Eating Every Day

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another catchup

Warranwood, Victoria, Australia, September 22, 2014—

IN GENERAL I seem to have developed two modes of dining: at home, where our diet is relatively simple and certainly consistent, as you will have noticed; and away, where we visit an immoderate number of restaurants and eat, on the whole, very well. Even the restaurant dining is consistent, for the most part: we lean toward a Mediterranean cuisine, even when traveling in the Netherlands. 

Currrently, though, I'm in Australia, visiting and staying with my Australian brother and his family. He married a Melbourne girl decades ago; they have four grown daughters and a passel of grandchildren; they live in a relaxed country-style suburb; their lives center on family, community, and school — a Rudolf Steiner school, but that's another story. I raise the points of this last sentence simply because it pertains to my present diet.

I arrived with a system somewhat out of sorts: it's a long flight; airplane food is filling but I think not particularly nourishing; the time was out of joint. It's seven hours earlier here, and a day later: this puts my digestive apparatus into shock mode. So I was happy that we ate lightly that night, Thursday night: Fred, the French-born son-in-law, brought sushi he'd made; Mel, my sister-in-law, contributed a casserole of chorizo and garbanzos. That was a nice idea, as it recalled the trip Cook and I had made a year and a half ago, driving through Spain and Portugal for a month with this brother and his wife, a bonding trip I've savored often since, and regretted not writing about…

FRIDAY NIGHT Mel roasted a chicken, flavoring it with herbs from her garden and serving it with buttered spinach.

Saturday was soup day: for lunch, a thick minestrone Mel had begun the night before; for dinner, a delicious spring soup, clerar broth with leeks, carrot, and cubes of delicious local salmon. It was a daughter's birthday, so we ended with cake…

Which brings me to yesterday, another day of modest dining at home: a good thick lentil dal, garnished with tomato-cucumber concasée and yoghurt and taken with pappadums.

My breakfasts here have been exactly like those at home: coffee and bread. The coffee is taken mostly black, though; and I dress my toast with a little olive oil and salt -- bread, oil, and salt makes a good component of my lunches, too. Green salads now and then. A piece of fruit from time to time. Local wine, on the simple side. Lots of conversation.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Flight day

SFO, September 16, 2014—

The next day or so does not promise rewarding eating. Normally that would not be a problem, since it's Tuesday: I could simply fast. But it's not a normal day: I'm flying to Melbourne, and experience tells me I will be too hungry to fast. 

So we stopped at the Café for a quick lunch — only time for one course- and what should jump to my eye but good old chicken under a brick. What a fine way to deal with a boned chicken breast! 

As to the next twenty hours, forget it. Might as well have fasted. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Last dinner

dinner.jpg
Eastside Road, September 15, 2014—
NOW THERE'S AN ALARMIST headline. What I mean is, simply, last dinner at home for a couple of weeks. I'm off to the antipodes tomorrow, and eating irregularly for me, I'm sure — but also eating well, because eating en famille. You'll see.

In the meantime, Cook regaled me with home pleasures: Franco's Toulouse sausage, liberated from the freezer and grilled in a black iron skillet; little potatoes quartered and cooked in olive oil with rosemary, garlic, and salt; and broccoli, first we've had in a long time.

Those potatoes: it's so simple. You just clean them, don't peel them, quarter them, put them in hot olive oil in a black iron skillet (fortunately we have a number of them) with rosemary branches and unpeeled garlic cloves, salting it liberally. Cook fast, until done.

Green salad after, and a little chocolate. Couldn't ask for a finer dinner. I'm going to miss this Cook!
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2012

Bread and cheese

MORE THAN THAT, actually, as we'd gone to an afternoon book party where we delighted in canapés — onion confit, tapenade, paté, and yes, bread and cheese. Cookies too, and fruit, of course. 

Afterward, at another friend's nearby house,  bread and cheese, and a reinvigorating shot of tequila, ay caramba.   

Then, home, we closed out the night with — bread and cheese, and sliced tomatoes, and a little dry salami. 

A most unusual day…

Cheap Zinfandel

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tuna-bean salad

Eastside Road, September 13, 2013—

LET'S SEE HOW WELL I can blog from the iPhone, since I'm going to be away from the desktop for a couple of weeks. 

Tonight, after last night's feast, we went back to the icebox — excuse me : fridge, I think you youngsters call it — and finished up the tuna-cannellini salad, with sliced tomatoes and some delicious green beans from the neighboring farm. Green salad afterward, of course. 

Cheap Spanish white

Chalkboard

fork.jpgsquarefork.jpg
Eastside Road, September 13, 2014—
menu.jpgBELIEVE IT or not, I rarely think about this blog while I'm at the table. I don't even remember that it exists. The blog, I mean: the table reasserts itself readily enough. I suppose I've been writing for so many years that I have learned to dissociate the act, as an isolated act, from the continuous activities of life. (For the first time, I contemplate the distinction between act and activity: writing, chez moi, is rarely dissociated from contemplation! But I stray from my purpose.)

When the blog does come to mind while at table it is generally because the iPhone has come out to take a photograph. But except for the occasional photo of a menu, taken not for the blog but as an aide-memoire (no idea why French threatens to take over this post) this rarely happens. I'm too involved with the pleasures of the table (which of course include conversation, gazing, and eavesdropping as well as tasting).

