I'm Jess, a grad student and food photographer obsessed with chocolate. I love things made of sugar, lasers strapped to helicopters, and silly hats.
Come visit on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for stories about food, bakeries in Seattle, and my most definitely being up to no good.
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Monthly Archives: February 2013
My first year in grad school, which now feels like a lifetime ago, I took a class on plant production. We grafted tiny apple trees, studied plant growth cycles (tomatoes are insane), and eventually, delicately, brought up the subject of GMOs.
It was a 400-level class, so there were undergrads, and for many it was their first class with applied journal readings. Still, there were two issues: what defined a GMO, and how would this affect us (read: me)? It wasn’t the most eloquent article discussion I’ve ever participated in; the end result was “GMOs are BAD.” How bad or why was barely touched on.
No, not the blog. (Though it is pretty awesome.)
There are plenty of articles on going out by yourself and how awkward it can be. Even I’m not always comfortable eating alone at a restaurant more fancy than Veggie Grill, and I eat out for my job. It’s a lot easier to hide behind the camera and furiously scribble notes than it is to eat out without distractions.
So today I decided to go into a little Taiwanese place I keep on ignoring, as I was curious about their shaved ice. I also saw they had xiao long bao, the steamed soup dumplings, so I thought it would be awesome to get both.
Turned out the dumplings would take fifteen minutes; the shaved ice, less than two. I said that was fine, and to please send them out when each was ready. The waiter ended up checking with me another time just to make sure I was actually serious.
(Yes, this was prettier when it came out compared to this photo. That would have involved taking time away from the first few moments of deliciousness.)
The shaved ice was pretty awesome, as it’s hard to go wrong with barley, boba, and red beans. (And I had forgotten how awesome barley works on shaved ice.) I also tried out plum syrup, which was way stronger and more savory/umami than I had expected, but it worked well with the condensed milk and other toppings. Besides, if it got too strong, I could add ice.
Then the xiao long bao came out, and the only annoyance was a mild toothache from switching between piping hot and (literally) ice cold a bit too fast. But they gave me a nice soy-ginger sauce with fresh ginger, the dumpling wrappers had a nice bite, and they were porky and warm and with just a bit of soupy goodness, so I wasn’t complaining.
I admit I probably looked pretty ridiculous around my second dumpling, as I ended up alternating between bites of the shaved ice and dumplings as both worked towards room temperature. I wasn’t going to waste all those boba and red beans, and they so did not take fifteen minutes to get those buns to my table. It was actually rather fun, kind of fulfilling promises from childhood of eating ice cream for dinner, but with new tasty things at a place I might have missed out on otherwise. And boba.
I’d love to try this again with other restaurants, as long as I have a good idea how large the desserts are – or at least know how empty my stomach is. The waiters really shouldn’t care what order you eat your food in, but it would suck to waste food just to be silly. If they give you glares, tell them it’s an experiment in being awesome.
So you know how you have those restaurants you always pass, that you swear you need to drop in to one day? Go today. Just order dessert first.
Unless you have a doctor’s appointment or something. In which case, please do it tomorrow.
So yes, I did that thing where I ate all day at Tom Douglas’s restaurant empire. I was thinking recently about how it has been about a year since that fateful bit of insanity, and I still think Tom Douglas has no clue what to make of me. He’s a really nice guy, but I keep on mentioning cupcakes and other things to put on my head whenever I see him, which I’m sure is a bit disconcerting.
(One year later, still taking blurred/awful photos with the awesome Tom Douglas. It’s almost a tradition.)
I’d like to celebrate by giving advice on how to plan your own all day feast. I’ve already commented previously on that trek, but this is meant to be more of a general planning guideline.
First, plan out two or three goals of what you’d like to actually accomplish. “Eating at X restaurants” is a good start, but do you just want to eat something, anything, off the menu? Do you want to focus on just one cuisine or restaurant chain? What about only eating pancakes from 8-11 am on a Sunday? (That sounds pretty awesome; please go do it.) I was okay with eating the smallest functional menu items as long as I ate everywhere in the Tom Douglas world, which was the most important goal to me. I feel your second or third major goal should also be to not feel ill when this is done, but that’s up to you.
After you have baseline goals and your team assembled, determine your budget. This sounds obvious, but it helped me to not focus on money when I started brainstorming. That and unless it’s a happy hour trek in the U-District, it’s not going to be the cheapest excursion. Before I walked in the door to Serious Biscuit, I was looking at $200, easily, with tax and tips for the day’s damage. I fully acknowledge that that’s not cheap, but I also admit didn’t go with the least expensive plan.
Next, itinerary. I’d recommend staying within a small geographic area if at all possible, so you’re only reliant on your feet. It means you’re not wasting time hunting for parking. Pick your restaurants first, without an order, then read their menus and open hours, and use that to plan the schedule. Also, check the menus closer to the date, especially for places with seasonal menus. I had a very different schedule in mind until about two weeks beforehand, where I noticed some things that were really tasty on certain morning menus. Also, include 1-2 stops or long breaks at a minimum – you’re going to get tired doing this. Trust me.
For eating, give yourself more time than you would normally plan for for both breaks and meal times. I was giving myself a minimum of a half hour between restaurants that were snack layovers, and up to an hour between larger planned courses. This not only allows for getting lost, but if you’re feeling ill from all that food you can walk it off a bit.
And if it’s not obvious, plan around your own needs, and the needs of your friends. If someone naps constantly or has a hurt leg, plan around it. (Next time, I honestly might book a hotel room for naps.) Don’t bring someone who’s not adventurous in their eating habits, or pick places they’ll enjoy that you’re also excited about.
Lastly, ask the staff for advice. If you’re visiting a few restaurants in a chain or collection, the staff may be able to give insider information, or help with reservations. And they’ll probably think what you’re doing is awesome.
So here are some plans I’d love to do:
- Crepe crawl 2013. Seattle’s crepe scene is booming, and I’d love to visit 3-5 crepe shops in a row with a group, especially when Caravan Crepes and Crisp Creperie are out being awesome.
- Dim sum crawl. Jade Garden? Harbor City? Places new and intriguing? I’d love to grab a couple addicts and order 3-4 menu items, eat, move to another restaurant and repeat until I couldn’t stare at another pork bun.
- Desserts about Capitol Hill. I still have friends who haven’t visited Crumble & Flake, and with Bakery Nouveau poised to take over North Cap Hill, I’d love to bring a few friends and share, with a trek to vegetarian/vegan restaurants to offset all that cream and chocolate.
The goal is to have fun, and this can be as basic or elaborate as you want. Just don’t hold yourself back – go do it. And if you’re in Seattle, I’d love to join in.
I don’t actually follow Valentine’s Day. I have pranked Chris on the holiday once, which involved all our friends and a foot tall origami icosahedra made out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Beyond that, I just lack interest in a holiday that says he must get me candy or our success as a couple is doomed.
I do love the sales, though. For the last few years I’ve managed to get a few of the Fran’s caramel hearts half off, buy a bunch, and share them with the guys. They are inhaled, not savored, but it’s fun and delicious.
Growing up, getting chocolate at Fran’s was a big deal. We went into Seattle, sure, but going to the store was a treat. (This was before I learned of wonders like the Michel Cluizel caramel-filled champignons.)
Even as late as last year I held Fran’s in full-on reverence. We go there on dates. I’ve grabbed hot chocolate as a pick-me-up rushing between meetings. A tas de noix would get tucked into a backpack or purse as a reminder of the trek downtown. I would walk by the Fran’s headquarters, a quiet building with nondescript shutters, and think happy thoughts.
This time, though, I went to the store on the and the hearts weren’t on sale yet. I wandered around to see if anything caught my eye, and it hit me how many of the brands on the shelves were at the Winter Fancy Food Show. I didn’t see food as much I saw names, faces, the samples I had sitting in my studio space. It’s really disconcerting to realize how many brands are all connected to each other.
I finally went to grab one pink, foil-wrapped heart, and it felt… different. Not bad; I mean, I was getting chocolate. More like I couldn’t keep the company on its sugary altar any longer, but I could still totally buy out their chocolate stock.
I picked up a Justin’s nougat, caramel, and almond bar, a giant chocolate-covered marshmallow heart that was half off, and some incredibly out of season strawberries that smelled lovely. Then I came home and started chopping, and told Chris he had to share with me, because my stomach couldn’t handle the sugar overload. Some Valrhona got melted, things got poured into a bowl with Old School Frozen Custard, and this happened.
So this sundae is incredibly visually unappealing. I made it so I could eat it, not so it would be pretty. (Which is also why it’s a cell phone photo – nothing was stopping me from eating this immediately, not even my photographer instincts.) Next time, I’d take the torch out and brulee the marshmallow, and probably add more fruit. I had some kiwi in the fridge, but I was more excited about the sheer overkill of it all.
Chris and I sat down with that monstrosity and shared it while watching bad movies on Netflix. It tasted like delicious, delicious memories.
I adore it, I really do. I mean, Molly’s on campus has this deal where every weekday at 3 pm you can get salads for $2, and I stock up on their gloriously spicy harissa aioli-covered quinoa whenever I can. (I’m always rather amazed at how easy it is to stock up on food at Molly’s. Instead of a swarm few grad students and professors wait cheerfully in line and take it all back in insulated bags to their departments.) I even found out today that adding that quinoa to a bowl of cheese ravioli is rather tasty, something I’ll have to do again in the future.
I make batches of the fluffy, curly seeds whenever I can remember, and often eat them plain or with nuts to curb hunger pangs. My spouse generally looks at me like I’ve lost my mind over this, as I’ll then try to get him to eat some. It never works. Our roommate understands my love for the ancient grain, but he’s currently off dealing with research out east. So until he returns it’s just me and the quinoa.
Since plain quinoa is incredibly boring, I’ve recently taken to throwing it into whatever sauces or concoctions sound vaguely good, and taking notes so I don’t repeat disasters. Some have made me pleasantly reevaluate my thoughts on food, and others have been noxious.
Of what worked well, I was most surprised by strawberry jam. The first time I tested this out I used Bonne Maman strawberry jam and some honey to perk up the sweetness, but it was mellow and chewy, basically tasting like even chewier jam. I had been worried it would be too sweet, but it’s actually rather pleasant, especially when heated up first. Since then I’ve taken to heating up a bowl of quinoa in the microwave and just shoving in a spoonful of whatever berry jam is in the fridge that sounds appealing. I’m sure I could show off my culinary chops better by adding finely chopped basil or mint next, and maybe brie or sliced almonds, but that involves way too much thought at eight in the morning. The jam stays.
Roasted seaweed, either Korean (kim) or Japanese (nori) works as well as you’d expect as, say, brown rice onigiri. It won’t make a nice rice-like ball, but that’s the flavor profile you’re getting. I’d add thinly sliced radishes or carrots if I ever do this again, or maybe toss the quinoa with soy sauce and/or sesame oil.
That being said, never add Nunya Sauce, unless you are on a dare or want to make someone be annoyed at you. As much as I love Marination Station, and the Marination team in general, their sauce makes it taste… off. I can’t really describe it, as after my third bite I felt a bit queasy and gave up.
Also, please don’t add Nutella, unless you’re stuck with kids who only eat new things if they’re covered in chocolate-hazelnut spread. I feel like I should test it on a five year old just to see if their palates are just that different, but I couldn’t do it. It’s sweet, but only sweet, and a lot of the flavor that makes Nutella taste good gets lost in the grains.
Since my classes this quarter often leave me starving within the first hour of lecture, I have grand plans to add quinoa to berries and yogurt, or maybe something resembling a meal. I’ll probably stick to heating it up in the microwave and adding jam, but it’s nice to look vaguely professional on occasion. Well, I can at least skip the Nutella.