Disasters in Parenting

There is literally NO ONE that still reads this blog, not that I ever had a stellar following. Even better, there’s no reason I should be writing a post at the moment… This is completely unplanned and ill-timed, but that’s exactly what makes it so appealing to my inner Disaster Master. I’m currently lying down on my couch – fighting the pull of that time-sucker, Sleep – contemplating the state of my life on the eve of my 36th birthday.

I am now a mother of two. And not a day goes by that I don’t feel like an utter failure at this mommy gig I never even had to interview for. I was wholly unqualified for the job, but good news is that apparently any idiot (me) can have a baby as long as they are biologically able. Very luckily, I was. So now there are these two little demons who have the great misfortune of following me around on the Disaster Coaster that tends to be my day-to-day. What I lack in direction and sense, I do make up for in just sheer, unadulterated and unconditional love though… So there’s that…

Things I’ve learned along the way? Stretch marks grow on you… Get it? That’s a total joke because as much as we all like to say “I’ve earned my stripes!” I would really like to be one of those beeotches that are teetering around on their tiny pre-pregnancy-sized feet going “I just have one of those bodies where I didn’t get a single stretch mark!” Shut it, Lady. The sound of your voice is interrupting my doughnut consumption.

For reals though, I’ve learned more in the past 5 years than in the preceding 31. I’ve also forgotten an alarming amount of things… like your name, most likely… but I rarely forget a face if that’s any comfort! But don’t get me started on Dinosaurs or we could be here all day! My Disney princess knowledge is also shockingly strong… I sing a lot of mermaid-based music now…

I box my feelings away. No, not like that. I WISH I could suppress some feelings instead of always being so damn upfront about everything! No, I mean I physically hit things. As in boxing. And I freaking love it. I’ve started a class that is comprised of all moms right now on Thursday/Friday mornings. If you live in NYC and want to get in shape physically, mentally, and emotionally, come and join in:) It’s very therapeutic to hit things, just don’t tell that to my kids.

And then there’s food… Food and I have had to redefine our relationship. Food was everything, and now my kids are everything. True to Disaster form, my kids are absolutely out of their minds in the food department. The list of foods that they dropped from their repertoire as they got older is heartbreaking. Neither of them will touch fruit outside of apples for my son. Who does that? Not a single berry… My heart weeps. Also chicken is on the no fly list unless I skewer it, and even then it can’t make a weekly appearance. Thank the food gods for fish, lamb, and eggs… Although my daughter won’t tolerate yolks so basically just rip out my heart and brain and throw them into traffic, please.

So cooking for my family isn’t what cooking used to be. There was a point where I just didn’t want to bother anymore because where was the joy??? But we found each other again, and we challenged each other and I’ve become a real home cook… It’s something that evolves daily and is as volatile as the market, but my adventures as a home chef have incredible moments of deep, resounding satisfaction.

I also get a lot of “I’m not going to eat this, Mommy.”

So the challenge is in finding love in and giving love through cooking. I hate how mealtime can be a battle with kids. There are moms who have it much tougher with dietary restrictions from allergies and diabetes who struggle through it as well. And while living on the upper east side of Manhattan brings up worries about my monoglot children, I find that I sometimes worry more about whether I will ever be able to make them my favorite strawberry shortcake recipe… Or any form of stew… Deep concerns here, folks.

Just so you know that I’m not totally off-balanced, we do actually have REAL concerns and issues we battle daily. We win some, we lose some, but the war rages on and I think we are the good guys. And I dream of the day that I can bring my Le Creuset to the table, place it on a trivot, and serve a heaping helping of coq au vin to my little soldiers and watch as they soak up the golden broth with ripped off chunks of crusty baguette… Replenished for the next battle ahead.

So maybe 36 is the year that I surface a little more from this mommy job that I’ve been drowning in and find my love of writing again the way that I’ve redefined the state of my union with food and cooking. Who knows, but as I try to instill in my kids, I have to always hope:)


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Hope you didn’t clean today…

So if you read the previous post, you remember that in Vietnamese superstition (my mom confirmed it’s not just her, it’s an entire country), it’s bad luck to throw anything away today.  Apparently, it’s also bad luck to clean anything for the same reason.  Don’t wash away that luck!  And you also have to wear brand new clothes that you’ve never worn before to start a brand new year.  I get a big old “fail” on the new clothes and the cleaning, but I remembered not to take the trash to the chute so I’m not a complete disaster yet!  And I did manage to get my son into brand new clothes – not so much because I meant to, but because at the rate he’s growing, I basically have to put him in something brand new every couple of days.  He’s 3 months old, but he wears 9 month size clothing.  He’s a beast.  Not so much fat (although he’s got those perfectly plump rolls) as he is just solid.  But, I am adhering to only doing things that you want to repeat all year on the first day of the new year!  I am managing to post something to my blog in hopes of repeating it 365, 300, 250, 200, 100, 50, at least a few times this year!

