Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Southern Exposure

I’ve been on the road again, this time to the Southeast, specifically Virginia and North Carolina. We packed up the car and drove down, crossing the Mason-Dixon Line near the town in Maryland where I spent most of my childhood. Growing up, I didn’t think of myself as a Southerner. Maryland, despite being below the Line, was technically a border state during the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam, which resulted in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, was just down the road, but at the same time one of my high school acquaintances was a direct descendent of Robert E. Lee. And the street I grew up on has a former slave auction block, now partially obscured by some shrubbery, on one of its corners.




When I headed to North Carolina for college, I was taken aback when some of my new Southern friends referred to me as a Yankee. This wasn’t a term I associated with myself either. I hadn’t really heard it used outside of the baseball team prior to that, but it was just one of many cultural particulars I would learn during my time in North Carolina—shagging, gatoring, Hey y’alling and Yes ma’aming, and dressing up for Demon Deacon football games being some of the others. After college, I lived in Richmond for a year—just a couple blocks away from the famed (or infamous) Monument Avenue—and then stayed in Virginia for graduate school. I moved north to Boston after that for a job, and it was then that I met Chris, a New Yorker who had spent some time at a rival college in Durham. Moving even farther north to Vermont, we settled in and made our home.




Every now and then, though, the South calls me back. My mom and sister live there, as do extended family and many very dear friends. Not disregarding its history, there’s a lot to love about this part of the country—the enchanting, gradual unfolding of spring, the softly melodic accent, the scent of boxwood and magnolias in the moist air, and the warm embrace of Southern hospitality, to name but a few. Chris and I even named one of our daughters Caroline in part after our fondness for the place. 

And then there’s the food. Tomato pie and fried okra. Shrimp and grits.




Sweet potato biscuits with thinly sliced ham. She-crab soup.




Chopped barbecue and a basket of hush puppies. Crab cakes with remoulade and Old Bay.




Even the names of the foods roll off the tongue like poetry.

Of course I can’t forget pimiento cheese. Also called the pâté of the South, this creamy spread is ubiquitous in the region. It dresses up a sandwich, or is the sole delectable ingredient between two slices of bread, grilled or otherwise. Served with crudités or crackers, it’s the ultimate picnic, or tailgate, food.




Pimiento cheese is not something I ever see up in the North, but once I’ve crossed the border into Virginia I can’t get enough of it. The ingredients are pretty simple: grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and chopped pimientos, but house variations are endless, with each chef or home cook adding his or her secret addition. 

Back home, I like to make it with a Northern twist, using Vermont Creamery’s Fresh Goat Cheese as a base instead of mayo, combined with Grafton Village’s Three Year Aged Cheddar. It’s hard to find pimientos in the Northeast, but jarred roasted red peppers work just fine. A splash of apple cider vinegar, a pinch of ground chipotle, and some snipped garlic chives from my herb garden round it out. 




It’s a true North-South mashup and, when slathered on my breakfast bagel, it tastes like home.





Pimiento Cheese (Vermont Style)

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups grated Vermont cheddar, loosely packed
4 ounces Vermont fresh goat cheese
¾ cup roasted red peppers (jarred), drained and finely chopped
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
pinch of ground chipotle
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon snipped garlic chives

In a medium bowl, combine the cheddar, goat cheese, and red peppers, mashing with a fork until the mixture is blended. Add the vinegar, chipotle, and black pepper and stir until the spread is relatively smooth. Fold in the garlic chives. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving (to allow flavor to develop).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Eggslut, LA

Alright, maybe it was the catchy name that got our attention.




And maybe the name accounts just a bit for the long line of people who are willing to wait at this modest downtown LA spot located in the Grand Central Market. But the name is not what keeps bringing them back, us included. 




On a recent trip to LA, we ate breakfast at Eggslut three times, and probably would have even more if we had discovered it sooner.

Grand Central Market is an historic food emporium that's been around since 1917, but a recent renovation has attracted what’s been described in the New York Times as “30 of the best food vendors in the city.” It’s smack dab in the middle of downtown, which itself is shedding some of its grubbiness and undergoing a massive food revival.




The Market is an eclectic mix of old-time vendors and new purveyors, with most displaying uber-cool vintage neon signs. 