Last night we were with friends at a local restaurant; their first visit, our second. The iPhone came out twice: first in an attempt to read the tiny mark stamped into the very handsome fork aside my plate — I often resort to zoomed-in photos these days; why carry a lens? — then to record the menu.

And why record the menu, if not to recall later, at the writing-desk, what the devil we ate last night? Why, to order some more food, if we're so inclined, this being one of those small-plates "sharing menu" places. Or, I must admit, to remember just what it is we're eating, for composed dishes are getting subtle and complex enough (or my mind vague and blurry enough) that it sometimes requires verbal input to assist palatal information.

Of the menu seen here, then, the four of us managed to deal with

Pork belly biscuits
Crudo of the day (halibut cheeks)
Hamachi crudo
Beef tartare
Chopped salad
Kennebec fries
Squid ink Gigli
Cresta di gallo
Lamachine
Tagliatelle
Scallops
Calamari
and dessert, which is one of the places a return to the menu came in handy. (I regret the dessert menu was not photographed: it had remained, handily, at the table. I think the waitress had by then begun to think we were serious about this business.)

Last time we were here we ate not quite so gluttonously — it was lunch, after all, not dinner. (That was a couple of weeks ago; I wrote about it in a post called Late August.) I think it's a mistake to attack a menu like this voraciously: most of these "small plates" are so deep, complex, and pointed that, taken one after another, then returned to, they begin to overwhelm the analytical palate, to confuse.

I'm not fond of "tasting menus," either. A multi-course meal (by which I mean more than, say, four courses) has to be very well thought out indeed if its parts are not to overwhelm the whole.

Then there's the matter of wine. How can you possibly choose a wine to accompany a series of tastings like this? Even from an enterprising list, which is what you find here, and even profiting from the half-glasses on offer, a very good idea, you'd have to be far more focussed on the task at hand than I could have been last night — distracted as I was by company, preparations for travel, thoughts of jobs unfinished back at the ranch, and the like.

I want to return to this place a few times, just Cook and me, at midday, to deal with single plates. They're too good to throw together.

Ah: the dessert. We remembered that the ice creams and sorbets here were particularly nice, and shared three: Bourbon vanilla, Chocolate chip, Blackberry balsamic. All are quite wonderful; different in texture, deep with flavor. The bourbon vanilla was a creamy mousse-like thing, ingratiating; the chocolate-chip was more of a challenge but a delightful one. The Blackberry balsamic is, I think, quite overwhelmingly delicious, though Cook — who was, after all, a pastry chef in her day — thinks it just a bit too heavy on the Balsamic vinegar. The four of us began to speculate just what kind of plum was used: Santa Rosa? Hitachi? Certainly a Japanese plum, not European; and after all this is the land of Luther Burbank, who experimented so notably with hybrids…

And then Ina said But why are we talking about plums? Surely it's blackberry balsamic, no?
Martinis
• Chalkboard, 29 North Street, Healdsburg; 707-473-8030

Friday, September 12, 2014

More catch-up

lunch.jpg
Eastside Road, September 12, 2014—
PERHAPS AN EXPLANATION is in order: we've been busy, and we've been eating irregularly. The end of last week was spent at a hotel conference in Los Angeles, as cursorily noted in the last post here. We drove down on Friday, subsisting on bread, cheese, peanuts, and water; and we drove back on Sunday, on a similar diet. What, no green salads those days! No cheap Pinot grigio! Yes, but Martini rewards instead, and I guess we get enough green salad to let us skip a day or two, now and then…

Monday night we feasted on fusilli. Yes: it was the last of that fine pesto I'd made a week earlier, I think; and it had held up perfectly well in the icebox, hadn't darkened at all; if anything, the flavors even more blended and deepened.

Tuesday, of course, was fast day. Wednesday we feasted: our usual this-time-of-year lunch, as seen in the photo to the left: peanut butter on toast; fresh figs from our trees. The drought has been hard on the trees, but has intensified the fruit. Late pleasures are sharpest.

And Tuesday night Cook turned to an old favorite unaccountably otherwise neglect this year, surely one of the Hundred Plates, Tuna-Cannellini salad. Simplest thing in the world: a can of good tuna — we use Ortiz, which purports to be Mediterranean tuna, processed in Spain (I write "purports" because, well, one doesn't want to be cynical, but these days…)

Anyhow: a can of good tuna; a can or jar or two or three of cannellini, a chopped onion, what looks like some summer savory, a little olive oil if needed, ditto salt. Marvelous with a decent white. There it is, over there to the right:
tuna bean.jpg

We've been eating lots of fruit. The Bosc pears are particularly heavy this year; the Comice and Duchesse d'Angoulème are always heavy, and they all seem early. The Seckels were big and delicious, because I'd thinned them some, for a change. There's an embarrassing number of apples on the trees. Good dark fig crop, too, though there weren't any white figs far as I could tell.

It's hard to keep up with all this; we don't even try. I tell myself every year we need a cider mill, but they're so damned expensive…

Oh: and while my poor grapevines are really suffering from drought, they sure put on a lot of fruit this year!