Posts tagged in which I reminisce about my youth
Posts tagged in which I reminisce about my youth
I was all nervous about posting this earlier in the week because I thought that Irene might destroy all the tomatoes. Luckily, that is not the case in Portland and we got a ton of tomatoes at the CSA pick up. I think we’re solidly in the moving-the-product phase of tomato season.
Not that I’m complaining, because how often can you make a good salad by cutting up one piece of fruit and sprinkling salt over it? It makes dinner so much easier!
Finally, a story:
When I was in Montreal immediately after college and only demi-employed, I spent a fairly significant amount of my time wandering around their food markets (Marche Atwater and Marche Jean Talon are the biggies). I was at Marche Atwater one afternoon and saw this gorgeous display of tomatoes. They were spectacular. I asked for two large tomatoes (some stands don’t like you to handle the tomatoes before you buy, mostly to keep you from squeezing them. See also). The older woman at the stand gently placed them into a bag for me, took my money, but would not hand over my bag of just-purchased tomatoes until she received verbal assent that I would absolutely not put them in the refrigerator. She was right. Don’t put them in the refrigerator. They get mealy. I tell you this because we do not all encounter older Quebecoise women in our impressionable youth to guide us in this way.
I spent a summer while I was in college working for Tealuxe in Boston. I made a lot of iced tea in mass quantities.* I’d scoop the tea leaves into long paper envelopes about the size of postcards, staple them together, drop them into a big metal double-walled drum with a spigot at the bottom, fill it halfway with boiling water, and then set a timer for it to steep. When the timer went off, I’d fill the rest of the drum with ice.** The key was that you made the tea twice as strong and steeped it twice as long as you would for hot tea. The other key was that you tried to avoid accidentally spilling the drum of boiling water on yourself and necessitating a trip to the emergency room.
This is a process that’s pretty easy to translate to home-cooking quantities, and there’s quite a bit less risk of really painful burns. I have a six-cup teapot and a more than 12-cup glass pitcher. You do not want to pour boiling water that you will then quickly cool into a glass pitcher (unless you want the glass to shatter all over, as it did frequently when someone new decided that they could pour iced tea into glasses still hot from the dishwasher). And I want more than six cups of iced tea. However, you can make the twice-as-strong, twice-as-long tea in the teapot, cool it a little, and then pour it into the pitcher to cool it the rest of the way. I would recommend this also if you only have a plastic pitcher, since there’s something about pouring boiling water into plastic that makes me uncomfortable.
Pour boiling water over 7 or 8 teabags of black tea (I used half decaf English Breakfast and half regular English Breakfast) in a six cup teapot. Cover and set a timer for seven or so minutes (black tea would normally steep for 3 - 5 minutes). Remove tea bags and stir in anywhere from 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup of honey (I generally use about 2 tablespoons). Add a handful of ice. Stir to dissolve. Pour some of the tea carefully into your larger pitcher, add more ice to the remaining tea in the teapot, stir, and pour the remaining tea into the pitcher. Add at least one full tray of ice to the pitcher, possibly more. If you have it, crumple up a sprig of mint and toss it in.
It’s good for a few days in the fridge.
Here’s a picture from my office so you can see exactly how messy things have gotten in the past year.
* I also mastered a facial expression that communicated 80% “I am a pleasant and accommodating food service professional that values you as a customer and fellow human being” and 20% withering disdain.
** If you go into a tea shop, and instead of having a selection of two to four iced tea varieties available, they tell you that they can “make iced tea from any of their teas!” that means you’re going to be waiting basically forever for your iced tea. If there’s a line, and you ask them to make you some custom iced tea, you will probably get a look that’s at least 40% withering disdain.
True stories from my youth: The first night I got to London when I was in college (the night before I met Dave at a mixer for international students at the university pub and he asked me out for dinner because he got there too late for the canapes), I didn’t know anyone, and my flatmates had pity on me and invited me to see Sweet Home Alabama with them.
I don’t really know how to describe the accents my flatmates had— like a super strong British equivalent of a valley girl accent with lots of ‘f’ sounds instead of ‘th’ sounds.
It’s very weird being in London with a bunch of British people you don’t know, seeing a rom com movie about the South. I mean, is this what the south is like? No? Yes? I don’t know how to answer that question. It’s a real region? As opposed to a romantic comedy set?
