Notes to Self: Things to Eat

Mangeoire ChickenMy brother just traveled to the other side of the country. I asked him where he was taken to eat. He sent me the website of a fabulous seafood restaurant, fresh, sustainable, the whole deal. I asked him what he thought. He told me that he would have been just as happy with pizza. At the time, I was scanning a year-old copy of Saveur magazine, making sure I hadn’t missed anything during a dozen previous scans. Notes to myself, reminders of what I should make a point of eating in the near future:

  • Linguini with White Clam Sauce (first choice) or Penne Bolognese (second) at Bamote’s, 32 Withers Street, Brooklyn). The restaurant opened in 1900, so it’s worth a trip to Williamsburg just to take a look.
  • Little Arabia in Anaheim, next time I’m out in L.A. The places I need to remember are Mamounia (1829 West Katella Avenue), for the fragrant lamb stew with saffron and ginger; a Lebanese bakery called Forn Al Hara (512 South Brookhurst Street) for semolina cookies with date filling and the flatbreads flavored with labneh (yoghurt) and with za’atar (herbs), and Nara Bistro for the wish all saraya “a heavenly Lebanese bread pudding.” Lots more to taste, see, do, buy.
  • Next time I am in a Mexican grocery store, I should try to find Topo Chico, an especially pure mineral water slightly salty, from a volcanic source in Monterrey Mexico.
  • Next time I’m in Manhattan, I’ll head to La Mangeoire, 1008 Second Avenue, and order the roast chicken. Thyme and garlic on the outside, soy sauce and butter on the inside. It’s supposed to be delicious. If you click on the roast chicken on the top of the page, you’ll see La Mangeoire’s website.
  • Also in Manhattan, Tarte Flambée done the way its made in Alsace: with creme fraiche, sliced onions and sliced bacon, blasted in a very hot oven until the whole top caramelizes. The place: The Bar Room at the Modern (9 West 53 St. Manhattan).
  • It’s worth another trip to Montreal to sample the fresh smoked meats, but the Mile End Delicatessen is another of those NYC places that I must visit. Located at 97A Hoyt Street, it’s the Montreal version of brisket, “steamed, hand-sliced and shingled onto mustard-moistened rye” (I’ll take mine sans moutarde.) The place is a big hit, complete with a second outlet (53 Bond Street) and published a cookbook.
  • Another year goes by, and I’m not in Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year, but I sure want to be. The magazine has a four-page spread “bursting with colorful New Year’s treats” I want to taste “savory turnip cakes flecked with shredded cured pork, dried shrimp and mushroom” and I want to share a hot pot of “vegetables and meats swimming in a savory broth,” “sumptuous dumplings filled with minced pork and shrimp crowned with the highly prized shellfish, abalone. I want somebody to invite me to their apartment and prepare hung you two for me: “pink-tinged savory dumplings…stuffed with a sticky filling of rice, dried shrimp, mushrooms, and crunchy ground peanuts.” They’re shaped like a peach, which “symbolizes longevity.”
  • Oh, I could be so happy in Norway—we’ve been watching Lilyhammer on Netflix, so Norway is much on our minds—because I want to taste the salmon covered in fresh greens that caught my eye in a spread with two dozen pictures of fresh farms, tiny pancakes, waterfalls, field mushrooms, raspberries, asparagus and mussels, all so fresh they leap off the page.

Let my brother have his pizza (he has taken me to places where the pizza is very, very good). Me, I’m off to Norway and Hong Kong, at least in my food dreams. And now, I’ve got another list of places to eat, and you do, too. But I’m also reminded that I was browsing the January-February 2013 edition of Saveur, and the current issue will make my list even longer.

Fine with me.

Did somebody say “Giverny?”

I just stumbled onto a cache of more than 600 recent photos of Giverny, Monet’s home, surrounding town, delicious-looking French desserts, and watercolors. Not a bad way to end the day. Thought you would enjoy a look, in particular as an accompaniment to the previous blog post about this magical place.

Be sure to browse not only the photo collection but also the Paris Breakfasts blog, about which I will write a great deal at some point in the future.

Have fun!


Goodbye, Columbus

Juan Ponce de León discovered "America" but Columbus gets the credit!

Juan Ponce de León discovered “America” but Columbus gets the credit!

