I’m pretty sure we can all agree that I am not exactly meticulous in the kitchen.
Observe: The “deperfected” chocolate chip cookies, the whooshed-together blue cheese biscuits, the don’t-worry-they-taste-better-charred-anyway carrots. Jules slices zucchini paper-thin with our new mandoline, his eyes wide, his giddy smile bordering on scary clown. I daydream about bedazzling the cut-resistant glove that shields tender fingers from the mandoline.
The better to moonwalk with, my dear.
This begs the question: Why would I attend a class on making macarons, one of the ultimate tests of culinary precision?
1) Macarons are cheerful.
2) Illusion of control. It always comes back to this one with me, doesn’t it? If I can master making macarons, surely my myriad anxieties will melt away like spun sugar on the tongue. Every day will read like a (web)page from the weekend-envy-inducing blog Waiting For Saturday. I will stop watching the Home Shopping Network and suppressing the urge to call in to talk to Adrienne Arpel. I will replace this activity with cardio and cleaning out the garage and listening to important books on tape.
2b) I think that Adrienne Arpel called me fat and then tried to sell me massive teardrop earrings that would rip my earlobes off. Her pitch was, and I am not making this up, “If you have a double chin, you need these earrings.” And yet I do not change the channel. I cannot stop watching this woman!
Anyway. Also …
3) I was in Paris, for crying out loud!
And I was on my honeymoon. Because Jules and I got all married up! MAIS OUI. More on this later. First, we must tend to the macarons.
One of my awesome, creative family members got us a cooking class at La Cuisine Paris as a wedding gift. I highly recommend having awesome, creative family members. And I highly recommend La Cuisine’s 2-hour macaron class.
The class is in English, although it would have been doubly hilarious to witness me trying to speak French while trying to make macarons. It was packed full of tips for precision execution, like using powdered food coloring, because even a little bit of moisture from liquid food coloring can flatten your cookies.
The powders we used were Rouge Groseille and Vert Pistache from Colorants Breton. (I have not been able to find a U.S.-based supplier. Any suggestions for a comparable product that creates such beautiful colors? )
Our teacher was also from Brittany, and she was top-notch. Observe: Some of her cookies burned slightly while she was demonstrating how to pipe ganache. Pas de problème. She flipped the cookies over and turned them into this:
Again, these were our teacher’s reject macarons. And now, presenting an attempt at non-reject macarons, courtesy of the newlyweds:
It’s like I always say: When life smooshes your macarons together, make caterpillars and googly eyes.
Ahem. Someone may have become all caught up in chocolate-decoration frenzy. And someone may have forgotten that macarons are sandwich cookies. Delicious sandwich cookies that traveled surprisingly well on the plane back to Seattle, beeteedubs.
Fast-forward three months to Macaron Attempt #2: Green Seattle Seahawks macarons for a Superbowl party. We tried using natural powdered food coloring from Whole Foods and the baking mat from this kit by Lékué, which allegedly cradles each cookie in a little silicon well. Allegedly.
1) These cookies tasted like Starburst fruit chews would taste if Starburst fruit chews were made out of eggs.
2) It’s a good thing I am reading this psychology book about how a “growth mindset” is the key to success. The takeaway: The ability to make macarons is not fixed. Look upon those pools of green goo as an opportunity to learn, and try again. Bad macarons do not make a bad person.
3) Besides, when you are wearing a bedazzled cut-resistant glove, the traditional definition of “bad” does not apply.
After I got back from Chicago, I had a dream that a single balloon picked me up on the shores of Lake Michigan and pulled me into the clouds. I’m not sure what the clouds were made of, but my conscious mind has decided that they were extremely fluffy cheese pizzas.
I have been trying to analyze the dream. I figure it probably has something to do with my love of Pixar’s “Up.” When I try to identify the feelings associated with the dream (something my Hyperanalytical Lawyer Brain finds very difficult), I feel “expansion.” O.K. I don’t feel it. But I get an inkling, which, I have discovered, is often all I can muster. Music usually helps the process along.
