Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fungus Among Us

When’s the best time to visit friends? Right after they’ve been mushroom hunting, of course! Especially if there are matsutake mushrooms involved. These lovely fungi are somewhat of a rarity and I recently had the pleasure of trying them. 

Matsutake, which literally translates from Japanese as “ear of the pine tree,” are difficult to find and highly sought after, making them a pretty pricy commodity. While the ones I tried were found in the Pacific Northwest, they are traditionally very popular in Japan and are believed to symbolize fertility, happiness, and good fortune. They are also associated with autumn and friendship. The Japanese appreciation of matsutake mushrooms extends at least as far back at 759 A.D. when it was referenced in a poem. These mushrooms were often associated with Japanese nobility, and women in the Imperial Court of Kyoto in the eleventh century were even forbidden from speaking its name. They are often prepared by simply grilling slices or adding them to miso soup.

Matustake mushrooms have a very distinct aroma that is spicy, sweet, and citrusy. Apparently, they are the only mushrooms that can be identified just by their smell. If you ever get the chance to try these baller mushrooms you definitely don’t want to pass up the opportunity. I’d never heard of, seen, or tasted matsutake mushrooms before, but I loved them and am definitely hooked—too bad they’re not more widely available. One Web site claims that “whomever eats this mushroom will not be denied its magical beauty,” and I have to agree. It was definitely a magical, beautiful experience.

We ate the mushrooms in a soup. It was all very simple—a homemade chicken broth with onions and the mushrooms sliced very thin. The flavors were earthy, salty, savory, and satisfying. To give you an idea of how delicious it was, just know that while I was eating the soup I put a spoonful in my mouth, closed my eyes, and became so focused on appreciating all the delectable umami flavors of the mushrooms that I ended up spilling the soup on my lap. Apparently I lost touch with reality for a moment. It was exactly what you want out of a soup—one that pleases the taste buds and warms the soul.

There were also chanterelles and a pig’s ear mushroom from the mushroom hunting expedition. Unfortunately the pig’s ear had bugs in it so we didn’t get to try it. The chanterelles, however, were delicious when cooked up with some eggs for breakfast.

If you have a chance to enjoy some tasty mushrooms and want to keep the mushroom theme going for the night then I highly recommend watching the ridiculous horror movie Shrooms, which is conveniently available on Netflix instant play. The movie also works well for the Halloween season! Enjoy…

Song of the Week: Trick or Treat

Quote of the Week: PB & J

"You know what you should never do when you're eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?...Hug someone. You know why?...Peanut butter and jelly ALL over the place. And then you're like, Maaaaa, maaaaa! There's peanut butter and jelly everywhere..."

--random man on bus

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Quote of the Week: Vanilla Ice Cream and Sloe Gin

"Sometimes now I listen to Louis [Armstrong] while I have my favorite dessert of vanilla ice cream and sloe gin. I pour the red liquid over the white mound, watching it glisten and the vapor rising as Louis bends that military instrument into a beam of lyrical sound."

--The nameless protagonist of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Hey everyone! I just wanted to draw your attention to a new feature on my blog--the foodie survey. It's located in the upper part of the left column, and you should be able to just click on the answer(s) you want. I'll be adding a new survey every couple  of weeks and reporting the results when the polls close. 

Let me know if you have any ideas for survey questions. Cheers!

Devil's Dictionary

For all of you who read my blog and are wondering, as a new friend expressed to me, “does she go to school or just travel?” the answer is yes, I do go to school. I just also  happen to travel a lot. I’m currently pursuing a doctorate in history, and to prove it, I’m basing this post off the writings of Ambrose Bierce.

We recently read the Civil War stories of Bierce for one of my courses, and a fellow student and friend reminded me of Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, which is brimming with lots of witty food-related definitions. You can read the Devil's Dictionary in its entirety at Google Books.

Ambrose Bierce was an American writer who published his satirical dictionary in 1911, informing the American public of words of wisdom, such as defining wit as “the salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.” I’ve selected all the references to food and eating and assembled them here for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Abdomen, n. The temple of the god Stomach, in whose worship, with sacrificial rights, all true men engage. From women this ancient faith commands but a stammering assent. They sometimes minister at the altar in a half-hearted and ineffective way, but true reverence for the one deity that men really adore they know not. If woman had a free hand in the world's marketing the race would become graminivorous.

Air, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.

Aphorism, n. Predigested wisdom.

Appetite, n. An instinct thoughtfully implanted by Providence as a solution to the labor question.

Bacchus, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.

Bait, n. A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is beauty.

Belladonna, n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

Botany, n. The science of vegetables -- those that are not good to eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers, which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-smelling.

