March 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
I love the bread basket they bring you when you go out to eat at a restaurant. My favorite restaurants tend to be the ones with particularly excellent bread baskets. At Domicin, my favorite wine bar in Stillwater, they bring you a plate with slices of ciabatta bread and a little dish of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I know it sounds standard, but I’ve been to some places where the bread basket is just awful—or worse—nonexistant! Some places have the nerve to make you pay extra!
One of the best bread baskets I’ve ever tasted was from Spoon River in Minneapolis. It was a potato boule with real chunks of sliced fingerling potato in the bread. I was impressed, and when I said so to the server, she told me the bread came from none other than my favorite bakery for European-style bread in the Twin Cities (what an intro). Behold: Rustica. Ever since I tasted a perfectly flakey croissant from Rustica a few years ago, I was hooked. Now, as a disclaimer, I haven’t tasted the boules and loaves of bread from all of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s bakeries, but I have always been very, very happy with the bread I’ve found at Rustica.
It’s just as good as the baguettes I’d buy everyday in France. Julia Child was right—it’s not so easy to reproduce that incredible chemistry that France, and Europe at large, churns out morning after morning. So much of our bread here just doesn’t have that thick, impermeable crust. It’s all about that good crust.
Well, this weekend, I bought a loaf of ciabatta bread from Rustica whose crust I was particularly smitten with. It was like armor. Rhino bread. Bread chain-mail. Protecting that spongy-soft interior, so airy and light. Delicious to eat. Difficult to draw: My friend, Anna has talked to me about ciabatta bread before. The challenge of baking it. She speaks not from experience, but as an observer. Her husband has taken on the challenge of baking good bread, and from the sounds of it—it takes some practice. I’ve proclaimed on numerous occasions that I want to do this: bake my own bread. However…for want of time, I’m satisfied to buy a boule and carry it across the parking lot to my car.
Now, I don’t mean to keep waxing poetic on that crust, but man… look at this: There’s something to having a thick crust. A strong conviction. An exterior that takes effort to crack. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately, and most of the poets I’ve read have alluded to something I’ve always believed: when you’re in a solid relationship, or a true friendship with someone, you let them see that spongy-center part of you. In this way, you become vulnerable, but the relationship becomes more valuable.
It’s not the same to be a Wonder-Bread-kind of person, where you are always ready to pour your heart out, share your secrets, and open up. No—it’s far better to have that tough crust. Not just any Average Joe will buy that bread, and not just any Average Joe will be able to get beyond the crust. I know I’ve entered into that oftentimes foggy Land of Metaphor, but I think most of you will get what I’m trying to say. I’m talking about breaking bread with people that matter most to you, having conviction enough not to live your life like a loaf of Wonder Bread and—having the good taste to buy quality European-style bread for your own table. Here’s to tough exteriors and sweet interiors.
March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
People say that you don’t need an occasion to celebrate. Your waitress will sell you another cocktail and say you deserve it. People write, “Happy Tuesday,” or Wednesday, or whatever, at the close of an e-mail, making the day seem special. So it would appear that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for spontaneous celebration. But how often do people actually make good on holidays that aren’t mainstream? Hm?
Me, I love to celebrate (who doesn’t), but I’ve always felt like I need a reason to do so. Granted, that reason can be totally ridiculous, but as long as there is a reason, it makes sense to me and actually makes me even more enthused. So, last Monday, it was National Cereal Day (according to Mr. Breakfast) so I ate a gigantic bowl of Cheerios with bananas and almond milk for breakfast. This Thursday, I will drink a Guiness and eat potatoes in some form. And today? Today I eat pie. It is, of course, March 14th today. Birthday of Einstein. Middle of March. And the beginning digits of pi, the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Ms. Podowski taught me that. So that’s pi for you.
And here’s pie to me: I knew I wanted to celebrate Pi Day. What I wasn’t sure about was which flavor I ought to get. I drove to Joseph’s in Stillwater (a family restaurant known for their legendary pies). I knew I’d come to the right place when the gentleman behind the desk confirmed that he was aware of Pi Day. (He should’ve been more excited though. I mean, come on. Pi Day. Pi Day. Brilliant.) The gentleman advised me to get the chocolate caramel pie, which did look really exceptional. However, it had a cream cheese filling, so, technically, I think it’s cheesecake in pie’s clothing. I wanted a classic pie. Well—-if that’s what I wanted, I told myself, I better just get classic, all American apple pie. So that’s just what I did.
I took it back to the house, put the pie on a plate, and because the giddy happiness and kid-like joy from celebrating a dessert/math holiday had gone to my head, I did a kind of silly thing: I took a few portraits.
Here is apple pie with a backdrop of royal purple wallpaper: Here is apple pie, plain and simple, traversing the hardwood floor: And here is apple pie: classically reclining in perfect afternoon light: Ohhh, what can I say? I get a little carried away when I’m allowed to celebrate something obscure and food-related. Last year I got my friends in Montauban all psyched to celebrate. There were not 2, not 3, not even 4, but 5! Five pies on my kitchen table to honor pi. We totally pigged out. I made the famous apple and gruyère cheese pie from the amazing TV series “Pushing Daisies”: Graham made this savory steak pie: Becky made another savory pie with chicken: Tanya made banoffy pie (Wow, for anyone who’s never tasted this: run, don’t walk, ok?): And Libby’s pie was a chocolate pudding pie in a cookie crust that never really gelled. We ate hers with spoons like it was soup. The best chocolate pie soup I’ve ever had. So here’s to celebrating miscellaneous food holidays, everyone. It just makes so much sense. Why not? You know? I don’t think it takes much arm-twisting to convince most people they ought to eat pie though. Well, I hope most of you did, or will some time in the near future. Happy Pi Day!