Monthly Archives: June 2009

Bhan Mi Farewell

I guess I should start this post by sharing the bittersweet changes that are afoot. I’m packing up my things. I’m leaving Apartment Z, my beautiful vintage on the hill. See that gold valance up on the third floor? That’s the leaded glass window that spills rainbow-colored light into my living room each sunny afternoon.

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The view from my couch is of those beautiful curves cascading upward at the top of the column. And hanging out on the patio, you can see the stately Cathedral and the St Paul skyline.

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Inside, with the dark wood trim, tall ceilings, bright colors I painted the walls, and the open kitchen, it’s one of the most beautiful apartments I’ve seen. At one of the parties I had here, a friend called it my Gatsby flat. When I told Michael I was moving, he said, “You can’t move. You’re synonymous with your apartment.” For the past three and a half years, I’ve been so thankful for this place every time I come home to it. And it’s not only the pretty stuff, either. A lot has happened here. I learned more about myself while living in this apartment than I have in any other period of my life.

In many ways, it’s been all about the food, which somehow crept its way to the forefront of my world. Never before have I cooked so much, thrown so many parties, written about so many restaurants–or thought so much about what eating means, on a personal and social level. I’ll leave this place hoping that my next three and a half years are full of just as many discoveries (and a bigger kitchen and better water pressure!)

Along those lines, this weekend I threw a going-away party to my place for about 20 people. I was stuck on the menu for awhile, but when the thought of making Vietnamese Bhan Mi sandwiches came to mind, everything else came together too. It’s strange because I had never had one before. When I suggested it to Angela, my food-loving friend, not only did she give me the thumbs-up. She also decided to make sure that we do it right. She sent me to the website Viet World Kitchen, whose recipes I trusted. She also called Jasmine Deli and asked them to hold 25 baguettes for me on Friday morning. At a buck each, it was definitely worth the trip (which Michael so nicely made!). These baguettes are lighter than the average because they’re made with rice flour.

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Bhan Mi sandwiches

  • lemongrass tofu
  • lemongrass pork
  • sweet lime mayo
  • pickled carrots and daikon radish
  • jalapenos
  • cucumber spears
  • rooster sauce
  • soy sauce
  • cilantro

The sandwiches were amazing. My friends made apologies for how many they ate. I had three. The traditional bread and mayo make a solid foundation for peppery pickled daikon, tangy meat and tofu, lemony cilantro, sweet carrots, salty soy sauce, and spicy chili sauce.  Throughout the night, I found myself declaring every one of the ingredients “the” essential ingredient as I went back for more.

I’m also happy to have learned a new time-saving tofu trick. I bought pre-fried tofu puffs rather than doing it myself, but I wasn’t sure how they would take to hours of marination. They came out perfectly, with no sogginess and lots of lemongrass flavor. A lot of us preferred the texture and taste of the tofu to the pork. Now that’s a compliment to the bean curd.

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Beet and tomato salad

Mmm, beets. Compliments of Martha, as always. Someone close to me tells me I have a beet fetish. I say what defines a fetish? This side is gorgeous because the beet juice coats the tomatoes and makes everything deliriously red.

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Minted watermelon salad

Martha tipped me on to this one, too. The watermelon I bought was really pale inside, so it wasn’t that sweet. I sprinkled on some sugar and added pineapple for color because I couldn’t find a yellow watermelon. The hard ricotta, green mint, and sea salt are the only things needed to make this delicious side.

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Baked chickpeas

Who knew? I baked them with dried chili flakes to pair well with the sandwiches, beer, and white wine. These are healthy, delicious, and really versatile. I’m eager to make them again.

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Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of my lovely green tea sangria, which is a wonderful trick to have up your sleeve if you want to serve alcohol inexpensively to a lot of people. I brewed two pots of green tea (read: lots of mileage) and mixed in smashed ginger, honey, Looza pear juice, orange juice, and Johnnie Walker. I put it in a big Spanish glass jar next to a box of white wine for guests to mix in equal parts over ice. Since I already had the green tea and Johnnie Walker on hand, this was endless drinking for about 15 bucks.