Side Note: Spotify is messing with the song title–You are listening to Say Yes! To M!Ch!Gan!, not The Upper Peninsula, although The Upper Peninsula is also a good song.
Side Note Upon Side Note: This is one of my favorite albums to listen to while working.
I lived in Chicago briefly after I graduated from college, a time I associate with great excitement, outfoxed by greater fear. And I realize that I have a thing for cities where the skyline drops off abruptly into a long stretch of water. Constrain to expand to constrain. I have enough and then I don’t and then I do.
GUILLAUME: O.K. Dr. Freud. Incomplete Sentence Alert. Perhaps you had le dream due to L’EDIBLE BALLOON?
Oh yeah. Good point. Also while I was in Chicago, I went to Alinea and ate a balloon.
Picture this: You are sitting in a fancy restaurant. You are waiting for dessert. A server brings everyone at your table a transparent balloon, its skin thin and glossy as a soap bubble’s.
He instructs you to remove your glasses, push your hair behind your ears, and take a bite.
You do this. The balloon pops into a cotton candy/cobweb hybrid that tastes like a green apple Jolly Rancher. You exclaim, “Holy crap!” You stop. You realize that you sound like Mickey Mouse because of the helium. And so does everyone else at your table. And then you all burst out laughing, and the laughter sounds like the chorus of mice from “Babe.”
Is this not the coolest thing ever? You can see a video of one being made and eaten here.
Also cool: Everything was vegetarian. My understanding is that they will do their best to accommodate any dietary restriction. Someone from their staff called the week before to confirm our preferences. At our table we had two vegetarians (Jules and I), a pescetarian, and an everythingtarian.
“Accommodate” isn’t the right word, really. Removing meat from the equation must be childsplay for the chefs at Alinea. They check that box, and then move on to making you a plate of 60 mini-garnishes meant to change the flavor of each bite of fennel;
and pairing heart of palm with white chocolate, yuzu, and wasabi in a glass bowl that looks like it was commissioned by a James Bond villain;
and skewering a tasting of fresh ginger with “five other flavors” on a Seussian Spindlything;
and putting together a slew of dishes that beg you to smell as you taste, like matsutake mushrooms served with huckleberry and pine. When they say pine, they MEAN PINE.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of meal, and not just because it wiped out a considerable portion of my lifetime dining-out budget. It made me think a lot about what is possible for my own creative work.
You may have noticed that I really like making up silly characters and songs and doing funny voices. I’ve been doing it since I was a child. It makes me feel like me. I am trying to find a way to do this … stuff that is in my heart.
Did you know that Grant Achatz started Alinea, and then he got tongue cancer, and he was told that he would need to have his tongue removed and replaced with a muscle from another part of his body, and he said absolutely not, cooking is my life, and he had chemotherapy and radiation and the University of Chicago, and then he lost his sense of taste, and then he regained it, one taste at a time, starting with sweet, just like we all do as children? And then he made edible balloons and 60 mini-garnishes and this dessert:
Tablecloth rolled up and replaced with a giant shammy. Shammy spattered with sauces. Two dark chocolate piñata-orbs cracked in half. Out spills liquid nitrogen ice cream and other goodies. Amazing.
I look from the city to the water. I feel still. But only for while.
After that, I need some warm, comforting breakfasty food. Can somebody please bring me some whole wheat carrot pancakes with maple cream cheese?
Why thank you, Kingsbury Street Café!
P.S.: Delicious food at the airport is now firmly in the realm of Things I Believe Are Possible. If you are at O’Hare, do not fly away without trying the vegetarian torta (mushrooms, roasted poblanos, chipotle garlic mayo, goat cheese, black beans, and arugula on a perfectly crispy roll) at Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera.
Since you’ll be standing in line already, you might as well get some chips and guacamole to take on the plane. You know. To hold you over. Until you come back down to earth.
