As I walked to the train yesterday, it occurred to me that the anniversary of my first blog post must be quite near. And so it is – it’s today! When I began, I wasn’t completely sure of the direction I would take, but I’ve come to realize that what I like most to write about is the intersection of food and life. I love to cook, I do love to eat, but it’s when those activities connect with the people and events of my life that the words flow most easily. So here’s how food connected with the Great Snow Storm of October 2011 . . .
Knowing that the forecast called for snow, and wanting to dive into one of the 29 recipes I had dog-eared in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, I decided to make Ale-Steamed Mussels with Garlic and Mustard for Saturday’s lunch. As snow fell and leaf-filled trees began to bow under the weight, garlic, thyme, and ale steamed through my apartment. That and a bottle of ale, made a perfect greeting for Dr. S, who had narrowly escaped multiple fender-benders on his trip north. We sat down to a heaping bowl of mussels, a baguette, a salad of arugula, endive, cranberries, almonds, and Bayley Hazen Blue, and bottles of Anchor Brewing Company’s Liberty Pale Ale.
Out of respect for copyright laws, I’m not going to print Melissa’s recipe here, but I will tell you that where she called for 3 cloves of garlic, I used 6. 3/4 c. of ale? How about a bottle, can’t really have too much broth! Shallots? Damn – forgot those at the store, went with half a sweet onion. I figured there wasn’t too much you could do to mess up a mussel recipe. And based on the fact that when lunch was over not a mussel remained and the better part of a baguette had been used to sop up the broth, I’d say there’s at least one person who agrees with me.
After a day of reading and resting, which had been somewhat imposed by rain that had persisted through the night into the day, we were ready for outdoor activity and adventure. Well-sunscreened and armed with a big bottle of water, we set off with a loose plan to head for the northern end of Sayulita’s main beach, which appeared to be fairly deserted.
As we passed the last of the beach chair and umbrella set-ups, supplied by the ocean-front restaurants, we were joined in our walk by two dogs. They jumped and played with one another, often ending up under foot or banging into one of us as we walked along. They were oblivious to the fact that we were not interested in their companionship and unmoved by our shouts of “Go! Go!”
Though they’re welcome to sleep beneath our beach chairs, and Dr. S even went so far as to share our bottled water with one such lounging pooch, no one would mistake us for dog-lovers.
The homes along this stretch of beach, a mix of large villas with landscaped lawns and gated condo complexes in palm-tree shaded lots, were quite different from “our” part of town. Eventually, these gave way to jungle, and we found ourselves on empty beach headed toward an outcropping of rocks. We suspected that if we could make our way over or around these rocks, we’d find Playa Las Cuevas, a tiny horseshoe-shaped beach favored by those seeking a little privacy. Forceful waves crashed up against the rocks, and though we could see sand as each wave receded, I was inclined to go over the rocks rather than try to scoot around in between waves. As I surveyed my options for descent, Dr. S appeared to offer a hand down, having made his way around between waves without problem.
We now found ourselves on a small crescent-shaped beach, backed by steep rocky cliffs rising to the jungle. There was no way to move further north, as the rocks at that end jutted out into deep water and offered no easy way over. The cliffs would provide some shade until the sun moved higher in the sky, so we spread out our towels, pulled out our books, and appreciated the sound and sight of nothing but the ocean and diving pelicans. A review of our reference information convinced us that this little patch of beach was not, in fact, Las Cuevas, but we were more than content nonetheless.
A few hours passed, the sun discovered us, and we decided it was time to begin thinking about lunch. We also decided that we would try to find the “jungle road” for our return to Sayulita. Following an arroyo away from the ocean, and into the jungle, we soon hit a path and made the leap of faith that this was the jungle road and that a right turn would bring us back to Sayulita. It was along this walk that we became acquainted with the ubiquitous land crab. After some initial uneasiness at the sight of them, we quickly realized that they were as happy to avoid us as we them. The dried palm leaves on both sides of the path crackled and popped as the crabs ran for cover at our approach.
The path ran up hill and down,
finally meeting up with a cobblestone road beside a large home.
We followed the road into a part of Sayulita we were unfamiliar with, passing the elementary school, and eventually arrived at the Medusa Grill & Bar. With its palm frond thatched roof, open walls, and promise of food and cold drinks, it was a welcome sight.
The sign on the door showed the hours to be 1 – 10 p.m. It was now 1:30, and we could see the proprietress busy in the kitchen, but the restaurant was empty and had the air of being not quite open.
