Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Roti Quest: Fulfilled!

What Roti Looks Like Posted by Hello
My first taste of roti bread was in New York City in 1991. I was with a group of young adults doing church work, and we were hosted by a kind family from somewhere in the West Indies. It was my first visit to NYC, and I was the proverbial girl from the country: scared and amazed at everything I saw. I remember one of our first sights arriving into the city was a car by the side of the road, stripped of all its parts, promptly followed by a man stealing an air conditioner from a shop.

Despite our initial nervousness, the DrePaul family worked hard to make us feel at home. This wasn't easy, as our group of corn-fed midwesterners was just as perplexed by the omnipresent smell of curry imbued in each room of the house as we were by the strange sights of the city. One night they cooked a traditional meal for us, making a green chicken curry and roti bread, this soft, fragrant, chewy wonderfulness. After one nervous bite, I realized I was eating one of the most amazing meals I'd ever had. I spoke to the women who had made it afterward, and I remember them shaking their heads tiredly at the amount of work it took to make roti at home. This bread is different from the traditional Indian breads you get at Indian restaurants. Since then, I've never seen hide nor hair of roti until I happened to pass by a shop in Roslindale a week or two ago. It was too late and past dinnertime, but I thought, I MUST find roti!!! All these years and I didn't even know it was something you could just buy. The food quest officially began.

With the help of chowhound.com, I was directed to go to last weekend's Carribbean Carnival in Central Square. And there it was, one lone booth selling roti amongst dozens of jerk chicken booths. It was Singh's Roti Shop, which has a store at 692 Columbia Road in Dorchester. I was so happy I had to take a photo. As you can see in the picture of roti, it looks, but does not taste, like a burrito. The bread itself is chewy and flaky -- this one had some sort of chickpea flour and spices in it. The yellow you see is either a chili oil or it is from the curried chicken. I went back and bought more of the roti bread for later, but somehow, it never quite made it home.

I love food quests! Next one: After an initial rocky start to the quest where I, um, forgot to write down the street number, I think this time I will be able to find Chilli Garden in Medford. I'll keep ya posted.

Sing's Roti Shop: A Quest Fulfilled Posted by Hello

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Are You Going to Peru?

My pal Lia says I would be a fool not to go. A fool! Monica says that when I'm 45, which would I regret more, spending some savings or missing a trip going to Peru? Sigh. I have very wise friends. Yes I do.

So. Thinking about joining Allison over there for a week or two in late fall. Visiting Macchu Pichu, the Inca Trail, etc. For that is what you do in Peru. Oh and I'd probably eat some ceviche and other local delicacies for without such a quest, I would not be fulfilling my own personal raison d'etre, no?

Of course, this new found interest in Peru means I find it imperative to rhyme everything possible with Peru. Do you think I might buy a new blue pew in Peru? That one's for you, Sue. I'll stop now.

So, should I stay or should I go? Hmmm....

Harvest Restaurant report

Heirloom Tomatoes (you guessed it, Copley Farmer's Market). Well at least the photo matches an essay this time! Posted by Hello c ac2004

Wow, I am still recovering from last night's dinner at the Harvest Restaurant. This was a special "tasting menu" based on foods from Nesenkeag Farm, with wine pairings. A true bargain at $39 for five courses -- they have other nights like this, so if you like the idea I'd advise you check out the website and make a reservation.

It was a long process of hearing the chef's description of the foods, then an intro to the farmer, and then the various courses and wines being served to a very full room of people, seated communally. Felt a bit like a wedding reception where you're tearful over the food rather than tearful at the touching true love stuff.

We had a heirloom tomato salad with a beautiful presentation -- round slices of yellow and red tomatoes with a round slice of fresh mozarella on a rectangular plate with balsamic drizzle. This was with a "mineralistic" sauvignon blanc (Polencic, Collio from Italy, 2002) which was very light. I really liked the word mineralistic (used by the very friendly and patient-with-our-stupid-questions wine director, Jason Irving) and plan on using it more often.

