Friday, February 27, 2009

Entertaining Friday: Break's Over

We took last weekend off from our busy social schedule and, as a result, I have a fully painted basement bathroom and laundry room, and a nearly complete (and already stocked) wine cellar. As much as Cooper pretends he likes to sit around watching TV, the reality is that when we're home, he's busy. It works out well for all of us, actually. Dixon likes to hang out and "help" (I am nearly positive he's the only two-year old I know who's used a nail gun) and I like the results.

So that was last weekend. On to this week. Tonight we're going to a bull roast for a friend of Cooper's who's planning to run for office at some point. And tomorrow is a big day. We're having a dinner party.

It's been years since we had an actual sit-down-at-the-table, everything's fancy dinner party. In fact, we've never had one at this house - and we've lived here for almost four years. We're due.

My menu is ambitious - it's a seven course tasting menu, plus snacks to start - and I'm really excited to spend today and tomorrow cooking. I'll be making:
It's a lot, but each individual item isn't that complicated. I'm counting on that to be my saving grace. That, and getting a lot done today.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Old School Thursday: People Like Me Edition

Today is National Pistachio Day! Which actually is something to celebrate. I love pistachios. In fact, they were one of my “trendy Mondays” last year.

In other February 26th news, today is John Harvey Kellogg’s birthday (1852). While it was actually his brother, William, who founded the now-eponymous cereal company, John actually developed the first breakfast cereal for his patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium (he was superintendent). Two cereals, actually. One called Granose, that was flaked wheat, and another that was toasted corn flakes (called, I’m guessing, Corn Flakes).

That’s it for food-related news, but I can’t resist including this: Today in 1957, Emile Coue was born. He was a French pharmacist, which sounds boring, but he was also an “advocate of autosuggestion.” He was the original Stuart Smalley. Literally – every morning and every evening, he repeated “Every day, and in every way, I am becoming better and better” between 15 and 20 times.

I sincerely hope he had a happy life. With lots of self-esteem.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: Food and Glamour

As I've written here before, I'm kind of fascinated with the blog Deep Glamour, written (mostly) by Virginia Postrel and Kate Coe.

Last week, after some chatting about the long-gone department store Garfinkels (a mainstay of my childhood - really, I remember more about hanging out in the Garfinkels kids' department than I do about most of my relatives), Kate asked if I'd like to contribute a guest post to the blog. While not especially glamorous myself, most days at least, I do have a deep affection for glamour as a concept. Plus, I love the writers there. So I was psyched.

So that's how it is that I've got a guest post up on food and glamour. Here's a teaser:

When Don Draper takes his wife and clients to dinner, it’s cocktail attire at Lutece, shorthand for glamour in 1960’s New York. Dinner at Lutece was all mousseline of pike in lobster cream sauce and beef Wellington – heavy, fancy, heady, certainly French – and nothing you would try at home.

So what’s today’s equivalent?

But go read the whole thing. (Please.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ideabook Tuesday: Using Yellow

It's sunny out today. Still cold, but at least it's sunny. And that's making me feel bright.

So, in honor of the sun (and of the recent coronation of yellow as Color of 2009), here are some ideas for decorating with yellow:

You know what else works? A big bowl of lemons. Pretty, cheap, food-related!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Trendy Monday: Greek Meets Mex

A couple of weeks ago, I spent one day playing Kit Pollard, Girl Reporter - basically, trekking all over Baltimore, checking out museums. My journey took me all the way down Eastern Avenue, from Fells to Dundalk. It been a while since I'd made that drive, and every time I do I notice that more and more of the storefronts are en espangnol.

I think it's great - the more Hispanic-influenced food, the better - but as I drove through Greektown I had to wonder if everybody feels the same way I do. The old Greek restaurants are still there, of course, and the blue and white banners hanging from the street lamps assure visitors that the neighborhood hasn't changed too much. But it'd be hard not to notice the little grocery stores and cafes popping up.

What does this mean for Greektown? For Baltimore's Greek community? For Baltimore's Greek food? Is it in danger of extinction?

