Cornbread Tuesday, Aug 10 2010 

A few weeks ago, Boyfriend and I went to see Dave Matthews play at Citi Field in New York.  This was a big deal for a lot of reasons:

1 – Boyfriend is a huge Dave fan, and he’s seen him enough times that he can’t remember the actual tally.

2 – Zac Brown Band, who we both love, was the opening act.

3 – Boyfriend hadn’t seen DMB in concert since college.

4 – It coincided with NYC Restaurant Week.

I think you can imagine how excited I was to discover this out this last detail.

Since Boyfriend was already coming home the night before the concert, we planned to spend the entire day in the city – eating, drinking, and sweating in the 100-degree temperatures.  After attempting to read through the exhaustively long list of participating restaurants and their menus, I had an epiphany.  And that epiphany’s name was Bobby Flay.

I’ve never eaten at a celebrity chef’s restaurant, but the topic was on my mind after days of planning our Chicago itinerary and reading up on Rick Bayless’s restaurants.  So to Mesa we went for their pre fixe, Restaurant Week lunch menu.  And can I tell you?  I haven’t been that full after a meal that involved not one bite of meat ever. Ever.  We had delicious smoked shrimp cakes (that I was predictably nervous about, being very afraid of all things deemed “smoky”) dressed in a beautiful pineapple relish that balanced the heat out nicely.  Boyfriend had red snapper that he assured me was fabulous but was, to me, just another fish I wasn’t interested in.  And I had a monstrous chile relleno followed by the best bread pudding I’ve ever tasted, while Boyfriend enjoyed a chocolate strawberry shortcake.

But for Boyfriend, who loves all things spicy and most anything unique, the real gem of the meal was the cornbread.  Made with both yellow and blue cornmeal and studded with kernels of corn and chunks of jalapeno, he took one bite of his first roll, looked across the table at me, and whispered, almost in awe, “when are you making these for me?”  We ate the entire basket of them, in addition to a second basket brought over to replenish the first.  I mentioned we were really full afterward, yes?

Several hours after cleaning our plates at Mesa, we made our way to Citi Field to watch the show.  Halfway through, Dave played the song we were hoping he would – Boyfriend’s favorite song, and the one he was very much looking forward to hearing live for the first time in years.  The song we’d sung loudly in the car on the way to the train that morning, and the song that is the first track on the DMB/Zac Brown Band playlist I made in preparation for the concert.  What song is that, you ask?

Cornbread, of course.

Spicy, Cheesy Cornbread

Adapted from this recipe http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/jalapeno-corn-bread/Detail.aspx

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

6 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 vegetable oil

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 – 3 tbsp red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and red pepper flakes.  Stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and oil together.  Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Add cheese, and stir until it’s well-distributed.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cut bread into squares and serve warm.

Perbacco Saturday, Apr 10 2010 

Several weeks ago, I happened to be visiting Boyfriend in Boston during the city’s Winter Restaurant Week.  And what a week it was – our dinner at Brookline’s La Morra was quite possibly the best meal I’ve eaten in my life.  Four delicious courses and a wine flight later, Boyfriend and I found ourselves in a food-induced haze of happiness.  Now, you’ll have to forgive the lack of photos and/or posting about that meal, as I was far too caught up in our beautiful little date to consider snapping a photo of my steak, which was, by the way, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly cooked, utter bliss swimming in a sea of chianti-laced sauce.  Swoon.

In an attempt to replicate the experience, we met in New York on Thursday for dinner at Perbacco, before a night of exploring the bar scene in and around the East Village.  We I chose the restaurant’s specifically because of its mention in this New York Times article.  Perbacco was, and I mean this in the best way, not what I had expected.  First, the restaurant is not nestled on a quiet side street and staffed by white-aproned waiters.  Rather, it’s planted right in the midst of the hustle and bustle, and its waiters hover outside, enthusiastically greeting passers-by.  Its menu is structured as most Italian restaurants’ are – extensive wine list, antipastas, soups and salads, primi and secondi, and, finally, dolce.  Boyfriend and I opted to split Sicilian rice balls, which were fried crisp on the outside, and filled with a warm mix of melting mozzarella and white rice.  Along side a smooth tomato sauce, they were a delicious start to the meal (though I did wish for a bit of a kick with the tomato sauce).  For the main dish, Boyfriend opted for salmon and I chose the beef tenderloin.  Both were fantastic – the pine nut sauce, accompanied by shallots, mushrooms, and chestnuts, that lay under my steak was creamy, rich, and perfectly seasoned; Boyfriend and I sopped every last bit of it up with soft, Italian bread.

Full and satisfied, we opted out of dessert and strolled through the East Village enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.  Amongst the bustling excitement of the city, on our way to one of our favorite bars, we happily declared our date a success.  And thanked Frank Bruni for his wonderful recommendation.

