Thursday, August 31, 2006

Remembrance of Cakes Past

Mom opens the small manila envelope and slips a slightly faded photograph into my hand. “Do you remember this?” she asks. “I thought you might want to write about it.”

I pull out my reading glasses to take a closer look, and examine the photo of a 9-by-13 sheet cake. At the top, scripted in pale blue icing are the dates, 1932 – May 14th – 1983.

Mom studies my reaction, looking for a sign of recognition, and decides to jog my memory. “You made the cake for Grandma and Grandpa’s 51st wedding anniversary.” Indeed, on the back of the photo is Mom’s inscription: May 14th, 1983 – Anniversary Cake for Hilda & Steve Ernst – made by T. – 51 years married.

I see a bouquet of tiny blue and pink wildflowers, gathered together with a wavy pink ribbon. Not a bad effort for an amateur. I recall that it was actually one of the later cakes in my repertoire, and I had actually first cut my teeth on cake decorating in elementary school.

The memories come back to me, years before The Cake Doctor, The Cake Bible, Baking with Julia, the Magnolia Bakery or Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. I remember exploring Mom’s bookshelf and discovering a simple black and white volume on cake decorating. I was captivated by the photos of butter cream roses and scallop shell boarders. Mom had actually taken a cake decorating course years before and had all the tips and pastry bags stored away. We pulled them out, cleaned them all in hot soapy water, and looked them over. There were tips for rose petals, tiny blossoms and even branches with perfectly-shaped conical leaves.

In no time, Mom had connected me with Mrs. Becker, a pastry pro at our local church who gave me a lesson. Soon, I was whipping up celebration cakes for wedding anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. All this, before sixth grade graduation. Sometimes, the cakes were overly sweet, and sometimes, the colors a bit garish, but it was the start of creativity in the kitchen and a lifelong love of “le gateaux.”

If Mom hadn’t signed up for that first cake decorating course, I might never have paged through that text book and developed a taste for luscious layers.

Thanks, Mom, for the sweet inspiration!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Devouring The New York Times – August 30, 2006: Florence Fabricant wraps up a frank discussion of the return of pigs-in-a-blanket as the chic new appetizer in this week’s “Dining In” section.

For those of us born in suburban U.S.A., pigs-in-a-blanket is our ethnic food, and fabulous Flo champions the little wiener in Tiny Come-Ons, Plain and Fancy: The Kings of the Cocktail Hour Once Again.

I have fond memories of the summer of ‘79 when I worked as a waiter at a local country club, snarfing handfuls of the little quilted darlings before I ever left the kitchen to pass the silver platter. The dry cleaners could never quite get the grease stain out of my polyester uniform jacket pocket, where I stowed the illicit goods.

Now, nearly three decades later, this little piggy is popping up all over town, from Wall Street to Lincoln Center. It may be wrapped in puff pastry and dusted with poppy seeds, or disguised as chorizo cloaked in phyllo, but there’s no mistaking the news – from wedding receptions to memorial services, the best guilty pleasure on the planet has gone legitimate. And, as one seasoned cocktail party pro notes, the pastry is “a good blotter for alcohol!" I say, “To oink, or not to oink? There is no question!” Culinary Types Rating: Hallelujah!!!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dining with Pierpont Morgan and the Dutch Masters: Another hectic week concludes and I look for a few hours of sanctuary in one of New York’s fine museums. I turn the corner onto Madison Avenue and East 36th Street and step into old New York a century ago. There, the Morgan Library & Museum sits in regal splendor on a quiet tree-lined street.

A storm is stirring as I enter the glass atrium on Madison Avenue that connects several historic buildings on the block between 36th and 37th Street. Between 1902 and 1906 the financier Pierpont Morgan commissioned the architect Charles F. McKim to build a Renaissance-style library adjacent to his Murray Hill townhouse to hold his extensive collection of books, manuscripts, letters, artwork and artifacts. It is now a jewel box of a museum. I first discovered The Morgan more than 20 years ago when I visited the charming exhibit of Sir John Tenniel drawings titled, Lewis Carroll and Alice. Tonight, the program is Celebrating Rembrandt: Etchings from the Morgan in honor of the artist’s 400th birthday. There is also, From Rembrandt to van Gogh: Three Centuries of Dutch Drawings.

