Friday, March 13, 2009

Can Stinky be Delicious?

Now that my residence is currently in the Village, I have taken to somewhat convincing people that the two months I have spent in the city have made me a glorified expert about the Village food and eating scene. However, the word “convince” is really the key. With little holes and crevices of eatery establishments, I am by no-means the know-all of the area. And yet there are a few things I have picked up: The Puerto Rican coffee shop, Magnolia’s Bakery, and Murray’s Cheese. The later of which I am determined to be buried in so I can eternally lavish in the smell of milk, salt, goat, cow, for the duration of my time.

I have a system when I pass by Murray’s Cheese. The first is that I have to pass by the store. This is for the obvious reason that if I so much as purposely walk by store, it would take up far too much of time (rearranging routes to see the daily special), and in addition to severely depleting my bank account (New York City is so much more expensive than the rural throws of upstate New York). But this week I was ordered by my vacation couch potato brother to stop in the store for some well deserved nourishment. I was commanded to follow strict orders “stinky cheese, but not blue” and I continued to ponder this request and wondered if in fact stinky and blue were anomalous with each other and could not in fact be separated.

The next step in my usual pattern of buying at Murray’s is to never go in the store looking for something. Rather, I treat the store as a treasure trove where hidden jewels are hidden beneath the fancy labels of prize winning cheeses from France. I usually just press my head up against the glass and try to imagine the smell of success that exudes from the small gleams of gold and silver wrappers that hide creamy centers.

And then, there is Bob. Well, his name isn’t Bob, but he looks like one to me and though we greet each other with knowing smiles of recognition, we have never formally introduced ourselves. But none the less, Bob is by far the most knowledgeable Fromager, in addition to giving out large samples that far exceed the recommended sampling size. Anyway, I was waiting for Bob who was assisting a hip twenty-something who was asking if Humboldt Fog could be used for grilled cheese. A petite woman barely visible behind the counter, except for a fleck of an olive green beret asked if I needed anything. I was short on time and decided to take a chance on the slim woman, but instinct told me trouble (There’s just something about a slim foodie that screams trouble).

As usual, I relied on the hands of the skilled Monsieur (or in this case Mademoiselle) Fromager to guide my selection. My usual routine was to ask Bob for his recommendation while he doled out olives and bits of roasted pepper as we chatted. Unsure of her generosity, I asked Mademoiselle for two pungent cheese that we not from the blue domain (a slightly more mature version from what my brother had said). She nodded and pulled one cheese and then another that I both found to be delicious. I thanked her, finally got Bob’s attention to give a wave, and hurried over to the counter.

As I was strolling back along Bleeker, happy with myself with the good choices and fast pace, I thought to that Friday when I would need to catch the train home to New Jersey. I had to go from class to work with my luggage with me and so had to keep the cheese bundled up in my suitcase for six hours. I had done the same feat before with milder varieties and though the cheese was initially soft, borderline melty when I finally arrived home, a stint in the refrigerator stabilized the cheese and I planned for the same action.

And that brings us to today, Friday. While I was busy pretending to look up facts about Irish National History, while instead browsing the pages of Epicurious, my boss yelled out, “What smells?” At first I was unperturbed by the remark, until I too smelled the pungent aroma of a barnyard. Uh oh. I sat calmly and hoped that maybe the smell would dilute with the constant opening of the front door, but the aroma stayed and my boss become even more curious to uncover the smell. Ten minutes lapsed of opening up the numerous garbage bins, looking in the bathroom (ew), and asking colleagues if they left food out on their desks. Let me just say that it wasn’t that I was embarrassed by the olfactory notes of my cheese. It’s just not the most appealing thing to tell someone that you went out to buy very stinky cheese, didn’t think that the lack of refrigeration would ferment the smell, and was too embarrassed to say anything for 10 minutes while the whole office stopped what they were doing to search for the odor’s origin.

