Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Breakfast at the Taj

Let's not let this space die, boys and girls. It's holiday season- people must be eating and drinking well- so let's post about it.

I'm in Mumbai, India right now, for a conference, and have the amazing good luck to be staying in the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, one of India's oldest and best known luxury hotels. I'm still a bit jetlagged, so I've been up at 5am the last two day, and have gone down to the gym for a workout. Not really so that I can stay in shape, but more so I can sharpen my appetite for the amazing breakfast buffet here. Now, I'm not usually a huge buffet fan, but this place is cartoonishly good.

Here's what I had for breakfast this morning:

(1) Rava Idli and Sambhar with chutney: a steamed, spiced wheat dumpling with lentil-tamarind stew, served with several different chutneys: coconut, cilantro, tomato, and peanut. Classic South Indian breakfast.

(2) Grilled veggies and cheese: I love grilled cheese, and the grilled veggies went really well with it. Very simple, very tasty.

(3) Smoked Salmon: just amazing to me that I can get this in India, and that it is good smoked salmon at that.

(4) Fruits: papaya, chikku (a sweet brown fruit that looks from the outside a bit like a potato, tastes much better), honeydew melon, watermelon.

(5) French toast with caramelized bananas: perfect dessert to the breakfast, washed down with a mug of hot, milky coffee.

Also a glass of fresh sweetlime juice (sweetlime = a citrus fruit somewhere in between an orange and a lime)...

Of course, for Rs. 1000 (roughly $25), the buffet ought to be good :-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What I've done

With my farmer's market bounty:

Beets: roasted them in the oven, ate one of them just with salt, delicious. The others are in the fridge (they store well after roasting), may slice them thin and dress them with oil and vinegar.

Beet greens: stir-fried with potatoes, mustard seeds, and green chili. Very tasty, very typical Assamese dish.

Broccoli: steamed, then put into penne with alfredo sauce (made with the romano I got at the market).

Bacon: still got plenty of it. Had a big French toast and bacon breakfast the other day, which also used up the baguette I bought.

Bell peppers (red and green): some were roasted and mixed with pasta, and home-made tomato and garlic sauce. Others were chopped, lightly stir-fried with mustard seeds and asafoetida to mix in with yogurt and rice- a classic South Indian combo.

Eggplant: made Baigan Bharta, a typical North Indian dish. Roast the eggplant in the broiler, then mash the roasted flesh, fry up some tomatoes and onions with cumin powder, coriander powder, and garam masala, maybe a green chili or two, add in the mashed roasted eggplant, mix it all up, turn the heat down a bit, and at the end, add a bunch of cilantro. Delicious.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Farmers markets and fishmongers

So, I finally went to the on-campus farmers market here in Princeton. It was quite small, but very nice. I picked up some very nice sheep's milk cheese (one blue and one pecorino), a duck breast, some bacon, beets, red, green, and hot peppers, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, cider, honey, and a baguette. So I went a little crazy. But I'm excited to have a fridge full of excellent raw materials to cook with.

Funnily enough, the beets might be what I'm most excited about. I'm planning on roasting them, and serving them with the greens on the side. The greens I'm planning on just wilting with a little bacon and garlic and onion. Other suggestions?

It's also nice that I have a good fishmarket just down the street. I've now twice picked up a piece of fish on my way home from work (opa once, rainbow trout once), marinated it briefly in soy sauce and ginger, and then grilled it and served it with a little pineapple salsa. A nice luxury.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mmm...dosas

Great article on NYC street food.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Please help me eat good food

So, I bought some clams today. Littlenecks, quite nice looking. And I would like to eat them.

Here's the trouble: clams are really hard to shuck. I've googled around, and somehow the instructions on eHow and the like just aren't doing the trick. (Also, I don't have a clam knife. But I was hoping to maybe do this without one...)

Anyone have any secrets for me? Anyone? Post in the comments if you do. I beg you...

(As a totally random aside, the three biggest entries in eHow's "cloud" at the moment are, in order, "lose weight", "get pregnant", and "get rid of fleas". Really? Okay...)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Chautara Reminds me of Thundercats

Okay, so, I lied about completing my Brussels profile. To be honest, though, the cuisine in Belgium left a little to be desired, and the pizza really was the high point. Seriously, show me another place where you order pie by weight and a pair of cute girls with dangerous-looking shears mangle the prosciutto-pesto flatbread to your exact specifications.

In any case, I'm back in Madison for the time being. What can I say? I was having a coffee in Philly a couple weeks ago, and I was bored, so I got in the car and drove to Wisconsin. What? It's not like you've never taken an impromptu Midwest road trip. You're so judgmental...

Right. Madison. Home sweet home. I had the pleasure of dining with my dear friend Jana, an old college chum (which always makes me think of Jaws, for some reason...the word "chum," not Jana) with whom I spent countless hours studying literature, complaining about studying literature, and drinking heavily to punctuate our complaints about studying literature. I attribute my success in college to our mutual support and copious amounts of Tanqueray. It was my honor, then, to welcome Jana on her first night in Madison.

I opted for a tried-and-true Madison favorite, Chautara. Aside from being my favorite of the two good Nepalese restaurants in Madison, Chautara is also a touch classier than its sister down the street, Himalchuli. I'm pretty sure "Chautara" refers to a city in Nepal, while "Himalchuli" is definitely a mountain in the Himalayas...in case you were wondering.

We sat at a cozy table for two, looking out on State Street, Madison's still-dormant pedestrian mall. Don't get me wrong; there were plenty of people out, but the walkers-only thoroughfare will be flooded with red and white-clad coeds and douchebag frat boys with backwards "W" caps on within a couple weeks. I always love Madison during its down times, when the teeming sea of students has abated and only the charmingly familiar buskers and harmless-compared-to-Philly's-crazy-ass homeless people are out.

Jana and I talked about her imminent matriculation to law school, and it wasn't for twenty-five minutes that we realized nobody had brought us water or greeted us. Finally our server materialized, all apologies and promises of ice water and all kinds of Nepalese culinary delights. Jana went with the lamb korma, and I, in my infinite love for variety, chose the vegetarian thali.

The food appeared in what seemed like a short time, although we had already drunk most of our bottle of wine. Jana's lamb looked and smelled delicious, and I'm assured that it was, in fact, tender and tasty. My thali was a bit overwhelming, if only because of the plethora of chutneys and sauces that accompanied it. Although our server seemed a bit lackadaisical at first, she was very firm as to the application of the yogurt sauce and tamarind chutney to my samosa, and the required pairing of veggie momo and tomato chutney.

As usual, the thali was delicious. The giant, circular silver platter held a flight of meatless Nepalese classics. A perfectly-formed bowl scoop of rice, dusted with paprika, rested in the middle, surrounded by savory potatoes, eggplant, seitan and spinach, and punctuated by one each of the samosa and momo.

Although neither Jana nor I finished our dishes, we agreed that Chautara was an excellent place to begin the Welcome to Madison Pub Crawl 2007. The starchy, delicious Nepalese food was the perfect base upon which to pour dry Tanqueray (or dirty Grey Goose, if you're me) martinis, Spotted Cow beer, 14 year Oban, and something that resembled sewer water but tasted just like one of those chocolate oranges.

Chautara: Highly recommended.

Chautara
334 State St
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 251-3626

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Make Your Own

I've been pretty uninspired by food for most of the summer. Not enough time to cook, lack of desire to do the dishes, and other lame excuses have kept me from cooking, and eating out has been for convenience rather than for quality. But this past weekend, I broke out of that, perhaps only temporarily. Friday night, with Flynn in town, we went to Kuma's. Long wait for the food, but good conversation, good beer, good food. Saturday I woke up early, went to the Evanston farmer's market, bought some nice tomatoes, some corn, some carrots, and some zucchini / summer squash. At 1 pm, I started the cooking.

St. Louis cut spare ribs on the smoker.

Homemade fresh mozzarella.


side dishes: Steamed and chilled green beans tossed with Olive Oil

grilled squash

corn on the cobb

fresh tomatoes, including a few from the garden. Those were REALLY good.


dill pickles and pickled green tomatoes from a Michigan farm.

All together:


All of that took awhile, but it all turned out ok. The ribs were definitely good. Perhaps a bit salty, and I could have taken them off the smoker 30 minutes earlier and the texture would have been a little better, but they were a success.

The mozzarella was a bit of a process. It's not hard, but on my first try the curd didn't set up enough, so I had to try again. The second time I ended up with two mounds of fresh cheese. Not bad for a first or second try. Didn't make enough to serve at dinner, but Joe, Timmy, Liz and Thor all got to try it. The really nice heirloom tomatoes made the cheese taste that much better. I also made tres leches, which was really good. Not hard to make, either. But I didn't take a picture of it.

Then, late lunch Sunday at Los Nopales with Flynn. So, for the weekend, I ate at a couple of great local restaurants, and Saturday was full of local produce, fresh cheese, real home smoked ribs, and fun people. Not bad at all.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mixed grill



So, that's a menu board of a restaurant, just down the street from where I was staying in Jerusalem. Couple of things to note:

1) the skewer of Biz/Udder. Didn't really know that former Briefcase intern Biz Silverstein was available in skewer form.

2) the skewer of Turkey Testicles. Wow.

For the record, I wasn't brave enough to order either of these items, sticking to chicken skewers and kebabs (both very good- fresh grilled meat is delicious). However, the previous night, I had eaten across the street from this place at a little food stand, where I had managed to communicate in broken Hebrew my desire for a pita filled with whatever they were grilling, which was some sort of mixed grill with onions. It smelled terrific. I got greviously overcharged (44 shekels, like $10) for a small sandwich, but it was damn good and I had been starving.

