Holidays Are for Eating

Easter eggs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Upside-down fennel cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s this thing we do in my family which is our way of letting each other know that one of us is in the way of the other. The key to understanding this action is that there are absolutely no words involved. Say, for instance, that I’m standing at the silverware drawer, putting away the knives and forks, and my mother needs a skillet from the cabinet that’s directly behind me. Instead of saying, “Excuse me, could I grab a skillet from the cabinet directly behind you,” she maneuvers me out of the way with her hip, grabs the skillet around the still open silverware drawer, and leaves me wondering what happened as I find myself four feet away from the drawer with a lonely spoon dangling from my fingers.

This is normal.

Imagine that times five hundred. This is Easter.

Holidays at my house revolve around food, which means that holidays at my house happen in the kitchen. This Easter, my four other family members plus Elisabeth, a German TA from Gettysburg College, swept through the kitchen in a psychotic, gyrating mess attempting to make a cohesive dinner appear. I was in charge of the menu–molasses and rum rubbed ham, roasted potatoes with caper butter and breadcrumbs, green beans, caramelized pearl onions and grapes, cheddar biscuits, and the coup-de-grace, fennel and lemon glazed cake (which, of course, my younger brothers wouldn’t eat, citing the cake’s “cabbage” content).

Being in charge of Easter is an interesting change of pace for a former holiday peon. One year, you’re the kitchen multi-tool, you peel potatoes, trim green beans, and of course, put together deviled eggs which are always made and never eaten. The next, you’re telling someone else to wash and cut, boil water, and watch as your mother takes charge of the deviled eggs, while you now make sauces, crumble spices to just the right proportions, and prepare the ham. » Continue reading this post…

Bless Your Good Corn Bread (a post by Josh): Aunt Sarah’s Fudge

It’s funny how, despite my multiple heritages, I claim certain aspects more. For example – I claim my Polish heritage more than anything else. But when asked where I’m from in the States, I say the South nine times out of ten.

It is true, I am from the South. I was born in Virginia and now live in North Carolina. But for my more formative years (ages 4 – 18) I lived in New York. I guess my nomadic lifestyle has allowed me to claim the best of either of the worlds.

Easter is the perfect example of my picking and choosing of my heritages. When it comes to Easter, I think of two things: chocolate and ham. Those years I was a vegetarian, I would think: chocolate and yam. Almost ham, but not quite. It’s a joke, roll with it.

As far as the foods though, I claim Southern pride when it comes to chocolate. My grandma’s fudge is pride-worthy. And with ham, or yams for that matter, I go with my Northern grandma and her honied ham and candied yams.

During my last visit to Gretna, Virginia – the home of my dad’s grandparents – I found my grandma’s secret for her devilish fudge: A cookbook from 1939 entitled: The Southern Cook Book of Fine Old Dixie Recipes (a cook book she’s had since they were married.)

This cookbook is a rare find: wooden panels serve as the cover, red yarn as the bindings and pages that don’t adhere to consecutive numbering (page 46 is followed by the index, the title page preceded by page 8).

In addition to the lyrics from antebellum South that border on racist (“Carry dat load on your head, De Lord will bless your good corn bread,” “I’s got a girl in Afriky, She’s az purty az can be”) and recipes that make 1200 gallons of Burgoo, I found my grandma’s recipe for fudge on page 46 (found at the front of the book). » Continue reading this post…

Rouge Paris (a post by Josh): Red Cabbage with Garlic & Sriracha

Sometimes certain smells rip me back to a particular past. If I smell this one perfume, I’m back in my elementary school, walking through a hallway doorway, on my way to 5th grade graduation. Sometimes, this happens with foods too. If I see a large head of cabbage, cut in half displaying the white and purple labyrinth – I am back in the Marais, waiting in line for my second falafel in two days.

If you’ve never been to Paris before, picture this for me – small streets framed with bright white, red, yellow, green and blue door fronts. Hundreds of people packing them on a Sunday afternoon. A cold chill is in the air, so people hunch a bit, and talk louder than Paris normally permits. Groups are stationed as obstacles for the moving, waiting for Ruggelach, shawarma, or falafel and a warm shelter for ten minutes. This is the Marais, “the swamp,” “the fourth,” or the Jewish section of Paris.

Walking in the Marais my first time, I was overtaken by the boisterousness of the store owners ringing people into their shops in French, Italian and English. After we gave a few of their walking advertisements the cold shoulder, my friend ushered me to the corner falafel shop. It’s the one with the red awning, across the sidewalk from the bakery that has “the best Ruggelach in town” and a block from the main road, taking you off to the Seine.

We went inside to get our four euro falafel, then back into the biting cold to wait for the assembly line. Within five minutes, I was holding the epitome of the Marais’ Cuisine – a warmed pita stuffed with chickpea fritters, cucumber salad, tzatziki sauce, garlic, a tomato-chili salsa, and at the bottom, the warm, red cabbage. » Continue reading this post…

Space vs. Taste – What Makes a Coffee Shop?

Starbucks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The best cup of coffee I ever had was in a coffee shop on Lygon Street, in Melbourne, Australia. That cappuccino, rich, strong, and smooth, convinced me that Lygon, where the Italian cafés and restaurants were located, would become the perfect place to find a coffee shop in which I could both work and happily feed my caffeine addiction. So I started looking for the perfect place – somewhere with good coffee, tables big enough to hold my laptop and books, outlets, and maybe even an upstairs or back room where people sat and worked in silent solidarity. I wanted a blend of socializing and working, but in Australia, the cafés I found were not work-friendly. Most of the customers were engaged in conversation at the rickety, round tables with the capacity for a coffee cup or two, no one had a laptop (not to mention that there were absolutely no outlets), and the lighting inside was dim.

As the search for the perfect coffee shop on Lygon Street became an increasingly frantic journey, I found myself frequently ending a futile morning of searching at Starbucks. This was particularly frustrating, because not only was the coffee worse than at the cafés along Lygon – where every cappuccino I ordered had a heart drawn into the foam and the espresso was strong but not bitter–but the coffee was exponentially more expensive. Whereas I could get a delicious cup for around $2 anywhere else, at Starbucks I paid close to $6 for the exact same burnt and bitter coffee I could buy back in the States. But Starbucks had what I needed, an expansive upstairs area where students sat and studied, outlets for my laptop, and good lighting.

Oh! the irony of having found the most delicious coffee in the world but not served in the space that I needed. » Continue reading this post…

The Word Buffet Doesn’t Translate (a post by Josh)

What they don’t tell you – when you are boarding the plane to Italy – is that your kitchen may be smaller than your bathroom.

But they do tell you a whole bunch of things that sound amazing, almost too amazing to be real. Like markets every day. No pesticides on the produce. Simple but delicious food. Beautiful people. Ground-breaking art. Breath-taking cities. Cheap travel.

By this point in the schpeal, I started to not believe a word they were saying.

But let me tell you that it’s about 90% true. That other 10% is just for wiggle room. Italy became my haven. Before I left, I tried to prepare myself for some culture shock, writing a mini-recipe for an ideal day in my life:

1. Run
2. Cook something
3. Go to a market
4. Have a good conversation
5. Devour

If I followed these steps, I would have a great day, I thought. And, well, Italy was the perfect “baking dish,” if I’m trying to extend this metaphor. My day in Italy typically consisted of a run, a cappuccino, a walk to the market for fruit, veggies, and cheese, studio time, a nap, a walk to the grocery store in historic Florence, cooking in my makeshift kitchen for two hours and eating for three.

Or we’d go out to eat two times in one night – at 7:30 and 11pm.

The 7:30 meal was my favorite, called the apperitivo. It’s not a meal by most Italian’s standards, rather an entire two hours dedicated to whetting your appetite with drinks and a buffet. This meal is also not your typical tourist meal – no pictures on the menu or English options – but more of a time for locals to hang out. And they happened all over. I found my favorite two cafes that served apperitivos by the end of my time in Florence. » Continue reading this post…

Drink Me, Mr. Morning (a post by Josh)

Why do I think so much about the morning and breakfast? Maybe because it’s a fresh start to a day, a clean slate, or maybe it’s just because. Who knows.

Speaking about Breakfast, oh blog partner, I don’t think I could go a morning without at least thinking about coffee. That doesn’t mean I have to have coffee, I just think about it. If I’m at home, my morning routine almost always consists of washing my face, brushing my teeth, contemplating what I’m going to have or make for breakfast, emptying yesterday’s filter full of coffee grounds and either setting up for a new pot of coffee, thinking about setting up a new pot of coffee, or going to the local coffee shop. No matter what, I have two or three cups of coffee in the morning. If I’m in the backcountry, hiking around in the woods, when 8am rolls around I will always be hankering for some deep roasted, milky coffee.

I haven’t decided if this is what addiction is, but I still like to think of it as a choice. Coffee doesn’t quite control me yet, I still control my urges. I think.

In terms of coffee tasting, I guess I’m not quite all that grown up yet. I don’t think I could tell you if the taste starts out with a floral aroma followed by a tractor trailer smokiness and followed by honey roasted peanuts. I can tell you that I like dark roasts more than light. I like coffee houses more than Starbucks. I can also say that I always amble on over to the shade-grown organic coffee section of my grocery store. All of these things are important to me in a coffee. If it’s Magnolia Blend, Mocha-Java or Deep Disco, I’m usually into the taste of coffee. » Continue reading this post…

A(nother) Moveable Feast

Tacos with lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have been to the taco truck four times in the last seven days, and I just can’t seem to get enough. Set squat in the middle of the Citgo parking lot, the taco truck doesn’t look like much. Its whitewashed walls are stained with cooking smoke and the menu scrawled in magic marker is just barely legible. But out of that trailer, hitched to the back of a pickup truck, drift the most magical smells of lime, sizzling meat, and roasting jalapeños. One woman is responsible for all of this, simultaneously taking orders, assembling tacos, and pressing fresh corn tortillas as she whisks her way around the small insides of the truck.

Let me preface my enthusiastic endorsement of the taco truck by saying this. I do not like Mexican food. I will almost always pick somewhere else over the kind of Mexican restaurant where one dish is indistinguishable from another, where every plate is a variation on the theme of refried beans, rice, meat wrapped in tortilla and smothered in iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. If this what you like, don’t expect it from the taco truck.

There aren’t many options – eight types of tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and hamburgers – but even still, I’ve never known anyone to eat anything but the tacos. These are served simply, in a Styrofoam box lined with aluminum foil, garnished with queso and crema, and served with a roasted jalapeño, lime wedge, and salsa verde.

The menu (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m not sure if I can do justice to the fiery, flavorful taste of a taco truck taco. Although they’re so small you can finish one in three bites, those pungent bundles pack a big punch. The basis for each of the tacos is meat; there’s beef, chicken, chorizo, tongue, and barbeque, among a few other options that my extremely limited Spanish cannot decipher–pastor, campechanos, chicharron–and this is really the heart of the tacos. » Continue reading this post…

Remember the Radish

A bunch of radishes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have just one question. What happened to radishes?

You haven’t thought about radishes for years. They belong to the arsenal of easy vegetables to grow when you’re in fourth grade and learning about gardens and seeds and sex life of plants. After your science class munches those crunchy, rosy bundles, you forget about them completely until one day, you’re walking through the grocery store on a produce kick and wonder what a radish actually tastes like. You remember not being particularly fond of them back in fourth grade, but you have no idea why. Out of curiosity, you buy a bunch. And bam! They’re delicious! You can’t stop eating them! They’re crisp, with the consistency of a water chestnut, but a cleaner taste, and an almost peppery bite.

Ok, so maybe that’s very specifically my relationship to radishes, but I’m willing to guess it’s similar to other people’s as well. If radishes are so good, why are they so easily overlooked? The reason, sadly, could lie with their lack of versatility. Radishes are much better cold than cooked, and are quick to disregard since a bunch bought to chuck in a salad can’t later be made into a sauce or soup. They’re a pretty useless vegetable. They’re hard to cut, hard to use, and hard to remember.

And while radishes make great snacks on their own and are good for you to boot, with lots of folic acid, potassium, ascorbic acid, and vitamin B6, when it comes to recipes, options are limited. It looks like salad, salad, and more salad is the fate for almost all radishes. If the radish is lucky, it may end up in a relish or salsa, but mostly – it’s salad.

Sigh, said the radish.

Lovely radishes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The conclusion is sad – but not hopeless. Radishes are, after all, good as snacks and good in salads. » Continue reading this post…