Second course was carolina grouper with a crusted topping made of shrimp and spices. Served with coriander "berries"; ie the seeds that form after your cilantro has bloomed. I'd never considered including that with a meal (with the fronds attached) and I've had plenty of these in my garden. They do add a flavor burst when you eat the little buggers. The wine was a Marsanne, Qupe (another great word), from CA, 2003, which had a really nice meadey um, bouquet (yikes, did I just say bouquet?) even though the wine was pretty dry.

Third was baked squash, a cousa which is similar to zucchini, stuffed with chorizo. Yum! With one of the best wines IMHO, Dr. Burklin Wolf's Riesling from Germany, 2002. Wait -- if you hate riesling don't skip this part -- it was a very funky wine which would hit you with a sweet flavor right at the beginning but then the flavor would completely disappear after you swallowed (is that a clean finish? not sure). I'd never experienced anything like that.

Next (groan, at this point we were getting full), was a drumstick of smoked duck, served with baby beet salad. Scrumptious. Never had smoked duck before and it was both exotic and familiar -- like a ducky hot dog flavor. (Yeah, they're not going to hire me as their marketing exec, I know). This was with a Pinot Noir (Louis Jadot, Bourgogne, France 2001) that was really jarring after all the whites, but when you sipped it with the duck you said, oh... now I see.

Finally, for dessert, a baby carrot cake (teeny tiny) served with a very flowery muscat (Bonny Doon, Vin de Glacier, Santa Cruz, 2003).

After these four hours (!) of food bliss we were very happy, a little tipsy and very full. What a lovely event. Oh and besides "mineralistic", my new other favorite wine term is "a whiff of petrol." Ah.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I couldn't resist two more food photos

Pretty carrots! Find the bee! Posted by Hello
And these would be called ... plethora of potatos and plethora of carrots. Good old farmer's market bounty. Can you spot the bee amongst the carrots? Just like Where's Waldo?!

Plethora of Potatoes Posted by Hello

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

And a movie recommendation

Nine years ago I saw Before Sunrise, the quintessential American-student-bopping-around Europe-and-meets-pretty-girl-movie. It really captures the feeling of being 22 and doing the semester abroad: the constant battle between feeling oh so cool and sophisticated to be wandering around Europe contrasted with oh so dorky and humbled by the onslaught of art and history and culture. It's a two hour conversation between the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy), a Boticelli's angel-faced Parisian woman as they wander around Venice and start to fall in love. When they both get on the train again the next morning to go their separate ways, will they ever see each other again? The movie realistically portrays the awkwardness and excitement of instant attraction as well as dialog so natural I could imagine my friends spouting the same things.

Before Sunset is the two of them nine years later. While I can't say I can relate in quite the same way to Jesse, who has published a best-seller which he is promoting in Paris, I can relate to the hurts and disappointments they have accumulated in life right along with the accomplishments and pleasures. While it isn't a mopey story, it is bittersweet to revisit what could have been and to think about how you've changed, both for the good and the bad.

This is the kind of movie you watch with a smile on your face because you are enjoying yourself. You feel so lucky to be privvy to their conversation, even if it can be tiring to keep up with their meandering conversation at times. And I love that it IS nine years later, and that they ARE nine years older playing characters in their early 30s. It's like this weird universe where I can truly believe that Jesse and Celine actually exist in a way other movies can't do it. It's not perfect, mind you, but it is truly fun.

So what I'm saying: it's well worth seeing, especially if you are a 30something who has travelled around Europe. But make sure you rent Before Sunrise first to make sure you understand the full story arc.

