Posts Tagged ‘food’

a terribly auspicious occasion

With less than 24 hours to go, it’s time for me to admit, with some embarrassment, that I am one of those royal wedding watchers. My name is Natalie, and if I have not sat down and watched every obnoxious TV special on the couple — “William and Kate,” that objectively horrible Lifetime movie, not to be confused with TLC’s “William and Kate: A Royal Love Story,” “Wild About Prince Harry,” “Charles and Di: Once Upon A Time,” and on and on — well, I have probably flipped through them with some passing interest.

Apparently, the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton have created much more a frenzy stateside than in England (confirm, anyone?) and on the heels of this realization there’s been a sudden, slightly belated series of articles questioning whether Americans really, actually care about the wedding — or if the constant media coverage has created the illusion of interest where none would have otherwise existed.

To be honest, I find this recent angle of newspaper articles and cable news shows highly irritating. They’re acting a bit above it all, aren’t they? Every time Anderson Cooper or whoever reads a bit about the royal wedding, it’s with both a smirk (“This isn’t real news, our viewers are so silly to care about it”) and wide-eyed ignorance (“Maybe the designer is Vera Wang? Yes, that’s the only designer I know”). Well, listen, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, and friends: You’ve sent all your anchors to London. The jig is up. You clearly care, so stop acting like you don’t.

I, on the other hand, am not trying to out-snob the royals, the way some TV reporters seem intent on doing. The earliest televised wedding coverage starts at 2:00 (our time, Central Time, everyone take a deep breath) with MSNBC. CNN and Good Morning America and the rest, total slugs, don’t begin until an hour later. While I am definitely not crazed enough to get up at two in the morning to watch the madness (that’s what four in the morning is for), I will be celebrating in British style when, um, I do get up.

There will be a proper cup of Earl Gray. There will be oat and maple scones, simply because there’s a couple unbaked and frozen rounds just waiting to be baked off for such an auspicious occasion. Since it will be such an early hour, allowing time for second breakfasts, there will probably be cream scones, too, and maybe something wild like strawberry-rosemary scones. We won’t have the traditional English breakfast sides like black pudding, grilled tomatoes, and baked beans, but fried eggs… and sausage… and marmalade and toast, here we come. Silly? Well, perhaps. I admit it. But embrace it!

Are you watching the royal wedding?


eating easter

Easter to me will always mean Greek food. And not just because of the lamb, which doubles as traditional Easter fare and, I believe, the most prevalent meat in Greek cuisine (though that is a happy coincidence). It’s because I spent spring break during my semester abroad at a friend’s house in Athens. Four years later, it’s still what I want every Easter.

I didn’t have any particularly salient Easter memories to overwrite. Like many little kids, I spent the week before Easter watercoloring hardboiled eggs, and Sunday morning hunting for little green nests of Hershey’s eggs and my painted ones. But I usually had to be quick about it, or the cats would eat the plastic nest grass. At least they were clever? apathetic? easily distracted? enough to avoid the chocolate.

And so went most of my Easter memories: egg hunting, floral dresses, the true arrival of spring. They’re lovely memories, but there’s nothing especially monumental or ground-breaking about them. But walking from one church to another by candlelight at midnight on Holy Saturday, singing (or mumbling along to) traditional hymns in the company of the entire Greek village, followed by an elaborate one AM Greek feast? That sticks out. That memory has rooted itself very deeply, so the word Easter conjures up not so much visions of Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and HoneyBaked Ham, as cravings for grilled lamb, blocks of feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumber and olives.

Okay, not so much the olives part. But the idea of olives.

Yesterday, Mr. Boyfriend was kind enough to go with the flow. So we started with some baked pita (incidentally, one of my favorite party tricks) and hummus, and followed with rosemary-rubbed lamb chops with a feta-yogurt topping, olive-less Greek salad, and basil-mint couscous. Not exactly traditional for here, but I think somewhere in the wide world (somewhere I wouldn’t mind being right about now… Mediterranean Sea, Acropolis and all), we’d have fit right in.

wordless wednesday: pea salad

the curious case of artisinal chocolate

If you’d asked me two years ago what sprang to mind when I heard the words “Iowa artisan,” I would have (somewhat shamefacedly) admitted corn husk dolls. Because I had one! Not because I stereotype! Or perhaps . . . pie baking. Hog fattening.

Maybe I had a couple stereotypes.

Basically, I didn’t know anything about Iowa, or what I was getting myself into.

As it turns out, I have encountered zero corn husk dolls or “fattest pig” state fair competitions since moving here, and most of the pies have come out of my oven. What I have encountered is gourmet roasted Amana coffee, in flavors ranging from the traditional French Vanilla or Hazelnut to the wackier Blueberry Cinnamon Crumble and Vermont Maple Nut Crunch. A reminder: those are all coffee flavors. I have also encountered fruit wine. Yes, I know all wine is made from grapes, and that grapes are a fruit, but I mean cranberry wine. Apricot wine. Peach, apple, rhubarb wines. I believe it is what you would call “interesting” (as in “iiiinteresting…”) and let’s just say there’s a reason wine is made of grapes and not plums.

The best discovery of all, though, has been the local chocolate-makers. There’s the Chocolate Haus in Amana, whose four-pack of truffles almost always proves an irresistible pick-me-up. And then there’s Bochner Chocolates, with a single store off the Coralville Strip (and a tiny factory near the grocery store!) that churns out the most gorgeous, creatively flavored special occasion chocolates I’ve been lucky enough to taste. They have blue-speckled truffles filled with sea salted caramel and purple-dusted ones filled with lavender. There’s a whole line of alcohol-filled squares, from Bailey’s to Mojito (!), and an equally large group of fruit-fillings. They even cater to choco-purists with truffles made of cocoa nibs or Ghanaian beans. I would never (truly, never) have expected to find a place like Bochner Chocolates in Iowa — but oh, how wrong I was. I just finished my Valentine’s box (I know – discipline!) and our high-top table looks suddenly quite sad without all those snazzy, rich flavor possibilities.

grill mates

Last night was our first grill of the year. And what a thrill it was. The weather (and the sun!) was perfect… well, if perfection includes a mid-weight coat, which it necessarily does in this picture. We mixed up an easy, bubbly drink or two and and the hot coals worked their magic on some brats and skewered summer squash. When your (grill) time comes, friends, remember that toasting the buns right before serving is a non-negotiable.

Once the food was gone and the coals had cooled to ashy nubs, B and I started bemoaning the fact that we won’t have a grill in New York this summer. But then he had a brainwave: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park offers a host of public, first-come, first-served barbecue and picnic areas. If you think we’re not already planning on staking a claim Sunday mornings for whole days of brats, burgers, corn on the cob, grilled tomato caprese, grilled peaches with gelato, or, you know, 101 other things — well, you’ve got another thing coming.

eatalian gelato

This afternoon, B and I visited Eataly, Mario Batali’s sprawling indoor Italian food market with stalls for cured meats, fresh pasta, all kinds of cheese and coffee, breads, intricate patisserie confections, pop-up restaurants, positively pornographic tableaux of basil leaves and cherry tomatoes — and, of course, gelato. What we came for. And I had to admit we arrived a little spoiled: on Wednesday, we’d popped into Grom while meandering around the West Village. Grom is a total Italian import: they have dozens of shops up and down the boot, plus a couple international locations (New York being one). So it is good. It’s all natural, no preservatives or weird coloring, organic when possible, and as a result, I would imagine, of this exacting quality control/ingredient sourcing and know-how, each flavor tastes like the truest iteration of itself. The chocolate is deep, with coffee undertones and only a little bitter, while the vanilla is incredibly mellow and luscious. The coffee gelato is like a strong pull of espresso. The best.

Which is all to say, we’re pretty tough customers, so watch out. (We’re kind of a big deal.) The length of Eataly’s gelato line certainly pointed to a large fan base. There were about a dozen flavors to choose from — traditional fruit flavors plus your typical chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, coffee and so on. B got the stracciatella, and I had vanilla with cookies crushed in it (name forgotten; sorry). And I loved how, unlike many gelaterias, they offered crunchy cones and not just plastic cups.

In point of fact, I think Grom’s pure, intense flavors make it the better gelato. But both places are so wonderful, so at-the-top-of-their-game, that you really can’t go wrong with either. And lest we forget, Eataly’s shop lives inside a wonderful Italian market/eatery, and it’s hard to discount the delight of munching on a cone of bacio gelato while picking up fresh tortellini, mozzerella (made on site!) and a fistful of chocolates. Not that I’ve done this. A girl can dream. Barring that, have your sweet across the street in Madison Square Park. When we had ours, it was seventy degrees out — there are truly no better days.

borough market

Can’t say what it is, but I adore open-air food markets . . .

Oh wait, I can say what it is. The constant grazing. The free samples. The local merchants who named the goats who produced that cheese. The smells. The bustle and crowds and je-ne-sais-quoi that seems at once intensely historical, as though out of a Dickens novel, and immediately contemporary.

Last Saturday (has it really been a! week!), Clara and I went to Borough Market for a pre-Tate Modern lunch. Of course, the exploring the hundreds of stalls quickly turned into the main event. We spent several hours sampling fois gras, syrupy balsamic vinegars, dozens of hard cheeses, exotically flavored Turkish delight, broken-off squares from local chocolatiers, cider and mulled wine and prosecco, Spanish jamón, candied nuts — and on, and on.

Of course, we couldn’t resist bringing some of those fantastic flavors home. I bought a jar of goose fat (sounds gross, or at the very least weird, but goose fat roasted potatoes will change your life), mushroom pâté, a tin of hard-to-find Mexican chiles, an Italian “drunk” cheese (so named for its red wine crust), a container of roasted zucchini hummus, and a rustic loaf of bread. Together with the freshly made duck confit pasta Clara picked up, we pulled together a marvelous late dinner — one which not even an exploding bottle of truffle oil vinegar could spoil.