Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a tale of two cities

So there was more to San Francisco than one momentous dinner--there was also Tartine.

I am half-kidding here. The truth, the full truth, is that i love Tartine. And San Francisco. And that Tartine is in San Francisco, so that if i ever moved to the city i love, i could go to the bakery i love--every day; kinda like we did when we were there.

My family will tell you i "dragged" them there each of the four days that we were in San Francisco; made them stand in that never-ending line out the door to hope for a seat in the fittingly small, fittingly energized, cafe. What they may not tell you is how wonderful it was each time. Just ask them about the bread pudding the next time they complain about my obsession; just ask them about the bread.

Oh that bread--the reason i went. i learned to make Chad's bread (we are on a first name basis as i talked to him while there--albeit in nervous rapidity; he doesnt know my name, but that is besides the point) the new years i was in Vancouver. Thats right, i rang in the new year not with champagne and good-fortune kiss, but a surprisingly risen, tangy, big-hole-laced-bread-of-my-dreams. His book went from being a source of lusty bread photos to a bible of sorts, the way i was devoted to his words and ideas.[note: if you have not seen this book, i suggest you track it down. You will think of bread in a whole new way--the way you should think of bread.]. And then i tasted his--the bread i was striving for in my little humble oven--and i was re-awed. My intense love of this place intensified. The loaves were enormous, with a not-too-thick but shockingly crisp crust, texturally perfect with an obvious chew, the sourdough flavour a pleasant surprise, and the holes as large as i long for them to be in my own loaves, lightening the slices to a stunning crumb. The sesame loaf, beyond this, was riddled with seeds and intense in such flavour, not an afterthought, but the sheer purpose of taste of this rendition of his basic country. Just ask those "complainers," though they may have been in greater awe of the sweets; the lemon square, my first Tartine love from the first Tartine book was a layer of thick, vibrant, zingy lemon curd that i have not been able to find or even conjure since Halifax (where i had a slice, and i mean a big ol slice, of double lemon flan at least three times a week in fear that i may die before having another...). And i discovered their walnut cookies, a sable with a surprising, and most welcome hint of cinnamon. Like "why hello cinnamon, how nice of you to join me and my walnut cookie." Yes, cookies so good you want to talk to them. So you do, in private, because Chad already thinks your crazy for how you poured a wee bit of your heart out to him without giving your first name in exchange, and you dont want to give him reason to ban you from the place you hope to visit everyday when you move to San Francisco.

That is: if i were actually moving to San Francisco. I wish i were.The city felt so much like home in those four days, that it seems only natural that i do. Really, it was so natural being there. I knew where i was going the whole time. Me. I dont even know what direction North is from where i am standing, in my own home, right now. Yet there i knew where we were in respects to where we needed to go, and where we had been. I made friends with strangers. I reunited with a beautiful friend. We went to a farmers market full of priceless produce (literally, a kind vendor gave me a sprig out of a large rosemary bundle just for that nights dinner). We bought more groceries at a store that is the epitomy of what grocery stores should be, finding it by chance of ranunculus. Just being in Bi-Rite made me feel a part of the community there (so much so that i could dedicate another entire, lengthy paragraph to it, but i will spare you this time). I would have held on to that feeling for anything, cozied down, said so long to the tacky tourist bits of the trip we did--and to my return ticket.

To home i had to go though, but not without a trip to Vancouver to see Cindy and celebrate my actual birthday first. And that lovely gal made me the most lovely cake. Between eating and dancing, coffee shop hopping (with Cind, then Adam, then Torr, and some solo...alot of espresso... Note: nelson the seagull wins hands down), donut testing, and shopping, i found i was less celebrating 25 and more celebrating the gal that means so much to me. I am so lucky to have this person it feels as if i have had all of those years, when really it was been a few months past one. I cannot describe my relationship with Cindy the way i can a loaf of bread--just know that i am as in love with it was that, that it brings me as much wonder and, more.

I leave for home-home soon, where there likely wont be nearly as much bread and pastry; where there isnt Dolores park to while away the day at, the Golden Gate bridge to bike over (yay ma!), a windy beach to run across, turretted homes to possibly call home, or a person so much of me as a person. Just me, a lot more enriched from the (two-really) trip (s), as satisfied as filled with dreams. Waiting to write more tales.

(ps, i realize what i wrote here was less about the trip and more about, well, bread. But bread is life, and this is my lifes stories. Perhaps it would be more sensible if you had a bowl of that bread pudding... no really, i had intended on describing both visits in detail...but, well, i love Tartine. It fits into my life almost as well as Cindy)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

a moment of grand proportion

When i started this whole cooking "thing," i said, perhaps at first off-handedly, that when i turned twenty five, i would eat at Chez Panisse-- the restaurant that once inspired and continues to give me "my place in it all;" in this "thing" i call my life. And though the first time i suggested this it was just that, a suggestion, i said it again. And again. And a couple of more times until i believed it. And then, when i realized my next birthday would be the very twenty fifth of which this whole (other) "thing" evolved, i neither wanted to be someone who says something (often) and does not follow through, and joyed at the excuse to finally eat at the restaurant that, still, gives me my place in it all.

