Alice, Let’s Write – Review: Coming To My Senses, by Alice Waters

Here is a book written by the mother of the farm-to-table movement in this country, founder of the fount of garden-derived cuisine and high priestess of French-influenced but American-driven  gastronomy.  A reader would expect it to be overflowing with culinary gossip.  If one reads it in the hopes of finding secrets of how Alice Waters developed the dishes and overall sensibility that led to such outsize influence in this country’s cooking culture, one will be disappointed; but approaching it to learn her family’s eating habits (the Automat! yes!) and her early friendships and trips through Europe, and finally how her habit of feeding the various congeries of friends and lovers (“Alice, you must open a restaurant,” they chorus) led her to open Chez Panisse, then you will be entertained if not deeply enlightened.

“I’m not a reflective person by nature,” she writes in the preface, and perhaps inevitably for a “with” book, there are no reflections on existential angst, no soul-defining secrets revealed.  One has a feeling of skating on the surface of Alice’s life.  We are told about her relationships with her parents, siblings, lovers, and friends, how she was involved with the Free-Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 60’s, what the French art-house films of Marcel Pagnol meant to her.

Every so often, the stream of linear autobiography is interrupted by a few paragraphs of forecasting.  These are almost always an opportunity to drop famous names, and describe Alice’s relationships to them.  Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme, Madhur Jaffrey, Bill Clinton – all figure in small, sparkling vignettes inserted into the narrative.  These snippets only whet one’s appetite for what could be a whole book of more interesting encounters; they are told in much sprightlier prose than the plodding narrative style of the book they are embedded in, like plums in pudding.

Some examples of inspiration are noticeable when Alice is describing ingredients:

If a particular grape varietal is planted on a certain hillside and is tended in a certain way, you get a transcendent result. I was thinking there must be a similar Premier Cru for peaches. There’s a terroir for peaches, where if the right varietals are planted in the right spots, they can be the greatest peaches of all – like a Suncrest peach in August from Mas Masumoto’s farm in the foothills of the Central Valley, or an O’Henry peach from Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood.

If only there were more passages like that!  Well, perhaps there will be a sequel.

Coming To My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, by Alice Waters with Cristina Mueller and Bob Carrau, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2017.

Alice Waters Book Cover

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Food and Design and Food and Spain and Food: Eat Spain Up!

An Exhibit and Series of Events sponsored by SPAIN arts & culture

For the cover of a book by Freud, two walnuts skewered on an awl.  For the cover of Andre Gide’s Fruits of the Earth, a portrait of Gide formed by grains of wheat.  For Saki’s short stories, quail feathers escaping a set of silver spoons.

The award-winning graphic designer Manuel Estrada has built his career on combining disparate elements into one elegant, often breathtaking image.  Many of them use food ingredients or implements to express metaphors.  They are on display now and until October 29, in a series of posters and vitrines, as Estrada Design Kitchen at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain.

Sr. Estrada Introduced by María Molina, the Spanish Cultural Counselor

Sr. Estrada with María Molina, the Spanish Cultural Counselor, and Gloria Rodriguez, Director of Eat Spain Up! 

Images from the Traveling Exhibit Locations

Images from the Traveling Exhibit’s Locations

Sr. Estrada Interviewed in Front of a Poster

Sr. Estrada Interviewed in Front of a Poster

In the Vitrines: Sketches of Process, and Final Book Cover

In the Vitrines: Sketches of Process, and Final Book Cover

Sr. Estrada talked about his creative process during the press breakfast and  evening opening reception for the exhibit.  Designers work by commission, he maintained, unlike artists who work by inspiration.  This did not prevent him from producing such striking images as “Carmencita,” the updated logo image of a spice company. He replaced her hair curl with a red pepper.

Carmencita, Gloria Rodríguez, Carmencita

Carmencita, Gloria Rodríguez, Carmencita

An Image of the Original Curl Girl Logo

An Image of the Original Curl Girl Logo

And after the talk, there was food to sample.  Spanish restaurants provided bites of their specialties, and Spanish wine and beer flowed.  I’ve never had Spanish beer before, and was delighted to discover that it was to my taste, not overly hoppy – but the food was the main attraction.  To begin, there was a table of Spanish cheeses and sardines.

Cheese and Sardines

Cheese and Sardines

Jaleo had the best bites, IMHO, with little cones filled with trout roe and salmon tartare (or, for you non-pescetarians, La Serena cheese and quince paste).  Second place was a tie between Boqueria’s salpicon (marinated seafood) and the octopus and potato sticks (Galician style) at Taberna del Alabardero.

