Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Peach # 22: How it's done.

Oh no! The weight of the world is on poor Brendan's shoulders! If you know him well you probably know that look. He's probably thinking about girls again! That's definitely the sour-dog look of a guy who isn't thinking enough about the finer things in life.

Like Peaches! Ah yes... notice the flush of contentment on my cheeks now? This is a record of my first, ecstatic bite - an immediate transportation into peach-land. And then, of course, I start to loose fine muscle control:

I know it isn't pretty. But that's the face of a guy who is ENJOYING himself. Either that or a guy who's just gotten a bit of a lomotomy.

Maybe we should call it a peach-botomy. This, as you can see, is the final bite. You may notice that's there's a bit of peach-flesh dangling very rakishly from my exposed fore-teeth. This sort of debonair attitude is probably, my guess, why the girls are not exactly lining up to me.

But what does it matter, really? When you have peaches! It takes, I'll like to remind you, years of practice as a gourmand to really appreciate the peach experience this much. So: DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME! If you do, I can't be held responsible. Seriously.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Horrors of Eating: ALL YOU CAN EAT!

Last night me and a friend found ourselves on Pearl Street, the very hip, even more gentrified center of Boulder’s commerce, surrounded by so many dining choices we didn't exactly know what to do. There were cheap Kebabs, expensive plates of spaghetti, sushi, pizza, caf├ęs, burritos, thai, anything, everything within the normal universe of American food options. For two kids from Iowa, it was pretty overwhelming. We did our part as well as we could gazing about ourselves wide-eyed like dull provincials.

I have this thing about over-eating. Back in Iowa my friends would watch grimly in the sad light of our local truckstop as I’d eat double-decker bacon burgers, pancakes soaked in butter and fake maple syrup, strawberry milkshakes, chicken-dumpling soups with so much oil it looks like an Exxon disaster and I'd end up semi-conscious and drooling, the object of trucker derision. I had heard of this all-you-can-eat Indian restaurant just off Pearl Street. It seemed like it might hit the spot.

We went in, and I filled my plate with some salad and a sampling of appetizers: there was some raita – a yoghurt-cucumber sauce – some coriander chutney, and some Indian version of potato salad, along with some dumplings whose dough was transluscent and over cooked and deep fried chicken pieces, both served with a sweet red sauce. Everything was pretty mediocre, which was fine, because at that point I was just interested in sampling as many different things as I possibly could.

I rushed to start on my second plate, but was surprised because – what’s this? – my dining buddy was taking his time eating. It’s like how a bunch of frat boys invited someone over to play drinking games and found him sipping on the Natty Ice. I felt a little embarrassed, and slowed down a bit, until he encouraged me to go off and start my second plate without him.

I took a scoop of everything they had. I passed through the buffet, making tiny, colorful piles of Indian food on my plate like I was an artist applying up plops of paint to an easel. Each dish was barely distinguishable from the next. And this wasn’t just because I was, by now, almost zealously shoving food into my mouth, no. The flavors were simply indistinct and flat. The tandoori chicken, for instance, was barely spicy – it simply tasted orange – and the meat dry to boot. They had lamb vinadloo, which I took a double serving of, because lamb is wonderful and vindaloo, which is notoriously spicy, is also wonderful. But the lamb was fatty and the vindaloo sauce tame. So everything, being nondescript, blurred into everything else. And all I had was a huge pile of food.

Not that I was complaining. At an all-you-can-eat place, what you lose in subtly you make up for in sheer weight. And the food, after the third plateful, even if it’s bad, somehow gains a certain sublimity. It’s no longer about an interesting taste, or taste at all. It’s about the basic, animal act of raising the food up to your mouth, masticating it, swallowing it, and hopefully digesting it as best you can.

“So,” I asked my companion, who was, by now, a little put off, “I think we could do twenty plates, easy.”

He did not think so.

“Well. We should at least aim for ten,” I said. “That’s just three more plates for us both.”

He disagreed with me – politely.

“I mean,” I kept on going, “we could do fifteen plates if we really wanted to. But I think ten is good enough for us for now.”

As I stood up to get my third plate, my companion pointed to a pile of meat on his plate. “You can have this,” he said.

He was giving up! Only mid-way through his second plate! What were we? Weaklings?

Nonplussed, I returned to the buffet to pile my third plate with a sort of ‘best of’ program. I took a couple dumplings, a lot of the lamb vinadloo, and a couple heap-fuls of a chili chicken dish I found to be pretty edible.

Midway through plate three, I became, shall we say, stupid with fullness. My dining buddy, who didn’t really know much about me before we dined, expect having had a crush on one of my crush’s roommates - found me the sort of worst conversation buddy imaginable: I was rambling on and on about whatever came into my head, like a drunk person.