So while my boss promises to never let me live this down, I cannot wait to catch the Path from 9th Street to Hoboken to then River Edge (wow maybe I am a savvy New Yorker?) so I can finally refrigerate the cheeses. Maybe by tomorrow when I unwrap the cheese from its paper package and slowly cut off the rind, I will be able to smell the musk of the cheese without turning slightly red.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Doomed Carrots

So I have a question: Why does refusing a piece of cake make one anorexic? I must admit that the occasion is rare when I refuse much of anything (case in point my brother’s leftover turkey and mayonnaise sandwich that was left un-refrigerated for two days). However, I do draw the line at a gummy, frost-bitten ice-cream cake…

A little background information first. I currently work at an electronic company headquarters, where I pretend to do work while actually catching up on David Lebovitz. Pim, and the Food Whore. For the past three weeks, a myriad of holiday candy, cookies, and other assorted treats have been set out on the random office table in front of my cubicles, mostly from the vendors we buy from. Now, at first when these began appearing, I couldn’t help but grab a handful of Russel Stover chocolates or Stop ‘N Shop cookies, but after a few days, you begin to understand that chocolate should not make your mouth greasy or leaves a charming white, gooey streak across your tongue (a reaction from the chocolate not being tempered properly).

Anyway, my crazed coworkers immediately discovered after day 3 that I wasn’t taking anything from the growing pile. I’m not quite sure why, but at that moment I became the topic of office gossip and speculation. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’m the youngest person working for the company by a long shot or because I am rather on the small side. In any case, speculation grew that I was anorexic. Many “coincidentally” passed my cubicle during lunch (my four wall prison is conveniently located by the entrance/exist) and made some sort of snide remark about my propensity to eat a large fruit salad or my reappearing celery sticks. Needless to say, that the guy sitting next to me didn’t receive such comments about his salad, but then again he did have a giant cookie next to his salad bowl. So, I played along; I meekly smiled and before my lunch hour began, I thought of cute little remarks to make so the indirect accusation was not met with a only a toothy smile covered with stuck blackberry seeds.


But I clinched the deal when I made a fatal mistake yesterday. Every month the office throws a communal birthday party and always scraps enough money together to buy an icecream cake. Because I’m familiar with this tradition from my stint over the summer, I didn’t really become excited when 3:00 rolled around and screams of “Cake!” echoed through the office, not to mention the fact that I really wasn’t hungry (a large turkey sandwich, yogurt, apple, clementine, and chocolate kiss really does fill you up) . I did feel like chewing on something though, and handily pulled out my leftover bag of carrots from lunch. And so I started happily eating away whilst everyone downed a piece of cake, only to complain about its aftereffects later.

So naturally, when everyone returned to their cubicles and passed by mine, they each asked if I had had a piece of cake. Expecting the routine, I replied “Nay, I’m actually not a big sweet person.” So says the girl that only a few hours later ate three butter cookies, a mini fruit tart, and several spoonfuls of Nutella, but I really was happy with my carrots. Well, that sealed it. People leaned in close and asked “Honey, are you ok?” or “You really should eat more besides those carrots for lunch”.

Really, I don’t see what’s so wrong about eating carrots for an afternoon snack. But now my title has been sealed and reluctantly I am known as “The Really Tiny Girl that Doesn’t Eat”. Well, I guess it’s better than the guy two cubicles down from me “The Guy that Smells like Old Beans”, whatever that means.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Cookie Baking

I love December, that is despite the cold and snow. The cold does have its benefits though, as the eternal image of families and friends surrounding a fireplace surmounts a certain warmness, even without the makeshift fireplace. And of course, the Christmas (or should I say holiday) cookies. Though for some time I have insisted that Hanukah does not hold a candle (purposeful pun) to the dessert offerings of Christmas (jelly-filled donuts being the only possible contender), I have for years held off on making holiday cookies. However, this is my first year at college and I thought some holiday spirit needed to be iced upon my Winter holiday to compete with my friends’ excursions to Paris, Rome, and London (Hamilton College has their fair share of wealthy travelers).

I set out to conduct primary research on holiday cookies. I found mountains of ginger bread, sugar, and booze soaked cookies, that typified the holiday spirited a little too much for my taste. Autumnal spices like cinnamon and nutmeg were already too long overused and tacky sweet butter cookies (1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of flour) overloaded with bright, artificial icing tainted my holiday mood and weakened my stomach.