Jaleo's Table

Jaleo’s Table

Salpicon

Salpicon from Boqueria

Octopus and Staff

Octopus and Staff of Taberna del Alabardero

On the other hand, there was the Jamón Iberico being carved by Alex Velez. I asked if he worked for a restaurant?  “I’m a freelancer,” he replied.  There’s a profession for you – free-lance ham carver.  Have knife, will travel.

Shaving it Thin

Shaving it Thin

There is another exhibit, also part of Eat Spain Up!, presenting large-format photographs of gastronomic icons (Spain’s Eleven), which is nice but overshadowed by the Estrada Design Kitchen.   Also, and these I am really looking forward to, events spotlighting aspects of Spanish food culture at the Former Residence, and pop-up tastings at Union Market.  Details are available at the link above.  Stay tuned for further reports!

 

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Book Review: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, by Laura Shapiro

When I start in to read a book that I plan to review, I have a few tools I like to use.  A notepad and pencil, of course, and a set of colored sticky signals, to mark the pages with the juicy or illustrative quotes that liven up a review.  More than just  aides-mémoire, these devices provide the necessary critical distance for thoughtful consideration of each book.  I duly gathered them when I began reading What She Ate.

And then I forgot about them, and surrendered to the pleasure of her prose.  From the opening pages of the Introduction, Shapiro captured me and kept me enthralled until I had finished the entire book.  (And it was a surprise to me to discover, by looking through the back matter, that there are footnotes! No obtrusive numbers to interrupt the flow, no, she referenced the text in the notes by quoting phrases.  So thoughtful.)

The six women profiled in these pages couldn’t be more different, in their lives, accomplishments, and most of all, their attitudes towards food.  The intersections of life with their appetites are explored for insights into character and motivation.  Some of those insights are surprising.

In researching these lives, Shapiro aims to resurrect that which has been lost by (male) historians’ erstwhile attitude that food preparation and consumption is irrelevant to history.  By asking what each woman ate and why, by going “food first” into biography, she casts a new light on every prospect.  Consider her original inspiration for the book: a reference to a supper of black pudding from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary, a signal of the start of her decline from a useful life as facilitator of brother Williams’ poetic profession to her later years as an addled, obese invalid.

The chapter on Rosa Lewis’ career as caterer and hotelier in Edwardian London is the only one focusing on a food professional.  Shapiro uses it to explore the attitudes of society towards working women and culinary fashions of the time. And she debunks Eleanor Roosevelt’s reputation for being indifferent to what she ate – the White House was infamous for its bad food during her reign as First Lady, not because she didn’t care, but because, perhaps, it was Eleanor’s revenge on Franklin for his unfaithfulness.

Shapiro’s most surprising choice must be Eva Braun.  Hitler’s mistress – what could be creepier?  But even the descriptions of meals in the orbit of the Fuhrer become a source of eerie fascination.  It does seem as if this was the least fruitful research subject of the lot, however – the distance between Eva and us is never breached, not least because she never ate much, seeking to maintain her slimness to please the man in her life.

By contrast, Barbara Pym, the British writer, can be cozied right up to.  Her novels were full of food descriptions, and her career spanned the years from post-WWII rationing through the 1970’s.  Shapiro gives us a survey of the British food scene in real life and as reflected in Pym’s work.

Lastly, Helen Gurley Brown.  Her relationship towards food was complicated by a desire to be forever thin.  Eternally dieting, she was consumed by one goal, which she articulated in every issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine: to have fun, you must attract men; to attract men, you must be skinny.  It was a twisted, pre-feminist attitude which she held all her life.

And as if the stories of these women were not enough to send you searching for this book, Shapiro wraps up with a little autobiographical sketch of her own adventures in cooking as a new bride in India.  I can identify with her initial desperation, and then her eventual coping.  She writes with equal grace about all of it.

The Seventh Remarkable Woman: Laura Shapiro Reading at Culinary Historians of Washington Meeting

The Seventh Remarkable Woman: Laura Shapiro Reading at Culinary Historians of Washington Meeting

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, by Laura Shapiro, Viking, NY, 2017; available July 25.

WhatSheAte Cover

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More Wisdom from Joan Nathan – Review: King Solomon’s Table

In her last book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, Joan Nathan discovered the breadth of international influences on the cooking of one ethnic group in one country.  Now, she has expanded her range to include the entire world.