What was in it? Well, definitely some liver and other assorted organs, onions, some regular meat, and well, other assorted organs. Probably turkey testicles. I was later told that this type of mixed grill is called a "Jerusalem grill".

So, next time you go to the Holy Land, try the West Bank Oysters.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Marseille

One thing that's interesting about traveling is how the food culture changes from place to place. In Pisa and Marseille, and really, Tuscany and Provence in general, it's very similar, a Mediterranean culture that really takes pride in its cuisine and time over meals- often to the exclusion of other cuisines- i.e., you're not going to find many ethnic restaurants - maybe one or two Chinese, one or two Indian, and a few middle eastern places, usually all pretty mediocre.

In the two day interlude I had in Geneva in between, I ate mostly at the home of my mom's old school friend (man, was it nice to eat home-cooked Indian- watching the Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final, eating pakoras [deep fried vegetable fritters] with spicy chutney and drinking beer is about as good as it gets) and at ethnic restaurants (Chinese, Indian)- so I didn't really get much of a sense of the food culture.

Israel, where I am now, is still on the Mediterranean, has a much more "American" food culture- fast food being very popular- of course fast food here is mainly falafel, pita, hummus, kebabs, shawarma, etc. I don't really know what the ethnic food (i.e., other than middle-eastern) situation here is, but I did have some mall food-court Chinese, which was oily, gross, but somehow very satisfying at the time.

Anyway, wanted to describe a very, very good meal I had in Marseille at a small restaurant called Resto Provencal, which serves, as you might have guessed, typical Provencal food. It's in the Cours Julien neighborhood, which is a big open-air pedestrian plaza with lots of bars and restaurants, and a lot of children playing and in general people enjoying themselves.

The restaurant itself is unassuming, but I remembered it from when I had gone to Marseille in 2003, and hell, if a meal sticks in your mind for 4 years, it must have been good (or possibly very bad). I went with my colleague and friend Erwan Lanneau and his girlfriend Vacianne, and we all decided on the 3 course prix-fixe menu, and a bottle of rose, which is what you drink in Provence in summer (in Tuscany, of course, you drink red wine. Delicious, full bodied chianti, for the most part. Mmm...red wine).

I started with the onion and anchovy tart, called Pissatiere, which was really fantastic- the salty anchovies and olives nicely complemented by the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the rich, very buttery pastry. I also tried a bit of Vacianne's salmon tartare, which I had back in 2003- still very good. Erwan's soupions (squid, I think, but I'm not sure), grilled, tasted fresh and firm, as they should be in a coastal town.

For the main course, I stuck to what I had eaten 4 years ago- filet de dourade en bouillabaisse- a filet of the fish dourade served in bouillabaisse, the famous Provencal seafood stew. On the side comes little toasts with an aioli-like spread called rouille. I hate to keep using the same words, but the fish was clearly fresh, and the soup surrounding it was delicately flavored- though it could have use a little more salt.

Dessert was an absurd chocolate mousse. Dark, dark, almost black, and thick, rich, and probably more calories than in the rest of the meal, it sent me almost into a stupor- luckily E. and V. then took me out for a digestif, a fiery pear brandy, which was the perfect restoring tonic.

As you can see, I'm missing being in France.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail

I like North Carolina. I like BBQ. Who's in for a mid-fall trip?

From this article:

The non-profit North Carolina Barbecue Society speaks of barbecue in terms of culture, heritage and tradition. Earlier this year, the society created a historic barbecue trail spotlighting 25 joints from Ayden in the east to Murphy in the west. Each stop on the trail specializes "in roasting pig the old-fashioned way, slowly over pits of wood or charcoal," the society notes. The cited businesses also have to make their own sauce, be in business more than 15 years, provide sit-down service and provide a final product "that is a high quality representation" of the state's barbecue.
Very cool. 25 historic BBQ places serving pork the traditional way? Luckily, the North Carolina Barbecue Society has a website.

This is a link to the description of the historic BBQ trail.

This is a link to the map of the trail.

Who's it? I'm not saying we could hit all 25 places in one trip, but we could start on one side or the other and get as far as we can in an allotted time.

Surprise! New post!

It's just a link, but it's the type of thing that makes me excited about food.

Make your own what?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tu peux pas test (Part 1)

Bonjour. Or, should I say, bonsoir, since it's night here in Stone Harbor. It is, however, early-ass morning in Brussels, where I was just this morning, or rather, late last night in Jersey time. Confused? Me too, but here's the short version: I went to Brussels from M-F this week to check out an MBA program. I don't think it'll pan out, but I did get to sample some fine Belgian cuisine. Let's start at the beginning:

Day 1 - Dans Bruxelles Straight Up, Son
I unfolded myself from sitting in Row 101B in ultra-slim coach seating on Continental's joyful Newark-Brussels night flight. Katie met me at Schuman (you know, Schuman...the Metro stop, duh) and escorted me to her flat in the Sant-Gilles commune (neighborhood, not an actual commune, I was displeased to find). I don't recall eating much, since I'd gorged myself on TCBY, protein shakes, and pizza in the Newark airport (gimme a break, I was there for six hours). I went to bed. I awoke and did some other stuff. You can thank me later for skipping all the non-food stuff and cutting to the chase. If you wanted more Drew Coursin action, you'd have been an avid reader of my heretofore nonexistent travel blog...but it's Scrump, so, whatever.

Katie and I went to the great pizza place, which doesn't sound like much, but was exciting because there was an excellent variety, from aubergine- and pesto-topped (that's right, I've stopped using the word 'eggplant,' it's crude) pie to prosciutto and peppers. Yum! AND the pizza came in these giant slabs monitored by these petite femmes with pruning shears. Basically, I pointed to a type of pizza and made hand signals for how much, and the girls went to town with the scissors and cut me a custom-sized slice. THEN I paid by weight, which I found just delightful. Call me a sucker for the metric system.

Whew, just writing that little bit was exhausting, so I'm off to bed for now. See Part Deux tomorrow!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Pictures of dessert.

I know pictures aren't the be-all and end-all when it comes to food, but I had to put up a couple of dessert pictures. Nicole was here in Pisa this week, and so we went out for some very nice meals at some nice trattorias and osterias. Here are two standout desserts we had:

First, on my birthday, we had a Lemon Sorbet in Prosecco at the Osteria De Cavalieri, which I've mentioned before. Prosecco is sort of an Italian Champagne, basically sparkling white wine. The tartness of the sorbet and the dryness of the wine work beautifully together:



Last night (Saturday), we went to a trattoria, whose name I sadly don't remember, but we had what the waitress simply described as "chocolate cake". It didn't do it justice. Moist, souffle-esque, and accompanied by perfectly ripe apricots.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trapped in New Jersey

So...here I am, back in Philadelphia after month+ of wandering around in No Internet Land, aka the Jersey Shore. It's been tough. And the food kind of sucks down there...hence the not posting for a while. Whatever, don't judge me! It's not like YOU post on Scrumptulescence every day! In any case, I promise to be a better food critic/correspondent, even in the absence of gastronomic delights to report.

In any case, I thought I'd do something a little different a write a round-up of rather sub-par but edible places to eat if you every find yourself in sunny South Jersey. And I don't mean Cherry Hill. Oh no, my friends, I'm talking the cape. You know, down the Garden State Parkway, exit 13 down (that's Swainton/Avalon in case you're wondering).

STONE HARBOR

Green Cuisine:
Okay, so I eat here at least once a day, since it's really the only reasonably healthy joint to eat on the island. I mean, it makes sense, having mostly pizza joints and Italian restaurants, because people are vacationing and love crappy food on the road. Right? Not me, damn it! So yeah. Green Cuisine is a bonafied health food place - they even promise to prepare otherwise alien (to South Jersey and its inhabitants) dishes like tofu, fresh-squeezed (pressed? pulverized?) carrot and celery juice, and salad that's not made of iceberg lettuce. Fresh fruits and vegetables proliferate, and your best bet is to share one of the enormous salads and maybe grab a side of the hummous and pita to supplement. A few stand-outs: the Cobb Salad is a deliciously linear presentation of sliced avocado, turkey breast, bacon, and hard-boiled egg atop mixed greens. Yum! Also, try the Eggless Egg Salad Sandwich, if only for the novelty. Like I said, the hummous is good, especially in the pita sandwich form, although I'm a sucker for anything chick pea-, sprout-, cucumber-, and tomato-based. For a true fruit overload, try the Jamaican Joy - a half pineapple filled to overflowing with blueberries, strawberries, apples, kiwi, and whatever else they can cram in there. Yum!

Peace a Pizza:
Sucks big time.

Stone Harbor Pizza:
Sucks slightly less.

Back Bay Crab Cakes and Seafood:
This is THE place to get your choice of broiled or fried crab cakes. My stalwart culinary companion Todd made the trip down, and we enjoyed the hell out of these heaping, golden-brown mounds of jumbo lump crab. I'm talking no fillers. NO FILLERS, do you even understand the gravity of that?! It's effin' amazing. Seriously. You can even buy frozen crab cakes to make at your leisure...but who really likes to cook these days?

AVALON

Via Mare:
I figured I'd add one Italian spot, since it's my parents' favorite and it's halfway decent. The eggplant parm is good, but I wouldn't recommend skipping a trip to Italy to eat here.

RIO GRANDE

That Sushi Place Right Off the Garden State Parkway:
Okay, so I can't remember exactly what the place is called, but it was delicious. I went with our neighbor, the good Dr. Dave Connelly, and we ate our fill of fresh-caught whitefish, thin-sliced and wrapped with lemon, and finished the meal with flying fish roe and quail's egg atop a mound of rice. Far from the most jaw-dropping sushi I've ever eaten, but considerably better than that one time I ate it in Minnesota and almost died shortly thereafter.

