Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shopping in Jolly Olde England!

Another Guest post by Chris Edmonson,

As I stated at the beginning of her previous post, Chris is an incredible chef, food enthusiast, globe traveler and (along with her husband Jim) a huge fan of all things British and French!  In this post, Chris gives a 'shout out' to local Ohio farmers who are striving for excellence and making top quality product!  Buy local, folks, and you buy right!

Her last post was the mostly widely read and commented on by readers!  So, without further adieu, here is another post by Chris: 


The Shops

Grocer (Oxford English Dictionary): 1. One who buys and sells in the gross, i.e. in large quantities.  The Company of Grocers, said to have been incorporated in 1344, consisted of wholesale dealers in spices and foreign produce.

Lovely London, so vibrant and exciting, so architecturally splendid  – a thrill to visit every time.  But this trip provided a giant dose of in-your-face reality: London is for rich people. There are food kitchens in the streets of Lincoln's Inn Fields after dark.  And it smells of exhaust.  

 So after a week of art and culture, we haul our tired feet onto the train to Shropshire, guided by our host from Tenbury Wells for a weekend in the country.  Excited to be there at harvest, we breathe deeply as farm country wraps its night arms around us.  Apples, hops, fields, and fires; one can smell it all from the open kitchen door.

Breakfast delayed by necessary errands in the town, we motor into Tenbury Wells past the Pump Rooms.  Right!  First stop, the butcher.  Decked out in his striped apron, the butcher greets our host Mark, with a beaming face.  Mark is married to Stella, a vegetarian, so when he sees him head for the big roasts, the butcher recognizes a man on a mission.  What I find so interesting is the discussion between these two men about buying local beef: not just what do you want, but why, and how might you be planning to cook your beef? How much per person?  Well, two bones are better than one for roasting, anyone knows that!   The joint is examined by both men, the marbling is pointed out, mouth sounds are exchanged, and we watch him carve off a portion for three. There is no plastic involved here.  Wrapped in brown paper and string, the beef is handed over and popped into our burlap shopping bag. Also, sausages! Mark pays the butcher -- in cash! “Cheers! Ta!”

Next, the grocer nearby in modern guise.  Seeking traditional British products, I disappear into the condiment aisle. Salt. Maldon salt in particular, with its soft pyramid crystals, hand-drawn harvested in Essex.  Now, I know that I can mail order this at home for twice the price, but I want to buy it off the shelf. It's my souvenir.  And near it, Lyles Black Treacle, an old product made from cane molasses by Abram Lyle & Sons, purveyors to the Queen. It's for my annual Christmas cake (more on that next time, with photos) to replace Grandma's Molasses in my kitchen, and though heavy enough to break a toe, in my basket it goes. The cashier looks at me with amusement, but I don't care -- these babies are going into my spice cabinet along with my bottle of Fortnum & Mason ground ginger. I'll line them up to face me when I open the cupboard door -- "Hello! (like the magazine) Britain, let's bake.”

We make a few more stops --  the baker for artisanal loaves and a quick gossip about the nearly empty shelves, and the ancient center market for a quick look at garden tools and baskets, bulbs and pots.  And then home for breakfast with Stella manning the giant toaster, stuffing toast racks full of thick golden slices.

 We laugh about the toast racks, and how foreign they are to Americans.  She opens her plum jam, made just this week, and we dive into platters of cold meats and cheeses, pate, too.  Coffee and tea, of course.  We are ready for the cider mill.

Finally, just today, while searching the Times Literary Supplement for art history titles we might add to our library collection, I find a review of a new book that gives me the idea for this post: Sugar and spice: grocers and groceries in provincial England, 1650-1830 by Jon Stobart.  Stobart is concerned with the historical process by which exotic provisions that began as luxuries, as a result of trade, became staples. This history of grocers, and so much of what we take for granted about consumer culture and our own stocked larders, stem from the history of England's colonial empire, for better and unfortunately, like our own history of slavery, for worse. 

And don't get me started about curry -- just don't go there.

