about bliss

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

favorite foodies in the news

Imagine my excitement to see Paul and Ari, of Zingerman's Fame, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Bon Appetite! Oh, how I want to go to Zingy's to celebrate...December 22 or 23 will find me holed up in a corner of the Next Door bakery, hands wrapped around a steaming pint glass of coffee (laced with cream and raw sugar cubes) and an assortment of breakfast goodies on the table. Friends H, S, and maybe little baby S, as she celebrates her first bday, will be there with me.

And then, to amp up my excitement, the latest Gourmet includes the best farm-to-table restaurants, including several joints I've been fortunate to visit, like The Flying Fig in Cleveland, Frontera Grill in Chi-town, and, most significantly, The Journeyman Cafe in Fennville, Michigan!!! Yeah! I love this little restaurant, an unexpected delight in the middle of Fennville (best known for apple farms, wineries, and being the BIG rival of my Mom's alma mater, SHS). Their bread--a revelation of crumb and crust and yeasty goodness. Their coffee--Intelligentsia from Chi-town. Their food--delicious, simple, lovely, and local. I'm so proud to see them in the esteemed pages of Gourmet.

And, a restaurant I've been dreaming of for 4 years and will FINALLY dine at in November also made the list: Floataway Cafe in Atlanta!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"oh yah, we got our kopps on"

The title is the quote of the day from my friend C., as we all sat outside lavishly sighing at the smooth, creaminess that is Kopps frozen custard. I had one of the flavors of the day, Pecan Toffee. Um, yum. Way yum. The custard extrudes out of big steel tanks in long snake like sections, and falls into tubs, where the workers, clad all in pristine white, scoop up nice dishes of the stuff, garnishing dishes of custard with triangle wafer cookies. We were surrounded by folks proudly wearing the green and gold, and excitedly discussing how the Packers are now 3-0. A quintessential Wisconsin afternoon.

I bought a pair of pants and a knit sage shirt at the ATL (not to be confused with the Hotlanta airport), and two magazines at Barnes and Noble: Body + Soul and Gastronimica, an issue devoted to food politics! It is well worth the $13 cover price to read about my current favorite political issue.

Here's to many more fun trips to the city with the VP (a super secret nickname that I can't disclose) and their entourages:)

welcome, autumn!

The first day of autumn here in NE Wisconsin feels more like summer, with bright sunshine and temps climbing to the high 70s/low 80s. I like the contrast of warmth and bright blue sky with the first tinges of crimson and gold in the maple trees lining my street.

Last night I listened to *A Prarie Home Companion* and smiled as Garrison Keiler waxed poetic about fall, mentioned my humble little town in passing, and tempered his sentimentality with a well-placed Midwestern joke.

Yesterday at the farmer's market I chatted with the organic farmers, who regaled me with tales of their farm, their experience with my college, and even their religion. It was an interesting conversation and shows how food can really connect people. They gave me their card and invited me to call and come to the farm for veggies...I also stopped at the public library yesterday morning, and came home with my body, mind, and soul ready to devour the delicious, life sustaining foods and books I gathered.

I'm reading *Stealing Buddha's Dinner,* a memoir I've wanted to read every since Mom sent me the review from the GR Press last year and a former colleague asked me if I'd read the book. It's so lovely and melancholy all at once. The author/narrator, Bich Minh Nguyen is about my age and describes her childhood days, growing up Vietnamese-American in the Dutch stronghold that is Western Michigan. Many of the places she mentions are places I know, and at times the book made me so homesick for my home region that I had to set it down and walk away. I feel a real kinship with the author when she describes her escape into books as a way to both be alone and not be alone. It's a gem, and I'm going to teach it in my Multi-Culti American Lit class in the Spring. I'm excited to plan this class...