And at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder about the potential here. Greek-Mex fusion? I think I can imagine it. Does it exist?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Entertaining Friday: Staying In

I know it sounds mental, but sometimes I have more fun vegging out than when I go partying. Maybe because my party clothes are so binding. - Cher, from Clueless

And this is exactly how I'm feeling this weekend. Though I don't actually think it has much to do with the tighness of my clothes so much as the busy-ness of my work week. So this weekend, we're taking a break from parties. And doesn't that make the parties themselves that much more fun?

Also, as an aside, isn't it hard to believe that it's been 14 years since Clueless first came out? I am old.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Old School Thursday: Beer & Pop Culture Edition

Today, also known, famously, as National Chocolate Mint Day, is a big one in terms of food and beverage innovation. Lots of foundings and little decisions that actually have big pop culture impact.

First, way back in 1764, a man named Gottlieb Sigismund Kirchhof was born. Kirchhof was something of a foodie renaissance man. Not only did he discover glucose and develop a method to refine vegetable oil, he also experimented with brewing.

Which probably came in handy, nearly 150 years later, when German settlers in China founded the country’s first brewery, Tsingtao (1903). Those Germans really do know how to make a beer, don’t they? When I think of Chinese beer, Tsingtao is what comes to mind.Just three years later, in 1906, American culture was heading away from the drink, and into nutrition, as William Keith Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in Michigan. These days, it’s known as Kellogg’s, and it’s all about cereal. In those days, though, Kellogg was a nutrition pioneer. And I’m pretty sure his philosophy didn’t include a lot of German beer.

Fortunately, in America, the nutrition revolution coincided with a whole lot of junk food – our rebellious nature at work, I’m guessing. In 1913, Cracker Jack began to put prizes in every box, creating a tradition that’s still in place today – and firming up American kids’ sense of entitlement.

And the innovations don’t stop! As recently as 1985, today marks the introduction of Cherry Coke. It’s actually hard for me to believe that Cherry Coke wasn’t available (in can form, at least) until I was 9 – it seems like as much a classic as, well, Classic Coke (which, I realize, was a whole other issue in 1985).

So there it is. A bigger day than most. Have a beer and a Cherry Coke to celebrate.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: Pastry Architecture

Yesterday, Cooper's cousin Sarah sent me an article featuring French chef Sebastien Gaudard, of recent Selby fame (and also Sarah's new future boyfriend, if she can only track him down). The article touches on pretty much everything that gets me excited: food as art, historical anecdotes about food and art, the importance of research. Plus, France.

I mean, check out these quotes:
By the early nineteenth century, chef Marie-Antonin Carême, the great codifier
of pastry technique, could claim, “The fine arts are five in number: painting,
sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture – whose main branch is confection.”

“Pastry is the closest thing to architecture in the food world,” says
Paris-based sculptor and food artist Marc Brétillot. “It’s all about
construction.”...Brétillot’s projects have included performance-art pieces
involving live music and chain-reaction machines, inspired by Rube Goldberg,
that open and serve individual bottles of champagne and squirt dollops of icing
onto cookies.

When the pastry chef Sébastien Gaudard created a cake called the “Auguste” for
the high-end Paris food emporium Fauchon, he based his approach on field
research. “The first thing I noticed was people tend to buy little cakes rather
than big ones,” he said.

In other words, the “Auguste” is not just a cool object: the design is
intimately married to the taste...Gone are the gratuitous maraschino cherries
and sugar flowers of old; there is coherence between interior and exterior.

It's almost more than I can handle.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ideabook Tueday: Formal Dining Rooms

While I don't have a formal dining room myself - and I love my open space - occasionally I wish I had a space to serve meals that's hidden from the kitchen. Not so much because of the food prep stage as to get away from the dirty dishes when dinner is over, but everybody's still hanging out. I never do the dishes right away...and I love sitting around and drinking wine and talking at the table.

With that in mind, I've been checking out formal dining room options (for other people. We are not redoing our house ever again):

Monday, February 16, 2009

Random While-I'm-Cooking Observation

While cooking, Hormel maple bacon smells like a McGriddle.

I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Trendy Monday: Maipe Wines

Last Friday morning, I walked into Wells in search of a couple of bottles of wine for the weekend, and there it was, dominating the whole front of the store: A gigantic display of wines from Argentina. And not just any wines, but Maipe wines, from Mendoza.

Cooper and I first drank the Maipe Malbec when we were in Chicago over New Years. Like many malbecs, it was super cheap and we loved it. Upon returning home, I found one random big bottle collecting dust at Grand Cru, but that was it. None at Wells, much to our dismay. Until this week.