My relationship with Chez Panisse coincided with my insistance that i eat there one day-- on February 28. 2012, no doubt--more specifically, with a recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables. Page 276: Delicata Squash, and Celery Root Puree. I did not make this for dinner that night. I did, however,spend the next hour plus skimming through the book in the office of the restaurant i was working at, until finally running, late, to the other restaurant i was working at. It wasnt so much about the recipe, as the combination of flavours throughout the book: beet greens and mint in a pasta, cauliflower and walnuts, all the possibilities of summer squash (which i had never heard zuchinni referred to as before...), and peas and sage. Oh! Peas and sage. When my copy of the book finally arrived from Amazon, i made gnocchi with peas and sage. And then i did so (now i do so?) every spring. Every saturday night that particular spring, actually, after my one late night at the Grapevine (back when there was only one late night...). So began the obsession with a restaurant that could serve vegetables such brilliant justice, that treated them not simply as a side dish to be boiled, buttered, and seconded to meat, but accentuated their flavours on their own. Celebrated them seasonally, and taught me to do so. I was infatuated, and soon discovered their website, where i could admire and continually be inspired by the composition of the daily cafe menu postings--a nightly ritual to this day. I read and re-read (thats read on the latter, as an active verb, not an annuciation of past occurance...) the biography of the restaurant started by not a chef, but a group of people longing to something beautiful and natural in food. I have expanded my cookbook collection to include Chez Panisse Desserts, Cafe, Cooking, and Pizza/Pasta/Calzone, as well as their half-of-the-year chef David Tanis' cookbooks, and their 40 year anniversary--stunning--hardcover. I have given copies of these books to people i love. I wrote a resume (complete with a detailed, q and a fictional interview between founder--to say the least-- Alice Waters and i) for a project in my final trimester of in-class training. I finally used that first inspiring recipe in a competition prep black box at work, rendering the combination of roots in a pomme anna style pancake. I finally ate at the restaurant that, without exaggeration, i can say is a part of my everyday since the original snoop through Vegetables four years ago ( I owe Mark a "thank-you").

The last four years prior to this dinner were, as i said, obsessive. Would it be then, one of those moments so hyped up with trepidation that i write now devastated by disappointment?


No--not even close.

The opposite, in fact.

What is the opposite? I was asked so many times not "how was Sanfrancisco?" but "how was Chez Panisse" (their is a collective understanding of my love for this restaurant). To which i respond with a stutter, before beginning to describe the food (just wait...), not knowing, really, where to begin. Or what it really was. I have now found the word.

That word is "momentous." Ok, even if i could actually hear you, i know i would not be hearing any sort of oohs or ahhs. It is not exactly a word that one would need to consult a thesauraus to understand. It is simple, at best. But simple, at its best, is quite grand. Think about it: something that is not just big, is huge. Larger still: humoungous. So this was not just a moment, it was momentous: a humoungous, ginormous, grandious, moment.

The meal was simple as simple is at its best. Which is grand. My obliging ma, aunt, and cousin (thank yous due here, too) let me order for the table (i thank you again). I could begin now, to describe in detail each dish, the delicate asparagus perfectly slicked with oil and crimson citrus, the puntarelle salad, crisp and rich with soft boiled egg and anchovy vinaegrette, the salami, fennel and arugula pizzetta that was so fresh it ate like a salad, the layers of paper thin spinach pasta encapsulating meaty, buttery, chantrelle mushroom ragu, the seafood stew with a broth meerly accented by tomatos, showcasing plump clams and just cooked white fish, the saffron shining through as a pleasant surprise, or the polenta that tasted like fresh corn on the cob that was grilled, and ground just for us. I could lust over the meyer lemon sorbet and plum blossom icecream pyramid surprisingly ordered for the occasion, or the meltingly perfect hazelnut financiers JoJo and I were treated with after exploring the downstairs kitchen. Sure i could begin to get into all of that. I could share pictures, but mine were regretfully awful. If i could not share the whole meal with you, i would have loved, would still love, to share only the smells. Because what i remember most was that each dish, as it was placed in front of us, was so frangrant, movingly fragrant. Fall back in your seat fragrant. The fennel pungently licorice, like the scent of the glass after a shot of sambuca, the seafood broth a perfect and inoffensive blend with zesty tomato, and that corn--i mean polenta. All so simply prepared, yet so...momentous.

My "place in it all," this "thing" i do, has purpose. It is inspired. Again.

