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Nearly 2 years later, thousands more miles traveled, hundreds of pounds of food eaten

3 Sep

NH lobster boil

It has been nearly 2 years since I’ve blogged. I have no excuses except that life has turned, twisted, and changed as it does for most people, and I wasn’t sure I felt like blogging anymore. But, last night I got inspired again, watching Chef with our great friends MM and CT at their gorgeous home in New Hampshire. These past 4 days have been a food and wine fest combined with swimming in their pond, long walks, a few hikes, and one restricted calorie dinner. As this blog’s subtitle notes, this is about “Food, Love and Life (not necessarily in that order)”, and it is again time for me to reflect on those and write about them here.

I have done so much and so little in the past 2 years since I’ve returned from Spain. Maybe one day I’ll revisit those years, but for me – for now – this is the time I want to write about. So, here it goes…

The top picture is a lobster boil we had on Sunday. Fresh lobsters, sweet corn, chorizo, baby potatoes, steamers, shrimp and garlic butter for dipping. Spectacular! Two nights ago, MM made pesto pizza with garlic, basil, and tomatoes from his garden. For several days running, we’ve had gorgeous beet root salads (again from his garden). Today, it’s cubano-esque sandwiches with fresh pickles and marinated onions (See Carnet’s ala David Chang’s salt and sugar quick pickle recipe, below), a sesame-tamari-dry mustard-olive oil-mirin-worcestire reduction from the pork tenderloin I marinated, gruyere cheese, and MM’s “mushroom bacon” (see recipe below). And, there has been cava, cava, and more cava, involved, every day – an ode to Quim. Cava goes with everything, especially rose cava on an 80+ degree fahrenheit day while floating in a tire in the pond.

There are no pics of us in the pond (thank goodness), but below are a few pics I took of this gorgeous farmland and NH’s wildflowers while I went on a long walk today. This is Americana at its finest.

wildflowers NH1

Sunflowers (ignore my finger in the upper corner)
NH sunflowers

Yummmm, sweet corn!
NH corn

Flag and pond in NH

Flag and pond in NH

flag and pond NH

To temper our very large and very fun caloric intake over the past several days, last night C and I decided to embark upon a new eating regime that MM and CT have instituted 2x/week at their house. It’s a calorie restriction “diet” (although I hate that word and dispute that I will ever go on a diet) that has some foundation in science. I’m not an expert, but MM (a software engineer with a very analytical mind) has done a bunch of research on it and he and his wife have been experimenting with it for about a month. The very broad idea behind calorie restriction for short durations (also known as intermittent fasting) is to change up your metabolic rate. There are some studies that show animals live longer and there are some that suggest that humans live healthier lives – less metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, less of the bad type of cholesterol that blocks your arteries – with less caloric intake while upping their fiber in the form of fruits and vegetables. This “eating regime” (not a diet) is more akin to eating vegan or vegetarian for a day or so and eating minimal or no grains.

MM strives to eat 600 calories on Mondays and Wednesdays. His wife: 500-600 calories each of those days. Here’s what we ate on the restricted calorie day:

Breakfast:
1/2 cup corn and quinoa cereal with 1/2 c. almond milk – about 150 calories

or you could eat 2 hard boiled eggs and some steamed greens for about the same amount of calories

Lunch:
Salad of all greens, cucumbers and carrots with a fresh lemon juice, shallot, rice wine vinegar, water, salt and pepper dressing – about 30 calories

or

Christine’s lunch: 2 Tbl. hummus, 1/2 cup carrots, several cucumber slices, 10 almonds (6 calories each for a total of 60 calories in almonds), 1 slice of cheese – about 250 calories total

Dinner

MM’s zucchini pasta with fresh tomato sauce – tomatoes from his garden, onions, garlic, fresh basil, capers, salt, pepper in 1 tablespoon of water, all steamed down to form a chunky, hot tomato sauce, served on top of thin strips of zucchini that have been steamed for 1-2 minutes + 1 glass of wine = 300 calories total (5 oz. glass of wine is about 120-150 calories, depending on the type of wine).

We also had a salad of fresh beet roots and baby lettuces, topped with a shallot, lemon, balsamic, water, salt and pepper salad dressing. About 30 calories.

Throughout the rest of the day, I sipped on lemon water and iced black coffee. I did not do any cardio or hardcore exercise that made me burn a bunch of calories but I did go on a 1.5 hour walk. Surprising to me, I wasn’t super hungry until about an hour before dinner (6:00 p.m.) and then my stomach was growling.