(Hello, Ponce de León. What a story you have to tell! Those who are impatient may scroll down about 2/3 to the part I’ve marked in red white (grey, really) and blue.

It’s an odd story, one that brings tomatoes to Italy,, and eventually celebrates a favorite son for something he didn’t do.

You know that the Vikings first showed up in what is now North America. That happened about a thousand years ago. Some Vikings stayed for awhile, started families, and settlements.  The first child of European descent born on these shores was probably named “Snoori,” a name I’ve always liked.

For several thousand years before the Vikings visited, there were natives in North America and South America. They probably arrived, well, by taking the l-o-n-g way around, on foot and on animal, working their way up from Africa, then through Asia, and across the land bridge into what is now Alaska. Perhaps they arrived in other ways, but that seems less likely because boats were small and unsophisticated, and oceans were large and dangerous to navigate.

During the 1400s, Europeans were becoming rich by trading goods found in Asia. Mostly, these goods traveled on the Silk Roads, a series of trade routes that were subject to piracy, tribal feuds, and every kind of evil deed. There were all sorts of theories about the best way to travel not by land, but by sea. Nobody was particularly frightened about falling off the earth; the idea that the world was round, and that circumnavigation was possible was accepted long before Columbus showed up. (It’s one of the earliest urban legends, utter nonsense promoted in fanciful children’s books for a time.)

Columbus was an entrepreneur in search of capital for his new enterprise–put together half the necessary funds, and found the rest by sweet-talking King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. They promised him a cut of the riches, and a ridiculous title, Emperor of the Ocean Seas. And they agreed to provide three ships. All for the glory of Spain, and the gold that everyone believed he would find. Make no mistake: it was all about the gold.

He took a wrong turn.

He was heading for what he believed was Japan, or, at least, Asia. Instead, he found an island in what is now the Caribbean Sea. (Certainly, Columbus Day should not be celebrated as a milestone in navigation history.)

Remember: Columbus was an entrepreneur. Perhaps it is that spirit that we should celebrate on Columbus Day. Certainly, there are very good reasons not to celebrate him at all, unless, of course, you share a very dark view of America and what it represents to the world.

Columbus kept a diary. Here, he writes about the native people, the Taino or Arawak people who greeted his crew with curiosity and apparent kindness.

They are very simple and honest and exceedingly liberal with all they have, none of them refusing anything he may possess if he is asked for it. They exhibit great love toward all others in preference to themselves.”

You’ll recall the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria–the three ships provided by Spain for the first voyage. The Pinta’s captain defied Columbus’ orders, and abandoned the fleet. The Santa Maria was destroyed on a reef. Columbus high-tailed it back to Spain on the Nina, grabbing a bit of gold, kidnapping some natives. A second voyage was authorized, this time with the specific intention of becoming rich with gold. The Taino people were instructed, in no uncertain terms, to FIND THE GOLD.

Dressed in Taino garb and makeup, two contemporary Dominican girls demonstrate that these were real people with families and traditions. Each year, we celebrate an American hero who killed most of the Taino people.

Dressed in Taino garb and makeup, two contemporary Dominican girls demonstrate that these were real people with families and traditions. Each year, we celebrate an American hero who killed most of the Taino people.

Gold was not to be found. Columbus treated the Taino severely. He cut off their hands (Happy Columbus Day!)

Third Voyage. This time, a Priest named Bartolomé de las Casas joined, and kept a diary. It’s filled with documentation, generally considered reliable, about Columbus’ treatment of the natives: forced labor, brutality, horrific violence against children, babies being murdered by swinging them against trees or feeding them to dogs. From the Priest’s diary:

The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades”, wrote Las Casas. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write”

We celebrate Columbus Day because it was the beginning of the new world. In a twisted way, this is apt: the United States is the nation that was settled, mostly, by killing the natives who lived in this land. Those who believe that there is a greater reason for the celebration, an uplifting of humankind, the initiation of an era of discovery should probably consider where Mr. Columbus went, and did not go. No account brings Columbus into what is now the U.S.A. He traveled to several Caribbean Islands, notably Hispaniola (now, Haiti and the Dominican Republic,

Who discovered “America?” That’s a very challenging question. Let’s rephrase it: “Who discovered the United States of America” would trap out Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.