So, there you have it, a rather halfhearted roundup of some pretty lackluster eateries. I promise I'll be back with more, better soon. More better!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cecina

So, Saturday night was the festival of San Ranieri here in Pisa. The main celebration was a huge street fair, and lighting up the windows all the buildings along the river Arno with candles (the Luminara). It's quite picturesque, you can read more about it here.

A bunch of us from the conference went into town to take part, including Enrico, who's Italian and did his undergrad in Pisa, and my friend Anish, with whom I plan to open a restaurant/microbrewery in Bangalore, India, after we both get tenure somewhere. Anyway, Enrico had been telling us about Cecina, a typical Pisan snack food, which is more-or-less a thin, savory, brick-oven pancake made with chickpea flour. It's made on a huge pan, and then cut into slices, and served on bread made from pizza dough as a sandwich. So we went to the most famous purveyor of this snack, waited in line for about an hour (LOTS of people come to the festival), and maybe it was the wait, or maybe it was the fact that we got a fresh, fresh slice, but damn, was it good. One of our group got it with jalapeno peppers on it, and this looked even better. It tastes actually quite similar to the Indian snack pakora, which is fried lentil flour dumplings, usually spiced up a bit.

You can find a recipe here.

Anish and I have some ideas for improvement before we serve it at our restaurant- basically, to make it more like a pakora- so before you put it in the oven, we think some finely chopped white onions, fresh green chilis, and cilantro should be mixed in with the dough. I'm getting hungry just writing about it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

does anyone know a single hedge fund manager?


this weekend i had the opportunity to go to two of the country's best restaurants in 48 hours because of a friend in town from nyc on a culinary mission. friday night - alinea, which you might know from such facts as its the best restaurant in america according to gourmet magazine and the chef grant achatz is a 31 year old mastermind of micro-gastronomy. saturday night - moto, which you might have heard of because they have a class 4 military laser in the kitchen and cook everything in liquid nitrogen. i will lightly touch on moto but the short and long of it is this... alinea is earth shattering. moto... eh. it doesnt even hold a candle to the type of experience you get at alinea on many levels.. food, service, atmosphere. sitting at dinner friday i was thinking about something my dear friend ms. ultimate said to me one night... she said 'im going to start dating the type of guys my parents sent me to private school to meet.' now i didnt go to private school but upon tasting the good life friday night i have learned the wisdom of her ways. so if anyone has a corporate lawyer tucked away for safe keeping... hook a sister up.

but on to alinea. the exterior is a non-descript townhouse on halsted near steppenwolf. looks like somebody's rich aunt's house. but when you walk into the entry hall and the stainless sliding doors pop open you know its something different. for the record, i was wearing a pink satin roberto cavalli skirt, black alexandra neel stilletos, and brought the black fendi. adam was wearing a pale blue jacket and black pants and shirt with a bright blue and purple tie, all ted baker.

you are greeted by a host and on your left is one small dining area, lushly carpeted and comfortable, in front of you is a beautiful structural glass stair to the second floor dining space, and down the hall on your right is a view to the kitchen, all white and stainless and sparkling, where an endless flurry of chefs dance around one another. we sat up stairs in a small dining room on the front of the building. we had an army of people to serve us and literally never for a second were things out of order. it was precision like ive never imagined in dining. we did the grand tour, 25 courses, and chose to get the wine pairings that the chef recommended. with the first champagne based cocktail we got a small croquette made of steelhead roe. i slid it into my mouth from the small white ceramic pedestal it was served on and instantly lost my train of thought. it was perfection. and every course thereafter was better than the last with very few exceptions.

its impossible to outline them all but some highlights... there was a chilled shot glass filled with celery gellee and a small frozen marble sized shell made of horseradish and filled with an apple water that you took all at once. it was sweet, clean and just a tiny hint spicy at the end when the shell dissolved in your mouth. theres a picture here at top left. there was a dish with 7 small bites of rhubarb in different forms, including a dime sized rhubarb ice cream sandwich. there was a duck dish that was served in a bowl placed on top of a pillow filled with a cool lavender scented air that surrounded you as you leaned over to take a taste. there was a small envelope, maybe the size of my thumbnail, made of a sheet of clear pineapple based gel, filled with bacon powder. the chef even defied the local regulations and sent us a smalll cinnamon pastry, hollowed out and filled with foie gras, then sealed with apple pate de fruit.

i wont go on and on because there are no words. grant aschatz is a motherf&$*ing genius. literally.

there is a lot of theater in the food at alinea but it all is part of how the food tastes and how the flavors combine in your mouth. unfortunately moto was a lot of theater in a disney sense. it was a lot of gymnastics for no reason it seemed. most of the courses were uninspired, or inspired by the fact that the kitchen wanted to play with liquid nitrogen and not inspired by taste. the service was marginal and the atmosphere was blah. the music was terrible and it was literally the worst restaurant bathroom ive ever been in. id rather use the restroom at popeyes. a few courses were good but overall for 330$ id rather eat at piece every day for six months. or go to kuma's and eat 33 mastadons.

so in summation, if you can save some money go to alinea. you must go at some point before you die or you will not, in fact, go to heaven. this is a scientific fact and not debatable in any way. the price tag is steep but its worth every penny to witness achatz in action. its like spending money to see micheal jordan play basketball or mike tyson bite someone. the full menu changes every 12 weeks amazingly. hit me up next year and well go again. big time.

miss casual signing off.

Great Food Saturday

Hey everyone. Sorry about the lack of posting. I don't know why Jayadev is the only one posting. But I do know that there hasn't been any blog-worthy eating on my part for some time. Saturday was a really relaxing day, and pretty interesting food-wise, so I thought I'd try to get back on the horse, as it were.

Saturday morning. 8 am. I had yet to visit the Green City Market this year. It runs Wednesdays and Saturdays in Lincoln Park. Lots of stuff on their mission and their goals. Very admirable. I just know that small farmers from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana come in for it, and bring usually superb examples of what is in season. I'd go twice a week if I could. There were a LOT of strawberries to be had. Really nice ones, read all of the way through, with great flavor. I picked up some of those, some asparagus, spring garlic, some 3 year old raw cheddar cheese, and some decent early season, started indoors beefsteak tomatoes. I also grabbed some hydroponic yellow tomatoes, which were pretty bad, so enough about them. But the nice red beefsteaks were actually pretty good. Had them for dinner Sunday, which I will get to soon. Anyway, the market is a great little event, and it's held twice a week. I like going around, looking at everything, trying the samples, talking to some of the farmers, and then buying. best produce you'll find anywhere in the city, other than at other farmer's markets, and the farms all supposedly have to practice sustainable growing. Sustainable and local are the new organic, and you can definitely tell the difference in the quality of the food. Plus I like that my money goes from me straight into the hands of the farmer. In some cases, literally. Everyone should check it out.

I've been hearing about the Copper River Salmon that is in season right now. Even though the definition of what constitutes the Copper River has become somewhat lax of late, this time of year means that there is a LOT of really beautiful fish to be had. I definitely want to cook more with fish, and my one experience with grilled wild salmon was great, so I thought this year I'd find some and try grilling it. There is a thread on the lth forum about it. Dirk's, a great fish market in the city, is getting supposedly gorgeous wild salmon right now, selling it around $19 a pound. Whole Foods has some nice stuff. $15 a pound. And then I find that Costco is getting it, too, for $9 a pound, and the reports say that it is REALLY good. So, after the market, I ran into costco and got two sides of it. Those will probably go on the grill Tuesday night.

On the way home from Costco, knowing that AY and the new guy were probably only recently away, I decided to grab Hot Doug's takeout for all of us. What can be said about this place? In some ways, it's the best restaurant in the city. Cool guy making great food from interesting ingredients in a casual setting. And it's very reasonably priced. Saturday the specials menu was particularly inspiring. We shared the duck-fat french fries, and I had half of a jerk-pork sausage with spicy mango mayonnaise, queso fresco, and crispy fried onions, as well as half of the Saucisse de Toulouse with Scallion-Horseradish Beurre de Chevre and Saint Rocco Brie Cheese. Yeah, I'm serious, and yeah, they were fantastic, even after the quick car ride home (about 7 minutes). Doug can do no wrong in my book. And I think he's making a good living out of it.

After a lazy afternoon (it was a weekend off of ultimate and a lot of folks were out of town, so I took it easy), it was time for dinner. I didn't want to cook until more roommates were around. Quick consultation with AY and we were off to Kuma's Corner. Another great place, easy to get to from our apartment, and probably serving the best burger in town. Time-Out may not have picked it as such, but, seriously, they know burgers there. We sat on the patio, I had a couple of great beers off of their interesting beer menu, and then I gad the Kaijo burger. Blue cheese, crispy fried onions, bacon. Had chips on the side. AY had the Mayhem. Pancetta, fresh jalepenos, pepper jack cheese, giardiniera mayo. We had some good conversations, the weather was perfect, the beer was cold, the waitress was friendly. The food was perfect.

Afterwards we went to Scooter's custard. Another establishment that is too new to be called a Chicago institution, they make fresh frozen custard. It's really good. Not much else to say about it.

So, for a day when I didn't have anything planned, I wore flip-flops, shorts, and a t-shirt all day, and I never strayed far from home, I had a GREAT Chicago food day. I hope to repeat it throughout the summer. Although to be honest, I probably don't need to double up Hot Doug's and Kuma's on the same day, and the Scooter's was a bit excessive. But, trust me, it made for a very happy Saturday.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tuscany

After 3 days, I have had a great meal in Tuscany. My friend Anish Ghosh and I went to the Fodors-recommended Osteria Dei Cavalieri, which was just round the corner from my office in the Piazza del Cavalieri.

