Wednesday, April 16, 2014

apples and pears


day one.

"so. you will have the pear or the apple?"
"with the calvados. the pear or the apple?"
"the apple?"
"no, the pear is very special. you will have the pear."
"just as you say."

some time passes.

"how do you like it?"
"it's great. sweet but the sour cream gives balance. it is like a tarte tatin made with a treacle pudding sponge instead of the usual pastry. do you make it?"
"ah, no no no. my mother makes all the tarts. one day someone gave us a big bag of pears from their tree and it was too much to eat. they were all going soft. so she tried this thing and that thing to use them up and then she came up with this masterpiece. i think she blanches the pears in some alcohol and then there is brown sugar and she puts the paper on it and then takes the paper off. when it is baking, you know? but it is a secret, the receipt. she will not tell any of us. one time, she was in a very bad accident and had to go to the intensive care. she woke up and the first thing she said to me—i was there with my sister—was 'you must write down the recipe or else if i die there will be no more tart.' so we found some paper and were getting ready to write it down when the doctor comes in. 'what are you doing?' he asks. so we tell him we're writing down the pear tart recipe in case mother dies and he says 'she's not dying, you idiots.'"

day two.

"so your mother makes all the tarts and pies?"
"oh yes. she also makes the apple pie which all the tourists like because how can you come to amsterdam and not eat apple pie? except for the cheesecake. it is a new york style cheesecake. this guy used to work for a bank nearby and he came here for lunch every day. then he retired early and moved to the country but he came in two, three times a week to have lunch with his cronies. at first it was like 'while you're down in the basement, can you bring us up some tomatoes?' and then it was 'can you cut the tomatoes before you bring them up?' now he works here one day a week and he makes cheesecake. he brings a suitcase full of dessert with him on the train."
"maybe i'll try the apple pie this time."

day three.

"i'll have a beer and a slice of the pear tart, please."
"so. you like the pear more than the apple?"
"the apple pie is good but the pear tart is excellent. do you run out of it every day?"
"my mother hates it when we run out of the pear tart. because then she has to bake more of it. she lives in a house in my garden and i have, i have—what is the word for this?"
[from the kitchen, the smallest one in amsterdam:] "the word is 'enslaved.'"
"thank you. i have enslaved her. she says it is bullshit. '73 years old and i bake five days a week. what kind of retirement is that?' she says. it is true. i tell her this is an active retirement."

van kerkwijk
nes 41, amsterdam

Sunday, March 30, 2014


bread sacks
carrer del baluart, 38.

baluard—just a few blocks from the sea in barceloneta—is one of the few places in barcelona at which good bread may be found. at 7.15am, the shop is full of people buying bread and pastry, the shop van is stuffed with sacks of bread.

Friday, March 28, 2014


recuit de vaca

not a cheese but a traditional curd dairy product of catalonia. fresh, unsalted whole cow or goat milk is coagulated with vegetable rennet derived from cardoon flowers (C. cardunculus) dried and crushed in water in a warm mortar, the curd then partly drained in a rag pulp sheet that serves as a packaging material. note the patterning on the surface of this specimen of recuit de vaca from granja armengol—the result of the rag wrapper. the pressed curd is moist, dense, and finely textured, perfectly sweet and intensely delicious. clotet, mestres, and ponsati are the authors of an article titled "la problemàtica dels formatges de xerigot a catalunya" ("the problem of catalan whey cheeses")—worthwhile for those seeking clarity in the matter of coagulated dairy products.

Monday, March 17, 2014

some exceptions

to five months of mostly unmemorable beverages.*



rouge; 80% carignan 20% grenache noir

carema 2010

* neither a comprehensive nor an ordered listing. japan was the anomaly: a mostly unnavigable sea of delicious and drinkable novelty. ultra-low-alcohol cocktails that abandon the bitters model of flavouring in favour of amino acid savouriness, a profusion of what might be thought of as low-intervention terroir sakes, an entire world of umeshu.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

nowhere to hide


each grain of rice intact, each piece of meat lightly cooked, the gently beaten egg barely set—oyakodon such as this is simple, yet nearly impossible to find.
Understanding evolves through three phases: simplistic, complex, and profoundly simple.
william schutz, profound simplicity.
[with thanks to dw, reliable guide to the otherwise unheralded gems of tokyo.]

