Last Thursday (practically Friday, with the delay of our final flight), we returned from our two-week honeymoon in Andalucía, the southernmost province in Spain. I hardly know where to start, but over the next few weeks Marvin and I will be posting some stories and highlights from our trip (photos in this post were taken by him). For our first post, I want to share with you a natural winemaker that we discovered in the most serendipitous way.
Wandering Granada’s Albaicín neighborhood on a rainy afternoon, we decided to take shelter in a tiny place called Bar Kiki. We were leery that it would be a tourist trap, as we were adjacent to the mirador San Nicolas (a popular vantage point from which to view the city and Alhambra), but we entered anyway to warm up with a glass of wine and some rabo de toro (oxtail stew). It turned out to be a great little spot, with a friendly bartender who was happy to answer our questions about different drinks and menu items. So when a local winemaker came into the bar to make a delivery, the bartender offered to sell us a bottle at their cost. We started talking to the winemaker, Antonio Vílchez, and before we knew it he had invited us to come to his bodega, about 45 minutes away, for a tasting and tour of his vineyards.
The next day we were heading for Córdoba, but decided to take a detour to the east to visit Antonio’s winery. After all, when would we get another chance to have a personal guided tour with a Spanish winemaker? We drove towards Guadix and found our way toward the tiny (300 inhabitants) town of Marchal. On the way into town, we spotted a gypsy caravan on the side of the road, as well as cave dwellings in the surrounding cliff side. After pulling up in front of the tiny ayuntamiento (town hall) and getting some curious looks from the townspeople, we located Antonio and he showed us into his place. The operation was small and unglamorous- he produces a mere 8,000 bottles per year- but it was great to get an inside look at how a small winery operates. Continue reading
There’s a bumper sticker that reads “Ann Arbor: 25 square miles surrounded by reality”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that fair city, allow me to explain the joke. Ann Arbor (or A2 as it’s known in shorthand), home to the University of Michigan, is a liberal enclave where people are SO like-minded that after spending some time there, you’re apt to be lulled into forgetting that other places aren’t as progressive. For someone coming from another city (especially Detroit), going to Ann Arbor is akin to going to Disneyland’s Epcot Center; like visiting a staged example of what a mid-sized Midwestern city could be if everyone shopped at a food co-op, recycled, volunteered, or was otherwise groovy. Everywhere you go, there is evidence of A2′s crunchy leanings: a yoga studio every other block; houses painted various shades of the rainbow; people biking and walking more than they drive. The city hosts an annual Hash Bash (they’re known for their lax marijuana laws), has a high school where kids aren’t given grades, and allows people to keep chickens in their backyards.
Saturday Scarlet Oaks had a show in A2: a fundraiser, held in an urban barn (see photos above & below), in which people were asked to donate art supplies as part of their admission. It was a gorgeous day out, so my friend Melissa and I decided to head out there early so we could wander around, get some food, and basically be tourists. Lest you get the impression by my comments above that I’m somehow hating on Ann Arbor, let me assure you that’s not the case- there are few better places a drive’s distance from my house to spend a sunny afternoon. The downtown area is eminently walkable, and features scads of cute shops, restaurants, cafes etc.
The city is as close as one can get to a food-lover’s paradise in the Midwest. In addition to many great restaurants (several in the budget category- this is a college town after all), A2 boasts a lovely farmers’ market and several gourmet shops. Most notably, it’s home to the nationally-known Zingerman’s mini-empire (deli, restaurant, dairy, and bakery), whose philosophy leads them to source and serve only the best quality slow and sustainable foods. Folks here are very active in the local and organic food movements- a blogging friend runs a business called Locavorious, selling local foods frozen at harvest to be eaten through the winter months; another blogger runs Preserving Traditions, a group that hosts workshops on canning and such. Not surprisingly, the largest concentration of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers is in Ann Arbor and its environs.
