Tag Archives: Food

This Is My Madeleine

This Valentine’s Day, I’m more than a little confused. I can’t tell if something important in my life has ended or has just begun. I was going to make oeufs en meurette for someone, but we’re planning to not see each other for awhile, even though everything between us feels so wonderful and right. Some days, the newfound freedom feels exciting and full of potential. Other days, I feel like the 4-year-old version of myself who lost her precious teddy bear named Charlie and wailed at the top of her lungs until my mom had to take me back to the store to figure out where it had gone.

This morning, I did the only thing that felt right. I woke up early, cleaned the kitchen, and made madeleines. I’d been collecting madeleine pans each time I saw them at the thrift store, and I delighted in it, as though I was rescuing lost puppies from the pound. I have five of these beauties now, both small and large, all of them weathered and old.

I’m not sure what I like more about madeleines, their literary history as a vessel for Proust’s childhood memories, or that I find the scallop-shell shape so pleasantly reassuring. Venus was born in a scallop shell, a full-grown, sensuous woman perfectly beautiful from the moment she took her first breath. Madeleines are like that, and I’ve always thought about Venus to remind myself that I am too, no matter what life might take away from me.

I found comfort in madeleines this morning, following Patricia Wells’ recipe, creating the perfect shape, what Proust called “the little scallop shell pastry, so richly sensual under its religious fold.”

I love madeleines because they are so plainly beautiful, so simply and exactly what they are. Maybe I was drawn to them as a reminder. Don’t lose yourself, don’t change for the sake of someone else, and certainly don’t worry about what’s to come. One day years from now, I’ll make madeleines again one morning. I have no idea what kitchen I’ll be in, or who I’ll be with, if anyone. I have no idea what I will think about how I feel now. But I’m confident the madeleines will bring in a flood of wonderful memories, as I’m a person who will always be happy with whatever shape my life has taken on.

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Ngon = delicious

DSC00836 When I visited Ngon (pronounced like the word “long,” but with an n), I felt like I stepped into a culinary border town that was quietly waiting for me to arrive. It was eerie and calm, but steadfastly ready, as though I had just missed whatever major dust-up had just rolled through. Oh wait — was it the flurry of reviews I kept seeing online, praising the creative owners and calling the pho and many of the appetizers and entrees among the best in town, from bloggers, to Rick Nelson, to Dara, to Iggers? That’s quite some high-falutin’ talk for Vietnamese food on University Avenue.

Stepping into Ngon reminded me of happily stumbling into a classy restaurant in the not-so-classy corner of Brooklyn where C and I once lived roughly known as Bedford-Stuyvesant (or, more appropriately, Bed-Sty), where the diners would be eying each other suspiciously as though the white tablecloth could be yanked out from under the foot of the restaurant at any given moment, mercilessly tossing them back on crusty Myrtle or DeKalb Avenue. Yes, Ngon is a place C and I would have visited enough times to thoroughly experience their considerable menu. That is an understatement, I’m sure. Ngon screams “delicious, reliable, intimate neighborhood restaurant absolutely perfect for you and your food-loving boyfriend especially happy that a fabulous menu came to the cheap part of town. See you again soon!”

But that’s just me. On a more universal scale, I think that everything about Ngon contributes to a juicy feeling of possibility. It has a crisp French colonial decor on a street better known for its neon. The servers were friendly and always at the ready. The menu mixes pricier upscale fusion alongside less expensive classics (a brilliant, move, I think). The owner and another guy were hanging out together at the bar. Best of all, Ngon hopes to “break the chain,” sourcing as many local products as it can and hosting a localvore’s happy hour every day of the week with a cool beer and wine list.

I went with Angela and Lisa, two of my most culinary friends, and conquered the menu along with the help of our gracious server. We ordered a fine sample and shared a bit of everything. We thoroughly enjoyed what we ate, but there were some mixed opinions and a little ambivalence, so I can’t say that we were equally enthused. Also, the appetizers and entrees came altogether too quickly. At a slower pace, we would have been able to ease deeper into our own conversation and foster a sense of expectation for our meal.

DSC00838 Wild Acres Duck Spring Rolls. Braised duck with organic spring greens, sprouts, cilantro, mint, and vermicelli. This was OK, but seemed to be missing something. None of us were terribly enthusiastic about this appetizer.