Eggslut jumped into this mix last November, and lines have been forming ever since. The times we were there the line moved fairly quickly, but we occupied ourselves by sharing a breakfast appetizer (twice) of a salted caramel croissant from Valerie, a bakery a few stalls away. 




I’ve eaten my share of croissants and I have to say that this genius combination vies for the best I’ve had outside of France. The light, flaky pastry cradles perfectly gooey, dark caramel, with a just-right sprinkling of fleur de sel on top. Our appetites were piqued. And it was a good thing they were. Eggslut specializes in egg sandwiches, but these are not your average egg sandwich. 




The Bacon, Egg, and Cheese is an ideal rendition of this classic combination. Most mornings, this was Chris’s choice and alas, from here on out, it’s what every run-of-the-mill egg sandwich will fall short of. Hardwood smoked bacon, a perfectly fried over medium egg, and warm cheddar all snug within a soft Portuguese bun (a purist, he forewent the chipotle ketchup). 




My favorite was the Fairfax, with a few modifications: scrambled eggs with snipped chives, cheddar, and caramelized onions. I omitted the sriracha mayo, added a house-made turkey sausage patty, and also for a slight upcharge opted for a freshly baked buttermilk biscuit instead of a bun. 




Having gone to college in North Carolina, I consider myself something of a biscuit aficionado and these Eggslut biscuits are the real deal. Good thing these sandwiches are served in a paper wrapper because this one was a mouthful of pure bliss. It was practically falling out of its wrapper. I’m not usually one to skip lunch, but this sammie kept me feeling satiated until late afternoon.




If Eggslut had a motto, it would have to be: Tastes so good but you feel so guilty afterwards. So one of the mornings, I decided to go light and just had a biscuit with a sausage patty and caramelized onions. Even minus the egg and cheese, it was still an oh-so–satisfying way to start the day. We washed it all down with coffee and fresh, raw OJ from Press Brothers Juicery, one stall over.

Being the traditionalists that we are, none of us tried the “Slut”: a coddled egg on top of smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with toasty crostini. We saw them coddling away in their warm water bath and were tempted, but stuck with sandwiches.




A young woman working behind the counter told us about Eggslut’s history and how it started out as a popular Food Truck. We asked about the line, and she said that it’s pretty steady all day, but starts to let up around 3 pm.




Once we were lucky to snag a spot at the counter, overlooking the small, busy kitchen. We watched one of the owners attentively baste a steak, demonstrating care and technique in his handling of the meat as he prepared it for the lunch hour.




Regrettably we never went for lunch. That will have to wait until our next visit to the West Coast. We ate at many fine establishments during our stay in LA, but Eggslut was, hands down, the most memorable, and the most satisfying.


Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big Boy

I just graduated—from a small, charcoal kettle grill, that is, to a 6-footer, gas/charcoal combo grill that I’m affectionately calling The Big Boy. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, with cast iron grates and a warming center in both sections, and a side burner that I haven’t even tried out yet.




Thursday, May 22, 2014

Route 100 (Partial) Food Tour

Food tours are all the rage these days, but much as I love food I have yet to sign up for one. I prefer to explore an area on my own and discover its food personality based on my own and my companions’ tastes. In Vermont, legendary Route 100, described as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, lends itself well to a self-guided food tour. Extending the length of the state from Canada to Massachusetts, this scenic route skirts the Green Mountain National Forest and runs parallel to the 273 mile Long Trail, a precursor to and inspiration for the Appalachian Trail. Known as the Skiers’ Highway, this two-lane byway connects many of Vermont’s major ski resorts as it meanders across farmland and alongside rivers, past covered bridges




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bizarro McDonald's

Very few American cities can claim to not have a McDonald’s within their limits, but Burlington, Vermont, is one of them. A while back a Golden Arches did exist downtown, but in an unusual turn of events, it quietly closed its doors. After an inspired renovation, The Farmhouse Tap & Grill opened up four years ago in its place to fanfare that hasn’t stopped since.




Monday, April 7, 2014

Mmmmmorocco

In celebration of my fiftieth birthday, Chris and I recently went on a long-awaited trip to Morocco. Morocco is a country that’s intrigued me ever since I read the novel The Sheltering Sky, one of my Top Ten, over twenty years ago. I had never been to Africa before, nor to an Islamic country, and it proved to be no less fascinating and enchanting and bewildering than I had anticipated.