We had a little fest for Andy's birthday on Sunday. Here are the things I made:
- spicy carrot dip
- fennel with blood orange olive oil (made by Stonehouse in California -- I am going to have to import it from now on. It is one of my favorite food products ever.)
- mini toasts with mascarpone and fig jam
- filberts -- which people cracked and ate! I thought they would just be a centerpiece!
- plum tart with tarragon
- peach and blueberry cake, which turned out very liquid but still tasty, served with honey-lavender ice cream
Andy picked out three amazing cheeses that were unknown to us before but we will buy them again because mmmmmmmmm. And he made some delicious cocktails called Bee Sting, which are our own invention of lavender-infused vodka, honey liqueur, lemon-limeade, and sparkling water. Naomi brought over the cutest little beehive cocktail stirrers, which I will add a photo of later.
Here is Andy writing out the instructions for make-your-own Bee Stings:
So, the Union League experience was lovely. It was not a Culinary Adventure, but it was very yummy and such a pretty room. There were lots of college kids there in t-shirts and flip-flops with their parents, eating tomatoes-three-ways (an appetizer that sounded delicious but which we did not have) while looking at the IKEA catalog. But for us it was An Occasion, which we celebrated with oysters, pink Champagne, and for Andy, an enormous gin Martini. Why do they make Martini glasses big enough to hold half a bottle of gin? What happened to the lovely Liquor Cocktail-size glass? We had cocktails in small (or "normal") sized glasses at Vahl's
a while back, and they were just the perfect size to whet our appetites for dinner but not to get us so sloshed that we couldn't taste the food.
Anyway, after our very briny and fresh east coast oysters, we had a salad of quail, corn, spinach, and chanterelle mushrooms. This was a little like eating Quail Meatloaf -- a clever French technique of somehow mashing the quail meat and corn together and then making it look like it was back on the bone again. French chefs love illusions. Then we had our main courses -- Andy had veal cheeks, which was like the best pot roast ever, and I had roast chicken, which I have not ordered in a restaurant in years, but was just perfect last night. The "chickpea fries" that came with it were not quite as surprising and wonderful as I had hoped -- they were very much like sticks of fried polenta -- but the "fork-mashed zucchini" (ha!) was a pleasant surprise! I decided, at the end of dinner, to make up my own WD-50
-esque bite of food, so peeled all the delicious skin off the relatively dry chicken breast and wrapped it around a square of chickpea fry. A delicious and unexpected ravioli experience!
The best parts were the cheeses, though. Andy had a compte that tasted at first like something unmentionable but then mellowed into buttery grassy deliciousness, and a pecorino from Pienza -- a town we visited in Italy -- that was grainy and wonderful, and the best was the mystery cheese that he was too tipsy to remember the name of -- insanely peppery, almost effervescent. I had some ice creams, the best of which was the salted caramel kind. Oh my god. So good.
I had called ahead and feared that I would be considered so cheesy for asking if the nice folks at Union League would put a little candle in Andy's dessert, but was so happy when they even offered to write "Happy Birthday" on his plate! Therefore, I was a little tense when he ordered cheese instead of cake -- would they desecrate the cheese by jabbing a candle into it? -- but instead they brought over a lovely little plate of complimentary mignardises, with a candle in the middle and "Happy Birthday" written in chocolate on the rim, to accompany the cheeses. That alone made me love Union League. Such nice people, those French chefs.
We didn't realize how full we were until after we left. Oof. Even when my chicken came, I thought to myself, wow, I am going to have to order two desserts in order to fill my giant belly. But I couldn't even finish the chicken! It must have been all the butter in the fork-mashed zucchini.
Happy Birthday, Andy!
Today is Andy's geburtstag! We are going out to dinner at the Union League Cafe, which we decided on only after our first three restaurant choices were unavailable for one reason or another. It will be good, if stuffy and weird. It has been a while since I have been to a Fancy French Restaurant. I wonder what I should wear? Anyway, then we are going to go see the new Wong Kar-Wai movie, which he wants to see.
This morning I made him a special Birthday Breakfast Doughnut. I took a doughnut from Bishop's Orchards and warmed it in the toaster, then put a scoop of strawberry ice cream on it and stuck a candle in the ice cream. Somehow he seemed a little less excited about this than I was.
This is not the doughnut I made for him, but you get the idea.
One of the best birthday traditions I have ever heard of is the one practiced by my friends Dayna and Patrick. Every year on Dayna's birthday, Patrick goes to the local doughnut shop and gets a wide variety of delicious doughnuts. He brings them home, and then Dayna gets the incredible luxury of being able to take a bite out of each doughnut and then throw the rest away if she so chooses. Mmmmm, birthday de-luxe.
is what had me rigid with fear and loathing on our flight back from Italy. I had an entire suitcase of food with me, most of it not particularly cheap. The thing they would have taken was the thing I most wanted: the glistening pink and white chunk of lardo studded with rosemary leaves. I wonder who gets to eat the contents of the giant yellow quarantine barrels. You could make some kind of amazing fusion meal!
Andy's birthday is tomorrow, so in order to celebrate it right, we have invited some friends over on Sunday for a little fiesta. The problem is that we have not yet unpacked our house. Yes, we moved a little over 6 weeks ago. But it has been a busy 6 weeks! We went to three weddings, one of them in Italy, and then had friends come visit us from Los Angeles! Do not blame us for still living out of boxes. We made some progress last night, but right now desperation is kind of setting in for me and I am just hoping for several cool nights in a row so that we can have loads of furniture-arranging fun.
The important thing, though, is what to make for the party? I made a trial-run plum-and-tarragon tart last night. It was delicious for breakfast this morning, but the crust was not quite there. It was so hot yesterday when I was making the pastry dough that the butter was melting as I cut it into the flour, so that might have had something to do with it. And I should have followed my instincts -- the recipe didn't call for pre-baking the tart shell, so I didn't, but I regretted it. Anyway, now I know better. I think we will have that, and a peach-blueberry cake that beckons from the cover of this month's issue of Gourmet:
and honey-lavender ice cream to go with it, and some delicious drinks called Bee Stings, and then I am not sure what else. Garett suggested Bluefish Balls with Fennel Mayonnaise, which sounds incredible, but I do not want my house to smell like Long John Silver's when the guests arrive. Andy wants to make up some cheese plates, which also sounds wonderful, but I do want to have a semi-substantial hors d'oeuvre available. Preferably something fatty, starchy, and sponge-like in order to soak up the alcohol in our guests' stomachs. But also something easy to prepare, so I can pretend to be nonchalant about the party prep. What is this dream hors d'oeuvre? Does it exist?
Edited to report that yes, it does exist! But it might be too much to have these
AND a cheese platter.
Nothing to see here, ma'am, keep moving
Much has happened since last post:
- we went to Italy and ate lots and lots of things
has moved to Paris to start cooking school
- I have started going to the gym -- something I never thought possible -- and am enjoying it -- something else I never thought possible
- I need to pick some readings for the "Marxist Reading Group" and have decided to go with food philosophy -- specifically local/sustainable eating philosophy. The problem is that I am having trouble finding readings that are anti-local and sustainable food. There was an editorial by Julie Powell
in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago (Thanks, Jen
!) about how eating organic and local food is an expensive privilege. I want more like this! I discovered, quite serendipitously, something about the Locavores
online and think I will exploit their website for references, too. Also, I will look in Gastronomica
Click for photos of Italian food