Gifts for the Baker in Your Life

headshotIf you know a baker, you probably know that they (er, we) can be difficult to shop for (oy, Mrs. McDonnell, my eighth grade English teacher, just rolled over).

You know, it’s lovely to receive a gift, and I’m always thankful that someone is thoughtful enough to spend time and money on me. I love the gesture — really, I do — and I never want to appear ungrateful. However, at my age, there’s just not much I want. I’d rather go to a movie with a friend, have coffee with my cousins or sit by the fire with my husband. Those are the priceless things in my life. (Oof, I really should lay off the wine when writing…) The point is that I wouldn’t want anyone (including my parents, husband or friends) to spend money on anything that’s going to sit in a closet, be donated or be re-gifted (oh, don’t @ me; we all do it).heavenly-chocolate

Don’t get me wrong; there’s definitely stuff that bakers can use at any point in their careers: spatulas, wooden spoons, offsets, silicone mats and parchment paper (can’t ever have enough of that). If they’re just starting out, you have tons of options! For me, though, I feel like I have every conceivable gadget and tool with little room for more.

Jason
Chef Jason Licker

So, what’s on my Christmas list? I love a unique ingredient that will give a healthier spin on something or spark some creativity. Or, maybe a cookbook that will teach me something new. My mom always scoffs at the idea of getting me a book; but, short of a trip to Europe, I’m happy with a new cookbook from reputable, professional sources. I typically read them through, tagging every page with the priority items I want to make.

Here are a few suggestions:

Cookbooks:

  • The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg, which I wish I had prior to culinary school. This one’s great for someone looking to develop their skills.
  • French Patisserie: Master Recipes and Techniques by FerrandiSchool of Culinary Arts. This is a beautiful book focused on iconic French pastry (don’t expect cupcakes in this one).
  • Chefs Zebrowski (R) & MIgnano (L)

    The Pastry Chef’s Little Black Book (Volume II is on pre-sale now, but Volume I definitely earned a spot in my workspace) by Chefs Michael Zebrowski and Michael Mignano. This is a book written by chefs for chefs. You don’t have to be advanced to use it, but you should have some solid technical knowledge.

  • Lickerland by Chef Jason Licker. Gorgeous photography, human stories and Asian-inspired classic pastry.
  •  Bachour the Baker by Antonio Bachour. Frankly, there’s a lot to learn from Bachour. This is my inspirational one.
  • Pastry Love by Joanne Chang of the chain of Flour Bakery & Cafés in Boston. It’s a great collection of recipes made for her cafes — cakes, sticky buns, whoopie pies — and she’s just a marvelous human being.

Ingredients:

banana macs

I recently discovered a brand called nubeleaf in Ventura, California. Among their extensive portfolio of ingredients once considered “alternative” such as Organic Spirulina, Pea Protein and Hemp Protein powders, nubeleaf has products that totally spoke to me: Organic Banana Powder for my Banana Cream Pie Macarons (left; recipe coming in a couple weeks), Organic Beet Powder that can add a brilliant natural color to something yummy, and myriad fruit powders that I’ll probably try in the spring when everything’s fruity.IMG_8156-2

Since it’s the holidays, I went for nubeleaf’s Organic Cacao Powder because…um…chocolate! To be honest, they sent me some to try. Plus, I had a cake to make for a friend, so I figured why not. At first, I was a little skeptical because it was lighter in color than my go-to, more-expensive cacao powder. Would it be as rich and chocolatey and, ultimately, would it perform?

To put it to the test, I grabbed my Pastry Chef’s Little Black Book, Volume I and honed in on the Devil’s Food Cake I mean, what’s more chocolately than that? The cacao powder whisked up beautifully with rich color, smooth texture and divine aroma. Once baked, I trimmed each layer (mainly so my husband and I could taste the cake), brushed them with a coffee syrup, added an Irish cream Swiss meringue buttercream and topped it with a chocolate-covered espresso beans. SHWING! My friend loved it and told me I need to sell this one in my (eventual) pastry shop.

You’ve got to be willing to try something new to discover something great!

I hope you got some delicious ideas for the baker in your life. Remember, it’s only good for you that you enable them to bake more! (wink)

I’d love to hear your comments and other great gift suggestions! In the meantime, you can see more of me and my pastry on Instagram @AmuseBouchePastry. I’d love the follows!

 

 

 

I Heart NY!

IMG_3921Now, I’ve had some less-than-desirable assignments, but this was not one of them. I was heading to New York for the Valrhona C3 in Brooklyn to watch some of the world’s top pastry chefs compete in chocolate and plated desserts. The dozen or so competitors comprised mid-career chefs at the top of their game. They were focused, skilled and practiced down to the minute, adeptly moving from required element to required element.

Enter the master judges – Chefs Antonio Bachour and Karim Bourgi among them. I’ve been following them for years, so it

was cool to meet them in person and watch as they tasted each dish. I examined their faces, their expressions of surprise, delight, dismay, disappointment, and I reveled in IMG_3988them devouring a whole dish even when there were maybe 10 more in each round.

The winner, Yusuke Aoki, Executive Pastry Chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Resort in Bali, was inspirational. His plated dessert with fig and chocolate was as beautiful as it must have been tasty… Okay, so there’s that.

After the C3, I met two amazing pastry chefs in the City – Michael Zebrowski, IMG_4039Pastry Chef and Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, and Michael Mignano, then Executive Pastry Chef at The Pierre Hotel and now Chef/Owner of the brand new Farine Baking Company in Jackson Heights. Beyond their “day jobs,” these two penned “The Pastry Chef’s Little Black Book,” which is a not-so-little, best-selling compendium written by chefs, for chefs. I was thrilled to add a signed copy to my shelves – not to collect dust, but as a practical, to-the-point workbook. The weirdo editor in me was thrilled it was on matte paper – ever make a note on coated or glossy paper, only for you to accidentally run your hand over it? Ack.

After touring the kitchen – which, if you know me, I’m a total dork about – we sat down. IMG_4010And ate. I was coerced into ordering the “best burger in the city,” which was amazing and enormous, potentially worthy of the accolade. We talked as Zebrowski regularly nicked my fries, which I took as a chef’s version of blood brothers (er, what’s the PC-version of that? I dunno.). Whatev – instant friends.

But then dessert. Sweet Holy Moses! Mignano brought out pretty much every dessert on Perrine’s menu, including the Mignano Bar: his trademarked, drool-worthy  deliciousness of cashew and macadamia salted caramel, caramelized puffed rice, single-origin dark chocolate ganache, all covered in dark chocolate and garnished with Hawaiian sea salt…and house-made candy corn…and caramel movie-theater buttered popcorn gelato (top left, below). And, yes, the recipe is in the book, and I’m sure you’ll be able to get it at Farine when it opens. You’ll want one. Get in line behind Jimmy Fallon, who reportedly ordered a bunch of these.