Our singer Steve grew up around Ann Arbor and knows all the good spots, so at his suggestion we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Sadako. He and his wife had raved about how good it was, and how cheap (for sushi)- a rarity. (I realize “cheap” is not necessarily a word you want to associate with sushi, but trust me, the quality was not proportional to the low prices!) We ordered off the lunch specials menu, opting for bento rather than sushi rolls. For a mere $7.45, I got an incredible amount of food: miso soup, a small side salad, 2 gyoza, an assortment of tempura (including 2 shrimp), teriyaki-glazed salmon with vegetables, and 4 pieces of California roll. I was pretty much in awe of what a great deal this was, and felt a little guilty that I couldn’t finish everything. I made a valiant effort though, and finished most of my bento. Note to self: in the future, only eat half the miso; it’s good but fills valuable stomach space that could be better spent on tempura!
Happily sated, we continued across town to Kerrytown, the neighborhood which houses the farmers’ market, Zingerman’s deli, and some other shops. Melissa wanted to visit Hollander’s, a huge shop specializing in paper goods. (As I left, I happened to see that the entire upper level is devoted to kitchen/ housewares… a good thing I didn’t notice sooner, as I probably would have spent an entire paycheck and/ or browsed so long that I would’ve been late for our set!) I bought a set of postcards with illustrations of vegetables from old seed packets, which I’ll frame and use as kitchen decor.
After Hollander’s, we headed up the block to Zingerman’s where I was hoping to find verjus. The place was ridiculously packed; the line winding through the shop and several feet out onto the sidewalk. The helpful employee I asked told me that they didn’t currently carry verjus, because they hadn’t yet found a brand up to their standards! We geeked out on vinegars, and he gave me a few outstanding samples, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to part with $20 for a bottle. Next visit I’ll save my pennies in anticipation of dropping some serious cash there. (Ahem, if you ever need a gift idea for me, they have gift cards!)
Our show was a lot of fun; it’s always a nice change of pace to play during the daytime and not in some smoky bar (19 more days!!!). Unfortunately for the fundraising effort there weren’t a ton of people there, but the sound was good and we got an enthusiastic reception. After our set, we grabbed some carry-out and beer and headed to a friend’s house to sit on the porch and enjoy the last few rays of sun before heading back to the reality of Detroit.
As you might expect, living in such an idyllic town does not come cheap. Although property values have taken a hit as they have everywhere, they are much higher in A2 than most MI cities, and ironically, economic and ethnic diversity is the casualty of this gentrification (lower-income folks who work in Ann Arbor mostly live in neighboring Ypsilanti).
Like many Americans, technically I’m what you might call a “mutt”- like a big pot of stew with lots of bits and bobs, my family tree is peppered with Scottish, English, Native American, French, German and probably a bunch of other genes I’m unaware of. But, coincidentally, I have Alsatian roots on both my mother’s and father’s side. My mom’s grandfather’s family, the Steffeses, and my dad’s father’s side, the Lothamers (originally Lotthammer) are both from Alsace and the Black Forest region (on the other side of the Rhine river, which divides Alsace from Germany). So, given the fact that I have been enamored with French language and culture from an early age, and that I have a French first name and German last name, I have adopted Alsace as my pays and taken to telling people with a wink that I’m alsacienne.
One of my uncles has done pretty extensive genealogical research on the Lotthammer family and has made contact with several families living in Alsace and Germany today that are related to us. When I was 16, he arranged a trip for me and my best friend to travel to Alsace and stay with some of the families he had made contact with through his research (yes, that’s me in the photo above on the right at age 16… the French got a kick out of my braces!). We were there for three weeks, and visited the region extensively- from the largest city, Strasbourg, to a tiny village called Guewenheim, and several towns in between (Colmar, Mulhouse, Thann, Belfort…). The experience was nothing short of transformative for a suburban teenager who until then had barely traveled in the U.S. let alone Europe.
That trip was a huge stepping stone on my path to adventurous eating and cooking. In Guewenheim, we stayed with a family whose refrigerator was unplugged and used as a pantry, because they ate fresh food every day and had no need to refrigerate anything! (Any leftover scraps were given to their lucky chien, Zora.) One of the funniest memories from that trip was going over to the home of an elderly woman in the village for a lesson in making kugelhopf, only to discover that the woman’s Alsatian dialect was totally incomprehensible to our limited third-year French ears. Let’s just say there was a lot of nodding and smiling going on that afternoon, and that I still don’t know how to make kugelhopf!
It took a while for my budding food curiosity to convert itself into a love for cooking, but some of the first recipes I ever made from a cookbook came from France: The Beautiful Cookbook. This was a gift from another uncle to our family, and since my parents weren’t the type to cook from a “fancy” French cookbook, the book defaulted into my possession. I still have a great nostalgia for the hours I spent as a teenager poring over the photos, reading about the different regions of France, and staring longingly at all the strange food depicted between its covers, trying to conjure what it would taste like. Luckily, not all the recipes were out of reach, and I taught myself to make tarte flambée (basically a “pizza” with crème fraîche, bacon and onions) so I could have a little taste of Alsace here in the States. With crème fraîche being readily available now, along with ready made pizza dough, this is now something that’s totally doable for a weeknight supper, and I’ve found myself making it fairly often of late. One of these days I’ll make a choucroute garnie, the most famous of Alsace’s regional dishes, but with spring around the corner, I don’t know how many more large heavy dinners will be in the works, so it may have to wait until next winter at this point. If I get really motivated maybe I’ll even make my own sauerkraut!
P.S. This is a GREAT recipe to adapt to the grill- see this post for instructions on grilling pizza.
Photo note: all of the non-food photos are scans of old photos from my trip. The top two are in Colmar; the third was taken atop Strasbourg’s cathedral, and the remainder I believe are from Guewenheim (possibly another nearby village).
Tarte Flambée (Alsatian Bacon & Onion Tart)
1 lb pizza dough, divided in half
1 small tub crème fraîche (you’ll probably use 1/2 to 2/3 cup total)
3 medium yellow onions
6 slices bacon
white or black pepper
optional: shredded Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese
Notes: This will make two approximately 10″ tarts, depending on how thin you stretch your dough. Each tart serves two as a main course or more as an appetizer, so you can make the second tart right away or save the leftover dough and toppings for a quick and easy after-work meal. Cheese is not traditional per se, but I had some and wanted to use it up. If you do use cheese, do so sparingly, otherwise you’ll end up with a pretty greasy tart. The nutmeg may be non-traditional as well but I love nutmeg with cream, bacon and onions so I always include it. White pepper vs. black is more a visual thing, if you don’t want black specks on your white food, use the white pepper.
Place a pizza stone in the oven on the center rack and preheat to 475. OR, make this on the grill. Remove your dough from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temp while you prep the onions and bacon.
Heat a medium (10″ or 12″) cast iron or aluminum skillet over medium heat. Cut the bacon into 1/4-” strips (I like to use a kitchen scissors and just snip the bacon right over the pan) and fry to your preferred doneness. While the bacon is frying, cut your onions. I like to do thin rings but you can dice it if you prefer. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off some of the bacon fat, leaving enough in the pan to fry the onions. Saute the onions over medium-high heat until soft and golden.
Put a generous amount of flour on a pizza peel or other flat surface such as a cookie sheet with no lip (in a pinch, I have used an upside-down cookie sheet; you just need to be able to slide it off onto the pizza stone). Take one of your dough balls and flour it until it is dry to the touch. Gently stretch the dough, using your fists, flouring as you go to keep it from sticking to your hands or the pizza peel. I like to get mine as thin as possible, but if you prefer a chewier crust you can adjust accordingly. Don’t forget that your dough will shrink back a bit, so make it slightly thinner than you think you’ll want it. When you’re done, place the dough on the peel and shake it, making sure the dough moves freely and is not sticking anywhere.
Working as quickly as possible, spread a thin layer of crème fraîche over the dough, about 1/4 cup or a little more if needed. Top the tart with half the onions, half the bacon, a few grinds of pepper and nutmeg, and cheese if using. Slide the tart onto the pizza peel and cook until the crust is golden, 5-10 minutes depending on how thick you stretched the dough. Brush the flour off the peel and use it to serve the tart.
The past few weeks, my Google reader has been filled to bursting with posts about seasonal treats such as roast goose, gingerbread houses, candied nuts, and all other manner of holiday goodies. I’ve watched and read enviously from the sidelines, wishing that I had the time, energy and wherewithal to make my own festive recipes, let alone have time to blog about them.
