Monthly Archives: November 2016

My love of bread

I have always been excited by a bread basket on the table. I didn’t need Oprah’s Weight Watchers tagline to normalize my love, but it’s good for some laughs. My love does not make me a rare bird. I would think there are very few who grew up in gluten-friendly cultures who do not enjoy the aroma of fresh bread, the pleasure of tearing off a piece, or the yeasty chew. Despite how often it may appear in my Instagram feed, I really don’t eat it that often. Not having any in the house means my diet is largely bread-free. Thus, maybe it’s the more purposeful eating of it that crystallizes why it’s been a life-long love.

First, bread at the table represents a special meal for me. The foil-wrapped IGA garlic bread on lasagna nights. The Safeway tray buns at holiday meals. The cornetti loaf at Old Spaghetti Factory. Crazy Bread at Little Caesars. Breadsticks at the Olive Garden.  Warm sourdough at The Keg. The levain at Semilla. The little boules at Contra. The bread signals that my meal is not of the everyday sort. I am out for dinner or it’s a special occasion or more concerted effort was put into the meal or company is coming over. I didn’t grow up in a house where French bread was picked up for a regular Wednesday night dinner. The presence of bread at a meal means it’s more, it’s better, it’s special. I like that feeling—I love bread.

Second, it represents safety. Even now as a much less picky eater, knowing that there’s bread available means I don’t have to worry about starving if I don’t like anything. Which is important when you also have a big appetite. When I didn’t like pizza, I could eat garlic bread at Pizza Hut or fill up on that Crazy Bread. When there were too many unknown vegetable concoctions at family gatherings, I could fill up on tray buns. At the Mongolian BBQ restaurant, I could supplement my rice with steamed mantou. The presence of bread meant there would be something for me, something to fill me up.  The presence of bread at a meal removes any anxiety about not having enough to eat. I like not being anxious—I love bread.

Especially with butter and salt.

Contra’s bread service

Semilla

Olmsted

Pear, vanilla, and buckwheat roll from Arcade Bakery. (They buttered it for me; left to my own devices, there would have been twice that amount of fat.)

Wildair

Motorino

A friend and I were recently speculating on the pros and cons of living in various downtown Manhattan neighbourhoods. I said I wouldn’t like living in the East Village because of all the students—they can be loud, are most likely transient, and might not treat the surroundings like a home or community. She said that she would like living in the East Village because of all the students—they represent possibility.

What is that? It’s been so long since I’ve felt that emotion in the truest sense. I’m too much of a pragmatist/realist/pessimist to see that my future is full of possibility because I see singular tracks of this job, this apartment lease, this salary, this amount of vacation time, and so on. The last time I think I felt that there could be another track or trajectory open to me was five years ago exactly. And I can pinpoint it to a night I was in… the East Village.

I was at the end of a whirlwind two-day trip to the city for a round of interviews. Red-eye in, nearly red-eye out, and multiple hours in between meeting people in the most professional clothes and with the most appropriate hair I could manage. Those hours represented the last hurdle I had to overcome on my own to make living in New York a reality. What would come after would be financial considerations, human resource requirements, and US immigration bureaucracy. All things I had little control over. Those interviews would be down to me. And by the end of the second day, I felt pretty good. I felt that I could let myself dream about plan on the possibility of living in this city. After changing into Regular Rhianna clothes and checking out of the hotel, I made my way downtown to have pizza at Motorino for the first time before heading to the airport. It was a moment of optimism and lightness. I had no idea what, if anything, would come next, but I remembered that there was more than one track for me. It felt good. It felt like being a student. The future wasn’t defined, but it felt full, and it was waiting for me.

There are other pizzas I would choose before those of Motorino. But every time I visit, whether to the one in East Village, the one in Williamsburg, or the newest one on the Upper West Side, I never regret it and always end up more satisfied than expected. The crust has the right Neaopolitan chew, the mozzarella is creamy, and the combinations of toppings always make it hard for me to make a decision. At this meal, I finally tried a clam pizza. With nothing to compare it to, I thought it was very good. As a white pie, it’s mild without the zing of tomato sauce, but a squirt of lemon brightens it up and the oreganata butter adds some depth. It definitely has me wanting to explore other renditions of clam pie. (Trip to New Haven, anyone?)

With what happened politically this week, my nature has me in a rut of uncertainty, the death knell to possibility. I know that will subside and that collective uncertainty will help shape solidarity, calm, action. In the meantime, I’m trying to remember that first meal at Motorino. Pizza by candlelight.  Red wine to take the interview edge off the day. Rolling my carry-on suitcase down 1st Avenue to catch a cab. Feeling excited about what was to come.

Fennel salad with gaeta olives, orange, red onion, capers, and chili flakes

Cherrystone clam pizza with fior di latte, oreganata butter, lemon, and olive oil

 

Great Northern Food Hall

Following up from my last post, I don’t think that Grand Central Terminal is a less polarizing place than Edmonton. It might be an even more emotional subject for some people given its pivotal role in the lives of so many commuters. That is where my mixed feelings lie. Here is this grand, historic train station that does not serve as the primary entry point for those visiting the city; it’s the entry point for those commuting via the Metro-North railway. It’s also a significant subway hub. Le sigh. There can be no cinematic just-landed-in-NYC stories that begin at Grand Central—those are reserved for the dungeon known as Penn Station. Grand Central is to blame for the flurries and swarms of people that can make the east end of 42nd street as annoying as Times Square makes the west end. I often leave the office later just so I can avoid them. But then on another day, I’ll stand in the central hall, see the clock, look up at the breathtaking ceiling, forget all annoyances, and become smitten with the structure again. It’s one of those New York moments where I remember that I love New York as much for the frustration as I do for the magic.

I suppose you could argue that, with the exception of rush hour, the swarms are largely contained within, running to tracks, buying tickets, taking photos, shopping, and eating. And there is a lot to choose from when it comes to dining: a market hall, a standard food court, the legendary Oyster Bar, the new standby Shake Shack, and now, Copenhagen Lite. The request for proposals to transform the southern hall of the terminal was won by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer. He has brought Danish sensibilities to midtown with the fine dining restaurant Agern and the Great Northern Food Hall. Now I can grab a taste of trendy New Nordic cuisine by walking across the street at lunchtime instead of buying a trans-Atlantic flight.

I hope to try Agern one day (I’ve spied what looks to be an enticing bread service), which I guess would be the real opportunity to get some exposure to the cooking that has brought such prominence to Copenhagen. So far, I’ve just made a few visits to pick up lunch at the Food Hall. The space is divided up into separate stations, although there are items that repeat. Salads, savoury porridge, baked items, sandwiches, smorrebrod—lots of choices that can either get you on the Nordic bandwagon or just gently suggest it. Claus Meyer runs a bakery in Copenhagen called Meyers Bageri, and there are now two locations here, including the one in the Food Hall. I would say that the success of most of what I tried was down to excellent bread dough.

 

Ham and cheese swirl

Kanelsnurre (cinnamon and cardamon)

I prefer bread to Viennoiserie, so I liked the less sweet, more bread-like dough of these pastries. I also am not a fan of icing, so I appreciated being able to buy a naked Kanelsnurre. This did not mean pulling it apart at my desk made for cleaner fingers or for a cleaner mouse. These pastries were around $5 each, and one would not constitute a satisfying lunch. Outside of Grand Central, $10 is generally (perhaps outdatedly so) the invisible line between an affordable and expensive take-out midtown lunch. Because of the gouging for tourists and commuters, inside Grand Central, this is the norm.

 

Roast pork sandwich with pork cracklings, pickled red cabbage, pickled gherkins, dijon dressing, and parsley (missing the advertised raw apple).

Oy. So much dressing. This would have been more enjoyable if my mouth was not coated in so much fatty mustard-mayo. I could barely taste anything else. Any acidity from the gherkins and cabbage was lost. The pork had decent flavour, but it was a little tough. The bread, however, was fantastic. I would be open to trying another sandwich if I could keep an eye on the condiment application.

 

Zucchini and cheese flatbread

Arctic onion flatbread

When I can go to a place like Sullivan Street Bakery for the flatbread-like pizza Romana (not over lunch, mind you), it’s hard to not make a comparison to this similar product. The dough/crust: Loved it. Like the sandwich bread, they include some rye in the mix, and you can taste it. Toppings: Left much to be desired. Wholly underseasoned. The topping varieties on offer were pretty slim, so I’m not sure I’d return for the flatbread. Again, one is not filling enough for a meal.

 

My four smorrebrod, clockwise from top left: Smoked salmon, chicken liver mousse, The Hen and The Egg (eggs and crispy chicken skin), and pickled herring.

Here’s my winner. By far. These were absolutely delicious. If the Danes eat smorrebrod all the time, then I need to get a piggy bank for a trip to Copenhagen. Of course, these were also the priciest items, but given the quality of the toppings, the price was justified. I did not expect that my favourite would be the herring. I tried it to be traditional, but the pickled fish was bright and addictive sitting on the sliced-thin but hearty rye bread called rugbrod. I probably could have managed with just three as both the chicken liver and egg ones were much richer than I would have thought, but as I’d order all of them again, I don’t know which one I could do without. The smoked salmon was perked up by a lemony creme fraiche, pickled blueberries cut through the creamy pate, and I loved having the yolks soak into the rye as I cut through the egg halves. Although this makes for a pretty desk lunch, the knife and fork work required to gracefully eat the smorrebrod means it might be a smarter choice to eat it in the hall. All of the smorrebrod are about 90% pre-made with final flourishes like fresh herbs, crispy bits, and seasoning added after ordering. The price keeps me away, but I can’t stop thinking about what the beef tartare one must be like.

No oatmeal, you ask? No oatmeal, I answer. The savoury oatmeal bar would seem the most obvious choice for me given that I eat oats in some form once, if not twice, a day, up to five times per week. But, I do not need to pay someone else to make them for me, however novel. We all have limits, and that is one of mine. If they’re like everything else at the Great Northern Food Hall, they’re probably very good, but slightly overpriced. Which is actually what my sense of Copenhagen is like… Ta-da!

I couldn’t figure out how to bring it back to Grand Central. *shrug*