Joni Sesma Assists Joan Nathan with a Demo at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Joni Sesma Assists Joan Nathan with a Demo at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Joan Poses with a Fan at a Signing at Moti's Market

Joan Poses with a Fan at a Signing at Moti’s Market

In King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, she searches out dishes that have been cooked by members of the Diaspora for hundreds (even thousands) of years, many using ingredients that could have been brought to ancient Israel by the bevy of wives that famous monarch married to cement alliances – by some counts, seven hundred wives and three hundred mistresses!

Not only did the spices come in by marriage, but the king fed his other appetites by sending traders to the ends of the known world, bringing materials to build his great Temple and enriching the lives of his subjects with the imported products.

And, centuries later, after the Babylonian exile and return, when the Romans forced the Jews to disperse, they took those foodways with them.  Across the miles and years, the exiles adapted their food to local ingredients, always constrained by the rules of kashrut: one may eat only cloven-hoofed animals that chew their cud; no shellfish allowed; and cooks must separate milk-based dishes from meat.

Before we reach the wide-ranging treasury of recipes, there is a fascinating history of the Jews and their food, beginning with Babylonian cuneiform tablets from 1700 BCE, the earliest known recorded recipes.  Alas, Joan does not transcribe any of these for us, but she does include a reference in the book’s extensive bibliography.

And those recipes, how cookable are they?  Very, for she has adapted them for modern methods, and includes suggestions for substitutions.  Each one includes a story about its source and a description of how she has changed it, if necessary.  As they are grouped by conventional categories (Morning, Starters, Salads, Soups, etc.), the temporal and geographic threads of history are obscured, and dishes from various continents and centuries are bunched up together.  Still, each sounds tastier than the next.  It was hard to decide what to try, but my method devolved to the following: I went with what I happened to have on hand.

I had a little sample bottle of argan oil, and the recipe for “Green Salad with Baby Lettuce, Flowers, and an Argan Oil Dressing with Shallots” was just the thing.  I discovered that argan oil has a delicious, nutty taste that come through in the dressing, even mixed with olive oil, rice vinegar, and garlic; and, bonus, it emulsifies immediately and doesn’t separate (at least for the short while between mixing and dressing).

“Tunisian Carrot Salad with Cumin, Coriander, and Caraway” was delicious up until the addition of the harissa, which made it hot, hot, hot!  So, caveat eater.

Carrots, Harissa on the Side

Carrots, Harissa on the Side

No such warning need be given for the “Couscous con le Sarde: Sardines with Fennel, Onions, Currents and Pine Nuts over Couscous,” which I made with flounder, following Joan’s suggestion to substitute whitefish for the sardines.  I found this made the dish a little bland, but adding more lemon juice and salt perked it up.

Couscous Sans le Sarde

Couscous Sans le Sarde

The best dish I tried was the “Indian Chicken with Cardamom, Cumin, and Cilantro.”  I was delighted to discover that I had all of the 14 herbs and spices called for in my pantry, refrigerator or garden, and here’s a picture of some of them:

Indian Chicken Spices

Indian Chicken Spices

Ready the Condiments!

Ready the Condiments!

It was delicious, and well worth the trouble to get them all together.

And now for the quibble: the book weights 3 1/2 pounds. You need a cookbook holder to prop it up, and some of the recipes suffer from DOT (Dreaded Overleaf Transgression), which would make it No Fun to try to cook them while flipping the pages.

But this is a small price to pay for the stories, recipes and vision of a people surviving, deliciously, for thousands of years.

King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, by Joan Nathan, Knopf, New York, 2017.

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Into the Wild Garlic Yonder

Way out on the outskirts of Olney, behind an unassuming, suburban house, lurks a vampire’s worst nightmare: the backyard garden of Jim and Mary Nupp, the demon garlic-growers of Brookeville.

Debbie Amster, one of our favorite farmers market demo chefs, and a holistic health counselor, introduced me to her friends and suppliers.  Is there a healthier food than garlic?   I was invited out to the farm for a tour during scape season.  When the new crop of heads is harvested (September 3), there will be a garlic cooking demo at OFAM.

We went out there on the one rare clear day during a week of Spring rain.  Going though the house, we were greeted with the unmistakable odor of the stinking rose.  Mary had warmed up some garlic butter for us to sample.  To say that she chops up garlic and melts a stick of butter would be to oversimplify the process by which she arrived at the ideal mix of garlic varieties for this recipe.