Today, my friends, their kids, and I are heading to Milwaukee for an afternoon of fun! this time I'm going to spend a little time in Barnes and Noble, selecting at least one new book of my own! Libraries are wonderful and elemental, but there's something about having "a book of one's own" that conveys a delicious pleasure. What I'll choose remains to be seen...several possibilities come to mind: *White Teeth,* *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,* my very own copy of *The Omnivore's Dilemma*...or a book I have yet to meet. Ahh, the excitement of the unknown!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

alice's "delicious revolution"

Ahhh, I so love to read about fellow idealists, who can be frustratingly lovable in their optimism and faith, and their zeal in, well, a kind of perfection. I love that the meal Alice cooks is so utterly simple (and vegetarian!). Check out this article in the NYT:


A wonderful read and a nice intro to Alice Waters' philosophy if you're not familiar with her legacy and her ongoing "delicious revolution."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

poetics of early morning

I'm one hour into a 12 hour fast. Not for any transcendent motive, but rather for my very first cholesterol and blood sugar screening tomorrow morning. And it seems that my chocolate is calling me:) That I can have an iron will (when I so choose) is quite helpful at moments like this.

Today my class created our own cheese tasting...we're writing food culture narratives and I find that a tasting activity helps show the importance of multi-sensory details. And, when in Wisconsin, make like a cheesehead:) One student brought in the Italian cheese Bra Duro, which I tasted at Stella in TC this summer and adored. I had to deviate from my cheese abstention plan (bc of the aforementioned cholesterol test) to sample a cube or two. Yummmmm.

I'm supposed to be reading Thomas Jefferson. And Ben Franklin. For class tomorrow. Fascinating history wise, but literary wise...I can't wait until next week when we jump ahead to the Transcendentalists and then the rest of the semester falls into line and I can chat extemporaneously (and confidently and knowledgeably) about ALL the readings.

This morning I watched the most beautiful sunrise yet--all pink and blue and purple and cloudy and striated, the sun rising as a fuschia orb from the azure depths of Lake Michigan. That moment of breathtaking beauty, around 6:35 am, when I watch the sun slowly make its way skyward from the vantage point of the YMCA parking lot makes the 5:00 alarm worthwhile. Forget the sweat-inducing and heart-racing spinning class. That's minor compared to the poetry of a daily miracle that we mostly take prosaically.

Poetry, prose, poetry. I'm almost feeling ready to write another poem. It's been three years since my last attempt at verse. I think it's time to leave the sprawling exuberance of prose and revisit the spare elegance and eloquence of poetry. Maybe I'll share...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

kitchen home

My weekend has largely evolved in the kitchen, the only place I seem to feel at home these days. I keep reminding myself that this feeling of homelessness will pass as the weeks and months unfold and I settle into the strangeness that at times seems so jarring. Autumn weekends in Wisconsin are distinctly color coded: Red on Saturdays (to cheer on the Badgers) and Green and Gold on Sundays (to cheer on the Packers). I felt like the only person not wearing the de rigeuer garb as I wandered the Farmer’s Market yesterday and the grocery store today.

Yesterday at the market I was waiting in line to buy delicious beautiful organic veggies--they always have a line, which is heartening (they’re the only table to declare themselves organic or anything close)--when I felt hands on both sides of my waist. It felt like something my Grandma would do if she were here, but of course she lives in Michigan. I turned to see that the owner of the hands was an elderly woman on a mission for tomatoes. I waited for her to say something as her hands left my waist and I turned away, but she silently sidled alongside the table toward the heirloom beefsteaks. I, on the other hand, patiently waited my turn.

I watched kids eating cider donuts, and felt a prick of homesickness when I saw a table of blueberry honey from Grand Haven...And I remembered that the last two years this was “apple weekend,” the fall gathering of my best college friends and myself. We’d stay at my parents’ home and spend Saturday in Saugatuck/Fennville. I would run the Mt. Baldy 5K (last year I even won 3rd place in my age group!) and then we’d lunch at the Journeyman Cafe, pick apples at a conventional orchard (where we’d also buy apple butter and cider donuts) and an organic farm (where we wrestled with the threat of bees and poison ivy), drink coffee and enjoy scones and hummus at one of my favorite coffee shops (uncommon grounds), walk around cute shops, and eat pizza at Marro’s (where I would drink one glass of wine and someone else would have to drive my car back to my parents’).

My kitchen became a place of refuge on a cool, breezy day. I made butternut squash ravioli-- a mixture of roasted organic squash, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, sage (all from local farms), pepper, salt, and honey (from Leelanau) stuffed in wonton wrappers (someday I’ll brave my own pasta). After boiling the ravioli, I pan toasted them with more sage and chopped walnuts in a bit of butter. I finished them with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of wisconsin parm, and set them on a bed of wilted organic spinach. A side dish of oven roasted cauliflower and carrots completed this wonderful expression of fall! Oh, and the last glass of my Crios Torrontes, one of my favorite wines.