I got to the end of plate three, and decided to take a break with a quick trip to the desert line. I took two of these wonderful little doughnut-holes, which were the high point of the meal for me. They were soaked in a thin syrup flavored with cardamom. The outside was soggy and squishy, but towards the center the doughnut-holes were dry, and the contrast was really fun. I also took a couple slices of Indian style cake, which just basically felt like I was eating sugar. Which was fine.

I was going to try to return to the main buffet after that, but once we had finished desert, I felt like it was all over. My stomach was blown up like a balloon and hurt; it looked – and this is funny, because I’m as thin as a rail – it looked like I had a bit of a potbelly. I showed it off to my friend, lifting up my T-shirt to nipple height as we were paying for our bill, because, you know, I deserved to feel proud about eating that much, and he suggested we just leave and pretended not to know me.

I ended up laying in bed, absolutely insensible, grasping my newly-pudgy stomach, wishing, wanting, hoping – that I could eat some more. Even though pretty much every cell in my midsection hurt and for a while I was worried that I might have over-inflated the bag of my stomach, I just felt disappointed. Surely, if I were a better diner – I would’ve eaten more.

Feasting, true feasting, the sort of decadence-of-the-Roman-Empire dining I would love to emulate, takes practice.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Peaches # 19-21: Peach Battle!


Today was hot in Boulder - so hot that the middle of the day felt like hot jello. Not very pleasant. But it's part of the joy of summer, I think, to be desperately hot: it gives you an excuse to laze around and do nothing while you wait for the heat to lift.

So, instead of watching TV or playing a video-game or something else productive, I ate one peach after another until the day got cooler. Today my three peaches were at the perfect ratio of squishiness. A day later and they'd have been peach soup. A day earlier and I would have wished I'd waited a day more.

I had two 'conventional' peaches and one 'organic' peach. You know, the whole organic movement is really taking off - especially in Boulder where it seems to be the height of fashion to eat socially conscious macrobiotic permaculture produce. Now, the proponents of organic food will inevitably recite a laundry list of different reasons for buying organic, ranging from rants about how pesticides are part of a system of patriarchal oppression to verbal flotsam how GMO food reduces our intake of Absolute Spirit. I stop listening whenever someone gets a that very earnest very spiritual glaze over their eyes that signifies the death of reason. I care about one thing, and one thing only: taste.

Now, the peaches looked different. The organic peach was about half as big as the conventional peaches, and its skin was more taught. I ate the organic peach first, and found its flesh to be quite solid. It tasted sweet and juicy, but the taste wasn't simply sweet: when you eat a really good peach, you can taste some bottom notes of flowers, or citrus. And this was towards the higher end of peaches.

Then I tried the conventional peaches. The big difference is that the flavor was far more diluted, almost watery. They were less sweet, less complex, and mushier. Now, normally I prefer mushy peaches, but I think only because it can be a sign of ripeness. Compared with the organic peach, these peaches were just sloppy. Oddly enough, the flesh was a yellowy red closer to the skin, which was nice aesthetically, but it didn't really add up to a great peach. All in all, the conventional peaches were just a little more boring than the organic peach: the organic peach had more depth, sweetness, and texture.

So, oddly enough, the hippies are right: Organic really does taste better.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Peach # 18: Organic Produce



American fruit, the general unwashed mass of American fruit, is bred more to look good than to taste good. Meant to cater to the supermarket shopper who is entranced by a large, deep red strawberry, or a big shiny green apple, it tends to taste more like cardboard than it does fruit. Because of this, fruit connoisseurs like myself tend to think that the smaller and uglier the fruit is, the more authentic it is, and the more tasty. If you doubt me, go down to your local farmer's market and pick up a pallet of organic strawberries - the smaller and uglier the better - and you'll find that a tiny strawberry only a little larger than the nail on your pinky has as much strawberry taste in it as one of those huge franken-berry strawberries that span a couple inches and taste, really, only like strawberry-flavored water.

Boulder is a hotbed of organic produce. I was in the local hippy-food store when I saw some small, organic peaches on sale. Always ready for a new peach experience, I took two.

I waited a little while for them to ripen, and actually forgot about them, until the flesh of the smaller of the two felt so loose that I was worried it would fall off. I prefer my peaches maybe a bit overripe, so I took a bite - with gusto.