Holidays for me as a “single gal” have always been about going somewhere else. None of my family are here in the immediate Detroit area, so Christmas always involves traveling. Since there’s just one of me and several of them, there’s never really an option to host a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal at my house. Perhaps that’s why I never feel fully in the holiday spirit to do things at home, such as put up a tree or lights, make Christmas cookies, or blog about holiday food. Instead of puttering about the kitchen, I’m packing bags and making travel plans.
I’m hoping that will change in 2010- a few days ago on my birthday (Dec. 27), Marvin proposed, and I accepted! We’re going to start looking for a house of our own, and by holiday-time next year we should be all settled in. I am eagerly anticipating all of the firsts, especially our first Christmas in our own home, and I’m sure I’ll be much more motivated to decorate, make goodies, and basically “nest” more so than I have in my bachelorette flat.
This holiday season in particular involved quite a bit of hither-and-thither: Detroit on Christmas eve, East Lansing for Christmas day, and finally, South Carolina. The day after Christmas we got up early and packed up the car for a marathon drive to SC to see my mom. We arrived late on the 26th and drove home New Year’s Day. More details to come, but the highlight of course was my birthday and the proposal. It was somewhat of a comedy of errors- he had told my sisters, one of whom couldn’t keep it to herself (ahem, N,) and told my mom, so everyone knew what was going on and contrived for us to go to the beach with wine, lawn chairs, etc. And then he ended up telling me he had told them, so I didn’t even have the illusion of surprising them! But in the end, it was great to be surrounded by family at such an important and special moment. At dinner, I announced the “news” during grace by saying I was thankful for my “fiancé” (upon hearing the word, the table broke out in a chorus of hoots and hollers), who “has a big mouth but an even bigger heart”. (Hokey, yes, I know!)
I have much more to write about our holiday food (look for a post on Marvin’s mom’s roasted salsa) and travels (we had some great roadfood), but for now I just wanted to share my big news with you and wish you the happiest new year yet! I also want to give a BIG THANK YOU to all of those who participated in the $2-menu challenge- you helped raise $100 for Gleaners! (Since participation was a little on the lean side, I rounded up…) It’s no Menu for Hope, but I’d like to think it was a fruitful exercise and that we raised awareness a little bit. Perhaps we can do something similar in the summer when the farmers’ markets are more bountiful.
Photos: lamppost in Savannah; old church in Bluffton, SC; the beach at Hilton Head where the proposal took place
My second day in Portland was just as filled with deliciousness as the first, if not more so. We started out the day with coffee and savory pastries at Crema, a coffee shop/bakery near Kathy’s house. Their black coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had, and I had a difficult time choosing between all the wonderful-looking offerings. I ended up with a manchego-mushroom biscuit that was somewhat like a scone; Kathy had some kind of flaky turnover filled with eggs & veggies. Apparently on the weekends, the line goes out the door, and for good reason. We were there on a Friday morning and it was pretty full but we got a table. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera battery charged when we were there, but I popped back in later that day to snap a couple pics of their delectable-looking baked goods.
After we were sufficiently caffeinated, we decided to do some shopping in SE Portland, on SE Hawthorne St. The neighborhood is a mix of trendy independent boutiques, a couple (inter)national shops like American Apparel, and lots of reasonably-priced restaurants. We decided to re-fuel
at the Cup & Saucer, a cute little diner-style place serving mostly soups and sandwiches. The food wasn’t anything “amazing”, just your standard stuff, but our BLT and Turkey Chili hit the spot after a morning of walking around, and between the staff and the customers, it was a good place to sit and people-watch.
Next on the agenda was Portland Wine Merchants, a little wine shop tucked on a side street just off Hawthorne and run by an old neighbor of Kathy’s. Although there were definitely some pricey options in the shop, the focus seemeed to be on great wines in the $10-to-$20 range. The owner was really helpful and the store had such a nice ambience that I wanted to linger there even after we had made our selections (a Pinot Noir for Kathy, and a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Grigio for me, to go with the potstickers we were planning on making for dinner).
Our last stop for the day was at Zupan’s Market, an upscale grocery store, for ingredients for that night’s dinner. We picked up seafood and pork for our potstickers, and kale for a side dish. At that point it was getting late in the afternoon so we headed home to get organized for our evening of cooking. Very soon (I promise!) I will be posting Kathy’s mom’s potsticker recipe as well as my recipe for “Chinese-style” kale…