Thursday, August 31, 2006

How to Deal

The Oakland Raiders used to have a slogan which I found hilarious in its badness, and yet I still remember it years later - Commitment to Excellence. Laughable since the team would start off the season in fine form and then fall apart about November. But I digress, though this is related to my post. Namely, that the Raiders inspired me to start my Commitment to Better Eating. And yes, "better" is code for "more healthy." Gone are the days of asking myself "Have I eaten something fried today? No - well then I should!" I hope to do better that my silver and black team, and as a first step have gone cold turkey on Tim Tams. I had my last Double Coat biscuit last week. You never think it's going to be the last one, but it was. My mum lovingly confiscated the rest of the pack under the auspices of "if I eat one a day, you won't." I sort of see her logic. So, the challenge now is to write about food sans my favorite food groups - ice cream and chocolate. But I already have non-extreme eating stories to share, so really, it's not a dilemma at all!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Targeted Learning

Me: If you hate French class so much, why are you taking it?
Friend: I thought that since French food is so good, maybe the language would be good too.

Sadly, he did not find the language lived up to the cuisine.

The last time I formally took French I was in preschool. We'd sit in a circle on the classroom floor and go through flashcards filled with objects, not a single one of which I remember today. My more useful French education took place over time, dining at restaurants, which, wanting to be either pretentious or authentic, would fill their menus with the likes of canard, poulet, poisson, agneau, moule, ouef, haricot vert, and of course, pommes frites.

When I finally had the opportunity to visit Chembuddy in Paris a few years back, I found myself completely reliant upon my friend for translating in all circumstances save one, the restaurant. For our first meal she took me to Pause Cafe. I was already overwhelmed by Paris sights and sounds, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, I picked-up the menu and actually understood what I was looking at. To be sure, some of the subtleties of the preparations escaped me, but I was able to navigate the menu with surprising ease. We settled into a table at the noisy corner bistro for an early supper, and so began our days of two hour lunches and three hour dinners.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Will Drive For Food

At dinner with H and B at the wonderful Bella Trattoria, we fixed upon my back-up career plan. Driving people to the airport in exchange for a good meal. The business plan is simple. We figured that since I already have a car I'm good to go. Of course, unless all of my clients have refined taste like my dining companions, I'm not quite sure how things would work.

How this particular restaurant charmed me. We started with the Parmiggiana - grilled eggplant baked with fresh tomato sauce and a light sprinkling of parmiggiano cheese. The smokey flavor of the grill cut through the garlic, and even a generous topping of sauce didn't render the eggplant the least bit mushy. Next we sampled the clams sauteed with tomatoes and garlic. I quite enjoyed the hearty, almost stew-like sauce conceived of fresh summer tomatoes chopped. It was a welcome departure from the usual preparation of clams in a white wine broth. And then the pastas. Linguine Nere - homemade squid ink linguine dressed with white wine and olive oil, topped with clams and calamari. The briny sea came through with every forkful and the dark noodles matched the the dimly-lit dining room. My favorite though, had to be the spinach gnocchi - ethereal green puffs served in a gorgonzola cream sauce decorated with sliced mushrooms. I'm usually not a gnocchi fan due to their weightiness, but these were tender bites from start to finish and even in a rich cream sauce, they settled in my stomach like little bites of air.

We had to forgo dessert in the interest of making it to the airport on time.

But the truly sad note of the evening was that my friends departed for the east coast. Hoping to lure them back out here with more dining adventures....

Bella Trattoria - 3854 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Monday, August 21, 2006


I finally made it to one of my favorite haunts this evening - Henry's - for my long-awaited Mexican food fix! Knowing that I was likely to be disappointed, I'd refused to sample the Aussie and NZ interpretations of this fine cuisine. And how I craved it!

They cook everything to order which makes for a sometimes lengthy wait time, but that's quickly forgotten when the piping hot dishes arrive. Sitting on the sidewalk (at a table today, though honestly I would have eaten on the pavement if that's what it came to) with my delicious chile verde burrito, I finally felt like I was home. And then there were the freshly made (read: fried) chips and their delightful red salsa to round out my feast. Yes, I was in a food coma afterwards, but it was worth every bite!

Henry's - 787 Franklin Street, Santa Clara

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Six Times and Counting

Each time I'm in Oz I try Vegemite as a matter of course, willing, hoping, deluding myself into thinking that I might actually like it, as if by magic I'll discover something wonderful about this vile product. And then I crunch down upon the toast and issue an unceremonious "bleh." Andrew tells me the key is thick toast, lots of butter, and just a thin, thin, thin layer of Vegemite. I'll try that next time.

