September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
Yesterday in the late afternoon, I put on a sweatshirt and leggings and my Frye boots and walked the five minutes to Cortland Avenue, our little bustling main street in our little town of a neighborhood within the big city. It had warmed up over the course of the day, but now the fog was coming back in, descending on the valley from Twin Peaks across the way. It was a pretty simple errand: We were out of milk after I made ice cream, and I needed to return a movie to the neighborhood video store.
But as I made the turn onto the last side street, and dunked under a couple of branches of hanging vines with bright violet flowers, I noticed that the sense of adventure was gone. Nothing was exciting, majestic, romantic or exhilarating. There was just the moment when I was standing at the top of the stairs, looking out over the rooftops, with my view blurred white, when the world seemed to stand still. The smile and nod from the driver of the car just passing by. The pink peonies hiding behind an unruly tree streetside. The guy at the video embarrassing a high school girl at checkout by telling her how much she is starting to look like her older sister. The dry, crispy grass at the top of the hill, where, if you look closely at the very peak, by the fence around the radio transmitter, you’ll find opened condom packages and broken beer bottles. But if you sit up there in the dark, as we always did at least once every summer, you can see the Bay on all three sides and the light outline of Mission Street as it stretches across the city.
Why am I saying all of this? Because I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day about people living in San Francisco actually hating the city that really didn’t seem to get the city quite right. That’s not exactly an uncommon thing these days unfortunately — the Chronicle not exactly getting things right. Because in the midst of the people arguing that they had to leave the city to escape the trashiness, the odors that permeate certain alleys, and the skyrocketing housing prices, people arguing that the city has lost its soul, it’s still there. And it’s still here every time I come home. And it’s not going anywhere. What’s gone is opening up the Sunday issue of the Chronicle straight to the Food section and pouring over the photos with a mug of hot chocolate on the couch because that kind of journalism doesn’t seem to exist anymore. What’s gone is sitting at the counter of the neighborhood bakeshop and eating croissants that weren’t quite right and were just a wee bit heavy because now there’s a new bakery two blocks away with the perfect buttery flakes. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the Twitterverse of this new artisan chocolate truffle and that new farm-to-table restaurant, but it doesn’t quite compare to having sticky fingers from strawberry jam and the smell of buttermilk scones wafting through the house in the morning. It doesn’t quite compare to the tourist who craned his neck at the farmers market last weekend at the plate I was holding for my brother, demanding to know what it was. “It’s a crab cake sandwich,” I replied. “The one I’ve eaten every Saturday morning ever since I can remember.”
I followed this recipe for two (huge) loaves of challah to a tee. This is an oil-based version of the bread, I think next time I will try the milk-based version, which should give a richer, chewy crumb.
Le petit pain perdu
September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Le pain perdu. I love that name. The lost bread. What a wonderful way of thinking about those last slices of bread, or the end chunks, that sit on the kitchen counter for days on end until someone finally decides to chuck them in the trash. I’ve been eating a lot of bread these days; it is one thing you can always find in France. I eat it mostly alongside salads of arugula, tomatoes and chèvre for dinner and then smeared liberally with Nutella at all times of the day. Long white bagettes with their crunchy exterior, light, eggy yellow circles of brioche bread, perfect for pulling apart piece by piece, and hearty loaves of country pain aux noix from the Saturday marché. Eventually this afternoon, I decided I ought to stop my Nutella consumption and put the remainder of my pain aux noix to a better use. Not the Nutella is not a perfectly acceptable use for any kind of bread. All the time. In fact, it is much better than simply acceptable.
But seeing as I was finally sitting in my apartment and I had finally run out of things to write about, I figured I might as well try out this new toaster oven, which many of you know is now my sole means of baking anything. I have spent the weekend walking around the city without a map and sitting in parks and cafes writing in my travel journal and then blogging about my adventures. I have been seeing a lot of food, though I can’t say I have achieved much variety in my eating habits, which have been hampered by my Nutella obsession (see above). Since I have been out of the kitchen quite a bit and hitting the streets, a lot of my writing and pictures reflect that and can be found over at my new blog Un Je Ne Sais Quoi.
But back to the toaster oven. I bought the cutest little loaf pans the other day and I thought a little bread pudding was the perfect occasion for using them. Kind of like finding and reshaping the bread that has been lost. I consulted a couple recipes for bread pudding, including this one by Deb at Smitten Kitchen for raisin-studded apple bread pudding and one in a new cookbook I bought in Paris, Petites Cocottes. But in the end, I decided to just go with whatever felt right. The result was little loafs of pain perdu, soaked liberally in custard, studded with apples and topped with a little — you guessed it! — Nutella. I guess new habits die hard. I ate one for dinner, with a little coffee spoon, alongside a cup of black current tea.
Say goodbye to home: Whole grain breads
June 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
Awhile ago I mentioned that my family had started baking our own bread. While I was home we made a couple loaves a week, the first being a molasses rye bread and the second a honey whole-wheat walnut bread. I can now honestly say that I do not think I will ever be scared of yeast again. It’s like a baby. Set it in a bowl with a little warm water and a sugar to consume and it will grow, flourish, and make beautiful, tall loaves of bread. To be eaten right out of the oven, still warm and slathered in butter. Bread is one of those wonderful foods whose smell just radiates the feeling of being home. I think it will be the first thing I make in my new house in Washington D.C. (I just moved in two days ago!).