Tuesday, February 25, 2014



a cold, wet day spent walking around a wind-swept island prepares you well for large quantities of starch. immediately after landfall in takamatsu—udon capital of an udon-obsessed prefecture—we made for tsurumaru, the first of three udon specialists and a tiny, fairly seedy shop near the port where the tables turned every 7 minutes. skip the oden, go for the udon: handmade before your eyes (if you're facing the right direction), briefly and precisely cooked, served in dashi with a scatter of scallions. the dashi is strongly flavoured from dried sardines and mackerel, so this is not a retiring wallflower bowl of soup. the usual add-ins are available but only the poorly executed noodle needs to hide beneath a veil of garnish.

Monday, February 24, 2014

the convention


we made a pitstop in osaka for the express purpose of attending the 8th annual international umeshu convention (there were a few representatives from china). there is more umeshu out there than you might imagine and a very small fraction of it is remarkable.

Friday, February 21, 2014

the hardware store

singapore has become a bubbling fountain of money looking for places to be spent*, so third wave cafes are now popping up like mushrooms after the rain. chye seng huat hardware is a roaster-cafe by the people behind papa palheta and loysel's toy. the buildout is marvelous to a fault: it is as if they have lifted a san francisco cafe complete with plaid-clad hipsters out of its tech money-funded cocoon and into the tropics. the signs of being in singapore are there, but they are few in number.


* while the 1% live "world-class lives," city infrastructure is at or beyond capacity and there is a palpable feeling of unease and discontent among everyone else. is it a good idea to have almost 7 million people living on this island by 2020?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

from the new world to the old

tabasco bizarro

a gallon jug of tabasco chipotle, forgotten for three years in the trunk of a new england car. no one could have expected the blasts of summer heat and winter frost, the jostlings and jogglings over hundreds of miles of city and country roads to produce an unambiguously delicious sauce replete with the generosity of age-calmed vinegar. i call it TABASCO BIZARRO. now, it is in london.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

serious gelato

art of flavors

gelati of smoked salmon, roasted bell pepper, parmesan, pear and gorgonzola. sorbets of pickles, avocado. these seemingly outlandish flavours were in fact subtle and delicious while perfectly recognisable.

traditional flavours are even better. nut pastes instead of synthetic flavorants for hazelnut, chestnut, and pistachio gelato. the fior di latte is magnificent. the texture is light and rich, but with little overrun; the sweetness is subtle and charming. there are no detectable stabilisers in the base, though the owner (previously a pastry chef at valentino in the venetian) says there is a bit of lecithin in there. they are using a carpigiani 20-quart machine, spinning 4-6 quart batches.

art of flavors is located in the stab-and-rape portion of the strip, between a wedding chapel that has seen better days and a shop selling "turquoise" and bail bonds. viva las arepas, the areparia next door, is also worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the summer day is surprised

Yogurt & fresh fruit juice take you to the fine ice cream heaven
Stimulates the frantic desire which is unable to resist and that is the
extreme achievement of elegant tasty ice cream.
The vision needs some colors to make it inviting.
A color party becomes a game that keeps on rolling and rolling.
It is a cool and dazzling taste, making you full of blast.
The taste of yogurt makes the fruit fragrance copious.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

bombax ceiba

khanom jeen nam ngiaw

a sour curry of bombax ceiba inflorescences*, tomatoes, turmeric, cilantro root, cooked pork blood, steamed spare ribs, and dry roasted chilies, with thin vermicelli made from lactofermented rice. even the faint of heart will find this dish comforting and palatable. moreover, the lotus of siam is one of the few places in the country where getting something by the glass isn't always a pyrrhic victory. (j.j. prüm, graacher himmelreich kabinett, 2008.)

* which were not visible. these things—like religion—sometimes must be taken on faith, trusting in the word of the waitstaff. B. ceiba is part of the same genus of plants that we also call kapok.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

living milk

alham wood

the quality of even average dairy in the UK is remarkably high. milk generally tastes like milk, instead of water, cardboard, or vinyl. some milk, though, is exceptional.

at last sunday's market, i cast about the stands for some milk in which to poach a freshly purchased side of smoked haddock. the poultry lady hadn't brought any with her, and the regular cheese women by the biweekly mushroom guy had sold out. on the verge of giving up, i saw a few litre bottles at the irregular cheese dude's stand (alham wood seems to only come to market when they feel like it). raw, unhomogenised, organic milk. sold in the light of day.

he was trying, with minimal success, to persuade cheese buyers to try samples from a bottle of raw milk that had been unrefrigerated for 3 weeks. for science, i had a little cuplet: lactic, creamy, thick, emulsified. remember what pasteurised milk smells like when you leave it on the counter for a day or two? it smelled nothing like that.

as he handed me the bottle, the cheese dude said, "real food, buddy, real food. it still exists."