Okay, okay but two quick things

Lately this blog has been a bit of all food, all the time so I'll move on to other pastures for a bit. But I had to mention two quick things:
  • Had a really nice meal at Lala Rokh on Beacon Hill as part of Restaurant Week. One of the nicest, most interesting meals I have had in a long time. Flavors that make you say, huh, weird, hmmm, then, yum! The duck was in this spectacular walnut sauce with pomegranates, and the dessert called paludeh, a lime and rosewater sorbet with rice noodles, was sublime.
  • Can I just mention how scarily good the chocolate mocha cookies at Rebecca's Cafe are? A co-worker just forced some on me. Enormous and full of chocolate chips and gooey like brownie batter. Sigh. If anyone has any other cookie recs, send em my way. I've been told I need to check out the chocolate cookie at C'est Bon in Harvest Square. We'll see ...
  • I lied, one more thing, OK? This Wednesday I am going to Harvest's Tasting Series. It will be fun to try and a new place, and it's a great deal. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Spontaneous BBQ Panic

I'm tired today after a spontaneous BBQ that grew from two people (including myself) up to eight people, causing me to panic about my not having enough corn on the cob. Ack!

I started inviting a friend who lives closeby since I had vegetables and burgers that would have to be grilled soon or they would die. And I love playing with my roomie's very groovy Weber grill, even if I bypass the fancy shmancy propane starter and just use a chimney starter. I think the food came out pretty good but I was too overwhelmed by the larger crowd to either take photos or even really come up with a yummy dessert. Sigh. So much for grilled pears and mangoes. That will have to be another evening.

The menu:
  • Grilled zuchini, summer squash, onions and peppers (olive oil and salt)
  • Just barely enough for all grilled corn on the cob, drizzled with salt and lime (the best way)
  • Free range australian burgers from Trader Joe's (pretty good but a little tough)
  • Fresh salsa (farmer's market tomatoes, hooray)
  • Baba ganoush -- very yummy and easy -- just throw a large eggplant on the grill, wait til it deflates like a bad tire, take out the pulp and throw in processor with 2 Tb. tahini, lime, garlic and salt. Yum! Serve with pitas.
  • Popsicles of various types.
That's what you get when you go spontaneous. Popsicles for dessert. Sheesh. The horror. But no one seemed to mind. That's what I have to remember about entertaining -- people LIKE to get together and don't expect much more than a place to sit and something cool to drink. No one is expecting to go into paroxysms of joy over the food or fine tableware. (Even if I would like them to do so). (And isn't it nice when you can work paroxysms into your entry?)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Gosbries for KH

Gooseberries next to red currents Posted by Hello
From the latest trip to the Farmer's Market, they have gooseberries as we call them here in the states. Those across the pond call them something else I apparently can't pronounce. The berries don't seem to be selling like hotcakes, but they are very pretty. Gooseberry fool, anyone?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Mysterious Mini-Coffeecakes

Mini-Coffee Cakes Posted by Hello
And more food photography ... this shot came out pretty good. Although it gives away that I am not the Whiz of the Drizzle. Ah well. Another recipe from The Quick Recipe. These little upside down muffins turned into mini coffee cakes (very clever, Cooks!) are very cute and fun and perfectly sized to serve at bookclub tonight. I tried to think of some appropriate food that would go with a spy novel (Dan Brown's rather hideous but fun Digital Fortress -- don't ask me why we're reading it for bookclub). Mini-coffeecakes are not exactly super mysterious although they do have a hidden stripe of yummy streudel. I suppose I could tell my guests that they have to figure out how I made the "mini coffeecake mold" (bake em in a muffin pan and turn the muffins upside down shhh). That way they will feel like there has been some intrigue to the evening. Ah the bookclub, the new millennium's form of the Bridge Club or the Sewing Circle.

Green Bean Fun!

Green beans with Pickled Red Onion and Tarragon Posted by Hello
This is a really good recipe from my new favorite cookbook, The Quick Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated. Have I yet gone into my standard rhapsodies about my love for Cooks? Have they yet checked out my blog and thought, gosh, we should hire this woman to become our new site blogger?

Anyway, this particular cookbook is great because one of the most frequent complaints about CI's recipes is that they are awfully long. Not difficult, mind you, as they are great at explaining things, but they are not meant to be done quickly. But this cookbook is all about quick, but it keeps up the CI quality of the recipes. When I say quality, I mean the best. Because of their obsessive compulsive food testing, pretty much anything I've made from their cookbooks/magazines is the paramount, the creme de la creme, the absolute best version you've ever had of that piece of food. Within reason and of course various caveats, blah blah blah. But definitely worth the price.

Okay, enough product placement (no they aren't paying me). I liked this green bean salad because it was unusual but used items I had around -- red wine vinegar, onions, walnuts, olive oil. You may or may not have the tarragon on hand to top it off. Good stuff.

Fun with the new toy

Hermits no flash, better angle Posted by Hello
So here are two pieces of food photography with my fun new toy. I thought this was a pretty neat illustration of a good shot and a bad shot. I'd say I'd rather eat the hermits on the top rather than the ones on the bottom, even though it is the same plate of hermits. We're all a bit spoiled by food photography which makes everything look perfect. But they really aren't -- the only difference between these two shots is that I used a flash in the bad photo (so the shadows and light are harsh) and the angle isn't as much fun as the Martha Stewarty one above. Cool huh? It is so much fun being able to take pictures as I make new recipes. I'm afraid you're going to be subjected to quite a bit of this in the upcoming blog days until I grow tired of playing rockstar food photographer.

Hermits with flash Posted by Hello

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fictional Art

While on my bike ride into work this morning, I was thinking about the difference between painting what is in front of you versus painting something in your imagination. I'm sure that I'm continuing to reveal my ignorance about art, but are there words for this? In literature, we have fiction and non-fiction. In art, there is life painting, or still-life, or landscapes, or representational art, maybe? And then work from the imagination would be abstract art, or maybe expressionist or maybe surrealist?

And I wonder this for personal reasons of course -- the majority of my work would be on the "fictional" side. I don't do much in the way of still-life or life painting or whatever the term is. So when I describe my work to others, I always have a bit of a struggle in describing my subjects. I don't really do much in the way of abstract work, but neither am I looking at something that is sitting in front of me when I choose my subjects.

I'm not really interested in going into the philosophical side of reality vs. the imaginary world and what either of these mean. And of course it would be silly to say that one or the other are more "real" as art, just as non-fiction and fiction writing both demand skill, nuance and imagination.

However, since I am so intersted in the message and meaning of art, I am grappling with the idea of subject matter. I remember a quote that Diego Rivera said in admiration about Frida Kahlo, something to the effect of "I paint what I see, the world outside. Frida paints from her heart." I think this is my ambition.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Bonita update?

A good friend from Pittsburgh (yay for Pittsburgh!) and sortof faithful dillard57 reader (hi TT!) asked for an update on saga of Bonita the Duck, about whom I've written several previous posts. I apologize for the lack of updates. The main problem is not that I've forgotten the little peeper, but I simply haven't seen her in a few weeks. Once or twice I've seen what I thought might be her little gaggle o' geese, but she was not among them. This could mean several things, some good, some not.
  1. Neutral: It was the wrong gaggle. They all kinda look alike, and yes, I know they think the same about us, but I can't help it. But this means she may still appear, which is good!
  2. Good: Bonita has found her real family and is happily involved with whatever species it is that she is supposed to hang out with. Duck? Goose? Swan? Ostrich? Still a mystery. And I may never know. Goodish but not so much fun for the blog.
  3. Bad: Bonita didn't make it. She couldn't keep up with the gaggle, ate too much grass, or decided she just didn't belong. Very sad but real possibility. Bad.

The exciting aspect of #1 is that if I do see her, now I have my handy dandy camera and I can capture nature in all of her weird quirkiness. Hooray for technology!

Pretty flowers

Groovy Bouquet Posted by Hello
Okay, last one and I'll stop filling up the blog with nothing but photos. But they are fun, no?

Oooh red currents

Currents from the Farmer's Market. How cool is it that we have currents? If I could figure out what to make with them, I would drop the $4. Suggestions welcome. Posted by Hello

Iggy's Booth

Iggy's booth at the Copley Farmer's Market. Rumored to be the home of the best pain au chocolat in Boston. (not the best in the world, but it's a start) Posted by Hello

Fancypants Camera has arrived! Yippee!

