Posted by Rob Eshman
There are so many food web sites. I would say, “Everybody and their mother has a food blog,” but in fact my mother doesn’t. She reads mine.
Few people doubt their own tastebuds. Even the world’s most insecure person knows what he likes to eat. We may doubt we are experts in what we do for a living, in what we know about thew orld, even in things as intimate as sex and love—but we are all experts when it comes to what we like to eat. Hence, Yelp reviews. Hence, food blogs.
Among all the food sites, a handful stand out as using writers who really are expert. Who really research, employ solid journalistic techniques, have a broad and deep range of experience in food, and know their way around the English language.
ZesterDaily.com is the brainchild of former Los Angeles Times wine editor Corie Brown. It will not give you snark and Celebrity Food Sightings and breathless (and often paid-for) reviews of so-called hot new restaurants. It delivers thoughtful, well-researched pieces about food and wine from around the world, by established food writers. And here’s a novel concept: they are well-edited. And here’s a mind-blowing concept: the writers are paid on a revenue sharing basis. Are you listening, Arianna?
That’s right—ZesterDaily.com functions as a kind of syndication service, on the belief that quality is worth a price.
You the reader benefit from this, as the site attracts authoritative food writers like Clifford Wright, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Joan Nathan, Charles Perry and more.
Two weeks ago, Corie asked me to be on some sort of advisory board for ZesterDaily, which as far as I can tell requires me to show up at her house whenever I can, sip some of her husband Chris’ incredible scotch, and eat whatever delicious food she has made. Would that all advisory boards were so demanding.
In the meantime, click over and check out ZesterDaily and its new site design. Make it something you do…daily.
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June 7, 2012 | 5:03 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Last month I visited the Beverly Hills Farmers Market for the first time. This Sunday, I’m a judge in their annual “Piesta”—a pie making contest combined with a pie -eating contest and other festivities.
I like this market—it’s a good place. I expected, I don’t know, upscale Bev Hills prices and attitude, but instead I found that a bunch of farmers, fruit and farm animals have a way of making the most upscale of places instantly haimish.
That’s Beverly Hills for “homey.”
The BHFM is not crazy-crowded like Santa Monica Farmers Market. It has a much larger selection than many markets—everything you need, in fact—a lot of prepared food stalls, a small petting zoo for the kids, and a mellow feel. Some farmers market transport me—they overwhelm me with a sense of the beauty and abundance of this world; they inspire a kind of walking gratitude, a constant sense of wow and thank you, or, to be more precise, thank You. They aren’t quasi-religious places for me, they are flat-out religious places for me. When I travel, what do I insist on seeing in every city? The synagogue, sure, but also the farmers market (okay, and the fish market, but that’s just me). A sense of holiness infuses both.
And there, smack in the glitzy city of Beverly Hills, you can feel it too.
And, this being Beverly Hills, all that comes with the occasional celebrity sighting.
True story: I was standing at a booth admiring the season’s asparagus when I heard a familiar voice chatting up the vendor. It was Wolfgang Puck. He was alone, dressed in jeans and a fitted purple T-shirt, picking up a few things, tasting and talking. I introduced myself and asked him—yes, I really did—“Do you come here often?” What can I say, I can talk to prime ministers and politicians and celebrities, but I do get a little tongue tied around chefs I admire. He said he does like the market—he’s a regular. Then he went over to taste the balsamic vinegars.
Whether my close friend Wolfgang is there or not, I’m looking forward to returning this Sunday at 11 am for the Piesta (press release and details below). I’m judging along with the L.A. Times’ Jonathan Gold,and KCRW’s Evan Kleiman.
That means I get to eat a lot of great pie made with California fruit on Sunday. And do an extra hour at Circuit Works on Monday…..
See you at the Piesta. Come on by and say hi.
The Press Release:
Pie Bake A’la Beverly Hills & Piesta Return June 10
Event Features Everyone’s Favorite Dessert, Local Fruit & Super Creative Fun for Kids
Save the date! On Sunday, June 10, 2012 the Beverly Hills Farmers’ Market hosts its annual Pie Bake A’la Beverly Hills and children’s “Piesta” between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. along the 9300 block of Civic Center Drive (ample free parking available at 450 N. Rexford Drive).