A last thank you, to Chez Panisse, for all of the moments before, and to come after, the momentous.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

pancake post(s)

"its pancake day,
  its pancake day,
  p-p-p-p-p-p-pancake day!"
                     -cbc Radio 2 host, Pete Morey

As i started to write this post, i realized it certainly is not the first time i have written about pancakes:
     - in an early (2nd post!) illustration of my loving and devoted relationship with breakfast
    - as my choice griddle cake
     -as a hangover cure, drenched in maple syrup and granulated sugar
     - mentioned half-hazardly here
     - enlisted as a reminder of pleasure
     - to justify my side of a silly argument

I found too, unpublished pancake posts, most likely written in haste on my way out the door so i wouldnt forget, or late at night when details equal minutes less of sleep so left for later and never gotten to. In short, they detail my fondness for "hippy" pancakes--whole wheat pastry, even quinoa flour, versus traditional white buttermilk; the lesson i offered to a stubborn schoolmate/co-worker/"boss" in whipping egg whites seperately for fluffiness; a fiasco of a story involving a shattered coffee press and subsequent eyelid burn and botched stack (i ate them anyways); a seemingly profound re-discovery of ricotta hotcakes (it was long ago, but judging by the number of exclamation marks in my notes, they were pretty tasty and i was a little bit sugar buzzed).

I find it quite funny that i have written so much about them, as i rarely eat them. There is usually a batch at Christmas time, the occasional summertime Sunday when i dont have a farm to run off to at 5am and there are raspberries or peaches begging to be heaped on top, always when my sister and i visit eachother, but are barely a once- a- month treat, let alone regular occurence. That said, it is quite obvious my fondness for them, how special, for a reason i am yet to pinpoint. For example, I have special syrup for my sister in my fridge for when she comes to visit, because the nutter doesnt like maple; this time last year, my ma called my just to remind me of the holiday; i regularly pin pancake pics to my Pinterest page (say that ten times fast) despite that, essentially, they are not much more than brown, somewhat warbly circles. Very attractive brown warbly circles. And tasty.

I hope today you had a stack of brown warbly circles in celebration of Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday if you are in New Orleans), if not for breakfast, tonight for dinner; with maple syrup, or blueberrys, maybe jam, or like, me, smeared with lemon curd and honey.

Which brings me to my new note on pancakes (you would think i would have said it all by now), is that everytime i make them i think of a gal i used to work with. When her parents moved from France to Canada, her mom had a hard time embracing the thick Canadian pancakes when making crepes was ingrained in her. The best she could do for her daughters new culture cravings was a sorta thick, pan sized cake, served French style: sprinkled with lemon juice and granulated sugar (ahh, not just for hangovers). That image to me, was so simple and lovely, while, admittedly absurd, and for the longest time i wanted to but didnt try it. When i did, it was a different pancake experience: less soggy, less cloyingly sweet, not the same sort of comfort food as the mapley sort, lovely as i had imagined. I still think of that when making pancakes; in fact it is usually the lemon idea that starts a craving. In a revelatory way, i would say, curd has become my favoured least this holiday, and this pancake post.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not much more than a thank you note

I have been up since 3 am. By choice. Yes, by some masochistic-for-the-sake-of-passion,-pain-for-pleasure- sort of way, i willingly awoke only three and half hours  after falling asleep.You see, once of twice a week, i spend the wee hours at Okanagan Grocery, learning to make bread from someone who has become as beloved as the finished product. I work for the loaf that i mixed, proofer, par shaped, shaped, slashed, and baked. And it is worth more than any dollar. But it makes me quite tired.

I am here writing (oh dear, i just spelled "writing": "righting" before correcting it--sleep depravity, yet somewhat allusory to what i would be writing if i wasnt so sleep deprived, and therefore somewhat non-sensical and rambling....) instead of sleeping because i have not written in a long while--and it was pointed out to me. The fact that it was pointed out to me, that someone actually paid enough attention to my posts that they noticed the lull was both guilt inducing and incredibly fueling. No matter that it was a dear uncle and that he is bound by familiaty (is that a word--it is when you are too tired to notice you still have flour in your hair)...(he is bound by being my dear uncle) to read and support me; people are listening, and that is so special.

It has been so long because i have been in school--a subject which i intend to discuss, berate, exaggerate, occasionally rave, and generally complain about at a time when i am capable of using real words (familiaty? really?).  Six weeks have passed and there is much to say and explain and share to anyone reading. And a couple days will probably accumulate, just to warn...

But for now, a thank you. When you do something you love, without intention, without competition, simply because it brings you joy or sweet relief, or some sense of being--and then someone listens, admires, responds, commends--it becomes so much more meaningful. It happens in the kitchen, when my style of cooking, simply for being tasty and being mine, becomes the ultimate compliment; when the bread i wake from a barely asleep state to create is more familiar to touch as dough, chewy and near-ideal and worth every hour of attention, a symbol of intention; when something you see as secondary becomes your strength; when what you do is suddenly not just for you.

Much love Moezer