I also “invented” a tart yesterday, and it’s good, though it needs a little work to be great, and a bit more work to be transcendent. A basic pate brisee topped with dark chocolate ganache (made with half-and-half, which worked surprisingly well), and then a layer of butterscotch pudding (made mostly with skim milk--it is a bit less voluptuous, but makes me feel better about eating the dessert:). A sprinkle of toasted nuts or shaved chocolate on top. Yeah, it’s fairly good, but the crust is a tad tough and too thick. It’s been awhile since I’ve made pastry and hence am a bit out of practice.

Today I made stuffed shells despite a DIRE situation with ricotta/cottage cheese. Yesterday I bought cottage cheese, brought it home and then remembered that it’s one of those products that often contains various gums and stabilizers. So I went back to the grocery store today and the only like product I could find that’s not filled with various gums and stabilizers was marscapone and I couldn’t justify that high level of fat (especially with my cholesterol test on thursday morning!). So I used cottage cheese with all that CRAP in it and I was quite put out by the whole situation. I might not have pursued the dish but I already had the cottage cheese at home and would feel bad about throwing it away. My cover-up strategy involved adding tons of good stuff to the cottage cheese filling: fresh basil and parsley, roasted garlic and roasted peppers, spinach, black pepper, wisconsin parm. But, I swear I could still discern a difference in taste and texture since I usually avoid all such fakery. And this situation annoys me to no end because it is endemic of agri-business. If we bought local, sustainable foods, we wouldn’t need such crap in them because they wouldn’t be coming from some faraway place. And everything would be simpler and taste better!

But I can feel myself being self-righteous and that’s not a good combination with a feeling of homelessness:) Besides, I need to check on my raspberry jam, the last fresh dish to come out of my kitchen this weekend, and then rest for the week ahead.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the best pizza in the world (for now)

Dvorak's 9th, the *Symphony from the New World* is on Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) tonight. The station plays a program that includes educational discussions of classical music; instead of playing the symphony in its entirety, they'll play one movement and discuss it before moving on to the next. I actually played AND studied this piece back in college, when I minored in music. Ooh, now the DJ is discussing similarities to Beethoven's 9th (my fave symphony, though not my fave classical piece. That would be Barber's Adagio).

The warm fragrance of just-baked banana nut muffins wafts through my home, promising good snacks for the next two work weeks. A few years ago I took to baking batches of muffins, freezing them, and taking them to work for a healthy delicious snack. In a few weeks I'll do something pumpkin chocolate chippy. Yumm.

Today was pleasant though cold. My friend down the hall brought Starbucks to work for me, another friend brought bday treats, and yet another was interviewed on WPR. My students are more than engaged--we're actually planning a FASHION SHOW for later in the semester, in conjunction with reading *The Devil Wears Prada,* and they want to have a little inter-class competition, though when I insisted the competition must take some written form they rolled their eyes a bit.

But, I will delay no longer on my discussion of THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD (for now). I very well may revise this statement when the blessed day comes that I travel to Italy...For now, dining on pizza that has been officially certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association is close enough to being in Naples myself...

Yesterday I left work and drove along the Lake, watching the interplay of billowy clouds, fierce winds, and intensely blue waters. Turning on the interstate, I watched the sky transform into a luminous Beirstadt painting (I had been looking at his "The Oregon Trail" in our American Lit book). I shopped at Target before heading to my new Aveda salon. The trademarh herbal, floral Aveda scent, so familiar and redolent of relaxation and pampering, eased any remaining jagged edges of my day. A vanilla honey latte and a good haircut make me want to return. (I realize that I'm stalling, making you wait for that delicious pizza...). I stopped at Younkers and tried on shoes, but it wasn't the same without Mom, Grandma, or S shopping with me.

Finally, I made my way to Il Ritrovo. Settled into a table for two. There's a certain art to dining alone in a real restaurant. It's difficult to refrain from apologizing for only taking up one chair, but I'm mastering the art (not that this means I intend to become overly comfortable dining alone. But it's a precious skill.) I asked for half a glass of wine--wish granted. Did it help that I was thumbing through the latest copy of *Food and Wine* that I brought with me? I deliberated between the specials--a veggie minestrone, a caprese panini--and my usual. I had pizza on my mind. I needed that perfectly balanced taste and texture again. As I have on my previous visits, I ordered the Mista salad and the Margherita Classico.

Mista salad: bibb lettuce, cubes of fennel, half-moons of cucumber (from round cucumbers, I suspect), long shaved carrots, and wedges of heirloom tomatoes--green zebra, and some completely transcendent variety that's so red it's nearly purple, and sweet, and lush, and a revelation (I found myself thinking in poetry--instead of Elizabeth Bishop's "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow," I was thinking "tomato, tomato, tomato!). Between the fennel chunks and the cucmbers, a delicate floral fragrance pervaded every bite of the salad, which is tossed in a basalmic vinaigrette, in its purest form.

My *Food and Wine*: forgotten. Every taste nearly bringing tears. And it's just a salad!

And then the pizza arrived. It's quite large--probably 14 inches. The crust is thin, and charred in places, crisp, yet inexplicably chewy in the center. Topped with a slick of Italian tomatoes, grown in volcanic soil. Thin slices of fresh mozzarella placed sparingly, and torn basil strewn haphazardly are the only toppings. Steam undulated upward when the pizza first arrived, and I paused before grabbing a slice, a rough quarter. I folded the slice in half and began the transformative meal anew. What makes this pizza so delicious is the utter simplicity of ingredients. The pizza is not much to look at, and indeed might appear disappointing to fans of American pizza, laden with toppings and oozing with cheese. Here, each flavor asserts its rightful place, from the clean textural contrast of the crust to the simmering sweetness of the sauce and the creamy chewiness of the cheese. I find myself smiling through the whole meal--experiencing what the French call joissance.

A decaf non-fat cappuccino, with one lump of raw sugar, and a perfectly blended crema, helped balance out the dreaminess of my half glass of italian red and ready me for the drive back home.

Monday, September 10, 2007

velour pants and fleecy blankets

The first really cool day of fall always surprises me. And make that chilly day a rainy one, and the shock multiplies. Further compound the hint of arctic air with a freezing office, and you have a day of blue fingernails and longing to be home, curled up in the aforementioned velour pants and fleecy blankets (both pink, of course), sipping hot chocolate and lost in some deliciously addictive book, like *Gods in Alabama,* which I'm currently attempting to read betwixt the letters of Columbus and the ravings of the Puritans. And informal student writings. And non-fiction accounts of life on the tenure track. And all my fun blogs...

When I finally made it home, and layered on warm clothes, and curled up with a mug of steaming hot guatamala antigua coffee, I relaxed, breathed, and then proceeded to doze off in my study whilst reading Columbus and de Vaca in preparation for tomorrow's class. Shameful. Or Shameless? I long for the day we begin the Transcendentalists and I can bring in my American Lit photo album. English-major dorky, of course, but it's so sweet! There's Walden Pond, all the nifty sites in Concord, MA, including Emerson and Thoreau's graves, Louisa Mae Alcott's home, the Old Manse, the North Bridge...and then there are the Emily Dickinson photos that students particularly love because I'm in the photos wearing a sorority sweatshirt! and sporting really dorky hair! And, finally, the Kerouac photos. It's a nice collection.

I finished the last of my Corallo bar yesterday. And I'm quickly making my way through the Scharffen-Berger bar stashed in my office drawer as of yesterday. If this cool weather sticks, it will be time to make a little online pilgrimage to chocosphere.com. Hoorah!

Tomorrow I'm going out for THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD, which I keep teasing y'all about. I'll write tasting notes soon...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

newbie bloggers and early morning cycling

I spent today reading and commenting on the lovely posts my students are creating for our class blogs. I'm so proud of their willingness to try something new and to share themselves. I'm so excited to see how using a blog for class might change the classroom dynamic--hopefully improving the connections between students. Many of them express a bit of skepticism but their long-ish and personal entries betray their real interest in this "experiment."

Tomorrow morning I will be at the gym, on a fancy bike, listening to pounding music, and peddling my legs into pools of jello at 5:45 am. Yes, 5:45 am. Those of you who know me well know that I am NOT exactly what one would call a morning person. I need a good few hours to adjust to being vertical and alert. Actually, I love mornings, but I like them as a quiet, caffeinated, reflective, peaceful cushion to the more frenetic energy of the rest of the day. This spinning class, which I intend to take 3 days a week, is a testament to my dedication to maintain that delicate life-work balance. To carve out dedicated time for physical fitness. To start my teaching day on a post-spinning high.

If, in a few weeks, I admit to sleeping in, please help boost me out of the bed and back on the bike:)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

booze and big city adventures

A beautiful day--the kind of day when the sun's warmth is tempered by a cool breeze, and the crispness in the air means one thing: summer has slipped into fall. I spent the morning dowtown, selecting a few novels from the public library, and deliberating over the gorgeous vegetables at the farmer's market. I came home laden with organic goodness, and with the added treat of mini mozzarella balls--made right here in Wisconsin!--and a mediterranean olive mix from the cheese vendor. Their store in Green Bay is locally famous for delicious cheese from the state and the world. I have yet to make it up to the frozen tundra...but will soon when my cheese stash runs out.

But today I piled into the car with my friends and we set out for a northern suburb of Milwaukee. Under bright blue skies spilling in the moonroof, we laughed and chatted all the way to a colleague's home. We dined on delicious treats and celebrated our host's new status as a tenured prof!

Upon leaving the soiree, we headed south and visited Bay Shore Mall, giddy at the possibilites lining the streets of the urban shopping mecca. We all bought new school clothes, and enjoyed coffee from Alterra. Yummm.

And then we wandered through Trader Joes, loading our baskets and carts with delicious treats and fabulous finds that cannot be had in our small town. I yelped, "bread! real bread!" as I deliberated between a pugliese and sesame semolina loaf. I chose the former. Fage greek yogurt, organic extra firm tofu, baked hickory barbeque kettle chips, 2 bars of Valrhona, 1 bar of Scharrfen Berger, a pound of california walnuts, and a pound of california almonds rounded out my purchase. Oh, and a bottle of slightly fizzy pinot grigio. What happiness in a brown paper sack! And what lovely company on such a gorgeous day.

My next culinary undertaking is to creating a lemon-limecello, per the girls' request, since we polished off the limoncello last night. We've christened it the "Mason Jar Special" after its illustrious vessel:) I've discovered that cutting it with sparkling water makes it very tastier and a little less jangly. It is, after all, made with 100 proof vodka!

Ahh, what a wonderful weekend! Tomorrow it's off to figure out a way to make the Puritans seem absolutely thrilling.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

let's get it started...

This photo has nothing to do with my subject. But it's pretty, and it's from my parents' house, and it just says "ahhh, summer!" on a day when southern temps and hazy sun fill the air while eager students and excited teachers hit the classrooms...

On to the subject line...my friend J. sent me a wonderful mix CD of "traveling tunes" for my move last month, full of eclectic songs ranging from the theme to *Smoky and the Bandit* to a insouciant Lily Allen number, to Justin Timberlake and the aforementioned "Let's Get it Started." When S. visited a few weeks ago, we tooled around Door County (the Wisconsin version of Leelanau), listening to the CD. Upon hearing the Black Eyed Peas for the 7th time, I quipped, " Wouldn't it be great to walk into the first day of class and play this song? Maybe dance around a little? Even go old school by bringing in a BOOM BOX?" I loved the idea, but since I'm starting out and have a reputation to build, I decided to stick to my standby: declaring the necessity of chocolate to any and all reading and writing success. However, S. is an established and very talented middle school choir director and she decided to use the Black Eyed Peas. From what I hear, her students loved it and her street cred has increased exponetially.

I share just three words, not even very descriptive words, to describe my first weeks on the job: I LOVE IT.

And my foodie romance article? DONE.

Tales from my kitchen...very pedestrian. Various salads and pasta dishes, sandwiches and frittatas, using the finest local Wisconsin produce. However, delicious thoughts of a towering three layer coconut cake--one with marshmallowey, meringuey frosting, and a dusting of coconut--pervade my mind at the most inopportune moments. I predict a cake party in the near future. The cake will be pink if I'm feeling kitschy and uber-feminine, white if I'm feeling classic. And if I'm feeling like a cheesehead, I may "Packer" it out in yellow and green...

This was my birthday cake in 2006, all coconutty loveliness, with a coconut-less section on the side for my brother who doesn't like the texture. How old was I that year?!?