How to Know if You’re a Pretentious Foodie

I’m at a three day work event where I’m sitting right next to my boss, elbow to elbow, in a basically subterranean bunker with practically no cell phone service. So no personal Twitter, no Web surfing for weird blog fodder, not even texting with XFE. This must be what solitary confinement is like. Oh, plus inspirational speaker after motivational speaker.

solitary-confinement23

And, I did not write anything for the blog this past weekend because I was busy not preparing for XFE coming home on Saturday evening. He specifically told me to pick something up for dinner. But I was so paralyzed by my potential to pick the wrong thing that I fell back into my default position: wait until XFE tells me what we should eat. This ineffective dining strategy earned me a well-deserved scolding. However, I did not really detect any element of surprise.

But, I did buy the ingredients for a feast on Sunday night. XFE made homemade pasta with tomatoes, basil, garlic and lobster shrimp, which are, SHOCKINGLY, shrimp that taste just like lobster. I know, right? Crazy! Let’s hear it for science and genetically engineered seafood. There are no pictures because, well, I slurped it down way too fast.

Pasta
We’ve made this pasta dish before, but it had been a while.

We had actually built up quite the appetite on Sunday….we went and looked at our first house. XFE has decided to dip a toe – potentially – into the housing market. This is, of course, fraught with anxiety and trepidation on my part. I’m pretty lazy and hesitant to change. But, we’re a team and I trust XFE. If he says it’s time to look into buying a house, then it’s time.

We were influenced by this handsome devil. He has a website all about the DC housing industry called the Cribline. He’s become our real estate guru. In return, we buy him dinner once in a while.

Wolf Hammer

We had a dinner guest on Sunday (not our real estate guru, unfortunately). The topic turned to whether XFE and I consider ourselves “foodies.” Now, foodie is one of those terms I don’t think you can really self-proclaim. It seems a bit pretentious to say, “Why yes, Sir Grey Poupon, I am interested in the fine masterpieces of the culinary arts.” So we went through a checklist of endeavors that might indicate that one is a foodie.

Townhouse menu
  • And, if you got genuinely upset when you discovered that said young chefs had left that restaurant before you’d had a chance to eat there again, you might be a foodie.
  • If you own a Big Green Egg and consider it one of your most prized possessions, you might be a foodie.
  • If you’ve roasted a 25-pound suckling pig on your brick patio, you might be a foodie.
Roasting a pig
  • If your boyfriend owns a beginner molecular gastronomy kit, you might be a foodie.
  • If you’ve spent an entire day (6.5 hours to be exact) making Rick Bayless’ mole (Project Mole 2009), which required about 26 ingredients gathered from eight different stores and four pages of instructions, you might be a foodie.
  • If you won’t buy pasta and only eat homemade pasta, you might be a foodie (and a real snob on top of it.)
  • Ditto on barbecue sauce. Actually, anything at all related to barbecue. Double points if you’re best friends with your butcher and ask him not only for fine meat products, but also vacation tips.
Texas style BBQ Ribs
Can you hear the angels singing?
  • If you, while in the throws of a 10-day bout of food poisoning during a vacation in Northern Italy, insist on honoring your lunch reservation at a three Michelin star restaurant for the 12-course tasting menu, even though the price of said lunch is about the same as a hand woven Turkish rug and you go to the bathroom and throw up after every other course, but still insist on tasting everything, you might be a foodie. And, it goes without saying, you might be insane.
Lunch at Le Calandre, Italy
“If I throw up the 3-Michelin star, 12 course luncheon, we don’t have to pay the bill, right?”
  • If the majority of your souvenirs from overseas trips are food-related (ie: ceviz walnuts and sahlep from Turkey; Thai curry and dried lime basil from Bangkok; mustard from Paris; smoked paprika from Spain; wine from Australia. And Italy), you might be a foodie.
  • If you sweat each time you go near Customs because you’re genuinely concerned not that you will get caught with the food items and have to pay the fine, but instead it will get confiscated and you’ll never get to enjoy the item, you might be a foodie.
  • If a chef’s kitchen and a place to store your Big Green Egg and gigantic grill and wine fridge are considered non-negotiable criteria in your house-hunting efforts, you might be a foodie. Or, at least a kitchen with the potential to be turned into XFE’s Stadium Kitchen Headquarters.