As I rolled out of our meeting, I went back to my hotel to meet up with a friend who came from L.A., along with some cousins from Boston – hopefully you have these types of friends/family who are totally down for an afternoon in NYC and a pastry crawl. Here’s our path through some of the best shops in the city:

IMG_3862Supermoon Bakehouse – the trendy, opal-esque shop attracts people for the Insta-worthy snaps alone, never mind the embellished croissants, but they were just ok. I know, I know, blasphemy, but I judge every shop by the quality of their plain croissant, which wasn’t exceptionallyIMG_3870 buttery. But, the other flavors were fun, even though cloyingly sweet. The shop is clean, unclear and has poor seating; but, whatever, go spend $6 on a croissant worthy of social media.

Stick with Me Sweets – Chef Suzanna Yoon has a lovely, NYC-sized (i.e., tiny) shop filled with gem-like bonbons and IMG_9358adorable packaging that just invites you to invest. Yes, they’re pricey, but totally worth the splurge. Good chocolate and good bon bons are good for a reason. The clerk wasn’t too hospitable or knowledgeable beyond what we could read in the display, but ignore her and pick up a six-pack of your favorites. You know, for your BAE.

Mah-Ze-Dar – A hip little shop with computer-campers occupying the very few tables in the place. Since we got there after noon, they had few pastries available except for this reputed “old-fashioned donut,” but I found it to be a donut in search of a coffee dunk. Oh, and bring plastic because they don’t take cash. Um, what? However,Umber Ahmad was just nominated as a 2019 James Beard Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Baker, so it may be worth another try. In the morning. With cash.IMG_3891 (1)

Patisserie Chanson – Ever see “Big Night”? Ignore the block-sized Eataly across the street, and step into this great spot from Chef Rory MacDonald. It’s a bright, shiny space filled with happy people and plenty of pastries to go or enjoy in. I got the buttery, sweet Kouign Aman (one of my faves) and, on the way out, had a starig problem with the Dark Chocolate Ficelle Baguette – I mean, don’t we need that for something? A snack later? Oh, and don’t forget to ask about the late-late-night dessert tasting.

My cousins abandoned my friend and I at this point as we continued on. We’re serious crawlers, lumbering around NYC at this point. Our next stop was a schlep from Chanson, but we felt it was necessary. We felt wrong.IMG_3909

Epicerie Boulud was over-crowded, under-appealing and disorganized. With no sign of a line (not in the good way) and what seemed like more fast-lunch options than I thought Boulud was known for, we passed up the pre-packaged madeleines and walked out. I think this might be worth another try because of the Chef’s rep; but, by now, we were tired and cranky and not willing to figure it out.

Almondine – We got back to DUMBO around 2pm where we found Almondine to be out of pretty much everything. I can appreciate this as an indication that we missed something tasty. This shop is on a totally cute street, right across from…

IMG_3915Jacques Torres – As it was the end of October and a “little chilly” (not exactly how my friend would describe it; dressed like she were in the Arctic, she would say, “fucking freezing”), Torres’s special hot chocolate with chili pepper was tempting and exactly the type of thing my friend would love (and need). Perusing the rows of Halloween-themed chocolate bon bons, we opted instead for Torres’s famous chocolate chip cookie (you know, for later). I know, some of you are saying, why not have both, but seriously consider everything we ate to this point…and we weren’t about to skip dinner! (Insert pig emoji here.) The IMG_3916cookie was delicious and nutty, I’d imagine made with ground almonds. The massive amount of bonbons went virtually unnoticed among the hordes of people slugging down the hot chocolate and cookies.

We walked approximately 20 minutes from there to finally sit, rest, warm up and eat a solid meal at Queen, a IMG_3924family-run Italian joint since 1958. I assume it was the owner who greeted us in old-world-style class, clad fully in a thre-piece suit. We settled in for an authentic Italian meal – how could you have anything else in Brooklyn? I could have sat there for hours chatting with the servers and fellow diners…except I was about to fall asleep in my parm.

A warm Uber back to the hotel in Brooklyn, and we said our good nights and cozied up in our closet-sized rooms. Ha, I’m SO oblivious to New York life, but I’m willing to go back and get used to it!

Places to try next time:

Sweet! A Valentine’s Day Chocolate Tour

IMG_3484For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d track down some of the country’s best chocolates and pastries. I know, I know, somebody’s got to do it, so I took one for the team and hit up four LA-based shops first (mainly because my shipments from others across the US haven’t arrived yet – what can I say, I ordered late…not like you’ve never done that). Unlike some boyfriends, these choices did not disappoint. Some were sweet, some were creamy, and all elicited satisfaction. Hmmm.

IMG_4799Valerie Confections

This is a quaint little shop in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. Let’s just say I’m glad Valerie Confections opening an outlet in Woodland Hills because the parking on this busy corner isn’t the best…and this is a place IMG_3492where you’d love to hang out, have a coffee and chat with your bestie. I picked up the “Pink Box: a box of 20 – 5 each of the Caramel Hearts, Blushing Berry Truffles, Arrow Truffles and Broken Hearts. The ivory-colored box with a dainty pink ribbon is a lovely look. You know, for us dainty types.

Dominique Ansel

IMG_4831Ah, Dominique Ansel in Los Angeles is in a beautiful setting in The Grove – you can maybe imagine yourself in a park in Paris (maybe, if not for the traffic to get there). No, I didn’t get the Cronut of the month, but I did get a few different cutie-swootsie pastries from their Pink Pastry Case: a Mocha Chili Éclair, a Pink Himalayan Salt Caramel Éclair, a Cupid Religeuse and a pink Paris-Brest. However, I should also have indulged in the beautifulIMG_4804a Strawberry Elder-flower Cake for 2, with lemon financier cake, strawberry gelée, and creamy elderflower ganache. But no, I was sensible. Ugh, where did sensible ever get me?

Ladurée

IMG_4828Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of the original shop on the Champs Elysees in Paris – it’s trendy, crowded, and staffed with obnoxious people flinging your order at you after you have to yell it to them over the sneeze guard. Think: Elaine in the soup episode of Seinfeld. But the quaint shop in Los Angeles is welcoming and nestled two doors down from Dominique Ansel, which puts it right along the IMG_3474alovely fountain and park-like setting in The Grove. The staff were lovely, and I picked up the most beautiful box of rose-flavored macarons. Apparently, the concept behind the box is a traditional French game called “Daisy Petals” where each player picks a “petal” to reveal the feelings of their partner. Wanna play?