“¿Está abierto? “
“Sí, en cinco minutos.”
Tuckered out from the hike in the midday heat, sweaty and hungry, we sat down at a table beside a large fan.
A toddler, apparently the son of the owner, came over and gave us a big grin of welcome. A young woman, perhaps his older sister, brought us menus and took a drink order. It was the frostiest cerveza we had had so far. A little bit later arrived a shrimp burrito for me, and a fish burrito for Dr. S.
The Medusa menu mentions their use of organic vegetables and fresh-caught local fish. Dr. S’s burrito, for example, would normally include marlin, but the owner told us that no marlin had come in yet today. Mahi mahi was the substitute. A lightly-dressed salad of greens, avocado, tomato and sprouts accompanied our burritos, along with crisp and properly salted french fries, which had clearly been fried in a clean batch of oil. The burritos were stuffed with our respective grilled seafoods and rice, and served with a sweet and faintly hot mango habanero salsa. There was also a little crock of what we at first thought to be some sort of homemade ketchup. We liked it very much and found our fries to be an excellent vehicle for its consumption. I asked the owner what it was. Tamarind sauce. Ah! And the ingredients? Her reply, as translated by Dr. S,
“Tamarind, honey, garlic, and a lot of me.”
As we finished our cervezas, enjoying the breeze from the fan, and the pleasure of simply sitting in the shade after an active morning, bellies full and nowhere to be, the owner brought over a small silver bowl of fresh strawberries, topped with a spoonful of crema and a sprinkling of raw sugar.
When we finally achieved sufficient motivation to head back for some more hard time at the beach, I tried to figure out how we might work a Medusa dinner into our remaining days in Sayulita. But, alas, it was Wednesday and we had a mere three dinners left but now more than 5 contenders. And as it turned out, another Medusa experience was not to be. But here’s what I like to say about that – – next time!
My apartment smells of toasting cheese – Comté, to be exact – and scallions. In the oven is a loaf of Dorie Greenspan‘s cheese and chive bread, though I’ve taken her bonne idée, substituting scallions for chives and throwing in a handful of toasted walnuts, as well. Cooking this bread is my way of hurrying the start of my weekend, because as I chopped and stirred and now enjoy the warm scents drifting through the apartment, I am thinking of tomorrow night, when this bread will be the accompaniment to a well-deserved glass of Friday-night scotch for an overworked, carbohydrate-loving doctor I know.
Since my daughters were both involved with sleepovers on Friday night – one at our place, one at a friend’s – we pushed our “movie night” off to Saturday this week. We included a stop at the library in our Saturday errands, and picked up “Julie & Julia”. Having read the book, I’d been rather reluctant to watch the film, but multiple friends had insisted I would enjoy it, the girls had actually heard about it from some friends and were therefore gung-ho, and then, of course, it did have the whole Paris connection. In the spirit of our evening’s theme, I chose a couple of recipes from Around My French Table for dinner: pork loin with oranges and broth-braised potatoes. I also decided to see if the girls’ palates were ready to recognize the delights of roasted brussels sprouts.
I wish I could report that the pork loin was a hit, but alas I cannot. I had high hopes, given how beautiful it both looked and smelled as it cooked.
Orange zest, scallions, and cardamom flavored the sauce, but somehow the pork left us all a little unmoved. It was just okay, not something I can see myself cooking again. And though I thought the brussels sprouts just grand, my daughters were left cold. The more apropos word would actually be “offended.” Thank goodness for the fingerling potatoes and raspberry chocolate chip ice cream that followed later, else my children would have gone to bed hungry.
The movie helped to make up for the disappointing dinner, as well. We loved the “Julia” scenes! The glimpses of Paris – restaurants, markets, streets scenes – flamed the anticipation that has been building in our home. The girls declared that we must visit Shakespeare and Company and E. Dehillerin. Greta decided it’s time to get serious about learning some French phrases, and spent an hour or so with one of our French textbooks today. And I found myself captured once again, as I was when I read Julia’s biography, by the story of her life with Paul in Paris and beyond. The two of them exploring together, eating, cooking, hosting dinner parties, making Valentine cards in the bathtub, and sweet toasts to one another. He loving her boisterous quirkiness, and she doting on him, and both endlessly encouraging and supportive of one another throughout their lives. Of course, one can never know the truth of another couple’s relationship, but from what I’ve read, it certainly seems to have been a romance and partnership worthy of admiration.