This is only 1 oz of caviar as we ate the other ounce last night with eggs en cocotte

So what was supposed to be just a nice date between my husband, myself, a bottle of champagne (only one glass each and the rest safely covered and saved for tomorrow), and some delicious caviar ended up being crashed by my non-napping son.  Luckily, he sat on my lap quietly and watched attentively as we sipped on our champagne and nibbled our caviar on crème fraîche dolloped, toasted brioche.  As his eyes longingly followed the flute and caviar movement, drool dripping down his chin, I sighed with pride.  This is definitely my son.  Although to be fair, drool is almost always dripping down his chin lately…  My mom says I was a drooler, too.  Typical.

Oh, and the verdict on the Pierre Peters champagne recommended so highly by Amanda?  Fan-freaking-tastic!  So perfectly balanced and smooth.  We actually had the Pierre Peters last night and then popped a bottle of Guy Charlemagne tonight.  Both are Blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) and similarly priced, but the Pierre Peters was just creamy.  It definitely had hints of malic green apple tartness, which always reminds me of Charms Blow Pops, but yet it was velvety.  Tonight’s Guy Charlemagne was much more forward with its tartness.  All in all, I might actually prefer the Guy Charlemagne to cut through some of the custardy, umami pops of caviar and prepare me for my next bite.  But in general, I prefer the Pierre Peters and wish I had the type of lifestyle where I could just have a glass of it every evening… maybe in a bubble bath surrounded by candlelight… and a personal masseuse giving me reflexology…

Dark, inky greenish gray little pops of happiness

I hope your New Year’s Eve was eventful and full of bubbly and that your New Year’s Day has been all about quiet recovery and promises of gym visits that won’t happen.  This year, I’m not even going to pretend to care about exercising as I sometimes have in the past.  Really it was more like trying to convince myself to pretend to care…  Anyhoo, I have found that really relishing abandonment of my body allowed me to enjoy my caviar and champagne all the more deeply.

For the picture, I added just a bit of the caviar. I then put the camera down and slathered it with savory goodness.

So all the best to you and yours!  I wish you well in 2011!  Um, to most of you anyway…

I hope to spend the rest of 2011 eating like this...

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Champagne wishes and caviar dreams… and napping babies

You know how when your friends are pregnant, they talk about how they’re going to be that super cool mom and nothing in their life is going to change?  And then they squeeze out a kid (or in my case, have it removed via the jaws of life) and they become lame, lame, lame?  Every conversation becomes focused on how much the kid is pooping, breastfeeding, napping, and pooping again?  Your friend can’t hold a decent conversation about anything because every 2 seconds she starts baby talking to her infant.  Well, welcome to Lameville, population: ME.  I’m baby obsessed.  Every waking moment is consumed with my little milk monster, as we’ve affectionately named him.  And basically all my moments are waking… I think I’m getting about 4 hrs of sleep a day – not consecutively.

Usually on New Year’s Eve, my husband and I get together with our friends Eunice and Reg and we invade my old boss, Dave’s house.  We arrive with our own communal bottle of Don Nacho tequila and as many bottles of bubbly as possible so that we can sabre them while 3 sheets to the wind, spraying glass everywhere.  My boss has 2 young children and no matter how hard we try to keep the shattered champagne bottle glass contained, these poor little guys wake up barefoot on New Year’s day to a mine field of broken glass.  Last year we sabred in the bathroom, which seemed brilliant at the inebriated time, but really just meant a bathtub full of glass shards and one broken bathroom window.  Just for the record, that broken window was NOT my fault.

This year, we are spending New Year’s just the 3 of us.  Our little Lameville family will probably choke down some food as quickly as possible, do bath time for the baby, and all be asleep by 10PM… if we’re lucky.  BUT, I have big plans for New Year’s Day!  In Vietnamese tradition (or maybe just my mother’s personal superstition), there are some guidelines for how to conduct yourself on New Year’s Day.  First, don’t do anything that you don’t want to repeat for the rest of the year!  Only do activities that you want to do everyday for the next 365 days!  Next, don’t throw anything away – you could accidentally be throwing away good fortune!  So, this New Year’s Day, I’ve decided that as soon as we can get our little one down for a nap, my husband and I will be snacking on Osetra caviar and some really delicious bubbly.  We are doing it up in style and taking a temporary reprieve from Lameville.

I’ve already got 2 ounces of American farmed Osetra caviar, which I ordered from Rue la la at a discount… but not much of one… this will still be a DAMN expensive little snack.  Next, I needed a really delicious glass of bubbly.  I’m only allowed one glass a day, so it has to be as delicious as possible.  No Cava, no Prosecco, no skimping, especially since it’s accompanying caviar that’s worth more than my shoes.  Well, skimping a little, maybe.  I called in a favor and asked my friend, Christie’s Wine Expert Amanda Crawford, for her Top 5 Champagne picks under $50.  I met Amanda while working at Murray’s – she frequently taught our Wine and Cheese pairing courses.  When people see Amanda’s name on the Murray’s class schedule, her classes usually immediately sell out.  It’s not only because the lady has a baller palate and knows it all when it comes to wine, but it’s also because of how she conveys it to you.  Passion, people!  You sip the wine and she’s your tour guide through every taste sensation, providing energetic commentary on what you are smelling, tasting, and feeling.  You put down your glass and feel like you’ve just returned from a week long vacation in the wine’s country of origin.  Yup, she’s THAT good!