Well, the food was great. First meal in Italy where I can really say it was great, from start to finish. Before dinner we shared a bottle of chianti on the other side of the Piazza, accompanied by some very nice mini-prosciutto sandwiches. The reds here are really something.

So of course, we also had red wine with dinner. Just the house red, it was even better than the pre-dinner bottle.

I suppose, before I use my typically purple prose to praise dinner, I should say why the other meals haven't been great: first, several of them have been in an university cafeteria. There's no way for a meal in an university cafeteria to be great. None. Even it does have prosciutto and melon (which was good, but the rest of the meal was crap).

The other restaurant meals have been fairly mediocre. Not bad, and the ingredients have been very good (the tomatoes actually taste of tomato!), so things like caprese salad have been very nice, but they've all been sort of "eh".

Not tonight, though. Not tonight... (an expression favored by NCAA athletes, when they win a home game against favored opposition: "they may be the better team, but not tonight! Not tonight!" - imagine it being said as a football or basketball player waves a meaty finger at the camera).

OK, end of bizarre parenthetical. I'm kind of drunk, if you can't tell. Red wine. Lots of red wine.

Anyway, back to the meal. I started with swordfish carpaccio, which was really terrific. I love encountering different textures, and the thinly sliced raw swordfish with olive oil, a roasted red pepper strip, and some greens really made me realize about what food critics mean when they say something is "well composed". BTW, I also thought about this after a bacon-rochefort salad at the Union League Cafe in New Haven.

My main course was grilled leg of rabbit accompanied by grilled vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, and peppers). Now, the rabbit was very tasty, gamey of course, with some interesting herbs on top. But for me, the real standout were the grilled veggies. It's very easy to screw these up. But the texture and the flavor (just some olive oil and sea salt) were nigh-on perfect.

Osteria dei Cavalieri also has a 11 Euro lunch tasting menu, so hopefully this is just the first of many good meals there.

More later. I remain, your faithful Tuscan correspondent.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

New Haven restaurants

So, recently, Nicole and I have been exploring the many fine restaurants (and no, I'm not kidding) in New Haven, CT. There's a fine guide called the Menu, which describes itself as "relentlessly opinionated". I like it quite a bit because it tends to underrate restaurants, which is much better for a guide to do than overrating them. Anyway, here's my personal supplements, divided vaguely into categories.

Indian:

There are a LOT of Indian restaurants in New Haven. 3 on my street, within a 5 minute walk of my house. 6 within a 20 minute walk. The clear champion amongst the ones I tried was Thali, a more upscale place, with good drinks, very good food (you could actually taste individual ingredients, unlike most other Indian places). I recommend the Lamb Biryani and the plain Dal.

The other places (Royal India, Tandoor, Zaroka, Sitar (why would you name your restaurant after an instrument?), and India Palace) are all more-or-less interchangeable: same menus, similar decors, etc. I think Royal India is the best of this group, the Lamb Vindaloo is quite good. Tandoor is interesting because it is housed in the building that used to be the Elm City Diner, which was an old train-car style diner.

Pizza:

Now, New Haven is famous for pizza. Even one of Chicago's favorite pizza joints, Piece, proudly serves "New Haven style" pizza. This is extremely thin crust, not overwhelmed with cheese or sauce, and fresh toppings. In fact Piece is very directly inspired by one of my favorite institutions, Bar in New Haven. both brew their own (very tasty) beer, serve a classic New American salad (field greens, pears, candied pecans, blue cheese, vinaigrette), and excellent pies. I think that Billy Jacobs, one of the owners at Piece, was inspired by Bar.

I didn't actually try either of the two grand old New Haven institutions, Sally's and Pepe's, but was reliably informed that the time it took and the rudeness you must endure aren't really worth it. But maybe I'll have to try them at some point in the future.

For me, the other New Haven pizza standout is Modern Apizza. Nothing fancy, just a really yummy brick oven pizza with excellent toppings. Stick to the pizza though, the salads and everything else are pretty mediocre. When Nicole and I went there, her salad was just iceberg lettuce, but our pizza with green peppers, cherry peppers, and onions was delicious. Nicole says that it is one of the best pizzas she's had in New Haven. And she's lived around there for longer than I have, so you should probably trust her.

Latin American:

While New Haven has no decent Mexican places (El Amigo Felix and Viva's are both awful), it has some very nice Latin American options. Soul de Cuba has very tasty Cuban food, and excellent (and cheap) Mojitos.

Pacifico, though, is one of the best restaurants I've eaten at in a while. The drinks and appetizers are superb, and one can quite easily make a meal out of them and a dessert. The Ecuadoran Shrimp Ceviche and Mango baby back ribs are particular standouts from the starter menu. We also had a very good octopus ceviche the last time we were there.

Pub food:

Rudy's. Read it about it here. And yes, on further consideration, the Sunset Wheat is not very good.

Brunch/Diners:

Yankee Doodle: eggs, burgers, bacon, etc. all covered in grease. A counter. The waitress calls you hon. Nothing else in the Have compares, though the Educated Burgher isn't bad, and Anna Liffey's makes a good omelette and is a nice Irish pub.

French:

Oh, the Union League Cafe. How I love thee. Nicole and I went there before seeing a play at the Yale Rep, and it was great fun and better food. A long, impressive-looking (I don't really know much about it) wine-list (and for the record, our Sauvignon Blanc was very nice), and just amazingly well executed food in a beautiful setting.

The sea scallops appetizer (with lemongrass, among other flavor notes) and the chocolate souffle were the standouts.

Malaysian:

Bentara is actually the best Malaysian restaurant I've been to. The curry mussels appetizer is just superb.

OK, I'm starving now. The cafeteria here in Pisa opens at 7:30pm, I don't know how I'm going to survive the next 10 minutes. Maybe I'll gnaw my arm off.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Culinary adventures in New England

Well, time to resurrect this little corner of the Internets. Your global correspondent here, reporting from Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. But since I just got here, not much to talk about yet (except that Caprese salad with good ingredients is amazingly delicious, and shrinkwrapped sandwiches everywhere taste awful).

So instead, I thought I'd talk about (the highlights of) my culinary adventures as I traveled through New England in the month of May. This actually is NOT going to include my Michelinesque tour through New Haven's fancier eating establishments (and let me tell you, it's an underrated food city), but instead going to focus on interesting food in occasionally strange places:

1. BBQ in Vermont: I wouldn't have believed this for a second, had my friend Steve Wang not alerted me to it. He had come up to New Haven and we were about to embark on a journey to the wilds of Middlebury, VT to play at Get Ho Get Leid. Doing some research about our route, he found information about Curtis's BBQ stand, off exit 4 on I-91, Putney, VT. Damn, were these good ribs. And talking to Curtis, as he minded rack after rack of delicious meat, is quite the experience. The sauce is a tangy, vinegary one, which I think is Carolina, but Curtis is from Georgia. Any info on Georgia BBQ, guys?


2. Cheddar Cheese in Vermont: A little less surprising, I suppose. While playing this tournament, we had several ocassions to sample the famous Cabot Cheddar. First, after games on Saturday, we swung over to Noonies Deli, where many of us enjoyed the Vermonter sandwich: ham, cheddar, apples, and spicy honey mustard on honey oat bread. Just an amazing combo of textures and flavors. It was so good that on Sunday, when we went back, I ordered one after eating a quite substantial (and also delicious) Rueben.

Oh, and Middlebury totally deserves it's Club Midd reputation. On Sunday morning, we had a first round bye, and so strolled into the dining halls (no one at the door), and helped ourselves to omelettes stuffed with, yup, Cabot Cheddar. Best pre-tourney breakfast ever (with the possible exception of poutin, which BK really should post about).


3. Ethnic food in Boston: After Middlebury, drove over to Boston with Steve for the Clay Math conference. On Sunday night, went to dinner with Sam, Steve, and Rohan, and had a nice Vietnamese meal. On Monday for lunch, went on Punjabi Dhaba in Inman Square (I think) for really good Indian highwayside food (Dhaba = food stand on the side of the highway). On Monday for dinner, Chinatown. On Tuesday for lunch, Bartley's burgers. Damn, those are good. On Tuesday for dinner, Ethiopian. As Drew would say, Injeralicious. I like cities with a wide variety of cuisines.

4. Big portions in Newport: On Monday of Memorial Day weekend, Nicole (the gf) and I went up to Newport, RI for a day of R&R. For lunch, we went to the Red Pirate (I think) and had the most enormous portions I've ever seen served to us. I had the Rasta Pasta, and Nicole the Steak Salad, and we ended up taking most of our stuff back to New Haven.

Other meals in Newport were more reasonably sized: a fantastic dinner (oysters, lobster spring rolls, Thai duck and shrimp curry) on Monday night, a nice breakfast at our B&B, and delicious ice cream after going sailing on Tuesday morning.

New Haven guide to follow.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Injeralicious!

I just went back and read my other restaurant reviews, and I've got to say: it's time for an unconditionally good take on Philadelphia cuisine. I know I seem hypercritical sometimes, but it's only because I want to provide the most comprehensive take on wherever I eat. If I flipped my lid over every bite I take, then I'd feel as if I were doing a disservice to the ridiculously small - but loyal - Scrumptulescence readership. And for those of you that don't know me and think I'm impossible to please...well, you might be right. I have, however, have had a few excellent meals during my time in Philly, and this was one of them...

Okay, show of hands - how many of you like delicious, fragrant, slow-cooked meats and vegetables? All right, how about eating with your hands - any takers? Oh, and beer? No, not Miller Light or Lager, I'm talking Fin du Monde, Paulaner, really whatever your discerning, hops-loving palate might enjoy. Yeah, that's what I thought: EVERYONE likes those things. Now, imagine if you will a delicate combination of those three factors, and there you have it: Abyssinia. No, not the ancient empire, the Ethiopian place in West Philly!