Let me leave you with this poem, written by Paul Child on the occasion of Julia’s birthday, August 15, 1961:
O Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench,
Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot souffles,
Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,
Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise —
Whose sweetly rounded bottom and whose legs,
Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,
Are only equalled by her scrambled eggs:
Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,
This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines
Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;
For never were there foods, nor were there wines
Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.
O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.
At my physician’s suggestion (and invitation), I recently spent a weekend exploring Lancaster County, PA. While this little trip did nothing to improve my aforementioned chronic condition, it resulted in a number of delightful eating experiences.
After booking our room (the Duchess) at King’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast, Dr. S received from the owners a comprehensive list of nearby restaurants. Aided by this list and the recommendations of the ever-helpful Chowhound message boards, we had pretty much decided on Effie Ophelia in downtown Lancaster for dinner the first night. But when we learned that the restaurant was scheduled to close in just two weeks time, due to a job-related relocation for the chef’s spouse, the decision was sealed. Of course we must eat there! If not now, when?! And upon strolling by and peeking in the windows on the afternoon of our arrival in town, we were gleeful in our choice. (OK, perhaps “gleeful” better describes my reaction, but Dr. S certainly agreed that it looked like a great spot.) We saw an intimate space, seating only 30, made cozier by the dark wood of the interior, the cushioned benches, and the red velvet drape protecting diners from the opening and closing of the front door. Anticipation for dinner now beginning to build, and having skipped lunch after having eaten a rather late breakfast, we rushed off for the sustaining distraction of a hot chocolate with whipped cream.
A few hours later we were seated in that candle-lit room, sharing our two first courses, and making mental notes as to how we could recreate one of them at home. While the sea scallops served over a mound of whipped parsnip and pear puree were perfectly seared and comforting on what was a chilly night, it was the roasted carrot and chickpea salad that captured our full attention.
We had not expected that the salad would be served warm, but it was. It arrived at the table in a perfectly round form, a low cylinder, about 2 1/2 inches high. Jutting out from the compressed form of chickpeas, spinach and roasted fennel, were roasted carrot batons, and a spiral of honey curry vinegar circled the plate. After a few bites, it was quite clear that this was an example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Nothing fussy was going on here, just simple roasted vegetables with this interesting honey curry dressing. As much as we enjoyed the sugar barbecued pork loin and striped bass that came next, the carrot and fennel salad remained on our minds.
And so it was that two nights later we decided to try to recreate it as part of our Sunday night dinner.
Clearly the carrots and fennel had been roasted, but we weren’t sure what the treatment had been for the chickpeas. Because we they were somewhat flattened and blackened on one side, we surmised that they, along with the roasted vegetables, had perhaps been seared on a flat griddle beneath a heavy spatula, and then everything spooned into a cylindrical mold. Not having a griddle, I decided to just toss the chickpeas in to roast along with the carrots and fennel. (This would turn out to be a bad move.) Determining that the spinach would need only a quick wilting, we turned to the honey curry vinegar.
With the discovery that his cupboard was bare of curry, Dr. S made a “kitchen emergency” call to his neighbor, and returned bearing a restaurant kitchen-sized container of Madras curry, but also somewhat soggier due to the torrents of rain he had to brave in the process. We mixed, we tested, we added, and we learned a few things:
Number one: it’s helpful to heat the curry in a little bit of oil in order to best bring out the flavor
Number two: it’s helpful to heat the honey a wee bit, as well.
Number three: mix the curry and honey first and add the vinegar (we used rice vinegar) drop by drop. You want the consistency to remain honey-like. The object is a sauce with a sweet, hot taste, zinged up with a bit of vinegar.
The vegetables done, we were ready to compose! Foregoing any attempt at a mold, we served the dish as a traditional salad, with a drizzle of honey vinegar. The result . . .
Success – almost!!!
As I alluded to above, the chickpeas had not been properly handled. They were crunchy. And though I understand that some folks like crunchy, roasted chickpeas as a snack, they were out of place here. After discussion, Dr. S and I agreed that the next time they should be thrown in for only the last few minutes of roasting, or perhaps even just heated in a bit of (curried?) oil. But other than that, we were pretty pleased with our experiment. It was the first time either of us had tried to recreate something we’d eaten in a restaurant and it was great fun! I do believe we may do it again.