Wordless Wednesdays

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On responsibility and fine cheese

GASP. I'm blogging again! It's been too long, and I am realizing how much I love this. Ever since I have started this blog, I have been noticing a gnawing feeling of responsibility toward said blog, like the feeling of caring for a small child. Well, it's definitely not as intense as that, but there's definitely a feeling of "I AM NEGLECTING THIS POOR DEFENSELESS BLOG, AND I NEED TO STEP UP AND BE THE MOMMY *ahem* WRITER OF THIS HERE BLOG!" And that's kind of how I've been feeling lately. A sense of responsibility. And wouldn't you know it, this sense of responsibility has spilled over into my slight obsession with food. Cheese, namely. Fine cheese. Gruyere, to be very specific. One may ask, "What on earth does Gruyere have to do with responsibility?" Well, I AM SO GLAD YOU ASKED, because I shall now commence with my introduction to this fine fromage.

Once upon a time, Steve and I were in a book group. Well, I am still in a book group. A different one. Well...it's a long story, and even though I am a little too gifted at telling long stories, I shall resist this time around and get to the point in my usual round-about fashion. So, yes. The book group. Off we went to our friend's home, and of course, I was fascinated with what was being made for dinner. An open-faced chicken cordon bleu!! How progressive is that?!? I watched as Carissa (the wife of the lovely couple who was hosting that night's discussion) spread honey dijon mustard over the chicken breasts, then place two leaves of fresh spinach on top, followed by a thin slice of honey ham, and then crowned with a generous sprinkle of Swiss cheese. Oh yeah. You know I brought that recipe home that night! After Carissa so generously printed out an extra copy for me from Epicurious (my introduction, by the way, to that glorious website!!), I noticed the recipe said to use Gruyere. What. The. Heck. Is. Gruyere. "Well,"said Carissa,"Gruyere would definitely be the best. But I just couldn't bring myself to buy it this time." Which, of course, me being the cheap half-Russian Jew that I am, I completely understood. And then I knew that Gruyere and I would have a long way to go before we could reconcile our economic differences. It was just too bad! After the episode with the open-faced chicken cordon bleu, I began to see Gruyere pop up EVERYWHERE in the foodie world. I would peruse my stack of library-obtained issues of Bon Appetit, and there it was! In nearly every issue, Gruyere would pop its pricey little face into mine at least once or twice. I was starting to get seriously annoyed. So, I did what every responsible self-proclaimed foodie must do. I made open-faced chicken cordon bleu, and I took my cheap self to the grocery store and BOUGHT A SMALL WEDGE OF GRUYERE. It nearly killed me. I took it home. I opened it. And then...I smelled it. Hmm. I was highly suspicious. So suspicious, in fact, that I took the coward's way out and bought a pre-shredded bag of Swiss cheese. I consoled myself by reasoning that, hey; at least it was Sargento Swiss cheese. Who was I kidding? I was a coward!! And so I let that beautiful wedge rot in my fridge, and I did not think or speak of Gruyere for 3 years. Every time I saw a recipe that used that loathsome rot, I would automatically substitute Swiss cheese without giving it a second thought. It was a code. Gruyere=don't even bother, or Gruyere=Swiss. UNTIL...

One fateful day, I was perusing Bon Appetit, looking for some inspiration, when I stumbled across the most charming article on homemade mayonnaise that I had ever read in my entire life. The author? None other than Ms. Molly Wizenberg, the new darling of the foodie scene and recently published author of "A Homemade Life", a wonderfully touching memoir of her family, life, and her decision to leave academia to pursue her passion of great food and great cooking. Yes. I had found a most kindred spirit in Ms. Molly, and I knew I had to read more of her delightful writing. And so I did. I devoured issue after issue of Bon Appetit, scouring the pages for her column, and I read. And read. And cooked. And read some more. Then I visited her blog, "Orangette", and found it just as delightful and inspiring. And so it went for well over a year, and THEN...her book was published, and I packed my boys into the van, and off we went to Barnes and Noble in pursuit of said book. I went. I found it. I bought it. Me, the half-Russian Jew who will wait AGES for a book to come to the library so I can read it for FREE, bought a brand-new, RIDICULOUSLY expensive book at the most superbookstores of superbookstores. I must have lost my mind. I voraciously read as much I could while the boys played with the train table in the children's section (someone needs a gold star for that idea), and when I realized it was dinner time, I panicked, then called Steve to plead with him to pick up a pizza on his way home. So much for good cooking. Anyway, I read the book in 2 days (a small miracle for a mommy of two boys under 4), and proceeded to feel empty inside when I was done. So I read it again, this time putting sticky tabs on all of the recipes I wanted to try, and started out with lemon ginger scones. A smashing success. Banana Bread. Ditto. AND THEN...it was time to try Bouchons au Thon, literally, "Tuna Corks", an outstanding little meal to which my boys fondly refer to as,"Fish Cakes", because they are baked in a muffin tin. I studied the recipe; it looked extremely simple. But lo and behold, there staring up at me from the list of ingredients, was none other ONE ENTIRE CUP OF GRUYERE, SHREDDED!! So it had come to this!! At that moment, I knew. I knew it was time to do the responsible thing, shed my fears from the past, and emerge forth into a shining new era of foodie-ism. It was time to grow up. It was time to really, truly give Gruyere an honest try, stink and all. And so...I did. I bought a small wedge of Gruyere from Trader Joe's, and sallied forth into my beloved kitchen with a gallantry I had not yet known. It was time. I opened the wedge. I sliced off the most petite sliver imaginable, and proceeded to eat it. Such cheese. After about 10 more petite slivers, I finally got started on the actual recipe. As the Bouchons baked, they gave off the most heavenly of rich and nutty aromas, and browned beautifully on top- you just knew it HAD to be the Gruyere. We devoured each and every darling little "Fish Cake", and I knew, after all these years, that Gruyere and I had finally reconciled our differences, and I had taken full responsibility for my self-proclaimed foodie-ism and faced one of my worst culinary nightmares head-on.

So where does that leave us? Whether it's Gruyere, boning a duck, balancing your checkbook, being honest with yourself, poaching figs, or setting a pan of Bananas Foster on fire, my message is this: face your fears. They may not be as scary as you think.

Oh, and because I'm not a tease:

One thing about the recipe:
Feel free to substitute high-quality sour cream (such as Breakstone's or Daisy) for the creme fraiche. Unlike Gruyere, creme fraiche is NOT everything its cracked up to be (my apologies to creme fraiche enthusiasts out there). So there you go. BE FEARLESS!! And always, always be responsible for the things you consider to be important.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Counting my blessings (while dreaming of lobster)

Today is one of those days where I am reminded in no small way how incredibly blessed I am. After chatting with a very dear friend who has some very difficult decisions to make, the boys and I had a good old-fashioned "barn raising" with the Lincoln Logs, and as I sat there with them, I couldn't help (in between preventing the older one from "playing the drums" on the smaller one's back, and keeping the younger one from utterly destroying the aforementioned barn) but think,"I have it ridiculously good. I really do." Despite sciatica, broken bones, endless winters, and a husband with a long commute, God has heaped blessings upon innumerable blessings on my head, and all I need to do is take a good look at what I have while saying,"Thank You, God." I usually don't wax too philosopical these days, so I'll move on by saying that one of the things I count among my greatest blessings are the wonderful memories I have of delicious dinners that I have had with husband, especially certain culinary experiences we have encountered while traveling. Yes; I know I am odd and slightly obsessed with eating/food/cooking, but would I be a respectable American citizen if I wasn't just the teensiest bit obsessed with food? I should say not!! *ahem* Anyway, one dining experience that has stood out in my mind lately has been the infamous "Lobster Dinner while on our honeymoon in Maine". I knew that this was one food story that I definitely wanted to share on this here blog, so HERE WE GO...

Ahhh. Maine. Beautiful Maine. The most perfect place to be in August. At least, August of 2004. The last place on earth I'd want to be in January, but nevertheless; an ideal location for two newlyweds who decided that the last thing they wanted to do on their honeymoon was to go to Door County, The Dells, "Up North", or any other typical Wisconsin getaway that most Wisconsinites would see as perfectly acceptable for a honeymoon getaway (no offense, typical Wisconsinites). So where did we go? Niagara Falls. Vermont. Bar Harbor, Maine. Portland, Maine (you guys REALLY need to consider putting in street signs. One would be a good start). New Haven, CT (meh). AND (drum roll, please!!) CLEVELAND, OH!!!!! Hey. Don't knock it. We had a fantastic time at the Indians game, and for me to have a fantastic time at a baseball game is, well, nothing short of a miracle. AND, of course, being the lunatics that we are, we drove. No planes for us. Just a good old-fashioned road trip, and we had a ball. We knew one of the highlights of our time spent in Maine would be a real, honest-to-goodness, Maine-caught lobster dinner. The best part? It was going to be paid for by Steve's company. Yep. We were going to go all out, and after resting from our ridiculous 7-hour jaunt from Middlebury, Vermont, to Bar Harbor, Maine (we were naive enough to take the scenic route, forgetting to factor in one teeny-tiny little obstacle: MOUNTAINS, and lots of 'em), we found the fanciest place to eat lobster at in Bar Harbor, and quickly made reservations at the Rose Garden Restaurant for the following evening. After a small glitch of plans, which involved me needing to stay in our room all the next day and drink vast amounts of cranberry juice ( no further details are needed- trust me, you really don't want to know), we rescheduled our dinner for the following evening and watched old reruns of "Three's Company" instead. Thankfully, I made a speedy recovery, and before I knew it, we were dressed to the nines and heading out the door to enjoy a most opulent lobster dinner.
The Rose Garden Restaurant was the "sponsored" restaurant of the Bluenose Inn, a simply gorgeous hotel just outside of Bar Harbor. We chose it partly because of my childish glee over the name "Bluenose Inn", but mostly because it was FANCY FANCY FANCY. And that was exactly what we were going for. Steve wore a most handsome deep navy dress shirt and perfectly fitting gray dress pants, both of which have disappeared from the face of the earth since that day, and I wore my cherished pink and white diagonal plaid dress (which I bought from J.Crew days before our wedding), and a delicate white cardigan to accompany the ensemble. Oh yeah. We were, as Steve is wont to say, stylin' and profilin'!!! We were quickly and ceremoniously ushered in to a perfectly charming dining area that was decorated completely in roses and garden...STUFF. It was beautiful. It reminded me of being in an English garden. We began to survey the menu, which also was beautiful and weighed about 5 pounds. Shall we begin the first course? Very well.

Steve ordered: The Seafood Bisque
Mary ordered: Sir William's Prickly Pear and Pomegranate Chilled Soup

Steve's soup was the epitome of an outstanding bisque. Thick, creamy, so very comforting and a luxurious, velvety texture that cried out to be savoured. I also got a kick out of the little tentacles poking out here and there, but I restrained my enthusiasm and ate like an adult. My soup could not have been more different than Steve's, but it was delicious as well. When the waiter brought out my soup, I waited until he left, then gleefully whispered to Steve,"It's PINK!!!" Yes. I had a bowl of bright pink soup sitting in front of me, with a glorious swizzle of some purple stuff sitting on top of the pinkness. I ate it. All of it. It was very, very good, but also excruciatingly sweet. It's one of those things I am not quite sure if I would still like, due to how my tastes have changed in the past 5 years. At any rate, the first course was a smashing success. Next course, please!

We both ordered: The Maine Lobster Dinner.

Perfection. Velvety, buttery, not in the least bit tough or sinewy. Drenched in a butter sauce and accompanied by some delectable baby potatoes and sauteed patty-pan squash. We savored each and every bite. And that's all I have to say about that. Are you ready for dessert?? Very well.

Steve ordered: A Trio of Sorbet nested in Phyllo
Mary ordered: Chocolate Truffle Whipped Mousse.

I honestly think Steve ordered the sorbet because it was the closest thing to ice cream he could find on the menu. He didn't get the whole phyllo dough thing, and to be perfectly honest, neither did I. But the sorbet was outstanding! I specifically remember the blackberry sorbet. Lovely. On the other hand, my Chocolate Truffle was AMAZING!! It was the most adorable little tower of chocolate mousse encircled with a gilded dark chocolate shell ( I worried a little about ingesting a precious metal, but it hasn't seemed to affect me too much). It was also surrounded by the usual edible flowers and decorative little blips of chocolate ganache. I loved it. I am quite sure I have never tasted such intense, densely rich chocolate in such a beautiful, soft texture. Ahhh...as I write this, I am becoming aware of a very intense craving for good chocolate enveloping me. Hmm...I'll do something about that later. Anyway, other than the fact that one of our waiters look frighteningly like Liam Gallagher of Oasis ( I was only slightly obsessed with Oasis during my early college years, which involved a crush on Liam), and it was a little weird watching Liam Gallagher grinding fresh pepper into my husband's soup, and it was kind of wierd flushing fresh rose petals down the toilet before going about my business, we had the most amazing meal and the most delightful time together. And the price was right!! I have never pursued acquiring the recipes from the Rose Garden Restaurant, but I just might have to. So, dear reader, whoever you might be, tell me. What was your most memorable dining experience? I would love to hear your story.