According to Dave at Wells, the Maipe sales rep was in about two weeks ago. Less than 24 hours after tasting the wines and placing their order, the Wells crew already had one small Maipe display up. A week later, the brand was all over the front of the store - and on sale, too (though a sale that was only announced by email, it wasn't advertised on in-store signage).

Since the display was oddly Malbec-free, Cooper and I tried the Bonarda. It's an Italian grape and a little fruitier than what we normally drink - there was a lot of blueberry - but also some nice pepper. I liked it from the first sip. It took Cooper half a glass for it to grow on him, but it did. And at under $10, it's certainly a decent deal.

As the weekend progressed, we realized we weren't the only ones who'd noticed the Maipe. Jen and Bill, who'd shared the Grand Cru bottle with us, were equally as excited. Jen bought the Malbec rose to try later (I'm sure I'll be drinking some of that once rose season rolls around again). And when we arrived at Alicia and Mike's wine tasting Friday night (more on that later), Kyle had brought a bottle of Maipe as his white wine (I can't remember the grape).

It seems unlikely that Maipe has reached this tipping point just in the five mile radius around my house, and with my friends. It must be hitting the big time everywhere. So for that, it earns a "trendy" tag.

(As an aside, while at Wells, I was talking to Dave about how affordable all the Argentinian wines are and he mentioned that they're all tied to the American dollar, so they're not affected by shifts in exchange rate, like European wines are. Of COURSE. I learn something new every time I walk in that store.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Chef's Home

The Selby just posted photos of Parisian chef, Sebastien Gaudard's apartment. Chefs! Paris! Interiors!

P.S. Check out how narrow his bathroom is. It's a good thing that French people aren't fat, huh?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Entertaining Friday: Valentine's Day Preview

I am not a fan of Valentine's Day. At least not in the traditional sense, anyway. It's not a great night to go out to dinner - everything's overpriced and crowded. The kitchen is bored but harried and the same goes for the wait staff. And overall, the whole holiday feels silly and stilted and made-up to me.

Which is not to say I won't celebrate it. That is because this year, we've been invited to a party.

Mike and Alicia are hosting a wine tasting tomorrow night. Even better, it's a contest. Everybody (well, every couple) brings their favorite white and their favorite red (under $20). When we get to the party, the bottles will be opened and put in bags for blind tasting. Then we'll all taste all the wines and rate them according based on several characteristics.

And the winners get a prize! I love prizes.

Plus, we're having fondue and (not surprisingly) cupcakes. In fact, Dixon and Maddy will be helping Alicia bake the cupcakes this afternoon.

So this morning, I'm off to the liquor-lollipop store to pick out the perfect bottles. Which will, for now, remain secret...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Old School Thursday: Scientific Life Cycle Edition

Doesn’t it seem like National Fondue Day should be this week? Maybe I just think that because I know I’ll be having some at Mike and Alicia’s wine tasting this weekend.

Anyway, that was last week, not today. Today, instead, is National Plum Pudding Day, which seems more appropriate for, say, December. It’s also St. Julian the Hospitaler Day. “Hospitaler” as in hospitality, not hospitals. He’s the patron saint of travelers and innkeepers.

In other news, today was sort of a crazy day in terms of births and deaths. In 1791, Peter Cooper was born. He’s probably most famous as the founder of Cooper Union, but he also was the first American to get a patent for manufacturing gelatin.

Eighteen years later, in 1809, Charles Darwin was born. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell out his achievements.

Moving into the 20th century, today is the anniversary of the death of famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1935). Escoffier was a bit of an Emeril in his day (can you hear him turning over in his grave at the description? Me too) – really. Not content to just cook and write, he was also an active consultant and lent his name to spices and sauces.

Today also marks the anniversary of the death of Charles M. Schulz (2000), creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which happens to be one of my favorites – especially the earlier strips, with their crazy dry humor.

And in other news, today in 1976, Red Dye No. 2 was banned by the FDA. As a result, red M&Ms were pulled from the market for 11 years. Which just made me realize that I never had a red M&M until I was at least 11 years old. Kind of crazy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

As Seen on TV

Has anyone else seen the new Fine Living show Wingman? Is it just me, or is the host kind of a Michael Midgely twin? Maybe not as funny, but I like the Midgely brand of humor. I know not everybody does, but he brings out the sorority girl in me.