& Sons

Now, Kriss Harvey called himself the “Chocolatier of Beverly Hills” and, let me tell you, it IMG_4839may just be true. Located right off Rodeo Drive, this chocolatier recently opened his flagship boutique after his tenure at the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s a beautiful shop – be sure to look up to see the mural of a cacao tree on the ceiling, painted by a local artist. Likewise, Chef Harvey’s IMG_4836boxes are designed by local artists as well, but he’s purely responsible for the delectable gems inside. Yes, spend the money if you – or your loved one – appreciates good chocolate.

What’s your favorite chocolate? And don’t you even say “See’s.” Worse, don’t even go with “Er, chocolate’s not really my thing.” Oy.

IMG_3459For more pictures, go to @AmuseBoucheMB on Instagram!

 

A Taste of Paris

IMG_5531.JPGHeading to Paris? Grab a cup of coffee, go sit outside, and give this a read for some of the tastiest spots to visit in the City of Lights. Just imagine yourself sitting in a café watching people go by. Yes, people actually do this, and so did I while living in Paris for a year. Now that I’m back in the U.S., I frequently get asked for where to go and what to eat. Living in the center of the city, I was spoiled by the view from my balcony, and I was conveniently within walking distance to the Tour Eiffel, the banks of the Seine and of course, the famous Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, which, don’t’cha know, is guarded by a little-sister replica of the Statue of IMG_5530Liberty.

My year was spent on learning French pastry and visiting cook shops, including one famously frequented by Julia Child (who also went to Le Cordon Bleu, but I’m sure you knew that). Beyond the tourist spots – Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Musee du Louvre – I amassed a list of favorite places to visit, especially for that perfect croissant or authentic French rolling pin.

First, the Patisseries:

Cyril Lignac – My First Love. Be sure to get the Equinox Cake (photo) or the Kouign
Amann. Trust me.
img_5085.jpgLenotre – a classy shop with sweet and savory choices, but my favorite was their
croissant.
Du Pain et Des Idees – the Pistachio Chocolate Snail is seriously ah-mazing! And the ladies who run the place are charming and speak some English.
Dalloyau – a lovely shop to sit down and enjoy afternoon tea with your bestie.
Des Gateau et du Pain – a great selection of pastries and breads.
Pierre Herme – if you’re Napoleon fan – the pastry, not the short guy – the deux mille feuille is for you!
Laduree – I’m not a fan, but it seems to be a tourist spot; there’s one on the Champs Elysees, but I wouldn’t make the trip just for that. There’s also one in Los Angeles now.

Basically, try croissants and Kouign Amanns everywhere you go! Long live the Kouign!

My Favorite Food and Shopping

For a great afternoon, head to Rue Montorgueil and Rue Montmartre for shops, restos and patisseries. You can easily loll away a few hours wandering these beautiful cobblestone streets. Go hungry, because some of the best of the best is in this area. There IMG_7550are beautiful fruits at the stands along these streets, especially in the spring. You can literally eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert with some shopping and more coffee in between. Must eats include Fou du Patisserie, which is known for its collection of pastry from France’s best patissiers; and L’Eclair de Genie, Christophe Adam’s beautiful shop (he has other locations too). Stohrer is also there, but, despite it being the oldest patisserie in Paris, I found it somewhat meh. Also, if I were to have my own patisserie, I’d want it to look like Café Pouchkine (photo), which is what you may imagine a French patisserie to look like. If you walk as far as Boneshaker Donuts (pretty much the only good donuts in Paris, but they can run you €5 for one), tell them I said hello!

If you’re in the market for cookware (who isn’t? or is it just me?), while you’re in the IMG_7349Montorgueil area, make the pilgrimage to E. Dehellerin (affectionately known as “E.D.”), where Julia Child (and I) shopped while living in Paris. Be sure to look up since many things hang from the ceiling. This really is the best (and cheapest) cookery store in Paris; nothing has prices – you have to look at the label for the item number, then look it up in binders at the end of the aisle. There are a couple other cookery shops – Bovida and A. Simon – but if you only have enough time and suitcase space for one, go to E.D. If you have extra suitcase space, let me know!

For cooking supplies and decorating tools, stop at Deco Relief – there’s one on Rue Montorgueil and another directly behind it on Rue Montmartre. There’s also G. Detou, a IMG_6716very tiny and often disorganized shop for chocolate, nuts, vanilla powder, Tonka, mustards, and other Frenchy ingredients. Chocolate prices are similar at Deco Relief and G. Detou, so if you can’t make it to one or the other, no worries (but get me some).

If you’re a cookbook lover, absolutely be sure to visit Librairie Gourmande for cookbooks. Most are in French, but there are some English-lang on the second floor. I love this store, and they are very nice (and speak English)! Feel free to pick up a gift for your favorite blogger!

Be sure to venture to the Montmartre to experience Popelini, a cream puff of a shop named for the chef who invested choux pastry. You’ll need the energy to make it up the steps to Sacre Couer anyway, and you’ll want to if only for the beautiful view looking over Montmatre. Moulin Rouge ($$$ for a show) and “related” non-kid-appropriate shops are all within the same area.

I can’t leave out a couple of the great food halls in Paris. Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussman in the 9th. It’s like Rodeo Drive all in one building, filled with high-end men’s and women’s clothing and houseware brands. More importantly, there’s one entire building dedicated to food and eating. If you enter at street level, you’ll be treated to many of the great patisseries in one place, including Yann Couvreur, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Hermé and L’éclair de Genie. Walk around the floor, and you’ll come across this amazing spice shop, which you’ll smell before you even see (I forget the name, but you’ll know it when you smell it). Imagine pyramids of spices, teas, salts, peppers and compounds. There are also a couple of places to sit and have a nice lunch before heading downstairs, but they’re somewhat pricey. Just head to the bottom floor for local and imported (i.e., American) groceries, pastas, chocolates, etc. Skip the Lucky Charms (especially since they’re close to €15), and head straight for the Christine Ferber jam and chocolate. Just leave me here and save yourself.