For now, I'll just sing about Vegemite sandwiches and let others eat them.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Pantry (aka My Demise)

Grandma keeps a pantry stocked full of snacks. Now that I'm home I find myself missing the endless snacking.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pure Passion

These past months I've dined on anything I could find that was passion fruit-related, including passion fruit biscuits, passion fruit ice cream, and passion fruit yogurt. There's a crunchiness to the seeds that's reminiscent of kiwis, and a tangy quality that I adore. I finally tried fresh passion fruit a few days ago - kind of an ugly, wrinkled fruit, but glorious eaten alone, or accompanied with a bit of passion fruit yogurt.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday Part II

Funny thing, how airlines choose what meals to give you when flying across the international dateline. We left Sydney about 11PM. Next thing I knew, they were serving lunch - and I call it lunch because the menu said it was so. I enjoyed the ice cream best, though the salad and braised beef weren't bad. There were a few years when I was really anti-airplane food, so I took to ordering the child's meal. I quite enjoyed my McDonald's Happy Meals, though it was a bit difficult explaining to the flight attendant who inevitably wondered why a twenty-something was ordering a child's plate.

In other news, I had an amusing little exchange with US Customs today. They put my bags through the x-ray machine.

Agent: "Ma'am, your bag appears to have a lot of the same item in it. Can you tell me what that might be?"
Me: "Oh, those would be Tim Tams."
Agent gives me a blank stare.
Me: "They're biscuits"
Agent gives me another blank stare.
Me: "Boxes of cookies."

Right, now that I'm back stateside I'd best start working on my English...

Wednesday Part I

Arrived in Sydney this morning on the four hour (read: too short) red-eye flight from Perth, only to find that my 8 hour layover had been extended to 16 hours. Perhaps it was a good thing, because I was finally able to taste a Caramel Slice, the ubiquitous baked good that is a layer of shortbread (with coconut mixed in if I'm not mistaken), a thick layer of baked caramel, and a chocolate top. One bite was more than enough as the sugar content was ridiculously high.

Packing my bags to come home was an ordeal, but I managed to squeeze in 9 packets of Tim Tams. I was very careful to provide cushy clothing layers all around, so I have high hopes of unbroken biscuits. We shall see.

Next on the agenda - a few hours with my pals at Quantas. They serve ice cream on the plane! Clearly, this airline knows how to keep customers happy....

Monday, August 14, 2006

All in the Family

People usually stare at me aghast when I break out brownies or cookies for breakfast. I used to chalk it up to convenience, but I now realize exactly how I developed my morning sweets routine. My grandmother. She served cake for breakfast one morning. The next morning it was biscuits. With luck I'll be eating ice cream tomorrow.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Red Wine and Chinese Food

There has to be a first time for everything. Family dinner the other night included dishes too numerous to explain. It became painfully apparent during our first course that I was the slow one at the table. We'd ordered snow crab prepared two ways, one with a black bean sauce, another with salted eggs. Both delicious. Both very messy. I quickly gave up on elegance and abandoned my chopsticks in favor of using my hands. Between trying to crack open the shells and extracting the meat, I somehow managed to drip sauce all over the table and myself, which of course set in motion me trying bring some semblance of order to my wedge of the table, and by the time I was done with that, everyone else had finished eating. So with five pairs of eyes staring at me I repeated this process of inefficient eating, finishing a full ten minutes after the rest. Thank heavens for the Shiraz so I could forget my troubles.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Logic Part II

My grandmother thinks I eat as much as my two cousins - boys of college age who actually work out and stuff.

I finally called up George and asked if we could go out and do something that didn't involve eating.

He and Andrew took me out to lunch.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Into the Abyss

I had just arrived at Grandma's house and after a quick hug, was literally pulled along by my sleeve to the kitchen where she'd set up tea. And I'm not talking about mugs here. Cute little cups and saucers, sugar bowls and creamers. A plate for each "course" which included black forest cake, lemon tarts, biscuits, more cake, and a host of snacks from the pantry. And then soup. How am I supposed to keep up here?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Rule of Four (with a few tweaks here and there)

Kate D and Renee, this one's for you...

4 fantasy jobs I've had in my pretend life:

  1. Competitive Eater - sounds like fun in theory, though the reality grosses me out.
  2. Reading for Money - not sure how this would work - I'm only at the concept stage.
  3. Restaurant Critic - how cool would it be to dress up in funny costumes and have work pay you to dine out with friends every night?
  4. Buyer for Speciality Grocery - going to the Fancy Food Show every year and tasting everything in sight...oh wait, I already do that!

4 movies I could watch over and over:

  1. The Sound of Music - only if I can warble along!
  2. Pride and Prejudice (A&E version) - Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy - yay!
  3. anything James Bond - cheesy, but oh so good, especially the Sean Connery years.
  4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

4 places I've lived:

  1. California
  2. Rhode Island
  3. in a house
  4. in my head

4 TV shows I watch:

  1. Grey's Anatomy
  2. The OC - note: I'm horrified at how many people I've met on my travels this summer who when they hear I'm from California, ask me if I'm from the OC. To borrow from another TV show, "seriously?"
  3. Family Guy - I'm pretty sure I watched the entire first season in a weekend. Stewie and Brian are the greatest.
  4. Big Brother (Oz edition) - with great shame I admit to watching this nearly six nights a week this summer...

