Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Football and Calas

Waitress at The Coffee Pot
I never thought I'd have anything to say about football, but here I am, in New Orleans, surrounded by football.  With my usual dumb luck, I fell into an historic moment here.  Sunday was a special day in New Orleans--the day of the big game.  Now I know nothing--I mean nothing--about football.  Don't know how it's played, don't understand when people score, or why they kick the ball sometimes, and throw it the rest of the time.

But I love a good story.  And the today's New Orleans Saints are a great story.  To recap: this past Sunday they played the Vikings--the winner getting a ride to the Super Bowl.  The Saints have never gone to the Super Bowl.  The game was played at the infamous Louisiana Superdome.  Being a Red Sox fan, even for only 11 years, I think I have a bit of an idea about how they feel.

Setting the TV up for the Game (I think he lacked the converter)
Ever since we arrived here Saturday morning, the excitement has been palpable (and audible).  I'd say  8 out of 10 people I pass on the street are wearing something Saints related: team jersey's, t-shirts screaming the 'Who Dat' cheer, black and gold mardis gras beads with fleur de lis.  Business casual men in khaki pants wearing pink woven belts with fleur de lis mingle with gentlemen wearing fleur de lis ties or pins on their lapels.

The point is it's everywhere.  Bars have signs in their windows, but so do upscale galleries in the Central Business District, and white-tablecloth restaurants.  The signs hang in the windows of homes and businesses, on the St. Charles streetcars, and flash on the buses, alternating with the destination.  Sandwich boards proclaim 'Geaux Saints' and 'Braveaux Boys'.  Get the picture?

Pavel and I mainly skipped the evening. I've never been tempted to come here for Mardis Gras, and the Sunday game was pretty close to that, from what I heard.  It also felt a little wrong, me, a football non-enthusiast.  And that's all on me--New Orleans is not the kind of city that lets you feel an outsider.  So we contented ourselves with drinks at the hotel bar, watching some of the game, and then going up to our room.  Just after the Saints won, I looked out the window and saw men with instrument cases pouring out of the building across the way.  Horns and shouts and laughter and happiness.  And it didn't stop until long after we went to sleep.  In fact, at 1 I looked out the window and saw the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway, of people coming in to town. Still.

And the calas?  Once common, these rice fritters are hard to find now.  When we got to town I picked up a copy of Edible New Orleans (always a good way to get your bearings in a new town), and there was an article about calas (and one about Ramos Gin Fizzes as well, but that's another story).  Apparently on of the few places left to enjoy them is at The Coffee Pot in the French Quarter.  So Monday morning I picked my way over the shards left from the celebrations of last night, and went for calas.

What I forgot was the city would largely be asleep.  The Coffee Pot was nearly empty.  But it was still hopping. The Saints theme song (Who Dat, natch) played on a loop the whole time I was there.  The waitress was in full Saints regalia: jersey, beads, hat, and the front section of the newspaper worn sandwich board style.  My calas were about what you'd expect: crispy on the outside, soft inside, scented with nutmeg.  They came with a side of grits (something I dearly love).  As I ate my calas, the customers tumbled in, most of them hugging the waitresses, reliving where they were when it happened, and how late they were out.

When it was time for a coffee refill, my sandwich-board clad waitress danced it slowly to me, from across the room, stopping every few steps to call out 'who dat!'.

Overheard before and in the days after the game:

"Get your orders in...we're closing the kitchen one hour early because..." (big shrug here) "we all gotta get drunk before the game."  (A waiter to a happy-to-oblige party at Sunday brunch).

"Are you having a mimosa?"
"No baby, I gotta work today."  (Monday morning 9 AM at the Coffee Pot, a dead-tired and totally happy couple.)

"We got to...everybody have their season, and this is our season." (Waitress at the Coffee Pot to a dining family, when talking about the chances for a Saints win in the Super Bowl).

"We earned it.  We deserved it!"  (Two days after, clerk in a shoe store to friends).

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Orleans and Portland: Sisters in Pork

New Orleans could easily be Portland's sister-in-pork-products city.  The proof is in the pralines:

We've had lunch twice now at Cochon Butcher; it's close to the hotel, easy for Pavel to get to from his conference, and, most important, it's good.