IMG_5535Similar to Galleries Lafayette is Bon Marche’s Le Grande Epicerie on Rue de Sevres in the 7th, easily accessible by the Metro. Bon Marche itself is similar to Lafayette – lots of exquisite shopping, so if you need the latest Prada bag or Hermes scarf, head there. You’ll find me in Le Grande Epicerie, again, a whole building unto itself with French and imported foods. Head to the boulangerie for some great breads. Just a few feet to the left of that is the service food area, with cases of lunch choices you can enjoy at nearby tables. There’s also a department for foie gras (ick), prosciutto and cheese. Lots of cheese. Watch out for the souvenir section, though – there’s a lot to choose from, but choose wisely because items are quite pricey. But, look for Paris-themed tins of cookies, unique chocolates and Kuzmi Tea.

On a beautiful day, be sure to take a walk through Le Marais, a really nice artistic hipster area. There are some blogs online that suggest walking routes and shops to visit, but you’ll definitely want to pick up the special falafel at L’As du Fallafel (Lenny Kravitz’s choice proudly declared on its wall). Enormous portions and long lines at lunch, but it’s worth it and the lines go quickly.

My Picks for Museums and GardensIMG_4263

Certainly if you have time and can still fit through the door after eating so much, make time to visit the Musée D’Orsay, a less-crowded and more lovely experience than the Louvre (admit it, you’re only going to see Mona, Venus, and Winged Victory anyway). Another museum I’d absolutely recommend is the Musée Rodin, a small, but charming, museum that will take just an hour or so depending on how long you stay in the sculpture garden.Also, if you’re going to the Tour Eiffel, you can get tickets online and avoid the epic security and ticket lines. If you’re there in summer, enjoy a spin on the nearby carousel (one of many peppering the city), and then stroll along the souvenir vendors on Quai CroissantsBranly/Quai de Grenelle. Continue to walk along the river toward the Statue of Liberty for about 1 kilometer, and you’ll come upon Le Cordon Bleu, which you can stop in for the BEST croissant in Paris, a 3-hour focused workshop or simply the café and gift shop. Be sure to say hello for me! If you’re lucky enough to get beautiful weather, absolutely visit the Jardin du Luxembourg and stroll among the Queens. It’s a beautiful park with children floating toy boats on a fountain IMG_8895pound and chairs all around for relaxing, which is really a French art. Talk to people, make friends, watch the kids’ faces light up with glee.

For More Information:

You can Google any of these for more info. Everything is accessible by Metro and/or bus. You can buy individual bus tickets on the bus itself or get a packet of 10 at the machine near the ticket window in Metro stations for a worthy savings. If you’re going all over the city, be sure to get the kind that allows you to transfer and use the bus or Metro. Also, there’s an app called “RATP,” which is Paris’s transportation system that will map you to any Metro/bus/train in Paris – amazingly helpful!

If you visit Paris, let me know if you visited any of these and how you liked them (or not). I’d love to hear from you!

Also read:
Things I Didn’t Know About France
Croissants in Paris, the Viennoiserie Promised Land

Want to see some French Pastry? Follow me on Instagram @AmuseBoucheMB!

South in the Mouth: The Real Southwest

This is the last in my “South in the Mouth” series. I hope you’ve followed our adventures of two food-obsessed girls driving from Florida to California! If not, why not go back and see where we’ve been?

Stop 4: Santa Fe, NM & Arizona via Route 66

IMG_1108Coming from Texas and the congeniality we experienced at Monroe’s Peach Ranch, we ambled along the Plain. Flat. Long. Road. To get to Santa Fe. Santa Fe was an intended stop, and my friend was really excited about it. She loves southwestern art – the whole terra-cotta-Georgia-O’Keefe thing. I was hoping there was a little more than that, because those who know me know I’m not a southwestern type of gal! Frankly, I think all of O’Keefe’s paintings look like lady bits.

Anywho…we get to Santa Fe and pulled into the Sage Inn & Suites. Judging by the lobby, it had potential to be cute, and its location next to a walk-up Starbucks didn’t hurt, but let’s just say I was glad there were two State Patrol officers staying in the room next door. Thankfully, I talked my friend down to a one-night stay (to afford us two in New Orleans!).

At least the hotel had a handy shuttle to the downtown square, which is where most everything in Santa Fe is – restaurants, museums, galleries, shops. It’s a nice day’s worth of sightseeing and, because of our short time in town, we did the easy-to-find stuff.IMG_1098

While in the square, we found a popular Southwestern restaurant tucked away in a quaint little courtyard. While we waited for a table, we had a few minutes to browse the neighboring gallery of Indian art and jewelry, none of which I could afford.

We were hungry, so we ordered a pork and cheese tamale to share, along with chips with an avocado cream dip and house salsa, and IMG_1102house-made soups (it was February and somewhat chilly). The soups were warm and satisfying, but my friend makes better tamales, so we weren’t as impressed as I think we were supposed to be. We decided to ask the concierge for a good, authentic place to go for dinner, and we looked forward to that.

In the meantime, we meandered around Santa Fe to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (pictured above), a beautiful church in the middle of town that was established in 1610. It still offers mass and tours of the basilica. Did you know a cathedral gets “elevated” to the moniker of “basilica”? I didn’t.

We stopped in the Georgia O’Keefe museum gift shop (which was all about I could handle), and then a brief stop in the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Similar to the New Orleans School of Cooking, they only teach their local cuisine – chiles, salsas, rellenos, etc. – so if you’re into that, go for it. But the two snooty women in the gift shop are far IMG_1106eclipsed by the nice staff in New Orleans, and we bought nothing. We moved on to a cute (and welcoming) wine-tasting room called Noisy Water. Two very nice staff helped us to picking wines to taste, all from their own cellars, including their very unique red or green chile wines. Be adventurous and give them a try! This was a really pleasant space, the people were nice, and the wine was good. If you’re in Santa Fe, do make a point to stop here.

So that dinner? We drove five minutes down the road to Tomasita’s, which we were hoping would be good. We figured it was recommended by the hotel (hmmm) and, judging by the crowd and hour wait, we figured it would be fantastic. Are you familiar with the chains El Torito or Margaritas? Yeah, that. It was cheap, which would explain why so many families with screaming children were there. Let’s just say we should’ve researched our options.

By now, I’m ready to go home. It’s been a long week of driving, walking and eating – some good, some bad. Yes, it’s been fun, but we’re 6 days in and I’m just about cooked. We got a solid night’s sleep, and off to Arizona.

IMG_1146We didn’t drive the whole Route 66, but we stopped in Winslow, Arizona – you know: “Standin on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” – a cute little town of approximately 10,000 people. You go to do one thing: stand on the corner with the statues of “a relaxed dude” and Eagles’ singer-songwriter Glenn Frey. There are great stories behind the corner park and, if you’re driving by, be a dork and do the whole picture thing. And stop in the gift shops for some Route 66 paraphernalia.

Also, while you’re in this little bitty town, IMG_1142which was once the largest town in Northern Arizona, be sure to stop by their monument to 9/11. It’s quite respectable, complete with a piece of the Twin Towers.

Hallelujah, we’re off to Williams, our last stop! My friend was all hopped up for Williams. She had visited this one-street town 10 years prior as a gateway to her Grand Canyon adventure. (And, no, we weren’t doing that this time.) IMG_1179Ours was merely a sleep-stop before heading home; but, if you had to pick a good place to stop, this was it. (Tip: don’t buy gas at the station right near this sign! It’s half as much on the main street.) It was late afternoon by the time we got there, so we checked into the Lodge Motel, a very cute, very clean inn on the main (only) drag. We dumped our stuff, and walked up and down the street, which was peppered with little shops with Grand Canyon touristy stuff and restaurants.

Having had enough of southwestern food, we opted for Station 66 Italian Bistro: good wood-fired pizza, good salad, lousy service. And we

were the only two in the place! After dinner, we strolled down to Oh, Sweetie’s ice cream shop for a scoop of Philadelphia-style ice cream (ice cream made without eggs) and had a yummy scoop of Cookies ‘n Cream. We strolled by the sunset light back to our hotel and thought, “hmm, this is a cute town. I need to go to the Grand IMG_1192Canyon someday.” As we drove back to Los Angeles, we said we hoped Williams doesn’t get gentrified to the point it loses its charm. Sure enough, it was featured in the LA Times Travel section the week after we got home. Sigh.

Places to try next time:
Ohori’s Coffee Roasters (Santa Fe)
Joseph’s Culinary Pub (Santa Fe)
Shake Foundation Hamburger & Shake Stand (Santa Fe)
Rod’s Steakhouse (Williams)

 

 

 

South in the Mouth: Northwest Texas

Follow my “South in the Mouth” series as I share the adventures of two food-obsessed girls driving from Florida to California.

Stop 4: Northwest Texas

So, Waco isn’t really a destination, per se, but if you’re going to pass through, you may as well stop for a few good finds. We were driving from Austin (OMG, the BBQ!) to Santa Fe, which is pretty aggressive, so we decided that it would be smart to stop halfway. Unfortunately, the halfway mark was Amarillo and, other than a questionably clean bed for the night, we weren’t planning to stick around.IMG_1081

But, on our way to Amarillo, my Austin cousins advised us to stop in West, Texas, not far from Austin on our way north. This little Czech town right off Interstate 35 is filled with bakeries and what looked like some cute establishments, but we opted for a quick buzz into The Little Czech Bakery for a couple IMG_1082
Kolaches – sweet or savory rolls filled with anything from jalapeno and cheese, to blueberry and cream cheese, fruit and more.

It was early morning and we hadn’t thought to stop back at Rudy’s for breakfast tacos (dammit! That’s a IMG_1086
sure miss!), and we passed the last opportunity for Buc-ee’s (another fail!), not that it would’ve usurped a stop at Kolache Central. I got a ham and cheese kolache for breakfast (seemed suitable) and a blueberry cream cheese one for breakfast #2 (shut up, that’s a thing!). The ham and cheese one was on the salty side, and a road trip isn’t the best time to guzzle a bottle of water, so I gave it a grade of “eh.” The blueberry one, on the other hand, was delish, a perfect mid-morning snack.

But our real destination on this leg was Magnolia, the home store and bakery (bakery!) IMG_1074helmed by Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame. These people have a cult following (no pun intended, considering this is Waco…and if you’re old enough to understand the reference), including my friend, who has seen every episode of the show. I’ve seen a couple, and they seem like good people, but aren’t without controversy (who is?). Regardless, they really have put Waco back on the map in a nice way.

Magnolia is easy to find and has plenty of parking. It’s in a cute “downtown” square – look for the twin silos – and has plenty of parking in a designated lot next to the shop. We first took a spin through the store, which I can only describe as a more rustic and spaced-out Crate & Barrel: very charming, very clean, very expensive (more than Crate & Barrel, which has some great deals!). My friend got a tea towel and a mug for $42. I got nothing. I was in it for the bakery.

IMG_1065Silos Baking Co. is on the same property, but in its own shop separated only by a common charming courtyard with plenty of seating. The bakery has a peculiar concept, though. You walk in and are given a quasi order sheet, but you can’t see anything until you’re up to the registers and, even then, the bakery case is beyond that. If you’re like me, you need to see things, so you just excuse your way to the front, then you go back to the back, get your order slip and then get in line. Not very efficient if you ask me.

We opted for a broad selection: a cupcake; two cheese, bacon and chive biscuits; and a IMG_1066cute sugar cookie. Don’t judge – we still had a lot of driving to do and we ate everything over the course of the day. Everything was moderately priced: $3.50 for most of the cupcakes, and even a gluten-free one for $3.00. With flavors like Strawberries and Cream and Lemon Lavender, along with the classic vanilla, chocolate and red velvet, you’re bound to find one you like. The cakes were moist and the buttercreams were light and IMG_1075afluffy like you’d expect. My friend enjoyed a classic cupcake – vanilla cake with chocolate icing – and was very pleased. Strangely enough, I wasn’t in the mood for a cupcake, so I opted for a large Classic Sugar Cookie IMG_1095($2.50), which was buttery and crumbly, but nothing special. Our biscuits, however, were divine: moist and flavorful and substantial enough for lunch on the road. If you had one with a salad, it would be a perfect lunch (they don’t have salads, but I was just saying).

We gathered our brown bags from the bakery and walked the two minutes down the block to the Findery, a similar concept store run by two charming ladies. Very homey, moderately priced and some cute finds. Honestly, we didn’t have much more room left in the car (or my tiny apartment kitchen) or I would’ve purchased a couple of kitchen things. But do give this shop a spin; you won’t regret it, even if you just come away with a pleasant experience and some great decorating ideas.

We wanted to get to Amarillo by sunset, so we got back on Highway 287. Let me tell you this – there’s nothing on this road, not a rest stop, not a gas station. Nothing. A couple IMG_1092hours in, we saw an oasis in the desolate, flat landscape (seriously, have you ever driven through Texas?): Monroe’s Peach Ranch in Hedley, Texas, about 70 miles east of Amarillo. There’s a fruit stand on both sides of the highway, and it’s run by, wait for it, the Monroe Family. The parents run the stand on the south side; son Troy runs the north.

