Feb 25, 2012


Over the years I've probably put up two dozen fences of one sort or another. And since I started from a state of ignorance which farmers' sons usually pass beyond between the ages of five and six, I have made every mistake but one that it's possible to make. I've put up a fence without bracing the corners. Strung barbwire from the bottom strand up instead of the top strand down. Put the small end of a post in the ground instead of the large. The one thing I haven't done is to use white or gray birch for posts. And there it was poetry that saved me, not common sense. Long before I thought of being a farmer, I had read most of Robert Frost, and could quote from 'Home Burial': Three foggy mornings and one rainy day / Will rot the best birch fence a man can build. It's not even much of an exaggeration.
noel perrin, first person rural

Feb 24, 2012

on wagashi

"the wagashi was an exquisitely beautiful miniature persimmon but ultimately forgettable, as all wagashi are." i wrote that years ago, and it is not less true today.

newsflash: pbarry, investigating the minamoto kitchoan in san francisco, reports on wagashi: "if I went the rest of my life without another one, I would not pine."

wagashi: what it is.

Feb 21, 2012


more writing on craft and care in work here.

the new york times may have figured it out: instead of short, unpolished articles, how about some quality journalism? today's nyt contains two good reads about quality. the first one was about timothy barrett, the second was about not mocking the artisanal pickle-maker.

corky introduced me to a great japanese word: kodawari (こだわり). the word is now often used to describe cafes in japan where the baristi pay uncompromising attention to detail and quality in the preparation of coffee. (from darryl, other source of information about japan-related esoterica: "kodawari = unrelenting, exhaustive devotion to a chosen small area of expertise.") those interested in kodawari may also enjoy the wall street journal's report on how things are made better in japan.

i get flak all the time about buying into the single-origin, time-temp control, calibrated grind size, ritual of coffee (or chocolate, or wine, or cheese, or whatever). does this kind of nearly fetish-level obsessiveness always translate to a better cup of coffee? and, more important, can you tell even if it did? i lack the discernment necessary to distinguish reliably between the aromas of beans grown in different countries. the real reason i buy into this kind of thing is because it increases my expectation of getting a decent to excellent cup of coffee.

too many times, i've had junk coffee drinks. these are always made by someone whose mind was elsewhere, or who wasn't trained to notice the details that good craftspeople notice. nothing induces more of a sinking feeling in me than ordering a latte and seeing the characteristic greyish tinge of what will inevitably be a bitter yet tasteless brew. this is invariably accompanied by the barista spooning froth onto the top of the drink to imitate the microfoamed texture of correctly-steamed milk. the final insult is to be asked to pay an enormous sum for this junk beverage (i always do, filled with resentment).

if junk coffee (or food, or furniture, or software) is the price of spontaneity and openness to serendipity, sign me up for having the guy behind the counter calibrate his grind several times before pulling my espresso, time my pourover's extraction with a stopwatch, and measure his water temperature with a thermocouple. there is an element of showmanship and ritual here, but also the reasonable expectation that the coffee will, at very least, be made with an attempt at care.

and then, on the other hand, there's patience gray on winemakers:

In Apulia, the cultivation of the olive has always gone hand in hand with the vine. Planted together, the olive trees come into their own forty years later when the vines are in decline. It would be odd indeed to make your own oil without also making your own wine. For this an apprenticeship, not scholarship, is required, which the Sculptor served during the years we spent in the vineyards above Carrara. Everyone agrees that the magnificent wine he makes is better than the neighbours'. There are many reasons for this, one is that nothing is put in it, medicaments I mean. An artist who has taken risks all his life accepts the risk of his wine "going off" and only takes the more care of his barrels. The agriculturalist spoils his wine by "making sure."

from honey from a weed, which is certainly worth a read

a rectangle of radiant simplicity

The finished product was a rectangle of radiant simplicity, an unfancy, richly hued blank presence that was the predictable result, Barrett insisted, of selecting proper materials, preparing them in patient, time-honored ways and approaching their manufacture with a spirit of total dedication. “This is pretty much how it was done for 1,800 years,” he remarked. “By hand. One sheet at a time.”
mark levine, on timothy barrett, in the new york times.
[thx ben]
barrett worked at twinrocker paper for a while. the mark of the maker is a short documentary about them, and is worthwhile.

Feb 13, 2012

the sandwich report

yesterday, we went to canteen on mass ave for lunch. the BLT was a marvel. thoroughly browned and ultra-crisp hot bacon, decent tomato thinly sliced, snappy leaves of bright chilled romaine, avocado, red onion shavings, pepper mayo and a vinaigrette, on a warm, split-griddled iggy's focaccia roll. additional saucing in the form of a soft-yolked fried egg. $9.35 after tax: execution success.

getting off at the wrong stop meant a short walk through downtown boston. on a bright, warmish winter day, this was not a hardship. on the way, i passed by foumami ("the asian sandwich bar") and stopped for a sandwich made on shaobing, a variety of chinese pastry. freshly made, shaobing are marvelously flaky and tender. they become tough and untasty if allowed to cool or if reheated in anything but a quick, dry oven. so it was for foumami's shaobing, pulled from a holding oven set at 170F. the bread was not rescued by the filling, an uninteresting clump of thinly sliced chilled pork loin flavoured with cilantro sprigs and some shaved cucumber. $8.51 after tax: execution failure.

in the north end, galleria umberto was selling out of its last items. i missed the pizza (by one slice!), panzarotti, and the arancini but managed to snag the last ham, salami, and ricotta calzone. it was milky, faintly salty, richly savory. $4.25 after tax: execution success

and then i spent a lot of someone else's money at the store we all dream of working at, buying some rather interesting stuff.

