Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In a Golden State 4: Big Sur, pt. 2

Missed Part One? You can find it here.

Kamping with Kermit

Unless you're doing serious back country camping--the kind where it pays to travel light--it's awful nice to bring a bottle of wine (or two, or more--perhaps a lot more) along on your camping trips. We happened to be staying in the East Bay for most of the time we were in Northern California, so not only did we have an impressive selection of top-notch wine stores to choose from, we were able to make a special trip to one of the very, very best: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.

klwm 2 fig. a: putting on airs

Michelle immediately went about putting on her wine-buying airs, but, the thing is, she didn't have to. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant wasn't intimidating in the least. In fact, they were downright friendly.  Aided by our incredibly helpful wine agent (not Kermit, unfortunately, but we hit it off with this guy like we were long-lost friends) we picked out a really nice selection of wines (including some Rieslings and some Bandols), but when it came to choosing a camping wine, we were directed to a 2009 Pascal Janvier "Cuvée du Silex" Jasnières.  We love the Jasnières style, and we can get some nice ones in Quebec, but Pascal Janvier was new to us, and we were strongly encouraged to make his acquaintance.

Anyway, the nice thing about camping with wine, is that you're not in your own kitchen, you're not in a position to necessarily make everything perfect, and, generally, you have to improvise.  Most importantly, we had to try to find a way to chill our bottle of Jasnières.  Luckily, the stream than ran near our campsite came with a handy, dandy natural wine cooling contraption

chilling 2 fig. b: wine cooler 1

that looped around the bottle's neck and simultaneously kept the bottle wedged against the bank so that it didn't go tumbling downstream.

chilling 1 fig. c: wine cooler 2

Within 30 minutes, our bottle was sufficiently chilled and ready to quaff.

I don't think that Pascal or Kermit, or anyone else, for that matter, would have come up with the campsite meal that we had with that beautiful bottle of Jasnières,

camping fig. d: camping spread

but, like I said, that's kind of the beauty of camping with wine.  And you end up developing an entirely different appreciation for the wine.  Oftentimes you discover the wine's range.  You also discover the importance of setting.  And, let me tell you, Big Sur is a pretty ideal setting for wine-drinking.

Molera Time

big sur 17 fig. e: frigid

Our days began with an invigorating dip in the frigid waters of the Pacific. Real "Ice Bears"-style.

Most of the rest of our days were spent on a series of hikes. We saw all kinds of nice things--again, it's hard to go wrong in Big Sur--but our favorite hike of the excursion was Andrew Molera State Park, where we basically followed four trails (the creamery meadow trail, the ridge trail, the panorama trail, and the bluff trail) in order to form a nice loop that took the better part of an afternoon and that was also wonderfully varied.

It started off hot and dry.

big sur 15 fig. f: hot & dry 1

But as we moved from the Ridge Trail to the Panorama Trail we found a stand of redwoods.

big sur 14 fig. g: redwoods

When we got to the heart of the Panorama Trail things were pretty windy.

big sur 13 fig. h: windy

The vegetation on that part of the hike looked pretty other-worldly, too.

big sur 12 fig. i: other-worldly

We paused to take a breather,

big sur 11 fig. j: breather

and, off in the distance, we began to see evidence of a little Shangri-La.

big sur 10 fig. k: Shangri-La 1

The lure of the beach got us to pick up our pace a little, but the route was not only windy, it was also winding.

big sur 9 fig. l: long and winding

When we got close to the beach, we found a logjam blocking the way.

big sur 7 fig. m: logjam

No silly logjam was going to stop us, though.  Not for a beach this nice.  Plus, at the time we were there, this beach was totally private.  We had it entirely to ourselves.

shangri-la fig. n: Shangri-La 2

Michelle started feeling a little territorial.  She had the idea that this stretch of sand should be named Marek Beach.

private beach fig. o: Marek Beach

When we'd had our fill of Marek Beach, we moved on and found an incredibly lush little valley.

big sur 5 fig. p: lush

Up on the bluff, things got hot and dry again.