(As an aside, I am kind of fascinated by the show. And simultaneously relieved that I am already married.)

Artsy Wednesday: Mr. Bacon and Monsieur Tofu

I'm pretty sure I'm not making up the artistic nature of these guys, am I?
In related news, Cail just sent me this note: "Kind of amazing...and artistic in its own very special way," attached to this link.
I had the same reaction yesterday, when Xani posted the link on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ideabook Tuesday: Flower Power

You know what's nice? Trader Joe's just got its first annual shipment of Irish daffodils. They're $1.49 a bunch and believe me, they brighten a room right up. It's as though it's actually spring.

This time of year, I really can't get enough of the flowers. I'm sure it has something to do with the weather outside (though this week's been pretty nice). So, without further ado, this week's ideabook...all about flowers:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Trendy Monday: Burger Joints

I know I'm a little late to the game with this, but I've just all of a sudden noticed that fancy burgers are everywhere. Maybe it's partly an economy thing - it's less financially risky to open a burger place than a super fancy restaurant - or maybe it's a comfort food thing or maybe it's just an Americana thing ("fresh, clean, American flavors" on a bun?). Whatever it is, it's trendy.

First there was Spike's DC spot. Blais' Flip. And here in Baltimore, our very own Chef Paternotte's Abbey Burger Bistro.

Now, mind you, I'm not complaining. I love burgers - fancy or not. But they sure are everywhere these days.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Yum, bacon.

Entertaining Friday: Chinese New Year Recap

Last Friday was Jen and Bill's first annual Chinese New Year costume party - and the first in what promises to be a long year of theme parties requiring funny costumes. If I could dress up once a month, I'd be happy.

Organizing a party like this is pretty straightforward. You've got a theme, so it's easy enough to decide on the food. For a Chinese New Year party, in particular, food's easy - if you don't want to cook, all you need to do is organize some carry-out (the Wneks went to Wegmans, where you can actually order party platters of Chinese food). For snacks, Bill raided Trader Joe's, which is pretty much ethnic finger food heaven.

The focus of the party, anyway, was on the costume contest. There were two prizes up for grabs (both bottles of sake) - one for best costume and one for most original/funniest.

Guess what we won (what? Of course we won!) - most original/funniest, for our rendition of Chinese takeout boxes. In case you're wondering, I traced the little Chinese temple onto the shirts and colored them in with red sharpies. And yes, that is a coat hanger on my head - it's the box handle. Also yes, it did hurt to wear. But sometimes we have to suffer for our art.

February's theme party: wine tasting Valentine's Day at Mike and Alicia's. And yes, we're planning to win that contest, too.

Top Chef 5 Thoughts

I haven't done a whole lot of Top Chef blogging this season, mostly because I'm not all that into the players. I think that we were all spoiled last season, when Richard and Stephanie were so amazing and also so gracious, plus we had Lisa as, like, the perfect reality TV villian.

This season's warming up for me a little, but just now - and we're already down to five. It seems clear to me (and the rest of the country) that Stefan will win. He's just better than everybody else. Hosea is outclassed on so many levels. Fabio is adorably Italian, but just not as good. Carla is actually surprising me with her skill, and I like her - I think she's funny - but she's a little too cuckoo, I think, to actually win.

And Leah, well, don't get me started. Actually, I think Leah's problem is that she's so young. She's immature. Unfortunately, that translates into her acting like a dumb little girl on national TV, which further translates into me hissing things like, "She's doing a disservice to women everywhere!" to Cooper.

Which brings me to Wednesday night. I know it was the edit, but I was sure Leah was going home over Jamie. It seems like a bigger sin to me to not get the dish, than to admit that you knew exactly where you went wrong, and say that you just didn't have time to fix it. Also, while we're on the subject of Jamie, I'm sorry now that I was so complainy about her a few weeks ago. She obviously knows what she's doing in the kitchen and, as she demonstrated during Restaurant Wars, she's got decent leadership potential, as well.

And while I still don't see any ScarJo resemblance, I did get a touch of Natalie Portman. Maybe better?

Anyway, I was sorry to see her go. And really sorry to see Leah stay.

