Saturday, May 29, 2010

Grilled Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Aioli and Baby Watercress

Yes, I realize that’s a photograph of a grilled ham a cheese sandwich, but sometimes a girl just wants to be taken care of. It’s my 41st birthday today, and I’ve spent much of the last few days nostalgic over a sweet childhood made immediate by home movies my father recently converted from reel-to-reel to DVDs. I’ve been tearfully watching my innocent tiny self and my loving young parents and grandparents on screen, and assessing my life and the choices I’ve made since my 4th birthday. And yesterday, I injured my foot while taking class, and, while waiting for an x-ray, enjoyed the theater of New York's emergency room, the drunk claiming she was a doctor, the prisoner leg-cuffed to her wheelchair. My foot's not broken, but in ten short days I have to run around on stage in Amsterdam, when I perform in Boris Charmatz's 50 Years of Dance, so it needs to heal up quickly. Yeah, I wanted a grilled cheese. And tomato soup. And I wished I was four again so my mother could make it for me.

I might be having a mid-life crisis. Or more like a mid-life what the hell? Turning 40 was no big deal; I was much too involved in party planning and party food cooking and Las Vegas escaping with my then husband to think about what this milestone meant. This year, I’m alone, with few friends in New York, and a swollen foot. And I just finished Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, not the book to choose when one is watching one's own childhood innocence on screen, feeling ambivalent about aging, and then observing all of life’s challenges on one’s face in the mirror. But I look much younger than my years, so perhaps there’s a portrait of me hidden away somewhere expressing all of my life’s regret, worry, questions. Hmm...

On the positive side, I spent a lovely four days visiting my sister with my parents in Portland, Oregon, eating lots of terrific food, walking along the beach at the coast, and even reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend from college. Portland is a food town, and for every meal I ate locally grown, organic, and sustainably raised food accompanied by locally produced wines. Remarkable culinary moments included the crispy sweetbreads with local morels, and a spinach and mâche salad with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and balsamic vinegar-marinated strawberries from Paley’s, nearly all of the brightly flavored tapas at Toro Bravo, discovering the earthy and surprisingly unjunipery Aviation gin, and savoring a delicious variation of a croque monsieur, served as a breakfast sandwich, that was the inspiration for this post. Made with aioli, not béchamel, I added baby watercress for a touch of green, and with a little tomato soup, I think this sandwich might even have foot healing powers. And if not, there's always the gin.

Grilled Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Aioli and Baby Watercress Recipe

Gather all the ingredients, changing them around to your liking (baby spinach instead of watercress, aged Gouda for cheddar, tempeh instead of ham, etc.). Make the aioli by adding one small, minced clove of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard, and perhaps a touch more lemon juice to the homemade mayonnaise recipe at the bottom of this post. Slather the bread with the aioli, slice the cheese thinly and place on both slices of bread, add one slice of ham, and the greens. Grill in a buttered pan over medium heat until you've got a golden crust, and the cheese is melted through.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Market Brunch in Lyon and Parisian Memories

The most memorable meal I ate in the last week was not one I made. The specialty salad at an all night restaurant in Paris, La Poule au Pot, is a simple, yet ravishing bowl of spinach leaves and chicken livers in a savory vinaigrette, and my even more ravishing dining partner, a Frenchman, originally from the south, was the one to introduce it to me. “Ça me plait”, he said, when explaining that this meal is the one he orders regularly when dining here, and now I know why. Elegant and hearty, the acid of the dressing balances the rich livers, and writing about it now makes me want to hop a flight back to Paris to experience the evening again from the start.

Little did I know that this salad had a history among my friends. Returning to New York, I recounted my French adventures to my dancer friend Daniel, who knows the restaurant. “Did you have the spinach salad with the livers?” was his first question when I told him about dining at La Poule au Pot. “Tom claims that salad is responsible for a performance of a lifetime,” said my friend. “Tom said he felt invincible after eating that salad.”

La Poule au Pot is a restaurant frequented by performers from the nearby theaters. When in Paris, and during my time dancing with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, we generally stayed near Les Halles, the neighborhood of the restaurant, and within walking distance to Théâtre de la Ville, where we had two week seasons. By the time the evenings’ shows were finished, the more conventional nearby restaurants had long closed, and La Poule au Pot came to the rescue for many of us, Tom and Daniel included, but I don’t think I’d ever actually eaten there before now.

I don’t know about feeling invincible, but that salad certainly contributed to my not wanting to leave Paris. The lovely evening at La Poule au Pot, visiting my best friend Cheryl, spending time over rich meals in Lyon exchanging ideas with my good friend Cédric, working with the incredible dancers of the Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon, enjoying champagne-filled evenings with said friends, and unexpected and spontaneous moments creating new ones. Only one week in France and I’m already nostalgic. I’ll be back, Paris, and La Poule au Pot, and with some pretty great memories.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad Recipe

I’m hazily waking from a jet lagged afternoon nap and sipping tea while under the weight of a cozy down comforter. The red tiled rooftops of Lyon are visible through the wrought iron swirls of my hotel's wraparound balcony, and an over-sized porcelain bathtub is waiting for me in the crook of the next room, a triangular room, designed so guests here may soak privately, and still open the French doors to spy on the swifts curving around those rooftop chimneys.

I’m in France again, fine-tuning Beach Birds for the Lyon Opera Ballet’s Paris shows, but I’m also hanging around the city’s restaurants with my friend Cédric, eating. I’ve made good use of my time, and, in two days, I've tried grass-green zucchini soup with mackerel fritters, parmentier de veau topped with pureed sweet potatoes, tête de cochon (yes, that’s pig’s head, perhaps mixed with cartilagey pig’s feet and other strangely delicious and anonymous ingredients, cut up, disguised, and then breaded, fried, and served with vinegared potatoes), and tonight I think I’ll revisit one of my favorites from the region, quenelles de brochet with sauce Nantua, fish quenelles with crayfish sauce.

Decadence, yes, but I’m taking ballet class every morning with an English woman who, instead of counting while demonstrating the exercises, sings the rhythms like this: ticky ticky, hee hee, tock, and she makes me giggle while doing the hundred millionth or maybe billionth tendu of my life. Not a bad way to celebrate your billionth tendu, this, ticky tocky hee hee, tendu front, tendu back. Good morning body, wake up, and happily work off those rich meals. Hee hee fondue, hee hee rond de jambe, flicky flacky.

So, what I’m saying is, France is good. And I’m full. Here’s me, getting started.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad Recipe

Note from Banu: I was influenced by the following recipe while making this salad, but created my own version, and now, in my trans-Atlantic travels, I have misplaced the piece of paper with the scrawlings of my own ingredients, so, for lack of the original, here’s the one that inspired it; it’s not that far off, and I’ve included some of my variations in parentheses.

5 cloves garlic (I used two cloves)
1 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (I used two serranos)
3 tablespoons white sugar (I used maple syrup)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetarian fish sauce (I used regular fish sauce)
1 (12 ounce) package dried rice noodles (I used 8 ounces)
2 carrots, julienned
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and chopped (I substituted bean sprouts)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (I used basil)
4 leaves napa cabbage (I used more, a quarter of a head)
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
4 sprigs fresh mint

Mince the garlic with the cilantro and the hot pepper. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the lime juice, fish sauce or salt and sugar; stir well. Let the sauce sit for 5 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice noodles; boil them for 2 minutes. Drain well. Rinse the noodles with cold water until they have cooled. Let them drain again.

Combine the sauce, noodles, carrots, cucumber, mint and Napa cabbage in a large serving bowl. Toss well and serve the salad garnished with the peanuts and mint sprigs.


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