dried cherries, and followed with the grilled pork chop, prepared with a sage mustard rub and plated atop some greens and a few small roasted potato chunks. We passed on dessert, what with everyone being quite full and with one of us having flown in from a locale in the eastern time zone and being more than ready to go back to her hotel and go to sleep.

Dinner the next night was at Ivar’s Salmon House. I was hesitant to select it, even though it is the ultimate place near the university (if not the city) to take out-of-towners to, or maybe because of that. Indeed, on my first visit to Seattle, in 1975, I ate dinner there. And it’s where I took my family on the eve of our wedding. So what can go wrong? Nothing. And nothing did. I had the foraged green salad and the alder grilled wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, maple glazed over a butternut squash hash with pancetta, onion, and spinach. Yum.

I didn’t intend this post to focus on food, but as long as that’s where it is heading, I would be remiss if I failed to mention how well we’ve been eating at home this month. I wish I could remember all the great meals Gail and Joel have prepared. Joel has been taking an active role in the kitchen, assisting Gail or preparing dishes of his own design. I’m not much of a cheesecake eater, but I loved the cheesecake he made Wednesday to accompany Gail’s prime rib. It had a macaroon crust made from scratch and a filling made with mascarpone and Meyer lemons. The prime rib was pretty good too, as were the black bean burgers Gail made the night before.

Thursday dinner wasn’t so fancy, but was still pretty special. Joel made good on a promised holiday gift of a month ago, ordering Vienna Beef hot dogs from Chicago for overnight delivery (on dry ice). They arrived Thursday. He selected the Vienna Beef Mini Pretzeldog & Mini Bageldog Combo, described at the Vienna Beef website as follows:

A snack lover’s dream! The Vienna Beef Mini Pretzeldog and Mini Bageldog Combo gives you the best of both worlds. There is no need to choose! The 2 pounds Combo gives you 1 pound of each and the 4 pound combo gives you 2 pounds of each! Perfect for your next party or family gathering.

For a limited time: get 1 bottle of mustard with 2 lbs order of minies, and 2 bottles of mustard with 4 lbs of minies

I’m not sure about that pluralization of mini. And we really didn’t need two more bottles of Plochman’s yellow mustard. But we needed those pretzeldogs and minidogs. For sure.

So, should I finish up the week? Okay. As some of you know, Friday night is Northlake night in our household. Northlake Tavern & Pizza House. Especially if Russ is around. Gail went there decades ago, before I knew her, when she lived with Jessica and a roommate not far from the university. When I first knew Gail, I couldn’t believe she liked to go there. For one thing, it’s a bar, and there was all the cigarette smoke. For another, its pizza wasn’t my idea of pizza. Over the years, Gail came around to my idea of what good pizza is, thanks in part to our year in Princeton and joint discovery of the greatest pizza place in the country, Red Moon Pizza on Route 1 between Princeton and Trenton. On many a Friday, we got into the car and drove to the otherwise character-less strip mall that was home to Red Moon, becoming regulars. I suppose we stood out, what with Gail’s accent and a small girl and baby boy in tow. After pizza, we’d walk down to Crazy Eddie to check out the electronics. That was always fun. And we knew how to have fun.

But back to Northlake. Oddly enough, in recent years I have come to appreciate that their pizza is pretty darn good too, especially if you don’t compare it to real pizzas, those of the thin-crust family, thinking of it instead as its own food group. Plus, there’s good beer. And most of all, there’s Russ, their most important customer, whose coattails we get to ride on. As Friends of Russ, we’re special customers too, even on days when he’s missing. Fortunately, Friday was not such a day. Russ was there, in part because he called me late in the afternoon to confirm that we were planning to go, which we were — Gail, me, and Joel too. Great evening.

Yesterday was leftover day, with all that good prime rib waiting to be put into sandwiches, which we ate before watching the first movie we rented in many months: The Kids Are All Right. I hadn’t paid attention to the Oscar nominations earlier in the week, so I didn’t even know it had been nominated for best picture, best actress (Annette Bening), and best supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo). I loved it. Gail didn’t. I can’t figure out why. For one, she was upset with the plight of one of the characters. I couldn’t convince her that her anger was a strength of the movie. One highlight: part way through the movie, the son is wearing a t-shirt with a map of something on it. A familiar map. Nantucket! I stopped the movie and kept going back and forth frame by frame to see the shirt better, until we could read the wording above the map — Nantucket Island. Boy I miss it.

