I admit it, I am a bit of an indiaphile. I do a fair amount of indian cooking, I own a salwar kameez, I've technicolor reveries about indian street food. And as a former, some might say veteran waitress at Bombay Cuisine, I won't really eat there. This means my trip today to India Town, which you may know as India House, was long overdue. Herm and I switch on and off buying lunch when I work, and the "what do we eat" conversation usually goes "XO? Maggies? Grand Central?" Herm tries to give me his order which is always moot, cause I know exactly what he wants anywhere we go. When intern-Sam was with us I knew his order too. I'd make a great personal assistant. On the phone with India Town I didnt know what was on the menu so I asked for a masala subzi-ish dish, and the guy says "how you know subzi?" I told him, and when I got to the restaurant he called me "Miss Bombay Cuisine." Then we had a lovely little chat about how Balwinder sucks and how their lamb is much too salty. I may or may not have indulged in a movie too. The meal was pricy, but thats sort of my fault as I ordered too much naan, not realizing it was $2 each. I was happy to see how veggie meals were $8.99-$10.99 instead of $15 like at Bohemian Cookout. The whole ride home in the car I sang "yum yum yum, yummy yummy food, gonna eat it all, gonna eat it soon," etc. I was so excited I missed the exit and had to fuck about with Pearl. Food was quite tasty. I had a chicken Vindaloo which I would have been more pleased with if it had a more pronounced tamarind flavor. As it was, it lacked a clear tartness that I look for in a vindaloo. Its color seemed pale as well, more like a tomato-based dish. The chicken and potatos, however, were tender and well spiced. Herm's veggie curry was great, with a fresh and distinct vegetable flavor and a cohesive sauce that bound it pleasently together, and an appealing dose of cumin. Lunch today was one of the most satisfying meals I have had in weeks, and hungover as I was it was a bit like god smiling and petting my hair, telling me everything was going to be ok. And later I get to watch Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and sing along in broken faux-hindi. Cant wait.
January 2008 Archives
As anyone working in the food service industry knows, times are hard for restaurants. The post-holiday winter is bad enough typically, but this year is the worst anyone has seen in a very long time. Its increasingly difficult to get people in the door, and when you get them there they arent spending like they used to. This means more surprise days off on every schedule. This week, I took advantage and drove down to Chicago to see my friend Courtney. Courtney and I have been friends for a long time, in many ways she and I have had the kind of formative relationship that sets the bar for every one subsequent. We have one of those "sit around, watch tv, eat lunch meat from a bag" kind of friendship. I've realized that that is a good blueprint for future liasons. In any event, when Courntey says she is throwing me a dinner party she really means, "cook for my friends!" but in a charming way. I like to cook, so I guess the only problem here is that I get incredibly nervous before parties, also, I like to have a beer while cooking. This means that by the time guests arrive I am in a sort of blathering way. Fortunately, Courtney's friends do the same thing, so by the time there are 4 of us there, this one woman is dawwling," Beeenn, I just wann a stoooodio." This got me thinking about space. These kids in Chicago can get so spoiled, expecting a million restaurants, a million shows, and public transportation that goes everywhere. But they cant get a studio. We are lucky to be in a city where just being some dude you can afford a rehersal space. I'm spoiled on space. Not sure now if I'd want to go without.
Recently I went through a great rite of passage, a trial of will and self-esteem, a Judgement, if you will. The live-in fella decided to be a lives with his mom, not so much my fella. Since then there have been headaches about my 100% rent increase, how to eat food i make before it goes bad (had a bad incident on trash day today emptying containers of homemade channa saag,) and who will feed my cat if i am away. The worst and most inconvenient of these trivialities of the break-up, though, is the loss of a microwave. I rarely buy microwavable food. As much as I like hot pockets, every time I eat one I see myself in the future, 300lbs and testing my blood sugar every 20 minutes. But the microwave is indespensibly linked to one of my most oft-eaten food catagories; leftovers. I probably only cook three or four times a week, and the rest of my lunches, dinners, and often breakfasts are variations on those themes, reheated in different ways. Sphagetti sauce becomes pizza, channa saag becomes dip or quesadilla filling. Getting a pot on the stove to rehash something i m already tired of seems like a smack in the face to ease. The other problem is that, like toilet paper and toothbrushes, I feel that a microwave is a right. It is like a sink, it should come with the house. Hence, instead of hauling myself to Goodwill, sucking it up, and buying a damn applience, I am sitting here complaining about how it should never have left. Yeah, thats right. That microwave should be mine.
San Chez Iron Chef
Working at San Chez kind of spoils a person. Cheap booze, decent management, seminars and training, it really seems like they want us to be happy. And so, when someone gets the bright idea of letting employees go head to head in an Ultimate Cooking Challenge, the Chez is all about letting it happen. This is how I found myself at 9:05AM rooting about in the downstairs walk-in for carrrots, citrus fruit, and the odd cucumber. 5 minutes before I was standing in dry storage being told that I was to create 3 dishes all involving "dried fruit and nut," and thinking "thank god I dont have to deal with fish." My cooking repertoire is rather limited, focuses strongly on indian food, and does not include meat or fish. So I thanked my lucky stars and loaded up with pistacios, almonds, figs, raisins and dried cherries. I started peeling carrots, and realized that my competitor, Jesse, was also peeling carrots. This didnt look so good. My plan was a sort of gahar halwa with a dessert masala of ground nuts and cardamom I whipped up in a food proccessor. This meant cooking the carrots down with some condensed milk and then adding the nut mixture. So I am running about with piles of carrots and no idea how to turn the stove on. Then I realize I have no spatula. Then I accidently set the spatula someone handed me on fire. I managed to get the burner down to low and covered the carrots with a nearby sheet pan. On to dish two. Back to the food processor to mix up figs, kalamata olives and more pistacios. I threw in some chef salt and a handful of cumin. This got spread on toast with goat cheese and called tapenade. Number three was the same damn nuts and fruit, chopped coarsely and mixed with honey a squeeze of orange and some lovely cream sherry from the bar. I sqeezed the stuff into balls and tossed the pan into the freezer. So far, so ok, but can i really call carrots a dish? Arent they a side? I found some pork and chopped it into nuggets and threw it into a pan to saute with some onion, garlic, and the dried cherries. a big handful of cinnamon and an indecorous amount of sherry vinager finished that. Maybe the funniest part of the morning was me trying to attractivly plate the damn food. Basically it ended up in unappetizing piles. Whatevs. I got the dessert-nut-balls onto a plate with some ice cream and drizzled honey over them. I called them charoset, after the passover food they are similar to. Then it was time for judging, a process I had trouble watching. When the jury came back, it was decided my food had lost, sadly. The winning food, made by Chez cook Jesse, was pine nut hummous, almond-coated chicken with cherry garnish, and carrot-walnut spanikopita. My charoset did take top honors, though, being called the best dish of the day. I think Jesse would have been pretty emarrassed if he'd lost to me, as he is in culinary school and knows how to turn a stove on and I go to the culinary school of hard knocks.
Founders, oh Founders
Conceptually, beer is food; a delicious source of calories. It could be termed the original meal-replacement beverage. After long thought, and the precedent that is Eric Asimov's "The Pour," I have decided that drinks ought to count as food in this, my consumptive opus. Grand Rapids certainly has many places to drink, and more variety of venues than it does for eating. That is, it does if variety means smoking or non, or country music or 80s hits. Still interesting and delicious beverages seem to be more easily accessible in West Michigan than their counterparts in food. Alcoholic trends just seem to hit the heartland earlier than gastronomic ones. Perhaps it is the drunken incentive. Cask beers have arrived on the scene, however unlauded (that is a topic for another time,) but this is long after Grand Rapids has embraced craft brewing. Founders Brewery has become a beloved staple of Grand Rapids drinking, whether in bottles or at the brewery itself. And at the brewery was where I found myself last night, pint of pale ale in hand. Business seemed slow for primetime on saturday night, but at least there were 8 beers on tap, a decided step up from just weeks ago, when Founders was newly relocated and served a paltry selection. Sitting at the bar with a pint was pleasent with some Yo La Tengo in the background. I entertained a reverie in which I was in a rather older version of Degrassi Junior High and was playing the shy girl that everyone has a crush on. My daydream ended though, when I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One was replaced by some R. Kelly, which I was convinced was making fun of me. Get bent R. Kelly. I'd be occupied if I'd remembered my book. In any event, I'd be lying if I said I thought that anyone in Grand Rapids needed a tutorial on Founders beers. Everyone's got their favorites. This morning it seems that Red's Rye will never be one of mine. I have never loved the flavor, I think it has a touch of an innapropriate pucker. But the pucker pales in comparison to the fuzziness of head I am dealing with this morning. This brings me to an uncomfortable subject this Saturday Morning. Founders beers equal shitty hangover. After sorting the anecdotal evidence I am comvinced that this is so. Anyone who has tried to down a bottle of Blushing Monk has certainly felt the after-effects. Some would say that one loses track of actual alcohol consumed, given the calculations needed to equate higher-proof craft beer with the popular idea of "one beer," but I don't buy it. I for one, have done that math, and I am coming up hungover.
Vietnamese Grocery, Division around 44th
I like Grand Rapids. Really. I mean, I complain about the weather all the time, and it would be cool if we had more venues, but I am a supporter of the Mitten and GR. Hell, I moved back from Portland. One thing, though, irks me every day and that is The Problem With Food. This is a city of Applebees. More accurately, it is a city of suburbs of Applebees. For me to really dig GR I would have to see a lot more noodle shops, some decent Thai, maybe an indian cart or two. When I go to the grocery, (we'll skip right over the Family Fare that doesn't stock basil and half the store seems to be aisles of paper towel to talk about the Meijer or that fancy place on Cascade) I cant find half the ingredients I need. How am I supposed to make dashi, or pasta all'amatriciana, or pho? Thus begins my search for food in West Michigan. I have put this off for far too long, believing my calling to be somewhat less, um... fat. Now, however, I realize my body image and 15 extra pounds of butterfat are worth it if it means spreading the gospel of yum. So, today Andrew and I were out on Division, looking through the pawn shops, and we found a fantastic vietnamese grocery. I'm talking boniato flakes($2.50,) 8 kinds of tapioca, literally bushels of crabs just chillin' out. I got some fresh lemongrass ($1.00 a bunch) and stocked up on kelp. Andrew was lucky enough to stumble on cans of "Pearl Milk Tea," basically thai iced tea with tapioca pearls in a can, and picked up some "diet tea" which was, he was happy to note, caffiene free. We toyed with the idea of cans of roasted eel in fermented black bean paste, but I ended up passing for the extra-large tin of sardines for $1.50, Moses Atwood, my cat, will be feasting tonight. Its been a while since I'd been to a grocery this complete, and this small. I would kill for a fish counter like that near my house. The TVs playing a vietnamese gambling were really just a bonus.