Resurfacing in Baltimore

jigsaw_save_tempI’m a naughty blogger. One would think that being unemployed for half of fall would have meant plenty of time for cooking, writing, and exploring. Anyone who has ever been unemployed knows what it really means is all your energy and lifesource is sucked into job search websites, and it was all I could do to make it out for some exercise and errands.

Washington Monument Xmas lighting in the 'hood.

Washington Monument Xmas lighting!

The good news is that I started a new job at Johns Hopkins University in late November, and am four weeks happily employed as a web coordinator. I’m also one week moved into a great new apartment in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, which is full of theaters, historic buildings and gay bars. Despite my disappointment in not being able to return to France, I am “dead chuffed” to be living in the heart of Baltimore for the first time in my life, and getting paid enough to thoroughly navigate the most awesome spots.

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The Case for Sundays

A picture is definitely not worth a thousand words.

No matter how skilled the photographer is, no image could truly capture the splendor of a beautiful Sunday in France: a day so completely reserved for time off that your body is physically forced to lower your blood pressure.

Park time.

In the city, the usual roar of traffic dulls to a rumble, leaving space in the air for the sounds of bicycle gears clicking, leaves scratching across the sidewalk, and the knives, forks and laughter of your neighbors’ rose garden luncheon. In the country, it’s the best day to go for a long, car-free run, then share a picnic by the river. You become incapable of speed beyond a leisurely stroll, you listen to jazz, cook big meals and catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen for weeks. Continue reading

Fromage Friday: Brillat Savarin

It’s BACK! Sure, there is a lot of good cheese to be eaten in the United States, but on that side of the Atlantic “fancy” cheese is more expensive and seems frivolous. In France, I feel like a criminal every time I walk past a fromagerie without buying something. That means I feel like a criminal every 15 minutes, but so be it.

The return to glory involved the 17ème arrondissement’s Alléosse fromagerie and about five kinds of cheese, but the only one I’d never had before was Brillat Savarin. The cheese comes in a square about the size of your fist, but a quarter of it is more than enough to last a few days because it’s a   “triple crème” cheese. This means that cream is added to the usual milk mixture when this cheese is being created. It also means the cheese is about 75 percent fat. One sliver of this bad boy meant I had to put some of my other cheese slices back on the plate at lunch (l’horreur!!!); I was just WAY too full. Yes, I said it. I found a cheese I can’t really eat.

According to my reader-friendly cheese book, this cheese was created by Pierre Androuët, FATHER of the master of all things French cheese, in 1930. He’s also the author of my less-than-reader-friendly “Dictionary of World Cheeses.” Good work, Team Androuët.

Brillat Savarin

Made by: Fromager/Affineur (meaning they actually mature the cheese) Alléosse, rue Poncelet. The line was 10 people long. I take the advice of travel writers and get in lines whenever I see that many people waiting.
Hails from: The northwest of France. Mostly Normandy.
Background: Not a handmade cheese, and so creamy that my aunt squeezed a piece and said it actually felt like butter. It’s a fresh cheese in that it only needs to age a few weeks, but it’s by no means light. Whoa mama. It’s also fairly strong tasting. I had been expecting something like Brie, but it’s much richer and tangy-er in flavor. Holds its own, for sure!
Can I eat the rind? You can, but it’s not necessary.
Serve it with: Veggies. Fruit. More veggies. Scant amounts of bread. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but this is not the kind of cheese I could handle eating with prosciutto or ham.

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Pistachio O o O

I’m back in France! And eating unpasturized dairy! But until next Friday rolls around, you’ll have to read posts about what I did in the United States.

Just like the “every country has its fried dough” theory, most cultures have their chosen nut products. America has peanuts and pecans, a lot of African countries use ground nuts in soups and stews, and much of Europe fills everything with hazelnuts. In Turkey your chocolate comes with pistachios, Greeks lean on walnuts heavily for their pastries, and when  I think of pine nuts, I think of Italy.

But I’ve only ever consumed peanut and almond butters in the salty spread category. Pistachio butter’s time had come.

Caution, guys.

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Late Summer Tomato and Chevre Galette

This post is a lie. Yes this is more of a tart than a galette, but must importantly… it’s not the end of summer. I REFUSE TO SUCCUMB! Even though the leaves on the maples along the trail and starting to show red around their edges, the crickets are the only sound in the late summer morning air, and the tomatoes are fat and fire-truck red, I insist that this season can last forever.

But just in case, I’m gonna cook lots of things with tomatoes and corn.

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What are Crowder Peas?

I have a problem. Among the piles of mini green peppers and the baskets of tennis ball-sized tomatoes at the market last week, there were a few quart bags packed to the Ziploc with little greenish yellow beans. “Crouch peas,” was what I thought the vendor said, and she told me how delicious they are simmered for hours with salt, pepper, some butter and maybe some smoked meat. Despite having a very-low paying job and an intercontinental trip coming up, I apparently also have very low resistance to buying new food. Five-dollar mystery beans for dinner, anyone?

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The USA Like I’ve Never Seen it Before

“It’s so surreal! I feel like an alien! I feel like ALF!”

All this in response to… a parking meter. Continue reading

Bmore Diaries: Luigi’s Italian Deli

I would never fit in at a party in Hampden. When I drove down with my sister after work to get sandwiches at Luigi’s Italian Deli for a free movie night downtown, we were the only people in the near vicinity wearing shirts… and two of only a few not wearing very, very worn-in jorts. But a very dense hipster population apparently doesn’t get in the way of awesome sandwich shops and massive rich-people wine-and-cheese warehouses.

The restaurant is set up on the first floor of a townhouse off 36th street, and down the long hallway lined with assorted pastas, olive oils and cookies, you’ll find a small counter and case stocked with imported meats and prepared salads. The jars on top are full of cannoli shells ready to be filled, which oddly enough all are labeled with Simpson’s characters. It was almost like being in my great-grandmother’s house, only the people serving dinner had much better mustaches.

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Speculoos City

Most cafés in Northeast France serve a Belgian Speculoos biscuit with every tea or coffee you order. While you can find Speculoos throughout the country, it’s more at home in Lorraine, which shares a border with Belgium as well as the holiday of Saint Nicolas, when bakeries produce giant Speculoos cookies in the shape of the good saint. Whenever I was served a coffee in another region of France and received a chocolate chip cookie, it was a bitter disappointment.

The cookie is a basic spice cookie, which sounds plain but is completely addictive. I’ll prove it!! The flavor is so popular at the moment that you can buy gazillions of speculoos-flavored treats: cereal, pudding, toasts, spreads, and pastries. The spread is at least as deadly as Nutella. I don’t drink espresso all that often in the States, but some clever friends knew that when I did I would feel sad without that Speculoos on the side, and bought me a cookbook to make them at home, along with a ton of other dishes (speculoos pie crust, speculoos tiramisu with chevre and figs, apple/almond speculoos soufflés!) made with the flavor . Continue reading

Kimchi Adventures

BRING ME THE KIMCHI

The massive grocery store a half a mile from my parents’ house has had a rough life. It’s been a Giant, a Fresh World, and an All Green. Recently, it reopened as “FoodValu,” which is the third incarnation of “huge Asian and Mexican superstore with only half the store dedicated to regular American processed stuff.” Continue reading