Although it’s been quite some time since my last post (um, several months! my screen saver should be tumbleweeds…), I’m not quite ready to give up blogging. Perhaps I’m in denial, but after spending all that time to transfer to a new domain earlier this year, getting a new masthead, etc, it seems a shame to let it slowly die. Although this fall and holiday season were our busiest yet for Beau Bien Fine Foods (selling at Eastern Market; getting our retail license to sell in stores) and the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar was the biggest so far, you’d think my fairly flexible schedule would allow for some blogging time… I suppose my priorities just shifted towards activities that could potentially earn me some income, such as freelance writing and selling vintage clothing on my Etsy shop. But since January through April is a pretty slow season in the jam business, I’m hoping to get back into posting more regularly.
In spite of the lack of posts, I’ve been cooking just as much as ever. Lots of trout during the very hot summer and early fall; lacto-fermented pickle experiments with sauerkraut, kimchi and root vegetables (see below); some slow cooker experiments with pork ribs; dough for bread and pizza when it wasn’t too ungodly hot to turn on the oven. Some days, I’d even come home from a 10 or 11-hour day at the kitchen and prepare a meal for Marvin and myself. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few takeout meals and rotisserie chickens in the mix, but I tried to get into a groove of having enough groceries and pantry staples on hand to rustle up some simple healthy meals after a long day’s work.
The first Michigan tomatoes of the season are starting to ripen, and one of my favorite things to do with them is to make gazpacho, the chilled soup that’s a summery blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic and bread, enriched with olive oil and spiked with sherry vinegar. In the States (or at least in my neck of the woods), our love of Mexican food has caused mutations to appear, usually in the form of adding cilantro, jalapeños or lime juice, making a tasty soup but one that is much more akin to salsa than a true gazpacho. The tendency here is also to serve gazpacho chunky rather than smooth. Although I don’t necessarily dislike these alterations, my one pet peeve is that many of these salsa-like creations don’t even include gazpacho’s signature ingredient (the bread!), often making them too acidic to eat a whole bowlful.
There’s something to be said about traditions. Whether it be a religious rite, a certain food made every year without fail for a holiday, or some corny family ritual that has you groaning inwardly each time it’s performed, traditions bind us and make us feel a sense of community between ourselves and those who share them. Most traditions revolve around church or family, but just as meaningful are the ones we create or choose purposefully, rather than the ones we inherit.
My favorite tradition which falls in the latter category is the annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. Every year for the last three years (and hopefully many more to come), we gather under the willow trees on the north side of the island to eat, drink, socialize and bask in the beautiful views. Anyone is welcome to attend, but there is a core group that shows up each year. You can be relatively assured of a delicious and potent punch or shrub made by Evan or Dave, creative DIY eats and coffee drinks from James, elote from Amber and Nate, homemade sausage from the Porktown Sausage boys, and a host of other treats that go above and beyond the standard picnic fare. And of course there’s Todd, who (along with Evan) organizes the picnic, comes early to set up, and stays until everything is returned to the condition it was in when they arrived. Continue reading
As I write this, it’s 10am and temperatures are already in the mid-80s. I’m sitting outside and there’s a pleasant breeze, but I know I only have about an hour (if I’m lucky) before things become unbearable and I have to take shelter. It’s expected to hit 95° today, and we haven’t yet put our lone window A/C unit in, so I may be spending the remainder of the day in the basement. If things get really bad, I might have to resort to turning into one of those people who write in coffee shops for the day.
These unusual-for-Michigan high temperatures have thrown everything off kilter for produce. Most notably, the fruit trees all blossomed prematurely and the blossoms then got killed off by a frost. For a state with a major fruit-growing industry, things are not looking good: we’ll see little if any apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums or anything else that grows on a tree.
Despite this setback- one that affects me personally as a small business owner trying to use local produce- there are still several fruits that should still thrive this year, like raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries and of course, strawberries. Strawberry season, which usually starts around this time, has already been going strong for a few weeks, and probably won’t be around much longer. As soon as we were able, in late May, my partner Molly and I went to a U-Pick farm on a beautiful spring morning and picked 60 pounds of the most gorgeous berries I’ve seen in years (see below). Last year’s strawberries were somewhat watery due to a lot of rain, but these were deep red with concentrated, complex flavor.
In addition to making jam for our business, we each took a few pints for our own personal use. While not much can beat the simplicity of a bowl of sliced berries with a small sprinkling of sugar and maybe a touch of lemon, my favorite thing to do with them other than that is to make ice cream. I had recently checked out Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home from the library, and as someone who makes lots of ice cream, was intrigued by her no-egg method. Rather than make a custard base, she uses a combination of cornstarch, cream cheese and corn syrup to give the proper consistency and scoopability to her creations. I was a bit skeptical at first- I’m trying to limit consumption of GMO corn products- but decided to go ahead with a couple substitutions, using tapioca for the starch and an organic corn syrup. Incidentally, Jeni’s is a cool regional (Columbus, OH) company who generously sent several pints for us to sample at the first annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic, which is happening again this Saturday! Everyone loved the Bangkok Peanut, Wild Berry Lavender and other creative flavors. Continue reading
Among the many tourist sites we visited on our trip to Andalusia, the Alcazar in Seville (above) was one of my favorites. Just steps from the twisting passageways of the Barrio Santa Cruz (left), where we were staying, the Alcazar has some of the same amazing Moorish architectural detail (right) of the Alhambra in Granada, along with some incredible gardens that we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore. (For full set of photos, see my facebook page.) I suppose we could have lingered longer, but after getting up early and spending a few solid hours there, we were ready for some lunch. We headed toward the Calle Mateos Gago, where we had heard there were some good tapas bars. This was pretty much the rhythm of many of our days: get up early, put in a few hours of sightseeing, reward ourselves with tapas and beer or wine, take naps, repeat the cycle after the naps.
As we wandered down the street, we spotted a microscopic bar with a bespectacled stuffed boar’s head on the wall and a brash, gesticulating bartender, and decided right away that it was our kind of place. This was Bar Àlvaro, which I wrote about in my last post. After our lively experience there, we decided to go next door to Bar Tomate to chill out and order more food to soak up the alcohol. Although we had eaten a few tapas at Àlvaro’s, walking around the Alcazar the whole morning and then walking to lunch had worked up our appetites. According to Lonely Planet, Bar Tomate is known for their plump and delicious gambas al ajillo, shrimp poached in olive oil with a few red chiles and copious quantities of chopped garlic. Sold. If there’s anything better than that oil for dipping bread in, I don’t know what it is. Along with a couple glasses of crisp Verdejo, we were in heaven. The atmosphere at Tomate was much more subdued than that of its neighbor, but cool in its own way, with Art Nouveau posters and weird marionettes with currency from dozens of countries pinned to their clothing. And of course, the obligatory hams hanging from the ceiling! Continue reading