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.
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
When traveling, I always have mixed feelings about relying on guidebooks for restaurant and bar suggestions. On the one hand, when you’re in a strange city and have no idea where to go, you might not want to spend limited funds taking a chance on a place that could be a dud. On the other hand, you might miss out on the opportunity to discover something wonderful that you wouldn’t have come upon if you were blindly following a book’s suggestions. Not to mention that guidebook-endorsed restaurants are often full of all the other tourists who bought the same book!
In Seville, as it happens, we came upon a microscopic bar (you can see pretty much the whole place in the top photo!) that we later learned was listed in our Lonely Planet. Happily, its charm was in no way diminished as a result of its having been recognized in print, and it ended up being one of our favorite bars of the entire trip. Bar Àlvaro, in the Calle Mateos Gago, is a quirky family-owned bar open since 1904 (as was conveyed to us in chalk; see photo). Its current owner is Àlvaro Peregil (translation: Oliver Parsley, hehe), who is hands down the most enthusiastic bartender I have ever seen on either side of the Atlantic. He presides over his domain with an infectious energy that makes you feel as if you’re privy to an impromptu celebration for no other reason than that it’s great to be alive. Tall for a Spaniard, he dominates the postage-stamp-sized space with his booming voice and animated gestures, taking orders one minute and grabbing a rhythm stick the next to demonstrate his percussive prowess. We knew instantly that this was our kind of place, and settled in for some drinks and tapas. Continue reading
After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.
I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later. Continue reading