Todd and I ventured to an otherwise kinda dodgy part of town in order to sample some of Philadelphia's most delicious and cost-effective cuisine. Well, I guess it's not all that dodgy - it's just a few blocks from Penn's University City. A few blocks over it might be dodgy, but I'm pretty sure the area is just mildly sketchy. All that aside, we rolled in around ten, which is usually when places around here started closing their kitchens and hustling customers out. Not Abyssinia, though; they serve food until two in the morning (or so we're told - we only stayed until nearly midight).

The first thing I noticed was that the place was full of hipsters. Normally people with tight-rolled jeans, military-style caps, and horn-rimmed glasses really put me off my appetite, but Todd and I were ravenous, so it was okay. We did catch some disdainful, hipper-than-thou looks from a couple patrons; I think it was my polo shirt (or the fact that Todd and I both made loud anti-hipster comments when we came in). You see, Abyssinia sits on the first floor of a multi-story establishment, the top part of which is a beer bar infested by said hip crowd. You know the place - dirty on purpose (grimy would be a better word, since they clean all the time), the strains of some obscure Miles Davis-Ani Difranco-Maria Callas-David Bowie bootleg from a concert in Budapest in 1977 echoing off black walls....people in hoodies with just the right amount of product to make their hair look awful...wow, I'm really letting this get away from me.

Anyway, Abyssinia. We selected both the meat sampler and vegetarian sampler so as to maximize our choices. If you didn't know, Ethiopian food is generally served family-style in a large bowl lined with a spongey flatbread called injera (it's like a pancake made of a dark sourdough-ish flour called teff and water). The plate comes with an accompaniment of other injera, which serves as the primary utensil for scooping up the delicious piles of collard greens, slow-cooked beef tips, lentils, carrots and cabbage, and any number of other delicacies. The meal ends officially when you eat the "plate" of injera, which makes sense, because it minimizes the amount of dishes you have to do, which is nice.

I'm not sure "ate" is an appropriate descriptor for what Todd and I did to the food. "Devoured" comes close, but "laid waste to" is probably most apt. It was, in a word, unbefuckinglievable. Now, I love Ethiopian food, and I might be biased, but when all was said and done, we paid fifteen dollars each for a true feast and tall bottle of Paulaner to wash it all down. That, my friends, is eating right. It's my birthday, by the way, and if you want to get me something, consider renting me my own personal Ethiopian chef. Or at least a gift certificate to Abyssinia. Yum!

Highly recommended. If you come to Philadelphia, I will buy you Ethiopian food.

Abyssinia
229 S. 45th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 387-2424

Taaaaaaangerine

So, I'm back. To be honest, I really haven't been anywhere out of pocket, but for some reason I haven't posted in what feels like ages. I promise I'm back...with a vengeance (although against what I'm not entirely sure). I've decided to write about events dating back to a month ago up to the present, and if I hadn't told you that, you wouldn't have cared...I just respect you enough to make you party to the fact that I didn't innovate the hell out of poached fruit and caramel, eat out at a handful of restaurants, and read about a hundred new ways to prepare food in one day. So, here goes.

My most recent new restaurant experience was one of Steven Starr's Tangerine. Nestled amidst coffee shops and independent art galleries, this Moroccan fusion venture sits on the cusp of Philadelphia's homeless chic Old City neighborhood. For those of you out there unfamiliar with Philly, this is a place where you can sample a thousand and one delicious beers at Eulogy (reviewed previously), eat your fill of quasi-Filipino goodness and maybe catch a glimpse of the local hiphoperatti (I just coined that term; watch for it in People magazine shortly) at Cebu, and get picked up by sketchy cougars in any of manifold dive bars...all within two blocks. Good times, right? Anyway, back to Tangerine.

As with most of Starr's locations, Tangerine is very much pro-sharing. In fact, I'm not sure it's possible to order independently, since dishes arrive as they come up. So, unless you like teasing your date by taking bite after bite of sumptuous comestibles in front of him/her, I suggest you start to love sharing as well. Dim lighting, low tables, and comfy, quicksand-like leather chairs make Tangerine an excellent lounge spot. It's also great people-watching; my date quipped, "Everybody looks good in 15 watts," which I'd like to believe.

Bucking my usual pre-dinner cocktail trend (Tanqueray and tonic in summer, Belvie white Russian in winter), I went for the special Rum Crush - an, um, interesting blend of crushed ice (not my favorite), rum, pulverized kumquat, simple syrup, and cloves. It was a nice idea, but it was mostly just rum with some kumquat and clove taste. I mean, duh.

We started with a grilled octopus salad, which unfortunately turned out to be heavy on a caesar-like dressing and light on the tasty, flame-kissed octopus (which was yummy - I love anything that, when grown to monstrous proportions, could make for a riveting deep-sea thriller a la Jaws or The Deep. A quick note: the bread basket was filled with delicious, heavy slices of a whole-grain sweet brown bread with sunflower seeds and large pieces of fig, as well as a novel take on a minature sesame soft pretzel (presumably as homage to Philadelphia's lasting pretzel heritage).

After the octo came the grilled za'atar chicken with white bean and mascarpone puree. Although truly delectable, my only complaint was that the half a chicken breast was hardly enough to satisfy my voracious craving for blackened poultry (which is pretty epic by most standards). From there was a rather uninspired shrimp and scallop dish with the seemingly out-of-place serrano ham ravioletti. It wasn't bad, but I admit I've been off scallops since my friend Morgan ate some raw ones in my presence and ended up in the hospital...

No dessert, just an espresso, but that decision was mostly out of my hands (those who know me know I never skip dessert...if only for research purposes). All in all, Tangerine was yummy, and I'd like to go back when I have a larger group, so as to sample a wider variety and maybe knock off a couple bottles of wine and loosen my tie a little.

Recommended. Look for more Starr restaurant reviews to come.

Tangerine
232 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-5116
http://www.tangerinerestaurant.com

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Get Large

Another country heard from. I'm Ian. I went to UChicago around the dawning of the new millenium, played ultimate there with JL and JSA and BK (when he was around). Now I live in Cambridge, MA. Blah, blah.

Let's talk bivalves.

A few weeks back, I was wandering the aisle of my local fishmonger, seeking shellfish so as to sate a craving. What I really wanted was oysters. Oysters are, well, delicious. But, oysters are also quite expensive, especially really good, really fresh ones. BUT! Next to the oysters was a big colander full of mussels. Mussels aren't expensive, and I hadn't had them in a very long time, so I decided that I'd pick up a couple of pounds and see what I could do with them. (I've found that about $2/pound is a pretty normal price for mussels, at least in the Boston area in the Spring. Figure on about 1 pound per person, assuming that other foodstuffs are going to be on the table as well.)

So, I brought them home, and turned to my trusty copy of Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. And discovered, to my joy, that cooking mussels is very easy.

  • You start by cleaning the mussels. This basically means rinsing them, and pulling off any "hair" that's hanging off of them. (Mussel's have beards. As a facial-hair-challenged man, I'm very jealous. Punk-ass shellfish, trying to show me up.) Mussel's that have already opened need to get tossed, because it means that they've already died and won't be tasty (and, well, they may kill you). Likewise for ones that have broken shells.

  • Chop an onion and some garlic (a very rough cut is fine).

  • Take a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, over medium heat, and then saute the onion and garlic just until the onion softens.

  • Add 1/2 cup of white wine, and the mussels. Cover, and turn the heat to high. Cook for about 10 minutes.


When all is said and done, you end up with a large pile of mussels, now open and cooked. And (and this is the good part. Seriously.) you have a good pile of wonderful, delicious mussel-wine-onion broth.

Pile the mussels in a bowl, pour the broth over them. Serve with crusty bread (which, of course, gets dipped into the broth, and which may actually be the real reason to make mussels in the first place).

Bittman's got about a dozen variations -- other things to add to the broth to make various sauces, or different spices that can be added before cooking to give a hint of other flavors to the shellfish. The ones that I've tried have been pretty good, but I'm still pretty set on the basic recipie. It works for me, and it's tasty.

Over the past 6 or 8 weeks, since my first experiment with cooking mussels, I've found myself ordering them when I go out, as well as cooking them at home on occasion. The Green Street Grill is a great local place that has a very nice mussel appetizer. (It's also one of the hidden gems of Cambridge. It looks like a dive bar on the outside, but inside has some of the best food I've found in the Boston area.) Grafton Street Pub is a little too yuppie for this yuppie, but they also do a nice job with their mussels. Green Street goes a little heavier on the cream and butter in the sauce, and the bread that they serve with the mussels is just about perfect.

(I have a feeling that East Coast Grill probably does a good job with their PEI Mussels steamed in coconut milk, if only because everything that Chris Schlesinger oversees seems to turn out well. Also because East Coast Grill is my vote for bestest restaurant in the whole wide world. But I haven't had a chance to wander down to try them.)

The upshot of all this babble: mussels are tasty, cheap, and easy to cook. You should make them sometime.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hitting the spot

Sometimes a meal just hits the spot. Doesn't have to be fancy, just has to be right. Dinner last Wednesday at Rudy's was just that kind of meal. It was just a simple cheeseburger and fries, washed down with a beer, but that doesn't begin to describe why it was so good.

First, I had been at an ultimate practice earlier that evening. Ran hard for 2 hours in 50 degree temps. Drove an hour back to New Haven. Showered. And now, was starving. Didn't have the energy to cook, so I strolled round the corner to Rudy's. Placed my order at the kitchen corner of the bar, with the glorious fry machine (imported from Belgium) in full view, golden potatoes being lifted out of the hot oil. A deluxe cheeseburger with everything (lettuce, tomato, pickle on the side), and samurai sauce (spicy aioli) with my fries (really, more properly, frites, given their Belgian pedigree).

