Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The chevre sauce congealed overnight in the fridge, so the next day I was able to delicately scoop it onto a breakfast burrito with orange peppers, garlic and basil, where it slowly melted over the eggs. Mmmm.
Kristi had a different strategy, blending some of the chevre sauce with garden peas to have over fish. So now we had leftover chevre sauce, leftover orange peppers, and leftover pea sauce. Thankfully, this morning Kristi was able combine all three with eggs and some sourdough toast, sauteing the peppers in balsamic.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
A: In the south of Chile there was a thing called roscas, which are kind of like somebody rolled out a tube of dough, and folded it around so it was a circle, and then fried it.
V: Do they puff up?
A: A little bit. They maybe have a little bit bigger hole than a normal donut. Yeah – our favorite place we found them was at a supermarket. But the were also sold outside of bus stations -- people would be selling them out of a big cooler, there would have some hot towels in there.
V: You mean to keep them warm?
A: Yeah. They’d have a cooler that covered the towels. The roscas were dusted with powdered sugar. And they could be good. Sometimes they weren’t that good. But you never know until you try it, so we just tried it anyway.
V: You’ve talked a lot about fried donut-like things. Are there other fried doughy things around that aren’t toroidal?
A: Well, there’s a lot of empanadas. They’re stuffed. Some of them are fried and some of them are baked. I have to say, the baked ones are better, because there’s so much fried food that whenever you can get something that’s not fried you’re happy.
A: ummm …. We made pancakes a lot.
V: Pancakes?! That’s a whole other story!
A: Yeah – it’s a whole other thing. It’s a whole other adventure! Plus it was kind of a missionary trip.
V: Wait, so were you able to find pancakes too?
A: They called them ‘pan-ke-kes’ [Vince laughs]. In Ecuador, I’d would say they’re fairly American-style, when you can find them. They’re pretty much like you’d find here. In Peru, they would calla buñelo a pankeke. Pretty much. It was almost exactly the same thing. In both places, a lot of times they would be offered without any sweet thing to put on them, which never seemed quite complete.
I guess Ecuador is where you’d find pancakes, and they’d be fairly like what you’d expect. They’d put some tropical fruit on them maybe.
V: Was Ecuador more “western-friendly” [tourist-wise]?
A: Well, I don’t know…. I think they were a little more friendly. I think the tourist industry is prevalent there, but it’s not quite as aggressive as it is in Peru. And Peru is just crazy – oddly not so much in the north, but in the south….
Anyway. As far as pancakes go, if you go down to Peru, they’re kind of like the buñelos in Bolivia, but not as good. In Bolilvia there wasn’t anything really like a pancake. Although actually, once in Peru I ordered a platano, like a banana tortilla. It turns out that “tortilla” down there is much more loosely translated, so it was like a banana pancake. It was served for dinner, with rice, and some little savory dish on the side. So that was surprising. That was at one of the “vegetarian” restaurants that had a lot of chicken on the menu! In Chile sometimes you’d see pankeke, but it was more like a crepe. There were all like crepes. They’d put some dulce de leche in there, and some coconut in there or something.
V: So who did you make pancakes for, then?
A: I made them a lot in Argentina, when we worked on the farm.
V: And what did people think of them?
A: Well everyone was like, “Wow, they’re so thick!” Because they were just like used to crepes. Because there were all these ridiculous French people that had been to the farm before, and I don’t know, they kind of talk about pancakes like they know what they are, and they really don’t.
V: Wow, it seems you were really offended by their pancake sensibilities.
A: Also, people from New Zealand had that interpretation too, like, “Wow, these are so thick!” They had a different word for them, too, they said “These are more like .. blah-blah-blah”, I can’t remember the word they used. It was something really hard to remember.
V: Like “johnnycakes” or something? “Flapjacks”?
A: Nothing like that. Probably their own version.
V: It was probably something like “williwongamuttys”.
A: Yeah, or “bulamagons”
V: Or “kikahumahungas”. You know those New Zealanders. They have a weird word for everything.
A: I know, they do. Anyway, I made pancakes at the farm a couple time, on Sundays, that was our day off. And after a while, it kind of became a tradition. One time we substituted making empanadas, which was a very fun experience and came off well. It was just fun. I always made a lot of coffee…
V: Wait, the family that ran the farm weren’t big coffee drinkers?
A: Because of the liquid thing. [They didn’t believe in liquids. They were on a no-liquid diet, for health reasons, and got all of their water through fruits and vegetables.] A lot of volunteers like coffee, but just didn’t have the determination to make a filtration device, and go to the store and buy coffee. Beucase when we were on the farm, we had to walk to the town, which was maybe 20-25 minutes away, to get stuff. But it was always – the only time you could go was during the siesta, and everybody was usually tired, and you wouldn’t want to walk in the hot sun, you know, a mile and a half each way, just to buy a bag of coffee.
V: But you did.
A: I did. YEAH. And sometime you could take turns. One person would go and buy stuff for a bunch of people. And then the next time, you would go, and the next time someone else would go. And if you went a little bit father, there was this woman who maybe lived 40 minutes away, by foot, who sold fresh milk. I paid her several visits while we were down at the farm. It was pretty fun to experiment with fresh milk. But you know, once it starts to turn, it’s really good in pancakes.
V: I think it’s funny that there were certain things you couldn’t live without, and they’re all breakfast-related: donuts, pancakes, milk and coffee. Why do you think that is?
A: I did really tone it down a lot on the trip – I had to. But it was nice to have them every once in a while. Plus, on the farm, it was interesting to see what things people just had to have, and talk about it. It was a really fun cultural exchange.
V: Like did the French people just need to start miming?
A: Yeah – and all the Aussies had to carry around their didgeridoos.
V: I'll bet they just had to have their Fosters and Vegemite.
A: Their parties were a lot less popular.
V: I’ll bet tea was a big thing. Was anybody jonesing for tea?
A: Some of them drank tea. A lot of them drank matte, actually. We got into matte too. In fact, we can have some today.
A: At my house. I have a gourd, and a le bombilla, the little straw thing…
V: Will it screw me up though? Can I drive?
A: Uh.. yeah.
V: What is it?
A: It’s got a stimulant in it, sort of. It’s like a caffeine relative. It’s like the cousin to caffeine. It’s kind of like if you drank tea. It’s not quite like coffee. People drink it all the time down there.
V: Well, they even have matte at Starbucks and stuff, right?
A: Yeah, but that’s really not the same. Starbucks probably makes a matte chai or something.
V; Whereas this is just pure, unadulterated matte?
A: It’s the dried yerba, and you fill it up in the gourd, and then keep on adding hot water, and passing the gourd around.
V: Is it “Yerba Buena”?
A: No, that’s mint.
V: What about “Yerba Mala”?
A: Those are weeds. ....So anyway, people have matte for breakfast.
V: I remember [our friend] Stefan coming back from South America, and he had matte all the time.
A: Actually Rachel was really into making it.
V: Did it do things for her?
A: She just liked it. Part of it is just the ritual thing, you know. It’s like this -- you’re in a room with a bunch of people. You have a thermos, or something like that, and somebody just keeps filling it. Put a little bit of hot water in it, pass it to one person, and they just kind of suck it down. Because it doesn’t actually hold that much. It’s enough for one person, and they drink, and then they give it back to the person with the thermos, and they put a little more water in it. And then the next person gets it, and it keeps going around the room.
V: Did she just like the communal aspect of it?
A: I don’t know – she just liked it, a new experience with a caffeinated beverage. It was an entirely new procedure – different neighborhood.
V: I’ll have to try it. I never really did when I lived with Stefan. I think he showed me it one time, and I was doing something, and said, “ Oh, I’ll try some later,” but never did.
A: I think I even have some stuff that he gave me. But it's matte with some other stuff in it, and it’s very strange-tasting. It’s not just the matte. It’s got some weird stuff in it.
So, on the farm we made pancakes, on Sundays, and even after we left, they still made pancakes.
V: You had a cultural transmission.
A: Yeah that was pretty fun.
V: Did you lay on some of your trademark ingredients, like Guiness? Quinoa?
A: I think maybe I made some of them with beer. The grains we had available – it usually didn’t get too crazy, but we had polenta and whole wheat flour, a lot of flax seed, maybe some flax flour actually. We used stuff that they had on the farm. … I put corn in some I think. I think I even put onion in some – like caramelized onions, which I have a hankering to try again. Apples… I tried to use a lot of just what they had, I was at this farm with all this stuff. Plus, you couldn’t really use the ingredients you wanted -- a lot of ingredients they didn’t really have. You’d have to go to a town that was on hour and a half away, and we just couldn’t go there.
V: Were other people as gung ho as you about food?
A: Not so much. Although when we were going to make empanadas, we had a couple other guys who -- well it was Rachel, myself, and this other guy Carlos, who was a native Argentinian, who was a really cool guy, although he talked our ear off sometimes. He was another volunteer. At the farm, they had had bad experiences from other Argentines that wanted to work there. They said generally the people who come from overseas know that we’re going to work hard and want to learn stuff, whereas a lot of the people from Argentina think it’s like Spring Break: “Oh, I’ll stay here because I wont have to spend any money.” But anyway, it was really nice, because there were two really good exceptions to that rule when we were there. One was this young kid who was like 21. We actually got along with him really well, and when he went back to school in Buenos Aires, we went there and he let us stay there. We hung out with him and his mom a lot, it was really fun. And this other guy, Carlos. He as at the farm maybe 5 of 6 six weeks that we were. A lot of nights at the fire with some wine, just kind of hanging around. It was good times. We’d always make fires with toilet paper -- this was because you’d have to put your toilet paper in the trash … I don’t think they had any kind of septic system. So the toilet paper would always go in a big wooden trash can. So whenever we would have a fire, that would be the first layer. And then, we’d put sticks on top of that. It burned really well. It was nice to cook the pancakes outside.
V: On the shit fire?
A: Well, actually, to cook the pancakes a lot of the time , the best way to do it was this: They had a couple crappy frying pans, that really didn’t cut it [in the kitchen] so well. But they had this thing, that I think the dad in the family actually made, that was made of metal and somewhat portable. You make a fire in it – it’s on legs, and it’s got this surface where you put whatever it is that you’re cooking, like a big pot, for instance. He must have found some parts and put them all together -- it had some spots for air holes in the sides, and this little door to stick the wood in. It was pretty cool. So we used that, and one of the big metal trays from the outside brick oven they had. We put that on top, and just cooked on the grill part. And that was good. But it was an added complexity, keeping it stoked with wood. I wan’t used to concentrating on so many things.
V: You’d look up [from pouring pancakes], and realize: “Oh no! I’ve been making rectangles!”
A: Fortunately, that didn’t end up happening.
V: After the farm, where did you go?
A: After that, we ended up going to Colombia. That have a good version of a donut in Colombia, actually, called roscone, very similar to the roscas. It’s kind of the same style as the ones in Chile, except that it’s filled with dulce de leche. There they called it arequite (sp?), but it was the same thing. Visiting little bakeries in Colombia was a pretty good way to do some tasting of donut-like items.
V: But other countries didn’t have little pastry places like that?
A: Well, they didn’t have anything that anything that was like donuts. There was some other good specialties though for sweet stuff. But in general I would say there were so many of them that were based more on appearance than on taste -- pretty much across the board, if you went into a pasteria, and you saw a lot of simple looking things, they are probably really good. And if you saw something that was all crazy, and different colors, and like 5, 6 layers, it usually tasted like a bunch a sugary gook.
V: You want to go have some Yerba Matte?
A: Yeah, let’s do it.
Mary Butcher brought out the blue glass limoncello bottle, glistening with condensation, and sporting a masking tape label saying "2005". She explained that it contained no lemon juice, or even lemon rind, but lemon skins only. This is infused with 100 proof vodka, and simple syrup. It's important that the vodka be 100 proof, or else it will slush in the freezer, where it should stored.
Graciously, as we left, Mary handed me a spare copy of her recipe, and ever since I've been excited to try making my own. We eventually scored some organic lemons at a grocery store (I couldn't find these at the Farmers Market, surprisingly), and after about a hour with a couple of dull vegetable peelers, Kristi and I had a jug full of lemon skins soaking in 750 mL of vodka.
We were very careful not to kind any of the white pulp rind in the mix, which would introduce bitterness. If we did get some rind with the skin, we flensed this off with a sharp knife. The jug is supposed to sit for forty days, in the dark, at which point we add another 750 mL of vodka and simple syrup. I'll give an update in a few months!
Every few weeks we try to get out to the Saturday morning Farmers Market for breakfast. Our go-to meal is always the chilaquiles (with soft-scrambled eggs and black beans) at the Primavera stand, but there's always something new to be found.
Our friend Karen found something called a bombolino. "It's like a jelly donut, but thicker", she said.
As I was buying some coffee from the Frog Hollow folks, I caught a whiff of a peach/proscuitto/ricotta/sage "pizza" fresh out of the oven, and was able to pick one up before it even hit the display case. The "crust" was a flat-but-yeasty bread, and the baked peaches fumed with complex aromatics. Mmmm.
One heirloom tomato, some gorgonzola+walnut ravioli, six figs, and four morel mushrooms from British Columbia later, we stumbled away of the Ferry building, delirious. It wasn't until later that we shook out our wallets, wondering where all our cash had gone.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Last summer (was it that long ago?) I interviewed my good friend and breakfast accomplice Anton Ptak about traveling in South America. If anybody has the breakfast bug, it's Anton.
V: Like, “pastry”-eria?
A: Yeah– that’s a good translation. But it was more typical to eat them in the afternoon, so if you wanted a donut, you’d have to wait until the afternoon.
V: That’s harsh dude.
A: Yeah, it was tough. You had to get used to that.
V: Did you find yourself roaming the streets, thinking to yourself, “Aaah, why can’t I get my morning donut and coffee?”
A: I DID. I had to convert my morning wants other things. Like savory things. And then save the coffee with – around 5:00 or 6:00 ish, people might need a little something.
V: Was this across the board in South America, or would the schedule of things be totally different in, say, Argentina, for example?
A: Well, that aspect was fairly consistent. People would eat little sweet things early, but not later. You wouldn’t go to a bakery and get something like that [during the day].... When people said “breakfast”, it usually meant just like instant coffee with some crappy bread and butter, and maybe some jam, and maybe some eggs if you’re lucky.
V: So they didn’t really celebrate breakfast as a meal like we do here.
A: No. Like the concept of us having brunches here [in the US]. You didn’t that see at all. People would not do something like that. If anyone did anything like that, it was late enough in the day to be more lunchy or dinner-type foods. Never would you find such a huge variety – like when we have a brunch with fruit, and there’s some kind of eggy savory stuff, and some kind of sweet stuff -- that’s a foreign concept. It doesn’t exist down there.
V: Okay – we’re sitting here at Mel-O-Glaze Bakery, and we’re eating donuts. Are there places where you could go and sit down and eat donuts?
A: Sometimes you get them on the run – like in Quito there’s this street kind of by the bus terminal, by Aquil. And there were a couple places that had this kind of stand. By the way --it's as if they heard the word “donuts”, and heard the word “dough-nah”, and that’s what they say: “donas”. Anyway –there’s this little sign in this little street cart, and it had bunch of donuts in a little window. They were actually… pretty good, for donuts.
V: But would you recognize them as a donut as we would here?
A: Yeah, you’d say, “Hey, that’s a donut." I was in another town where I had a chocolate-covered donut that was fairly good, a bit north in a town called Ibarra.
V: In Ecuador?
A: Yeah, it was in northern Ecuador, in the mountains. It was pretty good, but that’s about it. There weren’t many places you could find donuts. In Peru, sometimes they had these donuts – and I’ve seen these in Ecuador too – and the presentation was like “Wow! That’s a donut?” because it was like a donut sliced and filled with this creamy stuff.
V: Like an eclaire?
A: Kind of like that. And then it was topped with chocolate, and maybe some berries. But it always looked waaaay better than it was, because when you actually bit into it, the dough was all kind of bready, and wasn’t very sweet, and it wasn’t very good at all. It was a big disappointment actually. I had one of those at a bakery in Peru, in Lima maybe, and I kind of learned my lesson. But Peru had their own variation on donuts. I don’t know what its roots are, maybe I should look into it, but they’re called piccarones.
V: Does that mean anything?
A: Well picare means to “snack”, like eat bits of food….
V: Do they have holes?
A: They do. They make this batter… I asked this person what they put in it, and the only ingredient that was kind of interesting was sweet potato. But I don’t know, recipes are hard to get out of people, because they just know what they make – a lot of people don’t actually know the recipe....
But anyway, there's a big bowl with this batter in it, and they take it out with their hands. It's not really a liquid, but just becoming solid. They take some out, form it into a disk, kind of put a hole in it, and toss in into the hot oil, or fat, as it probably is. Then they fry them. It's kind of like a wok. I don’t know what kind of oil, but it could just be a hunk of lard, too. They fry them usually four at once, which is the standard portion for piccarones, and they take them out with this long stick, they just kind of poke them through the holes. Then they hang them up for just a second, to let the oil drip off, and put the piccarones in this little bowl they give you. And finally they pour over this miel de cane, which is just raw sugar sugar syrup, which they make.
In Peru, they were really good. I stayed with a family for a week, and I studied a little bit, and I was talking to them about how I really like donuts and stuff, and this guy said ,“You've got to go try piccarones – because that’s what donuts are here. There’s this park, and you go to this one corner, and there’s this tent. And they’ve been selling them there for years and years and years, and they’re the best piccarones in town."
V: How did you find a family to stay with?
A: It was through an organization. Rachel had to go back home for a couple weeks, and I thought, well, maybe I’ll stay in this town. They had a bunch of classes that you could study for a week, so I just thought, well, I’ll take some Spanish classes. And then I thought it would be kind of fun to stay with a host family. They were actually really friendly, a great host family. They gave me a lot of good pointers on stuff to do around town. And the husband -- I think he was a bus driver. He was not the dominant force in the family by any means. He would watch TV a lot, didn’t really say a lot, took orders from his wife …. but he told me where to go to get these donuts.
I ended up there after a long meandering afternoon trying to get to the outskirts of town and see some rock formations. Along the way I asked maybe 20 different people directions to this park. Because they all kind of give you directrions, and directions are they same way as recipes, they’re not very good instructions. So you ask somebody, and then you kind of go in the direction that they indicate. And then you ask somebody again. And they always tell you, “a few blocks” and it turns into twenty, and like five minutes actually means “a half an hour”, but eventually I got there. It was this really nice park.
Oh wait…that was a different time getting piccarones. That was my first time getting piccarones. That was in the afternoon. This was a place that he also told me I could get donuts there.
V: I don’t mean to derail the story – but, you seem to have gone to extreme measures to find donuts. Were you just jonesing for donuts, or what?
A: Well, these piccarones were supposed to be like a local delicacy -- something I hadn’t seen before. I had heard about these things that were kind of related to donuts, so I wanted to check them out
V: If you hadn’t heard about them, would you have tried so hard to seek them out?
A: Probably not. I mean, maybe I could have stumbled acrtoss them. A lot of times you just have to probe. Sometimes you’ll find out interesting things, like “oh, they have this local variety of donuts called piccarones…”
Anyway, that tent that this guy was telling about -- I went there – I went to that park after class one day, and sat down next to these three elderly women. They were all dressed really ricely, and were all proper, and they all had they little bowls of piccarones in front of them. I had talked to them a little bit – they were just curious as to why I was there. I don’t think they get a lot of foreigners going to the tent.
I asked the guy [that worked at the tent] how long they had been there, and the family has been selling piccarones, on that corner, for 50 years. And I think they’re there every single night.
V: Is night the main time to get piccarones?
A: Yeah, like after 5 pm.
V: And do you have to eat them fresh?
A: Well, yeah, they always make them fresh. You order them, then they make them, so they always really fresh. And they’re really very good. They were by far the best I had. And you get four for just under a dollar (USD). They were a good deal. But yeah, kind of a nice variation on donuts. Very fried – but nice and soft. The sugar syrup is pretty cool. Just cane sugar and water boiled down.
V: What about the dough itself? Was it sweet?
A: ummm.. yeah. It was kind of hard to tell because they do absorb a lot of the syrup from the get-go. I got them one other time later, in some other town, from a woman with a steel drum. It was like a barrel of charcoal, with like a wok on top of that. She was just making them up in the park, at night. That’s kind of where they were popular -- in the parks, at night. Or in the afternoon, if you’re lucky. A lot of people hang out in the parks at night. And in Peru there's not a very long siesta -- this is a lunch that maybe lasts two hours, but they don’t -- so after about 6 o’clock people start filtering into the parks. They’re just hanging out, smoking, drinking, sitting around.
The cool thing about piccarones, is that I found them twice in Chile as well! The regions -- which are provinces, like our states -- are numbered, from 1 in the north, down to twelve in the south. It wasn't until I was pretty far south, in region 8, that I saw piccarones again. I was thinking, “That was a big gap to not have piccarones.” Maybe there was a lot that I just didn’t see, further north, or maybe they’re just not there, I don’t know.
In Chile, we found them in a market. We tended to go to all the markets, in all the major cities. They’re all different, they all have their own character. Anyway, in the market, there were lots of places of eat, and some would have platters just piled high with piccarones. They would take either three or six off the pile, throw them into a bowl, and give you the syrup. But they make these things swim! There was so much syrup, and the syrup was so watery, it was like a donut soup, almost. It was pretty crazy. I would have to say that I prefer the Peruvian variety. But it was nice to piccarones again. And it was still pretty interesting.
to be continued...