Monday, May 30, 2011

Resolving the Musical Progression

Early English woodcut
depicting a feast.
Image from Country verses City.
When I think of the perfect meal, I think of all the descriptions of eating at Valabar's in the Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust, especially the detailed account in Dzur.  In that specific book, each chapter begins with an account of Vlad's meal at the restaurant.  The descriptions are truly beautiful and amazing.  Just reading it, by the time I finished, I felt very full, stuffed in fact, and very satisfied.  I've never read a better description of food or eating, or one that made my mouth water the way that description did.  The descriptions in the earlier books had whetted my appatite, but this one was a feast, both for my mind and my taste buds.  It was like being there, enjoying it with him.  And I loved how the details of the meal related to what happened in each chapter.

"Babette's Feast" Served up
by Derry McMahon.
Image from Seanchai Library blog.
I usually prefer meals that are just one course with no sides, things that are a meal in and of themselves.  This is the type thing I grew up on.  We had tacos.  We had spaghetti, maybe with garlic bread, maybe not.  We had lasagna.  We had enchiladas.  We had soup, by itself.  We had salad, by itself.  We had stuffed peppers.  The only time I remember having sides was for picnics or for Thanks Giving, and I never remember having multiple courses.

The Wedding Feast.
Image from Craig Finnestad blog.
There is an art to making one dish that's complete in itself.  There's a different art to choosing the right sides to go with a main course.  But the art of making a meal that works that's multiple courses is a whole different world.  What order do you serve them?  What drinks with each?  Anything between courses?  In a properly crafted multiple course meal, each piece accents the rest.  Each course either builds towards a climax, is the climax, or a gentle coming down, accenting the climax, the coda that resolves the musical progression of the feast.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Espresso is to Italy, what champagne is to France."

He was my cream, and I was his coffee -
And when you poured us together, it was something.
~Josephine Baker

Gourmet coffee beans.
Image from Scott's Coffee House.
There was a time in Europe where the word coffee had never been spoken.  Coffee came to Europe from the Islamic world in the 16th century.  The legend is that it originally came from Ethiopia, but it is known that it was first roasted in Arabia in the 15th century.  The word came with the bean.

It's hard to imagine a world without coffee now in the present.  There are coffee shops everywhere, and people make coffee in their own kitchens.  Coffee has become an integral part of our culture.

I used to think I hated coffee, back when I was a girl.  But my sister, who was as addicted to it as my dad, talked me into trying a sip of hers, "blonde and sweet".  With the cream and sugar in it, I liked it.  The problem wasn't a dislike of the taste of coffee, but with the taste being too strong.  I started drinking it that way.  Before long, I liked it black right away, though I've never drank coffee often.

Beatniks in Gaslight Coffee House,
NYC, 1959.  Image from
Old New York Tumblr blog.
Legend has it that the first coffee house was opened in about 962 in Constantinople.  Over time, they were found throughout the Middle East and Ottoman Empire.  Coffee houses came to Europe with coffee and soon were found across the continent.  They came to the United States with the Italian immigrants, but soon became popular outside these communities.  In the 1950s, they became a place where folk singers frequently sang, and became popular with beatniks.

In America, a definite culture has grown up around coffee houses.  They are a place where ideas are born and discussed (as was the case in Europe and the Middle East as well).  They are a place where folk and indie music is played live.  They are a place where poetry is spoken, and the main home of poetry slams.  They are casual, relaxing, and non-threatening, a neutral place to meet.  And not everyone drinks just coffee at coffee houses.  I usually have a steamer, which is basically steamed milk with flavoured syrup.  Sometimes I have Italian cream sodas.  A friend of mine always has hot tea.  I've even had a beer at Cold Creek, one of the local coffee shops.  Coffee shops often offer pastries, and sometimes even offer full meals.  They are more about the culture of coffee than the drinking of coffee now a days, though drinking coffee is no less popular.

First Starbucks coffee shop
in Seattle's Pike's Place Market.
Image from Spicer and Bank blog.
Traditionally, coffee houses have been a local affair, locally owned, locally ran.  There were no chains, at least nation wide chains.  Starbucks changed all that, bringing franchising to the coffee house "industry".  Other chains have followed in their footsteps, but Starbucks really changed things.

Starbucks started as a local coffee house in the 1970s in Seattle, Washington.  The name comes from the first mate in Melville's famous book, Moby Dick.  In the 1980s, a new director, inspired by the espresso bars in Milan, Italy, wanted to transform Starbucks to a different style of coffee house.  The owners rejected his ideas, so he started his own chain.  This new vision quickly took off and he ended up buying the original Starbucks chain and transforming it into his vision.  In the 1990's and most of the 2000s, Starbucks expanded across the country and over seas at a tremendous rate of one per work day.  Though growth has slowed down, Starbucks is very popular.

Starbucks does coffee its own way, though.  If you go to any coffee shop that does coffee the Italian way and order a Macchiato and are used to Starbucks, you will be very surprised with what you get.  And many coffee shops won't make a frappicino.  You could say Starbucks is kind of the McDonald's to your local burger joint.

Yesterday, I was talking to someone that works for the University of Wyoming.  They just expanded the Business College building and the original plan was to open a coffee shop in it.  The University wouldn't let them, though, because they thought it was too close to the one in Coe Library and they would put each other out of business.  I laughed and said they must never have been to Seattle, then.  The joke is that Starbucks put a Starbucks in the bathroom of another Starbucks.

Mocho coconut frappicino
from yesterday.
Later that day, we happened to go to Starbucks.  The Starbucks here aren't really coffee houses.  For that, you have to go to Cold Creek or the Grounds.  Hasting's has a coffee shop that's pretty close called the Hard Back Cafe.  There are a few drive up coffee shops in parking lots as well.  There are two Starbucks, one in Safeway and one in Albertson's.  The one in Safeway has a couple tables in the corner, but the one in Albertson's doesn't have any.  But we were just picking up frappicinos (which aren't served at any of the other shops, though the Hard Back has blended drinks that are similar), so we didn't need tables.

Normally I get a caramel frappicino, but they were advertising a new flavour, a mocha coconut frappicino, so I decided to try it.  It was very different, but very good.  I'd recommend it.


*Subject is a quote by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Of moons, tides, and sushi

Image from A Charmed Life blog
Why Celeste?  A friend called me it the day I was starting this blog and it spoke to my soul.  In Spanish, it means Celestial, which is heavenly, the visible or invisible heavens, the stars.  I did some searching and found that it is a form of the name Selena, the Greek primordial goddess of the moon, before Artemis took over that role.  Selena is Luna to the Romans, who was replaced by Diana, Artemis' equivalent.  Luna's name is where we get lunar, of the moon.

But what does the moon have to do with food?  Many things.  I think anything can be related to food if you dig deep enough.  I'll focus on one.  The moon controls the tides.  And tides control when fisherman can go out to fish, and where the fish will be.  Fish has long been a large source of food for coastal areas, and those along rivers and lakes.  Many people in the world eat fish.  In fact, fish is the only meat traditionally allowed to be eaten on Friday (and originally Wednesday) was fish.  This was because meat was a luxury item for most people and was expensive, while anyone could raise vegetables or fish for fish.  The fasts on Wednesday and Friday abstained from most meat and ate vegetables and fish because you were controlling your body, not giving it luxury items.

It's the opposite here in Wyoming.  Beef is plentiful, being a ranching state, but sea food is expensive because it has to be shipped in from the coast.  There are local fish, but they aren't real big at this high elevation and with the small sizes of the lakes, rivers, and streams.  A creek in Western Oregon is wider and deeper than a river in most of Wyoming.  Also, the type of fish that are native aren't the type of fish served in most restaurants.

You have to be careful with sea food in Wyoming.  Because of how far it has to travel, sea food can be kind of nasty tasting at times.  Some restaurants are good, some very bad.  You just have to learn which is which.

Caterpillar roll 
One way I like sea food is as sushi.  It's expensive, so I don't have it often.  Most Americans think sushi means raw fish, but this isn't the case.  It is the rice, made a specific way, that makes it sushi.  There are many types of sushi, but without the rice it isn't sushi.  Raw fish by its self is sashimi, not sushi.  I've made sushi at home.  The rice, i do pretty good with, but when I make rolls and such, they aren't the works of art they are in restaurants.