Recently, I attempted to lunch at The London Plane, a new restaurant/bakery/larder/flower shop/meticulously curated foodtique in Pioneer Square. The place was so bright and airy and ORDERLY. And it was so full of young, chambray-clad employees who somehow managed to make ticking-stripe aprons and clogs—yes, CLOGS—look effortlessly chic that I thought if I lingered there long enough, I WOULD TURN INTO A BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY. But it was packed to the gills with diners and browsers. Lunch for one would have required at least a 30-minute wait.
So I hastily bought a few items out of the case and trudged back to work. Said trudging required me to scale a rather steep hill that covers multiple blocks, as many Seattle-based trudges do.
While waiting at the intersection at the bottom of the hill, I encountered an intensely sweaty man who was doing some kind of CrossFit-esque workout during his lunch break. He was carrying a sizable kettlebell in each hand. This forced him to stop and rest about every 10 steps.
And he still made it to the top of the hill before me.
In my defense, I was carrying a croissant. An extremely buttery croissant.
In addition, I was hauling nearly half a pound of chickpeas doused in spicy tomato sauce and sprinkled with feta, as well as some freshly baked rye crackers. Later, I topped the crackers with sharp cheddar, thinly sliced by hand for a little extra bicep and tricep work.
1) Brunch at The London Plane is seriously good and seriously veggie-friendly. After my failed lunch attempt, I went back with Jules and a few dear friends. Pictured above: Thick slices of Matt Dillon’s frenzy-inducing sourdough bread, toasted and topped with parsnip-fig spread; cardamom tea cake with rose sugar and cream; stinging-nettle-and-porcini quiche buried under raw vegetable salad; and eggs, harissa-fried, with deeply crispy edges and still-runny yolks.
2) After brunch, I bought some garden roses. A chambray-clad florist carefully hand-tied them into a bouquet for me. Please don’t tell her that they ended up on such a disorderly desk. Currently, their divine fragrance mingles with a subtle hint of Eau de Cheese Puff.
3) Can we still be friends if I buy these silver clogs and wear them to work?
For at least a year now, I have received regular e-mail updates from Canal House Cooks Lunch. They are equal parts inspiring and exasperating.
WORKPLACE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED, TUESDAY, 11:47 AM — I have spent the morning sitting in a video training session that looks like it was produced in 1987. Lunch is approaching. I am considering running down to Starbucks to get a cheese-stuffed pretzel and my second refreshing, neon-orange drink of the day. However, I fear that consuming multiple refreshing, neon-orange drinks in a day will turn me into House Speaker John Boehner.
Thoughts flit between:
1) You know, I bet Starbucks would sell way more of the aforementioned refreshing orange beverage if they just called it what I call it: FancyTang;
2) Mental picture: House Speaker John Boehner as barista in limited-edition orange apron, selling FancyTang, weeping;
3) General hungry grumpitude; and
4) A headline I skimmed earlier about The Tree of 40 Fruits–a single fruit tree that grows more than 40 kinds of stone fruits, including peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, and nectarines. How can anyone work without first finding out how this is possible?
As soon as the training breaks, I turn to my phone to investigate the tree. I have a new e-mail. The creators of Canal House have cooked lunch, and they have informed me that they are eating a simple stew by the fire with their feet at the hearth. Or they are picnicking. They are filling their lungs with crisp, early-spring air and filling their bellies with spaghetti bolognese. They are living a little and making something delicious midday because, well, because what else are you living for? And the components of this Something Delicious are strewn about just so and bathed in natural light and photographed from above.
I ask myself: Perhaps, with just a little bit of forethought, could I also be so calm and joyful and mindful and tastefully arranged? Perhaps if I changed my lunch, I could change my life? And instead of turning my skin the shade of FancyTang, I would turn into a BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY? WHO WILL ASSIST ME IN THIS QUEST?
Would you believe that there is someone local? Peter Miller owns an architecture and design book shop near Pike Place Market. Every day, he heads down to the market to find ingredients that the bookstore staff improvises into lunch. In Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Middday Meal, he details his process for making lunch personal and a pleasure. “It can save a workday all on its own,” Miller writes, “this moment of a little care and community.”