Today we had a quick lunch: smoked chicken and andouille gumbo, and duck crepinettes with housemade bread-and-butter pickles.

On Saturday we also took pictures...of the boiled peanuts, a revelation--they didn't quite look real, more like lacquered peanuts.

and closer up:

They slipped out of their shells so easily.  Cooked in salt water, they're basically brined peanuts.  When you split them open it hits you:  they're peanuts on the half shell--complete with their own briny liquor.  And in the end, just like after a raw oyster feast, you're left with the pile of shells, and a little brine:

But we ate more too...Here are Pavel's hands around a headcheese and cheese sandwich:

and my muffulleta:

I have to admit, and I'll probably make some enemies here, that I have a few problems with muffuletta sandwiches.  The first is the sheer volume of meat (though the sandwich at Cochon was a bit more reserved, I think, than the usual thick affair).  The second, bigger issue, is the salami.  While I love the fact that there's mortadella in there (one of my all-time favorite sliced meats), the salami is generally the cooked type, one I'm not fond of.  On the other hand, I've got no problem with the olive, cauliflower, celery, and carrot salad that's layered on top and soaks into the bread.  I'll be sure to get one at the Central Grocery, whence the muffuletta originated, before I leave town.  And I'll eat it with an open mind (and slightly more open mouth!).

An aside: I actually made muffuletta sandwiches long before I ever ate one, at Borelli's delicatessen in Berkeley.  I'm pretty sure they were made with provolone cheese (another of my gripes, the mild domestic provolone has always seemed closer to jack cheese than to the sharper Italian provolone).

Cochon Butcher, incidentally, is a butcher shop and a lunch and light dinner shop.  There are salamis hanging behind the counter, and all sorts of sausages, cuts of meat, pork rillettes, and even foie gras butter in the case.

  Next door is the restaurant, Cochon, where I have yet to eat.  Fried pigs ears with cane syrup mustard? Rabbit and Dumplings? Creamy Grits? Lima beans? I hope to eat there soon.

New Orleans: Back for Seconds

Ten years ago, Pavel and I finally accrued enough mileage for a trip (it only took us about 7 years). We didn't have enough time--or mileage--to go to Europe, so we decided to go to New Orleans. For some reason, I don't have a journal from that trip, or even any photos, so New Orleans is fuzzy in my mind. Though the Ramos Gin Fizzes and Sazeracs could also have caused the blur.

What I do remember from that trip are snapshots.

Dinner at Uglesich's, now sadly closed. I tucked into a plate of Shrimp Uggie, with potatoes, green peppers, onions, and plenty of hot sauce. Behind the counter a guy shucked oysters the whole time with such aplomb he didn't even look down at the oysters. Not once. He just kept laughing and talking to the customers.

At the Camellia Grill. We sat at the 'w' shaped counter, and settled in for a show. Our waiter's tag said 'Sleepy'. He was anything but--he knew what we wanted before we did, and was constantly moving. The diner food was cooked in front of us, the kitchen compact and ingenious, full of chrome doors that closed with reassuring clicks.

The meal ended with Pavel and me dithering about whether or not to have some pie, finally deciding to split a piece. Out of nowhere Sleepy appeared: “You two gonna share a cuppa coffee and a piece of pecan pie?” He called it ‘pee-kan pie’. Sleepy cut a big slab of pie, then turned around and called to us: “You want it a la mode, right?” We hesitated for a second, and he answered his own question. “Of course you do…what’s the point not having it a la mode.” That cleared up, he turned back around, wiped off the griddle and dropped the pie on the griddle, complete with butter and hamburger grease. After a few minutes he deftly flipped our pie—now it was upside down on the hot hamburger grease. Somehow, the hamburger grease worked okay with pecan pie—sort of a lowbrow mincemeat. Or maybe you had to be there.

At the Tin Roof Cafe (also closed now) we sipped bourbon and listened to Wendell Brunious play and sing 'I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate'--it went on for at least 10 minutes. Halfway through the song a little old lady got up. She must have been in her eighties—both in years and pounds. All in black, she circled the bar doing a solo two step, raising her white handkerchief every fourth step.

I'm Back in New Orleans this week. This time Pavel's on business, so I'll be left to my own devices most days. I imagine I'll come up with some stories for you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sandwiches, the Simpler the Better: Part II

Ken's Ham and Asiago on Buttered Ficelle
The thing about that perfect sandwich is that it's only as good as its ingredients.  In fact, the simpler the food, the more possibility for a memorable meal.  Or a total disaster.