So, are we foodies? I don’t know. But we’re definitely crazy. And it tastes so, so good.

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One Night In Bangkok Probably is Actually Sufficient

Oh Bangkok. I wanted to love you. I adore Thai food. You have such pretty architecture. And, one of my absolute favorite songs of the 1980’s extols your, erm, seedier aspects, shall we say?

A song, which Wikipedia tells me, has been covered by a Norwegian singer, a Swedish pop group, a Swiss DJ and a Danish boy band, so you have the Scandinavian vote on lockdown, so don’t worry about that.

But overall, I liked Bangkok, but did not love it, and while I’d be interested in exploring other parts of Thailand, I would probably skip Bangkok. Here are a few of my reasons:

  • It was hotter than blazes. Like sweating in places you didn’t know had sweat glands hot. Unrelentingly so.
  • It was very, very crowded. There are 12 million people in this densely populated metropolis. Compare that to the 22 million in the entire country of Australia.  And as a result…
  • It’s very, very stinky. Honestly, it gave New Orleans a run for its money. And so many different stenches. Especially along the docks by the river. As this blogger put it so well:

“Eau de Bangkok was a memorable odor. Combining the very worse Asia has to offer, it attacked the senses, an onslaught bloody enough to make a grown man cry, or at least foul enough to make a grown man’s eyes water. There was no escaping the city’s divergent odors; the sweet perfume of plumeria, the heady scent of incense from the thousands of shrines and temples, the reek of the river and canals that form an important part of the city’s transportation system (as well as a major part of its sewer system), the aroma of street side cooking on every block, weird tropical fruit that smelled as if someone had died beneath its skin, and the fragrance typical of a bustling Asian City overflowing with humanity and its offal. The aroma of Bangkok was a physical presence. It lodged in your throat like a pig wallowing in yesterday’s slop.”

  • And the poverty was nothing less than heartbreaking. Whereas we hardly saw any homeless people in Australia, in Bangkok, they were everywhere you looked. It was very humbling.

Mostly Bangkok gave me the same disoriented feeling I’ve experienced in Asian cities before: nothing looks right, even things I recognize seem off-kilter and unfamiliar. I always feel like I stumble through Asian cities in a sleepwalk state. Plus, as tall Americans, you really feel like you stick out and tower above most people, even though there were gobs of other tourists (Bangkok is a very, very inexpensive place, which makes it particularly attractive, I think).

Boat ride in Bangkok
An early morning boat ride down the river.

There’s always this aspect of sensory overload I get in Asian cities, much like what I experience in the bright lights and loud noises of Vegas. In Bangkok, there was just so much to see in such a small, tight space and so many unfamiliar noises all crashing on top of each other. This was particularly true when we were at the night market where there was just a crush of people (including tons of tourists) and stalls all crammed with cheap trinkets and fake designer goods.

We weren’t looking for anything, but if we had been, I don’t know how we ever would have found it.

Wat Po temple, Bangkok
Pretty sure I’m melting in this picture. This was at the Wat Po, which I think was named after thePoeLog.

Even when you escape the street stalls for the sidewalks, you’re assaulted with neon signs trying to lure you into the various bars and loads of people sitting on the sidewalks eating, talking to each other or on the phone, calling out to you, trying to show you a price list.

Added to that is the sense of debauchery I’ve basically coated the whole place with in my mind. I felt like everyone was hustling, or was on the make. In Bangkok, where prostitution is not only legal, but practically a sector of its tourism industry, I eyed every tourist suspiciously, sure that they were up to no good whether it was buying sex or fake Louboutins.

Gold buddhas at Wat Po temple, Bangkok
No fake Loutoutins here, just gold Buddhas here.

When we ducked outof the night market to grab a beer at a beer garden, a European couple sitting next to us were charming one of the Thai waitresses, taking pictures of her in cutesy poses on their camera phone. They didn’t know her, but sure wanted a lot of pictures of her. What in the hell would they want her photo for, I wondered. I couldn’t think of any good reason.

I’m not a puritan or anything. In fact, I came very close to buying several vibrators on chains at the night market  as party favors for Sorta Running Buddy Amy’s bachelorette party this weekend, but I know that Amy’s not into penis se toys, so me, the model of restraint, held back and did not buy those things. So that proves I”m not just not a puritan, but I’m actually quite considerate as well.

No, it’s not a sex-puritan thing. It’s more about the fact that more than anything I hate when people who have power and money take advantage of those who are weak or poor. My sense of justice and fairness runs pretty strong.

Statues in Bangkok
You have to love any place that has pink elephant statues in the median of busy roads.

I was also nervous about safety and scams, which there apparently there are plenty of in Thailand. On the day we went to the Grand Palace, they were closed for the afternoon. There were several “official” looking gentlemen out front directing us to some of the other tourists’ sites and trying to get us to use a tuk tuk. Apparently, these tuk tuks don’t actually take you to other city highlights, but instead take you to a whole bunch of jewelry and tailoring shops.

We did, however, visit a jewelry shop on our own, one that had been recommended by family friends. We spent a very cool and lovely afternoon at Johnny’s Gems, an institution among the diplomat and embassy circles in Bangkok. They even had a picture of Hilary Clinton shopping there, but I have to confess, I did not notice a single picture on the wall. I was too busy looking at the trays of gorgeous jewelry. They were quite accommodating at Johnny’s, even running next door to get you some of the best fried rice you’ve ever tasted.

fried rice at Johny's Gems, Bangkok
A really unflattering picture, but I was more interested in eating my rice than posing for photos.

We also had dinner on top of a skyscraper. The Vertigo restaurant on top of the Banyan Tree hotel was stunning, overlooking the entire city. It was an unforgettable dinner on a beautiful night.

So between the whole eating fried rice in a jewelry store and dinner on top of a skyscraper, I guess I liked Bangkok maybe more than I initially thought. It’s a pretty interesting place for sure.

Munching Down in Munich

We are 20 hours or so into our first of two days travelling to Australia. Honestly, I’m not even sure if that made sense, but I’ve had about 4 hours of really bad sleep in the last 50 hours, so that’s what we’re dealing with here. And we have another 28 hours of travel to go. They don’t call it the long way for nothing.

We started today at 9 am (3 am DC time) in Munich. We flew first class on Lufthansa and man, that was amazing. I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to coach. My travel buddy XFE and I made total jackasses of ourselves and generally annoyed the other five people in first class, but I don’t care. Everything was so nice and we don’t travel that way very often. I’ll write a whole post dedicated to Lufthansa first class service another day.

IMG_4544
Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon? You see, I’m fancy.

So today we wandered around Munich for 10 hours. Which was actually really awesome. We were both very tired, for sure, but we had a fantastic time. Munich is a very pedestrian-friendly city and easy to navigate. You walk down one quaint street and lovely square after another. A good way to spend the day and see something different.

Street scene

We hit the highlights: we saw the glockenspiel. We browsed leiderhosen (ladies: Ludwig Beck department store is your hookup on all things German dress-related.)

Lady lederhosen

We went to the Residences of Munich, which I was convinced was an upscale apartment complex. Which, I guess, in a way it sorta was. Except it was a palace for the dukes and emporers of Bavaria for about 400 years. So it was actually a museum. And for 8 euro 50, a good way to kill a couple of hours in a very beautiful setting. Man, those Bavarians liked their gold and gilt.

Palace theater

We then spent a couple of hours at the Hofbrauhaus, a world-famous beer hall. The sausage was amazing and the people watching was entertaining as all get out and the polka music was invigorating. I even ate sauerkraut which I swore I hated, but then actually really enjoyed.

Hofbrauhaus

Next up we have our overnight flight to Bangkok, a four-hour layover and then on to Sydney. Good thing I have some sausage in my belly to fortify me.

Sausage and kraut

Unbuckle Your Pants, This is a Long Post About Turkish Food

I think I must have been Turkish in a previous life. Which I guess would make me an Ottoman. And despite the fact that I don’t believe in reincarnation. But neither do the Turks, who are predominantly Muslim, and not Buddhist. Which is just another fact that reinforces my belief that I must have been Turkish in a former life – ie: neither Turkish people nor I believe in reincarnation, ergo: I must have been Turkish in a former life.

The real reason I think this must be a fact is that I absolutely loved every single thing I ate in Turkey. All of it. And not just “liked.” Luuuurrrvved. Made noises and carried on about. Ate more than my fair share of and stabbed others who might have wanted a second helping of something. (Well, I am a girl with a hearty appetite)

Let’s start with my absolute favorite thing in the whole wide world from now on and forever. Behold, Ceviz reçeli. It’s a dessert, but it sounds pretty unappetizing. It’s basically whole walnuts still in their husks and shells, that are softened with slaked lime and then candied in sugar water and spices. I know, I know, sounds gross, right? I thought so too.

ceviz from Istanbul

They come out on the plate all dark and slick and disgusting looking. But ceviz receli are the most unusual and divine thing ever. They’re soft but still firm and just so different from anything else you’ve ever eaten. I immediately demanded that our tour guide Levon takes us to a market stall so I could buy a jar to take home, which I did. I’m also very relieved to find that you can buy a jar online for about $10, so I don’t have to bogart my stash.

Continue reading Unbuckle Your Pants, This is a Long Post About Turkish Food

Istanbul, But Why Not Constantinople?

This is our last morning in Istanbul and it’s been an amazing and enlightening trip. I had no idea that Turkish history was so, so interesting. Istanbul is modern yet ancient, and completely surprising.

We spent the first two days being led around by our tour guide Levon from Melitours. And we’ve had a driver, which was the best, best decision ever. Istanbul can be a hard city to navigate and the traffic is the worst.

Levon, our Turkish tour guide

We went shopping at the Spice Market, and bought some Iranian safron, which Levon insists is better than Turkish.

Turkish spices

We went to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

We went rug shopping at a private gallery, which was a very unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience involving a whole education in rug making and lots of tea. Yes, we bought one, and no, I don’t want to discuss the price.

Rug shopping in Istanbul

We spent a morning on the Asian side and then back to the European side for an afternoon at Topakpi Palace, the home of Turkish Sultans up till the mid-1800s and which contains the “three-spoon diamond,” the second largest diamond in the world.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Unlike the rug, we did not buy the diamond. The guards just wouldn’t haggle.

And we ate. And ate. And ate some more. I am now thoroughly in love with Turkish food.

Wonderful Turkish food

So we’re heading home with lots of memories and a few souvenirs (and tighter pants). I’ll get into more detail in the days ahead.

Food Porn: No Such Thing as Bad Wine in Paris

One of the things I was most looking forward to on our Paris trip was eating. Let me rephrase that slightly, one of the things I most look forward to anytime I take a trip is eating.

But in Paris, this was especially the case. It’s just such a foodie town. And this trip was my do-over.

The last time I was in Paris was when I was a poor college student, so my diet consisted mainly of baguettes with butter, cheese bought at the grocery store, and pastries. I’m even ashamed to admit there might have been a Le Big Mac in the lineup at some point. Not the most varied or sophisticated fare.

Plus, I was fresh out of the trailer parks of West Texas and totally ignorant. Basically, I didn’t know where to go or what to eat. And remember, (since I’m old as dirt) this was pre-Chowhound-TripAdvisor-Yelp days. No guidance what’s-so-ever.

XFE was last in Paris as a high school student, so who knows what he even ate. Actually, I do know, because on day three of our trip, we spent an inordinate amount of time tracking down steamed mussels, which he remembered fondly from his high school adventure abroad.

This time, we both put a lot of thought and research into what we would be eating. Our efforts were a bit thwarted by the fact that we only booked our trip a week before getting there, so reservations were a bit difficult to come by. But we got off the plane with stomachs rumbling and raring to go.

After dumping our stuff at Le Meridien Etoile, we headed over to grab lunch at Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile de St. Louis, an absolutely charming neighborhood close to Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter.

Auberge de la Reine Blanche

It’s an adorable tiny French restaurant, with exposed wooden beams, tiny wooden tables with cane and thrush chairs, a large round wooden bar that reached to the ceiling, and walls covered with dollhouse furniture. Very odd, but somehow, also quaint.

The onion soup was AMAZING as was my main course of some kind of fish, very simply prepared with wonderful fresh herbs. XFE started with (and luckily shared) the most incredible oysters served with a light mignonette sauce. They were large and meaty and salty and just awesome. XFE’s steak with Roquefort sauce was also very, very good if a bit rare for my taste. The house Bordeaux was excellent. It was all very good and very affordable. The service was, well, very French, but no biggie.

lunch at Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile de St. Louis

What goes with oysters?

Later that night, we ate at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” in the Luxembourg neighborhood. This was a place I had called on my own for a reservation. They’re not open on Saturday or Sunday (I was informed), and they were fully booked for that Friday. However, our concierge at Le Meridien Etoile was able to get us a reservation at 7:30. We showed up a few minutes early and were chased away. Apparently, 7:30 MEANS 7:30. No drinking at the bar while waiting for your reservation. We slunked away to a bar on the corner and had 2 euro Bordeaux standing at the bar.

At our appointed time, we dared to enter Chez Dumonet again. We were taken immediately to our seats at the back of the narrow restaurant, near the kitchen. I never mind sitting near a kitchen and this one was no exception. I was transfixed as the staff cooked and foil wrapped a huge haunch of meat for a customer who showed up later in the evening to pick it up and take it away.

Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

The whole ambiance of the place was typical old Parisian bistro, nothing fancy, just pure efficiency and great food. I honestly don’t remember much about the décor, but the atmosphere was just perfect.

We started with champagne and an amuse bouche of some cream soup with a drizzle of truffle oil. The bread and butter were, of course, excellent. And then there was the smoked salmon appetizer. Yu. Um. Melted on the tongue.

Dinner at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

I had the duck confit which was probably the best I’ve ever had. The skin was so crispy and the potatoes were perfect and garlicky. XFE ordered the chateaubriand, which we both thought, for some reason, would be wrapped in pastry, but we were, of course, wrong. I’m afraid we had our Wellington mixed up with our chateaubriand. What can I say? It had been a long travel day. So, for a second time that day, XFE had steak, this time with béarnaise sauce. He didn’t seem to mind.

Duck confit at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

Steak at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

We finished with a shared Grand Marnier soufflé, which was a work of art. Eggy, boozy, and perfectly browned, it towered over the ramekin, but miraculously, it held its shape even when we sunk our spoons into it. Pretty amazing stuff. A woman at a nearby table even applauded when it came out (since we were among the first diners, our dessert was one of the first out of the kitchen.) They also brought us two tiny, thimble-sized glasses of Grand Marnier to accompany the souffle, a very nice touch, I thought. The service, the food, everything was just perfect.

Souffle at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

Not a bad way to end the first day in Paris.

Souffle at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris