about bliss

Thursday, June 15, 2006

pralus and pinot noir

I have many culinary capers to report...

Let’s begin with a week ago last Monday. I was meeting my bro L- for dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse to celebrate his birthday. Now, I needed coffee, so a trip to the Zingy’s deli was inescapable. I ordered a side of fruit (yummy combo of melons, pineapple, strawberries) and a large coffee...and I sat there in the sun-filled, bakery area reading *Intuition,* an intriguing realistic novel about science, surrounded by many of my favorite foods, including a wall o’ chocolate.

I noticed a sign for Pralus chocolates, a French specialty brand that, according to a few well-respected chocolate connessieurs, is the ne plus ultra of chocolate. After finishing my snack and the chapter I was reading, I headed over to the display and surveyed the three varieties of Pralus. A cute Zingy’s boy offered me samples of whatever I wanted, so I asked to taste the two more reasonable (loosely defined) priced varieties. According to the packaging, these chocolates had overtones of wild mushrooms and leather, respectively. I was curious...Zingy’s boy slipped me a sample of one, and I let the chocolate melt in my mouth, coating the inside with a burst of smoothness (so silky) and there it was: an earthiness that was indeed redolent of mushrooms! And the next sample didn’t disappoint either, as I could taste the leather before the chocolate slid down my throat. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would taste these overtones without the package prompting...though I do feel more confident tasting chocolate than say, wine. Maybe because the scope is a bit smaller?!? Although I was intrigued by these unexpected flavors, I couldn’t say I was ready to really appreciate these chocolates...that’s another year or so down my culinary road, I think.

So I asked to taste the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, an unconched dark chocolate with cinnamon from Italy. I’d never tasted unconched chocolate before, and the texture is amazing: granular, crystalline (from all the added sugar--this chocolate is seriously sweeter than I’m used to), and wonderful. Different, tasty, lovely. I went home with one of these bars, and have been nibbling a bite each day.

Then I met L- at the Roadhouse, where we shared sweet potato fries with spicy mayonaise. I had a salad with delicious balsamic vinaigrette (they use a bright, peppery olive oil), assorted veggies, and shaved fennel, which I’d never had before; cheese grits (yummmm), and a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. L- had the barbecued beef brisket with collard greens and mashed potatoes. I had more good, strong, zingy’s roasted coffee and a slice of key lime pie, while L-took his complimentary bday cupcake home. We were stuffed but satiated and happy.

Of course, with all of that high quality caffeine surging through my system, I couldn’t sleep and was assailed with typical 3 a.m. thoughts of “where is my life going?” It seems all of my culinary capers at tasty foodie restaurants lead me into paths of excess in one way or another...definitely something to consider the next time I venture out for a night of fine dining...

On Thursday, I ventured to Simply Wine in Birmingham, a lovely wine shop that prides itself on carrying many bottles under $15. I love this shop, and will gladly drive there to search out a special bottle. I was looking for a “big red” for my dad; he’s fallen in love with Rombauer Zinfindel, and I knew the carried that wine at the shop, so I could ask for a recommendation in the taste of the Rombauer. And, of course, the proprieter didn’t disappoint. He also gave me a taste of a stunning Pinot Noir. Then I witnessed true wine genius: another customer/friend dropped in and tasted two wines in a row and was able to pinpoint not only the varietal but also the region...with the specificity of Sonoma over Napa or Russian River. Impressive! I left wishing I had those tasting skills...something to practice, I suppose! The talented taster teased that I was too young to be in the shop buying wine...and he also said that Pinot Noir is what oenophiles graduate to...I thought of how I first became entranced by Pinot Noir, not by the taste--which I know love for it’s bright, light, delicate, nuance--but rather the musical, sensual sounds of the name itself, the way the French syllables roll around in the mouth, nearly as delicious as the wine itself.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

cool cabot, cinnamon cream, and cougar conundrums

Tonight I saw Meg Cabot at the local independent bookstore, and I haven’t laughed so hard in, oh, like 7 weeks. She talked about her “journey as a writer,” but in this very hilarious, grown-up valley-girl-esque way that was at once self-mocking and adoring. I love, love, loved the talk, and now I’m fired up to work on my novel, currently without a title...