As promised by Amazon, my very cute little Powershot A300 has arrived. Yippee! I had a great time on my lunch break today at the Copley Farmer's Market taking shots of everything I could before I pressed the wrong button and was unable to take anymore. Oops. Oh well. Anyhow, now we get to try and see if I can actually post any of these new photos. And here it is ... all pretty. Not sure if I can have a blog entry and a photo mixed ... that will be the next challenge.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Doula doula doula

It's a fun word to say even if no one has ever heard of one. In addition to my Kripalu escapade this past weekend, I got my training to be a birth doula, which is someone who assists a mom as she gives birth. I learned all kinds of massage, coping techniques, visualizations and so on that help mothers (and dads) get through the marathon as comfortably and calmly as possible. Pretty cool stuff. So now I'll start my practice ... anyone know anyone who needs a cheap doula?

The workshop was in Shelburne Falls, which was like a Disney Village for Crunchy Adults. Absolutely adorable in all the good and bad senses of the word, full of cute giftie shops with fun magnets and magical magnet crystals, as well as the much cooler McCuskers' grocery store, serving the rather strange but palatable Oat Kreme, a vegan version of soft serve made solely with oats and sugar. And to top it all off, one of the town's best places to eat is a pub serving organic fare. Sheesh.

Yoga Road Trip!

Last week I did a little trip to Kripalu, a hip and groovy yoga center in western Massachusetts. Although I wouldn't call myself a yoga junkie like some (it's worth a visit to that site if you like any of her passions), but I've definitely been getting more into it lately. In previous posts I wrote about the Baron Baptiste classes I visited (aka "sweaty yoga") which were very cool, er, hot, in a blow your mind kind of way. The Kripalu style is much gentler and not all that different from the yoga classes I've taken over the years. The main difference is that you are doing 1.5-2 hour classes two times a day, which is a lot more yoga than I normally do. And I can feel it still, four days later! Youch. But good youch I reckon.

You know you like yoga when you're willing to get up for a 6:30 AM class on a vacation day. But that's how Kripalu kinda works -- it's like boot camp for body nurturers. You wake up ridiculously early for the class, then head off to your incredibly healthy breakfast (brown rice, miso soup and yogurt being the main choices), then off to a workshop that is about some sort of healthy thing (I went to sound healing). Then to Danskinetics at noon, which was even more fun than I expected. Next is excruciatingly healthy lunch -- brown rice again, and a decent veggie pad thai, lots of fresh fruit. Then another workshop, another yoga class, healthy dinner, another workshop and in bed by 9:30. (Yup -- and believe me, you're ready to sleep). Of course, only crazy people like me actually do all of that stuff -- a lot of folks just kick back and stare out the window or go swimming or whatever it is people-who-are-not-me do. But I wanted to see what this place was all about, and I think I did get a good sense of it. And I definitely left with a renewed sense of energy, even if I was pretty much exhausted.

I feel like I have to ruminate for a moment on the food. It was done cafeteria style, and we're all familiar with the smell and vibe of cafeterias, but this cafeteria was different (ie better). They served what would be called "clean food" which means, very basically, that all of it is good for you. No white sugars or flours, very little animal protein or fats, lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, mostly organic, locally grown. Anyone who knows me will laugh to hear at my alarm at finding out there was no dessert at any of the meals I attended. But I survived. After eating in that cafeteria for a week and doing all that yoga, I imagine you'd be feeling pretty darn healthy. Which is the point of the place. I'm struggling in trying to figure out what I'm trying to say here ... I guess what happened is I was impressed. This food, prepared "cafeteria style" was tasty and healthy and genuinely felt nourishing. It was a pleasure to go there for a meal and I felt like my body was thanking me for it.

I was wondering if the place would be like a summercamp for grownups, a great big kumbaya with everyone hugging and crying and laughing and howling at the moon. Both happily and sadly, it was not. People were relatively friendly, but I didn't get the sense of being hugely welcomed. Things were low-key, which makes sense for a "retreat" center where some are retreating to get over some big issues. I was also worried about the woo-woo factor, and while I attended workshops that some of my friends would have snorted through, for the most part the instructors and the classes were straightforward and comfortable. And the natural beauty of the area was very impressive.