Instead of bastardizing her words, I’m going to just quote her for your reading pleasure (and yes, it’s a bit of a shortcut for me since baby is up and demanding food).  Where I could find it at Astor Wines & Spirits, I’ve provided a link:

“As for Champers, there are literally so many incredible Champagnes on the market right now that I absolutely adore with all of my heart.  Skip the Grand Marque houses and head straight for the Grower-Producers (you can see on the label by the tiny, infinitesimal RM on the front label.  This means RécoltantManipulant, i.e. owns land and grapes, as opposed to an NM, NégociantManipulant, which means they buy grapes).  Obviously, this doesn’t tell you about the quality of the juice, but it does tell you that the person who made the Champagne had more control and direction in the growing of the raw material….a good sign.

Anyhoo [Yup, Amanda uses it to so it MUST be a word! Sorry for interrupting].  The most basic level Champagne starts around $35 these days, so with $50 you’re looking at really fantastic Non-Vintage or Multi-Vintage wines for the most part.  The ones I’m digging are:

Voirin-Jumel Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV $35.   All Chardonnay from Grand Cru village in Champagne, this is stelly, intense and tons of citrus and tart apple fruit.  Super high acidity. [It’s Mindy, sorry to intrude again, but “blanc de blancs” means that the champagne is 100% Chardonnay – a really excellent pairing with your creamier, custardy caviars.]

Loriot Blanc de Noirs Brut Réserve NV $40.   The main three grapes in Champers are Chardon, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and most Champs is a blend of all three.  This is super cool because its is mostly Pinot Menuier, so it is a totally different expression of the wine.  I pair this with cheese all the time in classes and it is a huge hit.

Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Réserve NV $50: I just love this producer and will buy anything they make.   The guy who imports them, Tierry Thiese, calls this a cross between Champagne and Mosel as these wines have intense concentration and tons of mineral expression.  Lots of fruit and herbaceous aromas.  All Chard, too. [Yup, it’s me again.  This is the champagne that I’ll be tenderly sipping on Jan 1!]

Henri Billiot Brut Réserve NV $50: Unfiltered, no dosage, no malolactic , Pinot based Champagne that is absolutely stunning with a wide array of usual fruits on the nose.  Sure, you get cherries, but you also get plums and flowers.  Neat, powerful, concentrated, top quality stuff.

Jean-Milan Carte Blanche Blanc de Blancs $50: 100% Chard, this is the most floral and “pretty” Champagne I’ve ever had.  It’s rounder, not as steely as others.  Romantic.

[And Amanda added a little something special to blow the budget, but I decided to go for it and buy a bottle to keep for a special occasion!] For you, special bottle.  My favorite Champs of all time is the Vilmart Cuvée Rubis Rosé.  Its $80, but f*ing incredible.  Fermented in oak, its decadent and delicious.” [I censored a little there because I’m a mom now and the F word is off limits unless someone really deserves it in an F you sort of way, which nobody has yet… so that’s good…]

So, as I sit back and enjoy my glass of Pierre Peters and my mother-of-pearl spoonful of Osetra with my husband while frantically watching the baby monitor for signs of movement Jurassic Park/Aliens style, I hope that you will spend your New Year’s Day surrounded by garbage and clutter, eating something truly decadent.  I will try to post pics on New Year’s Day to force myself to continue blogging for the next 365.  Cheers and thanks for reading!

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I’m Dreaming of a Malaysian Christmas…

When I found out that I was pregnant, the first thing I decided to do was renovate my apartment. I’d been talking about it since my husband and I bought it 3 years ago, but we never got around to it. Actually, I told my husband that I didn’t want to move into my apartment in the middle of nowhere upper east side unless there was an awesome kitchen and a washer/dryer in unit to tempt me, and he said, “No problem! This apartment doesn’t have any of that and it’s almost a mile from the subway. But don’t worry because it’s a deal and we’ll renovate to make it what we want!” And then every time I asked him about it after we moved in, he said, “Oh yeah, sure sure, we have to do that. I’ll ask around.” … … … That’s the sound of crickets chirping and classic husband inaction. So, jacked up on pregnancy hormones and all-day morning sickness (that’s how we do in the disaster world), I found my own badass contractor (plug for Paul O’Hare – best damn contractor in the world) and as I like to say, “gilded my upper east side cage.”

And I managed to cook some incredible meals for the 1 month I had before my water broke while I was googling “what does a contraction feel like?” Since then (3 months) I basically use my kitchen to make eggs in the morning. I did make Thanksgiving, which felt fantastic although it was dairy free because my son has colic and dairy seems to aggravate it… It was pretty tasty, but a truckload of cream and butter would have really made that meal. I now do takeout at least every other day, which is nothing new to the Upper East Side where very few people seem to actually cook. And yet, with all these takeout aficionados up here, the diversity and quality of takeout choices is lacking! There are some good ones that I will touch on soon (like my Cafe Evergreen weekend dim sum brunches), but there are also some dogs.

