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across the bridge, to brooklyn

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My memory of Brighton Beach of the time that’s captured here is faint at this point. I vaguely can conjure up images of my mother’s friends who lived in Brighton, and my trips across the Brooklyn Bridge to get there. Though I was often adverse to many foods at this stage, it’s not at all odd to me now that what I remember most from my visits to Brooklyn is in fact the food.

I recall my mother’s passion for the delicacies from her motherland and her quest to find them; Little Odessa was often the place to oblige her palate. Hot golden-colored pirozhki pop in my mind. We enjoyed these treats with either savory or sweet fillings. Made from a yeast dough, the buns would be shallow-fried and turn out golden in color, a bit oily to the touch and taste, it would be stuffed with chopped meat and mixed with sautéed onions. Mashed potatoes stuffed inside was another option and sometimes I’d be surprised to find sautéed mushrooms hiding within as well. A sweet option that was never truly sweet but memorable would be pirozhki stuffed with sour cherries. The cherries I remember would make me pucker. A few pirozhki, usually the meat-filled ones, would be wrapped up in parchment paper and placed in a brown paper bag for the ride home. Bialys fresh from a bakery, likely nearby, would also find themselves stuffed into a paper bag, and one would always make its way into my hand. Today I would grab these rolls if I could get them. Bialys are a bit like a pizza crust-like bread with a deep center filled with diced onions, and usually poppy seeds would be sprinkled inside as well. Other delicacies to discover would be pickles, and most certainly pickled herring, along with a smorgasbord of other fish such as smoked sturgeon, lox, trout – and only the finest quality would do. It sounded to me like arguing, but my mother would fervently speak to the shopkeepers or folks behind the counter in Russian or Yiddish; I would pick up bits here or there of the conversation as she searched for the finest tidbits to taste.

Eventually settling in for meal at a friend’s home we’d find a plate of varenykis, dumplings, sometimes also called pierogi. These too would be stuffed with a variety of combinations, spinach and cheese, potatoes and onions, or a meat filling similar to the pirozhki. Finely chopped and sautéed onions would be served on top if filed with meat, a large dollop of sour cream if it was potato pierogi. Sour cream seemed to find it’s way atop what seemed most dishes, including my favorite, blinztes, very similar to a crêpe and filled with farmers cheese or pot cheese. Likely from my memories I would have declined eating anything more at this point, and with the conversation in dedicated Russian, I often could escape from the table without protest and seek comfort in a book, a friend who usually was in tote wherever I would travel. Books continue to be my faithful friends today, though I could never have imagined engaging in such an affair with food.

In addition to the photo of me reading, you can catch a glimpse of me walking along Brighton Beach Avenue with my mother. I’m helping her carry bags filled with delicacies (perhaps even produce) that we had picked up at the markets and bakeries. The pictures were taken by photographer Carol Kitman and shared with permission.

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lunch at the french laundry

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I’m reveling in bliss for having eaten a symphony of stars and finally having taken a bite out of the one perhaps most challenging to reach in the constellation. The French Laundry is lauded with international accolades including landing on many Best and Top Restaurants lists, is a James Beard Foundation recipient, and has garnered three Michelin Stars, defined as a restaurant reflecting “exceptional cuisine and worthy of a special journey”. There wasn’t a special occasion on the calendar to celebrate that sent me on a long drive up to Yountville in Napa Valley. Just an impromptu chance for my taste buds to celebrate, and a ‘carpe diem’ opportunity not to miss. For a gastronome, arriving at The French Laundry is like reaching the pinnacle of a trip. But I’m fortunate to say that the journey does not end here, there is far more cuisine, from the simple to the exotic, to go on to explore. For someone with a deep interest in gastronomy and passionate about the intersection of food, history, and culture, indulging in haute cuisine now and again is gratifying. The experience doesn’t transcend eating a meal where the recipes for the dishes have been passed on from generation to generation for example, nor does it even surpass eating something simple yet sublime. But venturing into one of the distinguished establishments of the Les Grandes Tables du Monde is an adventure and ultimately an experience. For a moment (or perhaps several hours) I was fortunate to experience The French Laundry and step into the world of world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller.

Photos du Jour | Step inside, sit back, sip some champagne and wine, and enjoy a parade of dishes from the kitchen – a tasting menu and feast for the eyes, then a taste of the kitchen itself.

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So often art on a plate is an intimate experience relished for only a few moments, then left to memory. In the food world, there’s currently a debate whether diners should or should not take pictures of their food, and some restauranteurs and chefs feel camera-enabled smartphones (such as the iPhone) is intruding on the dining experience. This sentiment may also be felt by other guests at the table or guests at nearby tables. Some chefs are also concerned the quality of the pictures being snapped may misrepresent the dishes that are being served. Being aware of the debate, prior to taking these photos, I did out of courtesy ask the staff if it was acceptable to take pictures, and they in fact encouraged it.

While I would be delighted to know the images are enticing and whet your appetite, documenting my dishes is foremost a way for me to capture a moment I hope to look back on. Relevant to yumivore, to quote Thomas Keller: “I think that you’ve got to make something that pleases you and hope that other people feel the same way.” So often these carefully crafted plates are lost after being devoured, and all that remains are just a few memories of the experience. Perhaps this is by design and the way fine dining is meant to be. Documenting dishes can serve though as not only a way to capture a personal experience but also a way to reflect on what we as a society are currently eating or indulging in, and with a changing landscape, our foods may very well be quite different in the years ahead. So too our philosophy may change (or even mine) regarding taking pictures while dining.

There are many more interesting debates taking place in the food world today, some hot topics include sustainability, the “tyranny” of the tasting menu, or even fine dining making a comeback. Some of these topics are very relevant to Chef Keller. There’s too much fodder to cover in one sitting but it all makes great food for thought. I’ll end with a thought from the chef:

“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” -Chef Thomas Keller

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good reads and great finds

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I love lists. Best wines to buy, book reviews, places to visit, photography tips- lists are often useful and enjoyable details consolidated into one convenient place. I have a tendency to save links from various endless sources, stored in the oddest of ways on my computer. Together these reads create a hodgepodge of delightful randomness. Pulling together articles, blog posts and interesting topics, it’s a smorgasbord- a list of links for you to sit back and sift through or dive into each one. Here’s the latest round-up of good reads and great finds:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
9 Nasty Truths About The Meals You Eat
Humans Changing Saltiness of the Seas
Sustainable Seafood Labeling … NPR Report

TRAVEL
“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” -Anatole France
the taste of two years
Bravissimo! Eat the Italian way
Israel Restores the Ancient City of Avdat
Day Trekking in Beautiful, Wild Torres Del Paine
The perfect romantic riverside walk in Paris
Top 10 Open Air Food Market Experiences In Paris

WINE
Bonnes Nuits
interesting facts about wine
Wine reflects culture, place and time

PHOTOGRAPHY
“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” ―Marc Riboud
5 Tips for Minimalist Photography
Beautiful Photographs of Jerusalem
Food photography hints and tips for bloggers
How to take a photo in a rainforest (and other tricky conditions)
Travel photography tip: Beginner’s guide to shooting in Manual

FOOD + ART
Delicious edible housewares
Famous Meals from Literature Captured on Film
Recipes and Household Tips from Great Writers

VINTAGE
Colour photographs of US Supermarkets, 1950s/1960s
A Historic Photo Archive Re-emerges at the New York Public Library
Purgatory Station: Inside San Francisco’s Vintage Streetcar Boneyard

For more good reading, look for past good reads and great finds in the archives.

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good reads and great finds

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January, and a new year gets underway. For some, it may mean new routines to look forward to or perhaps new passions to explore. Cold weather even snow in many parts has us cooped up inside. Whether books or online articles, I find myself reading more, wishing I was doing so in an outdoor café. Despite my inner desire to hibernate until spring, in between cold drops of rain, and under California’s winter of intermittent overcast skies, I nudge myself outside for a walk along the trails. Sometimes my camera accompanies me to capture the landscape, I often take along food for thought, sometimes gleaned from the pages I’ve enjoyed. Hope you can enjoy these links in a warm corner filled with sun or by a warm fire. Here’s the latest round-up of good reads and great finds:

Food for Thought
The Unprocessed Kitchen
Finding your path: a few good e-courses
Why You Should Ditch Sugar In Favor of Honey
What You Think You Know..About Wise Eating
After Crispy Pig Ears, 10 Trends for 2013
Top Chefs’ Totalitarian Restaurants
Half of world’s food is thrown out, wasted
A Month’s Worth of Food Links for the New Year

Kitchen Resources
Bouquet Garni Basics
Spices: When to Grind, When to Toast
Handy Guide: Water-to-Grain Ratios
Chef Jack Bishop on ‘The Science of Good Cooking’

Wine
Which wine type are you?
Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore?
Just how concentrated is the wine industry? [graphics]
3 Wine Marketing Trends to Watch
10 best wine destinations for 2013
As 2013 rolls in, 5 themes for change in wine

Travel
Slow Travel
The 20 best travel books of all time
Is Belgium still the capital of chocolate?

Photography
Seven Ideas For Photographers
Boost Your Landscape Photography

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wine is sunlight

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei

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love apple farms spring flowers

photos du jour

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strolling through a spice market

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It’s hard to describe most open-air markets as tranquil, certainly not markets in the Middle East. People often walk with a purpose when visiting the market, they hardly stroll. Between the hustle and bustle of shoppers crowding the pavement and vendors actively seeking buyers in an effort to sell their goods, there’s too much excitement going on for shopping in a souq to be deemed relaxing. Even the vibrant colors of spices, produce or knickknacks dangling from windows scream for attention.

For a moment though while visiting the spice market on Levinsky Street in Tel Aviv, known as Shuk Levinsky, I was lost in thought. These pictures collectively capture some of the quieter moments standing at the entrance of a few small shop fronts. The images blend together and somehow reflect my disposition at that moment. I was pondering the origin of markets and trying to conjure up the history of the spice trade. Alas, my thoughts set sail on a long journey back in time. For a moment though I allowed myself to just revel in the simple and enjoy the sights, the sounds and the scents of strolling through the spice market.

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a whisper of winter

The mention of winter often conjures up images of a wonderland filled with snow. However, here in the valleys of Northern California starting in the late fall, winter is when a wet rainy season should kick-in. It’s a time where buds seem to peek out on the world well before spring, and blades of vibrant green grass begin to grab hold of the hills. Mellow green lichens, that look like lace ornaments, often dangle on tree limbs. The winter scenes here are often nourishing for the eyes, and entice you and a photographer’s lens to want to consume more. In between rain drops, pictures of lush landscapes can jump in front of the camera. Perhaps the rain drops will start to fall soon.

Winter itself seems dormant these days. Beauty lurks about, but the landscape is dry. Startling yellow lichens can be found on tree trunks. Memories of autumn cling to the trees, and winter so far seems to just barely whisper in the wind.

a whisper of winter – more pictures on flickr

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