(to be continued....)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ms. Potato Head Lives for a Day

Guest post by Chris Edmonson,

Chris is an incredible chef, food enthusiast, globe traveler and (along with her husband Jim) a huge fan of all things British and French!  In this post, Chris gives a 'shout out' to local Ohio farmers who are striving for excellence and making top quality product!  Buy local, folks, and you buy right!


It's all Jim's fault.  "Look," he prods.  I peer into the meat case to see the most beautifully marbleized slab of Ohio beef, cut to London Broil perfection.  "Sunday?"  I agree with enthusiasm.  Jim has very few signature dishes, but this is one that qualifies him as a Master of the Universe.

We are great little weekend shoppers, so off we go, ca et la, here for meat, there for wine, but always to Marc's for fruit and veg.  Really? Yes, really.  Marc's, at least in our Coventry neighborhood, has a solid produce section, much of it organic, and all of it priced well.  Being a notoriously parsimonious shopper, I always check prices and labels. 

OK, so now I'm thinking about potatoes with that beef.  I usually like a Yukon Gold, but I spy something that I haven't seen in a long time; potatoes in a paper bag.  "Heartland White Potatoes" the banner reads as it unfurls across the front and over a funny mesh opening.  Marked "Michael Farms, Inc., Urbana, Ohio."  Well, yay! -- local spuds in a paper bag!  And then when I see the small print under the mesh window, "Place this side down to prevent greening" I know what's going home with me.  

So fast forward, where for reasons too boring to list, the potatoes never leave their sack, as they say in Ohio.  Early the next Saturday, a full week later, I enter the kitchen to see said sack giving me the stink eye: cook me or I'm compost.  So I do, and I'm shocked that not one is green or has a sprouted eye. All five pounds go into a soup pot and forty minutes later, I fish out 15 steaming-hot potatoes, some the size of hamburger buns. I halve them to cool, and abandon the spuds to secure my lounge chair on the deck.  

As I peel each one, and start nibbling on them, I realize that I have the creamiest, most flavor-packed potatoes yet eaten.  Not one skin was split, not one piece crumbles as I cut them for potato salad.  They are perfect.  OMG what is this vegetable?  I make enough potato salad for the whole neighborhood.  I am the Barefoot Contessa.  

Back at work I keep thinking about Michael Farms, Inc. in Urbana, Ohio. We haven't yet joined a CSA, that's for next year, but my drive to buy local makes me curious enough to check out their website, also printed on the bag/sack.  Michael Farms is a third generation farm, and they all farm armed with degrees from Ohio State University.  They grow only four vegetables: sweet corn, green beans, cabbage, and red and white potatoes.  They hire local people to help them harvest. And best of all, get this: they deliver from field to store in 24 hours.  24 hours!  If I picked them myself I wouldn't have vegetables any fresher.  

The email, at the bottom of their website page, beckons me.  I write a thank you with details, pointing out the lure of the bag/sack and its message for freshness.  I feel pretty good, and I send it, on company time, so my Ohio big city address goes with it.  I want them to know that the urban prairie appreciates their excellence.  And they write me back in minutes! Holy Toledo!  Farmer Michael thanks me for my positive comments and gives me bit more detail.  He tells me that although the bag/sack is more expensive than plastic, it keeps the potatoes fresher, longer. And that white potatoes have less carbohydrates than russets, giving them a creamy texture (so true).  

I'm astonished. I'm over the moon. My mother used to accuse me of being a food snob. "I'm not, I'd say, really not."  "I'm an ingredient snob."  And shouldn't we all be?  It's only a potato, but it is also three generations of a local family working hard to produce excellent nutrition. For you, and for me.   

Friday, July 26, 2013

To Burgundy and Back Again; Or, teaching ourselves what nobody told or taught us about food, life and wine!

Post by Brian Castellani

I was in our local library the other day and stopped to check out their recommended list of "summer travel reads."  (Yes, for younger readers, I was in a library, that place that has books that feel so real you'd swear you were actually holding them in your hands.)

In the travel section I came across a great small-press book, To Burgundy and Back Again--A Tale of Wine, France, and Brotherhood by Roy Cloud, a wine seller here in the states.

A few pages into the book I was hooked--understanding why it has gotten such good reviews.  Here is a summary of the book from the back cover:

"Roy Cloud had worked in the wine business for years, watching it transform from a retail backwater to a mainstream fixation, with a huge influx of consumers looking for wine with terroir. By a twist of fate, he found himself on a hurriedly arranged trip to France to persuade small-scale winemaking farms that he should represent their interests in the growing U.S. import market. While Roy’s palate would be challenged in finding the hidden gems of the Loire Valley and Burgundy, his real dilemma was this: He didn’t speak a word of French.  Enter Joe, Roy’s older brother. Different from Roy in every respect, Joe had studied in France and was fluent in the language—and, most importantly, he was free to join Roy in his search. It was simple: Roy would do the tasting, and Joe would do the talking. What could go wrong?  In To Burgundy and Back Again, Roy presents a richly evocative account of their journey—one replete with discovery, adventure, and poignant surprises. Written in the tradition of A Year in Provence and Sideways, this elegantly penned book will delight wine lovers and armchair travelers alike."

Here is why I enjoy this book so much.  First, there is the obvious: it is about travel.  Second, it's about France, one of my most favorite countries in the world.  Third, it is about wine and food--duh!  Fourth, it is full of historical and geographical insights into the Burgundy region.  And, fifth, it has elements, as the back-cover states, of one of my favorite movies, Sideways.

However, while great, these are not, ultimately, the reasons that drew me to this book.  The real draw, for me, is Cloud's journey.

I can summarize it simply: Cloud's journey is one of the most difficult and yet one of the most important, for all of us.  It's about taking the time and making the effort (no matter how scared or insecure or unsure we might be) to re-educate ourselves about what we cannot see that we do not know.  I will say that again: teaching ourselves about the things we cannot see we need to know.  What?  Yes.

And, how does one get at that?  Sideways, of course.  You have to leave where you are and put yourself somewhere else, physically or emotionally or mentally.

Get it?  Learning this way is the nuanced act of realizing--especially in the contemporary, globalized, hyper capitalistic world in which we are now living--that we might need to slow down and learn what was not taught to us (or what we no longer think necessary to learn) about food, about wine, about taste, about knowing what makes something good or not, and about living a life of quality.

In terms of Roy Cloud, here is a guy, living in the states, formally educated, who knows his wine and is living an enjoyable life as a wine distributor; and yet, he has this sense that there is so much more to learn about wine and food and about living life, so much more to discover that he has not been told.  So, off to France he goes. Why France?  Because that is the "someplace different" that will do the job for him.  That is the someplace where, instead of finding how they are doing things now, he can find out, how they are not doing things now.

Let me explain:

To me, when I think of mainstream states (note: I said, mainstream), I think of the new, of innovation, of technology, of exceptionalism, and of all such related ideas.  If I were to put this in a phrase, the states (particularly along the east and west coasts) is where one goes to find out how they are doing things now---iPods, iPads, smart phones, blockbuster movies, pop music, Facebook,, globalization, the latest fashions, global capitalism, fast food restaurants, cranberries and grapes in February, and so forth.

In turn, if I were to coin a phrase for France and such places as Paris or Burgundy (and other such similar places throughout the world), it would be this: these are the places one goes to find out how they are not doing things now--cultural traditions handed down, generation after generation, on how to eat, drink and live well; an emphasis on making distinctions between what is good and bad; an emphasis on taste; and a resistance, at least initially, to changing something that is already, well, as good as it is most likely to get.

Again, let me explain.

In Adam Gopnik's excellent book, Paris to the Moon, he takes great pains to clarify for his readers what such phrases as "how not to do it" mean.  He states, quite clearly that, for the French (and for any such similar place, be it Kerala India or your local grocery store that refuses to give up on excellence!) taste is less about embracing any one particular culture--say, French culture--and more about embracing a level of expected excellence.  This distinction makes sense, as France, like any country, is a complex and nuanced collection of cultural negotiation and assimilation--from the confluence of Basque, French and Spanish culture in the Pyrenees to the intersection of Celtic-Briton, Roman and French culture in Brittany.