As it was February, it wasn’t exactly peach season, which was a bummer because who wouldn’t love farm-fresh peaches? Peach cobbler, peach coulis, grilled peaches? Oooh, yes! But, Monroe’s also farms apples, plums, watermelon and cantaloupe, IMG_1091as well as tomatoes in the summer, and pecans and peanuts in the winter. Troy couldn’t have been more welcoming and charming, and he graciously answered questions about the farm (we’re city girls, after all) and what’s in season. We got a bag of couple varieties of apples to last the rest of our trip, and two bags of IMG_1627roasted-in-shell peanuts. I also picked up a bottle of Monroe’s Sweet Bourbon Glaze, which Troy creates with a partner. I can’t wait to try it on grilled pork chops.

Monroe’s was one of the highlights of the whole trip, not just for the food, but for the experience. If you’re a food lover, love your food. This is America’s heartland, and it’s our responsibility to support local farmers. I can’t even imagine how hard farmers work and how under-appreciated they are. After all, out of sight, out of mind, right? No, that shouldn’t be the case If you have a local farm, co-op or farmers’ market, give it a try. I have a few near my home that I’m heading to next week, and there are farmers’ markets in my county every day of the week. Know your farmers, your food, where it comes from and how it’s treated. Honestly, it may not be the cheapest, but it will be the freshest. Talk to the farmers, ask what pesticides they use, where their farms are and what their specialties are. Then shop and enjoy (and bring your own bags!).

Moral of today’s story? There are a lot of worthy stops along a road trip. They may be small, they may be out of the way, but make it a point to explore and judge for yourself. In any case, it will be an experience.

Next stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico and Williams, Arizona. OMG, the charm alone is worth the trip. So glad I’m heading to Santa Fe for a conference in 2019!

South in the Mouth: Austin

Follow my “South in the Mouth” series as I share the adventures of two food-obsessed girls driving from Florida to California.

IMG_1030Stop 3: Austin, Texas

Visiting Austin was more to feed the soul than the body. My cousin – who is like a brother to me – moved there with his wife (like a sister too!) forever ago. Since then, they’ve had two amazing kids, and I’ve never visited. Since I was driving cross country, there couldn’t be a better time to drop in.

Coming off our eating frenzy in New Orleans (beignets, anyone?), we were feeling lazy enough for the long drive across Texas. Armed with our hotel breakfast banana and wannabe-croissant, we headed over the New Orleans bridge and readied ourselves for the 500-mile drive.

A couple hours in, we decided a mercy meal was in order, and stopped at a gas station with a Subway. I had eschewed Subway since the whole rubber-tire-chemical-in-the-bread debacle, but they had since cleaned up their act, and I was thankful to devour a turkey sammie. Sometimes you just have to compromise. Or faint. It was that serious.

Every now and then, we’d pass a truck stop called Buc-ee’s and its ubiquitous smiling beaver. Not needing to stop, we naively drove (at the speed limit, of course) past. We didn’t know what we were missing. Apparently they have a beef jerky bar that rivals no other! Damn! Oh well.

We got coffee somewhere but, other than that, we were saving ourselves for dinner: real IMG_1035Texas barbeque with my cousins. We arrived around 6:00 p.m. (dinnertime, coincidentally), and they would be home shortly after. I had a key, so we let ourselves in and set our housewarming gifts from NOLA on the table: some coffee from Café du Monde and some cookies-and-cream fudge for the kids, which made the 5-year-old particularly happy. After visiting for a bit, they took us to the perfect place: Rudy’s Country Store & BBQ (and gas station).

IMG_1036This is a no-frills place – parchment is your plate, plastic utensils and paper towels – but don’t let that fool you. Hospitality is big here in Texas. My cousin, my friend and I got in line while the rest of the family went to find a seat. You know it’s good when the place is packed. I gawked at the food being churned out at the counter, and we couldn’t imagine where to start, but my cousin had been there many times and knew exactly what to get. Then my cousin’s wife said, “when you get up there, tell them it’s your first time.”IMG_1040

Um, yeah, tantamount to wearing that big sombrero at the Mexican resto when it’s your birthday, they make a big deal out of BBQ Virgins (but at least they ask you first if they can announce it to everyone). Then they give you a taste of everything: the moist and extra-moist (who knew?) versions of the brisket, the smoked turkey, the smoked kielbasa, the creamed corn. Now I’m not a creamed corn fan, but I would’ve taken a bath in the stuff. Oh em gee!

We let my cousin order: extra-moist brisket (oh yeah!), pork ribs, a couple of sausage links, potato salad, cole slaw, beans. The guy was gonna give us a whole loaf of fresh white bread to go along with it (as is the norm), but we only needed a few slices for the kids. We grabbed a few beers and waters from the ice tub and our tray of food, but realized we forgot Rudy’s famous banana pudding (and a chocolate one too; can’t leave chocolate behind), so we went back for that.

We sat at the inside picnic tables and went to town. This is my kind of night: family, good food, laughing, eating. Really, what else is there? These kids are so amazing – one in high school and one in kindergarten – and it reminds me how much I miss them . After a quick drive around the local area, we buzzed home to relax in our jammies and gab for a while. My friend and I spent less than 12 hours in Austin, but they were good hours. Solid hours. I know Hubby and I have to come back for more quality time, quality ‘cue and good music during one of Austin’s famous festivals (aren’t the Foo Fighters coming next month?!). But, for now, we hit the hay before embarking on our trip through the rest of Texas, with a couple of interesting stops to come.

South in the Mouth: New Orleans

IMG_1002Follow my “South in the Mouth” series as I share the adventures of two food-obsessed girls driving from Florida to California.

Stop 2: New Orleans, Louisiana

It was going to be along drive from Savannah to NOLA, so we hunkered down for the 12-hour stretch that would take us through the bucolic and sometimes frighteningly slow backroads of rural Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

A couple hours in, we would have given our right arm for a Starbucks. Instead I gave $145 for a speeding ticket. I couldn’t rightly argue with the trooper that we’ve been driving for hours and hadn’t had coffee, and we found a Safeway that had a Starbucks, and oh-were-we-in-need. He just saw us whiz by and, when he pulled out, I pulled over. I mean, why antagonize the guy? But after all that, I’d be damned if I wasn’t getting the coffee I did 62-in-a-45 for. To be fair, it was a Route-9-like road right off the highway and there were no speed limit signs posted anywhere. Yeah, that was one expensive latte, but at least they had a buy-a-latte-and-get-a-free-breakfast-sandwich. That made it better.IMG_0960

After lamenting passing up Biloxi and being paranoid to drive over the speed limit, we arrived in New Orleans at sunset. Let me tell you, going over the bridge into the city at sunset was pretty well worth it. It was the week before Mardi Gras, and the town was still relatively empty. Decorations were going up, construction was being finalized, and bands were practicing for the big rush. All good. But we were starving.