My Asian roots are crying for some spice! While my son is napping this morning (thank every deity in the book for that little piece of good fortune), I’ve been looking through my old pics of food and drooling. And right now, it’s a little Malaysian goodness that’s got my mouth watering and counting the days until my son is decently immunized so I can strap him to my torso and make the hike to Chinatown!

New Malaysia sits in an alley, behind another restaurant, right off Bowery, and yet STILL the place is always packed. My friend told me that it was a must try after scoffing at my recommendation of Nyonya on Grand St for Malaysian cuisine. I still enjoy Nyonya, which I like to think is just an acronym for “New York O’ New York-ah,” but it just doesn’t compare to New Malaysia.

My first craving is for a little Roti Canai – the same, delicious, but softer and doughier version of the Kati Roll wrapper served alongside a delicious chicken curry dipping sauce. Red curry spiciness with sweet and rich coconut milk perfectly balance the mild, flaky, and just a tad sweet roti. This is like buttering a croissant and dipping it in chocolate sauce… Asian style. There’s never enough roti to finish off your entire curry dipping bowl, so I always eye around the table to see who’s eating slowly or maybe even dieting so I can scare them into forking over a piece of their roti. It was easy while pregnant – who’s going to deny a pregnant woman food? Only a really bad person would do that – you know who you are. Another proven method of scaring food away from people is showing them your triceps cellulite and then explaining that you didn’t used to have those dangling sacks of fat before eating whatever it is you’re trying to weasel away from them. Unfortunately, my dining partners usually just ignore me and use their arms to circle their plates defensively.

My only complaint is why is the roti so damn small for such a generous portion of chicken curry? Not the time to be stingy here...

Up close and personal with flaky goodness

Next up are crispy and chewy fried and dried anchovies in Malaysian belecan sauce… because what’s yummier with your little bits of fishy goodness than some funky shrimp paste and chili seasoning? Nothing. This is one of those dishes that I think helps you figure out whether or not you’re going to get along with someone, like a good blind date dish. You’re either the type of person that looks these little fishies in their eyes, takes a deep whiff of that Chinatown back alley funk and thinks, “Awwwww yeahhhhh, I gotta get me some of this” or you’re that “other” type of person that I don’t usually associate with unless forced to. You know, the type of person that won’t eat anything with eyes or that smells a little fishy… the type of person that you usually catch grimacing and wrinkling their nose as they tiptoe through chinatown holding their pant legs up so they don’t step in anything… the type of person that I literally can’t talk to for more than 5 minutes without antagonizing in some way while my husband grabs my hand under the table, silently begging me not to make another food enemy the way I alienated his second cousin by telling her that Magnolia cupcakes taste like a combination of chalk and dirt, mashed together into a dry cupcake shape, iced with the overly sweet taste of sellout. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, you either like these little umami bites tossed with more umami goodness, complimented with sweet and tangy barely-cooked red onion crunchiness, or you’re a culture-hating nazi. Ok, maybe not a nazi, but we would not get along…

Fried dried anchovies in a shrimp paste sauce - like tasting Chinatown... in a good way.

If you can't eat this dish because the anchovy is staring at you, stop reading this post and this blog. Never come back.

Just keep swimming through your meal, because we’ve got bigger fish to fry… literally. You know what was shocking about my first time eating fish in a non-Asian restaurant when I was a teenager? The fact that the fish came on my plate vs. being served family style and also that its head was missing. No fish head? But then who gets to eat the fish eyeball? Listen, I know – you don’t have to be a nazi to not want to eat a fish eyeball. I will give you that. But all I’m saying is that a fish eyeball is pretty damn good. It has the texture of a stale gum ball – really chewy – but the flavor of really light but savory fish jerky. I’m not selling it, am I? It’s like durian – Westerners can’t stand the smell, but it doesn’t bother me at all because it smells like durian, which is delicious. At New Malaysia, order yourself any of their whole fishes, either fried or steamed. I like the deep-fried red snapper in jawa sauce. What is jawa sauce? It’s delicious. I kept asking the waiter and he would answer by pointing at the sauce on the fish. It’s like asking “who’s on first?” What is jawa sauce? It’s the sauce that comes with the deep-fried red snapper. I kept asking, he kept repeating that answer until I asked him if I was being punked and he just stared at me blankly. I googled it later and Jawa is an Indonesian island so I’m guessing jawa is not an ingredient, but just refers to the style of sauce.  All I can say is that this dish is damn delicious – the sauce has a meaty savoriness to it that’s so perfect with the crispy snapper skin underneath and the pale, juicy, flaky flesh.  It’s like wearing a perfectly cut and draped, sleeveless velvet cocktail dress to a holiday party.  At least I think it is – I usually show up at holiday parties in jeans with at least 3 shots of Don Nacho tequila warming my system.  Not anymore, though, cuz I’m a mom!  So don’t call social services on me just yet, people!

Do you choose the red snapper? Or what's in the box? If you get the movie reference, I heart you.

