Friday, May 27, 2011

May 20- May 27

Words, words, words, stir, stir, stir, think, think, think, drink, drink, drink. The week in review.

Started reading Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace this past weekend. Because college was almost a million years ago, any academic knowledge acquired is steadily leaking out of my brain. The stacks of cookbooks that line the room, reveal a certain kind of tunnel vision. Leaving Van Gogh is not a cookbook inspired by the colors and subjects of Van Gogh's painting. The only edible things that were mentioned in the book were coffee and absinthe. It is a historical novel told from the point of view of Dr. Gachet, Vincent VG's physician and subject in a few paintings. She described Vincent's canvases lovingly. She represented Vincent and his struggles with real sympathy and regarded his huge talent with admiration. It sent me straight to the Met this morning to get up close to his canvases to study his thick and rapid brushstrokes and strong colors. His paintings are so full of feeling and personal sentiment, a very normal looking woman was secretly observed tearing up and sniffling while looking at Wheat Field with Cypresses.

The museum visit was the culmination of a week spent in quiet rumination, which is another way of saying there was room for a nation of heavy thoughts and unhappy questions. It could have been one of those coincidences that happen when Mercury is in retrograde, or is upside down or something cosmically trippy like that, but almost every planned social interlude was thwarted by what can only be viewed as garden variety flakery. A wide array of flaking: the "oops! I totally forgot!", the "damn! I am supposed to be at ________ at that time" double booking, the "sorry, I'm feeling so tired", and my favorite: "My friend wants me to take a yoga class with her, and I kinda really want to". As I walked across Manhattan I noticed how every second person was huddled over their personal communication devices. Eyes glued on those little contraptions of wonder and social alienation. When everyone is staring at their palms, moments of spontaneous connection are much less likely to happen. It is oddly ironic to have 182 friends, but not be able to meet anyone in person for a cup of coffee and some pleasant chit chat. Well that's not entirely true, there was book club on thursday night.

It was a good showing at Daz's. I made a blueberry pie twice. The first one boasted a beautiful lattice crust but was not nearly sweet enough, so that was deemed a mistake that the kiddles and hub picked over. The second one was sweet and had the slight suggestion of cinnamon, due to the addition of a cup of sugar (instead of half a cup) and a generous pinch of cinnamon, a squirt or two (not 4 or 5) of lemon juice, and finally, stirring it all up so that the individual berries are coated in what looks like crystal frosting. Daz made a couple delicious springtime salads. Her pasta salad is a personal favorite- it is full of flavor and texture. She also made a watermelon feta concoction that was quite refreshing. She purchased a couple of bottles of Skinnygirl Margarita's that went down nice and smooth. The pie was rather enjoyable when served with a scoop of Ben and Jerry's Vanilla ice cream that the hostess had thoughtfully provided. The flaky wedge of soft, sweet,slightly tart berries in a puddle of vanilla bean flecked creaminess is one of those simple culinary joys that is worthy of quiet festivity. Her home is elegant and tidy in a rustic style, and it made the blueberry pie taste that much better.
So the contrast of that tasting experience clashed quite a bit with my eating experience in the city the next day. After departing from the museum, Streus, a college friend who was visiting from Los Angeles, and I strolled down Fifth Avenue and chatted amiably. The memory of what is was like to have a leisurely personal conversation returned. It was a perfect spring day in Manhattan, warm bare skin was all around. We walked and talked all the way down to 60th, where the venerable Plaza Hotel stood before us. New York Magazine had a review of The Food Court in Plaza a few months ago, and interest was piqued.
They didn't renovate the Old New York grandeur out of the Plaza. It is still sparkly and grand and grandmotherly (if your grandmother has over-the-top rococco tastes like mine). Downstairs is a village of little boutiques and stands. The Food Hall takes up a lot of space, and the seating arrangement seems a little confusing. Guests are seated at counters and islands and there are stations for various cuisines and options; seafood, grill, pizza, salad. Streus, had to get across town to meet up with friends. Bye, bye. Kiss, hug. I'm glad we saw that McQueen exhibition, yeah, let's do it again next time you are in town.

Seated at the edge of the pasta station right next to a distressed and vintage looking mirror, the white tiled floor was noted, and the art deco in Paris motif to the room was understood. It was loud and crowded. The service was uninterested and impersonal. I decided to be good and ordered the watercress salad and a side of parmesan french fries for good measure. The salad was bland, the thin little pannini hiding in a jungle of salad was nothing to talk about, and the shmear of lemon jam on the plate was not lemony enough. The parmesan fries were as good as McDonald's fries- which is praise (McDonald's fries are pretty good). The parmesan added nothing. Thankfully the 2 gourmet soft pretzels (feta and olive, roasted garlic) procured from the pretzel truck outside the Met, were tucked away in a bag for later. The restaurant represents a side of New York that is irritating in it's self importance.
Once outside the Food Hall Payard's perfect little confections beckoned, and the passionfruit macaron was good. The salted caramel was delicious; buttery, soft, bitter-sweet. But the pretzels were enjoyed the most while window gazing at Bergdorf's. The garlic pretzel was so soft and buttery and garlicky. It was my culinary adventure of the day. I'm still trying to digest the McQueen exhibition: Savage Beauty. It was something completely new for me.

Next up for next week: An article on gourmet popsicles. A couple boxes of truffles, new spring flavor raspberry? blueberry? Hub's 40th birthday open house has to be considered. Need to try out a couple of weeknight recipes on the kids ( sausage pie, mac 'n cheese, and fish in chips). Homework for the week: Finish Van Gogh Vision and Reality, and think about McQueen exhibition.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spring: Take Two

Yesterday was a perfect spring day. The kind of day that inspires art. I wrote a post that attempted to convey the splendour of the beautiful afternoon. But I realized that everything I wanted to say was penned by the Romantic poets, depicted by Van Gogh or Monet, and conjured by Vivaldi and Dvorak. At the end I decided that the best I could offer was a berry pie; a juicy, sweet-tart very berry pie.
I was excited about my assignment; an edible tribute to Spring. I put the post away for later, to be continued after I completed the the pie. No pre-made pie crust for this offering, I needed to make the dough from scratch. I regard pie crusts as the final frontier in baking, I haven't found a dough yet. I settled on a Martha version, hoping for better results this time.

Skip forward through swathes of lush green grass dotted with tiny bright yellow buds. Bright spring sun fades into a crisp night. I reviewed a few recipes on the internet, and came up with a plan. I imagined the pie while relaxing in bed and watching TV before going to sleep.

Gray, overcast chilly morning. The dough is crumby. My flinging over spring draft is missing. I meet up with Daz at the diner and the conversation is on the somber side (yet, no less interesting). Think about how it's just as well that I lost yesterday's flowery post draft. Keats does it so much better.
The berries are plump and juicy and deeply colored. I use a combined 6 cups of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, add in juice from half a lemon, half a cup of sugar, the scrapings of one vanilla bean and some flour to absorb the berry juice. I gracelessy graft the dough together and piece up a lattice crust. After baking it in a preheated 375F oven for about 50 minutes the aroma is good, and the berry center is inviting. I'm not sure it's a glorious tribute to Spring, but it'll be a nice ending to tonight's dinner.