I Forgot Yesterday's Links

I'm sorry.

I'm thinking of ditching that extra weekly post, though. It's hard for me to remember to write and I'm not sure that I'm really into it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Old School Thursday: Fondue and Eggbeaters Edition

Fondue! Today is National Chocolate Fondue Day. Which makes sense to me, given its proximity to Valentine’s Day. I wonder if The Melting Pot has some sort of special dessert to celebrate.

In other news, we’ve got a birthday and a patent. In 1872, Lafayette Benedict Mendel was born. He was a biochemist working on nutrition, specifically related to vitamins and protein. He was not, however, related to the more famous Mendel (Gregor). At least not so far as Wikipedia knows.

A few years later, in 1884, a man from Cincinnati, named Willis Johnson, got a patent for an egg beater.
And…that’s it. I guess that’s a pretty slow news day overall, huh? Vitamins and egg-beating? At least we have the fondue…

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: Storytelling

I've been thinking a lot about storytelling lately. Considering how much I write, it's kind of surprising that I don't think more about it, actually. But just recently, as I was telling Dixon some stories, I realized something strange: not that many of my family stories, the ones that get told over and over again, involve food.

Oh, there's the one about my grandmother dropping the chocolate mousse just before a dinner party. And the one about my other grandmother marinating venison in vinegar. Also, there's my grandfather letting my brother a) eat a raw oyster and b) stick his hand in a bushel of live crabs, both before he turned three. Also, if you want to count it, the vague memories of the really terrible lemon chicken my dad made when we were little (that got him out of any sort of kitchen duty for...well, forever).

But that's about it. They're really just horror stories, too. We've had a lot of good meals, but somehow, those don't translate into memorable stories.

I wonder why that is. Why do all of the good meals - at home, in the backyard, at the beach, in restaurants - blend together? Can't good food be a good story?

And if it can't, what does that mean for me as a food blogger? Maybe it explains why I rarely write about actual food...

UPDATE: My brother just emailed me to point out that my dad's chicken disaster was Hawaiian chicken, not lemon chicken. Either way, I'm pretty sure neither of us ate any of it (I'm also pretty sure it was before Erin was born, so she didn't eat any, either.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ideabook Tuesday: Party Places

I've been to a lot of pretty great parties in my life - from high school keggers (shoutout to the Foreman house, the Oz basement and the Brockett loft above the garage!) to over-the-top black tie events. Not to mention, a ton of weddings.

As a result, I think a lot about what makes a space perfect for a party. When we started planning our addition, the main thing we talked to Virginia (our architect) about was the need to accommodate people. All I really wanted was an open space where our friends could hang out.

An open space was what we got - and as a result, our friends are over here all the time. Jen and Bill recently went through a similar process, knocking down a wall between their kitchen and dining room and adding an island for hanging out. It's perfect.

So with all of that on my mind a few weeks ago, I created this ideabook, aptly named "Party Places":

Monday, February 02, 2009

Trendy Monday: DIY Wine

About 10 years ago (and yes, I feel old just writing that), I went to a party where a bunch of the guests brought their own home-brewed beer. I was tagging along with my friend Matt, who had some beer of his own, and it was very fun - even if most of the beer wasn't really my style (and by that, I mean, nobody had brewed their own Miller Lite). Back then, it seemed like everybody you talked to was into home brewing, saving their old bottles and making cute little labels in Quark.

These days, I hear a lot more about people making their own wine. It was only five years ago that Cooper and I were dreaming about buying some acreage in New Zealand to plant our own vines (until we remembered that NZ is across the world and we're not that adventurous). Last year, my brother and his friends were considering buying a barrel of Bordeaux, and we were all for buying in. Just two weeks ago, we found out that Mary's parents have vines on their property outside Pittsburgh, and they make more wine than they can handle. It's all over.

Then, this morning, I got an email about this wine barrel ownership program in Mendoza, Argentina. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I love Argentinian wines and I would really love to go to Argentina. If this was just a little less expensive, I'd be all over it. As it stands, it ends up averaging less than $30 a bottle, which really isn't bad - it's just that it requires at least a $7000 investment up front.

But if anybody out there would like to do it, Cooper and I will gladly cellar some of your wine, as long as we can share at least a bottle or two with you. Any of my other friends busy stomping their own grapes?


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