Admission to the festivities is free and the centerpiece of the event is a curated pie contest featuring pies that only use California-fruit. Cash prizes are given for best tasting and most “pieutiful” by a panel of distinguished and food-celebrity judges. World-famous Pie-and-Burger will be pulling its food truck up to the Market and selling various flavors of fresh pie.
The children’s free piesta features creative juggling by Mike (including juggling favorite pie ingredients); a “pieathelon” that includes a flour-sack toss, egg balancing and a Crisco-covered balloon toss; pie making and decorating and sifting for treasures in pastry flour. Pony rides and a petting zoo will also be available for a nominal fee.
No pie event would be complete without a pie eating contest, and Pie Bake A’la Beverly Hills has one for the adults and one just for the kids. Last year the L.A. Times wrote “Forget cupcakes—pies are hot” and the Daily News called pies a new food trend—so come get a slice of the action. Of course, all the regular farmers and prepared foods vendors will be in their usual spots at the Market.
June 7, 2012 | 4:55 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
After I wrote my paean to backyard goats and the noble, friendly character of goats in general, I received something I didn’t expect—universal agreement. Readers came out of the closet/stall/barn to tell me how their hearts, too, have been captured by these animals. My favorite letter came from a professor, a towering scholar who, frankly, would strike me as Least Likely to Harbor A Secret Love of Goats. I haven’t received his permission to use his name, but here’s a good chunk of what he wrote:
I was also in love with a goat. Her name was Euphoria, and she danced every morning when I let her out of her pen, kicking her feet right as her head went left, and vice versa, for about 30 seconds every morning. Then I milked her. She didn’t have to be female. I probably would have loved her if she were a man. It was a great experience to be a goat herd. She lived with me and a menagerie of other animals when I lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains as a maintenance worker trying to keep the Jewish “Camp Swig” from falling down around our ears in the mid-1970s. ... that period at camp was an especially dear period of my life, and Euphoria taught me some of the most important lessons about simplicity that I have every learned – and that stay with me even ‘til today.
Unrelated, I came across this YouTube video on the Internet, of a Pismo Beach goat the dances and surfs with her owner. Her name might as well be Euphoria.
June 6, 2012 | 11:49 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
First, there were four basic tastes — sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Then we learned of a fifth, umami, whose elusive savory-ness underlies everything from Parmesan to well-aged beef to soy sauce.
But what fascinates me these days is an even more elusive taste, a sixth sense. Call it moral.
The “moral taste” is actually a phrase New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik coined in his book “The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food.” Think of an Orthodox Jew relishing a piece of brisket not just because it tastes salty and umami, but because he knows it is also glatt kosher. A locavore foodie enjoys the sweetness of a plum even more because she knows it came from a family farm down the street. Moral tastes can, and do, change across cultures and time, but they are as intrinsic to flavor as are salty or sour.
That realization, that food has a moral flavor, has bubbled up from the fringes of the food world to the tables of the finest restaurants to corporate boardrooms and capitol rotundas. Immoral food has become as distasteful as food that is too salty or too sweet. It sticks in our craw.
Take foie gras. The fattened liver of a goose or duck is, of course, very umami, with a touch of saltiness. But because it is produced through force-feeding a fowl by placing a tube down its gullet, an international movement has successfully fought for the abolition of foie gras in numerous countries, and in this state. As of July 1, Californians will no longer be able to produce or sell foie gras.
Most chefs love “fwah,” as they call it. And even if they don’t serve it, they resent being told by non-chefs what they can and can’t serve, and they don’t appreciate being seen as morally deficient for putting foie on their menus. They worry that if the food Taliban start with a foie ban, where will they end? A veal fatwa? A blood sausage herem?
These were some of the concerns I heard recently at a private, after-hours dinner at Mezze restaurant on La Cienega, hosted by Mezze’s chef and manager (and co-owners) Micah Wexler and Mike Kassar. Local chefs and food purveyors sat together at a long table. At the center sat Gary Wexler, the nonprofit marketing guru, who is also Micah’s dad. Between plates of Mezze’s Middle Eastern-inflected food, Gary led a discussion on the moral responsibilities of chefs. It was like a seder — minus the boring parts and with much better food.
Talk quickly focused on the foie ban, with the chefs saying how ludicrous it is that of all the huge issues in the food world — from the crashing of fish stocks to the obesity epidemic — this is what legislators focus on. Several chefs made the argument that foie is a natural phenomenon of birds gluttonously storing up fat reserves for a long migration — the ducks like to be engorged. The problem, Micah said, is chefs are so damn busy, they don’t have time to educate the public, leaving fear-mongers and agenda-drivers in charge.