People. I said Über CATCH-UP. As in, “I have eaten lots of delicious things over the past few months and have gotten behind in telling you about them and now I would like to tell you about them.” Here they are:
Strawberry-rhubarb and apple pie at Whidbey Pies Café, Greenbank Farm, Whidbey Island
Me: Whatever shall we do on this glorious summer weekend? I long to feel wind in my hair, sun on my face, sea salt on my lips! Why, let us take a spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Whidbey Island!
On the bright side, there was no line for the ferry, and it was perfect weather for eating warm slices of pie in a repurposed barn.
Olive oil and vinegar at Quintessential Gourmet, Seattle
My aunt and cousin treated me to a Savor Seattle food tour, and this was my favorite stop. I have no pictures because I was too busy flitting from sample to sample. Combinations the Italian Willy Wonka must have dreamed up–tarragon olive oil with espresso balsamic, sparkling lemonade spiked with white peach balsamic–will beckon me back come holiday gift time.
Spring Peas Gone Rogue at Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
English peas roasted in a woodburning oven until blistering, tossed with herb butter, sea-salted, and slurped out of pod edamame style.
A slice of strawberry cake from the coolest vintage cake box ever, courtesy of one of my coworkers.
You do not mess with a confection transported in this baby. I cannot get over the “CAKE” placard. Doesn’t it look like it belongs on the back of a 1985 Chevy Suburban?
Ice cream sandwiches from Cake Monkey Bakery/L.A. Creamery at Umami Burger, Los Angeles
From now on, I would like all of my ice cream sandwiches cut up into bite-sized pieces, thankyouverymuch. Presenting dessert this way did not make me eat any less, mind you, but I did eat it faster with less brain freeze. A major step forward.
At first we felt a little funny asking about veggie options at a fancy burger joint, but our server was gracious and helpful. Umami Burger can substitute a portobello mushroom on any of their specialty burgers, and they have a housemade veggie patty. (We preferred the mushroom-as-burger.) Also, ours was not even close to being the weirdest food request of the evening. A screenwriter at the table next to us ordered a pickle plate, and only a pickle plate, for dinner. This was only after questioning the server in detail about each type of pickle. He was extremely opposed to beets.
Don’t worry, Mr. Pickles. I burned off at least half of the chocolate-covered red velvet cake while traipsing about the Hollywood Walk of Fame searching for Kermit the Frog, Dr. Seuss, and the one singer Jules and I always agree on.
Dinner at sunset at Ray’s Boathouse, Seattle. Ahhhh. That is all.*
* I had never been to Ray’s before, in part because I felt ridiculous going to a seafood restaurant and ordering no seafood. But they were very nice about the whole thing. I had the one veggie entree on the menu (giant, crispy spring rolls in red curry sauce) and they made Jules a special pasta dish. Also, you can order the tofu dish off the menu from Ray’s Cafe upstairs. O.K. now that is all.
Mousseux fraise cocktail at Canon, Seattle. Lillet, strawberry, Aperol, light bubbliness. Pale pink. Comes in a bottle. Invites you to drink with a straw. Didn’t have to ask me twice.
A long, leisurely dinner at Cantinetta, Seattle
Rich, eggy vermicelli with squash blossoms and pecorino. The type of beautiful, simple food I always destroy when I try to make it myself. Not pictured: (A) A surprisingly good strawberry-basil salad, with basil for greens and instead of lettuce, and (B) Me drinking far too much rosé.
It was a long, leisurely dinner, as I mentioned. On the way home we stopped by Bartell’s, and a woman cut in front of us in the check-out line to buy some jumbo Reese’s peanut butter cups. At which I scoffed, “You have GOT to me kidding me!” The rosé must have amplified my scoff volume considerably, because as we were leaving the store, our cashier approached me to apologize and explain the situation. The poor woman had already been in line when she got a last-minute, urgent cell phone request for jumbo Reese’s peanut butter cups. The call was from her husband, who was sitting outside in their car. As we left the store, I saw her handing them over to him … his hands outstretched … his eyes widening. Oh, I know those hands, those eyes. Just goes to show you: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle
My roasted-cacao-scented clothes, after touring the Theo Chocolate Factory, Seattle
O.K. I admit I did not actually consume my clothes, but I would have if I could have. I don’t know why I didn’t go on this tour sooner. You get lots of samples. Everybody gets a free hairnet. And if you have a beard, a free beardnet!