My novel suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, in that it wants to be a smart chick lit book, but so far I think I’m the only one who would see the “smartness.” Gotta work on that. Also, the real question is how, um, smutty, or explicit to make the story. I’m currently at a crucial point in the action and have to decide how to proceed, the 19th century fade-out, the coy tell-but-don’t show, or the no-holds barred laying it bare (so to speak).

K. and I chatted at length yesterday about our respective novels and the great fun of dressing the characters. I find that I have my characters wear clothes that I’ve seen/tried on and have no place for or not enough money for in my own life. Case in point: this amazing emerald silk halter gown, super low back and plunge front, with a soft train in the back, simply stunning. I’ve never felt quite so pisces-esque as when I had this gown on. So now Sarah’s wearing the gown (although she’s about not to...see the previous paragraph).

In culinary creation news, I made a cinnamon honey ice cream today, though ice milk might be more apt, as I used 2% milk and heavy cream instead of whole milk and twice as much cream. The texture’s different, but I love the lightness. The ice cream will be the accompaniment of the peach pie I intend to bake tomorrow...I made the crust today (I use about 3/4 butter and 1/4 shortening for the best of both worlds). Yumm. S and I will enjoy this tasty treat after our inaugural tennis match of the summer (which promises to be hilarious as neither of us are v. good). We played often last summer, in part to try and meet some nice (read smart, funny, fit, single) men, but were caught in the “cougar” conundrum (see recent reporst on mass media outlets for the definition of this term)...that is, either being cougars ourselves (much younger men) or the cougar prey (much older men). Where’s Andy Roddick when you need him?

As you can tell, this blog seems to be taking a turn to the chatty...blame it on the summer breezes, which make me feel fine and help me not to take myself so gosh darned seriously:)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

sweet georgia peaches

My car is--briefly--in the shop again for a follow-up fix-up from an accident in April. So, last night I had no choice but to walk to the grocery store, heading out on a gust of wind, and heralded along by the fluff and fuzz that are circulating through the air, the last of the spring-time pollen and seed explosion. What a pleasant journey! I’m planning on walking to this particular store more often, as I’ll save gas and pollution, and I’ll also be supporting a family owned store, not to mention working in a bit of extra exercise.

The store always features an array of fruits and vegetables in the foyer and last night this included genuine Georgia peaches! Joy! I selected four small peaches to test before buying enough for--yumm--a peach pie.

I waited until this morning to test the peach, cutting it up on my bowl of daily oatmeal. And it was juicy, ripe, and tasty. A reminder of the South that I left and still love. Look for a pie report this weekend!

barcelona bliss

Oh, for the glorious ying and yang of a Vosges Barcelona bar...dark milk chocolate, smoked almonds, and grey sea salt blended into bliss...

On Monday, I treated myself to a small pizza-to-go from one of my favorite, seasonal restaurants in Saugatuck. Avoiding the crowds, I took my pizza to a small park overlooking the river, and delved in. A slightly tepid 20 oz. bottle of Coke replaced my usual grapey vintagey accompaniment. This was my first pizza of the season, and I wasn’t disappointed. The crust was cracker thin and crispy, the green peppers crunchy and, along with the black olives, anchored in with a thick layer of mozzarella. I sprinkled a few red pepper flakes and enjoyed the crackle of crust and the heat of the peppers shattering the smooth edge of the cheese.

How does the Barcelona figure into this scenario? I found this gem in a small eclectic shop of hippie shirts, upscale fashions, kitschy faux retro accoutrements...and a small display of Vosges! And the Barcelona, rare to be found outside of Chicago, there on the shelf just for me...

I have two squares left, which I’ll eat sooner than soon as this warm weather is wreaking havoc on my chocolate stash...and now I know where to go for my next Vosges fix...