Taste, then, is less about highlighting a particular culture and more about knowing differences.  For example, if you put a piece of food in your mouth it should be good and you should know what makes it good; if you drink a glass of water, is should be clean and cold; if you eat a grape, it should burst with flavor; if you buy a cheese, you should know where it came from and how it was made; and, if you made that cheese, you should care about who will eat it and the effect it will have on them.  Or, at least, that is the ideal; as we all know full well, as realists, that life is not a work of art; instead, no matter where one lives, life is often broken and corrupt, full of shortcuts and conflict and compromise.  Everywhere life has its problems, its political, economic and cultural issues.  Still, no matter how subtle, differences do matter.  And such differences do exist, depending upon where one lives or what one has learned to see, amounting to differences in ways of living.

For example, one need not go to France to find such differences.  In Cleveland, we have community supported agriculture; we have small local restaurants trying to keep things real; we have the West Side Market; we have little Italy; we have the Asian district; we have Michael Simon's restaurants; we have Melt; we have Taste of Kerala in Mayfield Heights; we have the newly revised Gordon Park district; we have the World Market; we have Heinen's grocery store; we have mom and pop diners everywhere!  I can keep going....  Stop always going to the food chains and put your money where you mouth is!

One of my favorite chefs, Eric Ripert, puts it this way: if you do not know how things actually taste, be it a leaf of lettuce or a peach, how can you cook or eat with confidence?

Or, perhaps more apropos, we can turn to a famous scene in one of my favorite movies, the Matrix.  The human characters (protagonists), now freed from the matrix (a simulated world created by the machines) are living in the real world, and they are wondering if their simulated notion of how things taste is even close to reality.  The question, then, now that they are free, is, "Does their simulated sense of things 'square' with the way things actually are in the real world?"    

Tank: Here you go, buddy; "Breakfast of Champions."
Mouse: If you close your eyes, it almost feels like you're eating runny eggs.
Apoc: Yeah, or a bowl of snot.
Mouse: Do you know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat. Did you ever eat Tasty Wheat?
Switch: No, but technically, neither did you.
Mouse: That's exactly my point. Exactly. Because you have to wonder: how do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal, or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they (the machines) couldn't figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything.
Apoc: Shut up, Mouse.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Japanese Buffet, New York City style!

I love my brother Warren very much, but I must admit that, while I still visit NYC to see him, my trips to The Big Apple have increasingly become pilgrimages to some of its great food centers.

Image taken from their Facebook Page
Case in point: the Japanese Buffet in Queens, Mizumi

(Here, also, is their facebook page--click here)

This restaurant is another reason to travel outside Manhattan! It is making a major splash in the area--click here to read an excellent review!

All I can say is that, if you love all things Japanese food and also want to eat, in addition, I don't know, let's say, fifty different types of sushi, several different types of pho, seafood galore, five different types of kimchi, (I can keep going, just look at the pictures below); and you want to do so for less than $30 dollars a person, then Wow, you have to make a trip here!   Actually, kids 12 and under are priced accordingly: 4ft to 5 ft, half price; 3ft to 4ft, quarter price; under 3ft, no charge!  Of all the wonderful meals I have eaten--and there are a lot of them--this place is in my top 10 list!

Here are some pictures to prove my point:

One of several long buffet lines, each focusing on a different type of Japanese cooking

I cannot help myself, eating in the buffet line, demonstrating that I have no dignity at all.
C'mon, you would too!


My first of several very full plates of food

The next plate!  Keep it coming baby!

Chow down time!

My third plate!

My fourth plate!

Did someone say dessert?

Happy Campers

Okay!  Stop eating already!

Time to go Home and Take a Nap

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lots and Lots of Food Pictures

Cassata Cake in Little Italy

BBQ Ribs at Grandma Castellani's in Pittston PA

Rob's Family Having a Pizza Party in Dallas Texas

Rob's Family Eating Great Food at Gloria's Restaurant in Dallas Texas

Rob's Family Having More Wonderful Food in Dallas Texas