Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pika's Farm Table

I bought this quiche from the Troy Farmer's Market last week. It was carrot curry with feta cheese. I love the way curry and carrot go together, especially because of the little bit of sweetness that carrots have.The crust was crispy, buttery and flaky. The filling was extremely flavorful and fluffy. Totally delicious. The previous week I also purchased the spinach and feta one, but I haven't tried it yet. They also sell gazpacho and salsas, which I'm sure will be equally as delicious. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gluttons for Diets

"Somewhere between emaciation and obesity lies good health. And somewhere between those extremes there is also a definition of beauty that is inclusive, sound, and honest."-Robin Givhan

My experience as a bride was marked with questioning the wide array of expectations associated with the experience. I was very against going on any kind of crazy diet.  What I didn't anticipate is that when you are super busy and slightly nervous you do happen to eat less and you can't help it. After the wedding I couldn't help but think that there was nothing more relaxing than not planning a wedding. Funny enough, I also found myself much more perceptive of food smells and felt much more excited about all the treats we normally have laying around in the office (pastries! truffles!) that I didn't even have time to notice while thinking about tablescapes and place cards (even as I tried to not be the person who cared much about those types of things). For the couple weeks after the wedding, my interest in foods that were bad for me was stronger than I can remember. Onion rings, chocolate pudding, cinnamon buns, why not?!

The experience of not indulging in fatty foods and then all of a sudden not really having any reason not to eat them (besides fitting into my wardrobe and the fact that onion rings aren't the best thing for your health) made me think about the extremes that are present in our country surrounding ideas about food. It also made me notice a lot of the crazy diets people I know go on. I know people who will go on a "diet", and basically stop eating for a couple months. They will lose about 30 pounds, then start eating again and gain about 40 pounds. We'll go to campus picnics, and they will literally eat 3 desserts and ask me why I didn't try the desserts I didn't have (because I ate a whoopie pie the size of my head). Crash diets never work. And in fact when people stop eating their metabolisms also slow down. The problem is when they don't consider themselves "on a diet" they engaged in habits that are horrible for their health because they are so hungry since they haven't really eaten much of anything in months. They feel starved. The whole process doesn't make any sense. It is a vicious cycle, and they never seem to keep the weight off that they lost. Worse yet, when they are not on a diet they feel super guilty about anything they eat, so there is a never a point in that process where they feel good about or enjoy what they are doing.

This being said, it is difficult to live a balanced lifestyle. Having to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day at all is not healthy. I commute 2 hours a day and work at my desk for 8 hours. Even if an office worker exercises at lunch and eats healthy food, there is only so much a person can do (unless we did something like this, or the person woke up at 4:30 am to go running). That being said I eat this for lunch, go for a long walk, and then try not to worry about it too much. But I can see how for some people health and weight can be a constant battle for them as they age. The extremes of our country's feelings and philosophies about food seems at the base of a lot of our problems. Crash diets don't work, but they are also bad because they cause people to eat more afterward. Impossibly thin models give people standards they can never live up to. When I look at fashion magazines it doesn't even make me feel jealous, it makes me feel like I have no idea how that item of clothing will look on anyone who looks like me, and therefore makes me less likely to ever buy that particular item. It's not inspirational. It is just bad marketing. I say eat your vegetables. Take a walk. And don't worry too much about it. That is the only approach to me that makes any sense in any sustainable kind of way. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Out of Town Edition: Anthony's Pier 4

Yesterday some of my coworkers and I took our student interns to visit some art museums in Boston. We had a really fun time. We pretty much cleaned out the café at the Peabody Essex Museum, and it really reminded me of the summer 2 years ago when we pretty much ate at museum cafes every day. I was sort of struck by how much I didn't know about our student interns after having worked with them already all summer. One was from Detroit and had visited a lot of the same places I did growing up (Cedar Point! Haunted Houses in Pontiac!). It is funny how there is nothing that brings two people together more quickly than finding out they are from the same place. There were things I didn't know about my coworkers I have filed things next to and sat in meetings with for years like that one of them had once given Toni Morrison a private tour of a museum as an undergrad, and another had once been very, very close to pursuing a PhD with a focus on the Brontë sisters. Sharing meals really does loosen people up. People eat, laugh, joke, and by the end they are all friends. 

Then we went to the ICA. It started violently raining and the restaurant that was recommended to us was a farther walk than this place. One of my coworkers said it was "famous", so all 12 of us decided to try it. I had never been there, maybe because it seems touristy (this coming from someone who actually likes Legal Seafood). The foyer is lined with an incredible amount of photos of the owner with politicians and celebrities - including 5 presidents and royals from all over the world. Unfortunately, meeting famous people does not make your food better. So you walk in and all the chairs are like captain's chairs, and there's lots of antique looking nautical paraphernalia. The clientele skews toward the country club set - 50 year old women catching up over white wine and salmon, middle aged men having business meetings, and couples who resemble Will & Kate presumably with their in-laws. The waitresses wear lace collars and the waiters either wear tuxes or something that looks like a ship captain uniform (in polyester).

The weird thing about the experience was that we both felt under dressed and disappointed by the food. My coworker thought the onion rings were frozen. The iceberg wedge people thought was totally drenched in dressing. All of the appetizers sounded good, and yet somehow all came out really bland. I was torn between the fried clams special and a summer lobster casserole with tomatoes and parmesan, and I ended up with the clams but our student intern who got the casserole said it was "not good". She couldn't find any tomatoes in it. The french fries were also very bland, and you may wonder how french fries could fail to be tasty, but I only ended up eating about two of them.

And here is the kicker: most entrèes start around $30. The food was not as good as at a 99 Restaurant, and was three times the price! I could not believe it. This place must be coasting off of what it did 30 years ago or trying to just sell it's view to tourists, but still! Unbelievable!
One good thing about it was the popovers. I had never had a popover before. What was it like? Smelled like a waffle-filled with steam- flaky, wonderfully delicious. This they definitely had right. Also, my fried clams were actually very good - but in all honesty should have cost $12 and not $30. I think that is probably where a lot of the bitterness comes from for this place in online reviews. No one minds a diner. No one minds casual family chain eateries (or at least people don't usually hate them violently). But what is very weird is food a little better than a diner masquerading as fine dining. Cut the pretension. Make better food. I, however, will not argue with the view and the strangely calming effect of watching the Provincetown ferry go by every 15 minutes or so.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mushy Peas and Clotted Cream

Two years ago this week I was getting ready to go on a study abroad program in London. It simultaneously feels like a lifetime ago and like it was just yesterday. That summer, I knew if I didn't go abroad that I would never have a chance like that again. I thought (rightly so, it turns out) that upon finishing graduate school I would get a job and a car payment and all of a sudden become a lot more tied down. It was exhilarating. It was the trip of a lifetime, and it certainly was an adventure (for better or worse).
The problem was I hated the food. I will say that I have read defenses of English food online, and most of these have the qualification that if you spend a lot of money there is good food in London. Well, I will counter that with saying in NYC some of the best food is inexpensive, and that definitely a person who is not wealthy can acquire tasty food there. Here were some causes of my misery: mushy peas, lack of seasoning (even salt and pepper), limp bacon, soft fish and chips, lack of fresh vegetables, and (with the exchange rate) incredibly high prices. Take what you think something should cost and double it, and then things cost more than that. Also, think of a chicken pie with overly boiled leeks, rubbery onions, imagine that you hated it and could barely finish it off, and then imagine coming back to your dorm room and looking at your credit card receipt and realizing it cost you $40. Very depressing. I lost my appetite, stopped eating, lost a lot of weight, and had no energy. Anything is hard to enjoy when you are not eating. I know that English food being awful is a stereotype, but that was my personal opinion and I am allowed to feel that way. To me, it felt like a general enthusiasm or passion for food was just lacking everywhere.

Now, let's talk about the coffee. I should mention I am the type of person who drinks black coffee all day every day. I love it. But in London there was pretty much just espresso available everywhere. This was fine, except for a weird interaction I had in front of the British Museum. On their sign it said "coffee", simply. So I got very excited and said "so you actually have just drip coffee?" "Yes", said the employee. Then the guy went on to clearly make me an Americano (I know drip coffee is not made from espresso), meanwhile outright laughing at me! So I said "This is drip coffee?" and the other employees laughed at me. I should have said something I guess, but I wanted caffeine so much I didn't care. Anyways, yes let us all laugh at the American who wants drip coffee, funniest thing ever - so worthy of ridicule!  I also had friends who walked into restaurants where the waitresses would hear their accents and just turn right around and refuse to wait on them. This is also funny considering one bartender thought I was Irish, and some group of guys we met in another pub thought we were Canadian. I have heard though that Canadians get mad at being called American, but not the other way around, so people in the UK just ask if people are Canadian either way if they sound like they are from North America. Anyways, we had some pretty interesting interactions with waitstaff.
However, I will absolutely defend the tradition of afternoon tea. Scones, pastries, good tea, cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon and cream cheese on pumpernickel, and of course clotted cream. So civilized, and such a great ritual! Something wrong? Have a cup of tea! English doctor tells you you have cancer? Offers you a cup of tea! Keep calm carry on - nothing a cup of tea can't fix! Sure, the weather is crap, and the food is awful - but there is tasty tea and that is worth a lot. (They do get points for Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Lily Allen, and Princess Beatrice's Hat too.)

In retrospect, it was sort of my last hurrah before becoming much more settled down. Somehow things never feel the way you expect them too. Sure I got a job, a house, a car, and a husband, but my life never stopped feeling interesting to me. After returning to the states there were new cities to discover, houses to decorate, friends to make, weddings to plan, and cuisines to master. Giving up restless impulses was something I did happily and openly. There was, however, something magical about that summer. We made our way through the summer just across the ocean, went behind the scenes at some of the finest museums in the world, laughed at all the teasing at a Parliament session, felt the wind in our hair on a boat on the Thames en route to Greenwich, and created a community out of people from cities scattered all over the U.S. That summer enriched who I am in a deep and meaningful way, and besides, like all important moments in life - it is not about the food.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Buttermilk Poundcake

I made this to take to our friends' house for 4th of July. It is from the book The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. It is so good that when I gave Scott a tiny piece to try he actually got back up to try more. He also called me a genius which was pretty funny. I think what is so good is the flavor from the buttermilk and the nice texture from the brown sugar. It really has a great, tangy, unique flavor.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a loaf pan. Sift together two times 2 cups cake flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon mace (I didn't have so I used pumpkin pie spice).
In a measuring cup whisk together 4 eggs and 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract.
In another bowl, beat together 2 1/2 sticks butter, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons regular sugar. (I think this combination is important for the overall flavor, and I think if you used all dark brown sugar you would overwhelm the flavor of the buttermilk).
Add the egg mixture in one thin stream, and mix until incorporated. Add the flour and 1/2 cup buttermilk in alternating turns. Fold ingredients in with spatula or wooden spoon.
We really love Kate's buttermilk from Maine. Very delicious!
Then pour it into your pan and bake for one hour.
Cool it on a rack in the pan for 15 minutes before turning it out of the pan. Add awesome Fourth of July sprinkles!
I hope people like it!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Beirut Restaurant

We had a great time yesterday in Troy. Embarrassingly, it was actually our first time making it to the Troy Farmer's Market. We have lived here for two years now, but always seem to sleep in on the weekends. It was a great time, and we bought a whole range of things. I don't want to be acting like one of these girls, but there are really so many great products and you can walk in without any idea of what to eat for dinner and buy a group of things that all go together. I am also totally obsessed with marshmallows thanks to lunches at Jean-Georges in NYC, and I was able to feed that obsession.
Anyways, there are a lot of good lunch options in Troy, but I had been interested in the Beirut Restaurant since I'd seen their products for sale here. It was a short walk from the Farmer's Market. Everyone there was super friendly. I started out with a Lebanese coffee which I thought was so delicious I ended up ordering two of them.
I love coffee in general, and it was really strong without actually being bitter and had a very slight sweet aftertaste to it. Totally delicious.

We split some hummus to start out with. I love that Ali Baba has the wood fired oven and the enormous pita bread that comes out the size of a pillow and collapses before your very eyes, but Beirut's pita bread was also very good - obviously fresh and the right consistency. I love that The Hidden Cafe has extremely garlicky hummus, but I enjoyed here that the prominent flavor was the lemon juice. It was so refreshing, and I am of the frame of mind that lemon juice improves a wide range of foods and drinks. 

In between courses they brought us out some garlic paste with some pita chips. This was totally amazing -sour, bright, and crisp in flavor. Our waiter said in the past he has stuffed it into olives for martinis, and that it was amazing. If they sold this at the Pioneer Food Market I would totally buy it for that purpose alone, but I am sure that it would also be great spread on steaks or sandwiches. I just got the Lebanese salad because it was so hot outside, but Scott got the beef shawarma and that was very good too.
What was great about the salad was the dressing, and in particular the strong lemon flavor. The ingredients were all of a really good quality including the feta and olives. I also love a good stuffed grape leaf, and since Mark Bittman has said they aren't really worth the effort of making yourself, I enjoy ordering them out.

Overall, we had a great time, and the owner's mother came out to thank us for coming at the end. Everyone was super nice, and I could totally see picking up take-out from here on a weeknight. We've recently got onto the idea of picking up some hummus and pita and just putting together a simple green salad as a nice summer dinner. There is something about Mediterranean food I love in the summer time with the bright flavors and refreshing yogurt sauces. It was an adorable little restaurant with delicious food that is actually pretty healthy for you. Would definitely go back again!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Watermelon Gazpacho

I made watermelon gazpacho from this book. My coworker brought in a watermelon the other day andsaid she didn't know what to do with it, and I think there are actually a lot of things that can be done with watermelon - salsas, cocktails, sauces, sorbets. It is not just for eating out on a picnic table with the ants. As I was wandering around the grocery store looking for the ingredients I was also thinking of a firecracker popsicle inspired cocktail I had at New World Bistro last Fourth of July weekend, and I realized I was just trying to recreate that meal of a year ago subconsciously, and that seemed sort of funny to me. Anyways so you have a watermelon and you chop it up and purée it. I used my immersion blender we got as a wedding present, and I can't believe how fast and effectively it works.
It helps to start out with a little bit and add 1/4 cup cider vinegar and 1/4 cup water, and then once that is puréed add more watermelon in batches until it is all liquified.
Add 2 cucumbers chopped and peeled, and 1 chopped red onion and purée those too.
Mix in some herbs (I just used mint, but the recipe also wanted basil and cilantro). The recipe also wanted red bell peppers but I used some grape tomatoes chopped up instead. I also used radicchio instead of jicama because they didn't have jicama where we were. Then, add some garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, some peppers for a kick (I put in two habaneros because I am crazy), some salt, pepper and 3 tablespoons lime juice.
Chill it and serve it with more herb garnish and a lime wheel. I thought this was delicious. It made 6 lunch portions. It says something that I am still thinking about it after having it at New World Bistro a year ago. It is great because it is refreshing, healthy, and has a bit of a kick to it. I wonder about adding a dab of crème fraîche or something to balance out the heat of the habaneros. I love cold soups in the summer. I love chilled cucumber soup. I also love cold dinners in the summer like salads and shrimp cocktail with some greens. So this I think is a great thing I can be making all summer long.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thrift Store Blues

I'll admit that I love clothes. I love the process of picking out things that go together in an interesting way. I believe that fashion does affect one's psychological state. You look professional, you feel more professional. You have a fun outfit on, it lifts your mood a little bit. I do have some problems with the high fashion world, but I love the process of coming up with outfits that work in an interesting way in the real world. However, I also have a boatload of student loans, just finished planning a wedding and furnishing a house, and I work in an art museum. A girl has also got to eat. Put that all together and the first thing to go in the budget was my appreciation of J. Crew and Ann Taylor Loft (enter Target and Marshall's!). I won't even mention the cost of a dress I once bought at Harrod's in London or my totally awesome straw hat from the horse track in Lexington, KY in more carefree times. But I have always loved thrift stores. In MI where I am from they are totally fabulous. Suburban Detroit has some as big as grocery stores. In Astoria, Queens you can get J. Crew cashmere for $1, and enough clothes for a whole summer for 10 bucks. I do realize now a thrift store is only as good as it's neighborhood and the taste and budgets of it's residents. Say whatever you want about the architecture of western Queens, if the Salvation Army is any sign the residents have got style sense.

Then I moved to Albany. The first time I went in the Goodwill on Central Ave it had only stuff from Target at basically the same price as buying it new. The whole point of thrift stores is cheap clothes that were originally much more expensive. You put up with the smell and the inconvenience of the layout because there is the possibility of finding a beautiful, normally $150 dress for 3 dollars that you will wear for years. Or you at least want things from a different time period you could not acquire any other way. I want to feel like I am in my grandma's attic, and I want it to be dirt cheap. I want to have fun hunting. This is pure thrift store bliss. I did have a great time with my friends at a tiny thrift store in Greenwich, NY and we found some great pieces, but the name of the shop alludes me now. Then I discovered the Troy Goodwill, and that is slightly better than the Central Ave. location. The accessories are not bad. I have gotten some cool shoes I have worn a lot. I like all the kitschy glass pieces. But again with the huge shipments (seemingly new) from Target at basically the same price as new! Why would I want that? It is already cheap at Target. Not to mention that the whole fun of thrift store shopping  is the variety! You have 50 of a dress I can get at Target for $20 for $16 instead? Bore me to pieces, and depress me already.
The Salvation Army by my parents house in MI is a regular low brow Victoria and Albert. I got ceramic Molly bookends that were fabulous, beautiful linen napkins, kooky brooches. It is such a blast going there and there are great things as cheap as a quarter. The rummage sales at Olav Shalom can be fun. I got this there and love it. Will Capital Region thrift stores return the fun to thrift store shopping or have I missed the good ones? I have thought maybe they just aren't as cool over here. Can someone help out a girl employed in the arts?