I might have gotten an earlier start on blogging today if I didn’t spend half the day at work, writing a draft report as a follow up to my meetings earlier last week. And there’s another reason for my blogging absence over the last week, the fact that when I finally had free time in mid week, I picked up a book I had started last year and got re-engaged, finishing it after midnight Friday night/Saturday morning. Of course, when I say I picked up a book, I am being metaphorical. What I really did is pick up my Kindle and click on the book to see where I had left off. More on that in a post tomorrow, the post I thought I was going to write tonight. And I have still another post to write about my new Kindle, and my new MacBook Air, and the failure of my two-month-old iMac. Another day.

Categories: Food, Life, Restaurants

Food and Law

January 1, 2011 1 comment

I closed 2010 with a post about food. I may as well open 2011 with another food post, or what’s really a plug for the newly published article by my fellow blogger and e-pal Leslie. She’s a much better writer, as you can see by comparing the lame title of this post with the title of her article, Justice is Served.

What Leslie writes about is a dinner she prepared for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Since Leslie is both a lawyer and a chef, this was a most appropriate activity. And it may also be why she came up with such an apt article title. (Then again, her title reminds me of the famous Twilight Zone TV episode To Serve Man. Watch out, Ruth! She may have a hidden agenda.)

I won’t quote from Leslie’s piece, since it’s short and you should read it in full. If you want to know more about the meal, head over to Leslie’s blog for an accompaniment.

Here’s what Ruth missed by not dropping by our house today:

The picture is a little too small, but if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s a box of Hebrew National’s Beef Franks in a Blanket, described at the website as “the ultimate hors d’oeuvre. … the only frank in a blanket made with kosher beef and wrapped in a delicate puff pastry.”

I think she would have liked them. You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl, right?

Categories: Food, Law

Recipe for Family Fun

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Here’s a recipe for some good Boxing Day family fun, though it is perhaps best saved for a year when Christmas is on a Saturday, so that Boxing Day falls on Sunday.

1. Buy æbleskiver pan (as Jessica did for Gail a year ago).

2. Buy æbleskiver recipe book (as I did for Gail this year). This one, for instance, which Gail had conveniently put on her Amazon wish list.

3. Get Sunday NYT (as we do every week, being subscribers).

4. Stand around in kitchen while wife begins preparation of æbleskiver and son starts in on the NYT Sunday crossword.

5. Accept son’s invitation to work on crossword jointly.

6. Take break from crossword to eat wife’s æbleskiver.

7. Finish crossword.

Æbleskiver, I should explain, are “traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover, æbleskiver are solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover.” I suppose it might be possible to make them better than Gail did yesterday in her virgin effort, but I don’t know how. I thought they were perfect.

And the crossword was fun. I rarely attempt the Sunday crossword, not because of its difficulty but because of the time it requires. As you know if you’re a NYT crossword regular, Sunday puzzles aren’t all that difficult on the weekday difficulty scale. Maybe somewhere between Wednesday and Thursday. But the grid is 21×21 rather than 15×15, which is to say, there are 441 squares instead of 225 — twice as many. That’s a lot of time. I’ve done a few by myself, as has Joel. We collaborated on one a few months ago. And so we did again yesterday.

It went well, except for one square that pretty well stumped us. We guessed it took a ‘t’, which turned out to be correct, but we weren’t too clear on why. The horizontal clue was “Difference in days between the lunar and solar year.” Five letters. We had the first four: epac. We needed the fifth, and this was simply a word with which we were unfamiliar. The vertical crossing word should have saved us. It was seven letters long, starting where epac? ended, with the clue “stir.” We had ?hepoky as the answer.

If indeed the square stumping us took a ‘t’, then the vertical answer would be “thepoky.” Is that a word? We made guesses at its pronunciation. Well, maybe it’s two words — “the poky.” If so, the point still eluded us.

Finally we looked up “epact.” Yup, it’s the standard technical term for the difference in days between the lunar and solar year, going back to the Greek. And as for “thepoky” as a synomym for “stir,” the point we were missing was to think prison! We had the wrong “stir” in mind. If only we had the benefit local NYT readers did of yesterday’s blizzard, then we might have been snowbound, going stir crazy, feeling like we were in the poky. Oh well.

Nonetheless, we had done the puzzle. And we had eaten well. It was a good morning.

Categories: Crosswords, Family, Food

Potato Latkes

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

My favorite food! Top five anyway. And last night we had some. Gail figured out years ago how to make near perfect potato latkes. Not the flour-filled blobs most restaurants serve, but crisp ones. And I was the fortunate beneficiary most Chanukahs — maybe two out of three or at least one out of two.

But it’s been awhile. Our last happy latkes dinner was five years ago. Chanukah came late that year, starting after Christmas. We celebrated Chanukah and the new year jointly with a New Year’s Day latkes dinner, we being Gail, me, Joel, and Joel’s friend Dmitry. Joel was home following his first semester at college; Dmitry was back from a fall in South America.

This year, like that year, we waited until the seventh night of Chanukah for our feast. Accompanying the latkes was apple sauce made by our brother-in-law Jim. Latkes. Apple sauce. What else do you need? A perfect dinner. The miracle of oil.

Categories: Family, Food, Holidays

Travel Notes

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s hard to keep up with blogging while traveling, not to mention spending the day (last Wednesday) attending your brother-in-law’s memorial service and associated activities just before traveling, and spending the two days in-between catching up on various other things before heading out of town. I should read a little and go to sleep now, but here we are, finishing our first half-day in Nantucket, and I figure I should say something.

Let’s see. We left Seattle early Saturday morning on JetBlue’s non-stop flight to JFK, spending Saturday evening and yesterday visiting family. Joel had been down in North Carolina visiting a friend. He flew up to LaGuardia yesterday morning to join in a family lunch, then we drove him to JFK so he could catch JetBlue’s evening non-stop back to Seattle. (But his flight was delayed almost 2 hours, making for a long wait at Kennedy and a 3:00 AM arrival (east coast time) in Seattle this morning.

After we dropped Joel at JFK yesterday, when we were driving back through Queens to the suburbs, we saw the MetLife blimp in the sky. No surprise, given that we’re in the midst of the US Open tennis championships. But it made an interesting contrast to the zeppelin we saw in Seattle just 48 hours earlier. On Friday, we went out for a quick dinner before coming home to pack, and as we exited the Arboretum to get onto 520 (a major highway in Seattle), there was this long, narrow object in the sky, not that far from us and not that high. A blimp! A blimp? Well, sort of. But it didn’t really look like a blimp. It did say “Farmers” on the side. A quick search on my iPhone and we discovered that it was indeed not a blimp. It was a real live zeppelin run by Airship Ventures, whose calendar shows that it’s giving tours in the Seattle area from August 23 to today. Flights start at $375 per person.

What’s the difference between a zeppelin and a blimp? Zeppelins have solid frames; blimps are essentially big balloons. This particular zeppelin is really big. There’s a great chart here that you should check out. You’ll see that it’s a little longer than a Boeing 747, a lot longer than a blimp, still more longer than the space shuttle, and a giant squid — forget it — no comparison.

Well, anyway, that was one New York highlight. Today we headed back to JFK to fly JetBlue to Nantucket. Speaking of big, we took the largest plane here ever. We’ve flown Cape Air’s Cessnas from Boston, seating maybe 10. And we’ve flown on US Air and Delta from New York on two-engine prop jets. But JetBlue is using an Embraer 190 two-engine jet that seats 100 and feels like a regular commercial jet airplane. The overhead bins are large. You can board (at JFK) from a standard jetway rather than going down to the tarmac and up on a stairway that’s part of the plane (but here in Nantucket, they have to roll up some funny ramp to get you down to the tarmac, since there are no jetways). It just feels like a regular commercial flight.

We were on the right side, looking south and into the sun. As we headed east over Long Island Sound, I had good views of eastern Long Island, the two forks, Shelter Island in-between. But soon there was just the Atlantic. Some ways into our descent, I got a view through the windows to the left and quickly guessed the island we were looking at was Martha’s Vineyard. I could only see the eastern end of it, but there was that familiar site of the little bit that looks like part of the island until you see a tiny channel separating the two and realize it’s an island in its own right, Chappaquiddick. I can’t look out at the island — or see it on a map — without thinking of Ted Kennedy. Maybe if I visited one day, I could see it for what it is and break that terrible association.

We were well south of Martha’s Vineyard, and well up in altitude, suggesting that we weren’t going to be landing straight into Nantucket airport. And sure enough, we continued eastward parallel to the southern shore of Nantucket, turning north and then back to the west only after we had flown past Nantucket’s eastern edge. This made for some pretty good views, once we turned, of the eastern shore looking north all the way to Great Point. Then more views of various Nantucket landmarks, and then we were down.

A big plane made for a big baggage claim process, in contrast to what we have experienced in the past, when the few checked bags arrive at the terminal more or less as we do. Eventually we had our bags, headed off to a taxi, and on to the inn. Our taxi driver, who has lived here since the ’70s, wasn’t too impressed by Hurricane Earl. He couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Many a winter storm is worse. Yet, news crews had poured in a couple of days ago to interview the natives about it. I questioned him further about the winters and he admitted that he didn’t much like them. Too cold. Nothing to do. But he didn’t seem too interested in doing anything about it.

Once checked in here at the Wauwinet, we headed off on the hourly shuttle into town, to renew our acquaintance with the usual shops — the tourist shop where Gail buys her ACK stickers; the more upscale tourist shop where Gail buys her annual calendar; the crafts store that has the best Nantucket baskets, signed by the artists; the home furnishings store* that always has fabulous dishes and bowls and where we would go first to fill our island home if that day ever comes; the tiny shop down by the wharf where Dok Kim sells his unique handbags, available only there and in his winter shop in Palm Springs; the jewelry store specializing in Nantucket trinkets where we get just that. New this year, we finally walked into the Grand Union supermarket right by the wharf to see what fresh foods were available here. Our final stop was Mitchell’s Book Corner, the most delightful of bookstores, where we felt guilty that we had already loaded up on e-books for our iPads and Kindles. Then a walk past several of our favorite restaurants to check out their menus, on to the shuttle, and back to the inn, just a few minutes too late for the daily sherry and port. Then again, we had treats back in town, on Straight Wharf, at Nantucket Ice Cream and Juice Guys, so we had no complaints.

Dinner, as always for our first night on Nantucket — which is always Labor Day — was here in the inn at Topper’s. There’s a new chef this year. As much as I enjoyed our previous meals here, I might just have liked this the most. I started with the Lobster & Crab Cakes, Smoked Corn, Mustard Sauce, Jalapeño Olives. For the main course, I had Fish & Chips, Chips, Chips: Potato-Crusted Halibut, Lotus Root Chips, Potato Rings, Pomme Paille, Deconstructed Tartar Sauce. And dessert, which I don’t see on-line, so I’ll have to try to re-create it myself, was simply called Cookie Dough. It had a dollop of cookie dough, a similarly shaped dollop of white chocolate and walnut that was described on the menu as a truffle, plus two chocolate chip cookies just under an inch in diameter and a little shooter glass filled with vanilla milk shake. Perfect. Oh, speaking of shooter glasses, our amuse bouche was the most sublime tomato bisque. It was white, giving it the look of vichyssoise, so I half expected it to be chilled, but it was warm, and wonderful.

That deconstructed tartar sauce was a work of beauty. A yellow smear of, um, I don’t know what, some oil-based thing, and four little piles spread out along the smear — tiny little minced pieces of egg yolk, capers, minced pickle, and minced red onion. On the other side of the plate was a smear of pureed peas.

I could say more, but it’s nearly midnight and I have to quit. More treats await tomorrow.

Categories: Food, Restaurants, Travel

Pasta, Peas, Prosciutto: Pleasure

July 18, 2010 Leave a comment

[Evan Sung for The New York Times]

There was a period when I would make it a point to catch Mark Bittman’s weekly food video at the NYT website, but some time in the last year, I got out of the habit. Then, a month ago, the title of his newest video — Pasta With Peas, Prosciutto and Lettuce — got my attention. That sure sounded good. I watched. Then I got Gail and had her watch it too. After which I forgot about it. Until yesterday, when we were talking about dinner and Gail suggested that we have try the dish.

We found the Bittman article for which the video was an accompaniment, reviewed the recipe, and bought the ingredients. This afternoon, Gail prepared the dish.

You may be familiar with Bittman’s 2008 book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes, in which he describes the healthy diet that he adopted and offers recipes to fit the diet. The pasta dish I’m discussing fits into this diet, as Bittman explains in the article:

Since I began eating more plants and less meat, I’ve experimented with using small amounts of meat in ways that exploit its flavor without making it central to the dish. In this recipe — pasta with spring vegetables — the meat is literally a garnish, but one with huge impact.

That meat is prosciutto, and it’s briefly cooked in a bit of oil, which accomplishes two things: It intensifies the ham’s salty, meaty flavor, and it makes the prosciutto crisp, turning it into a nice textural foil for the tender pasta, peas and lettuce.

. . . Even staunch meat eaters will enjoy this dish. But conveniently, if you’re serving vegetarians, you can just leave off the garnish.

Bittman’s right about how the crisp prosciutto makes it a great foil for the pasta, peas, and lettuce. I loved the dish. It had a great mix of textures, flavors, and colors.