IMG_0976We only had a bagel at the Savannah hotel, SmartPop from a gas station and a disgusting Hardees burger on the way (um, yah, Hardees is NOT the same as Carl’s Jr.!). We. Needed. Food. Good food. On dishes. We checked into our very charming Place d’Armes hotel perfectly situated at Jackson Square, which put us within walking distance of everything we wanted to do (er, eat). We spent an hour walking around to stretch our legs and found the Gumbo Shop. No, we didn’t have gumbo, but opted for jambalaya, creole shrimp, and red beans and rice (carb Police, look away!). I was hoping for a little more andouille in the red beans since they heralded that in the entrée version, and the creole shrimp had few shrimp, but it was still as tasty platter of creole flavors. WeIMG_0982 struck up a conversation with a couple next to us who were fascinated to learn of our food-focused journey, made better that night with our first trip to Café du Monde, the famous, beignet and coffee shop.

Did I mention I was fighting that uncontrollable cough that was going around during flu season? Pair that with a pile of powdered sugar. What you imagine is what happened. Thankfully I was clear across the table so that the cloud of sugar didn’t descend upon my friend enjoying her chicory-smooth coffee. Ooh, the coffee. Yeah, the coffee was really delicious and when you dunk that sugar-smothered beignet into the smooth café au lait, you got one enjoyable experience. It was around 10:00 p.m. and, as we enjoyed our coffee, we planned the next day’s excursions. Oh, did you know Café du Monde has a separate gift shop with all kinds of branded paraphernalia and canned chicory? We definitely hit that up for some gifts!

The next morning, we set our pedometers so we could justify everything we were about to eat! We started with a quick breakfast at our hotel (really, are any hotel breakfasts worth writing about?), then walked to the downtown area (Canal Street) to hunt down a Starbucks mug – calm down, just the mug. Hubby and I have this thing about collecting their location-specific mugs for the places we enjoy. That walk alone was worth all the food we ate because we had to go to four locations to find one! On the way back, we navigated our way to the New Orleans School of Cooking.

IMG_0991My friend and I are cooking fanatics, mostly baking, but we both cook too. Now, I’m a cooking school lover, but this was underwhelming. Basically, they’ve taken the local dishes and set up classes on how to make them. Only them. But, whatever, if you want to learn how to make jambalaya and gumbo and can’t follow a recipe at home, then go for it. The people were very nice and you get to eat what you make, so there’s that. But the real bargain here is the gift shop! They had great entertaining books and cookbooks, and adorable New Orleans- and food-related items at very reasonable prices, including the famous pralines (best price in town). I got a beautiful fleur de lis wine stopper for my cousin, and a spice mix for red beans and rice. Even if you’re not going to take a class, go for the gift shop.

IMG_0989Along Jackson Square, there are a lot of great shops and galleries to peruse, and lots of “artists” on the square itself. One kitchenware shop – I forget the name, but it’s right there! – carried some great things, including the very cute Mud Pie line of serve ware (husband: take note for Christmas list). We were, surprise, getting hungry, so we moseyed over to Central Grocery, which has a cult following for their enormous and self-IMG_0996proclaimed original muffuletta sandwiches. Just go…before the lunch rush hour. We grabbed a couple of seats in the back of the store (it’s not a “sit-down” by any means) and people watched as we enjoyed these very fresh sandwiches made of sliced meats, provolone, house-baked bread and family-recipe olive salad. Those who know me know I’m not an olive eater, so I had mine with olive oil. My friend and I each ordered a half sandwich, and we each took home a half of our halves. And yes, they were really good later that night.

A quick stroll through the flea-market-style French Market is well worth your time if you’re looking for local artisans hawking everything from Carnival masks, famous pralines and voodoo dolls to local authors proudly selling their own books. It was a cold February day, but I can imagine in the warmer weather, this place would be very popular. IMG_1016

We headed down toward Bourbon Street (how could you not?!) and, even though it was mid-afternoon, we were lured into a local bar by the band, and sat for a beer. Then, of course, we needed a snack, so we IMG_1018popped into Pat O’Brien’s for a “hurricane,” some wings and some of the best fries we ever had (um, it could be the alcohol talking). We even got our own Mardi Gras beads without having to show our boobies! Yay!

After an arduous day of shopping, eating and drinking, we miraculously found ourselves back at Café du Monde for more beignets (don’t judge) and large café au lait to warm us up. Then back to the hotel IMG_0969to wind down, watch the stupid State of the Union, and eat the rest of our muffulettas. So happy we stayed two nights in New Orleans, and I definitely want to go back. After all, I’ve always felt connected to the place (but, what’s in a name?).

Next stop: Austin…my mouth is watering already for amazing Texas barbeque…and seeing some favorite cousins in their Boston-to-Austin home.

Places to visit next time:
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Sucre
Croissant D’Or Patisserie – how did I miss this place?
Loretta’s Authentic Pralines

South in the Mouth: A Road Trip Diary

IMG_0944_Geirgia boatFollow my “South in the Mouth” series as I share the adventures of two food-obsessed girls driving from Florida to California.

Traveling cross-country in a car with a friend can be dangerous, but when that friend is into food just as much as you are, it can be amazing…okay, and dangerous because, boy, you eat a LOT.

Recently, a friend and I set out on a road trip across the south, driving from Florida to California in a not-so-logical, but defined, path. We had one week. Some would argue that’s plenty of time, but when you want to stop at multiple food destinations and are willing to go out of your way a bit, your deadline looms as a subtle reminder to apply some boundaries. We had to make our miles for the day because we had hotels already booked along the route. And we vowed to patronize only local businesses – food, wine, farms.

South in the Mouth: SavannahIMG_0919_Savannah Cover

First stop: Savannah, Georgia. I’ve always wanted to visit this southern charmer, so what
better time than now? We stayed in Historic Savannah right on Bay Street, which is a perfect location to walk everywhere. Our first stop was the Savannah City Market, a quaint square of a couple of streets comprising restaurants and shops aimed at tourists. As it was a cold and wet February day, it wasn’t crowded (I’m weird; I like a hot, crowded, hoppin’ day, so maybe a “better time” would be closer to summer). In any case, we found the Georgia Tasting Room winery.

IMG_0930_wineryOooh, wait, there’s pie! Pie Society was a cute little shop. Maybe it was late in the day, but there were just a couple items in its single case, most of it savory, and none of it inviting. Might have to try this another time. But, now, back to the winery.

A slow day in a winery is actually a good thing. Six tastings for $3 ($3!), and waived if you buy a bottle, and a free wine glass if you buy two. Sure, sign us up! The bartender was personable and knowledgeable, and presented us with an extensive menu. We picked a variety of dry wines, and a sweeter Georgia Peach Chardonnay (I mean, Georgia Peach!). We each bought a couple of bottles, ranging from $20-24 each, and were on our way. A solid start.IMG_0916

After a couple turns through Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for the free praline samples and to gawk at their offerings, we bought a couple of chocolates, including the local “gopher,” a cashew-caramel-chocolate confection. Definitely good, but $5 for one? Hmmm. Did I mention we had wine?

We ventured out of the square a bit, and found Le Macaron, a cute macaron and IMG_0928_macarons
gelato shop, and got a quick mac. I had the basil, and my friend had the rose; decent, but not worth the $2.50 per. Of course there was also The Lady and Sons, Paula Deen’s famous eatery, but I’ve always been one to eschew the trendy spot, so we skipped it.

We took our wine and candy back to the IMG_0941
hotel, and headed out to Forsyth Park, a beautiful park in the center of historic downtown.

We walked around for a while, checking out the fountains, statues and (barren) rose garden. For people who live here, I can see this park being integral to life in Spring and Summer.

Thinking it was time to eat something substantial (not that wine and chocolate weren’t a good start), we asked a local where to go for authentic southern food, and she sent us down by the river. Now, this is the place to come during the summer! Bars, restos and shops lined the Riverwalk, and you could tell this place would be jumpin’ in the summer. Did I IMG_0945_riverwalkmention you’re allowed to consume alcohol in public within a certain range of the area? We took a leisurely stroll up and down the Riverwalk and settled on Huey’s Southern Cafe, a cute little bistro right on the Riverwalk. We were excited and hungry. We ate in the bar at a perfect window table. We knew what we wanted and went for it. (Warning: when you think of all the things you want, try to spread them out over more than one meal.)IMG_0949_fried green tomatoes

  • Fried Green Tomatoes – Served with a red pepper aioli, these were my first FGTs, and I’m definitely a fan. (photo, right)
  • Salad – It was salad. I just had to have some vegetables.
  • Shrimp and Grits – Hmm, neither of us had had IMG_0950_shrimp and gritsShrimp and Grits before, but we were expecting a mound of buttery, cheesy grits topped with some spicy shrimp. What we got was more like…soup: grits on the bottom (who knew if they were buttery and cheesy?), covered in a tasty-but-nothing-special tomato-based sauce with almost a dozen acceptably sized shrimp. Once we fished those out of the sauce, we took a couple bites of the grits, and that was that.
  • Crab Cake Sammy with Coleslaw – Now, I love crab cakes. Unfortunately, the chef loved salt, or had an accident. I ate half of it and couldn’t take it anymore. Sadly, the server didn’t seem to care after I respectfully pointed it out. The coleslaw was good.
  • Cornbread – With butter? Um, yeah, good.IMG_0951_beignets
  • Beignets – Tasty, but a little greasy.

Moral of the story: Fried Green Tomatoes, salad and cornbread would have been a perfect lunch; however, it was dinner, and I wanted some protein since I hadn’t had any all day. And I still didn’t get it, so I went to bed hungry.

Don’t feel sorry for me: New Orleans was on tap the next day, and I needed the calorie credit. But, we had a 12-hour drive first. A lot can happen on a 12-hour drive.

Historic Savannah places to visit next time:
Goose Feathers Café & Bakery
Sorry Charlies Oyster Bar
Lulu’s Chocolate Bar
Rise Biscuits & Donuts
The Flying Monk Noodle Bar
Pie Society
And the many bars on River Street!

Cream of the Crop

CroissantsButter. Hopefully you love it as much as I do. If you don’t, I’ll have to question our friendship. If you use margarine, then I question your character all together. Can you imagine if croissants were made with, ugh, margarine?? Vegetable oil, additives, preservatives. Ick. Did you know margarine was invented in the Napoleon III era as a butter substitute that was cheaper for the, er, peasants. Don’t even get me started on “non-dairy spreads” that could last as long as a Twinkie (no intended insult to Twinkies, of course).

But then there’s butter: butterfat, milk, salt. Mmmmmm. Nothing oleo about it. Just pure looove. Yes, I melt at the thought of it. My butt and thighs scream at the thought of it. But I can’t argue the value it brings to pastry, and even nutritionists may side with me.

Back home in California, before my exposure to French life, butter was just butter. But then my eyes were opened and the Butter Angels sang. Unsalted butter, salted butter, dry butter… each has its own purpose. Unsalted butter, of course, is the standard in baking, even in cooking Dry butter2school. But it’s not the same unsalted butter as we get here in the States; it’s just different.

In a sauté pan or in muffins, nary a thought was given to whatever butter was on hand (but definitely not margarine, ever). You probably don’t think twice about it, but as a freshly trained French pastry chef, coming back to the U.S. has simply launched me into the butter abyss.

Unsalted butter in France seems fresher, butterier and it’s definitely cheaper. It’s the butter you use at home every day (er, if you use butter every day, of course). President brand butter ran about 1.62/package, which was approximately 250 grams in one solid block. No sticks, no tablespoon cut lines. Why would the French have that? Remember, they weigh everything if using butter in a recipe – grams, not tablespoons.

In the U.S., salted butter isn’t too common. However, in France, you’d find it on the best of white-clothed restaurant tables with artisan bread, sometimes at the beginning of the meal, but mostly at the end. The horror – leaving bread and butter to the end.

butter slabThen, there’s the cream of the crop: dry butter. Nonexistent to private citizens in the U.S. and typically reserved for bakeries who know what they’re doing, dry butter is a butter that has more than 83% butterfat and, thus, less moisture. American butters usually have around 80%. Commercially, dry butter comes in these glorious 1kg slabs, perfect for pounding into the pivotal butter layer of Viennoiserie dough for croissants and puff pastry. Nothing else will do. It’s just not the same.

It’s like crack – I have to have it. I tell you, and I practically pimp myself out to chefs asking who their suppliers are. My friends know how traumatic this is for me and, yes, often embarrassed at my quest.mille feuille

So back in Los Angeles, dry butter options are few. Finding dry butter is a chore and, even if you can, it’s still not the same without the French air and cream. It just isn’t. But, if you have or have access to a restaurant license and supplier, you can purchase dry butter, often in 10-slab cases. Ha. My husband would think I lost my mind…until he tasted my croissants and mille feuille (Napoleon…hmmm, coincidence?).

I always loved a challenge.