Behold, the fig

I'd never had a dried fig until this summer. In Paris all the open-air markets had them, and as we ate lots of meals on the run, figs became a favorite dessert. Though "natural," they're very sweet. One should probably be the limit. One is seldom my limit.

Cacao tea in Brooklyn

I spent the weekend visiting Brooklyn Sis – in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. Besides eating copious amounts of leftover birthday cake, we tried Dover restaurant, went for a run through the various 'hoods, and went to an evening vegetarian picnic.

And. I learned about something called cacao tea. I'm predicting this will be a trend in six months' time. The scoop:

  • Cacao tea is basically a bag of cacao bean husks. The smell alone is lovely.
  • Put some in a mesh strainer, pour boiling water over it & let steep for a few minutes.
  • The result? It actually does taste like chocolate. Not as strong or creamy as hot chocolate, but mildly chocolatey. It's chocolate-flavored water. And it's actually kind of pleasing.

With coconut water having blown up, I can see cacao bean-infused beverages being next.

 

An evening at Alden & Harlow

I've been to Alden & Harlow, in Harvard Square, five times recently. Friends keep saying, "I've never been – let's go!" And because it's that good, I oblige. It's not head-bobbing good, which is when the food I'm tasting is so fantastic that no words can suffice, and I can only nod my head as if to say, "Yes. This. Yes." But Alden & Harlow serves some great food, and it's consistently great. I was there last night with a friend, enjoying said food on a rainy evening.

Burrata and salt roasted beets – with peperoncino honey, pine nut granola & garlic crostino

Burrata and salt roasted beets – with peperoncino honey, pine nut granola & garlic crostino

The restaurant itself has a warm vibe (open kitchen, inviting bar), but there's a "ps" dining section which I'll try to avoid in the future. It feels oddly quiet & FOMO-inducing. (That's "fear of missing out," folks. But you knew that.) The couple seated next to me sat down & promptly jumped ship, heading to the other side of the restaurant.

On to the food: It's a "small plates" place, so my friend and I ordered four dishes. We were also given a pickled green bean starter, so technically we had five.

  • Heirloom eggs, pickled fiddleheads, boquerones
  • Striped bass crudo with gooseberries, olive oil croutons & calabrian chili
  • Burrata & salt roasted beets (pictured above)
  • Grilled lamb sirloin, with a cocoa rub, grilled carrot mash & spring green puree

Everything was good, though it wasn't my favorite meal there. I really wanted the pork belly with strawberries & grits, which they were out of, but what we had was tasty – my favorite being the eggs & fiddleheads, the beets a close second. The chef, Michael Scelfo, sources locally when possible and everything has a good feel to it, if that makes sense. You feel like you're eating good, thoughtful food, and that a lot of care went into it on its journey to your table. (Yes, I just talked used the phrase "on its journey to your table." This is the culture we live in. Embrace it.)

Last but not least, Alden & Harlow's bar is amazing. The bar manager, Seth, concocts some interesting things that you'd never think were drinkable. Like the Terremoto, which has mezcal (a new favorite of mine as of late), celery-thyme shrub (didn't even ask), green chartreuse (sounds like a comic book villain but I like it), and lime. I noticed last night that this drink seems to have been replaced with another mezcal-based drink called The Green Storm (perhaps Green Chartreuse's nemesis), which was also tasty. I don't usually gravitate toward cocktails, as I tend to prefer wine or whiskey. But Alden & Harlow is definitely a place to mix it up. No pun intended.

The atrium area, separate from the main dining room.

The atrium area, separate from the main dining room.

In sum:

  • Thoughtful, unfussy, consistently great food. Awaiting that head-bob experience. Think the pork belly & grits will get me there.
  • Ask to be seated in the main restaurant. Completely different vibe.
  • Cocktails. YES. I recognized the bar manager, Seth, from when he used to work at Eastern Standard. He gets consistently rave reviews about his drinks at A&H.
  • If you want the secret burger, go early. It was gone when I got there at 7pm.
  • Wash your hands. Their soap smells amazing.

Book & brunch

You know someone is a close friend when for no reason whatsoever, they give you a little gift.