Midway through the meal, I realized that the tall, rangy, gray-haired guy sitting across from me was not just any guy sitting across from me, but Bill Niman. Niman is a food god. He’s a former hippie who translated his love of land and animals into the $65 million, pasture-raised beef company called Niman Ranch. When corporate overseers pushed him aside, Niman retreated to his Marin coastal ranch to raise goats and heritage turkeys for meat, which he sells under the BN Ranch label.
He is soft-spoken, and — it turns out — Jewish, and, like most people I admire, completely at home in the world of moral ambiguity. Don’t kid yourself, he said; animals do feel pain.
“My goats have friends,” he told me. “They form bonds.”
I told Niman that while I occasionally eat meat, I can’t imagine killing a goat. The two little goats I own have everything Niman described: friends, personality, a love of life. How, I asked, does he wrap his head around goat meat?
“I give them a great life,” he said, “and one bad day.”
I sensed Niman wasn’t as gung ho about fighting the foie ban as the younger chefs at the table. One thing about the moral taste is that it evolves, in society and the individual. But while we may simply lose our taste for sweets, we have to choose what moral flavors to consume or abandon.
The moral taste requires we not be passive, gullet-stuffed swallowers of food. The moral taste requires we wrestle with what we eat. The moral taste asks that you make up your own mind about foie gras, but chew it over first.
Micah and Mike want to make dinner discussions like the one they hosted become regular. No one is closer to the reality of their business than chefs; in a world with six tastes, their menus are moral documents.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of the better expressions of the link between what we eat and who we are can be found in the Israeli Supreme Court 2003 decision banning the production and sale of foie gras in Israel.
In calling for a ban on force-feeding, Justice Eliezer Rivlin wrote: “As to myself, I have no doubt in my heart that wild creatures as well as pets have emotions. They are endorsed with soul that experiences the emotions of joy and sorrow, happiness and grief, love and fear. Some of them nurture special feelings toward their friend-enemy: man.
“Not everyone thinks so, but no one denies that even these creatures feel the pain caused to them by physical harm or by violent intrusion into their innards. The justifiers might say that human welfare should fly upwards, even at the cost of trouble to the birds. But this has a price — and the price is diminishing human dignity.”
Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter @Foodaism
May 31, 2012 | 12:41 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I was at a banquet for the USC Shoah Visual History Foundation a few weeks ago. Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, was the MC. He killed—mostly by contrasting the sumptuous surroundings—the Four Seasons—and the lavish food, with the fact that we were all there because of…the Shoah.
“Every Jewish meal comes with a healthy side of guilt,” he said.
And that’s how I felt in Berlin.
As I wrote in my editorial this week, the banging nightlife, the rejuvenated neighborhoods and hip bars and ideal restaurants can be disorienting. Wait, I’m enjoying myself… in Berlin. I’m gorging myself… in Berlin.
That said, the visitBerlin people took a small group of journalists to some places that in any city I’d want to revisit, even with the guilt.
Two things in Berlin’s favor: it’s far less expensive than other European capitals. We stayed at the Hotel Regent, a four star, former Four Seasons pamper-palace in a 19th century building about a mile from the Brandenberg Gate. Marble floors, Meissen baubles, fluffy bathrobes and a staff that seemed to be put on earth to assent to your whims.
And between my forays into Berlin Jewish history, the visitBerlin people treated me to a series of fine meals. And I discovered: nothing helps you reconcile the dark past to the promising future like a good bottle of Riesling and real food..
With one happy exception, the food we ate reflected the trend toward local and sustainably-sourced food. Funny that going local is actually a global craze. All the restaurants touted their farm fresh local produce and meats—Berlin as Berkeley. Ditto the more casual, gastropub vibe and predilection for small plates and regional specialties. (The exception was that most places served a fresh fish or two, and last I checked Berlin is about 200 miles from the ocean).
It was fresh white asparagus season in Germany. The variety they all but pray to is called Beelitzer. Such adoration reminded me of a line from Jeffrey Lewis’ novel Berlin Cantata: “The Germans either believe in nothing, or too much.”