These days, at least in Portland, there's no excuse for not enjoying the perfect sandwich.  It seems as if every time I turn around a new bakery is opening, or another shop is curing their own hams.  So if I'm making sandwiches at home, here are my favorite spots for gathering ingredients:

View Sandwiches, the Simpler the Better: Back for Seconds in a larger map

No surprise here, Ken's Artisan is my first choice for bread with brittle crusts that give way to chewy interiors.  But there are plenty of other choices for baguettes in Portland--I'm always happy with Pearl Bakery and Little T's.

When it comes to getting cured meats and pates, I'm lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from Foster and Dobbs, where I can buy Fra'Mani and Salumi products (not to mention a great cheese selection).  But why stop there?  Laurelhurst Market cures its own hams, makes pâtés and rillettes,  and even their own mortadella.  The meat counters at the three Pastaworks locations have all the salamis, bresaola, prosciuttos, and hams you could hope for.  The Hawthorne location has its own in-house butchers--I've already told you about their pickled herring.  The northwest Portland location of Pastaworks is home also to Chop Butchery and Charcuterie--another spot to get your pâtés.

I haven't made it over to Olympic Provisions yet, but I'm excited to try it.  It promises some of the usual suspects (rillettes, house-made hams, and mortadella) but other lesser knowns (such as lyoner, which I understand is similar to cervelas sausage).  They also serve lunch and dinner.  I feel a little giddy reading their menu: beef tongue hash with fried egg, pork rillettes handpie, pork rind, escarole, and chickpea soup? I'm there.

  Addy's Pâté, Addy's Ham and Gruyere
But back to the sandwiches.  It's easy enough to make them at home, but sometimes you want to be able to grab one. Again, Portland delivers.  Ken's bakery has a full sandwich menu, complete with wonderful croque monsiuers.  But they also have a basket on their counter, full of ready-made sandwiches in brown paper bags.  For $4.50, the buttered ficelle sandwich with ham and asiago cheese is a steal.

Addy's Sandwich Bar

This being Portland, the other sandwich spot you need to know about is of course a cart.  Addy's Sandwich Bar is on SW 10th and Alder.  Last time I was there I noticed the Pig-By-the-Tail cookbook on the shelf; I felt right at home.  My favorite here is Addy's cart-made pate with mustard and cornichons.  In fact, she cures and roasts all her meats in-cart.  If you're curious about her ingredients, definitely explore her website--it lists all the ingredients she uses (down to mustard, olive oil, and salt brands).

Now here's the real mystery.  Addy's sandwiches come on generously filled 10-inch baguettes.  They are made with exceptionally good ingredients.  They are served with a smile.  And they cost only $5.50.  I'm pretty sure you'd pay close to that at most chain sandwich shops.  I am so lucky.

Addy's Menu

One of these days I'll write another post about sandwiches. Because there's a few other places in Portland (I'm looking at you, Bunk and Laurelhurst Market) that make fine sandwiches.  Just not that simple baguette and ham and butter one I remember.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Next Up: New Orleans

Last week I received my belated birthday present from Pavel: He's arranged for me to come along with him to New Orleans for a week. We'll have a weekend together, then he'll be at a conference for the week, giving me lots of time to explore. We were there nearly ten years ago, and I'm excited to be going back.

But there's not a lot of time to get ready--we leave next Friday. I'm starting to go through the guidebooks, and choosing books to read now and on the trip (my daughter's favorite, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, is on the top of the pile).

What can you tell me about New Orleans? What places should I be sure to visit, books to read (novels set in New Orleans now or long ago), movies to see (ditto), favorite restaurants, bookstores, junk stores, bars, alleys, walks?

I look forward to any and all pointers...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sandwiches, the Simpler the Better: Back for Seconds Part II

Shortly after we returned from that trip to Europe, I started working at Pig-by-the-Tail, an American charcuterie in Berkeley. They made and sold various pâtés, sausages (I still miss their Champagne sausages, spiced lightly and flavored simply with Champagne), some cured hams, and a beef tongue vinaigrette I loved. Salamis draped along the back wall (I have fond memories of one co-worker hanging her arms into them and making a face at a particularly tedious customer). Each day we sculpted the pork rillettes into a pig, with parsley tucked in its ears.