I also geeked out with these perfectly stackable plates I got at Target. Smirk. I also love that I could count on Stefanie, my dessert-making friend, to bring a fabulous berry trifle.

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All in all, it was a fantastic send-off. The food was a hit and the company was awesome. I even got a toast, which will become a nice memory as I trade my classy little corner of St Paul for a house in the refreshingly less squeaky clean Powderhorn Park.

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My Weekend (In Which I Discover Lillet)

Weekend, where did you go? I had three days off, which is just enough to set my world almost right again. On Saturday, I headed to the country to meet my childhood friend Carrie at her house in Somerset. We packed up her daughters Zoe and Jamie a took a trip to Fawn Doe Rosa. Look at this beautiful girl (and my new best friend). It’s eerie and sweet to see her face, given that I have known Carrie since I was two years old and Zoe looks so much like her, both then and now.

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I spent the drive home daydreaming about the party I’m throwing on Friday. In my first draft of the party (the one that doesn’t take cost into consideration), I make about eighteen different “Le Cakes” as seen in Gourmet with ample aperitifs to go with them. Alas, a bottle of Lillet is 23 dollars, so my petit aperitif obsession will have to be a semi private affair. But it’s so good, especially with a Nicoise salad, and especially imagining a French man serving it to me.

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Sunday, Angela and I went bumming around the new Uptown Market. For better or worse, we didn’t get a hot dog from the Magic Bus, as good as that might have been. We went to Bryant Lake Bowl instead. I had a colorful mess of huevos rancheros.

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I’ve never been let down by the food at BLB — but I have been let down by the service a few times, hanging out for forever while all the tables around you get their food. A restaurant/bowling alley is not a good place to complain about practical matters, though, even though I might try. The organic maple syrup offered to the table cost an extra buck fifty, and the server never says you’ll be charged. I don’t mind spending the money, but come on. It’s the principle of the thing. The crowd is a bunch of progressive urbanites eating granola pancakes — of course we want the organic maple syrup. Factor it into your operating expenses and serve everyone the good stuff. We’re discerning customers, and totally worth it, given what an institution BLB is.

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Uptown Market’s Big Debut

This weekend, we all have yet another reason to be excited about living in the Twin Cities. A brand-new UMposteroutdoor market is opening that is all local, all volunteer, and driven by the power of a few great ideas.

Roxie Speth, founder and visionary of Uptown Market, proposed the idea of a European-style street market to her neighborhood council in February of this year. Five months later, it has become a reality, with the first market kicking off this Sunday.

The Uptown Market is located on 29th Street between Lyndale Ave S. and Dupont Ave S., easily accessible by public transportation and close to the Greenway bike trail. The market will empower and enliven the neighborhood by giving artists, craftspeople, small business owners, farmers, cooks, bakers, and neighbors a place to come together to sell their goods. Given that this is a grassroots, all-volunteer market, Roxie and her team are starting with four dates: June 21, July 19, August 16, and September 20 between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. You’ll find produce, prepared food, fine art, crafts, antiques, and vintage clothes. Roxie says it was challenging to bring in farmers for a market that doesn’t happen every week, but in time, she hopes to establish the market as a local weekly institution, which should draw a standing mix of diverse vendors.

Roxie’s inspiration comes from her own love of community gathering and vibrant neighborhoods. On a trip to Seattle, she and her friend Jess Horwitz fell in love with the Fremont Market, a fantastic year-round street market with over 150 vendors. And as an artist herself, she’s always craved an accessible venue to sell her work. Once she got involved in her neighborhood council, she met Brendan Jordan, a program manager for the Great Plains Institute who helped make it all happen. “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish once you take action,” she says, “and how much support you get–not only from friends, but also from your community.”

As for food, we might just have to wait to find out what’s there. Roxie mentioned coffee and corn roasters and the purple hot dog vendor known as the Magic Bus Cafe that sells psychedelic hot dogs, vegan tofu pups, popcorn, and baked goods. If you or anyone you know are interested in being a vendor, please contact Jess Horwitz, the market’s vendor coordinator, at jess@uptownmarket.org. See you there!