Here’s the trick: you can eat as many raw veggies you want throughout the day, as they are very very low in calories and high in fiber. Some are high in water content (especially cucumbers and celery), so they fill you up.  You have to be a bit more careful about which fruits you eat. For example, a small red apple has about 70 calories, but peaches and nectarines in season now have less.

I’m not going to lie and say it will be easy if you’re used to eating a ton of food each day (especially rich foods), which C and I are. However, if you have some will power and treat it as a part of your eating regime, knowing that 5 out of the 7 days, you’re not restricting your calories, it is much easier than I thought. We’re going to try it 2 days/week and see how we do. To help each of us do it and to share new recipes with the calorie restriction theme, Carnet created a blog called the Hungry Wino at https://www.tumblr.com/blog/hungrywino. You’ll find the dinner recipes from last night on that blog.

But, back to today’s lunch:  Cubano sandwiches done the New Hampshire way: thinly sliced roasted pork loin with the pork marinade reduction on baguettes with Carnet’s salt and sugar cucumber and onion pickles, freshly sliced tomatoes, mustard, gruyere and white cheddar cheese and MM’s mushroom bacon.  They were sooooo good. Here are a few pics from prep to finished product.

Here are two prep pictures of the insides of the cubanos, pre-grilling:

cubano prep

cubano prep2

Post-grilling and wrapped for safe transport:

cubano wrapped

hungry winos with the cubanos in the barn

hungry winos with the cubanos in the barn

inside the cubano after it is grilled

inside the cubano after it is grilled

Finally, here are a few of the super simple condiment recipes:

Carnet’s salt and sugar quick pickle recipe:

Combine 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in a bowl (so a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to salt). Cut up fresh veggies – cucumbers, carrots, onion, watermelon, whatever you want to pickle, and sprinkle the sugar/salt mix over them. Toss and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately.  We found that the onions needed to be rinsed as the brine was too salty on them, but the cucumbers absorbed the sugar/salt mix perfectly.

MM’s mushroom “bacon” recipe:

1 large bunch oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced. If you can’t find oyster mushrooms, shitakes are a decent substitute. Put the sliced mushroom in a bowl with a splash of EVOO, salt, and pepper (more pepper than the salt). Don’t use too much olive oil, a what you’re doing is drying out the mushrooms, essentially. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put in the over at 180 degrees F for about an hour, depending upon the moisture content of the mushrooms. Then, crank the heat up to 350 and let them go for another 10 minutes or so until a little crispy. These are a delicious and healthy alternative to bacon on salads and sandwiches!

So, this is it for the day.  Happy eating!

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3 days left and counting

31 May

Here’s me looking happy in my pastry kitchen. I have the immersion circulator and the cryovac machine (not really a cryovac, but I like to call it that) over my right shoulder, and I’m making “chupitos” and macerated strawberries for stuffing the mochi.  Here’s the mochi before I pull it (it’s not actually green; I think the lighting is weird); then after it’s rolled; and then in it’s final state, plated with the macerated strawberry inside, the flor de cacia gelatin shot on top, and the shot of fresh strawberry juice and vodka next to it.

I have 3 days left at Dos Palillos – yeah!  Yeah, because I’m exhausted. Yeah, because I’m moving onto a new chapter of learning.  Yeah, because I have only 45-48 hours left of this work over 3 days.  I have had lots of fun in between working hours, to be sure.

This past week Alan and his brother Scott have been visiting.  Plus, I had a surprise visit from my love on his layover on the way back from the Maldives.  So, a packed house it was, and lots of cava and gin and tonics flowed.  Here are a few pics from our fun this past weekend:

Alan and me:

The church at night in El Born:

The gin drinking gang, with new friends Dominique and Nathalie (Canadians who do consular work in Senegal and Tanzania):

My new gin of choice:

Okay, rushing off to work now, because if I’m not early, I’m late due to the fact that there’s no way I can accomplish all I need to do in the 1 hour that I get to make only pastries (the rest of the prep I do is for everyone else). Yes, only 3 more days!

A funny, insightful book: “Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

23 May

I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book because I can manage to read only a few pages each night before I fall asleep. It’s not the contents of the book or the writing that’s causing me to fall asleep, to be sure.  I love the book. It’s raw, it’s unbelievable in its believability at points, and it makes me laugh.

Monday night I read a few lines that made me smile and that are so true of those (me, including, at first) who flirt with the idea of becoming a chef, but who don’t really understand that it can be and often is grueling work:

“Everyone thinks cooking is ‘fun.’ Everyone who doesn’t do it professionally thinks it’s fun. And it is fun, but not for the same reasons they think it will be. They think it’s the same as trying out a new recipe for brownies like you do at home, with the radio on.”

Then, later the author says, “Two swear words in one sentence had become as effortless a part of me as my own saliva” when she’s working hard in a commercial kitchen.

There are many days I wish working in a restaurant kitchen was like trying out a new recipe in my home kitchen with iTunes blaring, the Hawaii winds blowing through my kitchen windows, and me smiling because I’m being creative.  There is no need to swear because I’m chill in’ and having fun.  Unfortunately, I don’t think restaurant kitchens are ever going to be like that.  But, I do believe they can be “fun” places in which everyone tries their hand at being creative and in which most of the cooks and other staff aren’t miserable to come to work.

My challenge if I “do this thing”, which means opening an eatery of some sort, is to have my other cocineros (cooks) actually want to come to work and like what they do, love it maybe nearly as much as I do.  I want them to know it will be hard AND fun at points, and that the object is to make people happy with what they produce.  In order to do that, I think the cooks have to be happy, as well.  I know that sounds trite, but that belief will influence who I hire, how I hire, what hours people work, and how we all interact.

How do I expect they will be happy?  I think one of the keys is to give everyone some sort of “ownership” in the restaurant. I like Eleven Madison Park’s philosophy. Although I haven’t been there, I heard both the business manager and the chef speak at a great bookstore in SF. They talked about the concept of ownership, but in a different sort of way.   Does one of the servers love beer?  Great, would s/he like to lead the charge to find beer pairings and then explain them to the customers?  Does the dishwasher/prep cook have ideas on how to make things more efficient?  Great, what are they?  Can they brainstorm to come up with some economical solutions?  Who has design in their background? Do they want to be in charge of designing menus?   It’s not just about slugging away day after day at your station and not understanding the multiple facets involved in making a great eatery.

I think you have to put people in positions of their strengths and also give them challenges so they can grow. I know this is business 101, but I don’t know if it always happens in traditional restaurant kitchens.  Usually, it’s about the bottom line: who is the best worker (many times unskilled) for the lowest amount of money I can pay?  I understand that’s the way most for-profit businesses run, but there’s so much turnover and unhappiness in the restaurant world, that I know it affects the bottom line in a negative way.

I also want to give other chefs/staff economic ownership in the restaurant.  If the client base is happy and we get our numbers correct, then everyone should profit – everyone.  I think this is the way to garner loyalty and foster happiness. Everyone wins. I don’t know if it can be done, but I have to believe it can be and that’s my challenge.

Okay, enough ramblings. I have to wash the dye out of my hair before I run off to work.  I hope I still have hair left.  I mixed solutions from this beauty shop in which the owner explained how to do it in Catalan.  Me: uhhhh, okay. I think I understood.  We’ll see if I have any hair left!

Day 2: Dos Palillos

4 May

This is going to be another short post with no pictures, as it’s actually Day 3, my time, and I have to run out the door to work in a few minutes – just a short 7 hours after I got home from Day 2.

More things I like: 1) I made mochi from scratch. I had never done it and it was a great process. 2) I made almond milk from scratch. Ditto. 3) The clientele is from all over the world. Some German guy at the bar asked if I was the sommelier and said he wanted to compliment my service. Really? I just brought some wine and explained some of his 17 course dinner. Anyway, it was nice to hear a compliment during a rough day. 4) Vincente and I are getting along great. Whenever I get yelled at, he quips back at the chef de cuisine and says it’s his (Vincente’s) fault for not showing me. Thanks, Vincente. 4) I piped up and told Antonio in my bad Spanish when he told me something I did looked like “f_ing shit”, “Listen kid, I’m old enough to be your mother and I have sharper knives. Be careful.” I think I was channeling Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes when she bashed the young girl’s car and said, “Face it girls, I’m older than you and have more insurance.” Plus, earlier in the day, another young kid asked if I was doing okay and if everyone was helping me. I said yes and that I liked everyone. Then, I smiled and pointed and said, “Well, maybe not him” and winked at Antonio. I think everything translated okay as at the end of the night, Antonio said, “I’m crazy. Don’t worry about it.” I think we’re going to be friends – haha. 5) I learned that tomorrow, Saturday, Vincente is going to essentially give me control of pastry. So, I’m going to have a lot of responsibility in the short term.

Dislikes: 1) Crazy hours, 2) getting yelled at, 3) not understanding half of what’s going on due to the language issues, 4) not being able to try any of the food. They don’t let you. Hmmmm. How am I suppose to tell people about the food if I haven’t tasted everything? That will not be a mistake I make in my restaurant. You want believers to work for you.

Off to Day 3!

Day 6 El Quim: Busy-ness, as usual, and no business tomorrow

28 Mar

Image

So, I shucked 10 Kilos of fava beans today for a very traditional dish that incorporates a special blood sausage, the elbow of a pig, and fresh mint.  I forgot the name of it, but will post it when I remember.  One of my highlights of today was seeing new friends again that Carnet and I met yesterday at lunch.  Mary and family from Chicago came into lunch today before they headed to the Joan Miro museo. They are a model family – nice son, smart mom and dad, and mom is gorgeous! She is 10 years older than me but looks younger than me.  They are very interested in food and we talked a lot about it, as well as their vacation with their son who is studying in Paris at the moment but knows Spanish. I love it when people bond over food and new friendships develop out of that!  

This will be a very short “work” week for me. I took yesterday off, as it was Carnet’s last day in town for possibly 2 months.  Then, tomorrow, apparently there is going to be a nationwide strike. So, Quim is closing in solidarity.  I’m not sure how widespread the strike will be and if it will impact all forms of public transportation, but I’ll be curious to see and hear how it all goes.  Just in case, I bought enough food for tomorrow and right now I’m making chicken soup with lots of fresh ginger, garlic and cilantro root.  I had a hankering for the Chinese/Thai soup that Carnet learned from his grandmother.  Mine won’t even be close to how good hers, and Carnet’s is, as I’m omitting the Thai chilies due to continued stomach yelling. But the smells are already wafting into my bedroom and I’m just as excited.

It was another gorgeous and 65 degrees F day in Barcelona.  If it’s the same tomorrow, I’m going to walk to the beach – maybe 3-4 miles away. The mediterranean water is too cold to jump in at this point, but if I get hot, I know a delicious sorbet place on the way 😉

Tangent: the picture at top is one of the courses we ate at Lolita Monday night.  Remind anyone of Hawaii? Seared ahi tuna, rare inside, topped with a light ponzu and a fresh tomato fondue of sorts.  Delicious!  Our last course was chicken that was rolled in potato chips and then deep fried.  That is a child’s dream right there.

Day 3: El Quim

22 Mar

Now that I have several hundred artichokes under my belt, I fully plan to put the fried artichokes on my menu of the restaurant I’ll one day open.  Think chips, except artichoke slices AND WAY BETTER. 

I now feel part of the team.  The jokes are flying and although my attempt at humor in Spanish is often lost on most everyone because my humor doesn’t translate that well, I still laugh at my own jokes.  For instance, “Everybody in the pool”, didn’t translate as funny when I said it in Spanish (Toda en la piscina). I was trying to ask if all the meatballs were going into the oil and I made a diving motion.  No matter. I laughed.

Quim’s joke of the day:  Rachel, want to see a Spanish iPhone?  Me: – Looking quizzical because I think I’m not understanding what he says i.e. is there a specific iPhone for Spain?  Quim then holds up an old cell phone with no internet capability, and to it he has taped a fresh apple.  Funny.

Besides all the jokes and fun we have, I am learning things.  I learned to make their spicy romesco-style sauce and their mojito sorbet today.  Ricardo was charged with showing me and there is almost no common language between us.  No matter, I shook my head a lot, as hand gestures and pointing were about 90% of what I needed to understand.  

I am also doubling as a waiter.  Whenever an English-speaking customer comes in, I hear a “Rachel”.  Then, I come from behind the counter and go to the bar to speak with them.  All the guys can see over the bar, but I can’t so much due to my height (also funny).  I helped several people from the U.S. today, as well as a group from Thailand, one from Japan, and another one from China.  Then, I’ve had several people speak to me in French and one couple spoke to me in Portuguese.  When I said I didn’t understand, then they all spoke in English and said that I looked French, and then Portuguese, respectively.   It’s kind of nice to “blend” over here (even if I do blow it once I open up my mouth).   I’ve had a few people tell me I speak Spanish like I’m from California.  Huh.  Even though my Spanish is still not where I want it to be, Quim asked me to translate to an English-speaking couple today.  He was talking to me in Spanish and then I translated in English.  It was a very proud 30 seconds for me.

With the leftover seaweed Quim got for me, he made us a seafood and seaweed risotto for lunch.  It was outrageously delicious. Super creative. With that, he paired a Ribera del Duero, which is a red wine from central Spain. Then, he spoiled me with a gorgeous chocolate cake from the best chocolate shop in Spain – Escriba.  I am getting fat.

I am going to take Bee Leng’s suggestion and make a pesto with the remaining seaweed.  At the grocery store tonight, I actually saw something similar!  It was tomato and roasted red pepper based, with onion, garlic and seaweed.  Thanks, Bee Leng, for the suggestion. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

Tomorrow night, I’m going to make shoyu chicken, rice, and wok vegetables for Diana and her kids.  She’s going to pick me up on her scooter and then we’re going to scoot to her barrio.  Lots of people drive scooters here, since parking is so expensive in Barcelona, proper. In fact, there’s very little parking since the town is so old, as are most of the magnificent buildings, and that means there are only a few underground parking lots and no parking structures. There’s no room for them.  It’s rather lovely.

Off to try to rescue my white – I mean horrendously dirty and greasy not-so-white-anymore – chef’s jackets.  I bought an eco-friendly spot remover made in France. Hoping it works!  Stay tuned for some pics. I’ll remember to take some in the next few days.

 

 

Montserrat… one drink at that altitude and you are done.

14 Mar

Today through my expert navigating skills, Rachel and I went to Montserrat, a mountain with a monastery about an hour by train out of Barcelona.  We really had no idea what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised.  We had to take a cable car up, which was made by the krauts in the 1930’s so I wasn’t too worried about it breaking.

Image

(view from the top)

We got to the top, and just started to explore.  We found a trail head and decided to take a hike, turned about to be about 2 hours in total, but we got to a nice vista and enjoyed our croissant ham and cheese sandwiches that we purchased earlier from our local shop in the barrio.  

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(navigating during the hike)

After surviving our hike, we enjoyed a nice cold beer while doing some good people watching, our favorites were some German high school kids by far.  There were also some locals selling a variety of cheeses, honey, and other trinkets if you are interested in that sort of stuff.  Highly recommend going if you have the chance, I know i’ll be back!

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Ipar-Txoko

6 Mar

Tonight Rachel and I ate at a Catalan restaurant and it was delicious, but the service was something out of Eastern Europe.  After our long journey of navigating the streets of Barcelona and Rachel almost killing me in the process, our waitress, which I nick named “Svetlana” started by asking if we had a reservation in a rude tone(the restaurant was empty) and then proceeded to be nasty when we picked a table.  

Then to my surprise, a nice older man came out and read us what would be available to order.  Through the accent and long list, I just ordered what I remembered and hoped for the best.  I got the white beans with clams,  and Rachel got the artichokes with ham, both delicious.  For the main course we split a 1 kilo sea bass which was grilled flesh side down, served with poached potatoes and a marinated roasted bell pepper.  To top it off we got some chocolate truffles and some coffee.  A delicious, simple meal that I will definitely remember.  My burps taste like gyros so maybe I can make a combination of those things and start a new rage.

Miami: stone crab and friends

30 Jan

I’ve been lame over the past couple of weeks as I’ve been on some more fun adventures seeing family and friends. No pictures of food, although that’s not for a lack of some excellent meals.

I left Miami and the Freeman clan this a.m. after a fun 5 days. I mostly cooked, but last night Carnet and Free took over. The result: a fabulous dinner of champagne, stone crabs, sausages, cauliflower rice with bacon, a chunky “fridge” salad (everything in the fridge that could possibly go on a salad), and some super decadent chocolate cupcakes and a carrot cake. I love the men in my life who cook!

Back to Honolulu right now to clear out of the house, then to SF for a few weeks, then off to Barcelona on February 24. Mark and I are planning our adventures and working on stages/externships. Stay tuned for more fun eating in SF over the next few weeks and then daily adventures in Spain!

Days 13 and 14 – Fish and Shellfish

21 Jul

Okay, I’ve been lame over the past few days and have not been posting. I would recommend NOT working while you are doing the full time day program at FCI if you can help it. It doesn’t leave much time for a lot of other things.

At any rate, onto fish and shellfish! On Day 13, we made played with flounder and made some bread crumb coated flounder with two sauces – a remoulade and a sauce aux poivrons rouges (the former is a revved up tarter sauce and the latter is a red bell pepper sauce – yummmm). The point of this exercise was to learn to coat/bread and to make that coating stick when frying. Here are the goujonettes (any fish cut in finger-like pieces to mimic a goujon, which is a small fish in France that is deep fried whole):

We also made braised flounder in white whine, shallots and cream. The sauce was delicious.

Although I don’t have time this morning to write the recipes, stay tuned and I’ll post a bunch tonight.
Day 14 was shellfish. We got to play with escargot, lobster, clams, mussels, and oysters. I usually love lobster, but I didn’t “love” the recipe we made. It smothered the lobster so all you could taste was lobster stock and not the actual meat. However, I did love the mussels and clams dish pictured above and I did love the mignonette foams chef Peter made for the Tomales Bay oysters. Here are a few more pics of the day:

Stay tuned for more and recipes tonight!