A New York Kind of Christmas Sunday, Dec 27 2009 

Posts with words will return before I leave for London on Tuesday — promise.

Dim Sum Saturday, Nov 28 2009 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to partake in dim sum yet, stop what you’re doing.  I mean it – stop surfing the internet, stop reading this post, just get up and go now.

I’ve wanted to try dim sum for quite some time – I had ample opportunity in London when I was studying abroad, and I simply never had time to go when my flatmates were heading to their favorite dim sum restaurant.  Then Boyfriend’s roommates ordered it during my accidentally-extended stay in Boston during a snowstorm, and it’s been haunting my thoughts ever since.  Since I’ve also been pining away for a trip to NYC for the day, I decided that while Boyfriend was home for the week, I’d better take advantage and drag his butt to Chinatown.

Did I mention he’s never been to Canal Street?  You can imagine the hilarity when I neglected to warn him about what he was walking into until moments before we stepped off the subway.  He was, to put it mildly, overwhelmed.  And also, entertained – especially when the police sirens started and the, um, vendors frantically tucked their wares into suitcases and shuffled quickly down the street.

But anyway – back to the dim sum.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, dim sum is like Chinese tapas, except that it generally happens in the morning.  The idea is that rather than ordering off of a menu, the dishes are circulated around the restaurant on carts pushed by waitresses who stamp your “check” to indicate what you’ve eaten.  The dishes are all small plates – generally 3-4 of each offering, depending upon what the dish is.

We opted for the enormous Jing Fong dim sum hall in Chinatown for our first experience, mostly because it got the best recommendations on the websites I read.  Also, it’s huge, elaborate, and reportedly delicious.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for its size.  The line outside was daunting, and while it encouraged us that so many people were willing to wait, I was hungry and I wasn’t about to wait an hour to eat my vegetable dumplings.  I was skeptical when the hostess told me it would be only 15 minutes, but I took our scrap of paper with the number 72 (as she called number 40 to be seated) and stood quietly in the corner.  And honestly?  If we waited 10 minutes, I’d be surprised.  They whipped right through the 32 groups in front of us, and before we knew it, we were premitted to go up the escalator with the other lucky diners.  That’s right.  I said escalator.  It’s that enormous.  We were seated with a group of 5 charming Long Islanders, whose 10 years of dim sum experience were greatly appreciated by both myself and Boyfriend.

As for the food – well, let’s just say, I’ll be going back soon.  Not only was everything delicious, unique, and so cheap, but the experience itself was invaluable.  So festive, so original – by far one of the coolest restaurants I’ve ever been to.  I may not have tried the tripe or chicken feet this trip, but hey – baby steps.  It’s not like it’s the last time I’ll be enjoying dim sum.

WE ARE…PENN STATE Wednesday, Nov 18 2009 

I’m not sure what kind of college experience you people had, but I went to a Southern school with a mediocre football team.  No one goes to the University of Richmond to play football:

1 – It is a school of 3,000 students.  3,000.  That’s the kind of school where the bad life decisions you made on Friday night follow you to class on Monday morning every. single. time.

2 – The football stadium isn’t on campus.  It requires a carride through a very residential neighborhood and a very narrow, crowded street full of shops.  It requires sobriety from at least one member of your party.  And all of that means that it’s a lot of extra work to ask of college students on a Saturday morning.

3 – We’re a D-1 school.  D-1….A.  Which means that yes, we can give scholarships, but no, we decidedly cannot compete with any of the teams in the Big Ten (well, maybe Indiana).


Of course, the year after I graduated, against all odds, they won the national championship and decided to build a brand spanking new football stadium right on campus.  Oh, and one of our alums made quite a name for himself playing for a little organization called the NFL.

 

But prior to all of those changes and improvements, my fellow Spiders and I went to football games primarily to tailgate.  And also, we wore sundresses, heels and pearls.  And there was no beer – it was all varieties of fraternity-made jungle juice.  So really, we had little to no interest in the game, and many of us only made it into the stadium around 45% of the time.  It’s pathetic, I know.

 

 

 

So I had my heart set on going to see a big college football game.  I wanted thousands of people roaring in support of their team.  I wanted a sea of monochromatic sweatshirts.  I wanted cheap beer, campers that had traveled across the country full of devout fans, and I wanted some great football.  And after a year of trying, Boyfriend and I finally got there.  “There” being, of course, Beaver Stadium: Home of the Nittany Lions. The Lions are a Big Ten dynasty to be reckoned with.  They routinely make an appearance in the BCS standings, and their following is such that fans travel to Michigan, ‘Bama, and beyond to watch their team compete for a bowl invite.

