Archive for the ‘Food & Recipes’ Category

Miss Eydie in The Midwest – A Zingerman’s Rye In The Suitcase Is Worth Two In The Bush

“The sins of the Midwest: flatness, emptiness, a necessary acceptance of the familiar.”

“But the Midwest: It is quietly lovely, not preening with the need to have its attributes remarked on. “

Miss Eydie has been touring and singing in America’s heartland since the early days of The Manhattan Transfer and have been able to observe a gradual renaissance of midwestern cuisine from the familiar meat and potatoes and regional specialities to a healthier, farm to table mentality, but still embracing the heartiness and comfort of the foods of the region.

My girl group, JaLala, (myself, Laurel Massé and Lauren Kinhan) was booked on a whirlwind spring tour starting in Boston and NY, but then heading off to the heartland of America.Well, not exactly the corn fields of Iowa or Kansas, but a lovely itinerary of Chicago, Minneapolis, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

After a jam packed,tiring yet satisfying day of traveling, working with the Chicago Children’s Choir and then finally our evening concert, we were all ready for a feed of  legendary proportions, and nothing could have been better than our late evening visit to SABLE KITCHEN & BAR. Chicago has got some incredible eating and drinking establishments, like Tru, Alinea, and the legendary Charlie Trotters. But Sable, run by chef Heather Terhune, it was the perfect choice for a large group of ravenous culinary hoolighans,since everyone could order a small plate of exactly what they wanted ,but also share in the wide range choices of other diners. Believe me…this food was exactly what musicians wanted after a long day of work….duck fat steak fries, short rib sliders with root beer glaze, shrimp and grits, bacon wrapped dates, lobster roll, buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with bourbon maple syrup, ( drooling yet? I am. )  mini lamb burgers, tuna tartare tostadas with Meyer lemon crema, roasted brussell sprouts, deviled eggs, fried cheese curds, (you heard me) and the hit of the evening , a sweet corn creme brulee, whose silky texture and cornessence (made that word up) had us swooning. There were also plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options, masterful cocktails, a great wine list. Fun for the whole family!! What impressed me was not only the nearly flawless execution of the food, but the playful thought behind the creation of the menu and the communal spirit which is encouraged-I also loved the fact that much of the menu was organic and used local farmers and providers for the fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. This is the work of a great chef/owner- Kudos and a tip of the Miss Eydie toque  to Heather Terhune. And big thanks to our hosts Judy Hanson and Bryan Farina.

Duck Fat Fries -SABLE

The Zoo- home of WMU, Gold Company , my dear friend Dr. Steve Zegree, and a wonderful small European styled bistro called RUSTICA. After our fantastic afternoon of working with Gold Company , we head there in high spirits… and we are not disappointed-The atmosphere is warm and convivial and there is Maple leaf Farms duck breast , and a local take on bouillabaisse with Great Lake whitefish,shellfish and a tomato/fennel broth. I am a sucker for the mushroom farrotto, which I often make at home-this version had 3 kinds of mushrooms, garlic , herbs and a splash of Marsala….The 30 wines by the glass was also a much appreciated feature.

And so we head off to Ann Arbor, for a special gig at the Kerrytown Concert House, a lovely post concert gimlet at THE GRANGE and a much needed day off . My friend and fellow music aficionado Jessica Sendra has promised me a whirlwind culinary tour of Ann Arbor, and as per my request, a visit to a restaurant she had not yet frequented in her job as community content co-ordinator and food columnist for AnnArbor.com. After a short visit to the hotel gym to make sure my chewing muscles are toned and at the ready we head off, cappuccinos in hand , to  Zingerman’s South Campus. O dear God how I love Zingerman’s -and now to discover this “campus” which houses all the ancillary buisnesses of Zingerman’s is just the kind of thing Miss Eydie loves. Another thing Miss Eydie would love is another great cappuccino, so our first stop is the “cupping lab” where you can get for instance, a great “pour over” of custom beans, an espresso, a mocha, or a bottle of cold pressed coffee…a slamming strong iced bottled coffee that doesn’t quit and will grow hair on your chest. I breathe deeply,take it all in , especially the “laboratory ” section where some heavy research on coffee drinks seem to be underway .

A perfect cappuccino

There is a pile of books being sold in the middle of all the coffee and coffee paraphernalia…and I take a gander. What an intriguing title -” A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building A Great Business.” Jessica then points out that the author himself, Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig is sitting sipping an espresso spitting distance from where we are standing. As I get closer, I see that he definitely has that sexy lapsed anarchist look…and has made the leap to responsible capitalism quite gracefully. How great is this? A food nerd like myself being able to clink coffee cups and chat. I talk about the legendary Brooklyn Ebingers Bakery, and Leon’s Bakery on Knapp St.,where we would get a freshly sliced Jewish rye every weekend for our salami sandwiches and our morning toast.

I destroy Lauren's head with a sour pickle

He looks at his watch and realizes the rye breads are just coming out of the oven next door ….and offers me one as a gift,claiming that is it as great as the idealized rye breads of my youth. I like his chutzpah and I admire his claims. We shall see Mr. Weinzweig,we shall see.

On to the Creamery ,where we ogle Detroit Street Brick, The Little Ypsi, Headwaters Tomme and are able to taste some of the delectable Bridgewater, which clever Lauren had bought the day before at Zingerman’s Deli before our JaLala concert . MMmmm….looks like a giant Italian wedding cookie with its mold-ripened outer rind, but inside, creamy cow deliciousness studded with peppercorns. I gasp as I turn around and see the gelato tubs – local honey, ginger, John Do Ya?, ( gianduja) maple pecan, and all made with the same local milk that is used for the cheese.

Holy grail for Foodies

I need to pick up my rye bread offering….so we follow the smell next door and walk into the Wonderful World of Carbohydrates. There they are….all the warm, caraway studded Jewish rye breads looking like slightly flattened footballs. There are trays of them and I try to pick out my special bread…try to hear the grains calling out to me…”Take me with you Miss Eydie…smother me with cream cheese and lox, with herring, make me into a Reuben, toast me for croutons, slice me, slather me with peanut butter, with Nutella, with key lime jelly.”  I finally pick one out of the litter and wrap it tenderly under my arm like a football.

 

Next stop….lunch. There are so many choices in Ann Arbor – we take a walk around town to eyeball the lunch menus.One top contender is the Cuban street food-inspired, Fritos Batidos,

Frita Batida

opened by Top Chef contestant Eve Aronoff. Batidos , tropical milkshakes, are fresh fruit, crushed ice, and sweetened milk and come with or without rum! The flavors are mouthwatering: coconut cream, cajeta, passion fruit, mocha or lime. Then there are the fritas….traditionally made with chorizo served with shoestring fries and an egg on top. At Frita Batidos , there is this traditional one, but also there are scrumptious choices like fish, black bean, chicken and beef. Don’t forget the plantains and garlic cilantro fries!

We walk by Mark’s Carts, a courtyard lot devoted to different food trucks…the smells are intoxicating and it’s hard to pass up the artisinal grilled cheese , the head cheese hoagies, the Asian street food and the vegan delights….but we do. …and its because we have decided on a lunch at MANI OSTERIA & BAR.  We start with the house pickled tomatoes, a fantastic choice,the pickling liquid lending a sweetness to the local tomatoes – these red beauties were complemented by some whipped ricotta and tapenade. I then had the zuppa di primivera, incredible chicken stock, little strands of prosciutto, bitter greens, cannellini beans and a poached egg….very reminiscent of a stracciatella,the famous Italian egg-drop soup. There is a wood fired oven, so of course we must try the classic Margherita pizza, which we ask for with burrata instead of mozzarella….MMMmmm …a  chewy crust with a nice wood burn on the bottom . San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and the creamy burrata make this a transcendent experience. We may or may not have shared a cannoli plate…three little beauties : chocolate lemon/ricotta and pistachio. Double espresso please!!

Pickled Tomatoes, Whipped Ricotta & Tapenade-MANI

Lest you think after this morning and afternoon of tasting that I timidly crawled back to my hotel and didn’t eat again till breakfast, let me assure you that was not the case. I stayed in Ann Arbor an extra day just to sample the delights of the region with Jessica as my guide and so, a slap – up dinner was planned. Our thinking led us to somewhere Jessica and her partner Karen had never been..I thought it might be more fun to travel a bit outside Ann Arbor’s environs and so we headed to THE ROOT in White Lake, Michigan. The menu is designed around local and seasonal cuisine and showcases the many wonderful foods available in Michigan. Again there were loads of vegan choices, but also tasty items like milk- braised Michigan pork belly, foie gras with onion jam, smoked meatloaf made with Michigan beef, and a Michigan honey and ancho chili barbecued wild lake trout. There were also tasting menus, one vegan and one house, very reasonably priced and 4 courses long with an option for a beer or wine pairing.

At Rustica-Yaron Gershovsky, Lauren Kinhan,Matt Kane, Steve LaSpina,Laurel Massé,Duane Davis,Miss Eydie and Dr. Zegree

Margherita Pizza -MANI

 

Apres-show Lime Gimlet - THE GRANGE

I Collect My Prize

      

A traditional chorizo frita with sweet chili mayo

Getting ready to leave for Albuquerque and my Manhattan Transfer touring the following day, I reflected on all the satisfying music making with my JaLaLa ladies and our band, the fine company, the talented young people we hopefully inspired and learned from, and all of the wonderful culinary experiences that were enjoyed…and I stopped and realized the most fulfilling moments of the trip were spent in an Ann Arbor hospital singing acapella to musician/bassist Andrew Kratzat,who suffered a terrible trauma after he and his fiancé were hit from behind by a semi truck last July. He has had to relearn all basic functions and was not expected to live…his family contacted us through a mutual friend and asked if we would possible stop by and see if the live vocal music would have any positive effect . We watched ,with hope and tears, as Andrew’s hand started to twitch as he heard us sing, and he as he tried to mimic the playing of the string bass. I am happy to report that as of now, Andrew has made tremendous strides towards recovery, somewhat due to an experimental trial with the drug Ambien. Miracles do happen…and it was yet another reminder to live every moment fully.

What possibility does THIS moment hold for you?

All possibilities.

Your faithful correspondent,

Miss Eydie

SABLE KITCHEN AND BAR

505 NORTH STATE ST.

CHICAGO,IL. 60654

312- 755-9704

 

 RUSTICA

236 SOUTH KALAMAZOO MALL

KALAMAZOO, MI. 49007

269-492-0247

 

ZINGERMAN’S ( ORIGINAL DELI)

422 DETROIT ST.

ANN ARBOR, MI. 48104
734.663.3354

 

FRITA BATIDOS

117 WEST WASHINGTON ST.

ANN ARBOR , MI. 48104

734-761-2882

 

MARK’S CARTS

211 WEST WASHINGTON ST.

ANN ARBOR ,MI  48104

 

MANI OSTERIA & BAR

341 EAST LIBERTY

ANN ARBOR, MI. 48104

734-769- 6700

 

THE ROOT RESTAURANT & BAR

340 TOWN CENTER BLVD.

WHITE LAKE, MI. 48386

248- 698-2400

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Deep Pleasure – Miss Eydie Basks In Birthday Blessings At The Basement Bistro

I am constantly asked, “Miss Eydie, how do I enhance the pleasures of my everday life?”  Well… one pathway certainly is surprise,spontaneity and adventure:  the “not-knowing” aspect which mobilizes one’s deepest and most primitive instincts for reaction. Another equally valid approach is knowledge; take love for instance.  The face of a dear one made more beautiful by the act of loving him or her, of “knowing ” them. A piece of music made more evocative by knowing the process that created it. How we experience an object or know of its hidden nature is an integral part of the pleasure. When I understand an object or an experience more thoroughly and understand its history, it has more depth and consequentially,more levels of pleasure. There is an element of the pleasure quotient for me that is tied to the knowledge of where things came from, and to the artistry involved in presenting them.