Brandy, n. A cordial composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the-grave and four parts clarified Satan. Dose, a headful all the time. Brandy is said by Dr. Johnson to be the drink of heroes. Only a hero will venture to drink it.

Cabbage, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head.

Cannibal, n. A gastronome of the old school who preserves the simple tastes and adheres to the natural diet of the pre-pork period.

Carnivorous, adj. Addicted to the cruelty of devouring the timorous vegetarian, his heirs and assigns.

Crayfish, n. A small crustacean very much resembling the lobster, but less indigestible.

Dejeuner, n. The breakfast of an American who has been in Paris. Variously pronounced.

Digestion, n. The conversion of victuals into virtues. When the process is imperfect, vices are evolved instead -- a circumstance from which that wicked writer, Dr. Jeremiah Blenn, infers that the ladies are the greater sufferers from dyspepsia.

Eat, v.i. To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation, and deglutition.

Edible, adj. Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.

Epicure, n. An opponent of Epicurus, an abstemious philosopher who, holding that pleasure should be the chief aim of man, wasted no time in gratification from the senses.

, n. A sacred feast of the religious sect of Theophagi. A dispute once unhappily arose among the members of this sect as to what it was that they ate. In this controversy some five hundred thousand have already been slain, and the question is still unsettled.

Feast, n. A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness. In the Roman Catholic Church feasts are "movable" and "immovable," but the celebrants are uniformly immovable until they are full. In their earliest development these entertainments took the form of feasts for the dead; such were held by the Greeks, under the name Nemeseia, by the Aztecs and Peruvians, as in modern times they are popular with the Chinese; though it is believed that the ancient dead, like the modern, were light eaters. Among the many feasts of the Romans was the Novemdiale, which was
held, according to Livy, whenever stones fell from heaven.

Fork, n. An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth. Formerly the knife was employed for this purpose, and by many worthy persons is still thought to have many advantages over the other tool, which, however, they do not altogether reject, but use to assist in charging the knife. The immunity of these persons from swift and awful death is one of the most striking proofs of God's mercy to those that hate Him.

Frog, n. A reptile with edible legs. 

Frying-pan, n. One part of the penal apparatus employed in that punitive institution, a woman's kitchen. The frying-pan was invented by Calvin, and by him used in cooking span-long infants that had died without baptism; and observing one day the horrible torment of a tramp who had incautiously pulled a fried babe from the waste-dump and devoured it, it occurred to the great divine to rob death of its terrors by introducing the frying-pan into every household in Geneva. Thence it spread to all corners of the world, and has been of invaluable assistance in the propagation of his sombre faith. 

Glutton, n. A person who escapes the evils of moderation by committing dyspepsia.

Grape, n.

Hail noble fruit! -- by Homer sung,
Anacreon and Khayyam;
Thy praise is ever on the tongue
Of better men than I am.

The lyre in my hand has never swept,
The song I cannot offer:
My humbler service pray accept --
I'll help to kill the scoffer.
The water-drinkers and the cranks
Who load their skins with liquor --
I'll gladly bear their belly-tanks
And tap them with my sticker.

Fill up, fill up, for wisdom cools
When e'er we let the wine rest.
Here's death to Prohibition's fools,
And every kind of vine-pest!

--Jamrach Holobom

Hash, x. There is no definition for this word -- nobody knows what hash is.

Heart, n. An automatic, muscular blood-pump. Figuratively, this useful organ is said to be the esat of emotions and sentiments – a very pretty fancy which, however, is nothing but a survival of a once universal belief. It is now known that the sentiments and emotions reside in the stomach, being evolved from food by chemical action of the gastric fluid. The exact process by which a beefsteak becomes a feeling -- tender or not, according to the age of the animal from which it was cut; the successive stages of elaboration through which a caviar sandwich is transmuted to a quaint fancy and reappears as a pungent epigram; the marvelous functional methods of converting a hard-boiled egg into religious contrition, or a cream-puff into a sigh of sensibility -- these things have been patiently ascertained by M. Pasteur, and by him expounded with convincing lucidity.
Hog, n. A bird remarkable for the catholicity of its appetite and serving to illustrate that of ours. Among the Mahometans and Jews, the hog is not in favor as an article of diet, but is respected for the delicacy and the melody of its voice. It is chiefly as a songster that the fowl is esteemed; the cage of him in full chorus has been known to draw tears from two persons at once. The scientific name of this dicky-bird is Porcus Rockefelleri. Mr. Rockefeller did not discover the hog, but it is considered his by right of resemblance.

Hospitality, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.