I sliced salami, and learned to perfectly eye and cut whatever weight slab of pâté a customer requested, or wedges of the duck and chicken liver mousses, which seemed trapped under the jeweled (really, parsley glistening like emeralds) aspic that covered it. I wrestled with the unwieldy turkey galantine, a turkey skin re-stuffed with a forcemeat made with the turkey and sausage. I sliced bunderfleisch very very thinly for the exacting elderly German woman. I did my best to avoid the headcheese, as it made a horrible squeaking sound on the slicer. I even served a friendly woman who always struck me as a bit scatterbrained. Ten years later she, a judge, would marry Pavel and me. I'll leave it to you to wonder if she really was scatterbrained after all.

But one of my favorite things was making sandwiches. We sold sweet and sourdough baguettes there, they were baked, I think, somewhere in South Bay. Imagine that, a time when you had to go so far for baguettes. We cut off about a third of a baguette, split it down the middle, and then spread it with dijon mustard, and mayonnaise (which was made in the shop). A slice of pate, or some salami, or a bit of ham went next. With the pâté I would fan a few cornichons and lay them across the top. That was all. No lettuce, no tomatoes. And no cheese--you went to the Cheeseboard, four doors down, for that (The Cheeseboard's pizza collective now occupies Pig-by-the-Tail's old space). Finally, we rolled the sandwich up in white butcher paper, and fastened it with a piece of tape from the dispenser with a well full of water to activate the adhesive.

I still think the perfect sandwich is a simple one. Excellent bread, a light coating of butter (my favorite), or mayonnaise, and a thin layer of meat. Mustard is especially nice with pork pates and ham. That's really all it takes to make me happy at lunchtime. Or, truth be told, even dinnertime.

Sandwiches, the Simpler the Better: Back for Seconds

When I was 13, and went to Europe with my family, I learned about sandwiches. There, sitting at a sidewalk cafe somewhere in France, my father suggested I have a ham sandwich. The long piece of baguette arrived, split down the center, generously buttered, with one layer of boiled ham. There may have been some gruyère involved as well, and I remember a couple of cornichons on the side. It was a revelation.

I had always loved sandwiches. Like most of you, I grew up carrying peanut butter and jelly (or apple butter, or honey, or even molasses) sandwiches in my lunch box to school. They were soft affairs, made with bread that came sliced (whole wheat in my case). By lunchtime the jelly soaked all the way through the bread, making the sandwich look a bit like a map.

I even have fuzzy memories of eating butter and sugar sandwiches (how luxurious that sounds now!), or fried baloney on gray California days, with a cup of steaming hot Dr. Pepper. That was an unusual occurrence, and I still don't quite trust that memory.

Unlike many of you, I never tired of sandwiches; I still think they are the perfect food.

Those French sandwiches were simple things, bread and filling. I rarely ate meat sandwiches at home, perhaps because we rarely had leftover meat? This meant I never got much of a taste for meat-cheese-mayonnaise-mustard-pickle-onion-tomato extravaganza sandwiches. That sandwich in France had everything I hungered for: the crunch of the baguette, the butter insulating the bread, the slightly salty ham--just enough, never a thick pile.

View Sandwiches, the Simpler the Better: Back for Seconds in a larger map

Sandwiches, the Simpler the Better continues here...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hello, 2010, I'm Looking Forward to Spending Time With You

I'm not big on resolutions, if by resolutions you mean a list of things to stop doing in the coming year.  But I am convinced that if I just figure out the perfect schedule, I'll be able to attain all my goals.  We have Bronson Alcott's daily schedule for his family (you know, Louisa May Alcott's dad) posted on a door in our hallway.  It looks so simple.  Though they do get up at 5 AM, and he neglected to pencil in time for facebook and twitter.

The fact that New Years coincides with my birthday just makes me more of a sucker for figuring out how to make the coming year fruitful.  Last year it was all about planning to do more things.  Go out for a mocha every Friday, read at least 50 books.  Well, I only read 22, and the mochas fizzled out in March.

Ever optimistic, this year I hope to make it to 50 books, and I'm aiming for weekly mochas again.  I'm convinced if I just figure out the perfect way to schedule all these things, it will all work out.  What a sucker.

