Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday market. Claudio Corallo chocolate.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon another food blog, one of those ones that only serve to emphasize my status as a bumbling amateur, and stayed up late to read through the archives. I came across a mention of a chocolatier who had recently opened up shop in Ballard. It comes from Africa, the islands of São Tome e Príncipe, made by an Italian coffee producer who had spent nearly twenty years in Zaire, first as a coffee trader and then a producer. I couldn't wait to try some, and it was one of those happy coincidences that this was our weekend for the Ballard market (we switch off between the Ballard and U-District farmer's markets now that my local one has closed for the winter). We could swing by after our Sunday shopping. Or before.

Before hitting the market we headed off for coffee, and once C. had been caffeinated I dragged her farther up Market Street in search of chocolate, having only the vaguest idea of where Claudio Corallo might be hiding. One block more! I cried, until at last I had to admit defeat, and we turned back towards the market, crossing the street so as to cover all our bases. It was then I saw it, a tiny storefront wedged in between a clinic and an optometrist's office. Or something. It was closed, but would be open at noon. We peered inside. It looked like a office waiting room, with only a small glass-fronted counter with a few bars of chocolate lying around indicating that this was a store. A few articles were posted by the door, which we skimmed through before walking the few blocks back to the market.

After a hot dog (me) and a slice of pizza (C.) we made our rounds of the market stalls (and the many shops on either side of the street). I was going to be good, and stay within a $50 budget, giving up the half-gallon of apple cider in favor of a banana-and-nutella-stuffed crêpe, limiting myself to one box each of pappardelle and trofie, instead of the ravioli or plin, going without flowers, which wither and die all too quickly. I bought chanterelles and apples and pearly-skinned Rose Finn potatoes and deep purple carrots and a giant head of Napa cabbage that weighed a good five pounds. A tiny bottle of cream would be destined for another jar of caramel sauce, a bundle of kale would go nicely into...well, I'm sure I will find something to do with it all. I bought onions and bok choy and avoided the siren song of the man selling chocolate-covered butter toffee. Very good stuff it is, too, but not this week.

Then we finally make it back to the tiny Claudio Corallo shop, where we sample several different types of chocolate - 75% cacao, 80% with sugar crystals, 100% unsweetened, and 73.5% with cocoa nibs. We try whole cacao beans, which have the same smooth intensity and are curiously addictive. As we taste the man presiding over the shop tells us all about Claudio and his chocolate and his farm in Principe but I confess I am too carried away by the chocolate to process what he is telling me. It is like drinking really good wine, intensely complex with all sorts of notes and flavors I lack the vocabulary to describe. It is the best chocolate I have ever had. I buy some unsweetened bars - it is a powerful jolt of chocolate, smooth and complicated but not bitter - and a bar of the 73.5% with cocoa nibs. We are offered a taste of the chocolate truffles, made with an 80% ganache inside and a smooth coating of 75% chocolate outside, and like the bars, it is something beyond mere candy, deep and mysterious. Hours later I can still taste it, and I want more.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The day after. turkey gratin. (after Elizabeth David).

I have always loved turkey tetrazzini, the way I loved things like Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches with cream of tomato soup, something that seemed exotic to me, dished up on plastic trays in the school cafeteria. Distance and time have lent a romantic glow to those lukewarm lunches scooped without ceremony from a row of stainless-steel trays suspended over steaming water, shielded from the ravenous line of students by sheets of clear plexiglass. I have never eaten turkey tetrazzini anywhere but in the school cafeteria, and that was more than a decade ago, probably longer. There was something so seductive and comforting about it, the soft noodles, the bland yet salty turkey, the creamy white sauce that bound it all together. There might have been mushrooms, but I don't remember. I will never actually make turkey Tetrazzini, even though recipes abound. No one I know will eat it. I would have to try something else.