I didn’t inquire about mustachenets …
Every villain needs a theme song! In support of Tea’s quest to master all forms of media manipulation, I have been teaching myself how to use a 2D animation program called Anime Studio. It’s an excruciatingly slow process, but I’m happy to be learning something new. I also have been perusing the tea-and-cake-related vintage photos on Flickr. Here is my favorite so far:
More photo credits:
We drove up Highway 2, and down a winding road, and then another. Jules set the windshield wipers to “exuberant puppy tail” mode. When we arrived at Sutra Farm, the rain softened. Not in quantity, but in sound. From ping to squish. A velvet stillness. For a moment, I felt the earth holding me.
Amber and Colin, who own Sutra vegetarian restaurant and yoga studio in Wallingford, recently set up this lovely farm. It’s about an hour drive northeast of Seattle. Jules and I visited for a farm-to-table dinner.
I must say that when I first saw the menu for the evening, which included various sprouted, fermented, and raw items, my momentary sense of bucolic calm scampered away with the ducks. High on the list of my life’s micro-anxieties are (1) fear of raw food, and (2) fear of food left to sit and soak for any extended length of time. But I ended up eating everything from sprouted sunflower seeds to raw-cacao fudge, and I enjoyed all of it. I attribute this primarily to the chef’s generous spirit, creativity, and in-depth knowledge of a dizzying array of ingredients.
In addition, I was under the influence of a mind-altering farm animal.
I give you …
Important Facts About The Hypnollama:
(1) He will mesmerize you with his almost-all-pupil eyes.
(2) He will get you to eat all manner of sprouted, fermented, and raw foods.
(3) And you will like it.
After spending half an hour meandering around the farm under the influence of that calming gaze … that enigmatic smile … those gracefully curved ears … Jules and I gathered with the other diners in a cozy room inside of a barn. We sat on yoga blocks and did a short guided meditation.
Then we gathered for dinner. Here is how that went down:
Me: Smoked morel-snap-pea-cauliflower-sumac momo with rapini-pine nut “couscous” and rhubarb-tamarind-curry leaf sauce?
Hypnollama: For crying out loud. Now you are just being ridiculous. There is nothing raw or soaked about this. And the smoked morels will melt in your mouth. EAT THEM NOW.
Jules had wine with his courses, but I opted for the non-alcoholic pairings, which were as creative as the food. I had fresh ginger-mint limeade and orange blossom-honey crisp apple cider. My bilberry-lavender-grapefruit juice came with a stalk of fresh lavender frozen into a tall, slender shard of ice. But there was one drink I feared. Kombucha.
Me (Googling “kombucha” covertly on smartphone under table): The Internet says that this drink involves, “a colony of bacteria and yeast.” That is just a bridge too far. Have you consulted the FDA on this, llama? I …
Hypnollama (to his friend, Skinny Llama): This woman is wearing me out. Would you be a pet and run to the pharmacy for some Excedrin and a bottle of Pinot Grigio?
* We got notice of the farm-to-table dinner via the Sutra mailing list. You can sign up here.
* Have you met The Hypnollama’s very distant cousin, The Penguin of Death?
* Did the scampering farm animals remind you of Charlotte’s Web? Were you wishing that I could describe a barn the way E.B. White did? Me too.
The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.
I am filled to the brim with veggie food news. Since Guillaume took over posting, I’ve been to Vij‘s in Vancouver and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. I finally tried kombucha. I met two very friendly llamas at Sutra‘s new farm. But let’s start the updates closer to home and work outward, shall we?
A few Sundays ago, June was doing what Oscar Hammerstein said it would. Thanks to Pretty Little May, a crowd of Doubtin’ Thomases had predicted that the summer’d never come. I set out into the sun-drenched morning to fetch americanos.
But it’s comin’, by gum!
Y’ ken can feel it come,
Y’ ken can feel it in yer heart,
Y’ ken can see it in the ground,
Y’ ken can hear it in the trees,
Y’ ken can smell it in the breeze.