Feb 12, 2012


bondir was already confident, understated, unusual, coherent, and generous a few weeks after it opened in december 2010. i've been back many times since. always reluctant to write about it, i was hoping to keep it from being overrun by the hordes. we all know how well that works. we went back for dinner after a long break and bondir is better than ever. the highlights:

a warm, firm yet creamy sac of shad roe coated in bread crumbs then sautéed (possibly even shallow-fried) in butter, with a scattering of spinach leaves, bacon, red onion and kohlrabi batons dressed in a vinaigrette made with confit yuzu (which tasted like kumquats). the whole roe sac is presented, an approximately crescent-shaped mass about the length of a beer can. this can be intimidating to the diner expecting something like salmon or flying-fish roe. the first bite erases all trepidation: it has the crunch of a great japanese croquette, and a mild but permeating sea flavour. shad, as is common knowledge, is an anadromous fish and the subject of john mcphee's book the founding fish.

butter-poached lobster was the perfect texture, a soft and yielding crunch. the "celerisotto" underneath was outstanding: celeriac pieces cut down to the size of rice grains and cooked the texture of lightly al dente rice, in a light but creamy binding. the whole dish was dressed with an oily salsa verde, and adorned with raw discs of yellow carrots, brussels sprout leaves, and a few splinters of caramel made with kalamata olive. the faint sweetness of celery without its pungency, the strong green flavour of the salsa, the sweet brine of the olive caramel and the lobster. a wondrous combination.

chocolate panna cotta, which was a solid trembling on the edge of deliquescence. this is a simple but not simplistic thing, and its simplicity leaves no room for execution failure. edward espe brown says: "Preparing things simply is deceptively difficult, since there is no way to cover up our mistakes." (on execution failure in panna cotta, also see this diatribe.)

confit sunchokes on a piece of warm gingerbread with strips of quince leather and a lemon mousseline. the slowly cooked sunchokes became a translucent deep brown with the same chocolate and caramel overtones as the quince leather. with the warm spices in the gingerbread and the cool, tart lemon cream, the ideal meal-ender on a cold night. everything about this is tradition, tradition, tradition, and yet it isn't traditional. it looks unassumingly simple and yet it isn't simple. among the desserts, people seem to love the the tangerine dream, which is on the menu a lot: toasted meringue on top of gènoise layered with vermouth-infused tangerine pieces, and thyme-buttermilk ice cream. good, complicated-looking, spectacular, but too obvious! the much simpler-seeming desserts are where its really at: the crostatas, the cakes, the panna cottas.

francois chidaine's clos habert, a demi-sec 2009 chenin blanc from montlouis-sur-loire which was at once brilliantly acid and full of subtle sweetness. while i usually go straight for the acid, this one was best—taut and unctuous, lightly vinous—a little bit off the ice.
bondir's idiom is confident simplicity, inside which many complex and comforting layers unfold. service is unassuming and unobtrusive, competent, warm, well-informed, and unpatronising: a balance that any good restaurant seeks and few achieve. exotics and foraged ingredients are used often but in small, almost unnoticeable ways. they are not referenced in the menus but contribute bursts of unfamiliar or vaguely familiar flavour: allusion rather than outright statement. the casual diner passes by noticing nothing and enjoys the dish regardless; the gastro-nerd notices and his enjoyment is different but not deeper. the flashy-flash way to do seasonal food is to renovate the menu wholesale each day; bondir adopts the quieter approach of gradually introducing new components to each dish while retiring others. continuity with change, evolution instead of revolution. as with another instant favourite in tokyo, going back to bondir is an occasion for both pleasant familiarity and delicious surprises.

Feb 11, 2012

everything is relative

A scale is meaningless when some days you feel light and some days you feel heavy.
jim harrison, then and now

Feb 8, 2012

old skool


old skool

Feb 7, 2012

the land breathing

Watching the animals come and go, and feeling the land swell up to meet them and then feeling it grow still at their departure, I came to think of the migrations as breath, as the land breathing. In spring a great inhalation of light and animals. The long-bated breath of summer. An exhalation that propelled them all south in the fall.
barry lopez, arctic dreams

Feb 5, 2012

yat ka mein

20120205_130920 20120205_131814
in lucky peach 1, yat ka mein was depicted as a restorative, like menudo or kimchi. it didn't sound appetising: scallions, spaghetti, and pick-your-protein, in a soup spiced with cayenne. we were on north broad street lagging behind the treme sidewalk steppers sunday second line when the man chu hut, a pink-painted yat ka mein institution, loomed on the left. fate, as we know, looks askance at those who turn opportunity away when it knocks with a quart of soup noodles in its other hand. the yat ka mein was surprisingly tasty. the jury is still out on the oddly red shrimp.

Feb 4, 2012

strange fruit from south boston


strange fruit from south boston

the right tool for the right job


the right tool for the right job

krewe du vieux


krewe du vieux

twelve-mile limit


twelve-mile limit







Feb 2, 2012

new orleans, la


new orleans, la