DSC00839 Sweet Potato Shrimp Croquettes. Lightly breaded sweet potato and shrimp, fresh herbs, and a spicy aioli. This disappeared in an instant. The thick, crispy coating belied the whip-soft sweet potatoes inside, and it wasn’t especially shrimpy. A wonderful balance.

DSC00845 Poussin Kadegen. Free range poussin marinated in pho spices with sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and braised pork belly with a shiitake curry sauce. Lisa said it was tasty, but not extraordinary, and didn’t seem to deserve a 17-dollar price tag.

DSC00840 Pho Tai Ribeye. Rice noodles with a generous portion of tender ribeye cuts. I ordered this along with the Bun Bo knowing I would have two days of leftovers. Highly recommended. The pho was the star of the show, with a complex, spicy broth so tonguey that felt like it could lick you right back. And yes, tonguey is the perfect word for what I am trying to say. It leaves a lingering kiss of star anise on your cheek to tease you when you get back home.

DSC00841 Bun Bo. Rice vermicelli with lemongrass, onions, and ribeye. Vermicelli! I love this stuff. This meal was perfectly easy and comforting. Is this what Vietnamese parents feed their picky children?

DSC00843 Com Tam Tau Hu. Broken rice with ginger glazed tofu and fresh shitake mushrooms. This tofu was delish, given the glaze, and the frying. Angela, you didn’t say much about your meal overall. Were you ambivalent about it?

Some reviewers say that Ngon’s classic Vietnamese dishes rock the French colonial house, but their more imaginative (and pricier) entrees aren’t as memorable. This seemed to be true the night we went, but let’s not jump to any conclusions. With a restaurant that begs you to love it as much as this one does, you have to go at least twice to get a full opinion, whether you are in the neighborhood or coming from across town. Boyfriends, take your girlfriends, and your boyfriends too, and let me know if Ngon is a restaurant that lures you back again.

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro on Urbanspoon

Almost-Vegan Date with a Side of Mixed Emotions

Level: Intermediate

Active time: 6 hours

Servings: Two

Ingredients: 1 man. 1 woman. Many good intentions and a healthy dash of ego.

Directions: Mix everything together and hope for the best.figs

Ten minutes ahead of schedule, DW called and said “I’m standing outside by a beautiful cathedral.” That meant he had arrived, so I went downstairs to let him in. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile, and with the prospect of this dinner date, there was a good spark in the air that continued throughout the evening . . . or at least most of it.

Given that our connection was new and we weren’t eager to define anything, we never put any terms to our relationship. I knew he had a date earlier in the week, so I was planning my playful inquisition to get some of the details. I would wait until the end of the meal.

For the night’s menu, I instinctually decided to use figs as my guide. They’re so sweet and sensual, and on some level I thought their history as a sacred fruit might appeal to a literary bohemian who doesn’t eat meat or cheese. And I was right. He even got nostalgic when he saw the package. He said he used to eat figs all the time, but considered them empty calories and decided to eat nuts instead. Go figure. He also eats eggs raw because it is faster and healthier than cooking them. (And with that disclosure, he suspiciously seems like a guy who has no need for a chef-girl in his life, dDSC00846on’t you think?)

One of my favorite food combinations is white beans and sage, so to start, I made pan-fried white bean fritters. I mixed a batter of flour and cornmeal with cannellini beans, peppadew peppers (I love those things), and sage. I pan-fried it by the tablespoon on high heat. With a dusting of salt, I had a flirty fall appetizer. Share, dip, repeat.

To dress up the sacred fruit, I made fig and fennel pizza starting with a creme fraiche base that included lemon zest, cinnamon, cayenne, and a little sugar. On top of this base, I added fennel (sliced thinly and caramelized in balsamic), steamed spinach, figs, garlic, and rosemary. This combination proves strange enough to get anyone’s attention but satisfying DSC00850enough to be eaten indiscriminately.

Toward the end of dinner at what seemed like an appropriate juncture, I decided to say, “So? How was your date?”

He paused. “Do we have to talk about that now? I think we should just enjoy the moment,” he said, diving back into his meal.

Uh oh.

Nutritional information: On a short-term basis, the undefined Almost-Vegan Date is very good for you. Long-term potential should be defined in traditional terms for maximum health benefits.