I had brunch with one such good friend this morning, and she brought with her one such little gift. A book is generally a no-brainer present for me. And a book about food and/or cooking is as close to a sure thing as you can get. If France is somehow involved, all the better. So naturally Hoff knocked it out of the park. She's the best.

I've actually not delved too deeply into the world of sauce-concocting, so I think Hoff has inspired me to enter a new food phase. That of elegant sauces.

Food minimalism

When I was little I had a pin collection. I know. But I had a friend with a 3-leaf clover collection, and another with a rock collection. It was the '80s – we had to be self-reliant when it came to entertainment, unlike today's iPad infants.

One of my pins said "I want it all." And while this may still be true in some respects, I've actually become more of a minimalist over the years. Not the stark, cold minimalism epitomized by those urban dwellings featured in architecture magazines. But just, sloughing off the unnecessary things. Simplifying.

I'm that way with decor (clean lines please, and minimal clutter), clothing (I don't need, nor do I want, hundreds of pairs of shoes), and lately, food.

Picnic food is about as simple as it gets.

Picnic food is about as simple as it gets.

Food is the ultimate arena in which to embrace minimalism, if you ask me. Our society promotes the opposite view – one in which food is packed with "value added" nutrients, preservatives, and any number of other embellishments. More is more. That is, more ingredients equals more money for food manufacturers.

Whereas food minimalism means choosing foods that aren't highly refined or processed. Minimizing quantity and maximizing quality. The more minimal, the greater the health value, I'm betting. Even when I use recipes I prefer simple recipes – partly out of necessity (small kitchen), but mostly because I enjoy super simple, clean foods.

I think food minimalism could extend to eating patterns as well. We tend to favor grazing here in the US, eating all day long, whereas in Europe it's customary to have set meal times. I think food minimalism could entail minimizing the number of eating opportunities in order to maximize enjoyment of each meal.

Paris Street Food

The quality of what I ate in Paris may have been excellent, but my eating habits themselves were not. We ate all day – in the name of research of course – and often ate on the go. And while we had some amazing dinners that went long into the night, as leisurely as you could have ever imagined, the days were about grab-and-go food. Here's a sample of Parisian "fast food."

Meat. Veggies. Bread. Done.

Meat. Veggies. Bread. Done.

Word on the street was that this was the man to see. Here, he's making me an egg, cheese & mushroom crepe.

Word on the street was that this was the man to see. Here, he's making me an egg, cheese & mushroom crepe.

And lastly, some mesmerizing chicken.

A Fortnight in France

I landed in Boston yesterday after two weeks in Paris – with a weekend trip to Normandy. And while bread & cheese were plentiful in Paris, internet access was less so. But no matter. Sometimes it's best to relish things in the moment and tell the stories later.

To get started, here's a quick look at my favorite macaron of the trip: A fresh mint & chocolate one from Pain de Sucre.

Picnic in Paris

I'm borrowing this idea when I get back to Boston, but keeping the Parisian theme.

  1. On a sunny day, get together a group of friends & go to an outdoor market. In Boston, you can head to SoWa, the Copley Square farmer's market, or any of these.
  2. Have everyone buy whatever strikes their fancy. If you want to assign foods, or food groups (e.g., vegetables, fruit, cheese, charcuterie, bread, plates & utensils), you can. Someone may need to visit the store beforehand for the cheese & charcuterie.
  3. Throw down a picnic blanket (we used curtains, actually) and enjoy!
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Couscous at Restaurant O Divin

Paris is telling us to stay offline, as our hotel's internet connection keeps cutting out. I'm still aiming to give you peeks into the trip, primarily via food outings.

This was our welcome dinner Monday night. We ventured to the 19th arrondissement for couscous with suckling pig. Apparently couscous is an under-the-radar "classic" French dish, despite its North African origins.

Sardines & suitcases

The slow dwindling of my grocery supplies, in attempt to leave for Paris with an empty fridge, left me with a can of sardines, two pieces of bread & some greens for a pre-airport meal. Fine by me. Sardines elicit a nose-wrinkle from most people, but they're basically a better version of tuna. Really. Most people confuse them for anchovies, which are small and salty. Quality sardines are actually quite good.