Jim with Pictures of his Garlic Process

Jim with Pictures of his Garlic Process

Mary Bashing Garlic with the Twist

Mary Bashing Garlic with the Twist

Jim and Mary have done a lot of work to determine the best varieties, from the 10-12 Jim grows, for each of the applications they have developed.  They sell many products at two garlic shows they attend each year.  Raw dried granulated garlic is their most popular item, but Mary has developed a line of jewelry using dried cloves that is essential for the garlic enthusiast on your holiday gift list.  Also, garlic turkeys, angels, and pumpkins.

Mary's Garlic Handicrafts

Mary’s Garlic Handicrafts

They also sell a nifty gadget called the Garlic Twist, essential for the chef who wants to keep that smell off his/her fingers.  It will produce perfectly minced garlic without the touch of human hands.

Jim is versed in garlic’s history and cultivation.  A milestone in the modern American garlic era occurred in the early 1990’s, with the opening of the Iron Curtain and the release of hundreds of Soviet-cultivated varieties to the West.  The US Department of Agriculture checked the DNA of many varieties, and now Jim is raising garlic labeled Romanian Red and (my personal favorite name) Transylvanian, in addition to Xi’an, Kettle River Giant, Red Janice, and Bull.

The Garlic, Seen From the Porch

The Garlic, Seen From the Porch

And In Closeup

And In Closeup

Transylvanian: Vampires Beware!

Transylvanian: Vampires Beware!

A Box of Scapes

A Box of Scapes

His garlic plot was green with new shoots and scapes.  The scapes are the flower stalks, which must be trimmed off so the plant will concentrate its energy in growing the bulbs.  Farmers used to throw them on the compost heap or keep them for themselves, but lately they have been recognized as a tasty Spring vegetable in their own right.  They have a mild garlic flavor, and can be cooked or eaten raw, wherever you would use bulb garlic or another allium.

Chives, Just a Sideline

Chives, Just a Sideline

And speaking of alliums, a patch of chives near the house yields chive vinegar from Mary’s versatile kitchen.  What else might be in store on September 3?  I can’t wait to find out!

 

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Two Queens, The Governor, and Soft-Shelled Crabs: The 2016 Governor’s Maryland Buy-Local Cookout

Once again, the 2016 Governor’s Cookout was the place to be for the finest interpretations of our amazing local ingredients.  Even the July evening was temperate for the time of year.

There were opportunities to schmooze with interesting characters and eat really good food.  This event is held annually to promote our terrific Chesapeake-area products.  There are old friends, and surprises, every time.

Eating and Schmoozing

Eating and Schmoozing

Governor Hogan took the occasion to issue a Proclamation.

The Secretary of Agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder, and Gov. Hogan Proclaim

The Secretary of Agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder, and Gov. Hogan Proclaim

With Yumi Hogan

With Yumi Hogan

Afterwards, there were selfies.

Smile, Governor!

Smile, Governor!

I saw two Queens in the crowd – Miss Maryland Agriculture and the Mar-Del Watermelon Queen.  The MDWQ had an appropriate fashion accessory.

Two Queens Pose

Two Queens Pose

I heard a rumor that the Maryland Dairy Princess was also there, but I didn’t see her.  There were many other interesting folks, however.  Foremost among them was the Bee Lady.

Talking About Bees,and Offering Tastes of Honey

Talking About Bees,and Offering Tastes of Honey

Sue Langley, a member of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association, cares for the hives sited on the Government House grounds.  The honey produced was used in a dessert served at the tent hosted by none other than the Governor’s wife, Yumi.  Also featured: her famous bulgogi.

Yumi Hogan (r) at Government House Tent

Yumi Hogan (r) at Government House Tent

Dessert with Government House Honey

Dessert with Government House Honey

Ms. Langley had a good view of the action.

View From the Bee Table

View From the Bee Table

For other local color, the Naval Academy was represented by Ensign Wiechec.

Mr. Wiechec Represents

Ensign Wiechec Represents

There was a guy with a tea towel on his back – and not one of Maryland, either!

Where's His Maryland Pride?

Where’s His Maryland Pride?

Luckily, the other patrons and vendors had plenty of Maryland spirit to go around – for instance,  Chad Sargent and his helper, of Chad’s BBQ in Edgewater.  His motto: “Good barbecue comes from experience, and experience, well, that comes from poor barbecue.”

State Pride on Display

State Pride on Display

There were tables full of Maryland wine, and tables full of Maryland spirits (the alcoholic kind).  In fact, there has been explosive growth in local distilleries lately (there’s a post coming about that – stay tuned).

Also, there was watermelon art.

Watermelon With State Pride

Watermelon With State Pride

As for the food on offer, it was the usual excellent use of local products.  My favorites were the oysters and the soft-shell crabs, although everything else was so good, it was hard to choose.

Shucking Oysters

Galway Bay Crew Shucking Oysters

Oyster Still Life

Oyster Still Life

Pat Mahoney of Wild Country Seafood and George Betz of Boatyard Bar and Grill

Pat Mahoney of Wild Country Seafood and George Betz of Boatyard Bar and Grill

Close-Up on the Soft Shell BLT

Close-Up on the Soft Shell BLT

Black Bottom Farms, of Galena (where is that? in Kent County, on the Eastern Shore), had a display of beautiful exotic mushrooms.

Totally Photogenic Mushrooms

Totally Photogenic Mushrooms

Each year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture produces a cookbook with the recipes featured at this event.  You can find it here.

 

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Old Friends and New at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 3: Party Hardy

And for the last word on the Summer Fancy Food Show, a report on the fabulous cruise party thrown for Urbani Truffles’ Annual Celebration.  It topped last year’s party, and that’s saying a lot!

We Ubered down to the pier where the boat was docked and were welcomed aboard.  An array of appetizer stations greeted us.  A roast was being carved, which we were invited to enjoy with an array of Urbani’s truffle-incorporating condiments.

Urbani Truffle Condiments

Urbani Truffle Condiments

There was truffle-scented radiatore.

Radiatore Station

Radiatore Station

There was a mozzarella bar, and a porchetta bar (the buffalo was involved, but the pig was committed).

Porchetta, Please!

Porchetta, Please!

There was a truffled pizza station, but best of all was the risotto, being freshly cooked as we watched and topped with shaved truffles.  The line there was long, so we decided to wait for awhile.

Truffles Over Risotto

Truffles Over Risotto

And were glad that we did, because after the ceremonial opening of the Calvisius caviar tin, we indulged in possibly the most decadent plate imaginable: truffle risotto garnished with caviar.

Cracking the Caviar Tin

Cracking the Caviar Tin

 

Also, there was sparkling wine. Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta stood in nicely for that French stuff.

Italian Bubbly

Italian Bubbly

All the while, there was music, dancing, and the New York harbor passing by for our delectation.  Also, very attractive people enjoying themselves, many of them Italian.

The Seats on the Stern

The Seats on the Stern

The Crowd Inside

The Crowd Outside

And Inside

And Inside

Selfies on Deck

Selfies on Deck

And With Miss Liberty

And With Miss Liberty

Even a little rain did not deter those who would dance in it.

In the Rain

In the Rain

At the photo booth, I found Olga Urbani mugging in a very fetching new hat.

Olga on the Left, With Besties

Olga on the Left, With Besties

And a wonderful jazz band playing for those who wished to stay dry.

Mellow and Dry

Mellow and Dry

The Urbani truffle company is the oldest in the world, founded in 1852.  It is still family owned, and continues to produce innovative products using truffles, perhaps the fanciest of foods.  And they do know how to throw a party!

 

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Old Friends and New at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 2: Ham Obsession

This year, I decided to undertake a photo-essay of the many legs of cured pork being carefully slivered in the cause of delicious.  I didn’t come close to capturing them all, but I made a dent.

Here was a Jamon de Bellota,

Have a Taste? Sure!

Have a Taste? Sure!

There was a ham from France,

Tres Bien!

Tres Bien!

Here was Jamón Ibérico,

Nicely Carved

Nicely Carved

And another from Spain.

Pride of Place

Pride of Place

And another from France.

Just a Small Taste

Just a Small Taste

And another from Spain!

Ole!

Ole!

And, for a change, one from Portugal.

(I Don't Know any Portuguese)

(I Don’t Know any Portuguese)

And Spanish COVAP Iberico de Bellota, proving you don’t have to be a man to slice a ham.

Equal Opportunity Pork

Equal Opportunity Pig

And … wait… really?  Porky Barbie?

Take That, Lady Gaga!

Take That, Lady Gaga!

Well, it does get your attention.  But, still, it’s a bit much – or maybe I had had enough ham by then?  Is there such a thing?

