Yes, I'm aware 2 months of 2012 have already passed, so it might seem a bit late for a retrospective. But I don't think there's ever a statute of limitations on memories and a day like today seems to perfect day for looking back.
Looking back at 2011, I've eaten truffles in southern Oregon and Bone Marrow in London, and sampled the finest oysters from Northern France to Seattle, Washington. Back home I've eaten more of those ribs I long for, sticky and covered in bourbon and brown sugar and dry spice encrusted ones, oh so tender from hours of slow cooking all thanks to some kitchen savvy friends. I started my first vegetable garden and with my tiny plot of land enjoyed my first homegrown French Breakfast radish, and marveled at green beans eaten right off the plant, remembering my Gramma and the bushels of beans in her garden. I fell in love, once again, with Paris and its patisseries, markets and historic streets, and fully understood the passion so many have for that great city of London. My wine glass was full of Oregon Pinot Noir and simple Portuguese Vinho Verde (so underrated!), and my oven cranked out buttery Breton cakes and I finally mastered the Levain Bread I've been striving for all these years of baking bread. And these highlights too:
A Grand Dinner Party
My birthday falls 8 days after Christmas, which is not the ideal time of year to yearn for a big party. Everyone is just over their New Years hangovers and is already starting their January cleanse. I took matters into my own hands and threw myself a party. My Grand Dinner Party, as I termed it, included an intimate gathering of 8 and 9 courses cooked by myself and my hardworking sous chef, DG.
As "It's my party, and I'll "dine" if I want to...", I set the stage for my dream dinner party. I went old school, snail mailing invitations, instilled a dress code, bought the loveliest linen napkins with blue silk embroidery, pretty handblown candle holders, brought out my Florence menu stationary and personally selected all the wine pairings. We dined past midnight. It was just as I had envisioned. My single greatest joy is feeding friends, especially in a special occasion kind of way. This evening was a memorable way to bring in the new year.
Restaurant in Portland
We ventured to Portland and Seattle for food filled long weekends. 3 nights, 3 days and you'd be amazed the assortment of dining experiences we can pack in. In PDX we fell further in love with the cocktail, as this city can really mix it up, drinking in such establishments as Teardrop Lounge, surely a bartenders dream, and Clyde Common where I had my first wood aged cocktails, a revelation of a technique involving charred planks of wood, a mason jar, some booze and time.
In Seattle we finally dined at Canlis with the ghosts of Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire. A mid century architecture dream overlooking Lake Union, a family business for over 50 years, this American fine dining superstar certainly comes with expectations, all of which were met. There are few places like this anywhere. A gem.
Plates ready to serve a couple hundred people.
Further south we ventured to Eugene Oregon for the Oregon Truffle Festival. With the world's voracious appetite for the mysterious truffle and stocks diminishing in Europe, the Oregon truffle is certainly an up and coming food product that I'm sure we will start seeing more of. Over the course of a weekend we had a sausage making class with a renowned chef, toured some Oregon Pinot Noir wine country, had lunch with a truffle ambassador from Italy and feasted on a multi course meal from some of the pacific northwests finest chefs. While I'm not convinced that the Oregon truffle can ever stand beside the Perigord or Alba truffles of Europe, I do appreciate them on their own as a unique and flavourful ingredient.
A Party for ZD
Cheese Straws, Chocolate Bomb Cookies, Orange Tartlets, Confetti Squares, Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, Baby Cookies, Strawberry Cheesecakes
Close friends had a baby last year. A monumental occasion if there ever was one. I had the honour of co hosting the baby shower. Many might wonder what would make this passionate child free woman be so excited about such an event. One word : Baking! Baby showers are a unique sort of gathering, one that allows an old fashioned sort of frilliness, something I love!
I finally made that Croquebouche I've been dreaming of (that's the leaning Croquembouche tower you see) and many a colourful cookie, teeny orange tarts, retro cheesecakes, Confetti squares full of childhood cereals and all rounded out with sparkling lemonade and Champagne cocktails.
The Year of the Oyster
Oysters in Arcachon Bay, France
2011 in the end turned out to be the year of the oyster. DG and I have been developing a love for oysters for years now, but I would say this was the year is turned in to an almost obsession. Starting the year off right with our traditional New Years eve feast of our beloved local Kushi Oysters and Champagne and bookending the year with a Christmas Day appetizer, the oyster was a recurring theme.
DG checking out a beach almost entirely consisting of oyster shells in The Bay of Mont St Michel, Brittany.
In october we travelled to Europe where we indulged British and Scottish varieties in London, then down to the French Basque country for our first French Oysters of the year. We travelled through Arcachon, the largest oyster producing region in the world off the Southwest coast of France all the way to Cancale in Northern France.
We feasted on oysters straight from the oyster shacks, just a few metres from where they were cultivated. A dozen oysters, a simple glass of wine, a hunk of bread with butter, a picnic table on the ocean. The perfect lunch anywhere!
Ever since my first time in Provence, I've been in love with a little dried red pepper called Espelette. When planning our recent trip to France and deciding on a new region to visit, our decision to visit the French Basque was definitely influenced by the famed pepper. The tiny village of Espelette is the only place you can grow this pepper and label it as such. I had dreamed of seeing the village where they hang their peppers on the distinctive white Basque houses to dry before being ground for use as a spice. The sight did not disappoint and I can add another tick to my bucket list, food bucket that is.
2011 marked a new obsession with the cocktail, and classics or forgotten classics have been my focus. In the last year I've mastered many of them from The Sidecar to The Last Word and my own tweaked version of my all time favourite, The Manhattan.
Summer of 2011 also brought the Pimm's cup to this household in a big way. We drank it with mint and overflowing with cucumber and berries and homemade lemonade until it was almost going out of style.
Weekend mixology "seminars" with KS have further increased my crazy fascination with the well crafted cocktail. Having someone else just as passionate makes it that much more fun to get creative! Always mix with a friend, that's my new motto.
Most Memorable Restaurant Meal
On our last night in London, we travelled to The Harwood Arms where we enjoyed a Proper British Roast, deserving of the capital letters. All I have as documentation of that night is a very badly lit, fuzzy iphone photo, not worthy of this blog. This was an example of all the restaurant stars aligning. It had been a hectic 4 days in London and we were leaving the next day. Comfort was the name of the game that night. Enter the gastropub! In the middle of a very residential London neighborhood is this lovely, cozy and even elegant pub with a famous chef and famous food to match, and even a michelin star. Served on a huge wooden board almost the size of our table, a perfectly cooked roast of beef came out lovingly sliced, juicy and pink, smothered in melting bone marrow. Duck fat roast potatoes, rough and crispy brown all over sat beside beckoning like only potatoes cooked in this way can. French fried, gratined, purreed, the French have many beautiful ways to treat potatoes, but in my opinion nothing will match the British roast potato. To keep things balanced a pretty white ceramic dish of steamed veg and a mound of the freshest watercress. All of this and the most picture perfect fluffy Yorkshire puddings you've ever seen in your life. Airy and weighty at the same time and stuffed with mushrooms, for a little somethin' somethin'. We ordered an excellent summery gin cocktail, perfect for the heatwave we were in, even though it was now October, and then a fine bottle of French wine and enjoyed the convivial atmosphere. There were large families and smaller groups of two. And to round off our experience a couple were seated beside us with a little dog who sat ever so behaved and interested in DG. From the friendly service to the flawless cocktail, the ever so traditional dinner and then ending with an experience that simply does not exist where we live, this will remain one of the most enjoyable all around meals of our life.
The Year to Come
2012 has already proved to be stellar one the food front, most recently a Pinot Party involving 5 different Pinot Noirs from Tasmania to Oregon. Highlights to come will certainly be a no holds barred food tour of New York city, a very famous duck, a trip to an island restaurant and perhaps a new passion for the wines of Chile. I can't wait to see what else is to come!