Idleness, n. A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices.

Indigestion, n. A disease which the patient and his friends frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the salvation of mankind. As the simple Red Man of the western wild put it, with, it must be confessed, a certain force: "Plenty well, no pray; big bellyache, heap God."

Lettuce, n. An herb of the genus Lactuca, "Wherewith," says that pious gastronome, Hengist Pelly, "God has been pleased to reward the good and punish the wicked. For by his inner light the righteous man has discerned a manner of compounding for it a dressing to the appetency whereof a multitude of gustible condiments conspire, being reconciled and ameliorated with profusion of oil, the entire comestible making glad the heart of the godly and causing his face to shine. But the person of spiritual unworth is successfully tempted to the Adversary to eat of lettuce with destitution of oil, mustard, egg, salt and garlic, and with a rascal bath of vinegar polluted with sugar. Wherefore the person of spiritual unworth suffers an intestinal pang of strange complexity and raises the song."

Life, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.

Liver, n. A large red organ thoughtfully provided by nature to be bilious with. The sentiments and emotions which every literary anatomist now knows to haunt the heart were anciently believed to infest the liver; and even Gascoygne, speaking of the emotional side of human nature, calls it "our hepaticall parte." It was at one time considered the seat of life; hence its name -- liver, the thing we live with. The liver is heaven's best gift to the goose; without it that bird would be unable to supply us with the Strasbourg pate.

Manna, n. A food miraculously given to the Israelites in the wilderness. When it was no longer supplied to them they settled down and tilled the soil, fertilizing it, as a rule, with the bodies of the original occupants.

Mayonnaise, n. One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.

Nectar, n. A drink served at banquets of the Olympian deities. The secret of its preparation is lost, but the modern Kentuckians believe that they come pretty near to a knowledge of its chief ingredient.

Oyster, n. A slimy, gobby shellfish which civilization gives men the hardihood to eat without removing its entrails! The shells are sometimes given to the poor.

Pie, n. An advance agent of the reaper whose name is Indigestion.

Pig, n. An animal (Porcus omnivorus) closely allied to the human race by the splendor and vivacity of its appetite, which, however, is inferior in scope, for it sticks at pig.

Portuguese, A species of geese indigenous to Portugal. They are mostly without feathers and imperfectly edible, even when stuffed with garlic.

Potable, n. Suitable for drinking. Water is said to be potable; indeed, some declare it our natural beverage, although even they find it palatable only when suffering from the recurrent disorder known as thirst, for which it is a medicine. Upon nothing has so great and diligent ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages and in all countries, except the most uncivilized, as upon the invention of substitutes for water. To hold that this general aversion to that liquid has no basis in the preservative instinct of the race is to be unscientific -- and without science we are as the snakes and toads.

Rarebit, n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad-in-a-hole is really not a toad, and that riz-de-veau a la financiere is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she banker.

Rice-water, n. A mystic beverage secretly used by our most popular novelists and poets to regulate the imagination and narcotize the conscience. It is said to be rich in both obtundite and lethargine, and is brewed in a midnight fog by a fat which of the Dismal Swamp.

Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.

Satiety, n. The feeling that one has for the plate after he has eaten its contents, madam.

Sauce, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is renounced and forgiven.

Table d'hote, n. A caterer's thrifty concession to the universal passion for irresponsibility.

Teetotaler, n. One who abstains from strong drink, sometimes totally, sometimes tolerably totally.

Tope, v. To tipple, booze, swill, soak, guzzle, lush, bib, or swig. In the individual, toping is regarded with disesteem, but toping nations are in the forefront of civilization and power. When pitted against the hard-drinking Christians the absemious Mahometans go down like grass before the scythe. In India one hundred thousand beef-eating and brandy-and-soda guzzling Britons hold in subjection two hundred and fifty million vegetarian abstainers of the same Aryan race. With what an easy grace the whisky-loving American pushed the temperate Spaniard out of his possessions! From the time when the Berserkers ravaged all the coasts of western Europe and lay drunk in every conquered port it has been the same way: everywhere the nations that drink too much are observed to fight rather well and not too righteously. Wherefore the estimable old ladies who abolished the canteen from the American army may justly boast of having materially augmented the nation's military power.

Turkey, n. A large bird whose flesh when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude. Incidentally, it is pretty good eating.

Wheat, n. A cereal from which a tolerably good whisky can with some difficulty be made, and which is used also for bread. The French are said to eat more bread per capita of population than any other people, which is natural, for only they know how to make the stuff palatable.

Wine, n. Fermented grape-juice known to the Women's Christian Union as "liquor," sometimes as "rum." Wine, madam, is God's next best gift to man.

Wit, n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.

Succulent Tongue Coulis

If you think that grad students just sit around, drink coffee, and talk about post-modernism and Jacques Derrida (aka Jacques La-di-da), then you're wrong. We know how to have with magnetic poetry at least. 

Here's what happened when I put foodie magnetic poetry up on the fridge. Of course, I kicked it off with "savor oyster love," but some people took it to a whole new level... 

Song of the Week: Solid Potato Salad

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Street and Company

What did I love most about Portland, Maine? Everything. Well, besides the amazing people I stayed with I’d have to say that a highlight of the trip was being treated to an exquisite dinner at Street and Company, located at 33 Wharf Street.

The atmosphere was rustic yet lovely. All the table tops were copper and the kitchen was open so you can see the chefs hard at work as they prepared fresh, delicious meals. The menu was very simple, and yet it was still difficult to make a decision.

One of our main aims for dinner was to get me some oysters (what else is new?), and Street and Co. turned out to be the perfect place for it.

So my appetizer was an easy decision, of course. Our server told us they had three types of Maine oysters that night, so rather than getting a half dozen of one kind I got two of each. Good choice. The three oysters were Bagaduce from Brookesville, Nonesuch from Scarborough, and Winter Points from West Bath. Not surprisingly they all tasted very similar, seeing as they all came from Maine waters. My favorite, however, were the Winter Points because their flavor just seemed to pop a little more. All the oysters had that delicious brininess—the mark of an Atlantic Ocean oyster.

 Next up was salad. I decided to go for something I would never usually order or make at home: a seasonal salad of local cabbage with house-cured bacon, local cheddar, and Dijon dressing. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I never work with cabbage much unless I’m making egg rolls or throwing it in a pot of boiling water with corned beef and potatoes for St. Patrick’s Day. It. Was. Amazing. The cabbage was thinly shredded, so it was fresh and crunchy but much easier to eat that large pieces of cabbage would be. It was lightly tossed in the Dijon dressing, which gave it a little kick. And then those small chunks of cheddar and bacon were a happy surprise in every bite, the cheddar offering a sharp flavor and the bacon a meaty, savory taste.

Danny got a beet salad, which was tossed with apples and topped with some sort of something…honestly, we had no idea what it was and I completely forgot to ask the server. But it was tasty and soft and crumbly. Who knows? We just knew that we loved it. The beets were flavorful and tender, which juxtaposed nicely against the crunchiness of the green apples. I always think I don’t like beets until I eat them, and this salad may have converted me into a beet lover.

Susan ordered an arugula salad, which came with lots of little goat cheese crumbles. The arugula embodied that quintessential spicy, peppery flavor that it’s known for, and the cheese was nice and creamy. Susan couldn’t finish it, but Danny and I happily devoured the rest.

For the entrée I opted for scallops “in the pan” with a pernod cream sauce. The succulent scallops came with green and yellow beans and barley. Scallops can be tricky, and I’ve had some experiences at restaurants where they are overcooked, not seared properly, and sandy. Street and Co., however, cooked them absolutely perfectly. The sear on those scallops was something to write home about. They were a beautiful golden-brown color, but when I cut into them the center was soft and tender. Each scallop was like a jewel on my plate. They were something to be admired for their beauty and quality, and then eaten with care and consideration. 

Danny ordered clams with white sauce over linguini. The linguini had that nice, al dente bite to it. The clams were abundant and, like all the seafood in Portland, rich with that fresh essence of the ocean. 

Susan ordered a special—a blackened tuna steak in a lovely, rich heirloom carrot puree. When asked by the server how she wanted it cooked, Susan responded like a true foodie, "I want it the way the chef likes to cook it." Again, the sear was perfect and the middle was still raw, just the way you want high-quality tuna to be.

Oh, and dessert! It was heavenly. We were pretty full so we decided to split dessert. The server told us our options, and by that point I had no idea what I wanted. But Danny knew: pecan praline pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pie was sticky and sweet and oh-so satisfying, and the cold, creamy ice cream was the perfect accompaniment to the pie. Not only does Street and Co. serve up fresh seafood in all the right ways, they can also make one hell of a dessert. 

I ate everything. Absolutely everything. I’m usually the type to take home half my entrée because I’m too full, but not at Street and Co. I couldn’t resist finishing every single bite. Needless to say the itis set in as soon as we stepped out the door. My mind was in a fog of delicious tastes and the feel-good chemicals that only a decadent meal can release. It was as though I was drunk off food. As soon as we got home I tucked myself into bed, turned out the lights, and dreamed of oysters and scallops and clams and…

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