Friday, May 20, 2016

Drink Crush: Limoncello Collins


I am feeling sunny as anything today - and that is only partly related to the weather gods finally granting us a brief reprieve from the constant rain.

It's also because I have big plans today: instead of work, work, working, I'm heading to Black-Eyed Susan Day with a handful of fun ladies. Then, for the rest of the weekend, I plan to relax, watch some lacrosse and horses, and generally enjoy myself.

Last weekend, I did a lot of the same (minus the horses). On Saturday, we had an impromptu dinner party that turned into a rager (the kind that involves a bunch of kids ten and under...so I'm using that term loosely).

The night kicked off to a promising start with a big batch of Limoncello Collinses, made from this Food and Wine recipe. They're a fantastic batch drink and so delicious. Also, dangerous. They're like massively alcoholic sunshine in a glass.

Last week was my second time making them. I also made a batch for Mother's Day, when we had my parents and grandmother over for dinner. A meal that turned into...well, it wasn't a rager, but Cooper and I did stay up way too late for a Sunday, drinking and listening to music and talking about how lucky we are to have such a great kid.

If you're looking for an easy to make, truly tasty summertime cocktail, this is your drink. Even non-gin drinkers like it. The only catch is that you have to prepare it a couple hours in advance, so it can settle into itself.

But if you can handle that...watch out. It's a treat.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kevin Alexander Preaches to My Choir

Thrillist writer Kevin Alexander has written a big, intense essay that makes me want to stand up and cheer. It's called "Why the 'Hot New Food Town' Must Die" - and though "die" might be a stretch, I agree with pretty much everything he writes.

It appears that at some point, Alexander was planning to write about Pittsburgh's burgeoning food scene - the city is being hailed all over the place as the next big thing in dining. Instead, he applied what he observed about Pittsburgh - and other places - and wrote about a subject I find fascinating: the sameness of the culinary scenes in smaller cities named as hot new places to eat and the culture that has created that monster. (He admits he's part of that culture.)

He calls it the Good Food Revival Movement - a name that's just about perfect, given the religious zeal that people have adopted when it comes to food.

***

I've been thinking about the similarity between food and religion for quite some time now. In 2009, I wrote my first post about food as the new religion. My starting point was an old Tom Wolfe essay about art being the new opiate of the masses. Food, I suggested, had replaced art. In addition to his use of "revival" to describe the current food climate, Alexander calls food the "social currency" of millennials. We're speaking the same language.

In 2009, I expected that the spotlight would shift away from food and that something new would take its place as the social currency of our time. Maybe it still will. But for now, it looks like food is it.

***

Alexander's other big point, about the sameness of the Good Food Towns - and that they're all based on Portland, in one way or another - is also something I've written about a ton.

My first post on that topic was back in 2006, after my sister's college graduation dinner in Lexington, Virginia. At the time, I bemoaned what seemed to be a lack of regionally-specific dishes and flavors.

A couple years later, as the food world's collective gaze shifted to Charleston and southern flavors reigned supreme, I thought that regionalism was back. (This 2012 post summarizes my shift in thinking.)

If Alexander is correct - and I think he is - regionalism might have slightly returned, but it didn't manifest on a grand scale. He talks about cities "doing a 2007 Portland impression" - instead of digging into their own histories, figuring out their roots, and building unique food identities around what was already theirs.

***

It's a good story - thoughtful and thought-provoking. But, of course, I don't live in Pittsburgh. I live in Baltimore. So I wonder...what does this mean for my city?

People in Baltimore complain sometimes because we've been overlooked, frequently in the past, as a food city. I've had a chip on my own shoulder about it. Why does Cleveland get the love, I asked in this 2008 post. Actually, apparently I couldn't shut up about that in 2008.

But maybe we've been overlooked because we haven't hewed so completely to the Portland 2007 model. Not that we've completely rejected it - there's plenty of charcuterie in town. But one of Alexander's points is that before its revival, Pittsburgh "was a crap food town" without a clear existing identity or even strong ethnic communities.

Without an established culinary sense of self, adopting the Portland model made sense. I'm sure Pittsburgh is home to some great food history and stories, but those things can be tough to dig up. Especially for chefs who want to, you know, make money.

Baltimore, on the other hand, has always had its own thing going. In recent years, we've been peddling the "more than crab cakes" message, but the reality is that we are crab cakes - and steamed crabs and muddy oysters and rockfish and Old Bay. We're more than that, but those things that come from the Chesapeake are at the core of who we are.

This is us. (At my house last summer.)
Plus, those roots have champions. Food innovation here is homegrown. Spike Gjerde has put massive amounts of time and energy into rediscovering and spotlighting the foodways of the Chesapeake region. (Related: Jane Marion's recent profile of him is a great read.)

He's not the only one, either. Winston Blick knows the region's farms and waterways - and the historic flavors that come from them - as well as anybody. Tony Conrad stocks his shop full of fish and crabs and oysters that come straight out of the Bay. And programs like True Blue do what they can to ensure that restaurants and diners stay connected to local products.

Not every restaurant has to be local, local, local, of course. Everybody can't be Woodberry. We also need Bottega and La Cuchara and Charleston and Petit Louis (and everybody else). But the dining community as a whole is better off if it includes places and people devoted to hometown food.

***

Alexander ends his article on a moderately upbeat note, saying that ultimately, raising the food game in smaller cities is a good thing, even if there's not as much individuality as he'd like to see. But he also does a little self-flagellating, reminding himself and other food writers that over-celebrating one particular type of food culture - even if it's good food! - discourages innovation, especially in smaller markets.

Based on all of this, here in Baltimore, I think we should just keep on doing what we're doing. Maybe  I could do a little less "why doesn't anybody in the national press love us" whining. But in the kitchen, on the farms, and on the water, as far as I can tell, we're doing it right.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Ramblings on Rose

At the end of last summer, I insisted I was over rose. I'd had enough of the pink. I moved on.

I should've known I was fooling myself. Here we are, nearly a year later and now that it's springtime in Baltimore, I'm fully back on the rose train.

Coteaux du Libron 2013 by Flickr user Chris Pople
I  kicked off rose season with a bang a couple weeks ago, when I downed way more pink wine than necessary at Kyle and Mary's daughter's fourth birthday party. The weather was nice, the company was good, and Alexander Valley Vineyards Sangiovese rose pairs perfectly with both of those things.

Things that do not pair as perfectly with rose: Sunday mornings. Ouch.

But this post is not about hangovers. It's actually just a long way to say that since we are, theoretically, approaching warm weather, rose has been on my mind lately.

A few weeks ago, I had a nice chat with Brigid McAteer, a wine buyer at The Wine Source in Hampden, all about rose. She gave me some good advice - paler wines are better for porch-sipping and darker shades are better with food, for one. Drink it young, she said. Most rose is not built to age. And, of course, keep it cold, especially when it's hot outside.

McAteer also said that even if you think you only want to drink dry-as-a-bone roses (wines that are as far from white zin as you can get), you actually might appreciate more sugar than you think.

She used that Alexander Valley Vineyards wine as an example. "It's a best seller and a favorite," she said, commenting that as far as roses go, it is on the fruitier, sweeter side. McAteer also recommended roses from the Loire Valley.

Of course, when I think of rose, I think about Provence. Long before I even started drinking pink wine - back when there were few legit rose options available at local shops - I associated rose with the southern French region. (Thank you, Peter Mayle.)

And that is why I jumped at reading this Punch article about rose and Provence, by Jon Bonne, who does a great job illustrating the tension that occurs anytime you combine business with either art or science. Since winemaking is both...there's a lot of tension.

(As an aside, Punch has quickly become my favorite food/bev website. Solid reporting, interesting articles, boozy boozy. I love it.)

The short version of the article is this: Provence has always been about rose and the summery, pink lifestyle that goes with it. As rose has grown in popularity, the increasing demand for pink has influenced the strategies of Provence producers, resulting in fewer interesting reds and whites out of the region...and lots and lots of rose.

And not even more complicated, interesting roses. Winemakers are shifting from tricky Mourvedre to heartier Grenache.

This is all unfortunate, the author laments; as Provence's approach has changed, some of the culture that makes it such a special place - and that makes rose a special type of wine - starts to slip away.

Of course, people are always longing for the good old days - and I'm sure the winemakers aren't crying too much over their newly fat bank accounts.

But that doesn't mean they're not mulling over the changes they see...over a couple glasses of rose. Though it'll probably be Grenache.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Random Ruxton Recipes

Glossy, chef-driven cookbooks are great, but as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to collecting recipes, there's just nothing better than an old-fashioned neighborhood cookbook.

My mother-in-law knows exactly how I feel about this - which is why she occasionally surprises me with gifts from her own personal collection.

Her latest gift to me is this fabulous piece of history - Random Ruxton Recipes, compiled by the Cook Book Committee at Church of the Good Shepherd and published, as far as I can tell, in 1979. The front matter mentions, though, that some of the recipes included were pulled from the original 1953 edition of the book.

Generally speaking, the years between 1953 and 1979 are not known for their culinary strength. And though there are some useful classics in this bunch, there are also a whole lot of recipes that rely on canned vegetables and the kind of processed foods that...well let's just say chances are you're not going to find many of these recipes on most Ruxton dinner tables today.

Case in point - this gnocchi ("gnocci"?) made with cream of wheat and American cheese:


I removed the name of the lady who contributed that because...this is Baltimore. She (or her kids) probably still live here. And I'm fairly certain none of them should be held responsible for this. It was the 70s. This is what people did.

Mid-century culinary atrocities are only one part of why I love these cookbooks. They're also great repositories for staple recipes that might otherwise be lost to history - like this one, for Tomatoes Elkridge:


I'm sure generations of Elkridge members loved these tomatoes, so it's nice to preserve the recipe.

And also..."Put in 350 degree oven almost indefinitely." Almost indefinitely, you say? How specific.

In this particular book, there are lots of little clauses like that one - directions that make me laugh and also that are pretty unhelpful. And a lot of ingredients that appear in the directions, but not in the ingredient list, which makes the recipe editing part of my brain go crazy.

But that's all easy to forgive. It's part of the book's charm. And if a collection of recipes that includes a "cold slaw souffle salad" - made with mayonnaise, lemon jello, cabbage and radishes - isn't charming,,,I don't know what is.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Current Obsession

This room, that chandelier:

Is  that even a chandelier? It kind of looks like the hood for a stove. Either way, I am all about it and also, of course, love the tall windows and the high ceilings and the moody walls and the round table and the whole trad+modern aesthetic. 

Via My Favorite and My Best, who continues to find the best interiors. She's been doing it for years and every time she posts a big bunch of rooms, it's full of stuff I love and that I've never seen anyplace else.

Friday, April 15, 2016

This and That

This Tampa Bay Times article, about the fiction that is "farm to table" claims in many restaurants, is astoundingly good - and astoundingly disturbing. I can't quite wrap my head around how much work it must have been to research and write and how gutsy the publication is to put it all out there, especially in a smaller market - they have their i's dotted, for sure, otherwise they'd get some serious pushback.

And I'm shaken by the article's revelations. I'm not totally naive - I realize there's misrepresentation, at a minimum, in the restaurant industry. But this is so widespread. As I said in a comment on Facebook, I like to think that people are mostly good. This kind of lying - and lying is what we're talking about here - about food, a subject that can bring so much light to life, is profoundly disturbing to me.

*****

In happier news, this Hemingwayish Lucky Peach article made me happy. Oysters are both one of my favorite foods and my favorite subjects, and I will never shy away from a good East Coast vs. West Coast debate. (I am East Coast all the way, obvs., but I do like a melon-y West Coast oyster. Not as much as I like salty East Coasters, but still.)

Writing about oysters is writing about everything, as far as I can tell. Land and money and history and big stuff, but also - because I grew up in an oyster-loving family - relationships and small, specific memories.

Possibly my favorite part of the article was this revelation: "There's something you need to understand...In the Northeast, the oysters are at their best on the winter solstice."

The winter solstice falls, about half the time, on my birthday. I celebrate, obviously, with oysters.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Meals I Have Enjoyed of Late

Clockwise from far left: Colette menu and frothy drink; Limoncello granita oysters at Clementine; Gnocchi with crab and saffron sauce, topped with fried arugula at Cafe Gia; Bone broth at The Food Market; Doughnuts at Parts and Labor.
For the past two months, I've been collecting pictures (and memories) of restaurants around town, planning to write about each of them when I have time to do them justice.

Last week, my computer started slowly dying, so I got a new one. Though I thought I transferred all my photos from the old computer to the new one, turns out, I didn't. The thought of firing up the old laptop right now, just to find those pictures, fills me with dread. But I did take all of this as a sign that I need to stop procrastinating and start writing.

So...past two months, some meals I have loved (illustrated by pics I shared on Facebook and Instagram):

Win-Ryn Pop-Up at Clementine
Way back in January, Winston, Cristin and Ryn, all from Clementine, decided to host a pop-up dinner in the old restaurant space. The original dinner was scheduled for the night of that huge blizzard. Then a makeup date, slated for a week later, also had to be rescheduled, since there was no parking. And then, when the stars semi-aligned and people got into the restaurant, things were a little crazy and hectic. We had a fun night, with good food, but it was really hectic.

