Oh hello there! Is that you? Hold on. Let me remove my face from the freezer.
It is 80 degrees in Seattle and I am melting like Fromager d’Affinois on a toasted roll.
Every day for the past few weeks, at least one person has warned me that “today is going to be the last sunny day.” This sounds suspiciously similar to what I tell myself in order to justify eating an entire bag of cheese puffs (because it is NEVER HAPPENING AGAIN, right?)
I wanted this. Seasons. Change. Discomfort. One can only exist for so long in a climate-controlled environment, yes? But apparently I have morphed into some kind of rare, highly annoying plant that turns to straw if the temperature is not maintained between 65 and 75 degrees. I finally broke down and bought one of those freestanding, one-room air conditioning units. Sometimes I leave The One Cool Room to go to work or to eat some cheese puffs or to put my face in the freezer.
Let us all now mourn the complete destruction of my Desert Cred whilst gazing upon The Chilly Things of Summer 2014:
Sangria-compressed watermelon with a dusting of goat cheese granita at Ataula, a new neighborhood tapas restaurant in Portland.
PS: You would be wise to order two cubes of watermelon and only two cubes of watermelon for dinner if you plan to order doughnuts for dessert. I was expecting dainty doughnut holes or bite-sized mini-churros, which I’ve seen on many a dessert menu. But Ataula’s doughnuts are the real deal: Perfectly fluffy-yet-chewy on the inside, rolled in so much cinnamon sugar that I advise you not to wear black to dinner, and at least as big as standard Krispy Kremes. Oh, and they come piled in triplicate on a fork that has been cleaved into a block of wood. Arthur, King of the Crullers, is destined to retrieve it one day.
I also had some veggie paella topped with crispy potato chips. The heat clouded my judgment. I’m not sure what excuse you will have.
Subtly spiced, chilled melon soup at the Blue Rock Inn in Washington, Virginia. Jules and I stayed in nearby Luray, Virginia for a family wedding, and the vegetarian options at Blue Rock were well worth the drive over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bonus coolness: Jules’s “Fashion Man” floral shirt only makes appearances in the summer.
Extra bonus coolness: Our B&B in Luray was located near (1) A pig farm and (2) The home of a woman who hoards Chihuahuas. And there was hammock built for two swinging the front yard, and there were no streetlights, and oh, how the fireflies danced.
Supreme bonus coolness: The temperature inside Luray Caverns is uniformly 54 degrees. Plus, the Caverns are home to The Great Stalacpipe Organ, which plays “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by using rubber mallets attached to stalactites!
The organ was designed by Leland W. Sprinkle, a Pentagon programmer who also worked on the first generation of computers in the 1950s. Legend has it that Sprinkle was inspired to design the organ when, while on a tour of the Caverns, his son hit his head on a stalactite and it produced a tone.
Let it be known that I very much want to be the type of person who WILL NOT REST UNTIL THE ORGAN MADE OUT OF A CAVE IS COMPLETE. Alas, I exist on the opposite end of the Spectrum of Persistence.
Let it also be know that, were I not allergic to cats, I would buy a cat and name it Leland W. Sprinkle.
Back in Seattle, Jules and I waited out one of our warmest evenings at (appropriately) Damn the Weather, a new craft cocktail bar in Pioneer Square. I had The Jungle Bird. Its pale-pink froth gave me a Campari-flavored mustache upon imbibing. Yes! A craft cocktail gave me an ironic mustache! I am pretty sure that the place doesn’t have air conditioning, but ordering their Aquavit-and-cucumber juice-based Scandinavian refresher for our second round made things feel almost climate-controlled.
The Mekong Coffee at TanakaSan in Seattle tastes like a frozen orange Milano cookie dipped in Thai iced brew. Also chilly: TanakaSan’s Green Man cocktail, which comes with a giant green-tea ice cube.
Finally, I may or may not have eaten several frozen mini fudge stripe cookies over the course of the summer. I inherited this practice from my dad, who freezes Peanut M&Ms and Hostess Cupcakes.
Unfortunately, I have no cookies on hand right now, which makes standing with my face in the freezer somewhat less enjoyable. So I’m retiring to The Cool Room to read this article about the “wonderfully absurd” specialty cocktail ice industry. See you again when the clouds roll in.
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.