The earliest answer would seem to be the people who crossed Bernicia, the land bridge into Alaska around 16,000 BCE (before current era). Focusing only on the lower 48, there’s evidence dating back to about 13,000 BCE, known as the Clovis Sites.

The Vikings showed up, but probably not in what becomes the U.S.A. Sadly, our early attempts to invade, annex, or build a new country with friends nearby all failed, so Canada become a separate nation. After that, several hundred years (the Dark Ages) go by without much interest in or capability to explore, pretty much until Columbus and his kind.

Juan Ponce de León traveled with Columbus on his second voyage. He was a volunteer, a gentleman from a noble family. There were 200 such gentlemen.

For your reference, here's a map showing Hispaniola (currently occupied by Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, and nearby Florida.

For your reference, here’s a map showing Hispaniola (currently occupied by Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, and nearby Florida.

Columbus and his entourage apparently visited Borinquen, which we now call Puerto Rico. (In fact, when Puerto Rico finally becomes a U.S. state, the Columbus legend will come true: in that case, he would have been the explorer who discovered what become the United States of America. [For those who wish to make a case that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., so technically this is true today, I ask why, if Puerto Rico plays such an important role in American History, it has not been invited to join the club.)

In any case, as a result of his military leadership (de León was involved in a notable native massacre), he become Governor of the Spanish territory. Natives told him of a land to the northwest, a land that could be reached by “crossing many rivers’. He told the King, but remained as Governor until he lost out in a tussle with–who else–the son of Christopher Columbus, who was legally enforcing his father’s rights. Eventually, the King stopped the political nastiness, and after de León returned to Spain, he outfitted three ships and headed for some unexplored lands. He found what is now Florida on April 2, 1513.

Every year, we celebrate Columbus Day in the USA. Many of our Spanish-speaking neighbors in the western hemisphere celebrate Día de la Raza instead; it is, in many places, a celebration of the race, not Columbus the explorer.

Somehow, on April 2, 2013 — exactly 500 years after the first European explorer set foot on what is now a U.S. state, the first moment when Europeans visited the  part of the New World that became our nation–we did nothing.

Next Spring, Near Paris

Start saving your money. Next May, go to Paris. Leave early on the morning–there’s an 820AM from Paris’s Saint-Lazare Station to Vernon, and then, there’s the taxi. The train arrives at 9:05AM at Vernon, and the cab will get you to the front entrance of Monet’s home and gardens by about 9:15AM. You want to arrive early, perhaps catch the mist rising from the water garden, perhaps take a few pictures or just gaze before the crowds populate every view. (Get there earlier, if you can; it’s always best to arrive first-in-line here.)


Summer is ending. There is autumn color: the purples and luminous yellows, the garish reds and the beginnings of orange trees reflected in the water. But there is nothing like spring.

In 1883, Claude Monet settled in Giverny, a village fifty miles outside paris. He rented a house with an orchard, the future Clos Normand, the flower garden at the front of the house that broke with the traditional idea of a pleasure garden.

9781419709609So begins the tale, told mostly in large, vivacious images, of Claude Monet’s extraordinary gardens (and home), told with love and with style through Jean-Pierre Gilson’s photographs, with text by Dominique Lobstein. Published by Abrams–one of the best in the world at this type of book, the visual tour begins, as it should , in the purple haze and tangled wisteria branches hanging over the famous Japanese bridge. The photograph is subdued; there are no bright colors yet. On the next two-page spread, there are brightly–colored bushes and their quiet reflections, house peeking out of the background behind some trees. Flip to the next of these several two-page spreads and it’s a riot of roses, glowing in the sun, red, pink, nearly white, braced by green leaves so dark and sometimes so nearly translucent, bold as can be. The text begins.

And on the next spread, so does spring. After the prelude, spring commences with a field of pink tulips, clean green fences and stair rails, dark green-blue leaves, and the stunning-but-simple house with its own pink facade and blue-green shutters. The effect is stunning, as if in a painting–and here, that’s precisely the effect that the master painter intended. To be at Giverny is to live inside a Monet painting, at least for a morning.

It’s not all cluttered with noisy flowers and oh-so-subtle impressionist gardening. “Monet wanted a garden that could ‘breathe’ with flowers, bushes and an open vista…” so he removed the many trees from the old orchard, and replaced them with Japanese cherry trees that yield, at least for a brief time in the spring, lighter-than-air blossoms, punctuated, here and there, as in any number of his paintings, with spots of bright color; here, red and purple tulips.

I wish I knew the name of every flower (and I wish the author’s captions included this information!). The phenomenal two-page spread showing yellow towers of flowers two stories high, dappled with pink-and-purple irises, golden yellow somethings (frustrated…), and it’s followed by several more. (I want to it to be spring today, and I want to go to Giverny tomorrow.)

And then, when your head is beginning to explode because Monet was such a genius, there’s a pair of small green rowboats, a field of happy daffodils, and in the distance, the Japanese bridge that he painted so often. Here, with a less exhausting spectrum, it’s possible to rest and reflect, and observe. The yellowy green of the locust leaves in contrast with the deep green of the background trees–with just a hint of small violet flowers to set the counterpoint.

The flighty, wavy petals of mauve tulips surprise me every time I see them. Here, they’re pictured with the famous lily pad pond in the fuzzy distance, and the sharp, sun-dappled orange wallflowers in the foreground. Another two-page spread, one of my favorite two-page spreads in the book.

Just checking–I’m not even half way through the book. Some surreal lily pad images–two look as though they were made for a science fiction film, but they are real–and then, with a page turn, there are paths of dry ochre leaves on the ground, paths with strong color of fall, not spring. The quiet beauty of barren trees and cool skies, the yellowing willow and golden hour light, it’s bittersweet. Moreso because the last set of images show the house with shutters now closed tight.

But then, we get to go inside. A row of old copper pans artfully hung in front of a blue-and-turquoise tiled wall with cabinets. A yellow dining room whose walls are filled with Japanese prints (Monet collected them, and they are a highlight of every Giverny tour, but few people spend the time to look at them as closely as the artist once did). It’s a classy old country home, less formal than most. And then, there’s a small staircase leading down to a room with Persian carpets on the floor and a whole lot of miscellaneous Monet paintings almost haphazardly scattered on the walls. It’s his studio.

The book closes with snow. Which means spring is coming again. Soon.

Don’t Take Your Work Too Seriously

That’s one of the six creative tips offered by Argentine artist Leandro Erlich in a wonderful, small New York Times article. The others are equally good advice, especially for creative professionals.

It’s all about the picture below, provided to The New York Times by Gar Powell-Evans, courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery. Look closely and you’ll understand what it’s all about.


Preparing for Chocolate

So here’s my list:

  • Dick Taylor
  • Amano
  • Divine
  • Moonstruck
  • Lake Champlain
  • Valrhona
  • Theo
  • Vosges
  • Jomart
  • John Kira’s
  • Maison Bouche

Those are the high-end chocolates that will become the basis for a future article about the phenomenal growth of high-end chocolates. My question to you: what else should be on this list? Which high-end chocolate bars have I missed–the ones that you see a little too often at Zabar’s, Fairway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Wegman’s, and other foodie emporia.

While you’re munching on that question (which I hope you will answer by adding a comment below), I suppose you’ll want to know that the third edition of the very popular book, The True History of Chocolate, has been published. Written by Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe, it’s been republished since the mid-1990s.


According to the authors, “cocao is singularly difficult to grow. With few exceptions, it refuses to bear fruit outside a band 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator. Nor is it happy within this band of tropics if the altitude is so high as to result in temperatures that fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.”

I wish I could report that chocolate offers specific psychological or medical benefits, but the authors, whose research is extensive, discount these theories. Still, “some doctors claim it to be an antidepressant.”

As for the early days of chocolate, much of this history is related to the stories of the Maya and Aztec people, and the authors provide lavish accounts of their cultures, and the role of chocolate within those societies–very nearly 100 pages of information, stories, illustrations, and more.

I’ve always been skeptical of the phrase, “Columbus discovered America” but Columbus was, in fact, the very first European to encounter the cacao bean which was considered quite valuable by the natives. Apparently, in 1502, Columbus took a wrong turn, ended up near what we call Guanaja, and took possession of goods, including what Ferdinand Columbus called “almonds”–”They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price,” he wrote, “for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stopped to pick it up as if an eye had fallen.” As the authors ponder who might have been the very first European to actually taste chocolate, it seems certain that the first encounter was sometime in the first half of the 16 century, and that over the course of the next century, chocolate had become very popular among those in the Spanish court, most likely the result of many interactions with their New World explorations. Gradually, chocolate made its way into the noble houses of Italy and France, and eventually, England, where it was the most popular drink until the new hot beverage, coffee, took its place. Around 1700, both chocolate and coffee were routinely served in the coffee houses so despised by royalty because they were (probably quite rightly) as hotbeds of political conversation.

