Monday, May 30, 2011

The Bread at Little Washington

There’s a story behind every loaf of homemade bread, and this one’s got a 5 star tale.

What happens when you’re planning to bake a rustic whole-wheat loaf, and you realize that you’re out of whole-wheat flour? I’m cooking a family dinner with my friend John MacPherson, chef and co-owner of the Foster Harris House bed and breakfast in Washington, Virginia. We think it might be nice to add one of my specialties - a rustic whole-wheat boule – to the menu. The only problem – there’s no whole-wheat flour in the pantry.

What to do? The town of Washington is roughly about three blocks long with just a handful of residents. The nearest grocery store is probably 20 miles away. The obvious solution? You ring up the neighbors and see if they’ll loan you a cup or two of flour. But, there really aren’t that many neighbors …

John picks up the phone, and within minutes we’re walking up Main Street toward The Inn at Little Washington. You may have heard of the Inn - a world renowned 5 star restaurant of some notoriety.

We stroll up to the back kitchen door and knock. Inside, I spot a squadron of kitchen team members, all wearing the signature Dalmatian-spotted aprons. There is a flurry of activity and someone produces a container of whole-wheat flour. Right neighborly.

We saunter back to the Foster Harris House and I begin the bread baking ritual. The boule rises beautifully. The mahogany-colored crust is crisp and the crumb is exceedingly tender.

We dine on the patio as the sun sets, and slather the warm bread with butter and honey. It is an exceptional loaf. It must be the terroir of the whole-wheat flour.

Gladys Kravitz, eat your heart out!

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Food Truck Recruits, Kimchi Tacos and a Mission Aborted

How does the NBA draft manage to pull it off? Finding new recruits is darn stressful. It had become painfully clear to me that I needed to reclaim my place in life’s lunch line, and the only way was to recruit a new food truck team. No more wallowing in self-pity and Marshmallow Fluff. Zany and Mad had moved on, and I needed to do the same. Spring had arrived and there were new trucks to chase.

And so, with the help of Marie Antoinette, I launch a major recruitment drive and identify two worthy candidates. First there is “Zak.” We like his bravado. He’s got chutzpah. He’d make a good shock jock. In his interview, he tells us, “I’m always hungry. I’m a food fanatic. I do not use the word foodie (the word drips sarcastically off his tongue) to describe me, but I’m a nut about food. I’ve been a midtown resident for 10 years. This food truck thing was about three years behind me. I’ve been eating at food trucks forever.”

"That’s not credentials, that’s an impressive CV,” says Marie Antoinette. “I’m just trying to step up my game. I want to dish it without having to take it all the time.”

“Buzz” is a pint-sized powerhouse. Her resume says she’s “an avid consumer of all foods from the street.” Her wedding favors were custom-made by the Treats Truck, and last year for Christmas, her mother-in-law gave her a Leggo version of a street food vendor. Best of all, she has the legendary distinction of having eaten one of the last burgers sold by Frites and Meats before the truck blew up. This plays in her favor. Timing is critical on this gig.

Food truck veteran Mad Me-Shell offers some sound advice to the new recruits via email:

1. Do NOT under any circumstances order the ‘healthier’ options listed on the menu. That’s for losers.

2. DO try to abide by Zany’s fail-proof ‘order one of everything’ approach. DON’T say this is too much food. It’s not.

3. DO try to order some of the zaniest (pun intended) items on the menu. They’re on there for a reason!

4. Do NOT be late! The food trucks wait for no one!

If only we had listened! Things are about to become one hot mess. Prior to noon, I find myself caught up in a meeting with my boss, and I’m late for the scheduled lunch rendezvous with the team. I wrap the meeting and hurry back to my desk. The women are pacing like hungry panthers, and apparently Zak has gone rogue. He’s left without us, and is already on line down on 52nd Street at the Kimchi Taco Truck. We grab our umbrellas and head out in hot pursuit.

“He doesn’t play well with a team,” Buzz mutters under her breath.

“He can’t do this,” fumes Marie Antoinette. “This is grounds for immediate dismissal!”

While we catch an elevator to the lobby, a word about the planned menu. The Kimchi Tacho Truck has this to say about their signature dish: Kimchi is the superfood of Korean cuisine and is served with every meal. This tasty, spicy and healthy dish of fermented vegetables is low in calories and fat while being high in fiber and nutrition…There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi, which differ by main ingredients, regions or seasons. The most familiar forms are usually made of napa cabbage, radish or cucumber."

Now, back to our adventure. It is a miserable day outside. Remember all that gorgeous Spring weather? No, neither do we. We arrive on the street, and Zak is already paying for his lunch. He joins us at the back end of the line – make that dead last – clutching a steaming bag of tacos.