But after all of that, they decided to throw another dinner - this one the weekend of Valentine's Day. Cooper and I went, just the two of us. the Friday of that weekend, and we had such a spectacular meal. Gorgeous beet bisque with lump crab. Avocado and pickled watermelon "ceviche." Rabbit cassoulet (which took us way back, to the rabbit pot pie that used to be on the Clem menu...and that Dixon was in love with when he was just a toddler). Duck in a sauce of blood orange and ginger. Prigel ice cream. Charlottetown panna cotta.

Our favorite dish of that night was the oysters with limoncello granita. Totally simple, but crazy good. The kind of thing you taste, then can't figure out why nobody has ever fed you that before because it makes so much sense.

Just being back at Clementine felt great. I wish we could do that every night.

Private Kitchen at The Food Market
The week after Valentine's Day, I had the very exciting opportunity to have dinner in The Private Kitchen at The Food Market. I was with a fun group of people who love food - which is the best way to eat every meal - and it was a blast.

The Private Kitchen is in the basement of the restaurant. The team there used to use it as a prep kitchen, but it's recently been turned into a space for private events - dinners for up to 12 guests.

It's a cute space and still a working kitchen - two chefs (in our case, Chad and Todd) cook and plate your meals for you right there.

Because it's The Food Market, it should be no surprise that our dinner was awesome. The photo above was one of the standouts - chicken broth with prosciutto and housemade pasta, among other things. It was cold outside, cozy inside and the soup was so well-seasoned. Just right all around.

After that dinner, all I wanted to do was think of a reason to throw a dinner party in that space. So fun, so good.

Brunch at Parts and Labor
Earlier this year, Parts and Labor joined big sister Woodberry Kitchen on the Bmore brunch scene. Really, I can't believe that didn't happen sooner. PL is the kind of place that's made for brunch. Great location. Good, straightforward food. Butcher shop so you can shop for dinner on your way out. It's a no-brainer.

In late February, I met Xani and Erin there to eat, catch up on our lives and to talk about how much we love parties and how hosting them is the best. (Seriously, when we see each other, that's all we can talk about. Parties.)

Because it's Parts and Labor, I couldn't help but order scrapple...it's like I'm compelled. It never disappoints. Also, grits. Also, eggs. And of course, because you can't start a Foodshed restaurant group brunch without sweet breakfast apps, we had doughnuts.

Simple food, really. But totally good. The Bloody I had...a spicy one...was also delightful. As was, of course, the company.

Colette
Colette is getting all kinds of buzz these days. The Station North restaurant, which is from the same crew as Bottega, is racking up good reviews for its charming atmosphere and totally good food. It deserves the love.

Cooper and I went on a kind of gross Wednesday in early March, two or three weeks after they opened, and it was already packed. Like Bottega, it's a smallish space that's very cute. Unlike Bottega, which is an Italian BYOB, Colette is French - and it feels completely Parisian, in the best way - and it has a liquor license.

Just this week, they started offering a couple cocktails on tap. They weren't available when we visited, but we did love our drinks - a Gin Fizz for Cooper and a Bee's Knees for me. Old school and well-made, both.

I also really, really loved the goat cheese beignet appetizer. I could've eaten about 40 of them, they were so good. Everything we ate was nice, but those were just fantastic. Airy and tangy - and a perfect hors d'oeuvres, since they whetted our appetites, but didn't fill us up.

Cafe Gia
Last Sunday, I dragged Cooper and Dixon downtown to go to Light City (they complained,but in the end, they both loved it and were happy I made them leave the basement to go). Before we headed over to the festival, we had an early dinner at Cafe Gia in Little Italy.

I had been to Pane e Vino, the wine bar attached to the restaurant, but never to Cafe Gia itself. It's so cute - and our food was great. Cooper and I both had specials - his a lamb dish and mine gnocchi in a creamy-ish sauce with saffron and crab and fried arugula. Interesting and really nicely done.

We also had a lovely glass of limoncello after dinner (Cooper and I did, I mean, while Dixon was housing Nutella bread pudding). It put us in exactly the right frame of mind for a little stroll down to the harbor to check out the lights.

Which we also loved...even if they weren't edible.


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