Results tagged coffee from David Lebovitz

Midleton Farmers’ Market, Ireland

Midleton Farmers market greens

How excited was I to get an invitation to be a speaker at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest festival at the Ballymaloe Cookery School? It popped into my mailbox a few months ago and although I had been to Ballymaloe a few years back, I remembered the exceptional food of Cork, Ireland, and the lovely people – which meant there was no way in heck I was going to refuse.

Irish bread

Yesterday, which was the first full day of the event, I took 350+ pictures; as I said to someone here, “You can’t take a bad picture in Cork.” The intense green fields and trees, the low-lying landscape, and the pristine fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats, remind me in many ways of Northern California, with a chill passing through the air every once in a while alternating with moments of sunlight and brightness before the sun retreats again.

Ballymaloe lunch salads

But it’s mainly the food that I come back for – fresh goat cheeses, a strong commitment to sustainable meats and fish, liberal use of fresh vegetables, and a pride of ingredients that shines through every plate of every meal that’s set down before us.

Ballymaloe house bread and butter-4

Even breakfast at Ballymaloe House, their restaurant, is made with free-range eggs laid by chickens just around the corner, bacon from rare-breed pigs that tastes better than anything you can imagine, and sausage that you don’t feel guilty biting in to, because you know that everything in there isn’t a mysterious blend of dubious meat scraps from who-knows-where. But skillfully blended and seasoned, making it the perfect accompaniment, and a hearty start to the day, along with the eggs and freshly baked whole grain bread that I’ve become addicted to.

Irish breakfast

While every moment of the weekend is jam-packed with talks, tastings, and socializing with old friends and new, Friday night we’d decided to get up early and hit the nearby farmers’ market in Midleton on Saturday morning, which I’ve visited once before. With a jam-packed schedule, we didn’t have much time to spare before the festivities started and we figured arriving at 8am would give us enough time to get a good look at everything.

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Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville Virginia fried chicken

I have to admit, it’s been a bit difficult to blog while I’ve been on the road. Much of it is that I have a little MacBook Air computer that I got specifically for travel, whose lightness has saved my back, but the tiny screen makes it hard to write on since I can only see a few sentences/thoughts at a time. In addition to that, pictures get reduced to a much smaller size so I’ve been peering at my screen, hunched over to see the photos that are about the size of a post-it note. No wonder the eye doctor I saw a few weeks ago dialed up my prescription big-time. I fear that the time is rapidly approaching that I’ll resemble Mr. Magoo.

Charlottesville Virginia-22

I’ve been so busy that I arrived home from my trip to Charlottesville to a Final Disconnection Notice from the electric and gas company since I’ve been remiss in paying them, I guess. So if I disappear completely, at least you’ll know why.

University of Virginia

So, naturally, when I was invited by the Department of French at the University of Virginia to come and speak, I didn’t hesitate for a minute to say yes. Because free time is overrated, isn’t it? (Please say yes….)

University of Virginia

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Meeting the Producers and Cooks in Paris

Paris Producers Fête - Belgian endive

An anonymous SMS (text) popped up on the screen of my phone late Saturday afternoon, letting me know that there was a journée de rencontre les producteurs on the rue du Nil in Paris, where there would be wine and food, and a chance to meet the producteurs (producers). There was no name attached to it — someday, I will figure out how to sync my iPhone with my contact list so that it doesn’t lose contacts. But I presumed it wasn’t a trap (albeit a tasty one…) or anything. And since the street is known for great food shops that carefully source their ingredients, and good places to eat, I arranged to meet some friends, including Sara, visiting from Italy, to see what was up.

Paris Producers Fête

After figuring out who had sent me the message (whew, it wasn’t some loony-toon, but the chef at Frenchie), we started off with some wine and cheese at Frenchie Wine Bar, which is normally packed solid from the moment the door swings open in the evening. But this afternoon, we just walked in and sat down at one of the many empty tables. (Which didn’t last long.) There were three kinds of cheese: Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, and Saint-Nectaire, a favorite of French people, although it’s not the one that I normally dive into first.