Before you can say “parking ticket,” we notice a commotion up front. I think I spot a police officer. Somebody says, “No more orders – we’re shutting down. Check Twitter to find out our next location.” A hungry midtown power broker who has braved the rain in his Thom Browne suit is unceremoniously sent away. We are left standing on the street – almost – empty handed. Three pairs of hungry eyes fall on Zak’s bag of tacos. Suddenly, his roguish behavior is not nearly so egregious. He is the man of the lunch hour.

We return to my office where Zak graciously offers to share his lunch with us. Zak ducks into his office and produces a set of matching placemats from Crate and Barrel.

I raise an eyebrow. “You keep placemats in your office?”

“Yeah, what’s your point?” asks Zak. I have to admit, it does add a touch of refinement.

We divvy up the Kimchi Tacos and try to savor every bite. Zak has chosen three varieties - beef, pork and chicken – all served with fresh Kimchi, and green onions on toasted corn tortillas. They have a vigorous kick. The clean, sharp bite of the Kimchi blends perfectly with the rich savory flavor of the meat, and there’s a nice residual heat.

While we love the taste, three tacos for three hungry adults is not exactly a banquet. Buzz leans back in her chair and says, “That was just a really mean tease.”

We’re hoping to run out and get a few more. The Official Explanation of the shutdown comes via the Kimchi Taco Truck Twitter feed: “Midtown woes... Sorry, being forced to shut down and move by NYPD, giving us the blues.” They promise a new location shortly, but no new coordinates are forthcoming.

I think I hear somebody’s stomach rumbling.

“Refresh Twitter!” demands Marie Antoinette frantically. “I’m still hungry and I’ve only got 30 minutes before my next meeting.” But the Twitter feed is quiet.

Buzz suggests we go see if there are any trucks on 50th. The mere suggestion has Marie Antoinette careening out the door.

“Hey, wait. What about my umbrella?” I insist.

“Forget it!” snaps Marie Antoinette. “I’ve only got 13 minutes. LET'S MOVE!”

Buzz leads us on a power walk in the rain to 50th Street, but we only manage to locate three FedEx trucks. We are out of time, and out of options, and are forced to stop at a Halal cart for something to eat. The women order some kind of street meat. I order the falafel special. I’m not sharing pictures. You don’t want to see what we ended up with or the conditions in which it was prepared. Some of it wasn’t exactly appetizing. Buzz’s description isn’t quite as kind as mine. The falafel is very spicy. I share some of it with Zak, but it’s not the type of high cuisine we’ve become accustomed to. All this happens in a mere 57 minutes. I thought they called it a “lunch hour?”

So that’s the unvarnished truth about my first venture back into the food truck game. Not exactly a stellar maneuver. In the end, I’m feeling just a little over-seasoned, but perhaps the thrill of the hunt has returned. I’m thinking this team of new recruits may be a little unconventional, and they may need a little bit more basic training, but they could have the right stuff. And, maybe we’ll even get to stuff ourselves on Kimchi Tacos some day.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tea and Clarity

Sometimes, you need a little clarity…and, a little tradition, ceremony and ritual.

Rosemary is my de-cluttering guru. She runs a de-cluttering business called From Clutter2Clarity. That means she helps me clean out when stuff overwhelms, and on occasion, she’ll police things to see how I’m getting along. It’s a full service business. She thinks I have too many cookbooks, but then she’s not a food person and doesn’t understand the compulsion. Certain stuff isn’t really clutter if you like it. In that case, it’s called “a collection” and that’s OK.

We like to treat ourselves to a special quintessential New York City Saturday afternoon each spring. This year’s treat is a five course afternoon tea at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon at 56 Irving Place in New York City. The neighborhood has an Edith Warton Gilded Age quality with lovely brownstones and tree lined streets.

Lady Mendl’s is tucked inside the Inn at Irving Place. Step inside and you’ve entered another era. Lady Mendl was an American actress known as Elsie de Wolfe, who enjoyed the occasional scandal but married a diplomat and lived in high society. She knew how to make an entrance, and would arrive at a fancy dress party doing handsprings. Her life story is enough to make Agatha Christie’s tea-drinking Miss Marple’s pulse race with excitement.

Lady Mendl was also a decorator and was rumored to have a fondness for covering foot stools in leopard-skin chintz. She and Rosemary would have gotten along well. Today Rosemary is more minimalist, wearing an elegant rose-colored top and sleek black slacks. The air smells of lavender and candles flicker around us. It is a respite from the gray and windy day outside.

I’ve probably never mentioned my long time fascination with afternoon tea, which developed along with an early addiction for Agatha Christie whodunits. In my salad days (all I’ll say is it was the previous century) I visited London and dressed up in a suit and tie one afternoon (haven’t done that in years) and took myself to a proper tea at the renowned Brown’s Hotel on Albermarle Street in the Mayfair district. Brown’s opened in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne. I still have the check. It was a nostalgic 6.50 pounds sterling.