And now I'm finishing up last-minute packing before heading to the airport. I'll land in the morning there, with lots of free time before my first meeting. My hotel is in the 15th arrondissement (Paris has 20 "arrondissements," which are basically districts), and there are a couple of contemporary art museums in the neighboring 16th arrondissement that I may visit in my jet-lagged state:

Or maybe I'll just wander the streets, find a cafe & people-watch.

Phares in Paris

This weekend I'm heading to Paris for two weeks, primarily to study food culture. I know that sounds like a fancy way of saying I'm going to eat a ton of French food. (Which, yes, will surely happen.) But the trip is really going to serve as a magnifying glass of sorts, allowing me a more detailed look at France's food system.

The group I'm going with will visit farms, bakeries, markets & restaurants and follow the chain from one step to the next. How is food produced, distributed and eaten?

Then the food itself becomes the magnifying glass as we look at how French identity (including race, gender, socioeconomic status and ethnicity) is interpreted via their culinary culture. We'll also look at French versus US food culture, and I'll be doing some nutrition & health research as well.

I haven't started packing yet. I have started making dinner reservations. The planned list of restaurants thus far:

And the other evenings will be spent in classic French bistros or picnicking.

The daytime agenda is entirely too much to post in full, but includes a few lectures, some of the "usual suspects" in terms of sightseeing, a trip to Versailles, a weekend in Normandy, bridge walks, a few group dinners, and lots of food-related outings (market visits, or visiting producers of cheese, wine, chocolate and so on).

I'm minimizing time with technology while there but will be sharing snippets under the tag "Phares in Paris." Follow along! And feel free to leave recommendations or questions in the comments section.

The easiest vegetables you will ever make

It's one of those weeks where something is happening every day, and you come home at night thinking "Shower, bed." Cooking falls by the wayside. But even when I get home at 9pm and don't feel like cooking, I can throw this together. It's easy. And inexpensive. And tasty. I use it as a base (adding some kind of protein).

I usually keep a bag or two of frozen vegetables on hand. I like Whole Foods' organic cauliflower and broccoli – it's $1.99 for a pound, and it's good quality. And without even having to defrost them, you can throw them in the oven for an easy veggie dish.

Frozen-to-fantastic roasted vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. bag of frozen cauliflower or broccoli
  • turmeric
  • curry powder
  • sea salt
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place contents of entire bag of frozen vegetables (1 lb.) on baking sheet. I use a ceramic baking dish.
  2. Season with turmeric and curry powder. Or make up your own combination; you could do pepper flakes, thyme, etc.
  3. Drizzle lightly with olive oil & sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

Enjoy.

Chocolate cake for always

I like celebrations. A little ceremony is fun. But sometimes "special occasion" food is fun on a totally normal, otherwise uneventful evening. Specifically: Chocolate cake on a Monday night. I was out at a favorite spot, had a nicoise salad for dinner, and upon ordering the aforementioned dessert a fellow patron commented, "I don't use the word 'hero' often, but..."

So there you go. Chocolate cake on a Moday night.

A few favorites

My apartment's kitchen is tiny, but it's packed with things I love. I even have kitchen items under my bed, "in storage" for when I have a larger kitchen. A lot of my wares are on display simply because there's nowhere else to put them, but I don't mind having them in plain sight. It's nice to be reminded of the stories behind them. Some of my favorite goods?


 

1. Every kitchen should have a quality olive oil & vinegar. I especially like these because they were gifts (each from a different person).

Note: Oil & vinegar is a great gift idea. A lot of people (myself included) don't often splurge on it for themselves.

jadebowls.JPG

 

2. These jadeite mixing bowls were also a gift – part of my going-away present when I was at a previous job, so they remind me of workplace shenanigans and people with whom I loved working. My coworkers also constantly asked me to bake cookies for them, so this was fitting.

The color seems so 1950s to me, and I love the weight of the bowls.


 

3. The yellow vintage Pyrex dish is from a Goodwill in San Diego. I was visiting a friend in La Jolla, and while walking around the area one day we for some reason (probably at my suggestion) wandered in. This caught my eye, and it's one of the most random souvenirs I've ever gotten. And one of my favorites. It makes me think of La Jolla, my weekend in CA – complete with convertible ride along the coast – and surfing.

 

A lot of times I give food-related items as gifts because I imagine people getting the most use out of them & also the most enjoyment. Clearly my bias shows, but kitchens represent all sorts of good things to me.