Monthly Archives: December 2009

Eat, Pray, Poach

What with one thing or another, this weekend went by without a moment to spare. My column for the co-op was due, which in itself is enough to keep me blissfully engaged for 72 hours. For every column, I develop a new recipe, test it 2 or 3 times, write my heart out, and take a bunch of pictures. In this case, I made a wonderful French dish, which I won’t say more about until the article is out in February. However, the detail crucial to the arc of my weekend is that I must have poached, medium-boiled, and soft-boiled about 82 eggs.

Food photography is not yet my strong suit. I went to Ace to get a flood light, hoping it would help me take salacious pictures, but it only threw a red-orange light on everything, and it certainly didn’t get better when I knocked it off its makeshift ledge and broke the bulb on the floor. C’est la vie! Julia Child, if you were born in the digital age, what would yooooouu have done? After you mastered the art of French cooking, would you have mastered the art of blogging about it? In the end, I scored best with those pictures taken in natural sunlight. (Click on it. You know you want to.)

 

In addition to making a infernal mess in the kitchen, I also met my favorite gals for our short fiction discussion, attended back-to-back holiday parties, and went on not one, but two dates. Remember those?

I ended up at a strip-mall cafe in a suburb I don’t recall sipping Ethiopian coffee with a computer systems analyst. My philosophical disposition was already understood, so he asked me a ton of questions about my understanding of relationships. I responded with even more questions, deconstructed the whole yin/yang affair, and felt like I applied the Socratic method to dating as we reached the limits of our provisional knowledge. I suspect I wasn’t so graceful, though, when I stepped out of the cafe, looked around, and asked, almost incredulously, “Now… where are we?”

Better yet, I also ended up drinking tea at cozy and dimly lit Uncommon Grounds with an intelligent, curious, and curly-haired psychologist with a PhD. He had read my blog before we met, and one of the first things he said after we sat down with our tea went like this. “I told my friend I was meeting Carrie…” (pause, given that this is my name), “like Carrie from Sex & the City. She might write about me!” It was clear he was being playful, although I also decided then and there that his statement would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. (wink)

We had a nice, slow volley of a conversation and I liked his habit of alternately looking at me or staring pensively out the window at Hennepin Avenue while he spoke. Before I knew it, we were done talking and he was kicking my butt in a board game I had never played before. If dating isn’t enough to keep you on your toes, trying playing a breakneck game of Bananagrams while you do.

I suppose there are some things in life, like poaching eggs, snapping pictures, or playing board games while dating, that a girl’s just gotta learn how to do.

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Restaurant Alma

There’s an abstract quality about living in the Upper Midwest, and Minneapolis specifically, that makes me feel innately at home.

I grew up in Milwaukee. I’ve lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Chicago. I’ve visited Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I’m an urbanist, a lover of cities, and an adaptable person, so I would probably bloom wherever I was planted. Yet despite my semi-regular fantasies of living elsewhere (say, Europe), the Midwest is permanently in my blood and my bones. Minneapolis has become my Mini Apple. It’s my not-quite Chicago and my bigger-than Milwaukee. To borrow from the French, Minneapolis is my terroir — and I like it that way.

The most elegant way to live is to consider yourself an essential part of where you’re from. It’s the same for cooking. Food is life, after all. It comes from the ground beneath our feet and responds to the seasons just as we do. Last week, I had a fantastic experience at Restaurant Alma, a much-loved restaurant in Minneapolis serving hand-crafted food made with fresh, seasonal, organic, and local ingredients. Alma nails local elegance on the head.

My food-going friend Angela and I enjoyed two hours of conversation and three courses on a cold Friday night. At first, the name struck me as arbitrary, even a little incongruous. Alma means “soul” in Spanish — and the restaurant isn’t Spanish in any way. It’s elemental and sophisticated, and although influenced by food from around the world, I would call it farm-inspired American — and thoroughly Minnesota chic. (Hey, that’s my term, so don’t steal it. I first used it last year, which you can read about here if you’d like.)

The crowd was culturally interesting — lots of ages and races and pairings of dates, families, and friends. I especially loved the older folks there in suits on special occasion dinners with their spouses and kids. (I’m the daughter of a truck driver. What can I say?) The staff was pleasant and professional and our server mentioned she had been working there for nearly 10 years.

The menu, thoughtfully curated and presented, is organized into three courses. For 45 dollars, you can choose one plate from each course, though if you have any sense about you, it will be torture to choose just three. I started with a mixed lettuce salad with roasted beets, buttermilk dressing, salsa verde, and pine nuts. Beet lovers like me, rejoice. Red and golden beets, and plenty of them.

Secondi, I had the ricotta gnocchi with fricassee of vegetables, black truffle butter, and parmigiana cheese. If pillows of ricotta pasta weren’t enough, the black truffle butter made the plate sing.

And finally, I had seared scallops with spiced chickpeas, roasted squash, wilted spinach, and lemon preserve — a generous and honest plate of food with three perfectly browned scallops.

By the end of the night, I started to see the brilliance behind the name Alma. Restaurant Alma serves the soul of the Midwest. The food is elegant without a hint of fussiness. It’s generous, yet well-conceived. It’s affordable fine food — and also the perfect spot for a date, by the way, but save it for the third or fourth. This kind of culinary intimacy would be a shame to waste on anything less than romantic. Or, if dating just ain’t coming your way, grab a great friend like I did and have yourself a memorable (and soulful) meal.

Restaurant Alma on Urbanspoon