big sur 3 fig. q: hot & dry 2

We split up at a fork in the trail, but, luckily, eventually the two trails merged again, and we were reunited.

big sur 2 fig. r: reunited

When we finished our hike at Molera State Park, it was definitely Molera Time.  Actually, it was more like Pfeiffer Time, because we left Molera S.P., stopped in a convenience store to pick up some beers, and headed down the Sycamore Canyon Road to Pfeiffer Beach.

big sur 1 fig. s: Pfeiffer 1

There we sat on the beach and watched the waves crash through the natural bridge (and the tourists pose for photographs in front of it).

travel scrabble, big sur version fig. t: Pfeiffer 2

Then we pulled out our travel Scrabble set and got to work.

Return to Big Sur Bakery

That very same night, we went for our only non-breakfast meal at Big Sur Bakery, the meal that we'd planned as the climax of our Big Sur trip.  Things got started right with a lola rosa & mâche salad, with peaches, pistachios, and feta, as well as a plate of "seven lucky oysters" fresh out of Big Sur Bakery's wood-fired oven, and they never let up.

wood-fired oysters fig. u: oysters & co.

Our favorite dish was the butter-braised halibut in white wine with herbs and caviar, but everything tasted absolutely perfect that evening on Big Sur Bakery's deck,

hills of big sur fig. v: Big Sur Bakery view

and the views didn't hurt either.  We really enjoyed our Big Sur breakfasts at the bakery, but dinner was where they pulled out all the stops. Easily one of our top meals of 2010.

Return to the Bay Area

The next day it was time to return to our base of operations in Oakland, but we took a bit of a roundabout way--we had to make a few stops along the way.

First of all, a stop at San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission (a.k.a. Carmel Mission) to smell the roses,

mission carmel fig. w: rose

gaze at the stars, and soothe our souls.

mission carmel fig. x: constellations

Secondly, a stop in Castroville,

open for business fig. y: open

to pick up artichokes.

artichokes fig. z: 12 for $1

12 for $1. No joke. Lovely ones, too. (We had them later that night, braised, with pasta. And a steak.)

Thirdly, a stop in Morgan Hill,

Andy's fig. aa: Andy's

to pick up the best peaches and plums money can buy, at Andy's Orchard. (We ate plenty of them fresh, but the next day Michelle turned the rest into the best preserves.)

andy's by michelle fig. bb: Andy's by Michelle

And, lastly, a stop in Pescadero,

Phipps Farm beans fig. cc: Phipps' beans

to buy beans at Phipps Country Store and Farm, where they sell over 75 varieties of exotic and heirloom beans, many of which they grow themselves (check it out!). We were astounded by the selection. We bought a whole bunch of different varieties, but those Zuni Golds (pictured) were among our favorites. They made for some pretty tasty frijoles. (Many thanks to RP for the superb tip!)

Let me tell you, the fun never stops when you're in Northern California.

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, 1605 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA, (510) 524-1524

Big Sur Bakery, 47540 California 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), Big Sur, CA, (831) 667-0520

Andy's Orchard, 1615 Half Road, Morgan Hill, CA, (408) 782-7600

Phipps Country Store and Farm, 2700 Pescadero Road, Pescadero, CA, (650) 879-1032


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Back in Blue

You asked for it, you got it.

back in blue fig. a: back in blue

This Saturday, August 27, Michelle will be hosting the last social of the summer social season: her Blueberry Social.

It all goes down at this week's Marché de FoodLab in Place de la Paix, off St-Laurent Boulevard, between René-Lévesque and Ste-Catherine, and adjacent to the S.A.T. (La Société des arts technologiques), from 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM.

Like our earlier socials, Blueberry Social will be a by-donation-only berry extravaganza ($10 suggested donation, but any amount of money will be accepted), this time featuring blueberry cobbler with lightly whipped cream, iced tea, and rhubarb lemonade, with all proceeds going to our friends at Dans La Rue.