Then I stumbled upon a recipe from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking. I confess I have never actually tried one of her recipes. No wait, there was an experiment involving a flourless chocolate cake with almonds once, but it was not entirely successful. I am a terrible baker. But I found a recipe for turkey gratin on another blog and, of course, had to try it immediately. Well, almost immediately. There was Thanksgiving dinner to get through first. I came home last night with some leftover turkey and a little of my own spinach gratin; I spent my entire day at work waiting for the moment I could go home and start cooking. There were several modifications I had to make, simplifications that I considered necessary. First: none of that farting around with a bain-marie (double-boiler, for us Americans). While I have yet to manage a lump-free pudding (there's just something about me and cornstarch, I don't know what), and have had the occasional béchamel disaster, it is generally not difficult to make a béchamel sauce with just a saucepan. And a whisk.

Secondly, I didn't have any turkey or chicken stock. This is the downside of having Thanksgiving dinner at someone else's house: they have their own plans for the carcass. Thirdly, the recipe was sort of vague in terms of how much turkey we were dealing with, so I scaled back the amount of sauce to what I thought would be enough for the pound or so (maybe less) of turkey I had. (A mix of white and dark meat). I omitted the cream, added chopped parsley, forgot the pepper, used Gruyére instead of cheddar, and divided the meat and sauce into small individual gratin dishes instead of one bigger one. By this point I have deviated so far from the original recipe that I probably couldn't recognize the original recipe if it walked up to me and smacked me upside the head. Call this gratin the bastard step-grandchild of Elizabeth David's original Turkey Gratin.

I tend to get everything together so when I start making the sauce, I can concentrate on that instead of trying to grate the cheese and butter the dishes while keeping one eye on the stove. The sauce doesn't actually need frantic whisking, but being able to watch it is somehow reassuring. So long as the flour is completely incorporated into the butter (the roux), and the milk smoothly blended into the roux, and your heat is not too belligerent, there shouldn't be too much trouble, no need for more than the occasional swish of the whisk. Once the béchamel had thickened I added a splash of white wine and let it simmer a little more before stirring in the chopped parsley, Gruyére and some Grana Padano, then divided the meat and sauce between two dishes. My Staub rectangular ceramic cocottes are just the right size. I sprinkled one (the other will be my dinner tomorrow) with breadcrumbs and more cheese (I'll omit the breadcrumbs tomorrow, because I think they'd gone a bit stale...) and shoved it all into the oven. Actually, the toaster oven. I put the leftover spinach into another dish, sprinkled that with cheese, and put that in, too. Soon both dishes were bubbling madly, the cheese on top turning a blistery golden map.

Aside from the fact that having two creamy, cheesy dishes for dinner (no matter that one of them is, at least theoretically, mostly spinach) is a bit overwhelming, it was all fantastic. Better than the turkey tetrazzini of my memories. The sauce was creamy and smooth, spiked with the warmth of nutmeg, the cool sweetness of parsley, a hint of white wine. Perhaps another time I will try adding noodles, mushrooms even, for the nostalgia. Next year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

P-I-G. part 5.

This part is cheating, because it mainly involves some spicy pork sausage from the same place where I got those Mangalitsa pork trimmings that turned into so many different dishes that it kept me well fed for over a week. Of course, I bought the sausages thinking at some point I would make that other staple of my diet (now equal to fried rice), pasta with chard and sausage. I am not sure at which point dark leafy greens took over my diet, probably around the time I started reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, or a little later, when I started shopping at farmer's markets and buying all these greens that I didn't know how to cook. The first version of this pasta dish came about when I had a head of escarole lying around in the fridge, and a surplus of Italian sausage for some reason I can't remember. Somehow - perhaps I'd eaten something similiar in a restaurant - I thought the two would go together, and a nice sturdy pasta like orrecchiette would stand up well to the spiciness of the sausage and the ever-so-slightly bitter greens.