Can someone PLEASE tell me what's in the jawa sauce???

I hope your holidays were as delicious as possible!  I actually lucked out and my parents roasted and brought 2 ducks to my apartment this year, complete with potatoes and asparagus sautéed in duck fat and some sticky and wild rice stuffing that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  All I had to do was make some buttery smooth yukon gold mashed potatoes, an apple tart, and a deep dish caramel pumpkin pie… and those little tasks took FOREVER as my son decided to feast on his holiday meals every 1.5 hours:)

Stay tuned for my next post all about CHAMPAGNE!  Good news is that I’m back off the wagon, but the bad news is that I can only have 1 glass a day.  I know, some of you are shaking your heads and saying “I only have one glass a day because I’m uptight, blah blah blah” and judging me.  Well don’t.  Anyhoo, when you can only drink one glass a day, you reallllllly learn to pick and choose what it is you’re sipping.  So I called in a favor and picked my Christie’s wine expert friend’s brain for her top 5 picks under $50!  Let’s hope that my baby gives me the opportunity to post again before the New Year!

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My, what a difference a year makes…

So… what’s new with you?  How’ve you been?  Chit chat, chit chat, chit chat.  Ok, fine.  I know.  I’m a crap blogger and I’m lucky that the 5 people who still check this blog have jobs so boring that they’re forced to type in my ridiculously long url in hopes of a 2 minute distraction.  And to those 5 people, let me just say I’m sorry for not posting and I’m sorry in advance for this poorly organized post!

I have a lot to cover.  First, I’m no longer working in food.  Actually, I’m no longer working at all so to speak.  Shortly after my Fondue & the City mixer at Murray’s, I found out that fondue and beer really do mean love… I was preggers!  Finding out the news basically threw my life into disarray and gave me new found perspective on everything.  I decided to leave Murray’s (with 2 months notice as I can never seem to leave a job with the standard 2 weeks notice like a normal person) and work part-time at FCI while redoing my apartment kitchen.  Goodbye galley, hello open, stainless steel, marble counter heaven!

And hello BABY! After 22 hours of labor (yup, 22 glorious hours) and one c-section, my GIANT 8 lb 13 oz baby boy arrived with a head of dark hair and bright beautiful eyes to a chorus from my doctors and nurses of, “Whoa, he’s huge! No wonder he wouldn’t come out.”  Magic.  Simply magic.  Not so magic are the remaining stretch marks, but let that be a lesson to pregnant women everywhere that daily belgian waffles with strawberries are not conducive to moderate weight gain.  My son (how weird does THAT sound???) is by far the most demanding boss that I’ve ever had and has reduced me to basically a milking cow, but he’s also the best thing that’s ever happened to me – well, he and my husband are because without my husband, I wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

Now that I’m unemployed with absolutely no time to string together a coherent thought, I figured it might be a good time to post again!  Yup, that’s classic Disaster logic for you.  I’m not sure what I will be able to write about as I’m 1) Not really cooking so much as speed-dialing takeout and 2) Not feeding my baby anything except for excessive quantities of breast milk.  Oh, I should also mention that my baby has almost doubled his weight in 2 months – he’s a sumo wrestler.  The kid looks like he ate another baby in the hospital nursery.  The nurse at his pediatricians office didn’t believe me when I said he was 2 months and went to verify it with the doctor.  Have no fear, I’m sure I will think of something…  Maybe I’ll write about what I wish I were eating right now instead of the horribly healthy rice cracker with hummus that I’m using to crumb up my keyboard.

What I’m dreaming about right now is actually a bottle of Goose Island Oatmeal Stout.  Here’s the thing, if you’re a mom who’s breastfeeding, it’s supposed to be perfect for you because it helps you produce milk.  So I should be able to drink it, right???  Not so fast.  I, being the freak of nature/walking disaster that I am, have the opposite problem and have an oversupply of milk.  I could feed a small country and if I were granola enough, be making cheese out of my reserves like that crazy chick who brought hers to Murray’s and made our VP taste it (that didn’t go well, by the way).  While pregnant, I dreamed of an excuse to be able to drink up the Oatmeal Stout’s rich, nutty, dark, slightly savory goodness… And now, of course, I can’t touch the stuff for fear that I will become more milk than woman.

So please, good readers, whether you’re breastfeeding or not, go find a bottle and drink it up for me!  I welcome you to laugh at my expense while you sip its frothy goodness.  Just know that as you do, I will be viciously hating you with every fiber of my being.  That’s right, motherhood has not softened me.  Not. One. Bit.  Cheers!


Filed under What I Wish I Were Eating

Love and fondue…

Some people thought I was crazy, and when 20 women and 0 men initially signed up for my “Fondue and the City” singles mixer at Murray’s, I thought I might be way off track, too.  Luckily, we put the word out that any man interested in 1) women, 2) cheese, and 3) beer should head on over to Murray’s one cold Friday night in January et voila…  If you melt it and serve it with beer, they will come.  My theory that fondue ultimately leads to love still stands.

Check out my girl Tam’s post on Serious Eats for the photos and cheese love.

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Bless me father for I have sinned…

…it has been many weeks since my last blog entry.  And my last blog entry was a bit of a cheat since it 1) had nothing to do with food, 2) had no text in the body and, 3) was just a picture of our fiberglass shark, Frank, wrapped in Christmas lights.

Urging me into confession today are several of my former classmates from my FCI Blogging Class that got me into this whole mess to start with.  Under the tutelage of Blog Deity Steven Shaw, our merry band of Eat & Tell-aholics became real life bloggers, supporting each other’s daily posts with both feedback and love.  We were masters of the compliment sandwich: “I loved the picture of your pet shark; I wasn’t exactly sure what that had to do with food?; you really did a great job wrapping lights around his hammer-head.”  It was almost a year ago that we started this adventure together and I hear through the grapevine that a new class is about to start next month.  It has me nostalgic.

I was once a blogging machine, posting everyday to not just this blog, but the Cooking Issues blog.  Then something happened – I hit 100 posts and thought, “Ahhh, well now I deserve a break!”  In my free time, I got a job at Murray’s Cheese, and then I picked up another job at Murray’s Cheese while neglecting to give my old job away!  What a brilliant idea!  (If you missed the boatload of sarcasm there, I have only myself to blame for not keeping you seasoned to my typarcasm)

Well, it’s a new year, I’ve got a new job, and hell, it’s time for a new me!  (Yup, there it is again)  I’m going to start blogging again and I promise to blog every… er… um…  well, let’s just start with month for now and I’ll work back up?  Since my life consists of being at Murray’s, a lot of my posts (in the near-term) will probably be about cheese.  Cheese, chocolate, and some form of meat.  I might throw a vegetable in here or there just for good measure – something like a fondue-smothered piece of asparagus.  Or a waffle fry covered in fluorescent cheese and sprinkled with pickled jalapeno…  Still counts in my book!

So to kick off the new year, I’m going to tell you all about a little shop in London called Neal’s Yard Dairy.  And by little, I mean ICONIC.  I would love to say that Murray’s is the American version of Neal’s Yard, but we just are not there yet.  Neal’s Yard is THE affineur and essentially distributor/exporter of English Cheeses.  This week, the American Sales team of Jason Hinds & Raef Hodgson were kind enough to stop in at Murray’s and teach a class for us all about “The Territorials,” English cheeses that all made in a similar style that helps to really boost the acidity in cheeses.  Sometimes that acidity can be called “sharpness,” but it’s basically mouth-watering, tangy-good stuff.  These cheeses are more hearty and refreshing than funky and lingering.  They’re the type of cheeses that you imagine sitting in at least a 2lb chunk in a cool, country kitchen on a well-worn butcher’s block, waiting for someone in a chunky, cable-knit sweater to come in and hack a piece off with a mottled knife and throw it with a hunk of bread into a handkerchief before heading outside to brave the misty, English countryside.

Yes.  You’re right.  Perhaps I have seen one-too-many BBC soap operas.  Actually, it’s really more like I grew up watching one-too-many episodes of Two Fat Ladies (one day, I truly hope to be the fat one in the sidecar – she had the best gig in the world).  Regardless, cheese has a way of transporting you and helping you travel around the world from the comfort of your kitchen table (read: my couch with a plate on my stomach, 1/4 lb of cheese, and a paring knife).  You can TASTE the land, the rain, the care that goes into a good artisanal cheese and that’s magical.  It’s nothing short of experiencing that moment in Ratatouille (yes, the cartoon – that IS the type of blog you are reading) when Ego, the food critic, takes a bite of ratatouille and is immediately transported back to his mother’s kitchen.  Except instead, for Americans such as myself that grew up without easy access to artisan cheese, you’re transported to places that you’ve visited, read about, or watched on the old boob tube.

Jason & Raef spoke about how cheeses such as Caerphilly were made for coal miners and were designed into a thick format with delicious acidity, ripening into mushroomy gooeyness near the rind, in order to provide a good meal for miners who essentially ate at their desks… Imagine if your desk were deep underground and covered in coal dust?  I think you’d like a good bit of tangy cheese, too.  Having never been to a coal mine, I still adore Caerphilly and consider it one of my favorite cheeses.  It’s like being served a giant, homemade slice of savory cake – its driest, crumbly cake layer in the center being lemony and bright, melding into the outer cake layers that have been softened (ripened) into earthy unctuousness the way that a heavily frosted cake becomes sticky where the cake and frosting meet.