Blueberry Social will be just one of the attractions at the S.A.T.'s Marché de FoodLab. There will also be plenty of organic farmers on hand selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as other products.

Come down and say 'hello.' Eat blueberry cobbler till you're ready to burst.

"I've got a blueberry for a daughter!" fig. b: "I feel funny!"

Think about it: this is our chance to take back the Quartier des Spectacles! In the most delicious way.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top Ten #42

arthur bryant's 1

1. Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City, MO


2. Sally's Apizza, New Haven, CT

kbsp picnic

3. swimming, hiking, antiquing, pizzaing, and picnicking in Vermont

4. The Trip, dir. Winterbottom

the wall 1

5. summer socials

demolished thoughts

6. Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts (Matador) + Bardo Pond, Whiteout w/ Thurston Moore, and Metal Mountains @ Le Poisson Rouge, June 18, NYC

lynn's 1

7. Liquor Barn + Lynn's Paradise, Louisville, KY

8. hauling wedding cakes from Montreal to NYC + Fatty 'Cue, NYC + Hot Bird, NYC

country ham

9. Newsom's Old Mill Store, Princeton, KY

10. Fleetwood Sack @ Casa del Popolo, August 12, Montreal


p.s. & Jack Layton. R.I.P.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In a Golden State 5: Street Food!

If you're as starved for street food as we are, and you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area on or around August 20, by all means, make you way to the extraordinary San Francisco Street Food Festival. The second annual edition was really one of our favorite food occasions of 2010. The third annual edition looks to be just as exciting, if not more. And it's all for a great cause.

Need further convincing? This is what it looked like last year:

The SF Street Food Festival had a full range of street food temptations, both high and low.

grilled corn fig. a: on the grill

The grilled corn looked great to begin with, but it was even better all-dressed.

yum! fig. b: all-dressed

Ritual Roasters had their mobile unit out for the occasion, in case you happened to be under-caffeinated. Philz was also just around the corner for those in search of a seat and a Philharmonic experience.

ritual mobile unit fig. c: Ritual in da house

There were so many options, so many different avenues of street food delight, that Michelle found herself at a crossroads.

lost in a crowd fig. d: standing at the crossroads

We tasted a whole lot of tasty treates, but our favorite street food delicacy of the day was this totally outrageous Japanese fried chicken.

super yum! fig. e: oishii!

When we'd had our fill, we started to head back into the heart of the Mission when we saw an Aztec ride by on a Razor Scooter. We couldn't let that pass us by. So we turned back around and headed back into the heart of the Street Food Festival and came across this:

sacred smoke fig. f: sacred smoke

And the next thing we knew, the scene erupted into a full-on pre-Columbian frenzy.

street dance fig. g: Montezuma's revenge

The performance was riveting, creating something akin to a time portal in the urban landscape.

our lady fig. h: our lady

So if you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area this coming Saturday, if you're even remotely within striking distance, please do check out the SF Street Food Festival. We were warned that it would be "swarmed," "overrun" with "foodies," that the lines would be "a mile long," but we showed up early and found the whole experience positively convivial. And we had absolutely no problems scoring each and every delicacy we desired.

The moral of this story: don't believe the hype. Or, rather: the early birds get the street food.


Postscript: The San Francisco Street Food Festival is much more than just a one-day street food extravaganza. The 2010 edition also featured a stimulating and highly inspiring two-day street food conference featuring practitioners, activists, public officials, urban planners, and academics. And there were brother and sister events all over town all weekend long, like Humphry Slocombe hosting NYC's Big Gay Ice Cream Truck for a special edition of Tranny Smackdown.

tranny smackdown fig. i: un zoo la nuit

Jane Wiedlin (of the Go-Go's) performed, John T. Edge was fêted, a special sundae was concocted, and Humphry Slocombe was even more of a zoo (a wonderful one) than usual. We thought about trying the Tranny Smackdown Sundae, but ended up sticking with our very favorite Humphry Slocombe jam.

secret breakfast fig. j: shhh...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

mission improbable

One of my very dearest friends got married earlier this week. She asked if Michelle would be willing to make one of two wedding cakes for the reception. (There were going to be lots of people and she happened to be friends with two trained pâtissières.) Michelle was all too happy to put her talents to work. After all, she's made quite a number of wedding cakes over the years. No big deal, right?

Well, there was one catch, maybe two. The wedding was in New York City.

mission improbable fig. a: no problem, right? fig. a: destination New York

And there'd be no Laloux-style professional kitchen on the New York end.

This was definitely a new challenge for the AEB Mobile Unit, but one that we were happy to take up. There'd be an international border to cross, countless potholes to dodge, extreme heat and humidity, and the very real possibility of severe thunderstorms. The cake would have to be cut, filled, and iced in a Bed-Stuy kitchen. It would then have to be assembled, piped, and finalized in a crowded Atlantic Avenue bar. Prayers would be prayed, curses would be cursed. There would be moments of inspiration, and a fair share of perspiration.

This is roughly how things elapsed:

1. We pulled up outside of Restaurant Laloux to pick up Michelle's meticulous prep: cakes, blackberry compote, vanilla icing, butter cream, and a set of tools. The gear was loaded into the trunk of the car and Team AEB devised some makeshift harnesses to keep things from sliding around.

packing the car fig. b: packing

Like I said, prayers were prayed.

prayers fig. c: praying

2. Team AEB managed to avoid a wait of roughly two hours at the border by deftly taking an exit and slipping to a smaller neighboring crossing. Total wait time: 15 minutes.

Apparently, wedding cakes don't appear in the training manuals of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. When we were asked if we had anything to declare and we responded, "No, just a wedding cake," the border guard was incredulous. "You have a wedding cake, in your car," he said as he turned his penetrating gaze on our miniscule VW Golf. It took a bit of explaining, but he eventually allowed us to cross without incident.

3. When we arrived in New York, all the ingredients were promptly dispatched to the refrigerator.

The next day, Michelle continued with her prep.

Cakes were cut.

assembly 2

assembly 1 figs. d & e: first assembly

Cakes were slathered with layers of blackberry compote and butter cream. And cakes were iced.

Then they were put right back in the refrigerator for safe keeping.

4. The next day was slated to be hot (92º) and humid, with the risk of a thunderstorm, but, in the end, Day 2 turned out to be the scorcher with the thunderstorm, and the day of the wedding was actually really pleasant: hot, but with lower humidity than expected.

We still had to transport the cakes their final destination: Hot Bird. Just getting into the car while balancing those cakes was tricky enough. Narrowly avoiding getting swallowed up by the Mother of All Potholes sent a shiver down our spines. But we made it. And within minutes we were inside Hot Bird, where curiosity over the cake created a mad crush, but at least the A.C. was in full effect.

I set up a pick, and Michelle got to work, building the cake into its final form, then piping it.

final construction fig. f: final assembly

Michelle had claimed that the final assembly would take "seven minutes." In the end, she wasn't far off. Before I knew what was happening, she was already putting the finishing touches on the cake: blackberries, sugar plums, flowers, flower petals.

finishing touches fig. g: finishing touches

And, with the cake now fully decorated, it was time to usher it outside to its final resting place, on the ceremonial picnic table/cake cutting stage.

final look fig. h: show time

It was still hot out, but the cake held up like a champ. About an hour later, the cake still looking divine, and, purely coincidentally, matching the bride's dress, it was time for the cake-cutting ceremony.

cake-cutting fig. i: cake-cutting ceremony

We felt pretty good from the time we got the cake into the air-conditioned environment of Hot Bird. We felt a little bit better when we had our first micro-brewed draft beer from Hot Bird's amazing selection. But, let me tell you, we felt best of all when the first round of cake slices had been served, and we sat down with our very own slices of Michelle's Blackberry Bramble and a couple of cold pints.

my slice fig. j: cake & beer

That's when we really relaxed, for the first time in three days.

Congratulations to H. & I.! And special thanks to L. for the hospitality and the use of her incredibly accommodating Bed-Stuy kitchen.