For most of its 28-century existence, chocolate was enjoyed as a hot beverage, and sometimes, as a cold one. It’s only recently that chocolate has been offered in its current form, a solid. The modern chocolate industry began in England with a Quaker entrepreneur named John Fry. They became quite rich as the sole supplier to her majesty’s navy, at the time a formidable force at the core of the British Empire. The rival: another Quaker entrepreneur named John Cadbury, who owned a coffee-and-tea shop in Birmingham. They served ” traditional chocolate drink” at the shop, eventually expanded their operation, and won the patronage of  Queen Victoria. Cadbury was an aggressive businessman, and a clever one. In 1868, Cadbury introduced the first “chocolate box,” decorated with “a painting of his young daughter Jessica holding a kitten in her arms.” Cadbury was also responsible for the first candy box specifically made for Valentine’s Day. All of this transpired in at the heart of England’s Victorian era. Bear in mind that the Quakers despised alcohol–so chocolate was quite the appropriate substitute. At about the same time, the Swiss chocolate industry takes shape with Mr. Lindt and later, Mr. Tobler (think: Toblerone) rising the level of quality ((this time, Swiss Calvinists). In the U.S., the chocolate entrepreneur was “pious Pennsylvania Mennonite” Milton Hershey who concerned himself with production efficiency (think: Henry Ford, a contemporary), and mass production.

So here we are today, and I am beginning to prepare for an article about the world’s best chocolate bars. One certain model will be Valrhona, a small Swiss company with just 150 employees that supplied the restaurant trade, but not consumers, with the some of the world’s finest chocolate. Their best? In the 1980s, it was called “Guanaja 1502″ and now, you know why.

Now that you know more than you may have wanted to know about chocolate, please lend a hand and comment on your favorites, especially those high-end bars that no reasonable person would buy or eat in quantity.

Let’s give unreasonable a try.

Valrhona? Just based upon this web advertisement, I'm sold. (And you?)

Valrhona? Just based upon this web advertisement, I’m sold. (And you?)

The Global Art Gallery

oil229SAbove, a lovely British landscape, described, in the words of the artist Rob Adams on his Painter’s Blog, as follows:

This is towards the end of the day on the charmingly named “Hogs Trough Hill”. The light was super, though once I stopped it was very cold! 20in by 12in.”

Here’s another picture by Rob, one that he likes very much, and I do, too.


I mention Rob, and his paintings, in part because I enjoyed my visit to his site and the art I found there, but also to note a remarkable phenomenon.

Rob’s site is filled with his work. Some of it is very, very good. Some of it, by his own admission, needs more time and attention, and yet, he is perfectly comfortable posting both the good and the not-great, along with comments that detail where he feels he fell short, what he intends to complete or rework later on.

In itself, this is a rather new way to think about the interactions between artists and their public. It’s very much like visiting an artist in his (or her) studio, and being allowed to see everything the artist has on hand, including works-in-progress, complete with extensive commentary. Rob is a good writer, too, and he often writes interesting essays about his work, some instructional, some musings, many quite interesting. So here we are, citizens of the world, with the newfound ability to visit art studios throughout the world, to gain insights from artists about their work, and, if we like, we can grab the occasional jpeg or png and use their work as digital wallpaper (with or without their knowledge or permission–a pitfall of the present system).

Some of Rob’s artwork is oil, a bit of it is acrylic, much of it sketchbook work from life drawing classes, and, to my delight, some of it is watercolor.

Water116SI have never met Rob, but he mentioned that he enjoys painting old church graveyards, even though nobody buys those paintings. That made me think about my role in all of this. A few hours ago, I did not know that Rob existed. I’ve enjoyed Rob’s portfolio this evening, and I liked this particular painting enough to show it to you, and to suggest that you explore the carousel of images available by clicking on the graveyard work. So here I am, promoting the efforts of an artist in a far off nation, and here you are, contemplating the way he gets the texture of the stones just right, how the light plays in the path and on the green grass, and maybe, just maybe, you will click on the image to see more of his work. Who knows, you might even buy one of his paintings.

We’ve all been at this internet thing for a good long while now. It never ceases to amaze me, the ways that we’re all connected, the ways in which we influence one another’s time and behavior via little more than a screen, a keyboard and some circuitry.

Rob, I wish I could paint half as well as you do. I learned a lot by looking at your paintings. And I will do so again, soon.

A Parisian History in Color

sennelier_couvertureIn Paris, on the Quai Voltaire, amidst antique dealers of the highest order, along the left bank of the Seine, directly across the river from the famous Louvre museum, there is a shop.

Sennelier-Interieur-In 1887, or, perhaps, 1888, the shop was nearly bankrupt. With the sale, former shop owner M. Prevost, makes dreams come true. The new owner, Gustave Sennelier, always hoped to own a shop where he could manufacture and sell his own artist’s pigments. And so, the shop became known by the sign visible to all of Paris, Sennelier: Couleurs Pour Artistes.

This was an especially exciting time to be selling colors and working with artists in Paris. The impressionists enjoyed their first successful group show in Paris in 1886.  Painters were experimenting with color and light, trying new formulas and new ideas, and often relied upon the good advice of the chemists who were emerging as colorists. (Previously, pigments were sold in pharmacies as a sideline; art supply stores were still a relatively new idea.) As chemistry and art intertwine, artists now regarded as legend were working professionals who purchased their supplies from Sennelier. Cezanne was one of many in Paris who frequented the shop; others included Pierre Bonnard, Robert Delauney, and Pablo Picasso.

Seeking new products and new opportunities, Sennelier’s pigments found popular use for batik (the pigmentation of decorative fabrics), painting on porcelain, and in new formulations for artists, including, for example, new oil pastels. “Picasso adopted it immediately. He asked for it in 48 colors of which–Picasso’s grey period required it–10 were shades of grey, a heresy in the age of colors.” Artists used the new oil pastels to start an oil painting, allowing the fluidity and ease of sketching onto the canvas. Then, the painting would be completed in a classical oil painting style.

facade-quai-GFThe Sennelier family has passed knowledge, chemistry, color sense and business sense from generation to generation. In a sense, the new book, Sennelier: A History in Color by Pascale Richard, is a family biography. As with the Parisian landscape, the family is part of a bolder story: the powerful relationship between science (chemistry) and a tremendous assortment of artistic accomplishments. The book is filled with full-page images of Jackson Pollack paintings and store shelves filled with pigments; photos of antique paint tubes and pastel drawings by Edgar Degas; spectacular old city scape photos of the old shop and inside the old lab and photos of the shop today, a place that hasn’t changed much in a century. If you are planning a visit to the Louvre, do find the time to cross the Seine, make the left turn, follow the classic old buildings until you reach number 3 Quai Voltaire. At the least, you will buy a notebook or a sketchbook (Picasso bought lots of them), and perhaps you will be persuaded to buy a set of Sennelier pastels, which are among the finest in the world, or oils or watercolors, or artist’s pads. You can buy some, or even most, of this merchandise in many U.S. art supply stores, but it’s not the same experience. There is magic in the old shop, magic that is so loving transported into book format.


Daniel Greene is one of my favorite artists. Click on the picture to explore his spectacular work.

It is a joy filled story: the idea of bringing Sennelier products to the U.S., the magic of those pastels in the hands of a great contemporary artist. Daniel Greene is such an artist, and his two-page spread of Manhattan’s Franklin Street subway station is a wonder. So, too, are the simple photos of the neatly-ordered tortillons in a century-0ld drawer in the old shop.

For about ten years, I have so enjoyed using Sennelier pastels. The freshness and depth of their color makes every painting special. When I have a Sennelier pastel in my hand, I sense that there is legend there. I visited the shop in Paris, and sensed some of the history, but it was difficult to understand how the story fit together. When I started reading the book, I loved the combination of new and vintage photographs, art and artists at work, and the story told in both French and English blocks of prose. About a third of the way through the book, I realized that I was grinning. And I wondered about the last time I had grinned my way through the reading of an entire book.