Basically, the cheese is DAMN good.  And when Jason & Raef came, they brought some with them for us to use in class!  Sadly, I don’t have  a picture of it because I ate most of what wasn’t plated for students.  And by most of it, I do mean ALL of it.  Down to the rind, it’s a fabulous cheese that I could eat 1/2 lb at a time.  What???  Don’t judge!  What I was able to grab a picture of is 2.6 lbs of Red Leicester…  the reason is that I am currently in possession of 2.6 lbs of Red Leicester!!!  Awwwwww yeahhhhhhhh!  That, my friends, is what I call a “cheese haul.”  Direct from Neal’s Yard in London (but available at Murray’s as well), it’s made from raw cow’s milk and legend has it is one of the oldest cheese-styles in existence.  Sure, it looks like cheddar, and it does have the nice acidity that a good cheddar has, but there’s something unique and distinctive about the lemony, citrus flavor that is wrapped in this incredible, cut-grass earthiness, and beautiful nutty-finish.  It’s got a crumbly, yet smooshable texture and is apparently great toasted up according to Raef, who happens to also be the son of Neal’s Yard Dairy’s owner, Randolph Hodgson.  As an aside, I’ve nicknamed him “Cheesus,” for he is the son of the Cheese God.

Cheese Haul: 2.6 lbs of Red Leicester

English cheeses are almost like pastries to me.  They’re so pleasing.  Something about the way the acidity cuts savoriness, the brightness of the cheese that makes the milk really come through, and the lack of intense pungency makes it satisfying in the way that a beautiful, not too sweet, panna cotta does.  This 2.6lb clothbound confection is going to be my dessert for quite sometime if I keep it wrapped in cheese paper in my vegetable drawer… Well, knowing me, it will at least keep me satisfied for the next week.

Thanks for reading and for the occasional, “Where the hell are you?” email:)  Happy belated 2010!

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Happy Holidays!

Frank dresses for the holidays.


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Have cheese, will travel.

Did I mention that I hate flying? I also hate waiting to fly and being stuck on a plane in general. So right now, as I’m sitting on my American Airlines flight at the gate, where I’ve been sitting for almost 45 minutes, I’m about as annoyed as I can get short of someone putting their finger near my face and repeating, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you,” over and over again.

I’m going to see my Grandpa-in-law, aka “Grandpa Lvoff,” aka just “Grandpa.” For all intents and purposes, I think of him as that relative I didn’t get by blood, but always wanted. He’s just a grand and dapper man who has enveloped me with warmth from the first moment that I met him. Like all good grandfathers, he has the best stories that weave through decades, wars, countries, languages (consider him a walking Rosetta Stone), triumph, love, and heartache. His wingspan is enormous, making his hugs that much more prolific, and he has that faint, dusty cologne smell that I adore so much.

It’s been a tough year for him and this is the first time my husband and I will be seeing him in 2009, which is awful since it’s almost over. I’ve loaded my bag with 2-year Comte (oh hello delcious, nutty, pineapplely, french onion soup in a cheese wedge) and Tomme Crayeuse (what? did you say something about a rough, nut-skin-flavored natural rind protecting both pliable and cakey layers of savory yet balanced cheese goodness?) and many a Francois Pralus dark chocolate to pamper our Grandpops with. Oh yeah, and I got him a Murray’s-made Ring Ding which I can’t wait for him to try. They’re my obsession and I try not to indulge in one daily…

So, add to the fact that I am now pusing almost an hour sitting on this damn plane to my concern for the well-being if my precious cheese cargo, and that every minute delay is keeping me from a Grand-diddy huggle, and I am about to rage blackout in this piece! Luckily, I did think ahead. I brought 2 extra Ring Dings. I may ben give one to my husband, but it’s best to first eat one and then see how I feel. He’d agree that if my rage isn’t significantly quelled by the first Ring Ding, I’d best partake in another… It’s for the good of group.

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Like Licking a Goat…

Here’s just a quick post about my first experience with St. Maure Chevre…

First, I am not a food snob.  Sometimes I’m obnoxious, but I assure you, it’s without any other reason than that I’m oddly particular.  I don’t judge food and I don’t judge your tastes (intentionally) because frankly, food to me is about both comfort and nostalgia.  So, when I tell you that my first experience with goat cheese was on a chevre-producing farm outside of Tours, France in the Loire Valley, it’s not because I’m showing off, it’s because I had truly never been exposed to goat cheese before this time.

I was 19 years old and had followed my friend, Amanda, to France to study abroad for the summer.  This was my first trip abroad without my family, and I was thrilled and terrified for the adventure.  About a week before taking off, my then-boyfriend took me to see the movie “Final Destination,” about a class field trip to Paris where the plane crashes… Needless to say, he’s an ex-boyfriend now.  I don’t know if it was that movie or just the fact that it was my first flight sitting all by myself, but that was also the first time that I realized that I am terrified of flying.  That’s a dandy little peak into just one of my MANY increasing phobias and superstitions – oh, just remember to touch the outside of the plane before boarding… that helps keep in the air, you know…  as do crying babies on your flight… because what kind of a God would kill babies in a firey plane crash???

Back to the cheese.  One of the many excursions worked into my study abroad program was to a small goat farm that produced Saint Maure Chevre.  At the time, I was convinced that I might be allergic to the goat cheese since I had only recently discovered that after years of riding horses, I had developed an allergy to them.  And to me, goats and horses smelled EXACTLY the same.  I peeked out of our coach bus upon arrival at the farm and was slapped in the face by the overwhelming heavy, slightly sticky sweet, hay and animal sweat scent of goats galore.  My first instinct was to run.