4 places I've vacationed:

  1. Denmark
  2. Fargo, ND
  3. New Zealand
  4. Planet Food, er, New York

4 websites I visit daily:

  1. e-mail
  4. something with celebrity gossip

4 favorite foods: (with food there can be no favorites, so I'll go with basics I could eat every day...)

  1. strawberries - Since I missed peak strawberry season at home this summer, I planned ahead and ate strawberries with abandon as soon as they appeared at the markets in February.
  2. bread - specifically a crusty baguette with a side of cheese
  3. ice cream
  4. tomatoes - heirlooms, pears, cherry, sliced with salt and pepper.

If we expand the Rule of Four to the Rule of Anything Divisible by Four then #5-16 would be: chocolate, rainbow beets, soup of all kinds, opera cake, persimmons, butternut squash, chocolate chip cookies, salad with pears, pecans and balsamic vinaigrette, lamb chops, chocolate croissants, cream scones with currants, peaches

4 places I would rather be come September:

  1. on vacation
  2. at one of Melbourne's many cafes I neglected
  3. at the beach
  4. eating new things in a new place

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Dining Out

There's something utterly indulgent about going out to a nice restaurant by oneself and ordering a multi-course meal. I went to the oddly named Cook 'n with Gas in Christchurch on my last night in NZ. The menu said to alert the staff if you're in a hurry because "we believe good food takes time." Clearly, my kind of place. Two hours, three courses, sheer joy.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Minus 6 at Minus 5

Food and drink are usually linked. Queenstown seems to focus more on drink than food, which is why we paid a visit to Minus 5. Literally an ice bar, the walls, the seating, the bar, and even the glasses are made of ice. And then there are the ice sculptures. How do they keep the whole enterprise from melting away? By keeping it at minus 5 degrees. Apparently it fluctuates, and so we enjoyed the minus 6 degree environ for a whole 30 minutes, swathed in parkas complete with furry hoods, thoughtfully provided by the bar. The menu? Colorful vodka cocktails served in tumblers made of ice. A bit slippery at times, but it would be safe to call the experience cool.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Another Good Reason to Own a Teapot

The flyer said half price teapots. Who wouldn't check it out?

Turns out, the World Bar in Queenstown serves sweet, yummy, oddly tea-colored cocktails in teapots. They have fruity ones, milky ones, and even caffeinated ones. The trick appears to be mixing the drinks in a cocktail shaker and then straining them into the pots. The difficulty is in pouring the elixirs into pink plastic shot glasses. A cute if not messy kind of tea party. Now, if only they had scones...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bagels, Anyone?

The tasting: Bagel, Cream Cheese & Smoked Salmon

I had this combination in Hobart and again in Te Anu. In both instances, the bagel was bready, fine-crumbed, and largely resembled a pre-packed bagel found at any grocery store. It wasn't offensive, but it wasn't really a bagel. I could only find a plain one and toasting gave it a bit of interest. The cream cheese was good. The salmon I'd call less oily that what I find at home. I think it might be the smoking process that's different. Based upon such a disappointing outing, you're probably tempted to ask, "why are you eating bagels abroad?" Curiosity.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In a Rut (A Good One!)

Queenstown is the Aspen of New Zealand. It's a resort town, meaning food tends towards the overpriced and mediocre in quality. Then there's Fergburger. Backpackers and snazzy people typically convene at this gourmet burger joint after a day of adrenaline-fueled sport. Bungee jumping started here, so there were a few of those, in addition to skydivers, hang gliders, and on the tamer side, skiers and snowboarders. Though it's impossible to get a seat indoors, there was no shortage of people willing to dine al fresco, in the 35 degree night air. There are no heat lamps.

On my first visit I had The Fergburger - prime NZ beef, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli. This I devoured with relish (of the tomato and happiness variety). The bread was good. The meat was tasty, and grilled to a lovely medium without instruction. The bread had a wonderful crusty top.

I branched out to the Little Lamby on my second visit - NZ lamb, mint jelly, lettuce, tomato, onion and aioli. The lamb was lovely. I intend to eat lots more lamb while in NZ.

Visit number three, which I intend to make soon enough, I've already decided will be about the Little Bambi - NZ cervena (farmed venison) with a thai plum chutney, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli. If you can't already tell, I snagged a menu on my way out the door today. No longer will I need to squint at the menu with indecision. The only downside to Fergburger is the wait. Though it's not a sit-down place, it takes 20 minutes to get your order. That's a lot of hungry people.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eating out of the Box

I've long harbored an irrational dislike of boxed sandwiches, probably because I never really gave them a chance. This week I've had no less than four of these fine meals in a box and they were not only nice, but really very good. My favorite thus far I picked up during our morning stop by Lake Matheson today. A very thick slice of white bread topped with salad (mixed greens), cucumber slices, tomato, roast chicken and brie. Something about the extra thick bread balanced out the cheese and reminded me of sitting around at a picnic.

Why I suddenly love these sandwiches? Their simplicity. My standard at home sandwich would be turkey, lettuce and tomato - skinny, not overwhelming, and definitely not fussy. Short of an errant tomato to up the sogginess factor, the box makes a good stand-in for homemade.