Look around, look around, look around!
NO REALLY, Cris. Y’ken LOOK AROUND while yer rockin’ out to the Carousel soundtrack on yer morning walk to pick up coffee, or ye may be attacked by a low-hangin’ lilac bush.
So beautiful. So vicious.
I almost took an eye out.
Despite my early-morning ineptitude, Jules and I managed to meet dear friends at The Fat Hen right on time, at 11 a.m. But there was a wait for brunch. What to do … what to do …? Why, pop across the street to Honoré Bakery for macarons, by gum!
My vision must have fully recovered by that point, because I also spotted a Gruyère-stuffed, thyme-flecked, croissant-like wonder in the case. Jules and I promptly split it. Is it bad to arrive at brunch with buttery pastry shards in your hair?
Fortunately, the nice people behind the counter were too busy making coffee to notice.
We sat down at a pretty, rustic table surrounded by many other pretty, rustic things that made me want to call my landlords and ask them if they might let me install vintage beadboard on my kitchen walls.
It’s probably a long shot. But if I can’t have their kitchen, at least I can try to replicate The Fat Hen’s cocktails at home. Jules had a rhubarb fizz, and my Aperol and orange juice contrasted nicely with the richness of my baked eggs, which were served on top of spinach and smoked mozzarella.
Jules was a little disappointed with his baked eggs in tomato sauce, which were, for some unknown reason, missing the fresh basil the menu promised. But our friend S. enjoyed her asparagus eggs benedict, one of two veggie-friendly benedicts they were serving that day.
After brunch, we carpooled over to the Ballard Farmers Market. Sunshine brings big crowds to the market, by gum. But I can’t complain. Crowds bring the best street performers. Including:
*A child doing an interpretive dance to “My Heart Will Go On” form Titanic … with a puppet.
*A man with a handlebar mustache and ukelele singing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” (This was one of my favorite songs as a child. You should listen to this somewhat creepy version of it. I spent countless car trips replacing the line,”Watch them, catch them unawares” with “Watch them catch their UNDERWEAR!” and then laughing until I spit Cheerios everywhere. My poor parents.)
*A woman dragging her significant other toward the smell of fried dough, singing, “It’s almost time for donuts, baby! It’s almost donut time!”
*A one-man band playing Nirvana’s “In Bloom” on bugle and accordion.
Look around, look around, look around.
Notes and recipes for this episode:
- Did you know that Karl Lagerfeld only drinks Diet Coke, from the minute he wakes up until the minute he goes to sleep? He has his own line of Diet Coke, which is advertised on European television by stylish puppets. He also recently developed a perfume that smells like books. Such a busy, caffeine-addled man. And yet he still made time to visit our Guillaume!
- The salad recipe was inspired by the salade verte at Le Pichet in Seattle. I always feel very chic when I eat there. Jess Thomson, one of my favorite local food writers, has the original recipe here.
- You can get a crusty baguette sandwich with griddled onions and thyme aioli, all wrapped up in brown parchment paper, at Belle Epicurean in Seattle. I love visiting their downtown location on dreary June-uary workdays. They now have an advance online ordering system, which comes in handy at lunchtime. Ah, the black-and-white checkerboard floor … the warm, buttery smells spilling out onto Fourth Avenue …
- To make the sandwich at home, slice a sweet yellow onion crosswise into thick wedges. Wedges work well here because they will give the finished sandwich more heft. Cook the onions in a few tablespoons of butter or oil over medium heat until they soften and brown at the edges. The wedges should fall apart in the pan. Combine a few tablespoons of mayonnaise with some chopped fresh thyme and lemon zest, and spread the aioli on both sides of a crusty baguette section. Layer the onions on the baguette with a few thin slices of Gruyère cheese.
- Re: An efficient method for straining rhubarb syrup that will not make your kitchen look like it was involved in a paintball fight, I am as puzzled as Guillaume. Luckily, Heidi at 101 Cookbooks is not, and her photos of the process are lovely, as usual.