So, overall, a good visit. I would go back when I'm feeling wealthy again as the place is not cheap. I can't say I would long for it, but I can understand how some people would get a yearning for the place.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

New Work Coming Along

I turned the corner on my volcano piece last week, thank goodness. It is all starting to really hang together and fits nicely in the scope of my work. I'm always so surprised when this happens; I'm still not used to how this whole inspiration thing works and I'm working and get stuck and think, well this painting is going to suck but then something happens and zing! It's my new favorite painting. And you know how you read about artists who were "working through" some sort of theme or period or motif that appears over and over again? As I paint, this happens. But I never go into the painting thinking, well gosh, I've been thinking a lot about anatomical hearts lately so I'll do another. If anything, I don't do a heart at all because I figure I had that in the last one. But then after I've gotten into the painting, there it is, an anatomical heart or whatever my thing is. It's really like I have very little conscious choice. Freaky! So I wonder if this is true for other artists. I don't sit around thinking about anatomical hearts, really I don't.

You'd think after nine or ten pieces this process wouldn't come as such a shock anymore but nope, I never see it coming. It is really a very strange experience. I wish I had more artists to talk to about this -- so much of this is so new you can feel a little nutty as you go through the process. I imagine this happens to writers and others as well.

The big exciting news is that I finally joined the digital world -- got myself a cute little Canon Powershot A300. So pretty soon I'll be able to post photos of my work on this blog! Very exciting, at least for me.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

But Is It Art?

Every month they put up new work in the galleries on Newbury Street near where I work. I look forward to seeing a glimpse of the Boston art scene, or at least this version of it, and when I can I go to First Fridays I do.

Though oddly untrumpeted, First Fridays are pretty cool. They take place the first Friday and Saturday of each month, when almost all the Newbury Street and South End galleries have receptions from 5-7 PM, and crowds wander from gallery to gallery, sipping wine, checking out the new shows and eyeing each other's reactions and outfits. It's completely free so it's a great way to check out what's happening, at least in the "big" galleries of Boston. Plus free snacks! (Ah, the world is a better place with free snacks. And/or free samples. To tide you over on free snacks 'til then, you can always go here and get a free munchkin and coffee, shhh!)

Now remember, I'm new to this whole art world thing. So the idea of each gallery having its own "personality" is fascinating to me. It makes sense when you think about it -- a gallery owner will have a certain message or style it tends to look for. And each month, I'll see galleries with stuff I am just stunned by, and other galleries with work that I am just plain yawning over. The work in the South End is generally much more intriguing than the work you see on Newbury Street. Not always, but usually. I'm not saying anything radical here -- obviously Newbury Street is going to be more conservative as their base is often tourists or more "mainstream" folks.

Now I certainly have no interest in dogging my fellow artists. Anyone who has managed to get their work in a gallery anywhere, well, I'm proud of 'em. It's hard work to make the stuff in the first place, and then to be willing to hang it on a wall where people are likely to snort and make comments about it, this piece of your soul? Well, it takes guts. So please, this is not a critique.

However, as I am trying to learn more about how art works, when I see a painting of some wooden crates with a large piece of fruit on each of the crates and that is the painting in the window of the gallery facing the street as the prime attraction, well, I'm just kinda baffled. It is beautifully painted, the colors are lovely, it is certainly not Thomas Kincade and that is definitely a compliment. Yet ... but ... apparently there is some category of art that isn't really meant to be anything more than something that looks nice in the living room. Again, this is not a criticism of the artist -- you can paint whatever the heck you want to paint. And a gallery can sell whatever they want, and if people want to buy it, well great! But I guess I'm asking, is it art?

I'm certainly not the first to ask this question. If something is just meant to look nice and compliment the furniture, is that art? Can it only be art if it is Important with a capital I?

I remember coming up with a definition of art a while back: Truth, Beauty and/or a paradigm shift. It's still a pretty good real of thumb. But what is it if it isn't art? I don't think the opposite of art is some sort of insult to the world. But I am perplexed when something is in a gallery window and there isn't any there there ... any thoughts on this appreciated. I'm still learning!