While the skin was dangerously soft, the flesh itself had a lot more stability to it than I'd expected. Often with an overripe peach, when you take a bite into it it kinda just explodes all over the place. But this ugly little organic peach came with in-built structural integrity. The flavors were not too sweet, but pleasantly complex. There was even a hint of a sharp citrusy taste towards the end which was very pleasant. I ate it down to the pit and decided to give the second, larger peach, another day or two to ripen up.

But then, after a hard day at work, I picked up this second peach the next day, looking forward to something sublime, something wonderful, something that would encourage me to listen to classical music and wish I were a Christian. But I picked it up. And it was mushy, positively mushy. And more - it sported a nice coat of light white mold. Into the trash it went. I had been denied my peach.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Peaches 13-17: GORGE

Image found on the Animation Archive. One of the more beautiful sites on the web!

So. I hadn't eaten many peaches since my disappointing experience about half a week ago. You see, the thing about peach eating - good peach eating - is that you have to think a couple steps ahead. You can't just go into the supermarket, buy a peach or two, and just munch them like they were your regular everyday Granny Smith. No. Peaches are too classy a fruit for that. You have to woo them. That sounds really disgusting, but it's true. You have to bring them home, ignore them a while - and if you do nothing else - you have to wait. So I had a bag of peaches in my pantry.

I dunno if it's just ambition, but when I get to the end of the day without having done anything that could be seen as productive, or great, or improving, I feel like I've failed life in some huge and miserable way and I shouldn't deserve anything good ever again. The same sort of feeling most people get when they look at their credit card bills. Anyway. So I got home one afternoon, feeling like no matter how hard I tried I would not get anything at all done of any great import. I wasn't sure I was able to get done those necessary tasks of small import that one has to do, like take out the garbage, or buy new cereal, or put on pants. I stood around a little bit, feeling displaced.

And then it hit me, I knew what to do.

I sat out on my nice porch and had in front of me a plate of four ripe peaches. They were screaming at me to be eaten. I touched their skin. Soft, with a nice bit of give. I brought them each close up to my mouth, feeling their velvety texture, smelling their bouquet. I set them down on my porch and looked at them.

Oh and it was a flurry of passion, oh it was something fantastic, oh it was disgusting. I ate those peaches so quickly that by the end of it I didn't know what was happening, where I was, or what I was meant to be doing. I wish that I could remember each peach experience in great, literary detail. But all that's left is a feeling of dizziness, and something akin to something close to something spiritual.

I encourage you all at home to do it, too.

Here's something for the peach fans: I was chatting with my next-door neighbor, and it turns out that the tree overhanging her carport is a peach-tree. The fruit are small and green and fuzzy, about the size of a small apricot, and they'll be ripe in a couple weeks. She said I could have as many as I want. I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dinner!




I found this article on the resurgence of the humble meatball in today's Times. And oh jeeze, I would warn you not to read it when you're hungry because it's dizzyingly scrumptious. Now, I'm not one who needs be reminded of how good a good meatball can be. Back when I was a little Brendan, far littler than I am now, spaghetti and meatballs were my favorite dinner, my favorite song, and my favorite book. So it's been a bit of a lifelong love for me.

Now, maybe the meatball's popularity with children is why it needs recuperation. When we're kids, or at least when I was a kid, I ate from a stable rotation of one or two staple foods (meatballs, ramen, mac & cheese, you know the deal) and as my pallet got a bit more mature, I put away those childish things. Which is a shame when it comes to the meatball (not so much of a shame with mac & cheese) because the meatball can be a part of a wonderfully complex meal.

My signature dinner is meatballs. I started by taking this recipe from the Splendid Table and tweaking with it over a couple of months until it got to the point it is now. I'll still experiment, and I encourage you to, too: substituting the sage for rosemary, the pork for ground duck, or the wine for red wine vinegar are all variations that have served me well in the past. I bet you could throw a peach or two in here, too - if you were feeling daring enough.

Brendan's Balls
(serves 4)
The Balls
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground sausage
Some breadcrumbs
2 eggs
Some sage
Little garlic

The Sauce
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, diced
1 large can tomatoes
Zest of two large oranges
Some sage
Some basil, torn
Handful of olives, finely chopped
2 cups red wine
6 tablespoons sugar

Okay. So. What you do is combine all the ingredients for the balls. No worry, no hurry. Brown them and then take them off the heat.

Next, get a fry pan and heat up a little bit of olive oil. Throw in the diced onion and cook it until it's lightly browned. Then throw in some salt & a lot more pepper than you'd normally throw in if somebody just told you to throw in some pepper. Then - quickly - add the sugar and caramelize that sucker. Stir frequently, keeping a good watch that the mixture doesn't burn.

Side note: a lot of people are very wary of caramel, because they think it's some ultra-mysterious process that's really easy to mess up. Well, it is really easy to mess up - if you take your eyes off the pan. If you watch it well enough, you're not going to have any trouble.

Once the onions have gotten a nice burnished brown color, throw in the garlic, olives, orange zest and sage. Stir that around. Now, throw in the wine - step back! - that'll splatter and you don't want your clothes stained because that's not gonna impress the ladies. You'll also going to want to turn on the fan because it gets stinky. Reduce the sauce until it's almost a syrup, then add in the tomatoes, with the juice. Mash those up with your flipper as much as you can, then add in the meatballs (and whatever gravy's in the pan) and cover, stirring infrequently until the sauce is a nice consistency.

Bob's your uncle. Meatballs for dinner.

Legends of Eating: The Tim Tam Straw




A Tim Tam is an Australian chocolate-covered biscuit which is one of the tastiest snacks in the entire world. All you suckers stuck eating Oreos have no idea what you're missing out on and I have the same sort of pity I would have if I saw a pre-fire caveman struggling to eat a TV dinner. Which is a lot of pity.

You can find Tim Tams, of course, on the internet - if you don't happen to be lucky enough to be living on the dying continent. I found a box in our local store for the bourgeoisie (the woman in front of me in line was buying an egg-poacher for perfect poached eggs: poached eggs are what the Booge do to eggs) and was so excited that I actually screamed out loud. I'm now midway through spreading the good news to EVERYBODY I know. And midway through my second pack.

You can't just eat a Tim Tam. I mean, it'd be fine plain. But you'd be missing out on half the fun.

What you do with a Tim-Tam is this:
1) Get yourself a hot beverage, preferably some creamy coffee or, my fave, peppermint tea.
2) Bite off the ends of the Tim Tam.
3) Put mouth over one of the exposed ends. Stick the other exposed end into the hot beverage.
4) Suck until the outside of the Tim Tam gets soggy.

Now what happens is first, the hot beverage tastes incredibly chocolaty and wonderful through the Tim Tam Straw. But that, as the philosophers say, is just an instrumental good. What you do next is take the soggy Tim Tam and eat it. If you're following along at home, kids, you're going to want to pause and breathe. Remember. BREATHE. That's better. Tasty, right?

What happens is the hot beverage melts the chocolate outside and inside, and the whole thing just explodes in your mouth in a squishy, rich mess when you bite into it. There's nothing like it.

Try it. You won't regret it.


PROJECT: If you happen to live in a country where Tim Tams are plentiful, eat an entire pack and document your progress with digital photos. Then send the beauty to me & you'll become an internet celebrity. Hooray!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Peach # 12

Okay. Nothing to see here. Move along, buddies. I mean, you may be coming here for news of my culinary exploits. But there's been NOTHING to speak of for a little white.

GOD. That last batch of peaches were such a disappointing, poor-tasting excuse for produce that I don't even want to talk about them right now, okay? I mean, I know I've signed up for a big dose of DUTY in starting a blog, a blog about a peach project - but, man, I never realized it would be like this. I never realized that I would feel obligated to register such disappointment, such a mediocre eating experience. It makes me want to switch my obsession to a fruit with less of a temperament - like oranges.

But wait, we need to recap. Rewind about a week when I bought a bunch of peaches from Whole Foods - one half the bunch white-flesh the other half yellow-flesh. The first peach I ate sucked. I thought I needed patience to wait for the peaches to ripen. What it actually turns out I needed was peaches that didn't suck.

I ate peach number twelve - the last of the batch - up on top of a mountain. Or, to be more precise, I was hiking up a mountain but my hiking companion got a bit tired and we retired to a rather accommodating rock and looked out across Boulder and talked about our feelings and then we ate peaches. Which is a very nice setting. I told this person about the peach blog, somehow trying to communicate my unholy love of peaches, and this person - who, before I get into this, is really lovely, eeally, and would be much liked by the frequent readers of this blog - this person, who I am interested in on a couple different human levels, burst out laughing at me and said that me having a peach blog was very revealing. And the she just grinned like she had the upper hand.

Damn straight it's revealing. It reveals that I have really good taste.

Anyway, the peach was mediocre. It was well into being ripe, the skin had a bit of give to it, and the flesh itself was finely soft and juicy. Which is the tactile side of a good peach. But the flesh itself had very little actual TASTE to it. It was more like a peach flavored water balloon than anything else. It was sweet, but undistinguished. It was peachy, but bland. I tossed the pit into the bushes and maybe me and this person gazed into each others eyes all profoundly, and maybe we just talked awkwardly around each other for a little while longer, before packing up our impromptu picnic and heading our separate ways.

Here's to the next batch, folks!