Took a seat at the bar, saw that the special beer on tap was Leinie's Sunset Wheat. Nostalgic for the midwest, how could I resist. And I didn't regret it, the light, flavorful beer refreshing me with every sip. The burger and the fries arrived a short while later, and were devoured. The burger isn't the most spectacular around, but it's more than competent, and the bun, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato were exactly what I needed. The dill spear was just how I like it, not too briny, so you could taste some of the cucumber that it had once been.

Oh, and those fries. Crisp, hot, and impossibly delicious. I'm salivating just writing about them. The variety of sauces to go with them is also wonderful. Everything from Curry Ketchup, to Andalouse sauce, to many varities of aioli.

Warm, full, and still humming the Band's "Cripple Creek" which had been blasting on the jukebox, I walked back into the cool New England evening...

In summary: Rudy's is a dive, no doubt about it. For Hyde Park readers, think something like Jimmy's with better food and better prices, and a better jukebox. The TV's usually have the game on. It's everything you want from your neighborhood bar.

Rudy's New Haven
370 Elm Street
New Haven, CT 06511
203-865-1242

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th links - the Friends in China edition

OK, I generally don't want to post stuff here that isn't directly food related. I have a dormant personal blog for that. No need to look for it. I haven't updated it in over 6 months.

But, anyway, three friends of mine recently moved to China. And they're all writing about it. Since a lot of what they say is about food, I decided to post the links here. Plus, if they get lots of comments, maybe they'll post more. All three are good writers. Brady and Peggy, it's not surprising. But my friend the Jade Tiger? I know he's funny and witty when he's not quiet and brooding, but his posts are REALLY entertaining. Maybe more so if you know him. Anyway.

Brady and Peggy. The Meisenwangs. Peggy has started calling Brady Matt. And his dad calls him Matt, too. But they're a young married couple who moved to Beijing because Peggy is a genius and therefore gets lots of money to be a genius somewhere else. Brady went because he can only eat bland food, is scared of oppressive governments, and had never left the US before. And he's rather pale and has shockingly red hair. What better place to go than China?

Kevin. Nothing really to say. But I will anyway.

If you've only seen him on the ultimate field, you probably thought, "Hey, how is this 14 year old the best ultimate player anywhere on these fields." And then he would take off the weight vest, shedding 20% of his weight, and you'd realize you're screwed.

If you only saw him at Kraft, you probably thought, "Hey, isn't that Kolb's boyfriend from their cute pictures at the Kraft gym entrance?"

If you only saw him eat, you'd probably say, "Did he just eat his weight in meat at fogo?"

If you only saw his blog, you'd probably say, "I'm surprised he's this funny when he's not drunk."


Anyway, I'm hoping to learn to save money so I can fly over there for a tournament and play with all of them. That would be really cool. Z is probably over there somewhere, too. We only need a few more for a team. Who's in?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wednesday Morning Links

Sorry for the lack of posting. It seems only world travelers have the time to post to a food blog. Nothing interesting in food for me lately. So I'll just put up three links and hope for more culinary adventures in the future.

Jerry's is the best sandwich shop in the city. Now they will have a second location.

Mmmmm. Bacon sandwich.....

Mmmmm. BBQ.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Keema Matar

After all my railing against the dominance of Punjabi/North Indian/Mughlai food, the first recipe I'm going to post is for dish called Keema Matar, which falls firmly in that category. Ah well. This is an easy, one-dish meal, which was a staple of mine in grad school because it's so damn tasty. It was also a particular favorite of trophywife, who called it "the turkey thing":

I'm imprecise with the spices because like most Indian cooks, I cook by taste (andaaz, as mentioned before).


Keema Matar (ground meat with peas)


Ingredients:

1. 1 lb ground turkey (any ground meat will suffice)

2. 1 lb peas (frozen will do fine)

3. 2 medium yellow onions, diced into 1/4 inch pieces

4. 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste [available at any Indian store, or make your own]

5. 1 tbsp oil (any cooking oil, really)

6. Chili, Cumin, and Coriander powder (to taste) [start with 1 tspn each of cumin and coriander, and 1/2 tsp of chili powder, then keep adding as you like]

7. Salt, sugar, to taste

Optional:

8. Other veggies: a diced tomato can be nice, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms also go well with this. Make sure you dice the veggies relatively fine.


Instructions:

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan on high heat

2. Fry onions till they are translucent. Dust with salt, and the spice powders

3. Add ginger-garlic paste

4. Add peas (and other veggies, if desired)

5. Keep adding salt, spice powders

6. Add the meat.

7. Keep it up with they, yup, you guessed it, salt and spice powders.

8. When the meat browns, start tasting the mixture. If it is too salty/spicy, add some sugar. Otherwise, add salt/spice.

9. After the meat browns, turn the heat down to low, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, adjusting the spices to taste.

Serving Suggestions:

I like to eat this fresh out of the pot with some hot basmati rice. It also goes well with toasted bread, or naan, or pita. A little yogurt does well to cool the flames, if you've made it spicy. Stuffing a pita with this and yogurt/sour cream is really tasty.

Finally, leftovers can be used as the stuffing for an omelette. This might be my favorite thing to do with it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Grandma's Cooking

So, the day I left Assam, my grandmother asked me what I wanted for lunch. Since I like most everything, I hemmed and hawed, not wanting to make life hard for her, but eventually sacked up and requested the following Assamese feast. Unfortunately, I was to busy stuffing myself to take pictures, but here's an attempt at description:

First course: Poita Bhat with Mitha Tel and Khorisa (Fermented rice with mustard oil and bamboo shoots).
This is Assamese comfort food. You take some cooked parboiled rice, cover it with water, and soak it overnight in a cool, dark place. The fridge actually works fine. This ferments it, and gives it an interesting sweet/sour flavor. Drain it, and the mix it with mustard oil and salt, and bamboo shoots to taste. Mustard oil is incredibly pungent, and this is definitely not for everyone. Serve the mixture with a hot green chili and raw salt on the side. Bite into the chili, eat a little salt, and then eat a little of the rice mixture. It's a very loud, very ethnic party in your mouth.


Second course: Masor Mur with Bengana (Fish head curry with baby eggplant).
I actually have very little idea what spices went into this to make it so delicious. I know fish heads scare people, but they are delicious. Interesting texture, great flavor. I'm going to guess there was some onion/garlic (but just a little), salt, and sugar.


Third course: Dayal Bhat and Xak Bhaji (Rice and lentils with a side of stir-fried greens).
The X is Xak should be pronounced like an incredibly soft H. I have no good idea how to transliterate this, but this is relatively standard. Dayal = the Assamese word for Dal. This was a nice, simple Dal, just some onions, cumin, cilantro, and turmeric. No cream, no butter. Light, and very flavorful. I'll post an approximate recipe soon.

The stir fried greens are of note because the incredible variety of greens that one can obtain in Assam is just fantastic, and all have subtly different flavors. By cooking them very lightly, you can really appreciate these differences. I know the Assamese name for many of them, but not the English. Some example of the English ones I do know: Mustard greens, radish greens, collard greens, bok choy (ok, not English, but god knows, familiar to this audience), clover (!). Though, to be fair, clover usually goes into soups.


Fourth course: Masor Tenga (Lemon-tomato soup with fish).
I could rhapsodize about Tenga Anja (literally, sour soup) for ever. It is the signature dish in Assamese cuisine, a delicately flavored broth with lemon, tomatoes, and cilantro, that comes in a thousand variations. It's also incredibly easy to make. I will post instructions soon.

The beauty of it is that you can put almost anything in it. People put in potatoes to add body to the thin broth, or greens to add flavor. Squash or zucchini goes well to absorb flavor. Fried lentil dumplings are another traditional favorite (this variation is called bor diya tenga, bor = dumplings).

But my absolute favorite is masor tenga (mas = fish). The heart of Assam is the Brahmaputra river, and the capital city, Guwahati, is right on the river. Thus, each morning, vendors come by house-to-house selling freshly caught river fish. This fish, cut into relatively small (2"x2") bone-in pieces, is lightly shallow-fried with salt and turmeric rubbed in before being immersed in the broth. The result is just incredible.


Fifth course: Doyi Bhat with Gur and Kol (Yogurt rice with jaggery and banana).
In both of the cultures that I come from (Tamil and Assamese), yogurt and rice is eaten at the end of each meal. However, in south India it's eaten with a salty and spicy pickle of some sort, while here, in Assam, it's eaten with gur (basically, brown sugar in big chunks) and bananas, almost as a proto-dessert. I like it both ways. And since I was in Assam, I followed the sage advice of Ron Burgundy: "When in Rome...".

Sunday, April 1, 2007

In the Kitchen with Todd and Geoff

Before I get into the meat (ha!) of this post, I'd like to make a quick ancillary comment about the state of cinema today: "300" is possibly the most homoerotic movie I've ever seen. Geoff described it best as "an epic battle between RuPaul and a bunch of underwear models." It was pretty much two hours of impassioned speeches heralding immortal man-love punctuated by a thousand silhouette shots of spears thrusting through bodies. Made me realize I need to hit the gym more, but also caused me to question whether floor-length cloaks and bikini briefs are really the ideal battle garments. Oh well, see it for yourself, it was visually stunning and awesomely violent, and definitely fun for the whole family, provided the family comprises a bunch of people who like glistening Scottish dudes with really ripped abs killing each other. Anyway, food...

Right. Saturday night. Geoff and I left the movie a might peckish, and luckily our psychic bond with Todd has a 10-mile radius. Todd texted that he'd be cooking up a storm when we came over, so the Brown Bear and I hopped in the car and headed off to Food Source and the booze store for provisions. All we knew was that Todd was making chicken cacciatore in his Dutch oven. We scooped up some essentials (and by essentials I mean produce that we'd eventually figure out how to prepare and a bunch of sweet, sparkling wine).

Todd was cleaning the chicken when we arrived, so Geoff and I annexed the dining room table on behalf of the kitchen and got to work. Brown Bear cranked out some yummy bruschetta while we waited for the chicken to cook. I cleaned some sweet, crunchy carrots and tossed them in a 1:1 mixture of olive oil (wow, I can't believe I almost just wrote EVOO - somebody needs to slap the Food Network taste out of my mouth) and honey, with a generous grind of black pepper. After, I spread the cut-up carrots in a roasting pan and put them on the top shelf of the oven (above the bruschetta, for those of you keeping track of the menu) to roast for an indeterminate amount of time. The feast was simple, mostly because Todd did all the multi-step cooking.

I stood at the table, santoku in hand, as Todd threw me mushrooms, garlic, and whatever else needed to be sliced or diced. I love chopping food up - always have - it always seems so cathartic. Anyway, we listened to 80s music with "Mean Girls" playing on mute in the background as we cooked (which gives you an excellent picture of our usual Saturday nights, no doubt). The bruschetta was tasty - I love fresh oregano and I'm pretty sure I could just eat garlic and tomatoes if given the opportunity.

The time for chicken was nigh; I sauteed some asparagus in a quick grind of pepper, dash of salt, and about half a lemon's worth of juice. Todd prepared a pungent salad of arugula, fennel, oregano-cooked mushrooms, and a zesty lemon vinaigrette. Wow, I can't believe I just used "zesty" seriously...

Everything came together wonderfully - the slow-cooked chicken fell apart as we speared the meat, the asparagus and carrots complemented the cacciatore nicely, and the salad was crisp and delicious. All that was left, then, was a bit of dessert.

I had bought a bagful of yummy-looking pears earlier and a little snit of bourbon just in case (I mean, things come up, right?) of emergency. In a flash of [potential] brilliance, I decided that pears poached in a bourbon/caramel glaze would do the trick just nicely. I let the cut-up pears stew in some of our wonderfully sweet wine as the sugar and bourbon intermingled in melty nirvana in the adjacent pot. From there, I poured off the wine from the pears into the sauce and brought it to a boil, stirring like a madman to avoid a foamy, but sweet, mess. After a few minutes I poured mosted of the bourbon-sugar-wine sauce mixture back into the pears and poached them for about 15 minutes as I let the glaze sit. The pears cooked until tender, I served each of us a generous helping accompanied by a generous pour of the bourbon sauce. I'd say the dish turned out well, but would have really benefited from some vanilla ice cream (if only to prevent us from the inevitable 2nd degree mouth burns from the molten pear-bourbon-sugar).

All in all, a delicious meal, and certainly more fun in the making than if we had gone out. An excellent end to what turned out to be a busy, stressful week for all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What are you, some kind of tapas expert?

It seems like I've become bored with conventional, one-plate dinners, since most of my reviews lately have described tapas places around the country. I promise I haven't grown tired of a hearty burger and fries or chicken pot pie or whatever else isn't really sharing-type finger food. I guess I just have a sweet spot for variety. Call me crazy.

My folks and I met the vivacious M. for dinner at Eno Vino, another of the few retaurants on the West Side that doesn't serve mud butt-inducing crap food or force its employees to adhere to strict flair standards. In fact, since I took my parents to it last Christmas, Eno Vino has become their default joint for a "nice meal" (read: where they serve wine and real cocktails that don't have umbrellas in them). It's a pretty fantastic place - the lights are always low, chairs are wrapped in a rich mahogany leather, and St. Germain never fails to make an appearance on the iPod-driven stereo (thanks, bartender, for the appetite-whetting downtempo beats).

We arrived, sat, and launched immediately into our usual perusal of Eno Vino's seemingly voluminous-yet-one-page menu of succulent shareables, flatbread pizzas, and the like. By the way, I'm pretty sure Succulent Shareables ought to be up there with Potent Potables for 500, Alex. Anyway, M. and I opened with a pair of key lime pie martinis (she recommended them, and I'm a sucker for doing what a beautiful blonde tells me, especially when it is related to pie in even an ancillary fashion), while my dad went for their best ice water and my mother, in her usual unexpected twisty kind of way opted for a cosmo. Apparently she'd fallen in love when supping with her brother, the fabulous and wordly Uncle Steve from South Beach. We bandied around a couple of ideas, and the rest of the table decided I ought to order in their stead. Maybe they've been reading the blog...

I guess now would be a good time to mention that Eno Vino, as its name implies, is actually a wine bar that serves food, and their selection trumps most other wine lists in Madison. It's also one of the few places in town where you can order a quartino - that's about a third of a bottle of wine, for those of you who aren't semi-lush enough to know. Anyway, good wine, good cocktails, but back to the food.

I decided on an eclectic mix of grilled double lamb chops with roasted fingerlings and a minted winter vegetable ragout, foie gras (seared with roasted brandy apples and a cider reduction and served alongisde a quail egg dripping with truffled Hollandaise), portabella mushroom ravioli with a port cream and micro greens, and a flatbread topped with lump crab, bacon, thick slices of avocado, jalapeno (I can't make the tilde on this computer, forgive me), fontina cheese and a mango drizzle). Yum!

The food was delicious, although at the end we were left a bit misty-eyed that our favorite flatbread (with thinly-sliced tenderloin, a creamy sauce, and portabella mushrooms) had been elminated from the menu. All in all, however, the meal was excellent and presentation very aesthetically pleasing. The foie gras stood out - it was like a little battle of unconventional bird parts, with a seared slab of foie gras stacked on buttery, crusty bread on one end and the over-easy, melt-in-your-mouth quail's egg atop its toasty tower on the other. Luckily, neither M. nor my dad wanted any, so Mom and I made short work of it, and I only had to restrain myself from stabbing her for the foie gras once. Or twice.

Bellies full, we sauntered into the warm spring evening (rather atypical for this time of year in Madison, but not at all unpleasant), said our good byes to M. with a promise to meet again and added congratulations for her acceptance into med school, and headed home.

Eno Vino
601 Junction Rd.
Madison, WI 53717
(608) 664-9565
http://www.eno-vino.com

Ribs. Chicken. Jalapenos.

There wasn’t much in the culinary aspect of this past weekend that would be deemed particularly exotic or adventuresome. It was all rather straightforward. At the same time, it was wholly satisfying. Anticipating decent spring-type weather to start the Spring League season here in Chicago, Joe and I lured the Martin-Lee family up to Lincoln Square for dinner Friday night at Los Nopales. We were seated right away at 7 pm. Pretty cool. They even made room for Akira to squeeze in when he found out we were there and demanded a seat. It’s BYOB, so we brought a six pack each of Pacifico and XX. They were nice enough to provide limes, so we opened our beers and ordered some guacamole. I realize that the Scrumptulescence team hasn’t posted about Los Nopales yet. I’m hoping if I foot the entire bill for Joe to get a good sampling of their menu, he will agree to do a write up about it in his true Crazy Nomad style. Trust me when I say this: It is a small family owned Mexican restaurant, where they use fresh ingredients and basic techniques to make delicious food. I once asked what was in their guacamole. It’s so good, I had to know the secret. Turns out they just make it fresh to order, and only put in 4 things besides the avocado. I think they might be on to something. Anyway, our table had tacos, mainly. Tacos al pastor, Chorizo tacos, and Tilapia tacos. Akira had the carne asada / chile rellenos combo, and Thor had a combo plate with some other stuff, like a taco, an enchilada, and maybe a tamale. I don’t remember. Everything was great, it came out fast, and we topped it off by splitting a slice of tres leches cake. Everyone should try this place.

Saturday morning brought the first day of spring league, and a gorgeous 70+ degree day. This is a food blog, so I won’t go into much detail, but my team won. Our household is split over 3 teams. The other teams in the household did not win. Such is life. My team played early games, so I went home to get the gas grill going and threw together a basic cookout meal to celebrate the nice weather. Not a lot of people, nothing special food-wise, except it was all pretty good. It started off with some guacamole prepared by Angela (which was excellent) as well as some weak salsa prepared by me. The main courses were chicken thighs marinated in mojo criollo, some excellent bratwursts provided by a certain someone’s special someone, a few chicken andouille sausages by Amy, and a grill full of red peppers, zucchini, and portabella mushrooms. Nothing special, but everything was pretty good.

Sunday was the big day. Meal # 3 on the Weber Smoker. Dragged Joe with me to Costco where I purchased six racks of baby back ribs, along with some asparagus and pita chips. Then I took a quick trip to Family Fruit Market to pick up a few more fixin’s. Then I prepared the ribs. A quick rinse in water, followed by a quick rinse with vinegar. A light coating of mustard, a thicker coating of spice rub. Start the fire in the smoker, get the smoke moving. Throw on all six slabs on 2 levels.

While the ribs were cooking, I made hummus, Grandma’s pasta salad, and BBQ sauce. I also sliced open some fresh jalapeƱos, pulled out the ribs and seeds, stuffed them with chorizo, and wrapped them in bacon. Call it an amuse bouche if you want, although I might have to shoot you if you do. As people started arriving, the double batch of hummus disappeared rather quickly. I kept everything else in reserve. After 3+ hours on the smoker, including a top and bottom rack swap, one flip, and a few spritzes with cranberry juice and olive oil, the ribs were done smoking. I was able to send Ruby the dog in to distract everyone while I took the ribs off, covered them in foil, and hid them in the oven. I put the stuffed jalapeƱos and 1.5 pounds of fresh Italian sausage on the smoker. Then I fired up the gas grill and covered it with 2 pounds of asparagus that had been tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne (thanks boss). When it was time to put everything on the table, this is what it looked like.




Everything is pretty identifiable. The BBQ sauce is a little shadowed, but it looked like BBQ sauce. The potato chips are jalapeno crunchers. Great BBQ food. The wine is Casillero del Diablo Carmenere from Chile. Great casual red wine. You might not buy it because of it’s price. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Closeup time. The pasta salad is very basic. I actually didn’t put enough mayo in, but I knew the crowd would like it better with less mayo. I just used Grandma’s recipe, but instead of the rainbow rotini, I used a very nice imported whole wheat pasta that somehow avoids the graininess of most whole wheat pastas.





Grilled asparagus. So easy, so good.





The smoker has a lot of fire left in it even after 3+ hours of cooking time. Stuffed, wrapped jalapenos and Italian sausage seemed like good things to throw on while the ribs rested awhile. The Italian Sausage was tasty enough, but the flavors were a little too subtle to stand up to the ribs and the jalapenos. The jalapenos were really good. A could of guests said they were the best thing they’ve had that I’ve cooked.





How was the main event? Pretty good. I need to work on the fire control a little bit. They might have been a little overdone in places, but overall, flavor and texture were good. I didn’t sauce them at all, preferring to let the guests add sauce for themselves. People seemed to like them. I thought they were pretty good. Definitely be making them again pretty soon, I would say. Here are a couple of slabs, before I sectioned them for easier eating.







I have to say, it was a pretty good culinary weekend, and the food was appropriate to the weather. Now that we’re supposed to drop into the 40’s this afternoon, I need to start thinking about braising and stewing again, until it’s time for spring to come back. Hopefully mid-April.

Oh, who were the guests? The roommates minus the new guy. One brand new (and fantastic) ultimate player who is also a roommate girlfriend. The Russells, the Martin-Lees, some tall guy from Indiana, puppy Ruby, and her owner. Three of those people just kind of showed up and were fed. If you’re feeling left out, you shouldn’t. I generally don’t make too many phone calls for these things. Just call if you sense there might be something cooking.



Sunday, March 25, 2007

Great Grape!

Okay, just in case you thought I'd descended into full-time melancholy, I'm back with another honest-to-goodness review without any hint of existential crisis! As part of my week in Madison, I thought it would be appropriate to review one of my favorite places back home. I called the delightful M., my favorite luncheon counterpart in the Mad City, and she wasn't so bogged down by a certain healthcare IT company to come out and play for a little while. I suggested Grape and Company, an independent wine shop no larger than your average pantry. It's located, nay, hidden, on the west side of town (right by where my folks live, in fact) in a little strip mall that houses such rarities as Atlanta Bread Company and the Madison Public Library. Well, my dad likes the library, and I confess to a certain fondness for any kind of hearty soup in a bread bowl, so...

Anyway. Grape and Company. Good little place, I've always made a point to stop by whenever I'm in town for the sage advice of Jack, the owner-resident wine expert-fresh mozzarella technician who owns the place. Jack and his wife moved to Madison from New York (which might as well be Istanbul or Djibouti, for all the cosmopolitan graces most Madisonians lack) for some unknown reason (ostensibly to bring solid wine knowledge and delicious pastries to an otherwise culture-starved population). I'm glad they did, whatever the reason, because Grape is one of the most delightful shops I know. There was a time when I still lived in Madison that I would make a weekly (or twice, even thrice, weekly) venture to Grape, if only to shoot the breeze with Jack. Yeah, right. It's impossible for me to leave Target empty-handed, much less a store full to the brim with delicious wines, melt-in-your-mouth confectionaries, and a variety of cheese that intimidate even the most sage cheeseophile (if there's an actual word for this, 1) please don't tell me, and 2) I really don't care).

In any case, I'd usually stroll in, glance about, read a few of the wonderfully descriptive tags that adorn each bottle of wine and pronounce the libations Bold, Big, Refreshing, Sweet, and the like, and then defer to the man behind the counter's better judgment. He would point out one or two I hadn't even seen lurking behind the cab I was holding, and I couldn't say no. There were a couple times I actually bought the place out of a certain riesling because I'd heard it was going out of production. Yeah, I'd heard that rumor three or four times and went into panic each time, snatching up at least half a dozen bottles like it was Wine2K (Jesus, I just thought of that, and it's probably the most hilarious thing I've ever written. I'm tempted to put it in bold). I still have one bottle left, but that's another story...

So yeah, M. and I went over to Grape because I'd heard the served lunch, and I was dying to try it. We arrived to Jack's smiling face and engaging chit-chat, then took a couple minutes to peruse the wines, cheese, and smallish sandwich and specials menu. M. ordered a turkey with Irish cheddar and raspberry dijon mustard on a flour-dusted sourdough roll. I held out until they offered me the pizza special - traditional Neopolitan-style margherita with freshly-made dough, pungent basil, thick-sliced, vine-ripe tomatoes, and some of Jack's trademark mozzarella.

M. and I sat in the back, at the counter by the oven, and were treated to the sight of my pizza cooking away until the clarion *ding* of the oven timer. The savory rectangle placed before me, I set on the simply-dressed field greens and sipped a glass of Pillar Box Red, a subtle shiraz-cab-merlot blend that played on the sweet undertones of the merlot while allowing the spice of the shiraz to show through in a slightly dampened fashion. All in all, simply delicious.

I was sad not to have enough room for a nibble of honeyed goat cheese or a marzipan fruit, but I trust I'll be back soon enough. Grape was, as always, great atmosphere, nice people, and delicious wine and food.

Grape and Company
745 N. Highpoint Rd.
Madison, WI 53717
(608) 831-8900
http://www.grapeandcompany.com

A Sip of Tea, a Bite of Thought

I'll preface this entry with another "bear with me" disclaimer - I hope you'll forgive this entirely self-indulgent post; another stroll through the dusky narrows of my heart and stomach. Sure, it's about food...but only as much as anything so self-exploratory can be about anything in particular.

It starts with a moment. I sit in repose on what used to be my bed (still is, officially, but I've since moved on to bigger, more comfortable sleeping quarters where cats' noses touch mine as we sleep and most times I wake up reaching for ghostly figures and phantom warmth). Clean, white light of Sunday morning streams through open windows. Strains Neil Young's "Live at Massey Hall 1971" mingle with my dad's tippity-tap on the keyboard at the desk by the windows. I stare at the ceiling, holding back the urge to scroll through my phone's contacts and send a random text. Nervous habit, that, but usually my chief means of communication with the outside world. All of a sudden (it's a rather languid sudden, though; today isn't for rushing about) it hits me: I'm thirsty. And a bit hungry.

I lift myself out of bed and move quietly out of the room, down the hallway that still holds the crappy watercolor and crayon drawing of trees reflected on water I made in third grade that somehow became the cornerstone of any perceived artistic talent within me. Down the stairs, back into the kitchen whose description you, reader, ought to be familiar with - you have been reading, haven't you? A quick aside: this post, while mostly introspective, will also be at times fiercely second-person. I hope it doesn't seem confrontational.

I reach into the daisy-printed bucket that holds an indeterminate number of tea bags and pull out one of the new Mighty Leaf green tea bags my mom scooped up the other day. As I read the tea bag's paper holder, a familiar, delicious smell wafts up and touches my nose. It's very subtle, like a closed-eye dandelion brush, but memories of summer days at the local pool, picnics where the wind blows the grass against my toes, and cold milk with Cheerios all clamor and shove to the front of my mind. I look down. Strawberries! Perhaps, I think as I write (how wonderfully postmodern, huh?), the use of an exclamation point is a bit superfluous - I generally try to reserve such drastic punctuation for truly urgent communication (Fire! Watch out! I'm so excited!), and don't get me started on multiple exclamation points (which are, in my mind, only appropriate in prose dealing with natural disasters and grisly, overplayed death scenes). I'll keep it there, though, since I want to convey the tinge of excitement that welled up when I noticed the plump, barn red fruits. I confess I didn't sample one - really, the smell was enough for me. You know what I mean. Right?

Back to my tea. I tore open the outer package and extricated a uniquely-bagged specimen of green tea infused with some tropical blend of fruit essence. I had laughed when Mom had described a new kind of tea whose leaves were "pulled apart, but whole," and whose gauzy wrapping was "more open" than normal tea bags. I mean, aren't most tea bags filled with pulled apart tea leaves wrapped in mesh? I was, I admit, skeptical, but when I examined this bag and pulled it close to my nostrils to take in its latent aroma I realized she was right. Instead of pulverized tea powder, nearly-whole leaves of green tea rested in a delightfully translucent pouch. The bag wasn't like its nearly-opaque cousins, but rather was more of a dusky viewing-glass to the tea that only barely obscured its dark green contents. More of a tea display than a tea bag, if you ask me. I dropped the bag into an empty mug and flipped the switch on the electric teapot (please note, reader, that this is one of the single most wonderful inventions of the 20th century, if not ever. Just imagine, hot water whenever you want it).

Ding! (Another exclamation point, but this time to reinforce my use of urgent onomatopeoia). I turned the teapot over, awaiting a steaming cascade of water to hit the tea and transubstantiate into what I imagined would be an excellent drink. Not so, though, since I had failed to notice the teapot was empty. Minor setback indeed. I'll cut to the chase: water in, water out, tea made.

"Green Tea Passion," promises the protective tea-pouch. It makes me think: I've been struggling so much with that barely-kindled fire within. I seek my own passion, my unique blend of ache and want and horizon-looking struggle. Perhaps it's time I take a step back. What do I seek? Well, with each sip of my not-too-hot tea I realize one thing: I'm passionate about tea.