Several years ago, NPR did a wonderful story about the Sennelier shop. Listen to it here.

Even better, I think, is the photo essay and commentary on the blog A Painter in Paris. The photo below should encourage you to visit both the blog and the store. Enjoy!


Eating One’s Way Through the British Isles

When I turned to page one, I knew I was reading the right book. There’s a half page photo of Plantaneget, a terrific seafood restaurant that hugs the hillside in the old Welsh fishing town of Tenby–the one with my very favorite cluttered bookstore just across the way. How can you not love a bookstore that looks like this one?

Bookstore in Tenby

I digress.

PloughmansLunchCover9781558324138-300x266But I do love wandering around the UK. And when I’m not wandering, on say, a cold winter’s day here in the US, it’s fun to find a book that causes me to think about my next trip. This morning, I enjoyed a wonderful book about British, Welsh, Irish and Scottish food entitled The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast. It comes with the inconveniently long subtitle, Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare, and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities and Country Villages Across the British Isles. The title accurately describes the book’s contents, but fails to mention that there are lavish (and luscious) photographs, and lots of recipes, too.

Of course, the names are fun. Let’s begin with breakfast. Scotch Woodcock contains no game; it’s a seasoned approach to scrambled eggs. Jugged Kippers is a herring dish, popular in the north, full of sea-driven flavor, strong for breakfast in a place where the extra nutritional kick in the morning is a good thing.

There’s tea throughout the day, and a nice article about why and how it has become so important to the day.

And there’s a thorough explanation of the ploughman’s lunch, perfectly served with artisanal cheddar cheese, a good thick slice of rare roast beef (often, from last night’s dinner), mixed greens, chutney, and a mini-baguette. Pickled onions are nice, too.

I never acquired a taste for the go-anywhere, anytime Scotch Eggs, a hard-boiled egg coated in sausage and crumbs, and often, carried for lunch away from home.

Author Brian Yarvin and I share something in common: we will travel for food. He, to Stoke-on-Trent in the county of Staffordshire for freshly made oatcakes. These are made on the grill, often purchased by the dozen for use at home, or enjoyed one-at-a-time, filled with, say, cheese and mushroom (Yarvin’s favorite). There’s a distinctly local specialty, but you’ll find various small “cakes” throughout the islands.

Scottish Oatcakes from Brian's  book, "The Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast"  (Use allowed for book promotions and reviews only.)Author Brian Yarvin is also a superior food photographer. Here's a look at a Curried Mutton Turnover. There's lots more to see--mostly Asian--by clicking on the image.

Scottish Oatcakes from Brian’s book, “The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast” (Use allowed for book promotions and reviews only.)
Author Brian Yarvin is also a superior food photographer. Here’s a look at a Curried Mutton Turnover. There’s lots more to see–mostly Asian–by clicking on the image.

Cock-a-leekie is another of those wonderful Scottish names, this time assigned to a soup that contains, rather obviously, chicken and leek, and not very obviously, prune, too. The prune recalls a history when dried fruits were quite the delicacy, exotic and expressive of a higher station. Cullen Skink is another great name: it’s potato soup with smoked haddock… spectacular!

Beef Wellington suggests a dish that we made up here, like Chow Mein, but it is, in fact, quite British, and every bit as delicious as it was two decades ago (the last time I had one). Basically, it’s a good piece of beef wrapped in mushrooms and then in puff pastry. Old-school, but terrific.

There’s a nice bit about how to choose the best of fish-n-chips shops, or, in the local lingo, a chip shop. If you see a sign for “fish tea,” that’s a good thing–the term resonates with the locals (who, presumably, know both their fish and their tea). If the menu lists only fish, chips, peas, and tea, that’s a good, thing, too–it suggests focus. It’s not good if the same place lists burgers or kabobs. Anything suggesting “Best in Britain” without appropriate documentation posted in the window. Nix on pre-fried fish in the window, and pre-battered fish, too. Extra points for using local fish (nothing in Britain is very far from the sea).

Also, a useful note regarding bacon. What we call bacon, they call streaked bacon. What they call bacon is a boneless pork chop, sliced thin and fried.

What’s a faggot? It’s a meatball, heavy on the liver. Just so you know. One the next page: Lamb’s Tongue (with Raisin Sauce).