 

The couple seated behind us, for example, (in the impossibly cramped bleacher seats designed to house the 107,00+ fans that trek to State College every Saturday) were Penn State alums.  They’d been at every home game for 40 years, and they knew the first and last name of every student on that field.  They chanted with gusto, and their hearts broke in unison with the rest of the stadium when their team fumbled not one, but two kickoff returns.  And when the game turned around, and the defense returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter, the husband high-fived Boyfriend, kissed his wife, and chanted right along with the students.  This is a couple who has followed their aluma mater through wins, losses, and championships for forty years.  I can’t even tell you who Richmond played last weekend.

I don’t think you can compete with that.  The love I have for my school is a strong one, and Richmond has a wonderful almuni base, but this love, this devotion, to what happens on the field every weekend is what unites the enormous community of Penn State alums.  This is not a school where you took a class with every person you graduated with, nor is it the kind of college where you see the same faces day in and day out.  Rather, this is the kind of college where, when you look around the stadium on gameday, you see the people who shared the shame rituals as you did: the chants, the Blue Band, even the Lion, haven’t changed in decades.  There might be new faces in the senior section every year, and the starting quarterback might be different, but the tradition is the same.  And the tradition (as well as a winning record) is what makes this team, this place, and these people so special.

 

So I guess in the end, I have to thank Boyfriend.  He not only facilitated this whole event, my desire to attend this specific event in the first place was thanks largely in part to the fervor he feels for this team.  And now, having been there to see it for myself, I can clearly understand why.

Philly to the Face Friday, Aug 14 2009 

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As much as I yammer on and on about my love of red wine, I’m really a beer girl.  Beer snob, I guess, would be the more precise way of putting it, because I have very strong beliefs about not drinking beer that tastes like water.  You should see Boyfriend and I picking out a 6-pack at a liquor store.  It takes us no less than 30 minutes every time, and this is after we’ve already hashed out what kind of beer we’re in the mood for during the car ride. Sure, I’ll drink the low-calorie, ten-bucks-for-a-whole-case junk if we’re, say, playing pong.  I’m not gonna ruin good beer by throwing a ping pong ball into it, let’s be honest.  But in general, if I’m drinking a beer, I want to enjoy it, and I don’t enjoy crappy beer.  Plain and simple.

P1030668Now, this kind of behavior annoys some people, but fortunately I don’t know any of them.  Or perhaps I’ve met them and they stopped going out with me because they know my disdain for bars with only crap beer on tap.  Either way, along with Boyfriend, I have several close friends who love to try new kinds of beer – which is how we wound up at the Philadelphia bar Eulogy last night.

If you’ve read any of my snide comments about the great state of New Jersey, you know I don’t live in Philly.  I’m actually about an hour-ish outside of Philly, and to be honest, I’m not a big fan of the city.  I have a strong bias towards The Only City That Really Matters, which you can blame entirely on my football and hockey preferences if you so choose, but is really more of a function of the fact that I do not like Pennsylvania drivers or their stupid always-delayed airport, and I hold grudges.  The point of all this being that it is an effort to get to Philly, especially on a weeknight, especially when I have to work the next morning, and especially when I do not want to drive because I’ll be drinking.  But off to Philly we went.  This bar was that big of a deal.  I mean, it has over 300 different kinds of beer.  Three hundred.

Talk about overwhelming.  I’ve been lucky enough to go to enough beer-tasting festivals (One at a zoo, even.  How random is that?) to know exactly what types of beer I do (stout, porter) and do not (emphatically not IPA’s or anything sour or bitter – why would I drink something that causes me pain like that!?) enjoy, but I don’t even know how you’d go about choosing a beverage at this place if you didn’t really know what different styles of beer taste like.  It’s even a challenge when you know exactly what you like.  And you don’t always pick winners.  I had one beer (a coffee-stout) that was unanimously voted by the table to be the equivalent of attempting to drink very strong coffee grinds (bet that sounds delicious, huh?), but mostly, I loved everything I ordered.  And we ordered a lot.  Including food, actually, because when you’re drinking beer with 10.5% ABV, you have to have something to soak up some of the booze.

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Eulogy calls itself a Belgian bar, which means they serve some kickass frites (although, to be fair, they reminded me very little of the actual frites I had in Brussels) and delicious dijon-y and spicy dipping sauces.  We (read: I) polished off quite a few of those throughout the evening.  Boyfriend and I also went halfsies on the Brugge chicken sandwich and the Three-Cheese Grilled Cheese.  Effing great, both of them.  The chicken was sooo juicy (dry chicken = pet peeve), and really, how can you go wrong with three different kinds of melty cheese on thick, golden, toasted slices of sourdough (The answer is that you cannot go wrong. Ever.).  UGH. I’m salivating at my desk.  Bring me more frites.  And beer.  Definitely bring me some more of that.

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