Next: Part 3: Fabulous Party Cruise

 

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Old Friends and New at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 1: Tunisia and Other Countries

Another terrific tour of the world’s food and drink in New York!  Unfortunately, we could only stay for two days this year.  It was enough to get a smattering of the best goods on offer. Tunisia was the partner country for the 2016 show, and they were delighted to show us what great food (and other things) they produce.

At the opening press reception, we learned that Tunisia is second in the world in olive oil production, and the first in export quantity.  They have great chefs, too!

A Trio of Tunisian Chefs

A Trio of Tunisian Chefs

Chef Franco Lania and Delicious Bites Made With Olive Oil

Chef Franco Lania and Delicious Bites Made With Olive Oil

Tunisian Native Dress on the Exhibit Floor

Tunisian Native Dress on the Exhibit Floor

A Fragrant Spice Display

A Fragrant Spice Display

And they have exported at least one very tall person.  He is Salah Mejri, a basketball player, a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

Musicians and Salah Mejri

Musicians and Salah Mejri

 

He was introduced to great applause.  I guess if you follow basketball, you know who he is.

On the exhibit floor, the Italian pavilion was endless, as it is every year.  There was pasta being cooked,

Italian Chef

and seemingly falling from the sky.

Raining Pasta!

Raining Pasta!

Scotland’s pavilion exhibited products from the sublime

Scottish Sublime Salmon

Scottish Sublime Salmon

to what a non-Scot might call ridiculous.

Haggis Flavored Crisps

Haggis Flavored Crisps

Honestly, haggis-flavored chips? But they made up for it with the excellent Thistly Cross brand hard cider.  The elderflower flavor is especially nice.

There was a chocolatier demonstrating his technique at Casa Luker

A Delicious Craft

A Delicious Craft

and Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill was doing his thing, signing books and posing with fans.  Count me as one!

Bob and Fan

Bob and Fan

The Moroccan pavilion introduced a video feed of their chefs from a unique vantage point: top down.

Moroccan Chefs at Floor Level

Moroccan Chefs at Floor Level

And Top Down

And Top Down

Along with their delicious food, the tea server was there to dispense traditional hospitality.

Tea? Yes, Please!

Tea? Yes, Please!

And at the Urbani Truffles booth, the Italian cookbook author Francine Segan extolled a line of truffled sauces.  I was flattered that she remembered the last time we met.   The pasta dish was a little preview of the fabulous party cruise Urbani sponsored that night.  Stay tuned for my post on that!

Francine Segan Stirs Pasta

Francine Segan Stirs Pasta

Next: Part 2: Ham Obsession

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Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Chocolate? Part 3: Far Afield

And the final outstanding chocolate event of 2016 was our visit to the Askinosie chocolate factory in Springfield, MO, on the way to Kansas City.  If you look up “artisan chocolate maker” in the dictionary, Shawn Askinosie’s picture should be there.  An erstwhile lawyer, he reinvented himself after schooling in the Amazon rain forest and an Ecuadorian chocolate factory.

Housed in a repurposed commercial building in the old downtown area (with a Little Free Library outside), the factory had shut down production for the day when we arrived for our tour.  The retail sales area held a display of all of Askinosie’s products, with detailed tasting notes and the promise of samples after the tour.

Outside Askinosie

Outside Askinosie

Bars On Display

Bars On Display

But first, even though there was no chocolate being manufactured at the moment (a big disappointment for yours truly), hairnets were required to enter the factory area.  Some of us were unsure about that at first.

"What IS That, Mommy?"

“What IS That, Mommy?”

But then, the opportunity to look silly on social media overcame all qualms.

Hairnet Selfies

Hairnet Selfies

During the tour, a peek into an inner room revealed that the staff took net-wearing seriously.

Beardnet

Beardnet

And our guide, Megan, made sure we were versed in all aspects of chocolate manufacture.  She explained what happened in each area of the factory.

Megan In The Factory

Megan In The Factory

She passed out chocolate nibs, so we could sample the raw material.

Nibs On Tour

Nibs On Tour

And yes, we indulged in much tasting and some purchasing at the end of the tour.  We also were schooled in the good deeds we were helping to support.  Askinosie as a company is dedicated to the welfare of its suppliers and the planet – it buys direct from growers and pays them above fair trade prices.  It uses environmentally correct packaging, “home compostable and biodegradable.”

And my, does it taste good!  We indulged in the Single Origin Dark Chocolate Bar 4 Pack.  Between the chocolate and the barbecue, Missouri was one tasty state.

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