Brian Yarvin

Mr. Yarvin

What’s the most popular food in Britain? Probably Chicken Korma, the lead player in an extensive Indian cuisine that’s found just about everywhere. Nice coverage of various Indian dishes here, resplendent in their bright colours.

When in Britian, I like my pies. Set me in front of a menu with, say, Chicken, Ham and Mushroom Pie, and a local ale, and I’m a happy traveler. Leek Pie, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish Pie with Mashed Potato Crust, all good with me. Not so much for the Steak and Kidney Pie, which is made not with Kidney Beans, but instead, with the kidney of a lamb (tubes removed). No thank you. Yes to Cornish Pasties, essentially a local take on an empañada. And a definite yes to Yorkshire Pudding, which is a pudding in the British sense, which means, well, I’m not sure how the British use the term because it seems to apply to most desserts, of which Yorkshire is not one.

The term Flapjacks was a surprise to me; I picked up a pair at a train station for a quick snack. Turns out, they’re similar to granola bars.

At a tea shop in Cardiff, I tried my first (and probably, my freshest) Clotted Cream. It sounds a bit unappealing, but it is, in fact, it’s a bit sweet, a bit thick, and a perfect accompaniment to, say, a scone.

Other terms I learned… Perry is a pear cider (excellent at the small stand in the local market just next to the West Canterbury train station)… Fairy Cake is, more or less, our cupcake… Bap is something like a cross between a hamburger roll and sandwich roll… and Chocolate Vermicelli is our Chocolate Sprinkles.

What fun! Get the book. Then, go!

An Antidote for Pizza

I steer clear of the gummy crap that’s delivered in pizza boxes from the chain stores. No Pizza Hut for me; the ingredients, the preparation, the lack of loving care, all are good reasons to buy pizza elsewhere.

More often than not, the local pizza shop is only a bit better. The dough is rarely fresh, the mozzarella is pre-shredded and made weeks or mints before it becomes a pizza topping. The sauce may or may not come out of a can, but it’s exceedingly rare to find an actual tomato anywhere in a pizzeria. Some pizza places make some of their own stuff, and add some love. Certainly, there are some of NYC pizza places where it all comes together nicely, but they are the exception.

So, what do I want? I want what DiMeo Brothers does. It’s worth a trip to (of all places) Wilmington, Delaware (an hour from Philly) to taste the fresh cheese, the fresh dough, the fresh sauce. This particular pizza restaurant imports ingredients from Italy. Even the water used in dough. Baked in a perfect brick oven, the pizza is sublime–and only vaguely resembles the round, flat, gutless things that Pizza Hut / Papa John / Domino are selling.

Too far away from Wilmington (or their new place in Philadelphia’s Andorra neighborhood) to make a go of it? There are options. One is a book.

20121110-224811.jpgThe book–My Pizza, written by a baker named Jim Lahey–promises a “no-knead way to make spectacular pizza at home”. The book is filled with wonderful photographs of equally wonderful pizzas. No surprise that they look, and taste, as good as the best of DiMeo’s. Fresh ingredients and loving preparation are everything.

You begin with a pizza stone. Three-quarters thick is best because it retains heat more efficiently than the more common half-inch consumer model; visit a restaurant supply shop if you can’t easily find one online. A pizza “peel”–the paddle–is essential, but the long ones used in pro kitchens may be too long for yours, and a smaller one will be fine.

Leahy is okay with conventional flour but extremely picky about the olive oil. The best comes from Chile. The freshest cheese, the finest available tomatoes, these are critical.

Ovens are tricky. They need to reach high heat. Buy the book, read the chapter, because this part is a little complicated. You can do it–make great pizza in your own kitchen–but take care to do the work properly to avoid incident.

Next chapters: how to make the dough, then the tomato sauce, both from scratch. This is not a quick job. This is a messy job, gloriously so. But then here’s that first tomato pie–your freshly made dough, your freshly made tomato sauce, a touch of fin sea salt, and a drizzle of your best olive oil. Three (!) minutes later, maybe five if you let it cool, you’re eating the best pizza of your young life. A week later, you’re completely addicted to your own variation on Leahy’s veal meatball pie, one of a few dozen specialty pies in this handsome cookbook.

Frozen pizza? Domino? Fuhgeddaboudit. Go buy the book and make your own.


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