And so..this leads me to the recollection in words and pictures of this year’s birthday dinner at The Basement Bistro,which scaled the heights of Mt. Enjoyable and went way beyond . The Basement Bistro, in case, dear reader, you did not peruse my blog of last summer, is a tiny, 6-table establishment in Earlton, N.Y. Run by the extraordinary and unique Damon Baehrel in his basement, this restaurant takes the words “farm to table,”  and wrings them inside out till they bleed. I am a big fan of Thomas Keller and Dan Barber ( Blue Hill in NYC being one of my favorite resturants in the country for special celebrations) and I think Chef Damon is right up there with these guys in the creative chops department. As I mentioned in the last blog, he is the chef, the baker, the waiter, the cheese and buttermaker, the sommelier, the gardener, makes the charcuterie, and forages for the local ingredients. Our party this year, also including two dear friends with whom I cook throughout the year, pulls up to the gate dutifully at 4:45 PM, in time to wish Damon’s dad hello and give him a jar of Wyoming honey.

Chef Damon Baehrel

This year there were more hints of molecular gastronomy, but the basic theme of home grown or foraged ingredients masterfully and simply prepared was still securely in place. Where the knowledge part of the pleasure quotient comes in for me is Chef Damon’s passionate,thoughtful lectures about the ingredients and processes of his cuisine. I don’t know any other chef who is so generous and open in this aspect. Of course that is a function of him staying small and manageable in order to personally have this interaction with his customers…and that, precisely, is what is unique about this place. It is Chef Damon’s actual presence and hands on attention to every detail .

We enter the basement to much genuine hello-ing and hugging from the chef, and our eyes feast upon the groaning board full of the ingredients he will use in our 14-course tasting menu tonight. There are large cattails, acorns and acorn flour, sumac, golden fava flour, hickory nuts, juniper berries, wild grapes, hickory bark, birch and maple saps, garlic scapes, peaches and white mulberries. There is only one other table tonight for our seating, so we park ourselves in the back of the room in order to get the full unobstructed view of the proceedings. And also so we can get loud, make out if we choose, and/or crawl under the table if necessary. Our table is beautifully set, as it was last year ,with homemade bread and two kinds of butter, this year cow and sheep. This year there is also homemade grapeseed oil, the bottle stuffed with fresh herbs and lavender buds. How in the world do you press the oil out of a tiny grape seed? Is it similar to squeezing water from a stone? Some kind of Biblical miracle?

The sideboard with local ingredients

Oh wait…did I mention that our friend Sue fell off a roof, shattered a vertebra, and still made it to dinner? Soon,she will be be feeling no pain and literally weeping with joy at the beauty of the food.

As for me…I am pondering what “garlic scapes” could possibly be.

We’re taking it all in …and then suddenly the first taste arrives. …a gorgeous scoop of one of Damon’s “ice creations.” Taking his fresh pressed grape juice from his own grapes, he then adds them to a raisin juice, also from his own grapes, that he has reconstituted. Kind of goofily backwards, but it works. To this he adds a concentrated stevia tea syrup. This sorbet is set off by a single leaf of lemon balm. It’s gorgeous to look at, but oh my, when the first icy  burst of pure grape flavor hits the palate , it awakens the ghost of all grapes past and makes you think about your experiences with the phony grape flavor in all that candy you ate as a child, wine, raisins, currants, and all the mythology surrounding grapes: their fleshiness,their seeds,their ability to metamorphosize into vinegar, their resveratrol, their leaves. You are washed in a godly flood of grapeness.

What I’m saying is that this food demands that you think. Well…maybe not “demands” but certainly asks politely and firmly. It’s not just about the taste and the animal pleasure of satisfying hunger.

 

Time to pick a first bottle of wine. Damon has already served us a glass of sparkling wine that he likes, but I am too much of a Champagne snob to pay it much mind. Too sour and lean for my taste…I go more for the creamy, refined and toasty flavors with the tiniest of bubbles to tickle the nose. If Champagne is the wine of romance and seduction then this sparkler has struck out with me. Besides….I’ve got bigger fish to fry…

Does this woman look like she fell off a roof?

 

 

We let Damon pick the first bottle since he knows what we are going to eat and we don’t. Knowing I adore white Burgundy…he picks a winner:  a 2007 Premier-Cru St. Aubin. Still a white Burgundy, vineyards located next to Chassagne-Montrachet, mostly 100% chardonnay grapes, and here’s the best part…. less expensive than the well-known white Burgundys like Montrachet, Chablis and the magnificent, nuanced  Corton-Charlemagne.

The first appetizer is Damon’s presentation of some of his house-made charcuterie and cheeses along with some preserves, vegetables and herbs. We each rip off some of the bread, and I dip into the sheep butter which is laced with summer tarragon.

The plate is lovingly set out with a slice each of goose pepperoni (the secret is a spicy tomato powder!), dried guinea hen  sausage with garlic and sage, and a spring lamb sausage . To the side of these are a slice of pork prosciutto and a slice of duck breast. A tiny baby carrot nestles into a nasturtium-leaf nest of flax paste, sorrel oil and tomato oil, which gives the paste a lovely light orange hue . The cheeses are a 3 month-old blue cheese from cow’s milk, an aged camembert made from both cow and sheep milk and garnished with dried cantaloupe seeds, and a pickled peach preserve. Finally there is an adorable ball of goat’s milk chevre in a puddle of pickled mulberries. On top is a tiny flower which Damon tells us would turn to a bean tomorrow if not picked today. Miraculous! Such timing!

At the bottom of each plate there is a whimsical face constructed from tender baby peas, an oo-la-la  French bean moustache, and a green powder that is yummy (but I can’t remember what it is). My darling partner in all things has a fishy version of this platter with a chunky tuna tartare on top of sliced cucumbers instead of the charcuterie.

Next up… a tempura concoction, beautifully battered in fava bean flour. It is, inexplicably, not fried. I’m remembering that this was a leaf of some kind and plated with a rutabaga emulsion (that’s how Damon thickens his sauces…not with butter or cream), tiny fennel fronds and some of that good grapeseed oil. I believe Sue and I were photographed licking our plates after this course.

By this time, the first bottle has been drained dry. But here’s the part when you think you’re in a dream: Damon comes over with a fresh,cold bottle of the same St Aubin and cheerfully says, “Oh by the way,I forgot to tell you it’s two-for-one night.”

Phony Egg

Some crazy molecular gastronomy comes to the table next: a ” phony egg.”  The “yolk” turns out to be a sweet little tomato poached in parsnip water. The white is, unbelievably, cooked cattail shoots that have a sour note injected into them by adding wood sorrel juice. The “pepper” is dried, ground hickory nuts. And the little bit of “bacon,” if memory serves me, was actually dried hickory bark. There is clearly some dehydrating apparatus back in the kitchen/laboratory where the powders are secretly readied.

By now, mid-course in my second visit, I am noticing a structure in the tasting menu…there are certain patterns in the development of the sequencing, and then some seasonal changes and variations on a theme . One of my very favorite items from last year now comes out, to a chorus of oohs and aahs from our table:  a gleaming copper pot, filled with mixed peppercorns and acorns and in the middle, sticking out, are two “ice cream cones.”  Except they’re not…they are in fact rolled tuiles of red acorn flour, egg white, butter and parsley essence. The “ice cream” is flageolet beans ( the caviar of beans!) cooked for 3 hours in birch sap …and then pureed and chilled to scoop onto the cone.  Mmmmm..sweet and savory tension. The nuts on top of the cone are toasted ground hickory nuts.

Flageolet Kones

There is some discussion of truffle oil at this point, and Damon enters the conversation with an astounding fact about the male green eggplant (color me ignorant about eggplant sex) and the powder you can make from said eggplant by dehydrating, to be used as a “truffle substitute.” We have a lively debate about overratedness of truffle oil and the fact that most of it is a chemical extract infused into an inferior olive oil. Also under discussion is the ongoing phenomenon of chef as celebrity  .Awww..who cares ? It’s time for the first of three seafood courses.

Lawdy!  A small porcelain dish arrives with chunks of twice-poached Nova Scotian lobster meat and also some lovage (an under used celery-like herb), wild dandelion root cooked in black birch stock, and some other ingredients that Damon rattles off faster than a vocalese solo. For my partner, Harry, the chef completely mirrors the tastes of my dish, but without using the lobster and substituting bull’s blood beets. Just hearing the expression “bull’s blood” makes us want to order some red wine, as we escalate into the meatier portion of the meal. Much discussion 0n this and the winner is Santenay, a spicy gem of a red Burgundy. The grape is pinot noir and that should make everyone happy .

Crab stuffed pumpkin blossom

A gorgeous crab stuffed pumpkin blossom is next with a sauce of kohlrabi, the core of the broccoli, asparagus and some fiddlehead fern powder. Yes …it’s very green. The crab has just arrived that morning and tastes of the sea.The vegetarian version has nettles and potatoes with the same sauce.

Our third beauty queen? Newfoundland rock shrimp sweetly roasted in carrot juice.To the left of this, some of the best cole slaw ever, made with cardoon vinegar, cardoons being the thistle-like, high maintenance vegetable essential for the Italian dish bagna cauda. To the right, a preparation we experienced last summer, a smoky cedarberry cabbage that has been cooked down to a melt in your mouth consistency.  FORGET “SURF AND TURF”…THIS IS “SURF AND EARTH.”

By this time…we are well into our cups and Sue has completely forgotten about her broken back. Paul has declared the experience “shocking.” The meat and vegetable courses are coming and we order another Burgundy…a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin to compare to the Santenay.The Gevrey grapes are grown in limestone, and contrasted with the Santenay, seem to have a more laser-like and focused character. I am growing less laser-like by the moment but happily so.

Shrimp with two cabbage preparations

Before the meat, though, another sorbet to refresh…this time, grape, sumac tea, blackberry juice and summer tarragon for a refreshing hit of liquorice.

Second ice creation

Damon gets his meat and poultry from a farm of which he is part owner, and we get a sampling of some of his incredible poultry for the next course:  a “bluefoot” chicken thigh brined in sumac powder, and a pine needle brined turkey thigh pressed into a loaf, both meats tender as a confit and bathed in a golden wild burdock root sauce. So satisfying.

We all agree we need to show some restraint, but then we forget we said this, so we order a final bottle in a trio of great reds: a Chateau Canuet Margaux from Bordeaux. This wine was a great lady, full of suppleness, deep color, and an elegant odor, not unlike I would like to think of myself at this point in the evening. I certainly had turned quite a deep color and was supple to the point of  Gumbyesque . Not sure about the odor, but I’m sure it had some intoxicating vinous quality.

The final meat course is a beautiful small slice of beef  in a sauce of uncured shallots cooked in beet juice. There is a basilwood smoked corn to the side, paired with the delicious fruit of the Bordeaux.  My mouth is doing pirouettes of joy.

Hours have passed, the earth has turned, the moon is up and the stars are out. I can’t follow Damon’s lectures and detailed descriptions anymore. I’m in the timeless space now. We’re toasting my birthday, Harry’s graduation, upcoming projects real and imagined, our children, our dear friends, world peace, the wit of the men and the beauty of the women.  All eyes and ears turn to dessert.

Cheese, Gromit!!! Cheese!!

A selection of Damon’s homemade cheeses arrive first, laid out beautifully with fresh herbs and flowers. And hot on the heels of that, the dessert platter: a goat butter pastry, an intense beet and chocolate pudding/mousse,wild pink currant sorbet, slices of apricot, cherries, a homemade brittle, a savory cheesecake. A small bottle of local late harvest dessert wine from the Finger Lakes appears from somewhere.

We have enjoyed a completely local meal with the exception of the seafood from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and the wines.  For me, a sublime birthday meal once again. I was dazzled by Damon’s creativity, intensity and his “nose to tail” philosophy for both plants and animals. But this man is not just a scientist or a performance artist who wants to dazzle and disturb; his food is delicious, nutritious, gorgeous.  Damon is an artist in touch with the earth. The depth of pleasure from being with my loving partner, and two friends who are cooks, and appreciated the detailed processed required in presenting this food, was good for my soul. And also, what a lesson in mastery. Damon Baehrel thought about “time” in an astoundingly big picture kind of way: how long to age the cheese, when to make the butter, the best time to pick or preserve all the different vegetables and fruits at the height of their ripeness or before they transmute, when to inoculate logs with rare bluefoot mushroom spores, how to time the courses, how to hear the beats of the diners’ hearts. He thought about time so we could enjoy a “timeless” experience. Our  deep pleasure and our education, as opposed to the aims of some of the more intellectual chefs on the scene, were the most  important aspects of the enterprise.