Lunch at the Shop is a gorgeous book, complete with photos that instantly soothe the anxious, FancyTang-addled mind. The photos are courtesy of—you guessed it—the creators of Canal House. My favorite recipe so far is the one for this deceptively simple sandwich:
- good crusty bread or a split roll
- a slathering of almond butter
- a small handful of arugula
- a few slices of pear or apple
- a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (toss with the arugula and fruit so it doesn’t brown)
- a few slices of Fromager D’Affinois
Say it with me now: Fromager D’Affinois. Fromager D’Affinois. It’s kind of like Brie, but silkier. It’s the first cheese I have ever tried that I could actually feel clinging to my esophagus as I swallowed it. This is not a complaint.
I wouldn’t have thought to pair soft cheese with almond butter, but trust me, it is a genius combination, especially when you add in the peppery arugula and sweet, crisp fruit. I found that toasting the bread slightly makes the whole operation even lovelier, but toasty bread is certainly not vital a Calming Lunch Experience.
I do recommend using an almond butter that is not too salty. I used a few packets of Justin’s classic almond butter with great results. When I ran out, I tried substituting peanut butter. It wasn’t terrible, but the peanut flavor kind of hijacked the whole sandwich. It reminded me too much of Ye Olde PB&J–a Sad Desk Lunch that I am longer eating because I am turning into a BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY, remember?
The only catch is that I ate this sandwich for three lunches in a row while attending to my extremely sedentary job. This risks that I will not sprout delicate, colorful wings, but rather lower extremities and belly that bear a striking resemblance to Fromager D’Affinois as it oozes—nay cascades—out of its plastic packaging.
1) Yes, my lower extremities and belly are already that color.
2) What? Is this not a calming photo? But I took it from above and in natural light!
The original motivation: Sheer laziness. Shocking, I know.
I wanted some nice photos of the two of us. But I did not want to tote gear. I did not want to adjust aperture. I did not want ask fellow tourists to take just one more photo of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. I was post-wedding-happy-but-exhausted, and I needed a break. As they say in France when they watch Sesame Street Creature Feature reruns, Vive le sleepy sloth!
In addition, there were practical considerations. How was I going to operate a camera with baguettes in both hands? Did I really want to get flaky croissant bits all in the inner workings of my DSLR?
So I hired a professional photographer to take pictures of Jules and me on our honeymoon in Paris. I googled around and found a Paris-based photographer whose portfolio I liked. I read her blog. She had just recently gotten married, too, and she had traveled to Seattle on her honeymoon. I hired her.
And then I started ruminating. Is this vain? Surely this is vain. Will sharing the photos online automatically make me a person who is insufferable on Facebook? What exactly does one do when one is being followed around town by a photographer? This sort of thing would never work in my natural habitat. There are only so many glistening hero shots you can get of someone whose main daily activities include intense curl defrizzing, trying not to spill coffee while standing on the bus, and microwaving oatmeal.
I almost called the photo shoot off. But luckily, in this case, sloth triumphed over anxiety. (Vive le sloth!) Hiring a photographer to take vacation pictures was the best idea ever. (Except for the fact that it has ruined me for all other forms of travel documentation.)
It helped that said photographer was the lovely and creative Rhianne Jones. Our photo session with her was like taking a walking tour of Paris with someone who just happens to speak English, who just happens to know lots of cool places, and who just happens to take awesome photos.
Having recently posed for wedding portraits, I was well aware of my near irrepressible urge to Make A Silly Face and/or Flash My Jazz Hands in every shot. (Again, shocking, I know.) Rhianne did a great job of honoring my nervous wackiness while gently encouraging me into a few poses that were a bit more … Parisian.
She also was happy to tailor our photo shoot to our interests. Before arrival, I told Rhianne that we wanted to do something food-related. She researched a bunch of markets before leading us to the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market in Paris.
I loved watching Rhianne as she worked, ducking behind piles of ripe tomatoes, peering through pastries piled high. And I admired her chutzpah. It’s amazing how many unique shots she composed after delivering a quick, “Hello. I am a photographer, and these are my friends. Can I take a photo?”
On the way to the market, we ambled down myriad cobblestone streets. We stopped by the Louvre, the Pont des Arts, a tiny park, and some Tiffany-blue apartment doors. Everywhere we went, Rhianne spotted something beautiful or interesting or fun to photograph. Her enthusiasm for graffiti was infectious.
So much so that I may or may not have been able to control my jazz hands.
All of the photos in this post were so not taken by me. But you knew that already. They’re Rhianne’s, and you can see more of her work here.
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 …