Gail and Joel were less enthusiastic. I don’t understand why. Gail suggested it might be better with a different green in place of lettuce, such as chard. Maybe. We can try that next time. But I’m quite happy with it as is, and look forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Or maybe breakfast. Why wait?

Categories: Food

Two Dog Night

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I love hot dogs. Gail doesn’t. Maybe that’s too simple. I love Hebrew National kosher hot dogs. Gail tolerates hot dogs. I believe she enjoys eating them. She just doesn’t much like thinking about what’s in them. My father loves Hebrew National kosher hot dogs too, especially the quarter pound beef franks. He knows a thing or two about good food, has eaten in the best restaurants New York has to offer, but he’s just as happy with the occasional quarter pound dog at home.

A couple of weeks ago, with Father’s Day approaching, I had the idea to send hot dogs as my father’s day present. Not much point sending Hebrew National. I avoid carrying coals to Newcastle whenever I can. (Not that I saw a whole lot of coal around Newcastle when I was there. Maybe I got there too late.) Then I remembered Vienna Beef, Chicago’s great contribution to hot dog culture. (See here for their history.) I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a Vienna Beef hot dog, but I thought it might be fun to let my father give them a try. Off went the shipment.

Before I say more, I’ll quote Vienna Beef’s description of a Chicago Style hot dog:

The “Chicago Style” hot dog got its start from street cart hot dog vendors during the hard times of the Great Depression. Money was scarce, but business was booming for these entrepreneurs who offered a delicious hot meal on a bun for only a nickel. The famous Chicago Style Hot Dog was born! They’d start with a Vienna Beef hot dog, nestle it in a steamed poppyseed bun and cover it with a wonderful combination of toppings: yellow mustard, bright green relish, fresh chopped onions, juicy red tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, a couple of spicy sport peppers and finally, a dash of celery salt. This unique hot dog creation with a “salad on top” and its memorable interplay of hot and cold, crisp and soft, sharp and smooth, became America’s original fast food and a true Chicago institution.

When one orders a Chicago Style Hot Dog Kit from Vienna Beef, here’s what one gets (though actually, I sent my parents a smaller version of this, through the on-line store of fellow Chicago institution Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria):

16 Poppy Seed Buns
1 Celery Salt (1.2 oz)
1 Plochman’s Yellow Mustard (10.5 oz. Jar)
1 Sport Peppers (12 oz. Jar)
1 Bright Green Relish (12 oz. Jar)
16 Skinless Hot Dogs

The kit is almost self-contained, missing just the chopped onions, tomato wedges, and pickle spear.

The gift was a great success. I suspect the fun lay more in the receiving, opening, and imagining than in the eating two days later. But the story doesn’t end there. On hearing of what I had ordered, Joel decided that what’s good for the grand-gander is good for the gander. He went on-line and ordered the full Vienna Beef hot dog kit, too late for Father’s Day at that point, but no matter. It arrived a week ago while Gail and I were on our anniversary overnight outing. And last night we had our Vienna Beef dinner.

We made five dogs — two each for Joel and me, one for hot dog skeptic Gail. Gail and Joel prepared the onions, tomatoes, and pickles while I grilled the hot dogs and buns. Then we sat outside on what was rapidly becoming a chilly evening and constructed our meal, following the directions provided on the side of the pepper and relish jars:

Heat a Vienna Beef Hot Dog in water, steam, or on the grill. Nestle it in a steamed (oops — I grilled them!) poppy seed bun and “drag it through the garden” by adding toppings in the following order:

1. Vienna Yellow Mustard
2. Vienna Chicago Style Relish
3. Fresh Chopped Onion
4. Two Tomato Wedges
5. A Vienna Kosher Dill, Sliced
6. Two Vienna Sport Peppers
7. A Dash of Celery Salt

The buns are small, seemingly not well designed to be dragged through the garden. We did the best we could. And then we ate.

Mmm! We loved them. After we each ate one, Gail confessed that she was wrong to have doubts about the meal. All the more, she admitted that she was wrong to say one would be enough. I took the hint. I split my second with her. We dragged through the garden a second time, ate a second time, and all wished for more.

Gail thinks the peppers are the key. Maybe. It would be an interesting experiment to replace the Vienna Beefs with Hebrew Nationals. Would we even notice the difference? I’ll have to get back to you on that. Meanwhile, if you were thinking of hot dogs on July 4th, get your order in quickly.

Categories: Family, Food