May you all experience deep pleasure today..and every day,

Miss Eydie

More pics :

Chicken thigh and turkey thigh

 

 

Paul..and his new friend

 

 

The Basement Bistro

 

Sheep butter and cow butter

 

I be lickin' da plate

 

Dessert Plate

  

Homemade Grapeseed Oil stuffed with herbs

 

Miss Eydie Makes A Porky Pilgrimage

The pig is an amazing animal ;

Mr. P. Pig

an even-toed ungulate to be exact and, an omnivore. Shunned by some, adored by others, this walking porcine miracle graciously provides some of the tastiest eating on the planet. Two words my friends : SLAB BACON. Seriously though, practically every part of the pig can be utilized in a culinary sense: trotters, ears, leaf lard ( which is the fat surrounding the kidneys) for pastry, hams, tenderloin, chops, most of the internal organs,headcheese .This is called “head to tail ” eating – literally not wasting a bit of the animal or the plant you are consuming. It seems to be a recent food trend, with British chef Fergus Henderson, Chris Cosentino and our own Mario Batali as some of the main proponents. This is not a new thing by any means…every culture has some tradition of eating offal, less desirable cuts of meats, and less desirable parts of plants.

To be honest, I don’t normally eat much pork. Growing up in a Jewish family is probably some of the reason, and being inundated with the misconception that “the other white meat” is somehow “unclean.” We were not kosher, happily ate bacon, shrimp in lobster sauce and pork egg rolls, but our hot dogs and salamis were usually kosher beef, and although there were whispers of our ancestors eating pickled pig’s feet, we were not to try these delicacies as they were considered “peasant food.” I’m a turkey bacon aficianado in the A.M., I don’t make my my pie crust the old-fashioned way with leaf lard, and I can’t remember the last time I had a pork chop.

Our lunch destination....

However, when I got an email invitation from my friend David,who lives in Ovada,Italy, to accompany him for a pork-centric lunch in the countryside -and that countryside happens to be in Emilia-Romagna-then Miss Eydie  gives a resounding piggy grunt and just says YES. David, a former restauranteur and a major food and wine lover and expert,has wanted to try a certain Antica Locanda Del Falco,  a place especially known for its salumi, cured meat products made predominantly from pork.  I’m dying for a culinary adventure outside of our Manhattan Transfer meals at the gigs.

So off we go one sunny afternoon-David scoops me up in Piacenza and we head southwest to the municipality of Gazzola,guided only by the voice of David’s GPS, which sounds suspiciously like Joanna Lumley from “Ab-Fab.” I keep waiting for “her” to put a “dahhhling” at the end of every directive to turn right. I’m feelin’ like an Italian movie star as we cruise the back roads, listening to the great music David always turns me on to. This time it’s “Musica Nuda,” an eclectic duo of acoustic bassist Ferruccio Spinetti and girl singer Petra Magoni. They do everything from Serge Gainsbourg’s “Couleur Café,” to Sting’s “Roxanne” to writing lyrics and performing a Bach aire, to….( and this immediately endears me to them ) singing a recipe for “Ziti al Ragu.” on a CD called Jazz Al Dente.

Soon, the Castello di Rivalta comes into view and we enter what seems to be a little village. There is a bar, an incredible looking store with salamis and hams hanging over baskets of fresh vegetables and fruits,wine bottles, and huge blocks of cheese, and the Hotel Borgo di Rivalta. The grounds are lovely and tranquil, and we stroll a bit amid the flowers and shrubs before finding the Locanda. Although the interior is beautiful, we gravitate immediately to the outdoor seating, under the pergola with views of the old stone buildings and the other diners.

Lunch al fresco-Antica Locando del Falco

Every bit of ordering is put into David’s capable hands and he enters into an instant camaraderie with our waiter Filippo. Suddenly plates start arriving and the beauty of it all is overwhelming. Simplicity is the key, once again with this cuisine. We start with a sampling of the local salumi : a platter of salami, culatello ( which charmingly means “little backside”) from Parma, lardo, and pancetta. Alongside, Filippo places a dish of lightly pickled vegetables. I’m initially not so excited by this, expecting a mouthful of vinegary and mushy vegetal matter…but I should have known better. Peppers, carrots, string beans, eggplant, and zucchini provided the perfect counterpoint to the oleaginous quality of the meat, by being very lightly marinated in white wine and vinegar and yet still retaining their crunch and vitality. Instead of just tasting the vinegar, the essence of the vegetables come shining through. Bread and olive oil complete the picture.

 

 

(top) Local Salumi (bottom ) lightly pickled vegetables

I’m singing that evening and so cannot indulge as richly as I might wish in the local grape offerings, but David has come to the rescue and orders the perfect bottle for this summer afternoon. Cold, slightly frizzante, with a delicate perfume and a picture of what looks like The Little Prince on the label. In Italian the name of the wine is “Terrafiaba” which in my skewed Italian seems to mean “earth fairy tale.” Or could it be heaven on earth? To say it slips down easy and elevates the already transcendent afternoon, would be an understatement. A lunch like this without wine….would be tragic.

We both agree that a second plate of salumi is in order.This time we agree to a more aged salami and definitely more of the culatello. The salami arrives with a greyish-white, almost moldy looking crust and a more earthy flavor. The word “toothsome” comes to mind. I can’t believe my good fortune to be sitting in this beautiful courtyard with full aware mind,body and grateful heart. David tells me that he and his wife Cinzia have been looking through maps of Italy and discovering interesting small town names that are funny sounding to the American ear. My favorite was a town called “Friggitini” which is a cocktail waiting to happen, so I immediately adopted the name for my bergamot martini, ( see”Miss Eydie-An Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong”) which you, dear reader will be happy to know I have perfected,by finding some pure Bergamot syrup in a local specialty shop in Manhattan.

By now, most of the food has been happily and thoughtfully consumed. Fingers crossed, I’m hoping there is more, and sure enough, not one..but THREE pastas arrive at the table in quick succession. There is a glistening homemade tortelli filled with spinach and ricotta,which literally melts in our mouths. Following that, some tagliatelle with fresh porcini. But surprisingly for me, the piece de résistance was the pasta fagioli or the “pasta fazool” as it’s called colloquially called in NY. This dish was divine simplicity ….borlotti beans and small, chewy tubes of pasta in a light tomato sauce. I’ve mostly seen this dish in the U.S. as a soup, but there are clearly many different regional versions . I never knew that just beans and pasta could be so divine.

Tagliatelle w/porcini

Pasta Fagioli

Tortelli w/ spinach

Theafternoon passes in quiet conversation and delicious mouthfuls punctuated by laughter and the poetry of birdsong. Believe it or not…we order dessert. True to everything we love about Italy, dessert arrives in the form of a large ice- filled bowl containing perfect doughnut peaches and ripe Morello cherries. Strong espresso rounds out the meal, and we linger over the last of the wine as people leave to get back to work (?) or back to take a siesta. We’re the last ones left, but there is no one to rush us out, only the gracious Sabrina Piazza, the owner, chef  and part of the family who has been in the food business for over 30 years. David spills the borlotti beans as it were, and reveals I am an MT singer. When I return from the ladies room I am required to sign various pictures which I gladly do,all the while eyeballing a seductive freshly baked fruit tart cooling on the sideboard.

I know….I’m incorrigible.

Miss Eydie and David

 

 

David and I reluctantly ooze back to the car and start the lazy drive back to Piacenza and reality. My porky interlude has come to an end, but the memories of culinary camaraderie, exquisite execution and the gentle passing of the hours remain with me….and now are hopefully shared with you.

Coming up for Miss Eydie? Traditional Chicken Francese with lemon pasta from Positano ( thanks Barb!) as per my son’s request for his first home cooked meal after me being on the road for 3 weeks, making lunch for two Rabbis and an NYU psych professor and a return birthday trip to the amazing Basement Bistro in Earlton, N.Y.

I leave you with this quote from Voltaire until the next time….

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”

Miss Eydie

ANTICA LOCANDA DEL FALCO

CASTELLO DI RIVALTA

29010 GAZZOLA

0523.978101

WWW.LOCANDADELFALCO.COM

 

 

More pics:

second plate of salumi- aged salami

Homemade fruit tart winking at me

Dessert- pure simplicity

     DoughnutPeach

Cherry and David

 

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Birthday Bash for Miss Eydie- American Kaiseki in the Catskills

Yup….it’s my birthday. I’m a summer baby who adores the sun, the color orange and the sweltering heat of the city in August. I’ve had a pretty wonderful summer so far…for instance, I’ve really expanded my aquatic horizons .…at this juncture in August, I’ve swum in a beautiful pond in the Berkshires, the Wind River in Wyoming , the Gulf of Naples and had a float trip down the Snake River. Everything but a chlorine pool! My son, who is 16, is away at camp – the very same sleep away camp he has been going to since he’s 8 years old. This summer he’s a counselor, in charge of a bunch of younger boys, and so I have less communication with him. The one thing I really want for my birthday is to see him –even just for a half hour- just to eyeball his face, make sure he’s eating enough, maybe hear about some of the adventures he’s willing to tell me about and speculate about the adventures he is not telling me about.

Through all the summers his dad and I have been traveling up to camp, we’ve noticed a small, understated sign about 10 minutes before we turn into the camp road that proclaims “ The Basement Bistro,” and under that, “Sagecrest Catering” with a small arrow indicating a left hand turn. One summer, we decided to try and wait out the traffic back to the city by getting a bite to eat. That’s when I remembered the sign. We called the restaurant and got a lovely man who gently but firmly told us that most people make reservations for The Bistro a year in advance. My interest was piqued. He explains that the restaurant is actually in the chef’s finished basement, and that he only serves between 6-12 people during an evening. When an invitation comes from my first cousin Suzanne and her husband Tom to visit their summer home in the Berkshires during my birthday weekend , a master plan starts to formulate. On the day of my birth, I want to visit my son first, and then try and get a reservation at The Basement Bistro for a celebratory feast. I put this task in the more than capable hands of my boyfriend who has got a talent for bringing out the best in people and making them do things they might not ordinarily do, like add an extra seating to a restaurant’s evening schedule. Sure enough, in 2/12 weeks,through patience and fortitude, he snags us a rez on my actual birthday for a 5PM seating, that they have specially added.      

And so my special day unfolds with a trip upstate to the tiny town of Earlton, N.Y. where I happily spend 45 minutes with my son who is lounging in Spongebob pajama bottoms with his young charges. He looks great and is happy at work…so we pile back in the car and drive ten minutes back down the road, arriving a few minutes before 5PM in front of a closed gate. We climb out of the car, confused , but are soon given an explanation by the gentleman who lives across the road that the chef never opens the gate before he is ready to receive his guests. Then the gentleman proceeds to let us know that he is Jules Baehrel, the father of the chef and our official welcoming committee. We hear that Jules’ son started learning his craft at his mother’s knee, baking apple pies. Although it is lovely standing there on the country road in the late afternoon, hunger and curiousity soon overtake us, as we see the gate to the magic kingdom rise. Driving onto the property, we see abundance and fecundity everywhere,from the trees groaning with fruit to the beautiful flowers, to the vegetables and herbs growing in profusion.

From the shadows of this basement restaurant, bounces Damon Baehrel, the chef, the sole waiter, the gardener, baker, the maker of the charcuterie, the sommelier, the cheese and butter maker, and apparently the maitre ‘d. The restaurant, opened in 1989 as a showcase for the catering company, is a finished basement, inside Damon’s home and seats about 12-16 people maximum. Damon looks a little like Steve Carell and is startlingly energetic for someone who sleeps only 3 hours a night.

The Basement Bistro

In the middle of the room, is a long groaning board of some of the items we’ll be eating tonight, things the chef has grown, gathered or preserved and Damon starts off the evening by greeting the 6 lucky people that will be dining this evening at this special seating. Inside, I have the feeling that we are at the beginning of a journey, rich and resonant with not only flavor, but also history, science and philosophy. These are my favorite type of meals – leisurely, full of the tastes of the season and of the terroir –food at the peak of its flavor, being masterfully manipulated by an inventive, creative chef rooted in tradition. Damon eagerly shows us all the basket of golden fava beans, the bluefoot mushrooms that he foraged that very morning, the sumac, smoked juniper berries, pine needles, cattails, lemon cucumbers ,and the summer squash that has already been sliced into the individual pitchers of well water on our tables. As we sit, entranced, listening to him, we admire our well-appointed table, set out with 2 kinds of homemade bread, a flatbread with herbs and garlic and a peasant bread studded with seeds, small porcelain ramekins of two butters made that day: goat butter, studded with tiny thyme flowers and yellow cow’s butter. Later on, Damon will tell us that the color of this cow butter is different than the color of the butter last week, because of what the cows were eating. Meanwhile, I’m swooning over the taste of the goat butter, which I have never had in my life. It’s light and tangy and looks a little like Crisco, but is oh so much better for you.

Homemade Goat butter w/thyme flowers

Peasant bread with two butters

Our first taste is a little teaser course of a sugar–free sorbet scoop on a porcelain soup spoon. It’s comprised of 90% fresh squeezed grape juice ( from Damon’s grapes of course) and 10% of a reduced stevia tea syrup. My whole mouth and palate awaken to this burst of fruit, which is icy and not too sweet. It takes the place of a cold glass of Prosecco or a Campari and orange as an appetite awakener. (not that my appetite ever needs awakening-the slightest nudge and I’m a ravenous beast) Speaking of Prosecco, at this point Damon brings over the rather large wine list, which on first glance is beautifully put together, well priced, with many French and American bottles. Since it is after all a celebration of my birth,we want to splurge a wee bit. Before we can do our mental gymnastics with how much we can in all good conscience afford, Damon casually regales us with the news,”By the way, EVERYTHING on this list is available by the glass.”

Grape/Stevia tea sorbet

After we got up off the floor, my mind raced with questions-like, “where is the cruvinet the size of Rhode Island you must have to accommodate all this drinking by the glass?? and mainly “What do you do with the leftover wine?” Damon cheerfully fields my query with the twinkling response that he drinks it all in the back kitchen. Without further ado, we order two glasses of my favorite white wine in the world, Chassagne – Montrachet, an elegant white Burgundy. By now, my partner Harry and I are seriously wondering if we are in a mutual dream, or if perhaps we have died in a car crash, like the couple in Beetlejuice, and have awakened together in this basement paradise. Here is Damon Baehrel as genial host of heaven. ( If it’s hell…I dont even care. This is one charming Devil)

The first course arrives and it takes our breath away- a colorful platter of the best of Damon’s charcuterie and cheeses and for my partner, a vegetarian version of the same. I’ve got guineafowl pepperoni, goose pepperoni, a bit of housemade speck ham, a tiny ball of goat chevre, a bit of pickled peach preserve, baby corn ,the last of the summer peas, 3 different housemade cheeses, a tempura battered nasturtium leaf with a pink sauce and three different powders at the bottom of the plate. One is a green eggplant powder made….how??? Various fresh herbs and blossoms garnish the plate. The flavors pop and complement one another. Damon comes over to refill our wine glasses saying, “That wasn’t quite a full glass.”

Next out , a beautiful copper pot filled with different peppercorns and sticking out of the middle, two “ice cream cones” made of a beautiful buttery tuile folded into a cone shape, with a puree of golden fava beans scooped inside. The “ice cream” topping is a sprinkling of toasted hickory nuts from the property.

Golden Fava Kones

After this, an extra cold course, a peachwood smoked wild salmon with a sour sauce made from cattails and wild sorrel oil. A julienne of sorrel lies atop the small dish. Meanwhile, Damon keeps filling our glasses with Chassagne -Montrachet saying “I guess it takes a whole bottle to fill these two glasses.” Well, I guess it does in this magical place we’ve found in the middle of the country.

Totally in the spirit now, (and spirits!) we move on to a half bottle of a muscular and peppery 2006 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir. With that, comes a crab stuffed pumpkin blossom for me with a kohlrabi sauce and some fiddlehead fern powder on the plate. The crab is from Nova Scotia and has been poached in turnip water for sweetness. I have to wonder what its like to live with this guy (what’s his underwear drawer like, for instance?)…this is beyond the beyond as far as any farm to table restaurant I’ve been in…and the preparations are as elaborate as any I’ve had the good fortune to experience from top notch places like Per Se or Babbo or The French Kitchen. Also nestled cozily on the plate is a plump Nova Scotia prawn perched on what is one of the most delicious preparations of cabbage I have ever tasted. It is a smoked cedarberry cabbage that has been cooked down and down to a melty, buttery consistency. Cabbage contains mustard oils that break down into some pretty smelly sulfurous compounds when heated. This is why I think many people are reticent to eat this vegetable. ( and then there’s the farting) This particular preparation was so heavenly, as to be addictive. If Damon Buehrel was as interested in becoming famous, as many other talented chefs that will remain nameless are, then this cabbage would be jarred and marketed in your local Gristedes or Safeway before you could say “Wolfgang Puck.”

At this juncture, our thought bubbles peacefully float above us , our wine glasses are full and our fragile bodies tremble at the thought of the superhuman next course. As the wine, the ambiance and the company open other horizons in our conversation,  my dearest dining partner comes to the brilliant realization that Damon’s cuisine is in fact an Americanized version of the Japanese art of kaisieki –The original flavor of this fresh food speaks for itself, plates are elaborately designed to send a message that we are literally “eating the season.” Everything is done, in meticulous detail,  with the focus and purpose of enhancing the unadorned taste of the ingredients. Damon has given his guests a short bio and has mentioned that he did study French technique with French chefs. According to Damon, it “taught him what not to do.” He mentions, for instance that he rarely if ever thickens anything with butter or cream, but rather with rutabaga.

A Rutabaga- starchy root vegetable

(which immediately reminds me of Frank Zappa’s song “Call Any Vegetable” ) Some of his dishes also incorporate the intricate chemistry of molecular gastronomy. But the cuisine that emerges is uniquely American and specifically from this little slice of Heaven we call Earlton, NY.

What’s this? Another of Damon’s phenomenal sorbets…this time a sweet and sour cherry one. Its sweet, but then the sweetness stops dead in its tracks and the delicious sour cherry flavor explodes in the mouth.

Last of The Spring Asparagus

Jerusalem artichoke "napoleon"

The rains have miraculously brought late-in-the-season tiny asparagus,which Damon has poached in parsnip water. ( I have to try this at home) The parsnip water provides a spicy, herbaceous note to the already deliciously tender stalks. The sauce is one of pickled cardoons (WHA??) and the plate is strewn artistically with roasted white pumpkin seeds and beet powder. For my vegetarian partner, Damon has prepared a special treat of a Jerusalem artichokes, layered like a savory napoleon with bluefoot mushrooms. There is a pioneer sensibility we are starting to notice in this whole evening’s presentation. Nothing is wasted. Everything is respected.  This is the Native American spirit. A small red Le Creuset pot arrives for each of us…inside a purée of bluefoot mushroom foraged that morning and crowned by a mound of smoked corn.

Bluefoot Mushroom Puree w/smoked corn

Third bottle arrives. ( Hey!! It’s my birthday) 2002 Gevrey- Chambertin, 1er Cru.  Red wine like this definitely improves with age as far as I’m concerned. The older I get, the better I like it 8-) I’m preparing for the meat course’s imminent arrival at our table.

2002 Gevrey-Chambertin

The meat course

Fish eater's main course

Grass-fed warm beef salad, using the eye-round, a sumac chicken, which has been brined and is as good as any barbeque I’ve had in the South and a mound of pulled pork, cooked with pine needles, vegetable broth and pear, for sweetness. A golden yellow burdock sauce lends its creamy flavor and color to the plate. The fish eaters version of this platter is equally luscious. More wild salmon, more of the insanely addictive smoked cedarberry cabbage, and a layered potato presentation with the golden yellow burdock sauce as the crown. My partner’s dietary needs are perfectly accommodated, and as a bonus, he gets a lovely side dish of nettles. ( I know that sounds like some Grimm’s Fairy Tale nasty bizness..but trust me..if you like the tang of bitter greens, then nettles are quite toothsome.) With every new course, Damon explains the ingredients and the preparation, freely giving away his secrets, unlike any other chef I’ve come across. This is the kind of pure, generous and exuberant joy that I admire.

Damon pops by our table between courses and reveals a little about himself,spurred on by our questioning. Several fascinating facts emerge….he was at one time a musician, then he started a catering company, he is married with an autistic son and he is not in the least interested in becoming famous because he knows that would be the end of what he does with such passion and personal attention. There is also no music in the bistro… as Robert Fripp once said “Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence” But in this basement space, the music is in our mouths,  in our eyes, filling our brainpans with sensation and washing over our compliant bodies.

Homemade cheeses

Dessert. We cant believe that hours have gone by…we arrived at 5PM, not really knowing what to expect, and now it is a bit after 8:30PM.

The Divine Chocolate/Beet Purée

First comes cheese, which is perfection for buddying up with the bit of Burgundy that is left. Five homemade cheeses arrive on a white platter, decorated meticulously with fresh herbs that are bursting with aroma : Brie, ricotta salata, a strong Gorgonzola-like cheese,2 types of cheddar. It is the masterful work of a miniature painter-and it’s astounding to us that every table is also getting this same beautiful platter with only ONE person in the kitchen. My birthday dessert buffet arrives with a little candle in one of the items and just enough fanfare. Items are both frozen and warm, for a contrast. Roasted peach gelato with wild spearmint, fresh fruits, a roasted wild strawberry purée on top of a homemade pastry, something made of pine nuts caramelized together like a brittle and the crowning achievement…a work of pure evil genius: a chocolate and beet purée that is so scrumptious I have to lick the glass.

My just desserts

Talk about a range of knowledge…mycology, organic farming, oenology, biochemistry, a masterful command of the care and feeding of humans. I think, “this guy walks the walk and talks the talk of the kind of “farm to table” restaurant cooking  and sustainable agriculture practices that other people just write about or only do halfway. I long to probe the way his brain works as he organizes all of this beauty, want to look at his schedule to see how often the goat butter gets made, when he turns the cheeses and injects the Gorgonzola with mold, how he invents some of these astounding preparations, how he makes time to forage, how he makes every single guest feel special. The way people, especially artists organize their lives, has always fascinated me. It suggests an certain internal logic and spatial sense.

It is now 9:15PM and Damon is receiving another seating at 10:30 PM that will go till 2 or 3 in the morning. It’s hard to grasp how he does this.

All I know is that I have witnessed some high culinary art and some serious personal integrity -I’m glowing with the whole experience of being fed, educated, inspired and pampered all at once. What a birthday!! What a chance to leave all worries behind for a few hours and just bask in someone else’s creative worldview.

We carefully wend our way back to our local bed and breakfast, with the resonances of the meal reverberating within us. and after this birthday dinner, I feel the best is yet to come.

I leave you all with my dear father’s toast…”Here’s looking up your address”

Miss Eydie

Damon in Dervish mode

THE BASEMENT BISTRO

DAMON BAEHREL CHEF/OWNER

776 ROUTE 45

EARLTON, NY    12058

RESERVATIONS: 518-269-1009

WWW.SAGECRESTCATERING.COM

 

Miss Eydie in Tinseltown – Music and Mouthful Minimalism

Miss Eydie has hit Tinseltown for The Playboy Jazz Festival, a huge outdoor event at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. It’s an intense all day affair –each group gets only 50 minutes to play, and if one band  goes over they are immediately removed from the stage by a rotation of the circular platform, much like the proverbial “hook” from the days of vaudeville.The Bowl is packed with revelers; both music lovers and people just out for the social scene and an al fresco lunch.

My closest friend, who made the drive in from the Yucca Valley to check out the jazz festival and indulge in her foodie proclivities, was excited about checking out a restaurant called The Bazaar by José Andres. The concept is tapas…small plates of food with a Spanish accent. But there is a twist. One half of the menu is “traditional” tapas and the other half is governed by the principles of molecular gastronomy,the art of bringing the instruments and experimental techniques of the laboratory, into the kitchen. Food is chemistry, after all. This really appeals to me…both as an aware,enthusiastic eater, and a performer. I know there will be thought, theatre, and provocation involved in this meal. I know I will want to eat, drink, sniff and smoke this food! As a fan of the surrealists, the deconstructionists, the dadaists, I see this kind of cooking as art, pure and simple-and as valid as the realists and the traditionalists.

The only thing I know in advance about José Andres, is that early in his career, he trained under Ferran Adria at El Bulli. As in singing, one must know the structure and rules before one can improvise on,bend,or even discard rules. So it is in cooking…”It is not enough to know the principles,one needs to know how to manipulate.” (Michael Faraday-Chemical Manipulation 1827) Our dining group this evening is delightfully diverse –  my dearest friend  who is an acupuncturist and a doctor of Chinese medicine, an interior designer and her husband, a musician who travels the world and has played with David Lindley, Sheryl Crow, Timbuk 3, Crowded House, (yeah!!) Bruce Hornsby, and many others,  their adorable 4 year old girl, my partner in love and supporter of culinary adventure, and yours truly, Miss Eydie Gourmet.The restaurant itself, designed by Philippe Starck, is romantic and gorgeous to behold, and at the same time full of fun and visual trickery-its ambiance is conducive for culinary experimentation and we are totally ready for anything.The hotel lobby ( this restaurant is in the new SLS hotel, which used to be Le Méridien , near the Beverly Center) features unique Starck-designed display cases presenting rotating design items,curated by Murray Moss, (who owns the most fabulous design store in NYC )which if you are in the least inebriated or otherwise intoxicated can be disarming.

Waiters pass by with fixings for what I will soon learn is the signature “magic mojito.” Served in a shaker and poured over a martini glass of cotton candy,this magical elixir provides a small amount of theatre along with your rum and mint,as the house-made cotton candy disappears into the drink. There are tableside presentations of both Rojo and Blanca Sangria and also, those intoxicating Brazilian treats, caipirinhas. Other temptations abound, like the “liquid cherry” Manhattan and the “New Way” Dirty martini with its “olive spherification “(more about that later) and olive brine air. To my mind though, the only quaff for this meal is Spanish wine,  so we start off with some cold Albariño from Rias Baixas. Lydia confidently orders a Shirley Temple….when  my son was little this was also his beverage of choice when we went out…he would order that and I would stage whisper to the waiter…”And Ill have a Shirley Temple’s mother.” ( meaning a vodka tonic!)

Lydia and her Temple

We try and order a balance of both traditional and deconstructed items. First things to arrive: a plate of  sautéed wild mushrooms infused with hazelnut oil and a hazelnut praline. I’m transported momentarily to the Oregon woods as opposed to Barcelona. Sweet

Sweet Potato Chips, yogurt, tamarind paste, star anise

potato chips are not so unusual these days, but the dip is an airy, whipped Greek yogurt with a swirl of tart tamarind paste, and a sprinkling of star anise. Next to arrive are some traditional tapas, that really cant be missed Sweet piquillos peppers are stuffed with goat cheese and next to them, a plate

Piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese

of small codfish fritters or “buñuelos” with a honey aioli. We also have , in the more modern style, a serving of Ottoman carrot fritters.  These are a delightful surprise ,tasting a bit like a tzimmes one might have for Rosh Hashanah dinner. …except better. Much better. They have small bits of apricot in them and lie on top of a bed of pistachio sauce. What I love about these small bites, is the concentration and explosion of flavor, of essence. One of the simplest dishes we tried was something called watermelon/tomato skewers with a sherry reduction- very much resonant of a watermelon gazpacho on a stick.

Watermelon/tomato skewers

Umm…Ok..speaking of “explosion” -back to the olive spherification. Are you with me? I’m pretty sure that José learned this technique while under Ferran Adria’s tutelage. This dish is a reworking of a familiar, age-old concept- the serving of olives to accompany a cocktail or aperitif. The waiter patiently explains the process to us… the olives are first pressed hard to completely release their juice, then reassembled in a bath of sodium alginate ,which is  the sodium salt of alginic acid and calcium chloride ,which is used in cheese making. This develops a

Olive spherification

“curd” around the olive jus so when it is put in the mouth it literally explodes with a burst of olive flavor- the liquid in contact with the alginate produces these tiny spheres of texture. This sounds horrifying to many at my table, but we all dig in. The small spheres of “olive” are artfully laid out, each on its own white porcelain soup spoon. As they enter our waiting culinary cavities, the taste of the Mediterranean washes over us like a wave of nostalgic embrace. BAM!! For real.

Moving on, our 4 year old guest Lydia astounds everyone by going for the American caviar cone, the sautéed shrimp with garlic and guindilla pepper, and the sea urchin buns, which are mini versions of the Chinese char siu bao,without the barbecued pork. Instead, inside the steamed bun lies a glistening, coral tongue, a single raw sea urchin, layered with green avocado. She chows down on these,

Sea Urchin steamed buns

as opposed to more age appropriate choices such as the “Philly” cheesesteak which is composed of something called “air bread,” cheddar and Wagyu beef or the papas Canarias: salty,wrinkled fingerling potatoes with/or without a mojo verdé (just cilantro, sherry vinegar, garlic and oil) or even chicken and bechamel fritters. Just goes to show you that many children will respond to an opening of their palates, if they are just given the opportunity.My son had a wide range of taste when he was little, and I ascribe that to the fact that after breast milk, I gave him goat’s milk. That opened his taste palate to the range of sour and bitter flavors that he enjoys to this day. I’ll never forget a chef running out from the kitchen to watch a 3 year old devour a goat cheese and eggplant terrine! Our 4 year old , Lydia has finally noticed the martini glasses of cotton candy going by, and calmly,but firmly asks the waiter for a plateful. Little genius that she is, she lets her head drop completely into the plate, which she says feels like “stuffing.”

It’s time to switch to red. How I love those words.

We order Alvaro Palacios’ 2007 “Camins del Priorat,” a masterful blend of Cariñena/Garnacha/Cabernet/and Syrah grapes from the Priorat region of Spain. Perfumed and sweet in the mouth, with a spicy, sexy overtone, we all fall in love with it…and quickly order another bottle to go with the cheese platter we are bound to order before dessert. The gentleman who brings our dishes to the table and announces them, reminds us of James Earl Jones playing “Othello.” With a resonant baritone and a theatrical air, he announces,”Desdemona…Had it pleased heaven to try me with affliction,had they rained all kinds of sores and shames upon my bare head, Still ….would I  lie before you

Baby Japanese peaches,burrata,arugula and hazelnuts

this platter of baby Japanese peaches with burrata,hazlenuts and arugula.” More dishes arrive..that’s the cool thing about small plates -you can share and try a bit of everything. (of course when the bill arrives, that’s a different story) Sautéed cauliflower “couscous, a mixture of fried quinoa,lemon, harissa and cauliflower purée arrives, and is ravished. Japanese eggplant with yogurt comes sprinkled with bonito flakes,which add a depth and resonance of aroma and flavor.

Watermelon "nigiri" w/yellowtail,wasabi, red wine and soy

A final plate before cheese of refreshing jicama wraps filled with mint,cucumbers, pickled ginger and an insane coconut dressing.

Pa'amb tomaquet-Catalan tomato bread

Cheese arrives with a platter of Pa’amb tomaquet…toasted bread rubbed with raw tomato and garlic-it’s raw baby-Catalan style! 3 sheep and a goat. Manchego , La Serena, Idiazabal and the goaty one: a semi-soft Murcia al vino. We drain the bottle dry…in the meantime, Lydia is bored with us and has wandered over to the next table where she sees another small person.

Dessert is as creative and crazy as the rest of the menu. There is a whole confectionery section with bon-bons,chocolates tablettes, cookies and lollipops. I must have them all…but settle for a Maldon salt dark chocolate square, an olive lollipop, a white chocolate /red peppercorn lollipop and a Earl Grey bon-bon. Someone else must have the mini-cheese Danish (wha??)a few

My heavenly coconut dessert

different ice creams and sorbets,and something called a “creamy chocolate heart” We’re out of control. Where did that port come from?? Why does the ladies room feel like I have been suddenly transported to The

Cheese, glorious cheese

Matrix?? Will Keanu Reeves pick up the bill? Lydia has made friends with Stevie Wonder’s family ,who are sitting at the next table. As for me, I am under the influence of some kind of ambrosial coconut concoction I ordered, that has a crunchy, cold  shell and inside, a creamy core. (a lot of “c” words I know) There may have been espresso ordered,or The Iron Goddess Of Mercy,the greatest of all the oolong teas…. I frankly don’t remember. But I do remember happily being squeezed into a cab, and seeing the familiar lights and glitter of L.A. stream by, as I revisited all the flavors, textures and sights of the evening. Molecular Gastronomy-LA style… I’m inspried to get out my old chemistry set, order up some sodium alginate and start cooking.

To all you hipster dipsters out there who love good food and drink.Live long.Love well.Be Real . And be real gone!!

Miss Eydie

 

Where’s the Boeuf? – Miss Eydie tackles tradition

The back story:

It’s December 2009 in New York City and a huge blizzard is coming in tonight. That means I’ll be making soup, (I still have an old goose carcass somewhere in the freezer I think, among the odd body part) and wrestling with my fireplace to get a glow on. The first furry flurries have already started. My dear friend and ex-neighbor, filmmaker Steve Lippman, has requested that for the occasion of his 50th birthday, a traditional Boeuf a la Bourguignon, be made by Miss Eydie for himself and 8 of his friends. I attribute this request to a) the fact that Steve is a raging, unapologetic carnivore and b) to the popularity of the film “Julie and Julia.” Suddenly, everyone is dusting off their old copies of “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking” and craving old school Gallic goodies like Coq au Vin and Coquilles St. Jacques. I am up to the challenge, having made an “authentic” Boeuf when I lived in Los Angeles years ago.  Let me tell you it was not easy finding a calf’s foot in LA. I finally found a Kosher butcher somewhere deep in the Valley and procured this essential ingredient.The procedure takes two days….It’s more than just a bowl of stew…and it starts with the best butchers in NYC- The Ottomanellis.

Assembling the ingredients: Day 1

A Girl and Her Butcher

My first stop is to visit my old friends on Bleecker St. at Ottomanelli & Sons : Frank,Jerry, Peter and Joe. This shop smells like meat and blood…if you’re a vegetarian -forget it, don’t even go near this place, or you’ll have a convulsion.There are hanging carcasses, dead bunny rabbits in the window,and the butcher brother/cousins wear bloodstained white coats much like mad lab assistants. But I have been coming here ever since moving to the West Village in 1981 – the old man himself was behind the counter then, Onofrio Ottomanelli. My then-boyfriend and I would buy our game,usually a goose or pheasant, for Thanksgiving holiday, my son grew up on the bologna and the rib-eye steaks, I’d order a beautiful trimmed rack of lamb for special dinners, and I could always get fresh squab, D’Artagnan products and fresh chicken breasts for Gabe’s Jamaican nanny to make her famous jerk chicken. The West Village was much more down home Italian back then…there was a “social club” on Bedford St, Zito’s Bakery, where you could be tantalized by the smell of the delectable semolina loaves being baked if you were out partying late enough , Cafe Lucca, where my parents and I would sip cappuccino and play backgammon, and an appetizing store where the owner would make fresh mozzarella cheese in the back room. Murray’s Cheese was a tiny, cramped storefront on Cornelia and Bleecker and Kenny & Eve Shopsin ran their legendary grocery store /sandwich shop on my corner.

Calf's Foot

Frank cuts me about of 6 lbs of beef chuck into large pieces,trims it a bit, then holds it up for inspection. Bello! I already have some slab bacon at home, but think that a little bit of pancetta will also be a nice touch to sprinkle on top with the parsley and croutons. Frank doesnt bat an eye when I ask him for the split calf’s foot, but runs in the back and gets one. I ask him to slice it with his super frozen meat saw,(wow…did I just write that??) since I like to add it incrementally…the purpose of this ingredient is to add gelatin, and thus body to the dish… I remember my mom and grandmother talking about eating jellied calf’s feet.

Anyway….after more schmoozing with Frank as he wraps my packages, I head to the wine store. The selection? Obviously red burgundy. Not quite the gallon jug of Almaden Burgundy I used to guzzle in college, but wine that comes from the Burgundy region of eastern France. That’s where this famous dish is from and I want to wine to reflect and add to the authenticity.  I never cook with anything that I wouldn’t drink on its own- but there’s no need to get crazy with the wine I am going to marinate the beef and vegetables in. I do spring for a couple of more upscale bottles to actually drink with the bourguignon. 2006 Hautes Cotes de Beaune should do the trick on my

Frank O. shows off his beef

budget. Off to the Union Sq. Greenmarket for the vegetables -carrots, yellow onion, white mushrooms, leeks, garlic, and for the bouquet garni: Italian parsley, bay leaf, and thyme.  Brussell sprouts will make a great accompaniment,combined with pistachios and grated Pecorino cheese. My last stop…Murrays Cheese, for some Turkish pistachios, an aged Pecorino and a Tom Cat baguette for the croutons.

Prepping the Bourguignon : Chop,chop,marinate

First…I must put on some cooking music.Hmmm -if I put on vinyl,Ill have to run over to the turntable every 25 minutes or so. No good.The ipod will be just fine…I have a playlist full of incredible music, mostly 78s, that  my friend Harry Arends sends me every Friday. That’s some good chopping music: The Ponce Sisters, (personal faves) Helen Kane, Teddy Wilson, Artie Shaw, Earl Hines, Al Katz and His Kittens, Miss Sophie Tucker and for speed chopping, “Tiger Rag” by The Mills Bros.

Next, my cooking clothes go on… I’ve recently come into possession of a snazzy black cook’s jacket ,but I still have my favorite stained aprons…many with buttons pinned on them….”I Slept With Bill Clinton” is probably my favorite.( I nicked it off of Kenny Shopsin’s apron)

First thing to do is prepare the vegetables…the beef has already been cut into pieces. Carrots are first peeled and diced,  ( as well as I can- my knife technique leaves much to be desired. SEND ME TO COOKING SCHOOL….SOMEBODY!) then the onions are divested of their papery wrapping and also sliced and diced. Miss Eydie’s Cooking Tip #1 : To avoid eye irritation whilst peeling onions, wear your snorkeling gear. That’s right…the mask AND the snorkel. You may look ridiculous.However,your eyes and other delicate membranes will thank you. You can forgo the fins if you wish.

Leeks need to be carefully washed,as dirt hides in the folds of the vegetable. Chop the white part, while discarding the tough top green leaves. I make a bouquet garni in a small cheesecloth bag with a bay leaf, some parsley and thyme, about 5 or 6 black peppercorns,and 2 or 3 peeled garlic cloves.

Beef, carrots,onions, leeks,bouquet garni-before the marination

That’s all she wrote..for now. Combine the beef, the veggies and the bouquet garni in a large bowl or stewpot. Open 2 bottles of your Burgundy, and pour over the mixture. Resist the urge to take a swig .Wait for the good stuff. Cover, and marinate in fridge overnight. Go out for dinner.

DAY 2 -La cuisson a commencer-It’s Party Time

Now the fun begins…its best to let the Bourguignon sit a bit and develop its favors before you dig in…but I made this the day of the party. Here’s where you need many strainers, all kinds of spoons and utensils and extra pots…if you can wrangle a sous-chef or a willing teenager (do these exist?) or partner to wash up while you’re constructing this…so much the better. I do not own a dishwasher…my original impulse was that it was a beneficial Zen exercise to just focus on the simple task of washing dishes-there’s something very satisfying about putting 100% of yourself into this uncomplicated,elementary activity. Also, people that do dishes together, share secrets…trust me on this.

Let the marinating begin!

Back to the prep: Drain the beef and vegetables. This turns out to be more complicated than it sounds.You need to reserve the marinade and bouquet packet separately and set the vegetables aside. The problem is the beef won’t brown properly if it is wet. I’ve made this mistake before. So I begin the time consuming, but necessary process of patting down the beef with paper towels. This is a tricky thing, cause the beef is now plump and soaked with marinade and you don’t want to lose that. Once the beef is no longer dripping with marinade and ready to be cooked, season it with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat oil ( I use either olive or vegetable ) in a heavy casserole, and brown those suckers!! Doesn’t it smell great? Keep a careful eye on the proceedings, while dancing around the kitchen to Aretha and Fred Hammond, turning the beef so that the pieces brown evenly. You just want to create a nice caramelization on the outside-the slow cooking to soften and tenderize the meat fibers comes later.

Remove the browned beef to a bowl, and then add the diced veggies to the casserole.Stir and dance, stir and dance. Shake it like a Polaroid PICKCHA! Return the beef, sprinkle with a bit of flour , and cook ,while stirring till the flour in no longer raw.Add marinade (this is a great moment- enjoy it!) bouquet garni, and the calf’s foot. Bring all this to a boil- then skim the foam that rises.Reduce heat to low and cover the casserole. Simmer until beef is tender -about 2 1/2 hours. Take a nap or write a song.

Feeling refreshed, you return to work. Remove the beef from the pot and put into a clean bowl.Discard the calf’s foot and the bouquet garni. Bye bye little foot. Now you want to reduce that sauce…put it on Weight Watchers .It’s got all that  beefy goodness and gelatin which will make it thick and shiny. If I have beef stock or even some demi-glace lying around, I may add it at this

Miss Eydie in action, straining sauce

point, just to take it over the edge.While the sauce reduces over medium heat, you can make the homemade croutons and prepare the bacon/pancetta.First,  take out your crusty,trusty  baguette and slice it. Preheat oven to 350, and lay the slices on a cookie

Making garlic rubbed croutons

sheet. Toast till golden.(I like to do both sides…so I flip them) While they’re still warm, rub them with raw garlic…and cut into cubes or squares or whatever. If you like to multi-task like me, then you will start heating  a iron skillet, cut the pancetta into cubes and/or lay the slab bacon out . While the bacon is cooking, clean, trim and slice the white mushrooms.Cook till crisp -then remove ,drain and set aside. leave the fat in the skillet and throw the mushrooms in and cook for about 5 minutes or so.

A recap and the final steps

Ok…so let’s review at this point . We’ve got the sauce reducing happily, the beef set aside. The bacon is cooked, the croutons are made., the mushrooms are ready. Start a big pot of salted water

Pancetta and bacon

boiling for the egg noodles. Wash and trim the brussel sprouts, score them with a cross on the bottom ( it helps them to cook)and start their steaming process. Ummm….Now comes a messy part.

I like to press the sauce with a big wooden spoon through a medium fine strainer over a bowl…this process refines the sauce and presses out the last bit of essence from the vegetables….It takes some time and you need to put a little bit of muscle into it. Put on some Stevie Ray Vaughan and get to it. When you’re finished, you’ll have a big bowl of glistening, robust, sauce. Taste for seasonings and add the beef back into the bowl. Sauté some pistachios in butter and pour them over the brussel sprouts, coarsely grate the Pecorino over that. Your noodles should be drained, buttered and placed on a nice serving dish, perhaps with a sprinkle of parsley.

Garnish the beef with bacon, mushrooms,parsley and croutons and ladle out over a serving of buttered noodles. Gather your friends, open the great Burgundy, pour , and crank up the music.

Ahhh....the brussel sprouts

The Menu:

A glass of Champagne/Vodka tonics

Marcona Almonds

Parmesan cheesesticks

______________________________________________________________________________
Boeuf a la Bourguinon

Buttered Noodles

Brussel Sprouts w/ pistachios and Pecorino

Dandelion Salad

________________________________________________________________________

Birthday Cookies

_________________________________________________________________________________________________The

David prepares his salad- birthday boy in back

The birthday dinner was a fantastic evening and my darling carnivore Steve was contented, with all his prezzies, his friends gathered, the music and the coziness of it all….the snows did come and there is little more fully satisfying than good friends, a roaring fire, great wine, music and conversation and a bowl of stew made with love!

A tous mes amis…Bon Appetit,

Miss Eydie


 

An Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong (“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying.” -Coleman Hawkins

Miss Eydie  feels terribly remiss for making some of you hang on to hear this tale. As a matter of fact,  I thought of it as a culinary cliffhanger of sorts . Anywho…here goes…..

In our last installment over the summer, I was taking an idyllic few days in Ovada, Italy between shows in Europe. The Rabbi and I were staying with friends, Cinzia and David, both of whom are chefs, lovers of the grape, and pretty swell people in general. I had been obsessed for several months with the idea of making a bergamot martini. Bergamot in its natural state is an Italian citrus about the size of an orange with yellow skin and that distinctive smell you’ll recognize from Earl Grey tea. Bergamot

I’d been imagining a combination of flavors in my mind and had several email conversations with David about the possbility of concocting one. We both settled on the idea of procuring some “essence of bergamot” or a bergamot oil of some kind. I didnt even know there was such a thing as fresh bergamot oranges until I saw them in a farmer’s market. ( and the sign mispelled yet) Unfortunately, this was after the fact of David and I finally making some time for our alcoholic experiment. The afternoon lay before us like a wanton maiden… cocktail time was rapidly approaching, so David and I assembled our tools. Ice cold vodka…check. Essence of bergamot…check. Cocktail shaker…check. Ice…check. We’re thinking there has to be one more element , but we begin with the essential stuff. David has managed to obtain an Italian version of essence of bergamot…it looks to me like an essential oil -the kind of thing you would use to make perfume or massage oil. He puts 4 or 5 drops into some chilled vodka. Shake it up baby!!

Dropping the bergamot

Step 1- Dropping the bergamot

We taste….we scrunch up our face. It’s definitely awful. Bitter. What can we do?? David reaches into his pantry and pulls out some homemade Meyer lemon/sugar mixture that Cinzia has made. “Makes sense”…we think.It will add a citrusy note and will temper the bitterness. A small dollop gets added to the cocktail shaker.

Step 2- citrus and sweetness

Step 2- citrus and sweetness

Step 2

Step 2

We suck down more of the melange. Better…but still pretty bad. However the little buzz is starting to feel pretty nice. Now what?? Hic! We’re starting to think that we added way too much of the essential oil to the initial brew. Now it’s too sweet. How to counterbalance?

As we sip, we think that maybe we should add something like a vermouth. David pulls out a bottle of Punt e Mes,which is a Piedmontese vermouth that is quite bitter. The name literally means “point and a half” At this point, I’m game for anything.We munch on some marinated garlic cloves as we ponder this latest move.

OK…here we go…..

Step 3 (or is it 4?) adding the Punt e Mes

Step 3 (or is it 4?) adding the Punt e Mes

The Italian vermouth is poured in…we shake, we add more ice…we taste. It’s even more repugnant, if thats possible. We’ve clearly made some horrible error in proportion.

By this time though, we are cackling like mad scientists and getting quite squiffy. We try a few more additions to the formula and reluctantly admit it’s a lost cause.

Call the uh-oh squad

Call the uh-oh squad

The good news for me is that although we didn’t come up with the recipe for a definitve bergamot martini, we did bond in the spirit of scientific inquiry and as we stumbled around the kitchen in a vodkalicious euphoria, we were scooped up by our respective partners and guided gently to dinner. I also have a new plan ….I want to infuse vodka with Earl Grey tea….that will give me the bergamot fix I crave.

As Miss Eydie’s time in Ovada draws to a close, she fondly and gratefully  recalls more of the highlights of the Italian summer :

Homemade Farinata baked before my eyes in Savona. David takes us to a down home place after the concert,that stays open to serve us a post show meal. Farinata is a crispy, thin, baked  flatbread made of only oil, salt, chickpea flour and farina di grano. Hot out of the wood burning oven, it’s heavenly with any toppings you might want to put  on, or just by itself.

Making the Farinata

Making the Farinata

Vino & Farinata

Vino & Farinata

Another highlight was dinner at L’Archivolta Osteria in Ovada. Its the kind of place where the Ovadese find photos of their relatives on the wall.This Piedmontese meal was not “rustica” but refined,…starting with a gelantine of melon and some delectable vegetable fritters. …then our appetizer plates follow: Crema fagiolini,yellow pepper with mushrooms and potato, a savory custard w/ black truffle, toma ( a soft Cows milk cheese ) wrapped around spicy rucola and tomato. We wash it down with a Valle D’Aosta chardonnay …100% chardonnay grapes, 13 1/2 % alcohol, mountain grapes picked at the moment of their perfection.With full gratitude, I wonder how I got to be sitting here- from my background of Nathan’s hot dogs, overcooked brisket, generic beer and Campbell’s tomato soup- to being able to fully appreciate and savor this exquisite cooking.

From there….a 2001 Barbaresco,”La Spinetta” which accompanies fresh housemade tagliolini with (picked this morning!!!) local ovole mushrooms. Moving on to a 1999 Barbaresco from Rombone. Cinzia and David know the winemaker, Bruno Nada, whose vineyards are next to Angelo Gaja’s.This wine is elegant, has less tannin,more fruit and so is more “pointed” to my palate. My beef with black truffles comes out.I learn what “meat jello,” or fondu brun,  is from the chef. This makes me happy.

My eyes roll back in my head. Four hours later…..the meal finally ends with lemon gelato, housemade cookies and several shots of digestives like Fernet Branca and Amaro.

Good appetite and digestion to all……

till next time my friends

Miss Eydie                                                                                                                                                fresh mushrooms

Appetizer plate

 

Hooray, Hooray, It’s Market Day

Tomatoes...as God intended them

Tomatoes...as God intended them

Local Funghi

Lot of talk these days about slow food, which is a movement based on principles of high quality,taste, sustainable agriculture, eating locally, and to some extent, social justice.(yum ) I first became aware of this movement, started by Carlo Petrini, many years ago while traveling in Italy. It has since spread worldwide and been no doubt helped along by such wonderful people such as Alice Waters and such wonderful books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” Carlo Petrini’s “Slow Food Nation,” and a personal favorite, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal,Vegetable Miracle.” In this book, Barbara Kingsolver and her family actually put their money where their mouths are.. literally – they conduct and document a family experiment of living on the land, growing their own food and only eating “locally” and seasonally for an entire year. This way of eating makes so much sense to me on so many levels…however the fact is I live in Manhattan and can’t grow my own food-but I can employ a level of awareness and consciousness about what I choose to buy and eat.

Local tomatoes

More Local tomatoes

Also, when I travel I am always mindful of the regional food traditions, the natural conditions,like climate,soil and landscape that come together to influence the foods of a particular region. (There are other factors certainly) How right it seems to do one’s food shopping from local farmers, buy produce that is in season and not from some far away country on the other side of the globe, and to have human contact with the producers of this food. As La Signora remarks, “I get my eggs from chickens who have names.”

These thoughts were colliding in my brain, as we set off after breakfast, with burlap sacks and shopping carts, to the market in Ovada, Italy. The stalls are all set up, the produce, the meat, the fish are all there for the nonnas to puruse, pick over and examine. I can see that everyone is plotting meals in their heads according to what is fresh and succulent looking. We join the fray ourselves and plan a meal of fresh grilled vegetables, stuffed zucchini flowers, and pasta. The fruit of the season is impossibly ripe and luscious – peaches, white nectarines, plums, Amalfi lemons,watermelons. The mind boggles with all the possibilities for grilled fruit, cobblers, crumbles, pies, crostata, macedonias, frozen fruit drinks, semifreddos and ice creams, poached fruit in wine, and of course the naked, fleshy things themself!

Scenes from The Butcher's Stall

Scenes from The Butcher's Stall

The fish monger is there with his caravan and all the delights of the sea, as is the butcher with his cured meats. Genoa is not very far away and the fish look as if they were just pulled from their watery beds this morning. Huge bunches of basil are intoxicating, there are dried Porcini and baskets of fresh wild mushrooms in all their fungal ferocity, walls of garlic from nearby Asti and gorgeous zucchini with their yellow flowers still attached….begging to be stuffed with CHEESE. O yes, we will stuff them.

Zucchini Flowers

Zucchini Flowers

And speaking of cheese…of course there is a cheese stand at the market, rife with the local favorites. David has a huge book in his home which references all the Italian cheeses, many of which you cannot find in the states. I have a smaller one he gave me as a gift, which lists the cheese you actually can find in the States. I’m fortunate to live spitting distance from an exceptionally fine cheese store, Murray’s Cheese. O how I love the cheesy goodness of cheese…the runniness, the rinds, the veiny molds, the smoky creaminess  -but for me, and probably for most singers it is a no-no, because of the mucus it produces in the body.It clogs up the plumbing as it were and imparts a haze to the clarity of the voice. Anyway, Cinzia and I start talking again about dinner, and Mr Duggles implores,nay begs her to make her world famous tiramasu, the famous “pick me up” dessert with espresso, ladyfingers, cocoa and marscapone cheese.

To make marscapone at home:

1/4 tsp Tartaric acid to 9 TB of warmed fresh cream…remove from heat,…strain through cheesecloth…cool for 24 hours (IMPORTANT !!!  DO NOT confuse Tartaric Acid with Beef Tartare, Cream of Tartar, Tartar Sauce, Cream Tarts, Pop Tarts, Sulfuric Acid, Tartuffe by Moliere, Tartufo Bianco or Nero or Tater Tots.)

Of course once you’ve made the marscapone, you might as well make the homemade TIRAMASU. But I cannot divulge the secret recipe of La Signora under pain of death. Del male non fare e paura non avere. I will do no evil and have no fear.

Wall of Asti Garlic

Wall of Asti Garlic

There is not only food at the market…but plants, flowers, seeds, housewares and CLOTHES. Cinzia meets a good friend, who was, be still my heart, the Pope’s personal flight Alitalia attendant. What better person to go shopping with?-a person who knows good drag when he sees it. I buy a terrific used blouse for 5 Euros under his guidance.

David's Pasta

David's Pasta

We head home with our purchases and that night David, makes a sensational home cooked meal with all the fresh vegetables rubbed with olive oil and thrown on the grill, some fish done the same way and a simple pasta.

But there is a darker side to the meal…an experiment gone horribly wrong…

Miss Eydie

 

Miss Eydie Careens Through Italy-Parte Uno-Happy Hour In Ovada

It’s summer time and that means, among other things in my world… the opportunity to sing in Italy,to sleep in Italy, to gaze upon all things Italian and….. to eat and drink. This year is a very special one for Miss Eydie though, as we have been invited to spend some quiet days in Ovada, between gigs, in our very own apartment. The apartment belongs to friends from the States, both restauranteurs, chefs, wine lovers, music lovers, book lovers….does it get any better?? I had been touring Spain and with the exception of Segovia, where the suckling pig was finger-lickin’ cracklin’ good, the food was underwhelming with no time to search out anything more interesting. I could hardly wait to set foot in the sleepy, sun-drenched town of Ovada.

Ovada is in NW Italy, in the Piemonte region, just north of Genoa. MIss Eydie has been dreaming about this wine lover’s paradise, the cheeses, the white truffles (not in summer…but I can dream, can’t I? ) the wild game, the pasta, the fresh herbs…. but now its time to get real with it.

I arrive in Ovada in the late afternoon…being driven from Genoa by David, in a gleaming black convertible blasting Paolo Conte’s “Via Con Me” to set the mood. 03-via-con-me Cinzia and David have had an apartment in Ovada  for 20 years so they speak and think like Italians…and so they think: what to offer the thirsty traveler?

Cinzia's Frozen Amalfi Lemonade

A drink with all the qualities one looks for in a late afternoon cocktail – thirst quenching, just alcoholic enough to help ease you through the transition from harried traveler to relaxed guest, but not strong enough to transform you into visitor from Hell, something to pique your appetite for pleasures down the road, and lastly, lovely to look at. Cinzia acheived all of this and more with her invention:

CINZIA’S FROZEN LEMONADE

  • Russian Standard Vodka or your favorite
  • Frozen chunks of Amalfi lemons ( maybe Meyer lemons would work too )
  • Lemon juice
  • Sugar
  • Ice
  • Shaved zest for top

Blend it all up and shave the zest on top….Pour it in a beautiful glass, put Maria Callas or The Eels on the stereo, sit back and enjoy the brain freeze. In the meantime, I melt into the gloaming:that magical hour between sundown and moonrise,where the evening’s potentials dance before your eyes and the cares of the day disappear in a frothy swirl. Church bells peal, and the sounds of the town preparing for its evening rise up from the street. La Signora brings out some appetizers (there is never alcohol without some food in Italy) and a second round of frozen drinks. My neurons are doing little tarentellas of happiness.

La Signora at Sunset-Ovada

David often remarks that in Italy the conversation revolves primarily around food and the taking of meals . So in keeping with that tradition, we discuss my first meal in Ovada. We decided to call down to the restaurant right below us, to see if they have a table. And when I say call down, I mean literally yelling to the maitre d’ “Do you have a table for us at 9?”  I am ready for the divine taste of Italy …”La Sapori.” But here- the divine is in the everyday, as it should be.

David and I also discuss our plans for the construction of a bergamot martini.I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, since I’ve lately been making my Moxopolitans with vodka and that wonderful elderflower liquer, St. Germain. Thinking about the taste of bitter orange with that combination as well. D. has procured the Essence of Bergamot and decide we will put aside some time during a future cocktail hour to “experiment.”

A Little Something With Sunset Drinks

A Little Something With Sunset Drinks

Ovada at Sunset

Ovada at Sunset

It’s only a neighborhood pizzaria, but Mamma Mia, what food and ambience…. Sitting out on the cobblestoned street, under white umbrellas, no music except the clatter of dishes, the conversation and laughter of the locals with their families, the church bells that tell us it’s 9:30 PM ,then 10 and on and on. We start with a platter of freshly fried white anchovies. Don’t turn up your nose…these babies are not salty, not greasy,but crunchy, clean and just need a splash of lemon. We pop them heads, tails and all, right into our waiting mouths. Next, a platter of pepperoni, red and yellow like the blazing summer sun. A bowl of Minestrone alla Genovese, served “tiepido” with a dollop of bright green pesto in the middle appears on the table, followed by Spaghetti alla Cinque Terre,with fresh tomato, marjoram, thyme,oregano and basil. David orders cozze, fresh mussels, bathed in a red sauce spiked with chili pepper. Molto piccante!! La Signora decides on the simple grilled langoustines.

Grilled Langoustines

Grilled Langoustines

Oh…and did I mention wine yet? The local brew ah yes….the wines of Piemonte are considered some of the best in Italy: but the everyday table wines here in Ovada are Gavi and Dolcetto. As far as Italian whites, Gavi has long been a favorite of mine along with Arneis, (also from this region) the whites of the Venezia/Friuli region, and a white from Tuscany called Terre di Tufi. I wasn’t aware though of the differences between Gavi, Gavi di Gavi and Cortese di Gavi. The table is a perfect place to learn, by far my favorite classroom. Gavi has many characteristics of a Chardonnay …which makes it appealing to me; rich, balanced, broad on the palate. The cortese grape is the grape of Gavi, but wines labeled Cortese di Gavi have a different character-brighter, perhaps and more sprightly. La Signora prefers this Gavi with its fresher flavors. The Dolcetto is light and spicy but really stands up to most things you throw its way – aDolcetta D'Ovada young,scrappy bantam-weight.

The moment of truth arrives.. and I am compelled to order a pizza. Tough call…there are at least 30 choices…but I settle on the Red Lady, basically a margherita pizza with Treviso radicchio, a rosy, elongated chicory,on top.I don’t know why but the adjectives “rosy and elongated” are very appealing to me. Mr. Duggles ordered a plain grilled fish,a bronzino,which comes to the table with perfectly charred skin and sweet white flesh that only needs the slightest caress of lemon.  Alas, the waiter comes back and tells me the radicchio is not available tonight, so would I like a Green Lady instead? Would I!!!! This is the pizza I had cravings for when I was pregnant with my son….. the contrast between the heat of the crust, cheese and tomato versus the cold, bitter rucola drove my pregnant palate into paroxysms of ecstacy. I wanted bitter, I wanted salty, I wanted melted cheese. Nothing has changed really.

The Green Lady

The Green Lady

The evening progresses with a leisurely rhythm, almost making me believe I am on vacation, instead of stealing a few days between gigs.

Dessert arrives in the form of lemon sorbetto, creamy and tart (like my men) and, (be still my heart) that Sicilian/NY Italian specialty, cannolis. May I wax rhapsodic about the cannoli for a moment? There are few things that could be better than a tube of fried dough stuffed with ricotta or marscapone, and then the additions of chocolate chips, candied fruits, pistachios, cherries or rosewater. Holy Fertility Symbol!

After espresso, we decide to do the town…and so we head to 1/4ino Di Vino, a local vineria/Champagneria,owned by a friend of Cinzia and Davids.’ It is mostly a Champagne place, and the owners favorite is Drappier…one of my favorite’s as well and not so easy to find in the states,Americans preferring the more famous names of Moet & Chandon,Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot,etc.I can’t really believe my eyes…there are empty bottles of Drappier everywhere,corks fill an entire portion of the  wall, there are magnums and Jeroboams and Methusulahs , there’s an army of bubbly soldiers lining the stairs…it’s Champagne heaven.

Parade of Drappier

Parade of Drappier

Stairway to Heaven

The Sword That Sliced 1000 Corks

We settle in – a cozy table in the alley across from the vineria. La Signora sensibly orders a digestive, David, a grappa. Mr. Duggles is hell-bent on a Grappa di Chamomilia,which turns out to be absolutely delicious-reminded me of the hierbas I used to drink after dinner on Ibiza in the crazy 70s. I clearly must have the Drappier. Mr. Duggles and I explore the vineria and find a gleaming sword in a wooden box. The owner explains its for slicing the tops off Champagne bottles. Now that he knows he has my attention, he proceeds to demonstrate.The good food, convivial company and the pleasant,soporific effects of the alcohol bring me to the thought of why I love it in Italy so much. There is a quality of life that is celebrated every day…a pace and a rhythm that has as its primary beats, food, friends, family, beauty, sex.

The church bells tell us it is after midnight.  And then, like a real Italian, I start thinking about what we’re likely to have for breakfast in the morning…

What sweet and tender dreams I’ll have tonight…

More to come.

 

Midnight At The Onsen – Miss Eydie Rocks The Ryokan

THE ROAD TO MYOJINKAN

Miss Eydie at the Ryokan

Miss Eydie at the Ryokan

I’d been coming to Japan and performing regularly since 1980, and had never, ever been outside the big cities. In my eternal quest for hot water and fantastic cuisine, I somehow never was able to realize the particular dream of organizing a trip to a Japanese mountain hot spring and staying in a traditional ryokan, or Japanese inn. These ryokan seem to be imbued with the spirit and culture of Japan, a culture that to me, has so many levels of sophistication and so much that is admirable. My first few trips to Japan were filled with all kinds of explorations of the varied types of cuisine available : sushi of course,including the kaiten-zushi conveyor belt, yakitori, soba-yas and udon houses, curry and ramen, eel restaurants,shabu-shabu, tempura, okonomiyaki, kushi-age, Japanese pub food, and the great street food in different cities, like the octopus balls (tako-yaki) made in Osaka stalls. There was one cuisine though, that I was thoroughly intrigued with from the start, and that was kaiseki. It seemed,from my readings, to be the most exalted, the most spiritual,and the most wildly expensive of all the Japanese cuisines. What I already knew about it, is that it is a seasonal cuisine,in accordance with nature and what is fresh. In a way, it is the precursor to the whole “local food/sustainable agriculture” movement that is so wildly popular now.(another example of everything old is new again.) My only experiences were when our promoter’s son, finally weary of my constant entreaties to try kaiseki cuisine, took me for a lunch in Tokyo. Once or twice in Kyoto, I also had the pleasure of a kaiseki tofu lunch. These experiences pale in comparison to what happened at Tobira Resort and Spa Myojinkan.

The Rabbi, in his ancient and inifinite wisdom, found this hidden treasure,built in 1930, nestled in the hills above Matsumoto City, a 2 1/2 hour train ride from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. We were met in Matsumoto by a gentleman in an old fashioned coachman’s outfit,complete with flowing cape and soft fedora. ( “To the Castle…to see Dr. Frankenstein -fly like the wind and mountain roads be damned!”) Comfortably settled into our seats and excitement slowly mounting, we started the 40 minute climb up the mountain, following a river as it wound up the valley from the city. We passed farms where the inn grows its own organic fruits and vegetables, before entering forests of silver birch, oak,cedar and chestnut. We would see these snow blanketed forests from every pool and from every room we entered at the ryokan.

Tobira= the door

日の出=myo=sunrise

神=jin=God

構築=kan=building

Finally we arrive…and are greeted with elegant hospitality as we wait in the lobby for the key to our traditional Japanese bedroom.We will walk on tatami mats, sleep on futons and wear yukata and haori. 

We will not see our shoes again till we leave the inn. Good riddance, I say. And, as an added bonus,we will also be naked for most of the visit, as we sit and poach ourselves in the hot water. Can life get any better?

FIRST KAISEKI DINNER

Yes….yes it can.The Rabbi and I are led to our private tatami room by our own Girl Friday, Miss Natsuki Taguchi, who meets us at the elevator armed with her very own Japanese/English electronic translator device. Full of questions, always, we start by asking how the name for this cuisine came to be. Natsuki-san explains that the meaning comes from the story that Buddhist priests,in accordance with their tradition, used to keep a hot stone (seki) in their pockets,(kai) close to their chests in order to make their fasting more bearable. “More likely it caused severe second degree burns,” I think quietly. Anyway, Miss Taguchi continues to tell us that original kaiseki cuisine was associated with the tea ceremony and was born in Kyoto more than 500 years ago. At this time, cold sake appears in its own frosty bowl of crushed ice, garnished with fresh flowers. Following closely on its heels, is the first dish of the meal,appearing like the opening pitch of the World Series. Our breath is appropriately taken away at the appearance of a delicately leaf patterned bowl .Within its confines, is a small block of homemade warm peanut tofu, topped with thin slivers of bright yellow, citrusy yuzu peel. By its side, on a red lacquered tray, is a small dish of Japanese baby string beans in a tahini-like sauce, crowned by a small branch of plum blossoms. I know this is just the beginning to the parade of courses. We take a icy sip of cold rice wine from our sake boxes of hinoki wood, say “Kanpai,”….and dig in.

Warm Peanut tofu w/strips of yuzu

The courses then arrive in perfect succession-the timing is perfectly attuned to our pace of first gazing admirably at our dish- the beauty and color of the pottery, the lacquered trays, the aromas of tiny blossoms, the silky texture of a raw fish slice. Then, we search for meaning in the different dishes…it’s clear that the chef is sending a message. Taste is important certainly, but not the most important thing…there are other resonances.

 

 

The second course is described to us as “a dish for the New Year’s Day” It is a stunning plate of various items artfully laid out. There is a single piece of Kyoto-style sushi made of kasuge, or sea-bream. Also on the plate…herring roe, kelp, carrots, some squid and a forked toothpick with a ginko nut and a sweet bean.

Dish For A New Year's Day

Next up, a beautiful small plate of mucilaginous, grated tororo, or mountain yam,with shiso leaf and braised radish followed by a clear soup with bamboo shoots and wakame seaweed floating topside. By the time the next course arrives and the next serving of sake, we are well on the way to feeling only the deepest admiration for the attention to detail in every aspect of the hospitality accorded us. It’s a staggering concept for the Western mind to grasp. Everything is designed in accordance with nature…every hot pool in the ryokan has a view of the mountains and the icy streams, every menu is thought out as to what expresses the particular season, every experience is elaborately choreographed and delicately nuanced. We sit in wonder as the next course appears before us. There is sashimi contrasted with wild vegetables,there is raw salmon wrapped in cooked lettuce, there are coiled fiddlehead ferns which taste vaguely like asparagus,but more bitter. Our Japanese ladies giggle in delight when I speak the English name for these ferns, explaining how they look like the tops of violins….and there are tiny shiso flowers which perfume our mouths with a basil spiciness.

Salmon wrapped in lettuce,fiddlehead ferns,wild leek,shiso flowers

Salmon wrapped in lettuce,fiddlehead ferns,wild leek,shiso flowers

There is no music playing at dinner, just the symphony in our mouths… Just conversation, translations, eating and drinking. The experience reminded me of a quote from the writer Saki (H.H. Munro),where he has one of his characters, Clovis, expound upon “the tragedy of music at mealtimes.” I’ve been in plenty of places where the music just does not complement anything going on food-wise and in fact is tremendously distracting. In the better restaurants Miss Eydie has had occasion to frequent, I’ve found that the better the restaurant, the less distraction there is from the food…the more bare the walls, the more subtle the colors,and the less sound distraction. I’ve actually been known to rip speakers out of the walls at restaurants. (well….once)

Now the courses are coming fast and furious. A beautiful earthenware pot discloses a white round of cooked radish floating in broth, and crowning it, a meaty portion of braised mackerel .The garnishes are a bit of winter leek and a shishito pepper. Following that, a gently sauteed sea bream perches atop pieces of taro root.

Cooked Radish/Braised Mackerel

Cooked Radish/Braised Mackerel

What happened next was heaven for a carnivore like me….the mackerel being just a foreshadowing of Japanese beef braised for 6 hrs and served in its own juices with a sprinkling of parsley on top. ..melt in your mouth, buttery, beefy ambrosia in a bowl.”Fingerlickin’ good,” as we used to say in south Brooklyn.

Each course comes to us as a poem….harmonious elements reflecting the season, each course a culinary echo of the other, rhyming with divine simplicity and guided by the singular aesthetic vision of the chef. By the time the third carafe of ice cold sake arrives, I am composing my own haiku in my mind, urged on by the spirit body of Basho…something like:

“Clinging to a shred of sobriety

We try to find our futon”

 

After the beef, there is what is called the “breath” course. This seems to be the palate cleanser part of the program that you find in traditional French tasting menus- your champagne sorbet, if you will. Tonight, for this winter menu, it is grated yam with onions- a real eye opener for the taste buds. After this refresher, the courses start again. A winter soup arrives containing a wheat dumpling, turnip, chestnut, carrot, spinach and some spicy marigold greens. The broth is milky, with bits of fresh ,local eggs suspended in it. Closely following on the heels of this, comes a beautiful dish of cold river fish and seasonal pickled vegetables…including some interesting local plants that we have to ask the name of. “Butterbur”, a member of the daisy family, produces blooms in late winter and has enormous leaves. We also don’t recognize “honewort leaf,” but it’s fun to use the all purpose phrase “Kore wa nan des ka? (What is this?) and have our lady scramble through her Japanese/English electronic translator.

Wheat dumpling,turnip, chestnut,marigold greens in broth

Wheat dumpling,turnip, chestnut,marigold greens in broth

Miso soup w/preserved tofu/Rice w/gobo and hijiki

Miso soup w/preserved tofu/Rice w/gobo and hijiki

 

Next up, miso soup with preserved tofu. Naguchi-san tells us that this particular dried tofu has always been used in winter cooking especially by older people who couldn’t make fresh tofu during the cold months. The end of the meal approaches with the final bowl of rice with burdock root and hijiki seaweed. It’s been a good couple of hours and the leisurely, perfect progression of the meal has been a joy, a cultural education, and a sensual, aesthetic wonder. We will discover that during our stay at the ryokan, we will never see the same piece of pottery twice. I start to wonder what the pantry looks like and how they safely store all this gorgeous tableware and stemware.

        The final course is a sweet stunner- a homemade black sesame ice cream with fresh strawberries. There are also pieces of macerated pear and fig studded within this simple,elegant dessert. 

Black Sesame Ice cream w/ StrawberriesBlack Sesame Ice cream w/ Strawberries

 

Miraculously, we are not stuffed. We sip our green tea and remark on this curious fact. My thoughts are that it has to do with the pacing of the courses, the size of the portions and the awareness with which we ate our meal.

Now that’s food for thought.

We’re off to the baths….more to come.

 

Standing Bath-Infinity Pool

Standing Bath-Infinity Pool

Tobira Myojinkan

Tobira Myojinkan