Luckily, my dear friends mocked my fear and forced me from the bus to confront the odor-producing fiends face-to-muzzle.  Damn, they were cute.  They stank like there was no tomorrow, but those little cud-chewing bastards were super adorable.  While my friend played with stray kittens that she found scampering amongst benches of hay (insert every stereotypical, bucolic image that you can), I hesitantly petted the coarse foreheads of a pack of rank goats.  Their oppressive, syrupy stink was about to chase me away when someone called to me to come and see the baby goats…

Oh… sweet… cheezits…  These soft, poodle-sized (although I’m not a fan of poodles – they seem arrogant), puddle-eyed mini-goats were endearing in the way that they stumbled over one another, trying to stand upright to get closer to my waiting hand, ready to caress those buttery ears.  They just killed you in the way that toddlers stumble around, their legs not yet strong enough to fully cope with the enormous weight of their bowling ball noggins.  Even their annoying, staccato calling was heart-warming… if only they didn’t stink…  Yet still, I pet away, enjoying their adorableness and thinking slyly, well, how much worse does this really smell than anything else in France.  (FYI – that’s a terrible joke – I’ve never actually met a stinky Frenchman.  Their cabbies smell MUCH better than most of our regular citizens do).

Finally, we walked into the cheese-making facility for the shock of my life.  After smelling the goats and swearing that I would forego tasting the cheese (even though up to this point, I LOVED cheese and had trouble refusing any food in general), I was completely surprised when a stocky French woman donned what looked like a hazmat suit and led us into a stainless steel, white, sterilized cheese-making facility.  There, I learned about how goat milk was collected, coagulated, and molded into a tube surrounding a straw that was both traditional and used to help the tubular cheese maintain its shape — to this day, I sometimes think “paille” instead of “straw” when I see a singular piece of hay.  We were then led into another room where the goat cheeses were coated in vegetal ash (although I didn’t recall it being vegetal ash at the time, but just know it now from the Murray’s affineur giving me a “it’s vegetal ash, you dumbass” look when I asked later), and aged for 1 week, 3 weeks, 7 weeks, and then 10 weeks at its oldest.

As we sat at large, wooden picnic tables set over hay in an outdoor barn area, I anxiously awaited what this “chevre” would taste like.  Part of me hoped that it wouldn’t smell or taste anything like the goats that I was trying to rub from my hands onto my jeans (remember, this is before the days of Purell…  whoa, right?  Yup, I’m THAT old).  When the first, 1 week aged chevre arrived, sliced into a round with just a small hole interrupting the snow-white, ridged perfection of the cheese, I leaned in and sniffed.  Yup, still smelled like goat, but not in the sweat-covered coarse-haired fur-ball way that the goats had.  The scent was milder, a little sour, but not in a bad milk way at all.  Now that the cheese lay in front of me with just the faint wisp of a bloomy rind circling its outer edge, my normal food-cravings set in and my mouth began to salivate.  I grabbed the disk and bit in…

Delicious.  Yes, it still tasted a little like licking a goat, but damn, that tangy mild-creaminess could not be disliked.  It tasted fresh.  I was completely perplexed by how something that came from an animal that smelled anything but could taste like fresh-picked flowers, vegetables and fruit.  As the aged versions arrived, each one becoming a little more plastic-y, somewhat resembling stained glass, I was intrigued by how the animaly-ness actually changed into nutty, almost meaty notes.  In fact, the 10-week aged St. Maure was quite nice and snackable – it was like al dente pasta, its texture providing a lovely break from the soft creaminess of the younger versions.  While the cheese was enlightening, the apple cider that we were then served (also produced on the goat farm) was unfortunately NOT what I had been hoping.  It was as if an apple had been rolled across the back of a sweaty goat before being pressed and fermented…

After that trip, I ate “salade chevre chaud” as much as possible before leaving France.  In fact, I ate it almost daily following my daily infusion of a pate de campagne sandwic and fromage blanc with fraises du bois.  When I returned home, sadly, I couldn’t find my St. Maure again.  I found other, delightful Loire Valley chevre varieties in different forms/shapes, but never that beautiful, tubular bundle of goodness complete with paille core.  In my complete ignorance, I had no idea that it would be hard to find in the states.

As the years passed and my waistline increased, I’ve found my delicious St. Maure many, many times.  But nothing prepared me for the day that I stepped into the caves at Murray’s as an intern and was asked to pat down the fuzzy, penicilium candidum mold surrounding the delicate and tender goat-milk cheese forming on a fresh log of St. Maure.  Mike, the affineur, is not one for displays of emotion, so I hid the chills that ran up my spine and sniffed in the tear forming at the corner of my eye, quickly patting, rolling, and flipping the fragile logs.

It’s such a small thing, literally.  It’s a log of goat cheese for Christ’s sake!  Yet for someone like me, who everyday questions whether or not leaving my old career (and paycheck) was the right decision, it was a silent confirmation that I’ve chosen the right path.  Sometimes I forget to savour moments like these, but luckily, a little thing like the scent-memory of a stinky goat welled up enough emotion to make me stop and be thankful.

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