Five Things About Me: 61 62 63 64 65.

61. This is my dearest fantasy.

62. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot imagine a day without cheese.  Last week I thought I had skipped a day, and I practically had a heart attack.  I went straight home and ate most of a fat wedge of Comté.  I immediately felt better.

63. There’s something I find extremely soothing about getting an eyebrow wax.  I’m not a masochist or anything.  I just like a nice arch.

64. I love how seagulls have to find the highest point possible upon which to perch and survey the ground below.  I love how much of the time, the points they choose are the tops of highway street lights.

65.  Holiday mania — particularly Christmas mania — really freaks me out and totally turns me off on celebrating altogether.  That said, I really like this.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Five.

11.45 am – 12.21 pm: Milk with Spanish honey — my dad is determined to find The Perfect Honey, so he has several kinds in the pantry.  Also, pieces of baguette with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Tomme Crayeuse and Brebis Ossau.

2.35 pm: Coke Zero (!) and quarter of an orange pepper that I’m supposed to be dicing for tabbouleh.  The dog begs for a piece of the pepper’s spongy innards; it’s a favorite snack, along with cucumber peels.

3.18 – 4.14 pm: Light lunch of tabbouleh and oven-roasted Brussels sprouts.

9.45 pm: La Chouffe at Vol de Nuit.

10.15 pm – 1.03 am: Dinner at Babbo with Joann and Keith.  We debate over whether we want the traditional or pasta tasting menus before deciding on pasta.  Our meal consists of the following: black tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta; “casunzei” with poppy seeds; garganelli with “funghi trifolati;” pyramid-shaped ravioli with pomodoro; papperdelle bolognese; cacciotta fritters with honey and thyme; and chocolate with shaved dried chilis.  I swap my full plate for Keith’s empty one, much to Joann’s dismay.  I can’t eat spicy food, even if it’s chocolate.  For our last course, we each get a different dessert — Joann a pistachio and chocolate semifreddo, Keith a lavender honey spice cake with sweet potato gelato and me a Tyrolean carrot and poppyseed cake with an olive oil drizzle and orange gelato.  I may be a little biased, I think mine is the best.

Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar, Pine Nuts + Parmesan
Makes three portions

2 ½ cups Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.  Toss the sprouts in a bowl with the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper until well coated.  Line a roasting pan with tin foil, then arrange the sprouts in a single layer across the bottom of the pan.  Roast for twenty to thirty minutes, or until the sprouts brown.
  2. While the sprouts are in the oven, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, three to five minutes, stirring often.
  3. Remove from the sprouts from the oven and transfer to a serving dish.  Mix with pine nuts and Parmesan, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Five Things About Me: 46 47 48 49 50.

46. I couldn’t tell you precisely why, but I find World War II utterly fascinating.  When I was in Amsterdam not too long ago, Keith pretty much had to drag me out of the Dutch Resistance Museum.  And this was after we had been there for more than three hours.

47. I don’t think, in the past five years, that a day has passed in my life where I haven’t eaten some cheese.

48. Much to Keith’s and my parents’ combined chagrin, I have no interest in money — by this I mean investing, CDs, IRAs, bonds, stocks, whatever.   I can’t help it; it all makes little sense to me, and if I have someone taking care of it for me, what’s the big deal?

49. I had a very scientific method for selecting the paint colors in my apartment.  I didn’t just choose colors I liked or thought went well together, I chose ones that both Keith and I look good in.  I figured that we’re going to be “in” the shades the most, so we may as well look our best.  My favorites are the blues in the living room (“December Eve”) and bedroom (“Bayside”), both by Behr.

50. This isn’t very “cool” to admit but here goes: I’m not really into Thanksgiving, mostly because I don’t really like turkey.  What I do like are the sides, though the kind of sides my family has aren’t even remotely traditional.  I’ll tell you more about that in a few days, I promise.

On Tomme Crayeuse.

There are times where I think I’m more of an old man than a young woman.  I can be very set in my ways and often display a ridiculous level of brand loyalty.  For example, I’ve been using Johnson’s Baby Shampoo since my mother first washed my hair (though, as an adult, I’ve upgraded to the lavender), and I want all pickles in the world to taste like Ba-Tampte Half-Sours.

Sometimes though, and I hate to break it to you, old set-in-their-ways men like the kind I often think I am — sometimes we stray.  The flip of a skirt or the curl of a ponytail catches our eyes, and before we know it we’re goners.

Tomme CrayeuseSuch was the case with me and a wedge of cheese called Tomme Crayeuse.

I’m normally a hard-cheese kinda gal (or old man, I suppose) so when a cheesemonger at Formaggio passed me a small plastic tasting spoon of this soft cow’s milk tomme, I wasn’t prepared for my body’s reaction.  My eyes popped open, then slit shut in sheer pleasure.  I think I even moaned.

This was all highly unusual behavior, and I knew right then and there, in front of the charcuterie case, that this cheese was coming home with me.

Don’t be fooled by Tomme Crayeuse’s vaguely masculine-sounding name; this cheese is, as they say, all woman.  And she’s not messing around with flirting or any sort of coquettish behavior.  She’s the type that — in the movies, anyway — takes hold of men by their neckties and leads them out of a crowded room to one that is far more intimate.

Texturally, Tomme Crayeuse is soft and creamy; if left at room temperature, it will eventually spill out of itself, exactly like a woman’s breasts will swell up over a corset.  I’m telling you, this is a sexy cheese, and one that tastes bold and rich and creamy, with a teasingly brief hint of citrus.  It’s absolutely amazing smeared liberally across a crusty baguette, and eaten on the sofa with your bare feet in the lap of a person you love.  In an ideal situation, you’d also have a bottle of wine nearby too, but it’s surprisingly not necessary.  All you really need is cheese.

Snacks at Kingsdown Vaults.

I adore cheese and Keith loves wine, so when Judy suggested dropping by her favorite wine and cheese pub before we all sneaked into a private party to see Dorian’s band, we pretty much all simultaneously started looking around for a taxi to take us to Kingsdown Vaults.

While I might not be much of a drinker, it’s neighborhood pubs like this that I wish we had more of here in Massachusetts.  The closest that I can think of that captures the same sort of laid-back mellowness is the bar at Union Square’s Independent, but even that’s a bit of a stretch.  After all, even the Independent has a TV, something the Kingsdown Vaults does not.  Instead of television, the Vaults’s got battered tables, a wicked assortment of mismatched chairs and the requisite fire roaring in the fireplace.  The Vaults also has board games and books stacked on its slightly saggy shelves and arbitrary guns hanging on the walls which may or may not be real.  Add groupings of tall, fat and drippy candles trailing tails of wax down their sides and you’ve got an altogether cozy atmosphere that can’t be replicated.

wine-cheeseFoodwise, the Vaults offers small bites like smalec (a Polish spread made of pork fat, bacon and bits of onion) and miscellaneous cheeses.  The three of us shared a fondue (£4.50) and feta-stuffed peppers (£2.90) which were described on the menu as bell but were in fact way too hot and too small to be bells.  I’ve got the feeling that they were Fresnos, simply from their size and heat.  The thing is, it doesn’t matter — Kingsdown Vaults is a place to go for a drink (or series of), a long chat and maybe a board game or two.  It’s not necessarily the best spot, culinarily-speaking, but does that even matter when there’s wine and bites of cheese to be had?  Sometimes, that’s all a girl like me needs.

Kingsdown Vaults
29-31 Kingsdown Parade
Bristol BS6
England
+44 117 924 9134
kingsdownvaults.com

Dinner at T.W. Food.

http://twfoodrestaurant.com/

For the second year in a row, Keith and I ended up at Cambridge’s T.W. Food for my birthday dinner.  When the restaurant opened in 2007, it seemed to be on all of the local — and some national — “Don’t Miss” lists, making it something of a culinary darling.  It was the descriptions of Chef Tim Wiechmann’s menu that compelled me to make it my birthday stop last year, and it was the memory of that meal that made me want to repeat the experience.

tw-food-11Like last year, Keith and I opted to do the seven course grand tasting ($69.00) — which in a sense is misleading, as the meal is bookended with extra desserts on one side and an amuse bouche on the other.  (For the record, the tasting is also offered with a wine pairing; that meal is an additional $39.00.)

We received two different amuses: the first was a light egg salad on a circle of toasted brioche, the second was a turnip-ginger mousse on another circle; this one was of puff pastry.  Normally, I favor anything involving a puff pastry; while I will say the mousse was silky in texture and subtle in flavor, the egg salad was so awesomely light that I actually found myself preferring it.

tw-food-21Before our tasting began, we were presented with the one other item that we had ordered: T.W. Food’s oyster shooter ($3.00 each).  Last year, the shooter was a part of the tasting, and Keith can tell you how many often I’ve spoken of its cool brininess.

“Is oceany a word?” I would ask.

And later:  “What about sea-licious?”

This time around, the shooters came in flavored essences — beet, fennel or cucumber.  Keith choose the fennel while I opted for the beet, which was not only intensely flavored of beet but also — well, is oceany a word?

tw-food-31We were never able to resolve the issue, since our tasting then officially began with a smoked foie gras crème brûlée.  It was served alongside a cross-hatch of apples and a round of toast, and while it was incredibly creamy, I’ve never liked crème brûlée; even the foie’s richness couldn’t compete with the caramelized top.  I will say that the sugary top was perfectly crisp and had a pleasant snap to it, and that the foie’s texture was remarkably airy and almost like a custard but that is all.  My bias against crème brûlée prevents me from saying that I truly liked this demitasse of a starter, no matter how pretty it was or how well the crisply sweet apples complemented the foie.

tw-food-41The second course of the tasting was another story altogether.  I loved every aspect of this frothy cauliflower
soup.  Spiced with vanilla, curried gnocchi hid at the bottom of the mug, sidling onto my spoon at the very last minute to surprise me with their wholly unexpected zest.  The broth was at once creamy and light, and tasted almost intoxicatingly of cauliflower — rich, milky and utterly delicious.  What was interesting was the mixture of textures here: breezy cauliflower foam, atop lush cauliflower-vanilla soup, in which pillowy gnocchi swam.  It was absolutely lovely, and I had to hide my spoon from myself when I was done, since I was tempted to dip it into Keith’s mug.

tw-food-51The third course was one I was looking forward to very much, from the moment I read its description on the menu: “German spätzle, a special ‘Schwabish’ recipe: bacon, onion, parsley and Emmenthaler cheese.”  I love spätzle — well, I love noodles and those made with egg have a very warm place reserved in my heart — and I am one of those people who think that the addition of bacon to any recipe is a smart move, so I attacked this plate knowing that it was almost impossible for me to be disappointed.  That said, I think even if I hadn’t been already leaning towards affection, there would have been no chance of me not adoring this dish.  After all, what’s not love about crunchy, salty bacon paired with soft, chewy noodles and the tang of melty cheese?

tw-food-6I was a bit anxious about this next dish of Scottish salmon, but not because I get squeamish around fish.  In fact, I love most seafood, and a pan-seared fillet with wild mushrooms sounded particularly appetizing.  What was  getting me nervous, however, was our server described as “eggplant caviar.”  Here’s the thing:  I hate eggplant.  (I know it’s not cool to hate it, but the truth’s the truth.)  At first I took the childish route, performing surgery on my plate in order to transport as much salmon and mushroom to my mouth as little contact with the eggplant as possible.  Don’t worry, I quickly realized that this was utterly silly and that a little but of aubergine wasn’t going to kill me.  In fact, it was quite good…  for eggplant.

tw-food-7Our last of the main courses was game-centric: venison two ways.  The first was the cured and roasted leg meat, and the second was with braised and packaged in pasta.  While it should be noted that everything on the plate was  delicious (especially the smeared dollop of turnip purée and the tender wedges of pear), I found this dish to be exceedingly heavy.  Had the grand tasting been six courses, with the venison as the final savory plate, that would have been one thing, but to face it after the not-so-light salmon and the filling spätzle…  I thought it was a bit of a misstep on the planning stage of things.

tw-food-81Stage one of our dessert was a small cheese plate featuring Noble Cheddar from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and my beloved Comté from Jura, France.  As with the salmon earlier in the evening, I had some hesitation when approaching this dish.  This time, however, it was because of the cheddar.  I am a great aficionado of cheese, but I am most certainly on the fence when it comes to cheddars.  In fact, of all the different varieties that I’ve had, I can only think of three that I’ve liked:  Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Montgomery’s and Keen’s.  I’m sad to say that the Noble didn’t make my list, though my wedge did find itself on Keith’s plate.

tw-food-91The final course of the grand tasting was one that I was quite curious about: pears suspended in a chamomile tea gelée with a sweet cream panna cotta and a pumpkin coulis.  I don’t know if it’s trendy to confess this, but here I go regardless — I really enjoy a nice gelée.  I like its slippery texture on the tongue, and I like its concentration of flavor.  This gelée satisfied me immensely, as did the panna cotta, which was perfectly balanced between firm and satiny.  The one aspect that I found myself spooning away from, however, was the pumpkin coulis.  Flavored with cinnamon, it was so overwhelming that a few smears on my spoon were more than enough for me to get a taste; after he had finished his, I swapped my goblet with Keith, a fan of cinnamon.

tw-food-101Immediately before we were presented with the bill, we were given some extra desserts to speed us home.  My absolute favorite was a sweet that tap-danced the line dividing cookie from cake; made of almond flour, it was so delicate and so subtle that I found myself chewing more and more slowly so that I could enjoy it even more.  The second-place finish goes to the golden brown tuille, whose sticky crunch was impossibly fun.  In the absolute dead last position were the sugar-dusted Concord grape jellies; after one bit I forfeited my candy to Keith.  I don’t know what it is about grape (and cherry, and raspberry) but I infinitely prefer the authentic fruit to a reproduction, or even a boiled down version of its essence.  I don’t know why this is, especially as I’ve no problems with candified versions of apple, peach and watermelon; grape, for whatever reason, is at the top of my can’t-stand-it list.

Now, first things first:  I love T.W. Food.  I love the casual-yet-refined ambiance, I love the eclectic mix of furnishings, I love the fact that our server remembered us from last year, and I of course love the practically worshipful attention-to-detail Chef Wiechmann and his team possess.  What I don’t love is that I’ve come to realize that there are so many foods and flavors that I dislike: crème brûlée, eggplant, most Cheddars, cinammon and concentrated grape.  Did my food preferences cause me to enjoy my meal any less?  Of course not; I just find myself wondering what else there is out there that I find unpalatable, and hoping they’re not on the menu next year.

T.W. Food
377 Walden Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.864.4745
twfoodrestaurant.com

T.W. Food on Urbanspoon

On Greven Broecker.

Isn’t this an absolutely lovely hunk of cheese?  It’s a Belgian blue cow’s milk called Greven Broecker; I overheard one of the cheesemongers at Formaggio Kitchen admiring the wheel as he pulled it out of the case.

“Man,” he said to a fellow employee, “check out how pretty this is.”

I wish I had a photo of the store’s larger wedge; the creamy surface of the interior was shot through with gorgeous veins of blue and gray, giving it a scalloped lace effect.  Truly, it made me think of blonde lace, or the lace in a mantilla — it was just as delicate-looking, and soft.  The flavor, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of its appearance: incredibly bold and tangy, with a sharp spicy bite underneath.  Isn’t it so surprising, that something so small and innocent-appearing as this could taste so aggressive and almost brazen?  If you like blues, you absolutely must get your hands on some of this.