Also, the British people I met had some super offensive term to describe Southern food and I had to be all like, this is a legitimate regional cuisine with a long and rich history and you should not be using that term because it is offensive to these people. I have since forgotten the term. And somewhere in heaven my southern relatives and my northern relatives were holding hands and singing kumbaya.
Also, Dave took me to all these fancy Southern restaurants in Atlanta when I went to visit him there, because he had an internship at a law firm that paid him in actual money as opposed to poetry books and binder clips at my magazine internship, and I fell in love with fancy southern food.
My brother is pretty cool sometimes.
Emily* recently drew my attention to this Roz Chast piece about bananas. It’s funny, and I can relate, even though I currently like bananas.
Friends, I have hated bananas. Passionately. I gagged when I tried to eat them. They were one of the most disgusting foods I could imagine. Up there with grapefruit and cereal with milk** (breakfast was not a good time for me). I now enjoy them quite a bit and would probably eat them even more often if it weren’t for their tendency to get horrifically bruised in my purse and turn to half-black-mush. For those purse-required instances, we have the travel apple, for which we should be endlessly grateful.
All this banana-reminiscing reminded me that there are a lot of foods that I used to not like and now like: grapefruit and bananas, tomato sauce, avocado, anchovies, meatballs, liver, most manners of cooking eggs, brussels sprouts, mustard, bacon. I know, everyone likes bacon.
As my dad tells it*** I ate lots of things when I was very little, everything in fact. I’m not sure how old I was when this was the case. I do remember him picking us up on Wednesday afternoons when I was in elementary school and driving us into Chinatown in Boston to restaurants where the staff didn’t really speak English and ordering food that the waitress did not think we should be eating. This is how he and my brother ended up eating chicken feet when I was a little kid, which became a favored story of vindication for me. But apart from the chicken feet, as my dad tells it, there were lots of weird things that I ate.
And then, as the story goes, I stopped. I didn’t particularly like sandwiches— too many conflicting flavors and textures and potential for dissonance. I didn’t like most sauces on things, including and especially tomato sauce. I disliked fruit on the bottom yogurt. I took issue with a number of breakfast fruits. Vegetables, as I recall, were generally okay. Seafood and shellfish was great. I think my mum mostly didn’t get into it with me: I remember eating a fair amount of pasta with butter and parmesan with vegetables on the side.
My dad, however, had not had his spirit beaten down by a full-time job followed by making sure that we were alive, fed, and not killing each other on a day-to-day basis for weeks and months at a time. He had us mostly on off weekends and Wednesday afternoons, so he still believed he could win.****
I don’t have a child, so I’m in somewhat unfamiliar territory here, but I feel okay saying that I don’t think you can win. A kid can sit at a table however long they need to to ensure that they do not have to eat banana. They don’t have things they need to do. You’ve got shit to do. And even though you’re motivated to get them to eat well (Child services! Scurvy! Iron deficiency!), you also need to get everyone dressed and make sure you get a present for whatever kid’s birthday party and wash the dishes and get a start on the day because it and actually the very material of your life is slipping through that immortal hourglass and each second you are creeping slowly closer to death. The kid can sit there forever. You are going to die first.
I came around to avocados and bacon pretty quickly. But the foods that were most associated with breakfast purgatory at my dad’s (grapefruit, bananas, cereal with milk) took the longest to fall back into favor.
It’s interesting to me that I eat so many foods, and like so many things, given that history. I guess the point is that your tastes change. And that sometimes, as a parent, it might be worth letting it go.
* You really should go to her website, she’s a super talented graphic designer. She’s also super cool. Every once in a while I encounter people that make me think, wow, you’re so cool, I would like to be your friend and do cool people things, except that I’m a little awkward. Emily is one of those people.
** I’ve come around on grapefruit, but not so much the cereal with milk.
*** Any story that begins “As my dad tells it” should be automatically suspect, my dad (and the majority of his family) being particularly susceptible to the kind of exaggeration that leads to a more entertaining story. The telling of a good story trumps a lot of things in my dad’s family. Sometimes these stories are almost entirely factually true, because my dad and his side of the family also have a tendency to do things that will turn themselves into good stories, but sometimes the stories are only say 60 - 90% true.
**** My dad and I have powered through, and now have a wonderful relationship in which we talk about jerusalem artichoke recipes, and how to fix the decor in Miyake, and the state of the country, and tacky renovations, and draw pictures on napkins together.
This has got to be the ugliest canape I have ever seen in my entire life.
Two only semi-related other pieces of business:
1. When I was in London I got a job with a catering company, mostly catering high-end passed canape type events, and it felt like each time I went there was some new insane arm strength test: So tonight we have small passed canapes on trays of stone with large decorative things at the edge! Be careful, they’re tippy! I kid you not, I once served food on top of large clear boxes filled with hot pink something and lights. They were both heavy and unwieldy. If you recall, I have not a whole lot of arm strength.
The moral of the story? If you are at an event with passed canapes and you notice that they’re on stone trays, it is your obligation to eat at least two. Maybe three. No one likes to work at an event in which people don’t eat and you just stand there in some kind of horrible purgatory when you’re holding an enormous tray that you cannot ever put down while the canapes begin to look more and more freakish and unappetizing and your arms start jiggling uncontrollably.
On the other hand, if there is not a ton of food at the event, and you stand next to the kitchen door and immediately scoop up half of whatever is on the tray as soon as the waiter enters the room, stuffing things into your mouth with as much sauce as you can balance on each little item, monopolizing the tray and keeping the waiter from moving away from the door, they are judging you.
2. If you have apricots at home, I highly recommend dipping them into dark chocolate and then chopped pistachios and then letting them cool and harden a bit and then eating them maniacally until they’re all gone, which works out to anywhere from 10 minutes to a day, depending on how many you made and whether they’re kept within arm’s reach.
Pistachio, Blue Cheese and Apricot Canapes
16-20 dried apricots
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 oz salted pistachios, shelled and chopped
1 tsp honey + more for drizzling
In a bowl mix the blue cheese, chopped pistachios and 1 tsp of honey, until it forms a bit of a paste that can be shaped. Use a tsp to form out little round mounds and place on on top of each apricot. Arrange on a serving platter and drizzle with honey.
via Janet is Hungry
When I was fresh out of college, I moved to Montréal to live with Dave, who was getting a graduate degree there. I don’t speak French, and I had a work visa for only 6 months, and I generally just hung out with my boyfriend. I mean, I had jobs, but not serious, full-time jobs, certainly. I’m glad it worked out between us, because otherwise the whole thing would have the cast of a early-twenties boondoggle/mistake rather than a lovely romantic sojourn.
In any case, I did a lot of cooking. I made this spectacular sea bass once with a curried cream sauce. So good. And a salad with fennel, shrimp, and feta, that was certainly the first time I cooked with fennel. I made things that had a lot of steps, because I had whole afternoons to kill, and I made things with obscure ingredients that necessitated trips to the beautiful, beautiful markets.
I also ate a large, large number of baguettes, fresh from the bakery as I walked back from one of my jobs, which coincided nicely with the 5 pm baguettes being cooled enough for sale but not yet sold out.
Montréal is a fantastic city, and more than any other city I’ve lived in, I miss living there every single time I visit.
And here is one reason I wish I lived in Montreal again, courtesy of my latest trip:
This store in above photo. I want to live there. I touched every single thing in that store. They have the most beautiful dark grey/purple casserole dishes you have ever seen in your entire life.
The dishtowels alone were shockingly lovely.
Even Dave had to admit that the saucepans were gorgeous. The saucepans!
Also, it was just down the street from a shop that had a leather jacket that fit me like it was made for me. Unfortunately, it fit me like it was made for me and also like I had far, far more money to spend on unnecessary leather jackets than I actually have. If I had been there with my mum instead of Dave, I would have left with the jacket. I tell you that.
After my mum and I got back from the beach, I made a open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices on it and honest to god, it was one of the best damn things I’ve eaten in a long time.
I got the tomatoes in our farm share. I also got some of the most beautiful flowers there. The farm is Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, ME. I love them. Really, really, I do. We got a lot of greens and turnips early on, but we’re getting all this great stuff now, and Ralph does the pickup in Portland and he and I chat and I just love them. I heart you, Ralph and Lisa. And I heart your delicious, delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers (if I’m remembering correctly, Ralph comes from a line of peony farmers/growers, and if it wasn’t immediately obvious, peonies are some of my favorite flowers in the universe*).
Check out their mission statement:
“While we agree that using sustainable agricultural practices, maintaining our Organic certification, maintaining open spaces, and preserving the agricultural heritage of our community are all important to us, these things are not “why” we farm, they are “how” we farm. The simple truth is that the reason we farm is to provide the freshest, best tasting farm products to our customers, the people who live in our community, at reasonable prices.”
Doesn’t that just warm your heart? It does mine. You should all go out and join a CSA that you love the way I love Laughing Stock Farm.***
Anyway, I did some afternoon errands and now I’m feeling like maybe I want to cook this smitten kitchen everyday chocolate cake, even though it’s hot, and even though I need to be making dilly beans immediately before the green beans go bad.**
That blog post is sort of unfocused, no? This is what happens to my brain when it gets hot and I go to the beach.
* Dave and I started dating in January (7 1/2 years ago, holy shit!), so we had only been dating a little while when Valentine’s Day rolled around.
Now, I know Valentine’s Day is all over-hyped and uncool, but I love it. When I was a kid, my dad would make these beautiful handmade jigsaw puzzles for us every Valentine’s Day, and my mum still sends me and my older brother Valentine’s cards every year, and I just think there’s something so wonderful about a holiday in which you tell the people in your life that you love them. It’s easy for the whole thing to feel clichéd and like a lot of pressure, but if you let go of that and find a way into it that feels authentic and genuine, it’s a lovely holiday. Making Valentine’s cards for my brothers is one of my favorite things to do ever.
Anyway, we planned to get lunch. Except that then Dave was really late for lunch and I couldn’t get in touch with him. And then I thought he was standing me up for lunch on Valentine’s Day (which is amusing, if you know Dave, because he is really not that sort. He’s a midwesterner. Who bought me a pillow when we were first dating because we commisserated briefly about the uncomfortable pillows [which, by the way, was a touch too much for just dating]. He won’t let us use his crazy amazing work discount rate when we stay at hotels because he feels it’s stealing.) So I can’t reach him and can’t reach him, and then at like, 2 pm, he calls me to meet for lunch. And he’s been late because he went to buy me a big bouquet of beautiful yellow daffodils. (If I remember correctly. They weren’t red roses, because I don’t like them and buying them on Valentine’s Day is like saying, “I love you in the most generic way possible.”) And all was mostly forgiven.
Which is to say, flowers are always a lovely gift. Yes they wilt. Yes they’re sort of obvious. But they are beautiful and life affirming and they make the recipient’s house pretty and sometimes they smell nice, too. They make you look like a gentleman in the best way, even if you just stood up the girl you are dating for lunch on Valentine’s Day.
** I found the dill seed at Rosemont Market in Portland. That store is the size of my kitchen, maybe, but miraculously, they have almost everything you would want, including a large and well-edited wine selection, cheeses, pre-made sandwiches and foods, fresh local vegetables for reasonable prices, homemade breads, local meat and dairy, and an assortment of other pantry goods and sweets. If I lived on that side of Portland, I would go there all the time and probably love it the way I love the West End Deli. Maybe more. (!!)
*** I met them at a CSA meet-and-greet thing this winter, and Ralph was serving a beet dish on a cracker with local chevre and I was sold. I mean, I also took their literature along with everyone elses’ and compared prices and locations and convenience of pickup and length of time farming and all that. But I was rooting for them after the beet thing.
I’m not really a coffee drinker, but I can get behind a cold caffeinated beverage that involves sweetened condensed milk. There were a few semesters in college in which I interned at an avant garde poetry magazine* that was down the street from a Thai not-exactly-restaurant-but-maybe-more-like-counter-or-medium-sized-commercial-closet and I drank gallons of Thai ice tea. Gallons. Thai iced tea and unsolicited poetry submissions.
Anyway, even though I am not a coffee drinker, and have thus far refused to learn to make coffee, I think I could do this and enjoy it.
On the same page of the Food and Wine, a quote:
The Japanese method of brewing iced coffee works best with fruit-forward beans roasted on the lighter end o the spectrum, like those from East Africa.
It’s not clear to me that “the Japanese method” is described on this page. Also, there’s a pull quote that reads, “coffee snobs prefer cold brewing” that I think maybe could have prompted more reflection among Food and Wine staff than it seems to have. Or maybe this is what you get when you lecture the designers about proper brewing technique.
* It was in the east village and shared a basement space with a group that did something related to architecture that was not actually designing things. I find this kind of amusing in hindsight, like some bizarro 500 Days of Summer but without the sunlight. Or office sex.