Variation upon variation ensued, and the only thing that has stayed the same is that I always use onions if I had them, and some sort of pork product. Usually sausage. Bacon (or pancetta, or guanciale) can be substituted, but spicy Italian sausage is the reigning favorite. Escarole and chard and kale rotate through my kitchen, depending on what looks good at the market (super or farmer's). One unforgettable experiment, never again replicated, involved a giant heirloom tomato that looked like a huge millefiori paperweight. Pasta shapes vary depending on what I have in the pantry, and experience taught me that trofie (bought at the farmer's market and kept frozen) and orrecchiette (which I tried to keep on hand at all times) works better than penne or fusilli.

Tonight I have twists of trofie pasta, spicy Italian sausage, and a tight bundle of dark green kale. I found a pot of gold tucked away in the back of the refrigerator, the pork-infused wine reduction leftover from making rillettes that I had also used in another pasta dish. Usually I just use wine, or even water; if I'm lucky I might have some homemade broth on hand in the fridge, but I'm not organized enough to have ice-cube trays of frozen stock lying around. (One day, I promise). The water comes to a boil as the vegetables and sausage bits are simmering away; in go the frozen noodles that take only five minutes to cook. By the time the trofie are ready, the sauce has reduced to a syrupy glaze; there should just be enough to barely coat the pasta, and it all comes together in the pan. Those leftover wine-and-pork juices give the pasta sauce a depth and intensity that nothing else can replicate, not plain stock or wine alone. C. and I eat every bite, and only the lingering aroma of onions remains.

Monday, November 24, 2008

P-I-G. part 4.

It was interesting to see how three pounds of pork scraps could be transformed into so many different things over the course of several days. I remember putting that heavy, frozen package in my backpack at the market and walking away with the thought that I had completely lost my mind. What happened next was even better than I could have imagined, as the pork was divided in varying amounts to make rillettes, stir-fried with vegetables, and braised in soy sauce and rice wine, all with great (in my mind) success. By now the rillettes are only a pleasant memory, shared amongst friends, but I still had a few pieces of the red-braised pork left. I could merely reheat them and serve over rice, as before, but I feared that even heated gently on a low flame, the meat would toughen, become over-salted in its soy-wine infused juices.

Fried rice seemed the answer. Usually I make it with bacon; I figured that once it was sliced, my braised, fat-layered pork would have the same texture as thick-cut bacon. The meat was cold, the fat chilled firm, and it only took a minute to chop the cubes of pork into neat lardons. Finely shredded bok choy replaced my usual peas (in an attempt to add more vegetables to the dish) and brown rice replaced white (they tell me I should eat more grains, avoid white foods). (Last year, in a vegetarian restaurant somewhere in Taipei, I discovered that brown rice makes incredibly tasty fried rice). Sliced scallions and eggs went into their bowls, everything lined up next to the stove, ready to cook. This is my favorite moment, when my mise-en-place is all together, and I know that I am only a few minutes away from my dinner.

The bok choy is the first to go into the hot oil. (Actually, it is hot oil infused with a little bit of lard left over from making rillettes, just another example of how those three pounds of pork scraps have stretched across several dishes and meals in the past week or so). When the green stripes of chopped vegetables begin to wilt and deepen in color, the pork goes in, and then the rice. Next comes the scallions, scattered across the top and stirred in, infusing everything with their scent, and then the beaten eggs, swirling and coating every grain of rice with gold. I add a little salt - not too much, because the pork is salty enough, like bacon - and a few grinds of black pepper, and then a few more. I don't need to taste it for seasoning; it will be fine. I could do this in my sleep. (Not that I am immune to mistakes, even with these mainstays of my culinary repertoire; they happen, but less often than they used to).

With my bowl of fried rice in my lap I suddenly think of Beverly Cleary's childhood memoir, of her youth passed under the shadow of the Great Depression. How one generous family member once gave them a gift of ham, which went into every dish her mother could possibly think of until at last, all that was left was the bone, which went into the soup. My three pounds of Mangalitsa pork made up eight dinners, not counting several days of rillettes on toast. I still have some lard left over, gathered in a bowl in the fridge, some wine-rich jelled juices in a plastic tub, that could go into a sauce, or perhaps become the basis for a soup. I ain't done just yet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dinner for two. Sunday Lark.

Duty and boredom called me into work this morning, after a breakfast of tea (Earl Grey Silver Tips from Mariage Fréres, the best Earl Grey I have ever had) and a ham-and-cheese croissant from Belle's Buns, a stand at the farmer's market. Lunch was the last of my homemade rillettes on toast, and two of my chocolate chunk cookies, but I must confess that before the last crumb was regretfully swallowed, I was already thinking about dinner. At Lark. And I was lucky. C. wanted to come, too. And then we were even luckier: the dining room was quiet, the weekend before the holiday ahead. J. offers us our choice of tables; I choose one of the booths. I never get to sit in one of the booths when I am alone and the restaurant is busy. We order, the skate wing, the steak, the farro, the carrots, and sit back with our bread and butter.

First, though, comes a surprise from the kitchen: the brandade of salt cod, a warm, airy purée of salt cod and potato, served with toasts under a cloud of herbs, surrounded by tiny Niçoise olives, cornichons, and what appear to be pickled carrots. It would never have occurred to me to order this (I confess, I ate too much salt cod in Portugal to ever care for it again), but it is wonderful. Then comes the skate wing, in brown butter, with beans of some sort (which I cannot identify), a little like garbanzos, and little cubes of chorizo. The farro is creamy and buttery and chewy, with crunchy slices of hearts-of-palm and mushrooms. A mélange of carrots arrives in its Staub dish, sweet and tender, fat little orange ones, skinny baby purple ones, all different shapes and sizes and colors, a rainbow of carrots. The steak is served sliced, rare in some reduction of a sauce, draped across a bundle of dark chard and a layered gratin of potato, celery root, and horseradish. I must say I am not a fan of the gratin, but I love everything else.

We are defeated by the farro, which tends to sink like a stone in the stomach, however delicious it is. But there is always room for dessert. C. wavers between the apple crisp and the quince tarte tatin, but with the help of M. I push her into ordering the tarte tatin, which is my usual choice. I head for the hazelnut chocolate mousse, two dollops of mousse framing another of whipped cream, with light cocoa ladyfingers and candied hazelnuts. It is like eating Nutella, only better, and it is so good, I want another order immediately. Next time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

P-I-G. part 3.

The correct way to make dongpo ro, so my cookbook tells me, begins with a neatly trimmed square of pork belly, blanched and then very slowly simmered in a little soy sauce and rice wine with a few aromatics like ginger and scallions. I have never made it, but eat it whenever I can. It is one of my favorite dishes, and when properly made, it is "tender, sweet, fragrant, tasty, rich without being oily...served with an absolutely clear layer of melted fat overlying a smooth brown sauce. The surface is a rich brown color, the fat smooth and custard-like, the meat brown and tender." It is named for the poet Su Dongpo. (The writer of Chinese Gastronomy, from which the above is quoted, does not know why such a dish should be named after the poet, and concludes that perhaps he would have liked it). Sliced into perfect squares and served over rice with a little drizzle of its sauce, it is heaven in a bowl.

Having no perfect squares of pork belly in my fridge, I made do with some of the Mangalitsa pork left over from the rillettes I made last weekend. Since the meat had been identified as "pork trimmings," half fat and half lean, I had no way of knowing what parts of the pig they were, so I selected the pieces most like the belly (as far as I could tell), layered with meat and fat. I sliced them into cubes about an inch square and an inch and a half long, or as near to that as possible. They went into my favorite small Le Creuset pot, just big enough to hold the meat in a single layer, with a few spoonfuls of soy sauce and rice wine, and were left to simmer slowly in a mix of the soy and wine and the pork's own juices (and some of the fat that melted away from the meat). A few hours passed, and I began testing the meat for tenderness. When it was nearly ready, I set it aside for another night. Tonight.

For some reason I always associate red-braised pork belly with stir-fried bok choy. So along with my pork I had some leafy bok choy, bright and dark green together. There was leftover brown rice, ready to be reheated in the microwave. They came together in a simple meal, the nutty brown rice serving as a bed for the crisp-soft greens, the custardy fat marrying gently with the tender meat, all with a savory-sweet sauce of wine and soy sauce and pork juices softened with a little sugar. Maybe next time I will try to do it properly, with a big square of pork belly quickly blanched and then simmered for hours, steaming in its own juices. But this is good enough, more than good enough, for now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

P-I-G. part 2.

Last weekend's experiments with three pounds of Mangalitsa pork yielded: just under a pound of rosemary-scented rillettes, perfect for spreading on warm toast, a pile of sliced, well-marbled meat that would do fine in a stir-fry, and a bowlful of chunks of fatty meat that I could braise, Chinese-style, in soy sauce and rice wine. The rillettes disappeared day by day, as I nibbled away at it, sharing with whoever happened to stop by. (We ate some the other night, along with a dinner of clam chowder and oyster crackers). The sliced meat was stir-fried with onions and chopped chard leaves, served over brown rice, with a glass of hard cider to wash it all down. Then I had the leftovers to deal with.

Usually by the middle of the afternoon, after lunch is a distant (that is, a few hours) memory, I start thinking about dinner. By the time I am winding things up for the day I have a firm idea in my mind of what I will cook when I get home (or where I will go out to dinner), and if anything occurs to disrupt my plans, I get very annoyed. But today there is nothing standing between me and a bowl of pasta, which to my mind would make the perfect dinner. I have the leftover pork and chard, I have the trofie pasta in the freezer, I have some mushrooms that could sautéed and tossed with the reheated meat and vegetables.

The first thing, of course, is to put a pot of water on to boil. Edouard de Pomiane taught me this, and very good advice it is. I dump the cold pork and chard onto a cutting board and dice it into neat chunks (well, at least as neatly as I can manage), then scrape it aside and slice the mushrooms. I peek at the is moving, but not yet at a boil. A little oil goes into a heavy nonstick pan, and when it shimmers with heat the mushrooms go in. When they are brown on all sides and starting to soften, I scrape in the pork and chard and onions, leave them to warm a little before I add some of the wine-rich pork juices left over from making the rillettes, which I had poured into a bowl and left in the fridge to turn into a savory jelly. While these juices simmer into a glaze, the frozen pasta goes into the now-boiling water, and as usual, I have just about gotten the timing right, as they are ready at the same time.

What had started out several days ago as a stir-fry served over rice has transformed into a loosely sauced pasta dish, the sweet onions melting into the dark chard, the mushrooms barely glazed with the intensely reduced wine and pork juices, all dominated (no, dominated is the wrong word, because it was not overwhelming) by the flavor of Mangalitsa pork, which tastes like nothing I have ever eaten before. It is perfect.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dinner for one. Spinasse.

The one thought that has carried me through the entire day is that at the end of it I could head over to Spinasse for a plate of pasta before going home to make bread pudding for tomorrow's lunch party. (Time to celebrate the November birthdays). It is nearly 6:30 by the time I make it out the door, and there are a few groups of diners already seated inside. I recognize K., one of the owners of Lark, but she does not see me. Shedding layers of coat and scarf and my backpack, I struggle into a stool at a bar, inadvertently elbowing the poor man sitting to my right. (I find myself elbowing him all evening, and regret not being able to move a few inches to the left).

Having already tried the ravioli and the fine strings of tajarin, I zero in immediately on the maltagliatti ("randomly cut" pasta) with chanterelles, my favorite mushroom. While I wait for my pasta a small plate with two crostini arrive, one with marinated porcini mushrooms (not as good as the one with chanterelles we had last time) and one with rabbit pâté drizzled with balsamic vinegar, which is as good as always. I chat with the couple next to me, briefly; they are exuberantly friendly, and the wife has big blonde hair, the likes of which I have never seen in this neighborhood, except on the transvestites that frequent the bar on the next block. They are busy trying a sort of degustazione of chocolates.

As they ooh and ah over their chocolate, my dinner arrives, and then they exclaim over my pasta, asking me what I ordered, offering me a taste of their Barolo. (I decline. After a long Monday, a glass of wine would send me reeling off the stool). I hear them debating over whether to ask our server if the kitchen can make them a zabaglione, which they do, cheerfully. Nonplussed, she heads into the kitchen to ask the chef (and owner) and she returns to tell them it is not available tonight, but it might appear on the menu in the future. I don't know whether it really will, but I will check next time I come back. Meanwhile I have my pasta to think about, irregularly shaped leaves of pasta cut into random triangles and diamonds and perhaps trapezoids; I am eating it all too eagerly to examine them closely. There is just the pasta, the fresh chanterelles, a little butter, a whisper of Parmeggiano-Reggiano, exactly what I needed on a Monday night, to ease me into a week of work ahead.

As I gather my things to leave K. catches my eye, and I stop to say hello, realizing that one of the couples dining with her were my table companions at the Lark Whole Beast dinner last April. They recognize me immediately, and express surprise that we would run into each other again. But upon reflection, it is not so surprising. Spinasse is one of those places, like Lark, that is simple and unpretentious, a place for people who really care about food. I am so happy that it is in my neighborhood, and that I live here now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

To market, to market.

Late in the morning (after I have had a hot cup of tea and a slice of toast spread with my homemade pork rillettes) I swing by to pick up C. before we head down to Ballard, circling around before finally finding a (probably illegal) parking spot a mere block or two from our intended destination: Volterra. We brunch on scrambled eggs (mine have wild mushrooms and a touch of white truffle oil) and hash browns and buttered toast made from a curiously seedy bread that reminds me of bits of loofah but nevertheless goes down quite well with generous spoonfuls of strawberry jam. There is hot coffee and the pleasure of eavesdropping on other people's conversations, and then it is time to head off to the farmer's market down the street.

As always, we take a lap around the market (arranged in a double row down one long block, with aisles on either side) and take stock of all the things available. There are homemade pies, jars of jam, freezers full of fish (a man proffers tastes of smoked salmon to all who pass). I regret eating breakfast when I see the crêpe stand and the hot-dog cart. Next time, perhaps. We eye the crates of apples and pears, the bright bouquets of flowers, try a taste of chocolate covered butter toffee. Definitely coming back for some of that. I think about what I need for the week ahead: some fruit, perhaps, and a jug of cider. And that chocolate-covered toffee.

On the second lap around I buy trofie pasta, which comes frozen in plastic boxes; I plan to keep it on hand for impromptu dinners. I get some cider, both the regular kind and the alcoholic hard cider, then a bundle of baby bok choy, two apples and several plums. I grab some dark-chocolate-covered toffee and the final splurge, a bright bouquet of flowers. I have to hand the flowers off to C. so I can arrange my purchases in a way that won't lead to me dropping them all over the street on the way back to the car. It is difficult. I wish cider didn't come in such heavy glass bottles. Or that my bouquet of flowers would stop dripping water everywhere. But I have my chocolate-covered toffee as a consolation.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

P-I-G. part 1.

I am not sure where I first heard about Mangalitsa pigs, but once I did I knew that I had to try them. They are a European breed that produces a much fattier, richer-tasting meat, unlike the commonplace modern pig, bred for leanness and aimed at the fat-fearing public looking for "the other white meat." The only question was, how was I going to get my hands on some? I met a couple at the Lark Whole Beast dinner who told me about their adventures with some Mangalitsa pork jowls, but I am a lazy person and somehow never made it up to the University District farmer's market, where Wooly Pigs sells their pork. Months went by. Summer passed, with jaunts to my own neighborhood market, where I bought berries, eggs, the occasional chicken, and all kinds of leafy dark greens previously foreign to me. Then it was fall, and K. told me all about her plans to order half a Mangalitsa pig. Alas, I would be out of town. I had to take matters into my own hands.

Somehow C. and I finally made it to the U District farmer's market last weekend. I came back with three pounds of "pork trimmings," roughly half fat and half meat, and the suggestion that I make sausages or rillettes with it. Just thinking about it made me nervous, and I quickly stuck my package back into the freezer, hoping that I had not made a very expensive mistake, like those high-heeled sandals I bought four years ago for a then-astronomical price and never wore. The week went by, a week where I savored that curried goat pie from the market and made another pot of borsch from leftover prime rib bones. Then the weekend loomed, and I decided to experiment. I left the meat in the refrigerator to defrost, took stock of what ingredients I had to hand, and decided to divide the meat and try different methods of cooking.

First, the rillettes. I found a recipe in Pork and Sons, a French cookbook whimsically decorated with pen-and-ink drawings of pigs, the padded cover wrapped in pink gingham. It seemed simple enough, white wine and rosemary, pork fat and...fat pork. I simplified things even more, halving the recipe, leaving out the bacon - I didn't have any - and the bay leaf, thinking no bay leaf was better than a sad, crumbly dried bay leaf that might be left over from the 80's. The fat, trimmed away from the meat, went into the pot with a sprig of rosemary, a sliced onion, and some white wine. While the fat melted, I diced up the pork, cursing the cookbook for not specifying how large a dice I should be chopping, and scraped it aside while I dealt with the remaining meat. It was a lot, more than I had anticipated. The leaner cut was sliced, as for stir-fry, and the fattier parts cubed, for braising in soy sauce and rice wine. But that is another story.

Next came the boring part, leaving the diced pork to slowly cook in the aromatic wine and, not to put too fine a point on it, its own fat. I left it to simmer as gently as possible for as long as I could stand it. The afternoon passed. I made myself some dinner, and ate it between peeking into the heavy pot and poking at the cubes of pork cooking away. (I may have sampled a bite or several at various points). Finally, the meat began to fall apart when I teased it with a fork. At this point, you are supposed to scoop out the pork with a slotted spoon or something, and shred the meat with two forks, mashing it all together with a little of the fat until it becomes a sort of rough paste. I got bored with this very quickly, and switched to my food processor. Working carefully so it didn't all get processed into mush, I pulsed the machine just enough so it all came together into a coarsely-textured pâté. I spread some, still warm, onto a cracker; it was rich, intense, deeply flavored with the herbs and the taste of the Mangalitsa pork. Later, it will be scraped into plastic tubs and chilled in the refrigerator. After I have another taste.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Saturday market.

Today we head to the University District farmer's market, located in the parking lot of a community center (like the Phinney community center, also a former school). The sun has come out (it was pouring when I woke up this morning), and I regret wearing rubber boots (very difficult to drive in) until I step into a puddle as soon as we walk into the market. Tents are set up in orderly rows, and we take a lap around before we begin to shop. I make it as far as the Wooly Pigs stall, where we are given a taste of sausage made with a Mangalitsa-Berkshire blend (more on that another day). I pick up three pounds of pork scraps, destined for sausages or rillettes. I have never made sausages or rillettes before, but now would be a good time to try. $60 of pork makes its way into my backpack. C. makes no comment; she knows by now that I am a danger to myself when set loose in a farmer's market with $100 in my pocket.

Next we eye the beautiful homemade pies, crates of chard and kale and carrots and potatoes of all shapes and sizes and colors, buckets of bright flowers mixed with long-stemmed flower-like cabbages. At a stall with a sign reading "Belle's Buns" I buy a soft brioche swirled with caramelized onions and cheese, which I eat immediately. We stop for a bag of oven-roasted hazelnuts, which can be used in recipes, skins on, because they are so good. I try a bite of pear, something called a Honey Bosc (or some such name), and it is so ripe and sweet I buy two for later. We try fresh apple cider, and C. buys a jug to share at work, and debate over whether to get some hard cider as well. (Next time). I dawdle over a table lined with strudels and danishes, presided over a cozy-looking woman with an Eastern-European accent, finally choosing an apple danish for later in the day.

Another lap around, and I buy a curried goat pie, frozen and ready to bake in the oven whenever I feel a sudden craving for curried goat. C. agonizes over the apple or the pumpkin pie; she chooses the latter. They are made with organic ingredients, heirloom fruits with fanciful names. Farther down the aisle I gather together bundles of chard, fennel, and beets, and C. gets her flowers, all autumn colors spiked with the purple-green gaudiness of cabbages, and we loop back to finish our shopping with loaves of fresh bread, a baguette and a honey-wheat loaf. Laden down with our bags (particularly me, who as usual went a little crazy) we stagger back to the car. I have food enough for the next week, perhaps two. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Dinner. Poppy.

After work I head home and wait for C. to swing by. We're having dinner at Poppy, lured by the prospect of tandoor-roasted chicken and naan bread. (It is not so much Indian food as Indian-inspired food). I want to see how the thali concept (a set menu, available in two sizes and with vegetarian options) has held up since the restaurant opened in September, and when we walk in to find that all tables are booked for the evening (despite some empty seats) I can only suppose that Jerry Traunfeld's reputation is holding steady, despite the current state of the economy and reports every week of restaurant closings and slow evenings. We take a seat at the bar, where you can order the set thali menu or various nibbles and plates from the bar menu, which includes several appetizers (also available in the main dining room) and three main courses: tandoor-roasted chicken, scallops, and braised beef cheeks. (The last two are also items included in the "thali" and "smali").

I waver between the set menus and the bar plates, but C. has her heart set on tandoor-roasted chicken, so I suggest a plate for each of us and a few appetizers to share. And lemonade to drink. Tonight's lemonade is spiked with rosemary, not too sweet. The couple next to us, who arrived and ordered after we did, receive their eggplant fries before we do, which incenses me until all three of our appetizers arrive together. Well, ok then. We have the eggplant fries that I remember so well from my first dinner here, and the savory strudel, this time with pears and tarragon instead of apples and dill, but with the same leeks and taleggio. We try the gorgonzola cherry-sage puffs, filled with bacon. Without the bacon they would just be weird. Actually, they are still a little weird, but bacon automatically makes anything tasty.

Our main courses arrive before the last puff has been eaten, when half a tart still remains. I have the braised beef cheeks with purple kale and cilantro-spiked naan. They fall apart under the gentlest touch of my fork, and I scoop up a little sauce with a piece of naan. C. passes me some of her tandoori chicken, not the tandoori chicken found in cheap Indian restaurants, languishing in lunch-buffet steam tables, dry and weirdly orange. This is something more subtle. I can't wait to order it next time, unless beef cheeks are still on the menu, because I can't resist braised beef or pork cheeks, all rich, gelatinous meat in some dark, deeply infused sauce. Or maybe I can.

For dessert we share the malted milk chocolate ice cream, and a honey frozen yogurt with Riesling-soaked apricots. I have a few bites of the chocolate ice cream, which is as good as I remember, and then I notice C. looking at it, which makes me feel guilty for persuading her to order the frozen yogurt. We swap. The frozen yogurt is perfect, slightly tart against the faintly alcoholic sweetness of the fruit. I wish there was more of it, but there's no need to be greedy. There will be other dinners here.

Walking down the street afterwards we spy Dilettante Chocolates, which has moved into a new mixed-use complex that combines loft condos and shops along a tree-shaded block. Soon another café will move into the old Dilettante space, a block or two farther down Broadway. New memories will join the old ones. In that old Dilettante both new and old memories collided in my mind, as often happens when I walk through this neighborhood. I have lived in Seattle for more than twenty years. Sometimes I see my eight-year-old self twirling down the sidewalks, trying to match the brass footsteps that trace complicated ballroom dance steps, the waltz, the fox-trot, the box-step. Those twenty years went by in a blink of an eye.