In the meantime, I'm inspired to make a '10 in 2010' list.  They're everywhere--knitting friends are making lists of ten shawls to knit in 2010 (I'm hoping to make one or two).  My list is ten cakes to make (and eat) in 2010.

Lane Cake
I got a head start, since my birthday was the first.  For that, Edna Lewis's Lane Cake--a white cake with a coconut, pecan, raisin, and bourbon filling.

  A Naked Lane Cake
Here goes my 10 in 2010 list:

I loved Kim Severson's article about the cake ladies of southeastern Alabama.  It might be nice to be the cake lady of northeast Portland.  Someday.  So on my list goes:

1) the Chocolate Little Layer Cake, a 12, yes, you read that right, 12-layer yellow cake with chocolate icing; and

2) The Caramel Cake, whose icing is made by caramelizing sugar and beating in butter and cream.  It's only 3 layers, but you can't always bake big.  Also--this recipe was adapted by Scott Peacock, so that's a bonus.

3) Pavla's Cake--a family recipe, Pavel's grandmother's cake.  A walnut torte, filled with pastry cream, and iced with a bittersweet chocolate ganache.

4) Punschtorte.  I've always been intrigued by this classic Central European cake.  You cut a sponge cake into three layers.  The second layer gets cubed, and soaked in a mix of orange marmalade, rum and grenadine (for color).  The cubes are then placed on top of the first layer, which has been spread with orange marmalade.  The scraps and trimmings of the second layer (because apparently it's a messy business) get mixed with curshed macaroons, chopped almonds, any remaining rum mixture (guess I wasn't supposed to drink it!) and used to fill the spaces between the cubes.  The third layer goes on top, and is weighted down to bind the second layer.  Finally, you ice it all with rum-flavored pink fondant icing.  This recipe, incidentally, is in Lillian Langseth-Christensen's Gourmet's Old Vienna Cookbook.

5) Zigomar Cake.  When I was little, before my birthday I liked to look through Henri-Paul Pellaprat's Modern French Culinary Art, and try to find the most complicated looking cake.  I don't remember if I ever got the Zigomar (and it was often my father who made my birthday cake).  Now that my last initial is a 'Z' it seems even more perfect for me.  Basically it's a 3-layer chocolate sponge.  Between the first two layers is chocolate rum butter-cream, between the next two is white rum butter-cream and chopped pistachios, and the cake is iced with mocha rum butter-cream.  Anyone noticing a trend here?

6)  I really want to cook my way through Caroline B. King's Victorian Cakes, a memoir with recipes about growing up in a comfortable 1880's Chicago household.  Maybe I will.  The book is full of intriguing recipes like Perfume cake (a white cake scented with, yep, mother's perfume, violet being their favorite, and, rose tasting of hair oil).  I'm drawn to the Ribbon Cake, Four alternating layers of yellow cake and yellow cake with raisins, citron, molasses and spices folded in separated by thick layers of bright red jelly (I have just the red currant jelly for this in my pantry).  Iced sometimes with chocolate, sometimes with white frosting tinted with the jelly.

7) Also from King's book, the Seed Cake.  I love caraway (lucky thing, since I married a Czech--it's one of their main spices), and have long been intrigued by the classic pound cake flavored with caraway.

I'm going to throw in cake 7a from this book as well, The King's Shoe Laces, because of its name and main flavoring agent, orange-flower water.  A thin sponge, cut in strips, dusted with powdered sugar, and taken with cocoa.  How civilized.

8) A Baba au Rhum, or Rum Baba.  Enough said.

9)  Heirloom Banana Layer Cake with Prune Plum Filling and Seafoam Frosting from Flo Braker's Baking for All occasions.  Partly because it's name is so long.  Partly because you know how I feel about prunes.  Partly because the prune filling has Armagnac, and I need something other than rum going on here.  But especially because it's intriguing, and Flo Braker can do no wrong.

10)  Finally, Persian Love Cake.  I made this cake for my daughter's high school graduation, and have been wanting to eat it again ever since.  The cake is scented with cardamom and lemon, the icing with saffron and rosewater.  It is delicious.

As you can see, my birthday cake is on its last legs.  Time to think about the next cake!
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