Paris Producers Fête

A great hostess in Paris confided in me once that the secret of a great party is to only serve three things. Basta. And it was, indeed, nice to have an edited selection of fromages to taste, rather than having to pick though dozens of varieties. Which start looking pretty funky once a bunch of people have attacked them from all angles.

Paris Producers Fête

I had a nice slab of pungently creamy Roquefort, a coarse slice of country bread, and butter. (French people often smear butter on bread before eating blue cheese or Roquefort, which sounds kind of crazy, but actually works.) It was hard to leave that table, but after we finished our wine and cheese, we headed back out to the street to see what was up. At this point, our seats had become a valuable commodity. Although unlike at other food events, people were very calm and friendly.

(I tend to avoid food events because people get carried away and it becomes a feeding frenzy. And I don’t particularly enjoying standing in a mob of jostling people, fighting for a postage stamp-size taste of something. I’m fine buying a bite, then sitting down and eating something in a civilized fashion.)

Paris Producers Fête

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Hyères, Provence

Hyères, Provence (France)

I had no sooner returned from Sicily, then I unpacked my suitcase, re-packed my suitcase, and headed back out, to Provence. Even though I’d just returned from a ten-day trip, my other half was doing a project in the city I went along for the ride because, 1) Who wants to be sitting in a hot apartment, alone, in the summer, when you could be by the sea? And 2) The icy rosé of the south was calling. (And drinking alone raises other issues.) So I went.

Our hotel was very basic, but I loved the bathroom colors, holdovers from France in the 70s, or perhaps the 80s? Or someone was exceptionally good at recreating vintage French bathroom fixtures and colors. As I was happily lathering myself up after the humid train ride, I kept thinking that I’ve finally mastered the French curtainless hotel shower, and gotten it down.

Hyères, Provence (France)

Except when it was time to stop soaping up one side, and move to the other. And I realized that it’s that switch that I’ve yet to master; the moment when you need to swap the soap-holding hand with the hand holding the pommeau de douche (nozzle head), and a fountain-like spray of water breaks loose all over the bathroom. I’m not sure how one does it, especially when there is no holder for the shower nozzle. But I guess that’s why they load hotel rooms up with towels.

Hyères, Provence (France)

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Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, at the Smithsonian Museum

Smithsonian Museum

Unfortunately, book tours offer little – if any – free time. Sometimes you want to check out places that are miles away from your hotel, which are hopeless causes (although not always). But since publishers and venues are flying you around, they’re not footing the bill for a leisurely evening with friends, or with copious time to explore the city. (And I don’t blame them.) So you value every precious second you have. Your best bet is to remain within a close radius of your hotel. If you’re fortunate, you can race to a Japanese restaurant, cafe, or doughnut shop. Other times, you’re happy to lie in a nice bed and watch “The View.”

Smithsonian Museum

For the most part, the weather on my tour was spectacular. And while I can’t take credit for that, still, people thanked me for bringing sunny skies with me, wherever I went. In Seattle, I hit the city during one of the rare thirty days of sunshine (out of 365 days.) But not always. Heading to Miami, just as we were poised to take off on the runway, our plane turned around and headed back to the gate to get more fuel because a hurricane warning in Florida, which might force us to land elsewhere. (We ended up arriving okay, but we circled high above the Miami airport for a couple of hours, waiting for it to reopen.) Yet the next day in Miami, the skies were spectacular.

And for my last city and stop of the tour, I had the pleasure of sitting on a green, grassy lawn at the Washington, D.C. farmers’ market, in the nation’s capital, signing books and chatting to shoppers, who were loading up their baskets with bunches of asparagus, strawberries, and radishes as well as first-of-the-season tomatoes and excellent cheeses.

Since I miraculously ended up with a rare, free afternoon the following day, I hoofed it over to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, to check out Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

The exhibit highlights how American eating and shopping habits have changed during those five decades, and the museum compiled this retrospective to show the progression and evolution of the changes leading up to what shows up at the American table.

Smithsonian Museum

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I’m sorry, Vancouver

Vancouver Canada

A while back I was discussing something with a Canadian friend in Paris. Until – at one point, she stopped the discussion and said, “Y’know, I’m Canadian. I don’t have an opinion.” And while that may be true, before touching down in Vancouver, I decided to give crowd-sourcing where I should go for dinner another go, since I knew almost nothing about where to go in Vancouver. The only thing I knew was that it was known to have especially great Asian food. And it seemed a shame not to indulge in some of it.

Mexican food truck

Vancouver Food Truck

Since my plane was coming near the tail end of the dinner hour, and I had to be up-and-at-‘em early the next morning, I needed somewhere to go that was near to my hotel. After a day of flying, I wasn’t up for wandering around an unfamiliar city in my dazed stupor. And since I only have the barest minimum of free time, I needed to use it wisely – and make sure I didn’t eat any meals that were duds.

food truck

For an opinion-free culture, folks on Twitter sure had plenty to say about where to go, although many were eliminated since “near” was the operative word. I also learned that apologizing for everything was another trait Canadians were known for. And as we were lining up to exit the plane and race toward the border patrol area, which is usually a scrum elsewhere, I heard plenty of people apologizing and saying “Oh, I’m sorry” to each other. And letting them pass.

canada flag

On the food front, a few places kept popping up repeatedly, and looking at a map once I landed, and talking to the nice folks at my hotel, I saw thatShuraku was just a five minute walk away from where I was staying. So that was the deciding factor.

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Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

France Map

French cuisine is, once again, a popular topic of discussion these days. Actually, anything controversial about France seems to foster a lot of heated debates. On one side are the folks decrying French-bashing, complaining that the French are unfairly picked on. Then there are the others who eat up books about how superior the French are, because they are better at parenting, they miraculously stay thin, they don’t have plastic surgery, everyone enjoys months of vacations, and Paris is a magical place where love, fashion, and fine food, flourish on the cobbled streets of the city. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between and, like any where, there is the great, the ordinary, and a bit of the not-so-good. I want to play the referee but there’s usually a bit of truth in most compliments and criticisms, and the reality is more complicated.

French cuisine gets its share of praise and criticism, some deserved, some not. One truth I’ve learned after living here for over a decade is that people really like to eat. The outdoor markets are crowded, lines snake out the door at bakeries, and cafés and restaurants are packed – even on Tuesday evenings – in spite of la crise (the economic crisis).

But what is French cuisine? Traditionally, cuisine du potager (cooking from the garden) or cuisine du marché (cooking from the daily market) were the foundations of French cuisine. Cuisine du potager was born out of economic and common sense; you cooked and ate what was closest to where you lived. Part of it was out of necessity (there was no Chinese garlic or avocados from Peru way-back-when), but mostly because the food was either free, picked from your own garden, or grown nearby. So you were always eating seasonally and locally. In France, you were cooking and eating local products; fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, peas from your garden, eggs from the neighbor’s chicken coop, and bread from the village bakery.

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Belleville Brûlerie & Holybelly

Belleville Brulerie

Hoo-boy, do I remember the bunch of flack (to say the least!) for mentioning way-back-when that the coffee in Paris could use a bit of, um, upgrading. I was recently reminiscing about that with my friend Pim, who wrote about it in 2005. People were up in arms, which was a little bizarre since the French often refer to café coffee as jus de chausettes, or “sock juice.”

Belleville Brulerie

If you’ve been to Paris, you know that there are lots of cafés but the quality of the coffee isn’t the focus. However, like all cities, Paris evolves, and in the past few years, a whole battalion of younger folks, some French, and others from elsewhere, have opened shops sprouted up far and wide, at a rate that was so fast, that I couldn’t possibly try them all. (And with all that caffeine surging through my system, I would have lost 6 1/2 years of sleep.) And other people were doing such a good job of cataloging them all, that I just sat back and focused on other things.

Belleville Brulerie

Being from San Francisco, where coffee-culture can be obsessive compulsive – if you didn’t study the micron size of each granule of coffee grinds or have your water analyzed to ensure your coffee was as clear as a sleek Chemex carafe – you, and your coffee, simply weren’t up to snuff. I went to espresso school in Italy, where I watched and learned from the Italian experts how the seemingly simple task of extracting a perfect espresso actually depended on having mastered a few key techniques and having the right grinder and espresso machine.

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