Lady Mendl’s reminds me of that first tea. We start with a bite-sized savory butternut squash tart appetizer topped with crème fraiche.

We nibble as if aristocracy. Shortly a server dressed in monochromatic gray arrives with a heaping platter of finger sandwiches. There is Smoked Salmon with Dill Cream Cheese on Pumpernickel, Cucumber with Mint Crème Fraiche on Brioche, Classic Egg Salad on rye, and Smoked Turkey and Cranberry on Seven Grain.

We are given two helpings of sandwiches, but at this point, there is a slight snag in the serenity. The server whisks my plate away before I’ve even finished a bite of sandwich, and is preparing to bring a course of scones with clotted cream and preserves. Rosemary asks if we can slow the pace just slightly, and the server informs us in a starchy tone that the tea service is only 90 minutes long, and they are required to keep things briskly moving along. This is a mere 30 minutes after we’ve taken our seats.

We retaliate politely by lingering over our scones, savoring every morsel and each dollop of decadent clotted crème. In between, there is more clarifying tea, enough to submerge ourselves in a sea of clarity.

The dessert course is a grand 20-layer crepe cake layered with pastry cream and drizzled with strawberry sauce. The actual recipe for this cake is a closely guarded secret.

At this point, our sense of clarity is perhaps obscured by a not-unpleasant sugar surge, reinforced with a plate of assorted cookies and chocolate covered strawberries.

As the tea service concludes - right on schedule - we are presented with the bill and are efficiently shooed away. The gratuity is included, the slight irony of which is somewhat lost in the sugar rush.

We prepare to leave the salon doing handsprings. Lady Mendl would have been proud.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Leap of Faith at Restoration Farm

For members of the CSA, this day couldn't come soon enough - opening day for the 2011 season at Restoration Farm.

The supply of frozen berries, greens and butternut squash soup put up for the winter is almost consumed. And, we've endured a lot this past winter. Endless snow and rain. Wars and revolts. The acrimonious threat of a government shutdown. Scheming associates. Friends moving on. Even exploding food trucks.

We need a place that offers solace, nourishment and community. Perhaps the name Restoration Farm is not accidental.

Becoming a member of a CSA is a leap of faith, committing to share in the success and (hopefully few) mishaps of the growing season. But when you think about it, dropping a tiny seed in the ground is perhaps an even bigger leap of faith.

The faithful return for a glimpse of the farm, and we walk the footpath to the fields again after many months. The stresses of the week fall away.

Many staff and volunteers have been busy throughout the winter, and the farm continues to evolve. New projects are underway to nurture and inspire members. For the first time, animals will be part of the rhythms of the farm. Head grower Dan Holmes talks about how these new endeavors weave into the fabric of Restoration Farm. He says it is all about creating a healthy cycle – a sustainable loop within the farm – where chickens are cared for and forage naturally, along with planting and harvesting vegetables, providing healthy food for members.

A new hen house is home to six breeds of heritage hens. Within six months, they will start to lay eggs.

Red and green lettuce is poking up through the brown earth in the Spring Field.

The ubiquitous kale – that vigorous, healthy green - is showing signs of life.

Twenty five members have committed to a monthly pastured chicken share. Tricia is managing the “Hardscrabble Chicken” project and she gives me a peak at the broiler hens in a brooder that were hatched just days earlier.

As they mature, the birds will live within a bottomless pen which allows them to access grass and bugs. The pen is moved to new pasture each day.

The herb garden has been expanded with beds for basil, additional herbs and cutting flowers.

This summer there will even be blueberries in the Sweet Field, in addition to strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.

Already, the lush green strawberry plants are covered with white blossoms.

As we walk along the berry fields Dan makes a comment that lingers in my memory. Good, healthy vegetables will always be harvested - that’s a given. But it’s the actions of the faithful members - who volunteer, and participate and create - that sustain the cycle of life at Restoration Farm.

The first distribution of vegetables will not occur for weeks, but I’m keeping the faith, already imagining the meals and relationships that lie ahead.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 02, 2011

Zany Flies Solo - Empanadas and a Really Good Friday

Times have been tough without my pal Zany. When I haven’t been feeding my sense of abandonment with an endless diet of Peanut Butter and Fluff sandwiches, I’ve had to endure one bad catered business lunch after another consisting of slimy pasta salad and dry cookies the size of hockey pucks. I’ve been trying to organize a new lunch team, but so far, the candidates have been dubious at best. One of them even told me he couldn’t make a food truck run one day, because “he felt fat.” How do you respond to that?

Through it all, Zany has been an ever-present force on email. Despite the move to Chicago, she’s even more tuned in to New York truck food news than ever before. I heard the news that the Frites ‘n’ Meats Truck had exploded from Zany first. Still, I’ve worried about her. Chicago can be a lonely city for food truck aficionados. Is she keeping up her strength? Is she eating well? Is she consuming the minimum daily requirement of meat and fried foods? I learn more when the following missive - the first official "guest post" ever on Culinary Types - appears in my email box from Zany:

Dear TW -

Forty-four. That’s how many days it was since I graced the line of a New York City food truck. The drought of culinary adventure was leaving me weak and delirious. In fact, when I saw it, I was confused and thought it was a hallucination.

It was Good Friday and I had effectively accomplished little on my work holiday. It was around noon when I mustered the energy to put on my gym gear. I shuffled to the table to grab my iPod when out of the corner of my eye – there it was. Thirty-eight floors down and two blocks over was a parked, blue pastel truck with a growing crowd of people. I paused and my inner Zany hit me – “It’s a food truck, you idiot!” Easter had come early.

I gasped, causing my husband, Luigi – the Italian baker, to come dashing into the dining room exclaiming, “What happened?!” I lowered my hands from my mouth and whispered, “It’s a food truck.” Luigi – after scolding me for my sheer excitement – trudged back into his home office.

I threw down my iPod, opened the computer, and within five minutes identified the vehicle as the 5411 Empanada Truck. I quickly changed, ran into Luigi’s office and furiously started digging through a box. “Now what,” he demanded. “CAMERA – I NEED the camera,” I explained. “It’s empanadas…I’ve just got to go.” Luigi had many more questions – like “I thought you were going to the gym,” “What’s an empanada,” and “Can you get me one” – but I didn’t have time. It was 12:30 p.m. and I had to make it to the truck before lunch was over.

As I hurried out the door I felt a renewed energy. “TW would be so proud,” I thought as my smile spread and I quickened my pace. And then my step got slower. I had no TW. No Mad Me-Shell. Not even a Marie-Antoinette. I was alone.

When I joined the back of the line, I began to feel better.

In true Zany fashion, I craned my neck to examine the line and menu options, and suddenly the rain drops came. My excitement outweighed my prudence and I didn’t bring an umbrella. As I pulled my scarf over my head I mumbled, “Marie-Antoinette would never stand out in the rain.”

The line moved quickly but by the time I made it to the front, two of the six empanada options were sold out. I shared in the collective groan when a woman crossed the “beef” and “sweet corn” flavors off the board. When the kind gentlemen asked, “What would you like?” I was anxious, but with confidence I did what TW would’ve done. I asked for one of everything they had.

With brown bag in hand I ran back to my apartment, but caught the “local” elevator that made eight stops before my floor. As I impatiently tapped my foot, I noticed another smart food connoisseur carrying the same brown bag. I leaned over and in a low voice said, “So you got the empanadas, too?” He smiled and we quickly exchanged pleasantries about food trucks. Another passenger joined the conversation and commented, “I hear food trucks are really big in New York.” The smile disappeared from my face as the elevator reached my floor and I stepped out.

Back in the apartment I laid out the beautifully packaged spread – ham and cheese, spinach and cheese, barbeque chicken and caramelized onion. I called out to Luigi to join me.

Feeling bad about skipping the gym, I broke into the spinach and cheese empanada first. The pastry shell was perfect and there was a distinct hint of parmesan.

We tried the ham and cheese next. Its taste was as unique as its shape. The weight of the cheese and the thickness of ham made this empanada a true comfort food.

While I had been tackling the empanadas by finger, Luigi came to the table with silverware. I decided to cut him some slack, but asked, “So what do you think so far?” He replied, “The ham and cheese is too heavy for me.” With a blank stare I replied, “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

We tore through the barbeque chicken next, which had a tangy, sweet sauce. I took a quick break to text Mad to let her know that she would definitely enjoy that empanada. She quickly wrote back to say she was jealous of my lunch, but it was OK because she was off gallivanting on a boat somewhere in Tennessee.

Luigi and I wrapped up lunch with the caramelized onion empanada. We both didn’t know what to expect, but the sweet flavors of the onion drew us in. We almost had to rock, paper, scissors it out to determine who took the remaining piece of this empanada, but Luigi recognized it was in his best interest to let me have the honors.

In a final attempt to elicit some good discussion, I asked Luigi again about his opinions. He didn’t seem to get it. He simply ranked his opinion of the empanadas – onion, barbeque, spinach and ham and cheese – and resumed his working day. I sighed in disappointment – even Marie-Antoinette could do better.

Then I did what I should’ve done at the outset. I turned to The Boss and he was eagerly waiting to sample everything.

Yours in condiments,


©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved