Monday, April 14, 2014

Dessert in Ten Minutes

Coeur à la Crème  
My latest experiment with Pomiane's book French Cooking in Ten Minutes: a dessert called Coeur à la Crème. The 10-minute version requires only four ingredients:

The recipe is very simple:

I've checked a few alternate ways to make this classic dish. These recipes are similar except that they use cheesecloth and a special heart-shaped mold to drain liquid from the cheese mixture. I assume this process makes the result firmer. The more time-consuming versions also add a bit of lemon and vanilla. I was thinking vanilla would be nice, but I don't have any in my little temporary kitchen.

Although I didn't drain it, the simple version that I made had a very nice, spoonable texture. As you can see from the top photo, I'm a hopeless case when it comes to making things look pretty! But once again, the result tasted good and reminded us of things we have eaten in France.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Santa Barbara Wineries

A magpie in wine country
Less than an hour's drive from Santa Barbara are many vineyards and wineries that welcome visitors. We decided to combine wine tasting and birdwatching today. Just as we got away from the freeway, we caught sight of an unusual type of magpie, and later observed various hawks, swallows, goldfinches and other birds. 

Beyond this birding area we came to the crossroads of Palmer Road and Foxen Canyon Road where there's a tiny hamlet called Sisquoc with one vacant general store and a few houses. While much of California is vastly overcrowded, this is the really empty part, and very pleasant, with beautiful rolling hills -- almost mountains. Foxen Canyon Road is the winery route, with quite a number of vineyards. 
Tres Hermanas Farmhouse and gardens
We began at Tres Hermanas winery, where we tasted some very appealing wines and learned about the family that owns the winery. Tres Hermanas means three sisters -- the woman pouring our tastes of wine told us that the three sisters are her daughters. She and her husband chose the name in hopes that the three girls would join the business when they finished college. Indeed, two of the three, all now in their thirties, do work there. And the middle daughter is a horse vet who lives and works very close by.  

The 2014 vintage growing at Tres Hermanas Winery
Her family has been farming there for well over 100 years, and her husband belongs to another long-established local family. Currently they continue to raise cattle as well as running the winery, which sells only at the sales room and by direct orders or their wine club, as well as to a few restaurants, so you probably wouldn't have heard of their wine. We enjoyed the wine and conversation, and bought a couple of bottles.

Wine vats at Foxen Winery
Our next stop was Foxen Vineyards, where we've tasted wine before. It's a much bigger outfit, so the young women pouring wine are employees, not family. While they are nice, the conversation tends to be only about the contents of each bottle -- also, the crowds were becoming bigger. Our next stop was an old favorite, Zaca Mesa. Though we like their wine very much, today it was overcrowded and noisy, including a live band playing in the courtyard. Fess Parker Winery was similarly busy, so we quit tasting and went on to Los Olivos, a charming little town, also very busy.

Humming bird feeder on a winery porch in Los Olivos
After a late lunch in Los Olivos, we continued birding on a really deserted road along a creek. Unfortunately there's barbed wire on either side of the road so you can only look towards the beautiful hillsides and listen to the birds singing. 

Needless to say, we started on one of our new bottles with our very simple dinner when we got back to our Santa Barbara apartment.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sorrel Soup in Ten Minutes

In my little temporary kitchen here in Santa Barbara, I have decided to try out "French Cooking in Ten Minutes." Author Edouard de Pomiane was a microbiologist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. In the early years of the 20th century, Pomiane studied various aspects of the chemistry of digestion. He became interested in nutrition and cuisine and began writing about food, eventually producing quite a number of rather popular cookbooks.

From 1923 until 1929, Pomiane did a radio show about cooking: probably the first cooking show ever broadcast.  He tried to simplify the process of preparing meals, recognizing that many women both cooked and worked outside the home, and thus were very pressed for time.

For my initial effort, I planned a meal that used one of his recipes: Sorrel Soup, and attempted to use his rhythm of cooking quickly to produce a three-course, French-style meal. My second course was meatballs (which I had ready to cook before starting) with cucumber-tomato salad (which wouldn't be at all French: Pomiane would recommend noodles or a canned vegetable -- the French love of canned peas to me is just as mysterious as their love of Jerry Lewis). The third course was cheese with fruit.

Pomiane's Recipe
Sorrel for the Soup
My first challenge was to obtain the soup ingredients, specifically sorrel and semolina. Sorrel is a rather sour green herb that's used much more in France and other parts of Europe than here. I've found it in Michigan in the past.

I asked at every vegetable and herb stall in the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market Tuesday. Some had heard of it, some not. One farmer said he had planted it -- but it wasn't ready. Finally, at the far end of the market I found just a few bunches of it.

Next, I needed semolina, a type of wheat used in cereal and pasta. I found it in the bulk grain section of Whole Foods -- which was lucky as I only needed 2 tablespoons, and I'd hate to waste the rest of a big package.

Boiling water -- the key to the 10-minute cooking technique that Pomiane recommends -- is really easy. No matter what you are planning, he says, you start by putting a pot of water on the stove to boil. Cream and butter are also not hard to obtain. So I was ready. The clock starts when the water comes to a boil, but I started to cut and cook the sorrel per directions while the kettle was heating. I also started cooking the meatballs:
Well, the soup did take around 10 minutes from the time the kettle whistled. But I wouldn't really say this meal was ready with only 10 minutes of effort.

Soup's On!
As Pomiane recommends, I left the meatballs on the stove while we ate the soup.
Update: apparently, I forgot to mention that the soup was delicious, and really tasted French. The meal seemed French style as well. Thanks to those who asked here & on FB.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Farmers' Market, Santa Barbara

Shopping for herbs
As we planned our trip to California, I looked forward to shopping at the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market again. Local produce here is varied because we're near so many climate zones. I'm sure the terrible drought is affecting farmers here, but the market was still full of variety.
Dates in color-coded bags
Vendors at yesterday's downtown market offered seasonal strawberries, hand-produced olive oil, avocados, artichokes, asparagus, walnuts, pistachio nuts, tangerines, lettuce and many other greens, Meyer lemons, free-range eggs and chickens, tomatoes, chirimoyas, artisanal cheeses, root vegetables, garlic and garlic shoots, dried fruits, jams and crusty pies from fresh fruit, and more -- all locally grown or made, all sold by the original farmers or producers.

Smells and tastes of the market are delightful. The perfume of never-refrigerated strawberries is amazing, especially compared to the odorless plastic-covered cold berries in a supermarket. The aroma of many types of herbs mingle so you can't quite identify them. At many stalls you can taste a sample: cheddar cheese with sage -- we bought that! Two kinds of dates -- we chose honey dates. A section of a special local tangerine. A little cup of olive oil -- we bought a small bottle.

Chirimoyas -- a fairly exotic fruit. To me they taste
like juicy fruit gum. (I didn't buy them this time).
Our dinner was almost 100% farmers' market food: an omelet with dill, green onion, and cilantro; tomatoes with herbs and lemon juice; baby artichokes dipped in olive oil; sliced strawberries. The depth of flavor of every item was stunning. The olive oil is especially notable both in taste and velvety texture on the tongue. We will be eating more of our bounty in the next few days -- cauliflower, lettuce, sorrel, avocados...

Ride a bike to the market!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Road Trip: Burgers and Fries

Kingman, Arizona

Four long days of driving from St.Louis to the Grand Canyon and on to California meant four quick lunches. This gave us an unanticipated chance to directly compare the quality and taste of MacDonald's, Burger King, and In-N-Out burger. Here's what we decided:

  • MacDonald's quarter pounder with cheese isn't that great. On our second visit, I had a McChicken-Cheddar which tasted of nothing but pepper, and had too much breading. The fries are skinny, a little soggy, and not really super tasty. Also they don't pick up the catsup as effectively as the competitors' fries do.
  • Burger King's Whopper Jr. was juicier than MacD's burger, and had more lettuce. The fries were thick, crisp, and tasty. Better on both counts.
  • In-N-Out Burger deserves its reputation. We see why there are such long lines at all of them -- we stopped at the one in Kingman, Arizona. The burgers are even better, the cheese is meltier, and they have the most lettuce and tomato. The fries are thick, crisp, and just a bit better than fries at Burger King. As I've written before, In-N-Out is a superior hamburger joint, though I'm not sure I agree with people who think it's over-the-top-excellent food and who write poetry about it.

Len pays for In-N-Out Burgers.
So glad our burger-and-fries diet is over and we're in our little apartment with a real kitchen!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Road Trip: Best Western Breakfast

Images of breakfast at two Best Western motels where we stayed
All that driving! As we came from Michigan to California we spent three nights in Best Western motels. Two of them offered the standard Best Western breakfast including dry cereal with milk, make-it-yourself waffles, yogurt, juice, fruit, coffee, bagels, muffins, and some hot items. Our third Best Western had a full-service restaurant that looked very slow, so we went next door for coffee at a Starbucks and got on the road. (We also stayed with family for four nights and in the Grand Canyon lodge two nights.)

This is the kind of food that seems to be overlooked from the point of view of food writers or food bloggers. It's so ordinary, so predictable, so unworthy of description. We've eaten Best Western breakfasts (or equivalents in other chains) numerous times on other trips as well, and this is the first time I've ever thought of mentioning it.

The point of a motel breakfast buffet, I think, is to help travelers get on the road, to help business people get to their appointments, or to help tourists get to a museum or a mall, a beach or a hike, whatever they have planned. No formalities, no waiting, nothing to sign. Most of the guests seem to enjoy the selection, especially kids. Plentiful choices of very familiar food are just what people want -- and the fact that it's included in the price of the motel is a powerful attraction.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Fred Harvey at the Grand Canyon

We hiked several sections of trail along the rim of the Grand Canyon, including a visit to Hermit’s Rest, a historic building at the far end of the park road. It’s integrated into the surroundings in a very forward-looking way for its time: 1914. At that time, it took quite a while to get there, so the building offered food and a place to rest for the travelers. Today, a shuttle bus allows one to combine hiking and an easy bus ride.

On the way to Hermit's Rest
Gate to Hermit's Rest
Len at Hermit's Rest
The huge fireplace dominates the interior of the building.
The back of the building
Mary Ann Colter, architect for the Fred Harvey company, designed Hermit’s Rest as well as several other park buildings.
“As with the other buildings she designed for Grand Canyon, Mary Colter designed Hermit’s Rest in what is known as 'National Park Rustic' style. In this style, buildings are supposed to look as if they were built with old-fashioned hand tools and made of materials that at least appear to have been taken from the surrounding landscape. Whereas her first building at Grand Canyon, Hopi House, was inspired by ancient Native American traditions in the area, for Hermit’s Rest Colter drew upon the stories and architecture of Euro-American settlers. The resulting building reflected both the National Park rustic style and Colter’s concept of a hermit’s stone cabin.” -- from "Hermit's Rest" by Arizona State University.
The Harvey company developed tourism in the West in cooperation with the railroads. The Xanterra company that runs the accommodations and food service in the park today is a commercial descendant of Harvey. The old Fred Harvey trademarks still appear on a number of buildings, such as the reservation center, cafeteria, and gift shop of the Yavapai Lodge where we stayed, actually a collection of buildings like old-fashioned motels.

During our stay we ate dinner in two restaurants with the Harvey name. The restaurant in Bright Angel Lodge offers some of the same foods as once served by the Harvey Girls who worked in the many establishments of the Harvey company. I had trout with lemon sauce, and Len had pork roast – both possibly similar to the food of 100 years ago or more. We also ate in the cafeteria of Yavapai Lodge, where my chicken pot pie may be quite authentic to the former era, but it was kind of bland.

The Fred Harvey cafeteria in Yavapai Lodge -- not
a particularly inviting atmosphere!
Every gift shop in the park offers a number of books about the Harvey Girls (famous before the movie with Judy Garland), the Harvey company, about the historic and significant buildings designed by Colter, and the development of travel in the west. Another Colter building, the “studio,” was where the Harvey Company sold photos, post cards, and other items in competition with an artist who had a studio nearby -- the same type of items still for sale in the gift shops now.

The Studio, designed by Mary Ann Colter

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Dinner in Albuquerque

Still driving west. Today: Oklahoma City to Albuquerque. We arrived in time to walk around Old Town Albuquerque, check one or two Indian arts stores and some low-end souvenir shops, and eat dinner at the High Noon Saloon. For much more about my day, see this post at maetravels.

High Noon Saloon is in a building with some very old architecture, though
it's also been rebuilt quite a bit. We liked the decor.
Southwest style wall paintings, light fixtures, and furniture...
After burritos and enchiladas and beer, which in photos don't as good as they taste,
we had a cobbler and a flan for dessert.
Spring flowers are even further advanced here than in Oklahoma.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

From Winter to Spring

When we left Ann Arbor, everything was snow-covered.
West Lafayette was cold, but no snow, and the trees were bare.
We were very cold when birdwatching at Celery Bog.
Len and Elaine went down to the Wabash River and saw this eagle
while I was huddling by the fireplace.
As we drove towards St.Louis from Indiana, we started
to see a little bit of light green in the fields and on highway medians.
In St.Louis a few early trees and daffodils were in bloom,
including Jay and Ruby's star magnolia shown here. 
Tonight we are in Oklahoma City. As we left Missouri on highway 44 this morning,
the light greens turned to bright greens and we started to see trees with tiny leaves and
some in full bloom, like this one in a shopping center near where we ate dinner.
Besides birdwatching in West Lafayette, we went to two sanctuaries on
the Mississippi near St.Louis.

We were impressed by the bird blind that looked like a big sculpture.
What you can see from inside the blind.
The blind from outside. The ponds are controlled by levees, and invite both
winter migrants (which left a few weeks ago, alas) and summer resident birds.
We just saw a few, though quite nice ones.
Bridge over the Mississippi from the Riverlands Sanctuary.
Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I remember going near
here when I was a child, but it was all farmers' fields and you couldn't
get to the actual point from which we observed this. It was great!
Birds in the ponds of the Missouri Bottoms Conservation area,
which includes the south-west point at the confluence.
Correction: should be Columbia Bottoms Conservation area.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Just Visiting

Friday night we arrived in West Lafayette. Here's what we've been eating as we visit our relatives.
My sister Elaine had made a splendid Julia Child ragout with potatoes and greenbeans to
start our entertaining weekend.
After a day of birdwatching at the rather cold Celery Bog and near the Wabash,
we went to dinner at a nicely decorated Thai restaurant with Elaine, Larry,
and their friends David, and Jenny.
The appetizers were quite delicate. All the dishes were spiced deliciously.
I asked to see a kaffir lime leaf, which was listed as the spice in one or two dishes.
They brought this one. It smells citrusy and tastes like lemon and citronella.
I don't think the flavor was in anything we ordered,
but we loved the duck, mango fried rice, several other dishes, and the dessert of mango mousse. 
We arrived in St.Louis Sunday afternoon, and went to the famous "Hill" Italian
neighborhood for dinner with Len's sister Ruby and brother-in-law Jay.
Finally as we were leaving Indiana we found beautiful sunshine, warm temperatures,
and fields with tiny green plants! It is beautiful here.
The famous St.Louis Italian signature dish: toasted ravioli!
A muskrat in the celery bog. I'll leave all the bird photos to Lenny.
We'll be in St.Louis a couple of days, then head onward towards Santa Barbara. We are so glad to be finished with winter at least for the moment, and hope to avoid bad weather as we continue across the country.