Every place, from two star gastro-temples to the local brew houses, paid homage to the white, densely flavored and frankly somewhat phallic . In three days I ate chilled asparagus salad, a creamed white asparagus soup, sautéed Beelitzers, or, the most common preparation, steamed white asparagus with boiled new potatoes and melted butter. I ate that last dish three times, and never got tired of it.
Of the places we visited, my recommendations are below. Keep in mind prices are generally lower what you’d pay in other European capitals, more in line with Los Angeles prices for moderate to high-end restaurants.
A two-star Michelin restaurant in the Hotel Regent. You pass one of the world’s five lobster presses in the foyer. For 280 Euros (but that’s for two people…), you can order Maine lobster in a sauce of pressed shell and coral jus slurried with cream. That wasn’t on offer (though check out the photo of the lobster press, below). Highlights were Tartar of Smoked Eel with Horseradish and Granny Smith Apple, Roasted Filet of Iceland Codfish with White Asparagus and a Morel-flecked Béarnaise Sauce, and a dessert of Stewed pineapple in Butter Caramel with vanilla ice cream and a dried pineapple chip. Okay, not local, but wonderful. Dinner here will cost $100 per person, triple if you go for the lobster.
In the top floor of the Reichstag Building. Once the symbol of German delusion, now an architectural landmark remade by Norman Foster, and featuring a Spago-like eatery with terrific views of the city.
In a converted former Jewish girl’s school—again, strange feeling that—this new, hip spot served one of my favorite dishes of the year: halibut with kohlrabi and stinging nettle risotto. The vegetables were so earthy and intense it tasted like the halibut was part forest animal. The food is sourced from local farmers, and often whole roasted animals are brought out to a central carving board to be parted out. My companions had wienerschnitzels the size of dinner plates, light and crisp over—poached asparagus—and a puff pastry shell holding wild mushrooms and more asparagus. One non-asparagus dish: a fish soup made from local crayfish stock with poached pieces of salmon and sea bass.
Mogg & Melzer
+49 (0)30 330 060 770
Berlin’s first Eastern European Jewish deli, though East Eurpean by way of Brooklyn. Home cured pastrami, made by New York Italian chef Joey Pesarreli, who also cooks a dense, tomatoey shakshuka. This is in the Jewish Girls School Building as well, and it’s authentic pastrami smell made me think of the Old Country, by which I mean Langers.
Café Einstein Stammhaus
In West Berlin, this local landmark is filled with real live Berliners, and you can see why. Housed in the converted villa of a former screen star, it delivers on atmosphere, on great coffee, and on Austrian style pastries. Take the strudel. A huge slice comes to the table from the oven, with buttery homemade strudel dough and tart apple filling. Only after I visited did I learn that the creepy scene in Inglourious Basterds, in which the Nazi hunter orders a strudel and milk for the Jewish heroine, was filmed here.
3 Minutes Sur Mer
That’s Minutes as in French minutes. A mostly French café in a quickly gentrifying artsy neighborhood, featuring bistro-style dishes and a French wine list. Crowded, fun, and a good break from German style food.
Fassbender & Rausch
Berlin’s legendary chocolate store. You’ll go here to see the four foot all chocolate bear, the Berlin landmarks like the Brandenberg Gate recreated in chocolate, and a huge offering of very decent chocolate products.
+49 (0) 983 208 431
In an old brewery, this is a brand new place with a young owner Ludwig Cramer-Klett committed to slow food—possessed by food-as-mission. This translates into very thoughtful takes on local ingredients, with the biggest crowd pleaser by far the French fries fired in organic duck fat. Oh. God.
030 610 74 033
Along the Landwehr Canal, in a converted electric generating plant— it turns out “volt” is German for “volt.” Hence the copper light fixtures and steel grating. Filled with an Abbot Kinney-esque crowd, and Gjelina-esque food.
Walk in and you enter your fantasies of German food. Hanging sausages, platters of pork haunch and beef shank, the scent of fresh-cured sauerkraut mixing with fresh-brewed beer—all in a beer hall atmosphere. And asparagus.
I can’t end this list with saluting the German bread. Everywhere you go, every table you sit at: brown bread, black bread, whole grain bread, sourdough bread, and tubs of sweet butter. I want to go back. Now.
May 17, 2012 | 12:24 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The most common question people ask when they visit our home is: “Why the goats?”
We live in the city. A few houses west of us, four lanes of Lincoln Boulevard traffic roar past day and night. Planes from cursed Santa Monica Airport buzz overhead. And on any given night, sometime between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., an LAPD helicopter will make sure to flood our bedroom with its searchlight. It’s Venice, man.
Two years ago, into this urban landscape, I brought our first goat.
Yes, I said goat. Yes, I said first.
My daughter and I were at John’s Feed, buying chickens. John’s, I assume, is a holdover from the days when Huntington Park was surrounded by farmland; there is no other reason for a ramshackle feed store in the midst of a treeless landscape of warehouses and strip malls.
John’s Feed stockpiles the chickens that end up next door at a live butcher shop called La Princesa. I usually buy chickens there for egg-laying. They are already full-grown, and I get the added pleasure of taking a creature off death row. On this day, when my daughter and I showed up, we noticed that, in the same crowded, feces-filled pen with the chickens, stood one miserable goat.
She was standing on her hind legs, straining to look out the window to the street.
We took her.
But why have goats? I often wonder if it’s in my blood. Eskimos have 30 words for snow. Jews have more than a dozen words for goat. You and I are generations removed from our agrarian ancestors, but their relationship with the world’s first domesticated animal lives on in our language. Azmaveth and tsaphir are he-goats. Gaddiel, a holy goat. Gedi, a young goat. Jaala and seirah are young she-goats. Ez, a she goat. Tayish, a butting he goat. Uzzah, a strong goat. Zibiah and aqqo, zemer, dishon and yael — mountain and desert goats. Ancient Jews depended on goat meat and milk for food; they slept in goat-hair tents. Their closeness created empathy: Jews were revolted by the thought of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and so, today, we can’t eat cheeseburgers. There is a Hebrew word for hell, familiar to us from Yom Kippur: azazel. It translates literally as “lost goat.” Hell, for Hebrew, was when you lost your goat.
The Christians saw goats as the devil. They were repelled by the very qualities in goats that seem most, well, Jewish.
Sheep huddle together and look to the shepherd for direction. Goats are stubborn and willful. The word capricious, meaning picky and discerning, comes from the Latin capro, for goat. Goats break fences and, thus, rules. Sheep are grazers, content to munch the grass at their feet. Goats are browsers — they refuse the grass and strive to eat the trees and bushes just beyond their reach.
Goats are deeply communal, bonded to one another. Sheep run, goats stand their ground. (Thoroughbred trainers used to calm their skittish horses by placing a fearless goat in their stall. To throw a race, you would sneak into the stall at night and get someone’s goat. A cliché was born.)
Rob Eshman’s goats: Ollie, left, and Goldie Horn
So, the apostles saw themselves as obedient sheep, Jesus as their shepherd and the Jews as unruly goats. In Matthew 25:33, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus tells how he will judge nations when he returns: “And [Jesus] will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on his left.” Sheep go to heaven, goats to hell. The horns Christians imagined on Jewish heads did not make them look like the devil: They made them look like goats.
Is it any wonder that goat beside the butcher shop called out to me? It’s not just that I couldn’t see her ending up as birria — Mexican goat stew — or chavito — split, grilled goat. It’s that we shared cultural DNA.
I had driven my wife’s Prius to John’s Feed Store that day. The goat, a black-and-white Nigerian pygmy about the size of a small spaniel, went into a cardboard box and into the trunk. Somewhere on the 110 Freeway North, I heard a crash. Her two devilish horns had busted the packing tape, and I drove home with a goat in the rear view mirror.
We named her Goldie Horn. When my wife arrived home from a work trip, she found her car had been completely waxed outside and detailed inside. She said I was the nicest husband in the world.
Then she saw the goat.
We moved Goldie into a spacious side yard. But goats, every goat book informed me, care about two things: food and companionship. See, I explained to my wife, they are Jewish. Soon my daughter and I visited a goat rescue, and returned with a dun-colored mutt goat we named Ollie.
But why goats, people still ask.
To which I often answer: Why not? Nobody walks into your house and asks, “Why dogs?” even if your pet is not fit to protect, or hunt, or even play. No one asks, “Why fish?” though you can’t eat them, or, “Why canaries?” though they don’t lay eggs. And no one asks, “Why cats?”— except me.
Goats don’t bark or scratch. In our urban ecosystem, their odorless pellets work like plant steroids, replacing the need to buy fertilizer. They come when I call them, will stand on two legs for treats and enjoy a good scratch. As I write this, Goldie is rubbing her head against the card table I’ve set up in my backyard. In a moment, I’ll let her butt the palm of my hand. It’s a game we play.
It is weird, I know, but it really isn’t.
On Sunday mornings, I use a broom and dustbin to scoop up the layer of goat pellets, crushed dry hay and soil that carpets the animal pen. The dust plumes up and coats my face and fills my nostrils. It’s a fantastic smell — exactly like a fine unlit cigar passed under your nose. Next time someone is reaching for words to describe their $200 Cohiba, just say, “Hay, dust and goat s—-.”
I don’t even mind when I forget to feed them first thing in the morning. I have to go out after I’ve showered and dressed in my suit, carrying a slice of timothy hay, their pebbly poops squishing under my black polished shoes. I can see my wife, Naomi, at the window, watching — just like she did at the window of the Mendocino B&B one morning of our honeymoon when she saw me down by the shore tasting the seaweed. It’s a look that says, “Who, exactly, did I marry?”
I don’t tell her that when they break out of their pen and tiptoe into my study, Goldie always tries to nip a page from the same book — one of Naomi’s ancient Hebrew treatises on Jewish mysticism.
These goats, I swear to her, have made me a better Jew. Abraham, Itzhak, Yaakov, Moses and David were not scholars or preachers. They were the original men who stare at goats. Not surprisingly, the cycles of our holidays play out according to the cycles of these animals. That’s especially true now, during the holiday of Shavuot.
Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It’s traditional to eat dairy foods like cheesecake and blintzes during the festival. The rabbis will tell you that’s because Torah is like mother’s milk to us. But my goats teach me something different.
Goldie and Ollie have been fixed. But when spring arrives, Ollie still yearns after Goldie, and a long-dead urge reawakens, and he tries. If they weren’t city goats, rescued from other people’s appetites, Goldie would be kidding now, her milk flowing. There would be more than we could drink, and we would be making cheese, and out of the cheese, blintzes.
The first milk the Hebrews drank, the first simple cheese they made, came from goats.
“Why goats?” people ask, and then they answer their own question with another: “Do you milk them?”
No, but a few months ago, my goats inspired me to take a cheese-making class from Steve Rudicel, owner of Mariposa Creamery in Altadena, the only goat dairy in Los Angeles. Rudicel, a young, sturdy farmer type, started the class with a brief explanation.
“Milk needs to be small,” he said. “Milk needs to be local. Seek out quality dairy ingredients. It makes a big difference in the lives of the animals. The hardest-working part of the dairy farm is the animals. We’ve lost respect for the animals.”
“Goats are some of the sweetest creatures I’ve ever met,” he went on. “I’m often moved by the milk we make.”
In front of about 75 people, Rudicel had to stop to compose himself.
“Why goats?” That’s the answer. These animals start out in your blood, but they quickly make their way to your heart.
Follow Rob (and his goats) on Twitter @foodaism.
STEVE RUDICEL’S CHEVRE CHEESE
Fresh goat cheese is one of the easiest foods you can make. It takes five minutes of active cooking time, over two days. And its taste is far superior to the standard logs of chevre cheese product available in gourmet stores.
All specialty items are available by mail-order at dairyconnection.com.
Good liquid thermometer
Large, clean pot
Cheese maker’s muslin or molds
1 gallon pasteurized goat milk (I use Summerhill Dairy, which is readily available at Trader Joe’s. It costs $3 quart, or $12 a gallon, which yields just over 1 pound of goat cheese.)
1/8 teaspoon MM100 or MM101 starter cultures
3 drops vegetable rennet
1/4 cup spring or distilled (not tap) water
Heat milk gently to 74 degrees F.
Add a scant 1/8 teaspoon starter culture and stir for two minutes.
Dissolve rennet in spring water. Add to milk and stir for 2 minutes.
Drape a towel over pot and leave at room temperature for 12 to 20 hours. The curds are ready when they appear solidified and liquid whey floats on top.
Ladle curds into cheese maker’s muslin, tie around a wooden spoon or dowel and suspend over a pot. Allow to drip at room temperature overnight. Or, you can ladle into cheese molds and allow to drain overnight.
Unwrap cheese, sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with great olive oil, and it’s ready to eat. You can also stir in seasonings (salt, chives, etc.), then cover and refrigerate.
Makes slightly more than 1 pound of cheese, enough to fill about 6 chevre molds.
April 25, 2012 | 12:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
When I was in my mid-20s, I fought a long, messy and entirely internal struggle over whether to move to Israel.
Many young Jews living in the Diaspora — more than you think — face this choice. We spend some time there, either as part of an organized program, or, as I did, on our own. Then we have to choose.
Israel, small as it is, exerts a strong pull.
I was 25 in 1985. I had lived in Israel for a year; worked hard to learn Hebrew, find a job and an apartment; built the beginnings of a life. I had a girlfriend, Miki, and a group of Israeli friends — Jews, Arabs, South Africans, French, Australians, Angelenos — whose company inspired me. We worked or went to school, then spent the evenings visiting, drinking really bad Carmel Hock wine or powdered Turkish coffee, arguing, laughing, dreaming.
None of us had money, and the country itself was simple and poor compared to the States: no cell phones, two brands of beer, two TV channels.
Maybe it’s the same with all 25-year-olds. At that age, you enter a kind of second childhood, you sponge up whatever culture you happen to find yourself in. I have friends from Encino who spent those post-college years in London and returned with full-on English accents, never quite able to lose them.
In any case, Israel felt like my new home, and I wrestled with whether I could separate myself from my family and make a career there.
Because I tend to relate to the world through food, my memories of those years are tied to foods I discovered for the first time there. One day, Miki and I befriended an elderly man named S.E. Yardeni, who lived in a simple home on a relatively large plot of land in Jerusalem. Yardeni was a pioneer who had come to settle the land. His agile mind invented the locks that still bear his name. He founded his company in 1947, a year before statehood, and by the time we met him, he was retired and devoting himself to his garden. He had the money to live anywhere in the world, in style, but he was rooted, like his fig, olive and pomegranate trees, to the land.
One hot summer day, he showed us how he made pomegranate wine. It was served cold and was mildly alcoholic, the color of rubies. To this day, I’ve never tasted anything quite so perfect. He made us a salad of the lettuce and tomatoes he grew, and he poured tea for us that was unlike any I’d ever tasted: sweet, lemony, minty.
“What is it?” I asked him to show me.
In his yard, he ran his hand over a bush with elegant, soft green spiked leaves. “Louisa,” he called it. As his rough hands stroked the leaves, that fragrance filled the warm air. How could I ever leave Israel?
In winter, we visited Yardeni again, and he made another tea, this time from sage leaves.
“The Arabs drink louisa in summer, sage in winter,” he explained. “It warms you up.” It did.
By spring, I was back in Los Angeles. I can’t say I ever really definitively decided whether to stay or to leave. Miki and I were breaking up, and I thought it would be a good thing to get a bit of distance between us for a bit, like 10,000 miles. Not that we were married, but in the separation, she got the country.
And me, I ended up like a helluva lot of other middle-aged men and women I know. We look back on the years we spent in Israel and can’t help wondering: What if? How close did we really come to taking a leap that, in the end, so few successfully take? Instead, we raise our kids speaking a bit of Hebrew, stay involved in the life and politics of the country from a distance, make a point to befriend Israelis here (and let’s face it, a lot more of them follow their hearts to us than vice versa).
It’s not a chapter that ever seems to close. And as the years tick by, as our kids grow up and move on, and a part of us — of me — can’t help but think: If the right opportunity were to arise … if the right job offer came through. But of course, a real leap doesn’t require a great opportunity; it starts with the courage to sacrifice for possibility, for a dream, for what if.
In my garden in Venice, I planted two pomegranate trees. The large one yielded more than 100 pounds of fruit last year. I never learned to make Yardeni’s wine, but I do make a pretty good vodka after I pick, seed and crush the fruit.
I looked for a year for louisa in the local nurseries, until I learned that it has a common English name, lemon verbena. I planted five plants in the back garden, one in the front.
Louisa goes dormant in the winter. Three months of the year, it looks dead. At the peak of spring, light lime-colored leaves sprout along the branches, and the plant begins a new cycle of spindly growth.
On a beautiful spring morning last week, I decided to drink my coffee by the garden. I sat and took in the peaceful morning, the beauty of where I live, the good fortune of my life. Unknowingly, I brushed my hand along the newly formed louisa leaves, and their fragrance released and enveloped me.
And I began to cry.
Lemon Verbena Sorbet
This is adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld.
Nothing but vibrant and refreshing it’s lemon heaven.
Makes 1 quart, 8 servings
1 1/2 cups (gently packed) fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer or Eureka lemon juice
3 cups cold water
Grind the lemon verbena leaves and sugar together in a food processor until the mixture turns into a bright green paste, about 30 seconds; stop to scrape down the sides as necessary. Add the lemon juice and process for 15 seconds longer, then add the water. Strain the resulting liquid through a fine sieve to remove any bits of leaf. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Lemon Verbena Tea
I serve this at the end of just about every meal beginning in early summer, when our verbena plants… leaf out.
12 fresh large lemon verbena leaves
1 T. sugar
4 cups boiling water
Steep leaves in boiling water. Add sugar to taste.
Rob’s Pomegranate Cordial
Wash ripe pomegranates. Submerge in a large bowl or tub of water. Cut open and with your fingers pry out the seeds. They will fall to the bottom of the bucket while the pith will rise to the top.
Scoop off and discard pith, drain all the water, then re-rinse seeds, drain well..
Using your hands, squeeze the seeds to extract the juice. Strain through damp cheesecloth, squeezing well.
Make a simple syrup by boiling water and sugar 1:1. Let cool.
Fill a clean bottle half way with juice. Add 1/8-1/4 syrup and the rest vodka. Shake and taste. Add more juice, syrup or vodka to balance flavor. It should be sweet, tart and juicy with a slight alcohol kick.
Seal and refrigerate a few days to mellow the flavors. Serve in cordial glasses, well chilled, or mix with Prosecco, champagne or white wine.
April 12, 2012 | 3:23 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
What, you’re thinking, STILL no bread? No pasta? No BEER!!! Yes, Passover continues until Saturday evening. Because the rule of thumb on Jewish holidays is to take something fun and exciting and do it over and over and over until you say, “Dayenu!” Which is Hebrew for “Uncle!”
But if you’ve been following this series on Foodaism, you’ll find that the eight days of Passover offer a chance to cook really good food long after the seder is gone.
Tonight’s menu comes from two small, locals-only restaurants we discovered last year in Europe.
The salad is from Great Queen Street in the Covent Garden district of London. It’s a packed gastropub, whose menu reads as if they’ve raided every farmhouse within 100 kilometers of The City. Local cheeses, local ciders, local offal—you get the idea. The “Ticklemore” in the recipe is a farmhouse goat cheese produced on the southern English coast. There’s just a small sign out front of Queen High Street, and inside a room full of high-spirited English yuppies. The food is simple and easy to do quickly at home, or at least this dish is….
On a side street in Barcelona, Arcana offered us slightly fussy cooking in a kind of 80s vibe, but the staff and customers seemed to be all locals, and very friendly. Maybe not popular enough though: I can’t seem to find the restaurant listing on Yelp anymore. Happy almost-the-end-Passover:
Cauliflower, Courgette, Mint and Ticklemore
1 large cauliflower, divided into florets
3 small zucchini, cubed or sliced in 1/4 inch slices
1 small bunch mint, chopped
1 T. chives, chopped
8 ounces Ticklemore, firm goat cheese or feta, cubed
1 T. wine vinegar or very dry white wine
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add cauliflower and cook til just tender. Add zucchini and continue to cook until just tender, then add cheese until it just begins to warm. Remove from heat and let cool. Add vinegar, olive oil, mint, salt and pepper and toss well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Branzino with celery puree and roasted cherry tomatoes “Arcana” Barcelona
4 fresh branzino, boned (or 4 sole filets)
1 large celery root
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
Take a saucepan big enough to hold your celery root. Add water to come up halfway, add salt and pepper, and cook, covered, until very tender. Remove root to a blender, and puree with olive oil and cooking liquid to make a smooth, slightly runny and very white puree. Set aside.
Heat a heavy skillet. When very hot add a little olive oil, then cherry tomatoes. Cook until blistered, about 5 minutes. Add some salt and pepper. Stir, then remove onto a plate and set aside.
Season branzino or filets with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Wipe pan clean, reheat, add olive oil, add fish and cook over high heat on each side until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes total. You will need to do this in shifts.
To serve, dish a little puree on each plate. Lay a fish beside it, and nest some cherry tomatos by that. Serve with more lemon.