September 2005


Uncategorized& Social Commentary30 Sep 2005 12:04 am

Yeah, what’s up with the name, anyway? The simple answer is that I’m living in Boston, Massachusetts; and I’m from California, specifically San Francisco.

There are more complex levels of answer. For starters, Boston is a sort of shorthand for a lot of things. Any local reading these posts will tell you that I’m actually living in Cambridge, which is very much the Berkeley, California of Massachusetts. California is a shorthand for San Francisco and the Bay Area. Going forward: I didn’t think of myself as being from California until I’d lived in Cambridge for several years. I was raised in the Midwest, and went to college in Oregon. And I find that the longer I live here, the more I find myself seeking the Californian aspects of wherever I am; or, perhaps, I identify things I like about Cambridge, or Boston, or New England, as Californian.

Wringing more meaning yet out of a simple name—I spend a certain amount of time trying to explain California to New Englanders. I spend as much time showing those same people how New England looks to somebody from California. Or, of course, griping about what’s wrong with wherever I am.

Finally, I hope that I can bring a little bit of what I love about California to New England, and vice versa. Mostly, that will have to happen via cooking and writing about food and books. We’ll have to see what sneaks in along the way.

Dinner29 Sep 2005 10:55 pm

Ok, I got lazy and we went to the Border Cafe again. In my defense: the Border is the only place in Harvard Square that seems to use lime juice to make margaritas, instead of that chalky stuff. But really, it’s a bad sign that they recognize us when we walk in. Like when I lived in San Bruno, and the people at the McDonalds franchise would ask worried questions if they didn’t see me at the drive-in window for a day. Nice, but in a way that tells you that you spend too much time there.

Dinner28 Sep 2005 10:03 pm

Tonight’s dinner is the easy option: sandwiches at Sarah’s Market & Café.
With Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper. Nothing to see here… but I’m going to have to learn to make my own French fries.

Dinner28 Sep 2005 09:59 pm

Well, apologies to all of you out there who were dying to know – dinner last night was sandwiches, tomato and cucumber with lots of spicy coriander chutney.
The bread: a flute from Hi-Rise bakery, split in half lengthwise. Good recipe—next time, I’ll know not to mindlessly double the quantity of hot pepper, though.

About the flute: this baguette compares favorably to every single baguette sold on the Rue Montorgueil in Paris—and yes, I did try at least 2 of every baguette from each bakery last December, plus a bunch from other neighborhoods. We work hard so you don’t have to.

For those of you who buy bread in Paris’s 2ieme regularly, your best choices in that neighborhood are the Chez Paul chain outlet, or the Rotodor-affiliated baguette tradition from the place at the head of the Rue.

Food & Cooking& Dinner26 Sep 2005 08:24 pm

Tonight was pasta with corn and tomato confit. Creamed 4 ears of corn, and cooked in the microwave for about 5 minutes with a glug of heavy cream. Added about a half-cup cut-up tomato confit pieces, then another 5 min. of microwave. Dresses one-half pound of pasta.

Food & Cooking26 Sep 2005 08:23 pm

I know – I’ve been on some kind of jam kick. Nonetheless, it’s rare enough to see a quince for sale, so I bought 2 of them. I’d read recipes which made them sound like the coconuts of the apple family, and it sounded like a challenge. The recipe I used was roughly that of Helen Witty’s excellent book Fancy Pantry . Pictures later, but for now: it was no big deal to cut the quinces, core them, and peel them. Honestly, supermarket pears are pretty much the same level of tough. I don’t know if my quinces are the rare culmination of some USDA consumer-friendly quince breeding program or something, but I couldn’t see what the fuss is about. Also, it’s a little spooky how you cut up this yellow & green fruit to reveal its white, apple-like insides, and then after boiling the suckers in sugar syrup for almost an hour, the whole pan full of stuff turns deep red. Pretty, but very odd.

Food & Cooking25 Sep 2005 09:03 pm

Here’s a project. I got 14 pounds of tomatoes from the Sunday farmers’ market (second or utility grade, at 80 cents per pound). I cut those in half and arranged them face up on half-sheet pans. Sprinkle with some salt, then some sugar. Garnish with thyme (oregano, whatever). Put on a sliver of garlic per tomato. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Pour a whole cup of (cheap) olive oil over each pan of tomatoes. And cook for a very long time (4-6 hours)in a very slow (200-250F) oven. The resulting semi-dried tomatoes and tomato-flavored oil can be used to pump up any cooked-tomato dish, and can be refrigerated or frozen long after the fresh tomatoes are gone for the season. Should yield about 2 quarts of tomato-plus-oil per half-sheet pan; allow about 6 pounds of tomatoes per half-sheet pan.

Dinner25 Sep 2005 07:58 pm

Contrary to my own expectations, I did get dinner on the table: an okra gumbo with kielbasa sausage, and rice. Note to self—okra that’s too big gets woody and should not be used. Also, sherry vinegar helps the flavor a lot.

Lunch was more elaborate than usual; I whipped up fresh cream of tomato soup similar to this recipe from Gastronomie: Cream of Tomato Soup.
The soup, which I garnished with a bit of ground chipotle pepper, was OK but not spectacular. Not something I’ll be repeating often.

Food & Cooking25 Sep 2005 11:49 am

Matthew has given me a reminder of a culinary event I attended last week – the Massachusetts state fair.

Well, technically, this is the Eastern States Exposition, and serves as the state fair for all of New England. It’s held in Western Massachusetts, a place as close to neutral and accessible as is found here. It’s big—we went on a weekday morning, and there was traffic backed up for a mile through a rotary. On a typical weekend day (the Big E, as it’s known, runs for 17 days), they apparently get 100,000 visitors. I can’t imagine.

So, the main event of a state, or even a county, fair is of course food, especially deep fried food. We lunched our way through the fair, and had a surprising quantity of extremely good fried food. In the non-fried category, I plumped for fresh raspberries from the Massachusetts coalition of farmers’ markets (very good indeed), my first lobster roll, from the Maine pavilion (not enough mayonnaise to moisten the sandwich, and the bread was vaguely stale and floppy), and a rather good slice of pizza from American Flatbreads, cooked in the stone oven they’ve built inside the Vermont pavilion.

In fried food, the deep fried cheese curds and the deep fried oreos particularly stood out. Yep, deep-fried oreos. Like a beignet with a creamy chocolate filling—the shortening that makes the cookies crisp melts at deep-frying temperatures, as does the filling, so the whole comes out like a tiny chocolate-filled doughnut. The cheese curds, from the first stage of cheddar making, were like mozzerella sticks, but nice instead of nasty. The batter wasn’t that crumb coating, but rather a baking-powder batter that you might use for fish. Everything was fried to order, which makes a huge difference.

Food & Cooking25 Sep 2005 12:40 am

The summer is winding down in the farmers’ market in Harvard Square. Cucumbers are slowing down; tomatoes are also, though at least some will be available until the first frost. Eggplant is going strong, including the skinny japanese variety; unfortunately, the orange and green Turkish kind is gone for the year. Corn is still available, and should be until mid-October. Hot peppers are likewise in, after a late start. Fall vegetables are starting to arrive— broccoli, winter squash, cauliflower, leeks, and greens. In fruit, more apple varieties are coming in, as are the late plums and the end-of-season peaches and nectarines.

So, really, it’s still summer. Tomatoes, basil, corn – what more evidence do you need?

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