What I really wanted were uniquely presented cookies, reminiscent of holidays past, without the overbearing memory of leftover fruit cake and boring holiday tastes. I finally decided on three cookies that had touches of holiday nostalgia with new flavorings and touches. In place of a butter cookie with icing, I opted for chocolate and almond dipped sandwich cookies, made with a basic butter dough, but loaded with rich toasted nuttiness. Instead of a heavily laden, overbearingly dense fruit cake, I chose hazelnut linzer cookies with blackberry jam. And finally to substitute the heavy rum balls that leave the crowd groggy within a few bites. Well, alcohol is of course necessary for the holidays and so too is chocolate. A rum soaked chocolate cookie fit the bill quite nicely.

The only problem now is the approaching snow storm scheduled to drop ten inches of snow. Well, if nothing else my love and the heat from the oven will keep me warm!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Su Restaurant

Note: This article was written several months ago during a particularly boring job. I recently unearthed the article in my hard-drive and thought it would make a nice post.

Many do not believe that a great dining experience can be found beyond the borders of an expansive city. I would have thought so, not meaning to sound arrogant, after I had left the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City on July 2nd. Every up-and-coming or already successful entrepreneur chef or producer that I hesitantly and shyly spoke with hails from the lively streets of New York or a quaint little cobblestone path from San Fran. Though many outstanding and publicly recognized restaurants do take residence in the "big" city, a lazy northern New Jerseyian need not go to the trouble of taking the ferry across the Hudson when one can drive to Su Restaurant in Edgewater. My initial attraction came from an advertisement in the Bergen Record. All I needed to read was "healthy cuisine", "no trans fat", "vegetarian", "partly vegan", and an entire plethora of dishes made with tempeh, tofu, and seitan.

I must admit that in my perspective, Paramus is not known for high quality cuisine. As my sister likes to put it, "there are hidden gems" but, still Paramus is littered with duplicates of Chiles, Outback Steakhouse, and The Cheesecake Factory, all found in overly big malls or in the local strip malls that curiously always have a Starbucks within their midst. These restaurants are of but a few that many in my town refer to as "an upscale meal". I do not mean to sound disillusioned or feicious; it's just that every now and again I want to go to a restaurant that isn't judged on how much food you can fit on a plate for the low price of $13.99.

My past experiences might explain why I was a bit leery when we (my Mom and I) pulled up to a tiny strip mall, where Su was located in the far corner. My initial dread was somewhat lifted when I saw a Traders Joe's heading the initial entrance to the strip. Still, the exterior of Su did not appear anything more than an average Chinese takeout place and even the initial interior walkway had a large desk with several menus scattered over the table, reminiscent of a takeout joint.

Another bad omen followed as the entire restaurant was completely empty if not for a father and son at a far table. However as we were seated, the waiter explained that many folks did not normally venture to restaurants on July 4th. My entire childhood of grilling the ubiquitous hotdogs and hamburgers on Independence Day had somehow escaped me, and the empty restaurant made more sense. My mom and I not being the typical eaters had rather preferred an Asian fusion restaurant rather than the dreaded meat that my brother cannot fathom why we do not eat and enjoy.

Su was arranged in a vertical manner with long tables, a long hallway leading to the bathroom, and long leg room (ok maybe "long" didn't fit the last description). Each table was stationed almost like a cubicle, with only one side of the square table being open to the server. I would hazard a guess that if the area of space was even an inch smaller, a case of claustrophobia would have overcame me. However, this was not the case and the ambiance was dignified, chic, and young. The walls were painted a burgundy red, almost a tart cranberry. The chairs were very modern, constructed from metal and rather short in the back (lucky enough for me that my small stature prevented any discomfort). The entire atmosphere concluded with a naturalistic approach; given that the menu was sandwiched between two 12 x 7 pieces of rustic, clean-shaven plywood. The piece de résistance was the sole waiter of the restaurant. In his early twenties, his head was shaved and he had several protruding piercings from his ears, in addition to several visible dragon tattoos. He matched perfectly with the "cool" surroundings and was amiable, kind, and attentive to his sole customers (I mention his temperament, because it is a very difficult job to deal with my mother and myself at a restaurant, given our unabiding desire to question every single item on the menu and to ask several times where the bathroom is, given that we tend not to listen the first, second, or even third time someone answers our asinine questions. I always joke with my mom that at orientation for new waiters, restaurants must use my mom as the model of an aggravating customer to judge the prospective waiter's patience. A test, I myself would probably fail). So far, so good. Su did not have the commonplace tapestry of unwarranted paintings that occupies the traditional Paramus eatery that, try as they must, the ugly landscapes paintings do not add many points to cover up the disenchanting menu items.

Being used to the typical diner menu that lasts for never-ending pages, the menu at Su seemed rather small to me. However, upon reconsideration, I would consider this to be a good thing since the smaller scale allows for a more personal, fresh menu; the restaurant needen't impress its customers with an all expansive menu. Su's food conquers that job simply enough. In addition, there is a glossary on the back of the menu for those not used to the vegetarian/vegan proteins and other specialties. I needed to glance at the glossary several times, in order to classify a variety of mushroom (eryngi) and to reinstate my familiarity with jicama ("a large, edible, tuberous root of a tropical American plant, of the legume family").

Every single item on the menu sparked a slight overflow of hungry saliva. Though many items embodied a certain Asian style (dumplings, scallion pancakes, and Pad Thai rice noodles), the traditional elements were updated with a fusion of Italian influences, Mexican, and traditional American elements. The Four-mushroom risotto, Orange spiced Guacamole, and Club sandwich respectively. Though each dish contained a spark of recognition from their ancestry, these dishes were spiced with a pinch of remembrance from Japan, China, Thailand, and India.

My eye slid to the Entrée portion of the menu and quickly found the Roasted whole wheat seitan with Chinese broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and roasted almonds. The next item down brought even more excitement and enthusiasm: Spinach pistachio roll with Eryungi mushrooms, yellow squash, zucchini, white asparagus, bell peppers, and gingko nuts. Normally at restaurants I am quite passive when it comes to ordering; but this was no time to rely on the back and forth conversation of "You pick", "No, YOU pick." As the waiter returned with filled water glasses and inquired of our choice, I didn't wait for my mom to ask how big the 'entrees' were against the 'small plates'. The waiter nodded in approval and walked down the hallway to place the orders.

Maybe less than seven minutes passed before our food arrived to my equally famished mom and myself. I had expected good food from carefully reading the menu but, I had not anticipated the presentation that stems from the innovations of nouvelle cuisine. The spinach roll was constructed on a long and narrow, pristine white plate, which candidly showcased the full array of colors. I have an annoying habit of always tasting each element of a dish first, almost like deconstruction, and only after have I tasted each individual element, that I eat like the famished, curious eater that I am; consuming large bits of the food, combing the elements into one constructed masterpiece in my mouth. The bottom of the plate was drizzled with a creamy white sauce, not quite the consistency of béchamel. Though this concoction could have easily been made of cream, the 'V' next to the item on the menu told me the vegan dish couldn't have possibly contained dairy. A slight ring of asparagus stroked the sauce and I concluded it was a puree of the aforementioned vegetable. The sauce was slightly sweet and acidic and the roll slid down your throat with a minor pungency left in your mouth. On far side of each of the sliced rolls, was another thick mixture, again resembling something familiar: mashed potatoes. However, the color of the starch had a more pastoral, green and yellow tone and tasted sweeter and less creamy than the typical potato. Well, here was another carefully planned puree of vegetables including what I believe to be the zucchini and yellow squash. The roll itself was constructed of some type of protein, either seitan or tempeh that was coiled around spinach. The protein far eclipsed the satisfaction you get from the typical chicken, but still retained the stringy and chewy texture of shredded chicken breast. A scattered array of red and green bell peppers and big, spongy gingko nuts finished the dish.

A larger, oblong circular dish was also placed on the table. The whole wheat seitan (Question. Can seitan be whole wheat? I thought it was a soy product) glistened on the bed of vegetables. Most likely due to the roasting process, the seitan was nutty and tender but, did require a job of chewing the protein enough so that it could be easily swallowed. However, my difficulty in swallowing the meal might not have been due to any incorrect preparation, but my animalistic approach to consume the delicious dish quickly and haphazardly, before other ravenous, jealous foes (namely my unattended carnivore brother and my sister, whom one would think hasn't eaten for days, let alone pick up a fork and knife) would appear. The vegetables and seitan were swimming in a dark, salty sauce that was a nice change from the sweet, light spinach roll. After devouring the whole dish I realized that my previous assertion that the chef had left out the broccoli promised in the menu was incorrect; I discovered the spinach-like strands with tougher ends that must have been the variation of broccoli from China.

Though I am very much a dessert person, I do not usually spend the extra couple of dollars on the dessert that is usually not given much thought by the chef. To me, chefs do not pay as much attention to desserts; unrightfully so. The dessert is the ending reminder and the last approach the chef has to convince the patron that the restaurant is worth dining at again. However, my experience at Su was so exceptional that I couldn't help but to ask for the menu again to look at the desserts. While only one of the desserts was vegan, the selection seemed varied enough. There was the traditional Deep fried banana nuggets ('nuggets' to me, was kind of a put-off word, since my memory took me to McDonalds) and homemade ice-cream, that was updated with interesting flavors like lychee, red bean, and green tea. But, I am a chocolate and peanut butter gal and headed straight for the Profiteroles with white chocolate and creamy peanut butter filling with a natural berry sauce. I happily awaited and soon the 'dragon man' waiter brought out a triangular dish that contained not one, not two, but SIX profiteroles! My mom gasped out loud and in hushed tones murmured that, "He [the waiter] must have thought we wanted two of them." (When the check came, it turned out that we were only charged for one dessert. My mom was overly impressed, noting the portion size and became even more flabbergasted when she thought that perhaps it was a misprint on the check and that we did in fact receive two desserts, but only charged for one). Nonetheless I peered at the round balls of puffed dough with no white chocolate in sight. Knowing better than to dismiss the chef, I pierced a ball with my fork and gingerly placed it on my dessert plate and spooned some bluish-purplish sauce on top. The fork didn't work so well to pierce the dough and I succumbed to picking the ball up with my fingers and taking a bite. As I was chewing and trying to suppress the urge to close my eyes (a habit which my brother does when trying to be sophisticated but, I find just annoying) I peered through the dough to find a little pocket of peanut butter and what appeared to be melted chocolate that had been cooled and mixed with the peanut butter. The filling was no overly oppressive that like in most profiteroles occupies the whole interior of the dough; the filling was just enough to provide flavor and texture, but not overly so to take away from the delicate exterior. A little dip in the fruit sauce was the perfect foil to the rich profiteroles as was the several scoops of vanilla ice-cream accompaniment on the plate.

It is funny to note that during the entire eating frenzy my mom and I made the most gangly, unappetizing noises that I can only laugh at now. Not to be crude but, the meal was orgasmic and the sounds only added to the feeling our protruding tummies were causing. The sound orchestration wouldn't have been so bad if we hadn't been the only customers in the restaurant. I feel like our sounds were amplified across the entire space and though the waiter remained just as pleasant, I believe when we left he must have had a roaring, hysterical laugh.

After stumbling out of the restaurant in a food coma with promises to return to the waiter, my mom and I spotted a Yolato (yogurt and gelato ingeniously combined together with less calories than ice-cream) café. After just having visited a Yolato in Paramus, I peered through the glass windows to see that this particular chain offered more flavors than its counterpart. And so, my mom and I happily walked into the store to harass more unsuspecting food servers with questions, only to realize that we were too full to order a pistachio yolato for the road.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is there meat in that?

In my French class today we were learning about the typical French meal and its corresponding vocabulary. Normally in French, I do not pay much attention; needless to say that if a subject doesn’t involve some sort of culinary undertone, my interest fades. However, this lesson caught my interest and because my professor spoke in English this time, I actually understood what was going on.
Though I can write numerous food blogs about the various differences between French and American food systems, what interested me most about the class was the discussion that preceded the initial lecture. One of my classmates grumbled that she couldn’t eat anything in France because she was vegetarian and many meals centered on meat (I would disagree with this point). My native Parisian professor inquired as to how many people were vegetarian in the class. Three people (including myself) raised their hands out of a class of twelve. My professor was starkly astonished as were many students in my class. The rest of the class was an aggravated assault as to why we had chose to be vegetarians.

After the class, I walked to lunch with my other vegetarian friend. As I was relaying the story to her, a passing by friend also exclaimed how shocked he was how many vegetarians they were on campus. He then muttered a combination of “strange” and “hippy” under his breath and went off to wait in line for a hamburger.
I began to think about why vegetarians tend to provoke a confused and sometimes angry retort. Vegetarianism is nothing new, but perhaps the growing vegetarianism rather than the form of eating itself is the reason.

The number of vegetarians and vegans are growing rapidly and many associate this movement with the wealthy. It is a knee-jerk reaction to correlate this eating style with the elite and many believe it is just another avenue for the rich to distance themselves more from the poor. (For more information see the book "Near a Thousand Tables")

However, for me vegetarianism arose more out of my own disdain for meat than anything else. I still eat meat on occasion and have found that meat has its place in certain outlets. A good roué is thickened with beef stock and a fabulous sauce usually has its origins from browned and reduced chicken stock. The underlying tones of many dishes are found through deglazing a pan; picking up any brown bits of meat from the bottom of a pan.

Though several of my friends still are aghast about my eating habits (“Why are you eating peanut butter and jelly on carrot sticks for dinner?”), I have tried to abstain from meat. Though I have created some enemies from this habit, I have found many people that too share in my desire to eat from origins of leaves not seeds (thanks Michael Pollan for the catch phrase!)

Today for lunch I had a vege burger, roasted fall vegetables, and steamed cauliflower and not for one moment did I become jealous sitting next to my friend eating a double pattie hamburger with a side of pasta and beef casserole. Food is after all an outlet for cultural identity and respect is key ingredient to the recipe of harmony (wow, that sounds really corny!-or should I say meaty perhaps?)

Note: The following pictures are from yesterday when I prepared 21 turnovers for my college’s café. As you can assume, I was very excited.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Peeler named Dull

Congratulations are in order: I have just completed my second day as a professional sous chef! Ok, so I’m not an actual sous chef, but I do work under one, at least I think I do. To be quite honest, I’m not exactly sure what position I hold in my college dining facility. I just mosey on down to the kitchen twice a week for two hours and ask what I’m supposed to do. For the past two days of labor, I have peeled apples for applesauce, peeled carrots for the salad bar, and have peeled and chopped beets for some odd salad that is to be prepared at a later date. It is by no means the glamorous kitchen experience that I had envisioned, but I’ll have to start somewhere…

It has been nice to get back to cooking (though I have yet to grapple with any heating elements, just mainly a dull peeler), but I have discovered that the glamorized, professional kitchen I had seen on Food Network does not really exist on a college campus. There is no bright stainless-steel counter, ample amounts of razor-sharp Japanese imported knives, or a happy-go-lucky four star-chef who would gladly take you aside to explain the difference between chiffonade and julienne. Putting all that aside, what surprised me the most was not the deficiency of enthusiasm or freshly squeezed juice, but the lack of carrying through an entire culinary project. I don’t mind peeling apples as long as I can take those apples and make a pie. I enjoy starting from raw ingredients and completing an entire process, step-by-step, so that when I eat my homemade pie, I know exactly what went into it literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, this process is not feasible or accomplished in my college kitchen. As a result, I have somewhat come to loath peeling and chopping because I can never use my creative flair beyond drawing etchings upon leftover carrot skins.

At dinner tonight (collard greens with chickpeas, salad with Italian vinaigrette, apple, and Boston cream pie), I was telling my friends how I somewhat disliked my job. Like a flash of citrus on the tongue, I realized that for the first time in my life, I had come to abhor a cooking-related task. Gasp! I was a little scared, to say the least and spent the latter portion of the night reflecting on why I had come to such an emotion. Thankfully, I understood that it wasn’t my enthusiasm that had diminished, but my accommodating environment. I need to cook in a place that allows for the entire culmination of a project and not just the stress on one mundane aspect.

My revelation for the day was that I do not want to work in a culinary environment that stresses an assembly-line process. A small restaurant or bakery would be the perfect fit for me as I can cook for a group without having to jeopardize the entire premise of cooking. Such is the plight of the college freshman who has to find such a mouth-wateringly appealing occupation. For now, I will continue the ubiquitous peeling with said dull peeler and will pray to the food gods for a better prospect.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What does Fall taste like

You can tell you’re an obsessed foodie when the coming of a new season triggers a food memory. Or in my case, a season does not begin until I have tasted the fare of the season. Here in upstate New York, fall is just beginning. The summer heat has died down and is now being replaced by a cool wind and crisp air. With the advent of fall begins the steep decline in stone fruit and lush summer produce (squash, tomatoes, etc.) However, do not weep for my loss of exciting food adventures! Fall is my favorite season with the plethora of apples, pears, and pumpkins. Fall sparks in my mind smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, and earthy allspice; visions of approaching Thanksgiving (my all time favorite holiday) and the coming of scenic foliage.
However, the foods that really spark my mind when I feel the first cool winds are apple cider and doughnuts. As a child, I fondly remember weekend trips to Tices farm in Montclair, New Jersey to taste the most robust apple cider, poured from musky wooden barrels, coupled with a desirably sweet cinnamon-sugar doughnut. In correct fashion, I dunked my doughnut into my cup of cider and lapped up the sodden doughnut. Ahh, the perfect fall food! And of course, we would schlep back pies of apple-caramel, pecan, and pumpkin; in addition to caramel apples and pecan Danishes. Alas, Tices closed several years ago to be replaced by a strip-mall but, my love of the first cider and doughnut of the season still remains a tradition that I proudly keep alive through another farm in Montclair called De Piero’s.

To be quite honest, the tri-state Clinton area is not known for much culinary-wise. Dairy farms are abundant here along with many organic farms but, no one really flocks here for sensational epicurean fare. However, just a mile down the hill from Hamilton, there is an old cider mill. Needless to say that I grabbed a few of my friends and headed down the staunch hill in search of said mill. My one friend (Emily) whose grandfather lives in Clinton, promised hand-pressed cider and freshly baked pies and goods and warned that one could easily spend $30 without a blink. I packed only $10 and made the trek.

I know this may sound slightly strange but, I love the initial smell you get when you enter any eating establishment. The strong scent of coffee in a Manhattan store or the aroma of aged cheese in a far off store in Clinton. To me, the marker of a good food establishment in the olfactory pronunciation of their product and in Clinton’s cider mill, the joint reeked of success! Upon opening the doors, I was flooded by fall’s fond memories. The scent of pressed apples, old rusty cranking machines, and spiced sugar was kind to my nostalgic nose. Even the interior of the mill was similar to my happy childhood memories. Upon entering, you were brought up to the register to glare at the pies and goods on display. A little farther down separated the store from the mill and several pressing machines flooded the back of the store. Sadly, the machines weren’t operating when we came but, leftover apple cores and seeds from the morning press could be found upon the worn wooden floor.
The walls of the Mill were covered with diagrams of different varieties of apples, pictures of the Mill since its erection in 1927, descriptions on the operation of the Mill itself. I practically ran to the counter and left many hand-prints upon the glass display case. Only two pie varieties were made (traditional apple and apple-crumb) but, their chalk-written menu promised pecan, cherry, strawberry, pumpkin, and other fruit pies. Of course, pie and I are on first name basis but, I wanted my traditional cider and doughnut. My friends and I bought a half-gallon to split and several doughnuts and chocolate chip cookies. We retired outside to the porch and after a little struggle with the cider bottle, we managed to pour out six glasses of red, brown ambrosia.

I took one last swallow of highly anticipated saliva, bit into the doughnut, and quickly swigged down some cider. The feeling was indescribable; happy moments of fall invaded my tongue and simultaneously crept into the far reaches of my mouth. The cider was sweet and robust and coupled magnificently with the sugared doughnut. The doughnut was perfectly spongy and had a certain level of cakiness that I thoroughly enjoyed. A beautiful golden crust perfectly encircled the doughnut and little pools of sugar and cinnamon happily floated atop my cider cup. It was bliss, pure enjoyment; fall had arrived within a two second span and had brought with it another food/fall memory to add to my collection.

After thoroughly licking my lips of any remaining crumbs, I clamored back inside to examine the countless jellies, jams, preserves, and maple syrups on display. All crafted from local producers, I stood my ground and only looked. On another self was several prepared pancake, waffle, and bread mixes, carefully prepared by the mill owners. The owners contently worked behind the counter and were more than happy to answer my bolstering questions.
After leaving the mill and heading up the hill again, I was simply euphoric. Though my friends were a little confused as to my behavior, I can only say that it takes very little to make me happy in this world: a cup of cider, a large doughnut, and the first colors of fall.

Note: Unfortunately on the walk down the hill, my camera batteries ran out. After cursing the food gods, I warned my friends that we would have to return to the cider mill for pictures. For all those (my two readers) that care to examine an up-close picture of cider and doughnut, I will post one as soon as I return to the mill.