I slip down a marble hallway to a quiet gallery, lined with 50 Rembrandt etchings purchased by Morgan exactly 100 years ago. There is honey-colored parchment matted and hung in gilded frames – etchings that depict human wisdom and frailty, nature’s wrath, and the fury of God. Rembrandt worked in minute detail, sometimes on surface area the size of postage stamps, to render country scenes, portraits and Biblical epics.

The artist's precision hatch marks and wiry squiggles weave darkness and light into deep emotional intensity. I notice an older man chuckling near a tiny etching. It is about two inches square, titled The Monk in the Cornfield, and depicts a man of the cloth ravishing a milkmaid. On the other side of the room is From Rembrandt to van Gogh: Three Centuries of Dutch Drawings, a collection from the 17th through the 19th century with a lovely selection of drawings depicting nobility and pastoral scenes.

One can work up an appetite viewing the great masters, so I secure a table at the Morgan Dining Room. Executive Chef Charlene Shade offers a menu inspired by early 20th century New York City cuisine. I take a seat in what is, in fact, the original private dining room of the Morgan family and order several dishes. It is a small and somewhat understated cream-colored space with Grecian columns lining the glass entry way.

I start with a glass of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, 2005 which has a deeply tart grapefruit finish. My appetizer is English Pea and Lobster Soup. The puree is light and frothy, a glistening sea foam green, and it tastes as though the peas were just snapped from the shell. Several thick chunks of lobster are afloat at the center of the potage. On the side is a square loaf of dense, multi-grain bread sprinkled with oats.

The staff is attentive, and my server decides I have been waiting too long and brings me a second, complimentary glass of the Sauvignon Blanc. Shortly thereafter, I am presented with a Fricassee of Organic Chicken with Spring Vegetables and Wild Mushrooms. The dish looks as lively and colorful as a Dutch still life. It is goodness and simplicity – a summertime serenade from the farm and the vegetable garden. Juicy morsels of chicken are perched high on the plate atop a wild nest of pencil thin asparagus, perfect peas, deep green lima beans and earthy-scented miniature mushrooms dressed in a luscious light cream sauce. Tarragon, tinged with purple is sprinkled about.

The meal concludes with a plate inspired by the exhibition From Rembrandt to van Gogh: Dutch Drawings from the Morgan. A white, ceramic platter offers a selection of artisanal Dutch Cheeses: Gouda Robusto, Prima Donna and Roomano with Walnut Raisin Bread, Flatbread and Plum Jam. The Dutch cheese is crumbly, with a yeasty tang that complements the rich plum jam. I top it off with a Bonny Doon, Muscat Vin de Glacière, California, 2004 that tastes like the nectar of grapes just plucked from the vine.

Indeed, this Friday night getaway has been a work of art. I pay the bill and make a brief visit to Mr. Morgan’s crimson study and his library complete with secret doors and passage ways. By 8:30 p.m., I step out again onto Madison Avenue and slide into the crush of humanity heading west on 34th Street.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Devouring the New York Times – Wednesday, August 23, 2006: Writer Julia Moskin serves up a sensual seaside feast with “A Passion for Mussels” in this week’s “Dining Out” edition. Moskin travels to the remote island in western France called Ile de Re, where gleaming black mussels are the signature summer dish. She chronicles a ritual similar to the New England clambake where fat, sweet mussels are arranged in a pattern of concentric circles on the beach and surrounded by pine needles or grape vines that are ignited. Shortly after, the smoky muscles are served on crusty bread with butter. It’s all so earthy, provocative and so French. The photo of mussels roasting on an open fire is salacious, and Moskin’s prose will have you aching to slurp a bit of their briny, plump flesh. As an added bonus, the section is packed with the flavors of summer, and you’ll find tempting recipes for a Cubano sandwich, Butterscotch Peaches and Asian Seafood Risotto. It is an absolutely yummy summer treat. Culinary Types Rating – Savory Dish.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Making of the French Chef: My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, is a fascinating glimpse into the formative years of a culinary pioneer. Through first-person narrative gleaned from Child’s personal letters and recollections of her years with husband Paul Child in France in the 1950s, the reader is swept into a charming and delicious world of discovery.

Much has been made of the book as an account of Julia’s love affair with husband Paul, but throughout the story, Paul is often a secondary character. What really stands out are those characteristics that made Julia Child a culinary icon – her tireless curiosity in the kitchen, the research and schooling at Le Cordon Bleu, the constant testing and re-testing of recipes in her small Parisian kitchen to create the perfect dish, the wisdom she gained from shopkeepers and fish mongers and what she calls an “awakening of the senses,” evident in her joyous response to a tender sole meuniere or steaming bouillabaisse a la marseillaise. The reader can imagine Julia’s world blossoming as she finds her true calling in the cuisine of France. And, the meticulous, almost driven manner in which she created the classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” is an intriguing look behind the curtain. There is a growing realization of how much time, thought and care went into the choice of each recipe, ingredient and word found in that seminal volume.

Child’s transformation came somewhat later in life. At the age of 41, she bemoans a “lack of worldliness” which is ironic, given her now-legendary status in the international culinary world. For those of us who seek new challenges in life, particularly in the kitchen, Julia Child is, and will always be, an inspiration.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 18, 2006

Opera Alfresco: I’ve logged eight thousand miles this week in business travel, so when the lunch whistle blows, I am in desperate need of an escape from the office. At exactly 12:23 p.m., I lock down the computer screen and walk briskly down Sixth Avenue to Bryant Park, for “Afternoon Arias with City Opera Artists.”

Despite years in Manhattan, I’ve spent little time in Bryant Park ( The history is fascinating. George Washington’s troops crossed the site of the park in 1776 as they fled the Battle of Long Island, and Union troops held drills there during the Civil War. In 1853, New York hosted its first “world’s fair” on the site in a building called the Crystal Palace, which stood there until it burned down in 1858.

Today, Bryant Park looks like a Georges Seurat painting. There are picnickers camped out on blankets, children frolicking on the grass, and well-heeled executives wandering the perimeter. There are even one or two grand dames with parasol in hand.

At the West end of the lawn, a large stage is set where WQXR evening host, Midge Woolsey is presiding over a lunchtime performance of City Opera artists. As I stand at the edge of the lawn drinking in the production I learn from the commentary that City Opera was founded by Mayor LaGuardia as the opera for the people. So, free performances in the park are a natural. The voices of the performers soar into the sky with the birds, with selections from La Boheme, Carmen and even a lively rendition of “Poor Wandering One” from The Pirates of Penzance.

Regardless of the hefty serving of culture, I am starving, and it’s a prime opportunity to sample the fare at ‘wichcraft, one of three olive-colored pavilions that serve sandwiches, coffee, pastry and ice cream in Bryant Park ( New York Magazine recently profiled ‘wichcraft as one of its 101 Best Cheap Eats in New York. I join the queue and place an order with one of the orange-clad employees for chicken salad, walnuts, roasted tomatoes, pickled red onions, and frisee on multigrain bread, perhaps the longest list of ingredients and condiments for a single sandwich, ever.

I find a spot to stand on the North end of the lawn and munch on my sandwich. I listen as the passion flares on stage and I rapidly develop a tragic love affair with my sandwich which is vanishing quickly. The flavorful chicken takes center stage, the roasted tomatoes add a subtle dramatic note and the frisee a touch of comic relief, all surrounded by the artistry of artisanal multi-grain bread.

For the finale, I harmonize with a chocolate cupcake with cream filling, which evokes memories of the classic Hostess Cupcake. It is Devil’s Food Chocolate, to be exact. How appropriate, as the Devil has just possessed the stage for a classic scene from Faust, that concludes the Afternoon Arias.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Market Square, Helsinki

Just before check-out time, I venture out into the city on foot and pay one more visit to Market Square in Helsinki’s historic centre by the harbor. The open cobble stone square has been transformed into a bustling food bazaar. Red peaked tents are staked in orderly rows, and merchants are selling fresh-picked produce of all varieties.

My eye is attracted by bright patches of color reminiscent of an artist’s palate, but this is nature’s paint box -- crimson raspberries, azure blueberries and glistening ruby strawberries. The exuberant harvest of Finland’s berry season is evident. Jewel-like berries are piled into small peaks in large wooden trays, or placed in orderly rows of cardboard boxes.

A blonde woman beneath a tent is holding a large scoop. She greets me warmly and offers a taste of her produce. A perfect strawberry melts on my tongue into sweet nectar and a fat blueberry bursts between my teeth, offering deep indigo tones of flavor. The purity is like nothing I’ve had at home.

The amount of produce is astonishing. Besides fields of summer berries, there are potatoes, carrots, peppers, bundles of turnips and tomatoes. Boat merchants are selling hauls of fresh fish off the back of their vessels.

I walk along the waterfront toward Old Market Hall and peer inside. There are rows of individual polished wooden stalls, bursting with local goods. I linger over beautifully rustic artisanal breads, earthy red slabs of reindeer fillet and elaborate pastries made with more sumptuous summer berries.

Everywhere I’ve gone in Helsinki, I have sensed a genuine pride in the purity and goodness of what comes from the land and the sea, and I resolve to bring that sensibility home to my own table.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Savoy Restaurant, Helskini

Work is concluded, and my host makes arrangements for us to dine at Savoy, a restaurant located just off of Esplanade Park. An elevator whisks us up to the eighth floor where we emerge on a wood and glass dining room of smooth lines and contours created by the noted designer Alvar Aalto. There is a wrap-around picture window that overlooks Helsinki, with brilliant views of the ocean and Helsinki Cathedral reaching into the sky.

My host has advised me that August is crayfish season and with any luck, we may witness a crayfish party, a traditional summer festivity in Finland. Sure enough, there is a group of approximately 20 people seated on the terrace all wearing cloth crayfish bibs, digging into platters of crustaceans, gulping vodka and singing Finnish drinking songs.

There is something deeply appealing about a communal celebration of the bounty of the sea, and we must participate in this late summer ritual. We order a tasting platter of five crayfish each, and my host graciously instructs me in proper use of the knife, and the appropriate method for dismembering and eating the little creatures.

The plump crayfish are dazzling neon-red, speckled with hints of gold. The shells are delightfully soft and they taste briny, sweet and fresh, as if they’d been scooped from the ocean just moments ago. The traditional preparation is uncomplicated, accenting the inherent beauty of the dish. My host explains that crayfish are simmered in water seasoned with salt, sugar and dill. I can taste the tangy essence of the dill in the succulent flesh. The crayfish are presented with a large shock of dill at the center of the platter. You use the small nail-file shaped knife to remove the flesh from the claws and tail. You can even scoop out a tender morsel from the shell called crayfish butter. The juicy morsels are piled on top of buttered toast sprinkled with chopped dill and then consumed. The more adventurous diners wash down the nautical delicacy with ice-cold vodka. Our friends on the terrace have been at it for some time, and their host is getting their attention with a cow bell and leading them in rousing renditions of Finnish drinking songs - all this against the back drop of sunset on the Helsinki skyline. The entire spectacle is a feast for the eyes, and the crayfish literally dance on the palate.

My host is a native of Helsinki, and shares much delightful conversation with me about the culture and history of the capital city. My entrée continues the theme of traditional Nordic fare. I am treated to Reindeer T-bone steak, dressed in a delicate béarnaise sauce and red wine reduction. The steak is thick, rich, tender and earthy with a wild and exotic finish.

The end of the summer is also berry season in Finland, and our feast is capped by bowls filled with fresh strawberries, juicy blueberries and tart red and white currants that have been soaked in summer sunshine. They are topped with a flourish of creamy vanilla ice cream and a perfect violet blossom.

It is a deeply satisfying meal, rich in the culture and heritage of the people of Finland and their abundant resources.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Culinary Dispatch - Helsinki, Finland: One body should not be in so many time zones in so short a period of time, but here I am playing "Beat the Body Clock" on business in Northern Europe.

I have settled in Helsinki for a couple of days of work. On day one, after an overnight flight, arrival and meetings, I am over caffeinated and in desperate need of fresh air. So I set off by food from the hotel to find the Historic Centre of Helsinki. While I can not pronounce the name of a single street, the map serves me well, and soon I am standing on the edge of the massive, sun-drenched Senate Square, the home to Helsinki Cathedral built in 1852 (top photo). (It is here I must point out that the only time I seem to be directionally challenged is when I am traveling with my colleague, Splint McCullough.)

I learn a few historic facts while on foot. Helsinki was founded in 1550 at the mouth of the Vantaa River but moved to its current location in the mid-17th century. Russia conquered Finland in 1809, and its influence can be seen in much of the city. Finland became independent in 1917 with Helsinki as its capital.

It is a fine summer evening with a gentle, warm breeze moving off the ocean. There are wisps of pearly gray clouds in the sky. The city is comprised of a series of small hills, and many of the public areas are paved with coral-colored brick. Residents are physically fit, with joggers and bikers everywhere. As I walk along Esplanade Park, I pick up the sounds of an outdoor band playing music by ABBA. Seagulls are perched in various spots observing the rhythms of the city in a detached manner. Cafe patrons sit facing the street with a similar detachment.

Naturally, I am drawn to the food lore of the city. I stop briefly at Old Market Hall (bottom photo) a haven for food enthusiasts since 1889. Today it houses bakeries, butchers, delis and specialty shops. Later, I pass the Kappeli Restaurant on Esplanade Park, built in the 1860's near a spot where herdsmen would sell milk in market stalls. The word Kappeli actually refers to the term herdsman or pastor's stall or chapel.

At dinner, I sample a local dish indigenous to the agricultural region of Lapland, Bread Cheese and Cloudberry Jam, or Leipajuostoa Ja Lakkahilloa in the native tongue. The bread cheese is a wedge of dense, farm cheese, much like bread, and similar in consistency to cheese cake. It is accompanied by a selection of rich, savory rye breads and topped with a large dollop of cloudberry jam, a sweet, honey-colored paste flecked with crunchy amber seeds. Cloudberries are in season in June and July. The sweetness of the jam marries beautifully with the tart and acidic flavor of the cheese.

In Finland, the phrase is not bon apetite, rather, it is hyvaa ruokahalua!

Meanwhile, it is well after 9:00 p.m. and the sun shows no sign of setting.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Locally Grown

Locally Grown: It is a stunning summer Saturday in August. The temperature is barely 75 degrees, a gentle breeze is blowing, and there are just a few hints of wispy clouds in the big blue sky. The dog days are gone, and what’s left is deliciously sun-drenched and intoxicating.

I decide to play hooky from a number of obligations and jump in the car, headed for the North Fork of Long Island. No doubt summer, produce and grape vines are exploding on the East End.

I encounter little traffic and I’m soon sailing along Sound Avenue, a winding country road dotted with third and fourth generation farm stands and slightly newer wineries. My first stop is the Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead which is actually owned by the Entenmann family of crumb cake lore ( The legend goes that Martha Clara was an Entenmann's employee who dreamed up the plastic window on the cake box, and married the boss. She was rewarded with marital bliss, sticky buns for breakfast for the rest of her life, and they named the vineyard after her. I cozy up to the tasting bar and sample four lovely vintages – a 2004 Riesling, a 2004 Chardonnay, a 2002 Merlot and a 2002 Cabernet Franc. The Chardonnay is smooth and spicy and I pick up a bottle before leaving the gift shop.

Further east in Peconic, I pull into Sang Lee Farms. Mr. Lee is a purveyor of heirloom tomatoes and there are baskets to choose from. I marvel at tomatoes the color of buttercups, plums, moss and tangerines and purchase several pounds worth.

Parking proves challenging in the harbor resort of Greenport, so I return west on Route 25 where I discover “Barb’s Veggies,” a ramshackle farm stand on the edge of the Osprey Dominion Vineyard. According to the placard, Barb’s motto is “Git R’ Done,” and she looks like she’s weathered a number of tough seasons but her fresh peaches fill the warm air with sweet perfume. I pick up six plump ones and an ear of corn for another night.

At Bedell Cellars I relax on their impeccably spotless deck overlooking rows and rows of lush green grape vines. There, I sip a tart 2005 Rose the color of pink carnations and enjoy the cool breezes that caress the vineyard.

On the Main Road in Cutchoge, I stop at Cutchoge Green and take a tour of “The Old House” built in 1649, and said to be the oldest English-style frame house in New York State. It is on the National Historic Register. A friendly gentleman in a straw hat named Jim takes me on a tour. The kitchen has a massive open hearth and there are period cast iron kitchen tools in abundance. Jim also takes me across the green to an 1840 one-room school house that has a 13-star American flag from the Revolution, and the 1704 Wickham Farmhouse. The owners of these homes were the original settlers who farmed the land that has spawned my bounty of fruits and vegetables.

Back at home, I create a colorful savory tart from the tomatoes. The flavor of the tomatoes deepens and intensifies as they roast in the oven. Barb’s peaches are transformed into a silky, nectar-drenched oatmeal crisp. I dine on the deck enjoying the fruits of the season and watch the clouds turn coral and pearl gray against the sky, thinking that this is exactly what summer is all about.

North Fork Farm Stand Tomato Tart

Two small yellow heirloom tomatoes
Two small orange heirloom tomatoes
Two small red heirloom tomatoes
One cup Fontina cheese
One clove garlic
One pastry crust rolled out to a 10 inch circle
Coarse Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Olive Oil
Four Fresh Basil Leaves

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place an 8 inch tart ring in the center. Drape the pastry crust over the tart ring, working it into the corners. Trim the edges.

Fill the pastry crust with the grated cheese (reserve ¼ for topping) and crush the clove of garlic over the cheese. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.

Slice the tomatoes about ¼ inch thick and layer them over the cheese in a circular pattern. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 400 degree and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for an additional 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden brown.

Let cool 10 minutes. Remove tart ring and transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle with fresh sliced basil and serve.

I paired the North Fork Farm Stand Tomato Tart with the Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Chardonnay – described as offering “intense heady aromas of perfume and fresh cut flowers intermingled with candied citrus and orange blossoms.”

Barb’s Git R’ Done Peach Oatmeal Crisp

Two fresh farm stand peaches
Two tablespoons butter
One tablespoon flour
One and ½ tablespoons old fashioned rolled oats
One tablespoon dark brown sugar

Butter a 1 and ½ cup oven proof casserole. Peel and slice the peaches and place them in the casserole. Cut one tablespoon of butter into small pieces and combine with the peaches.

Combine the flour, oats and dark brown sugar and combine with the remaining butter, cut into small pieces. Sprinkle mixture on top of the peaches.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 11, 2006

Culinary Dispatch – Richland, Washington: It’s our last night in the Tri-Cities. Splint McCullough and I have wrapped up our Pacific Northwest assignment, and we’re in search of nourishment. We leave the hotel with a copy of the Tri-Cities answer to Michelin in hand, “Your Guide to Local Dining,” a 17-page stapled Xerox copy of every conceivable eatery within a six minute radius.

In the spirit of Lewis and Clark, Splint and I head east on the recommendation of the hotel desk manager. She’s added a star, in pen, next to the listing for T.S. Cattle Co. noting that the last time she ate there – twenty years ago – it was a pretty good meal. But since Splint is a true carnivore, he assumes we’ll be treated to excellent aged beef.

One quick detour later (getting lost seems to be a way of life in the Tri-Cities) we arrive at the parking lot of T.S. Cattle Co. It looks a bit like an abandoned road house, with a couple of decrepit pickup trucks outside. The Co. has clearly lost some of its 1986 appeal. Splint says, “I think not,” and we make a quick left out of the parking lot.

Our next stop is Cavanaugh’s Landing. It has a bright, appealing multi-colored sign, the parking lot is clean, and the shrubbery well manicured. But, the lobby has that strange hotel smell, and there is absolutely no one in the restaurant. “Not a good endorsement for the menu,” Splint notes, and we return to the rental to continue our culinary expedition. We decide to skip the Old Country Buffet, which looks like a renovated supermarket, and Splint refuses to get within a quarter mile of Roy’s Western Smorgy.

We decide to explore west of the hotel. Finding the right restaurant has become a mission. Splint nixes Sterling’s Famous Steak, Seafood and Salad Bar (“Too much like a diner.”) and Casa Mia (“Not in the mood for Italian.”). After a brief pass by Dax’s Bar and Grill, a dangerous looking powder blue cinder block structure, we are desperate, and decide that Mexican cuisine is our safest choice.

We park the rental and enter 3 Margaritas – Family Mexican Restaurant. It is fiesta time! We are seated at a window booth. There are bright colors everywhere and the ambient noise is deafening. There is a lariat and saddle on one wall and a large mural of three parrots behind Splint’s head. For some reason I’m inspired to order a Blueberry Margarita which resembles a frozen dessert on steroids. Splint orders a Cuervo Gold Margarita. He glances toward the floor and says, “I’m curious the last time this rug was cleaned?”

There is much activity. Every few minutes, a large group of wait staff carry a birthday cake and a giant sombrero out to some lucky diner on the floor and sing "Happy Birthday" both in Spanish and English. Splint calls his wife, Blanche on the cell phone. She suggests we should pretend it’s my birthday and take plenty of photographs.

Our entrees arrive and there is ample food. Splint has chosen the house specialty, Carnitas Fahita Style with sirloin beef. I’ve chosen the chicken version. Splint rolls a fahita the size of a Cuban cigar. He takes a bite and announces, “I’m very happy.”

Ditto for me. The chicken is succulent, the rice nicely seasoned, and the guacamole incredibly fresh. It meets with Splint’s approval as well. “I’m very picky about my guac,” he says.

Splint has clearly entered the fiesta zone. He orders a second Cuervo Gold Margarita, which means that collectively, we have ordered 3 Margaritas and must be considered charter members of the club.

“Who ever thought we’d find authentic Mexican in one of the states that’s furthest from?” Splint asks rhetorically.

As we leave the restaurant lobby, I look for a card, but oddly enough, all I can find is a stack for “Lightning’s Carpet Cleaning.” Splint expresses hope that the rug at 3 Margaritas will soon get a makeover.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Culinary Dispatch – Kennewick, Washington: Splint McCullough and I have finally made it to the Pacific Northwest. There’s not much further you can go. We have landed in what is locally referred to as “The Tri-Cities” which includes Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, Washington. A quick look through the phone book and I manage to pick up some local lore. The Tri-Cities actually enjoy “nearly 200 sun-filled days a year.” The Columbia River runs through it. Lewis and Clark set up camp in Pasco in 1805. There’s a booming wine region. And, on a slightly more explosive note, nearby Hanford was the site of the top secret Manhattan Project, which produced plutonium for the atomic bomb, used in World War II. Who knew?

Splint and I have traveled to the four corners of the Tri-Cities. In less than 24 hours we’ve gotten lost no less than three times. They don’t seem to have much use for street signs here. This morning, we were off among the tumbleweeds, when we should have been kicking off a meeting, and this evening, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the tracks near a Burger King and a Rite Aid, when we were looking for a seafood restaurant on the banks of the Columbia River.

Our search for dinner starts inauspiciously. Anthony’s, a seafood place recommended by a gentleman on our incoming flight had a small fire in the morning and they are closed. The young woman who turns us away hungry suggests we try Cedars, so we hop in the rental and try to make sense of her sketchy directions.

Several wrong turns later, I give up on maps, revert to instinct and decide that a seafood restaurant must be near water. We follow the sign to “Marina” and Cedars appears on the horizon. Splint dubs me the new Magellan.

Cedars has a handsome exterior that is covered with, you guessed it, cedar shingles. There’s a spacious outdoor deck which flanks the Columbia. Inside are wood beams, rafters, and potted ferns. We opt for indoor seating and kick off the meal with a glass of Preston Sauvignon Blanc 2004 bottled in Pasco, Washington. It’s our first taste of the local vintage and it’s surprisingly good. The Sauvignon Blanc is free of the grassier notes found in the New Zealand variety. It’s clean, Green Apple crisp and smooth, with just a hint of American Oak.

Splint selects the salad bar, which he dubs “cafeteria basic.” I do better with the clam chowder which is thick and stew-like with big chunks of clam and a splash of sherry. We split the Mesquite Smoked Rainbow Trout and Cheese appetizer. It’s a do-it-yourself sandwich. You take a crostini and layer cream cheese with parmesan, capers, a dash of fresh lemon juice and top with a slice of rich and mellow smoky rainbow trout. The combination of flavors is sublime.

Our entrees are less inspired. I try the King Salmon with lemon, butter caper sauce. It is serviceable, but I’m a bit capered-out at this point, and the sauce seems a tad oily. Splint pronounces his Mahi Mahi to be dry and the tropical fruit salsa bland. However, he gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to his baked potato with everything on it. According to Splint, the medley of bacon and chives is far more interesting than the medley of fruit and salsa.

While the main entrees are routine, they are more than filling so dessert is skipped. The salmon-pink sunset over the Columbia River is a far better end to the meal for a couple of hard-core New Yorkers with no sense of direction. Check out Cedars at

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Culinary Dispatch -Naperville, Illinois: I'm traveling the great U.S.A. again with my colleague Splint McCullough and we've stopped in Naperville, Illinois, founded in 1831.

I hear rumors that there's an historic pioneer village called Naper Settlement nearby, but Splint and I are unlikely to take in the local culture as we're scheduled to spend much of our visit at a corporate park.

Our accommodations are austere (why did I get the handicapped-equipped room on the first floor??) situated just off highly-traveled Illinois Route 88. Yet we quickly discover a bright spot. We are located about thirty feet from a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, and agree on a breakfast pilgrimage. The pioneer spirit lives in Naperville, Illinois!

It is just after half-past six in the morning when Splint and I enter the roadside shrine, the auto noise and exhaust fumes from Route 88 still assaulting our ears and nostrils. A step over the threshold and we are transported to another era of porch rockers and penny candy. The store is packed with Americana and even in the heat of early August, there are merchandise displays for Halloween and Christmas. It is, after all, never too early to start holiday shopping. We move towards the dining room and Splint points out a vintage advertisement for "Domolite, the Easy-to-Sew Plastic Fabric." You've gotta love those space-age innovations! We look ahead and there is an immediate sense of comfort, as there is comfort food just ahead.

We are seated. Splint orders grapefruit juice and I order orange juice with coffee. Splint vows he will not go overboard and promptly orders three pecan-studded pancakes smothered in creamy butter that are the size of hub caps. Splint caresses the mini bottle of maple syrup and nearly squeals with delight. "They heat the syrup!" he gasps. "It's little touches like that! This place gets it done!"

My utensils could be cleaner, so I return them to the server for a fresh set and take note of our surroundings. At this hour, there are just a few patrons and Splint and I are probably the only ones below retirement age. Country music wafts through the air mingling with the aroma of flapjacks. We might as well be in an Adirondack lodge. The walls are adorned with fishing pole and tackle, a rifle, rolling pins, snow shoes and antique portraits of Naperville forefathers. A rustic getaway just minutes from downtown Chicago! Splint notes that the eyes on a photograph of a gentleman from a previous century seem to be following us ...

I've ordered "Eggs-in-the-Basket," (a bargain at $5.89) a classic breakfast item where a farm fresh egg is nestled in a hole cut in the center of a slab of sourdough bread and fried to perfection. My platter has two "baskets" neatly framed by three slices of bacon and a generous scoop of hash brown casserole, a sinful mash of crunchy hash browns and melted cheddar cheese. I slice into crisp, tart sourdough and golden yolk drenches the bread on my fork delivering a mouthful of morning sunshine. For just a moment, I'm certain I can hear a rooster signaling the start of a new day.

Shortly after, I have nearly licked my plate clean and Splint's pancakes are nothing by a sweet, nutty memory. We leave the Cracker Barrel Country Store to start our work day and I notice a small chalk board out of the corner of my eye announcing that it is only 140 days until Christmas.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Devouring the New York Times – Wednesday, August 2, 2006: The “Escape” Section Meets “Dining Out” today with a bucolic tribute to the summer produce of the rural tri-state area. “Welcome to the Country: Road Trips that Follow the Food” serves up the basic premise that Whole Foods has embraced Mr. Green Jeans and they are friends. In fact, fresh gourmet ingredients that typically might only be found on the island of Manhattan can now be purchased in the exotic lands of Long Beach Island or Columbia County. The cream of the crop food writers of Dining Out, including Julia Moskin, Marian Burros, Florence Fabricant and Kim Severson provide solid tips on restaurants and farm stand fare in Columbia County, Long Beach Island, Litchfield County and the North Fork of Long Island. Each piece reflects the unique character and flavor of the region, be it the seafood of the Jersey Shore or the homemade pies of upstate New York. Tuck this one in the glove compartment for those hungry country weekend getaways. Culinary Types Rating: Savory Dish.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved