Harissa

Badlands Sunset Panorama

We went to Café Natasha’s Persian Cuisine for dinner. Our occasion was a thank you to Joanie for looking after the house this summer. Dave joined us too. It was a lovely dinner, with good food and good company and an ulterior motive or two. Just the day before, I had got a text from Nink, asking for restaurant recommendations in Saint Louis. Her colleague and family are moving from Rochester to Oklahoma and wanted a place to dine, while passing through town. She asked for either Indian or Middle Eastern and Natasha’s came to mind and was one of three that I mentioned, but I think that I favored it over the others. It had made the Post’s annual top 100 list, which is always a good sign. Anyway, this recommendation put me in mind to take Joanie there too.

Harissa and my hunt for it was my other ulterior motive. We’re going to a 4th of July potluck and I wanted to bring my Moroccan carrot salad. I’ve been making this dish for potlucks for years and it has always been a big hit. I’d always used a Whole Foods recipe, until for our last Kaldi’s potluck, I switched to something spicier that used harissa. Our other Rochester friends had first turned us on to this spice and had given us some, which we had husbanded until that Kaldi’s potluck. The rave reviews that I had received motivated me to get some more. 

Harissa is a Maghrebi hot chili pepper mix of Tunisian origin. The first place I tried was Penzeys Spices in Maplewood, but had no joy there. They knew what it was, but were adamant that they didn’t stock it. I next tried the Vine, which is right across Grand from Natasha’s. Last time I checked this establishment was a restaurant and market, but a call educated me that the market has closed and is now a juice bar. That left Jay’s International Market, only 2 blocks down Grand.

My previous call had elicited that they had harissa, but upon arrival finding it was a challenge. We first found a number of harissa infused products, but with the help of eventually three people, I found pure harissa. Small jar in hand and after rounding up the girls, I eventually headed for home, a happy man.

PS – Anne and I took over 9,000 photos on our western excursion. So, you can expect to see a lot more of these pictures for quite a while. This one is another pano from our sunset photo expedition in the Badlands, during the big wind storm that eventually blew us out of the park. The Prius is parked on the road’s shoulder and if you look closely, you can see Anne in the middle of the field. 

Back on the Bike

The Road to the Badlands

On our first full day back in Saint Louis, among chores of unpacking and doing laundry and such, I found time for a bicycle ride. Anne had her own errands to run, so I launched solo towards the park. I came upon two other cyclists, waiting at the light, at Wydown & Big Bend and had timed it to pass them, as the light turned green, when one of the bikers called out to me. It was Captain Chris of Team Kaldi, our Bike MS club. He and his son were headed to the park also, so I tagged along with them, at least the best that I could. I got dropped at the Science Center, but Chris waited for me by the zoo and told me that they were headed over to the DeMun Kaldi for lunch. Taking this as an invite, I eventually showed up too and we shared a patio repast. After lunch, they headed home and I headed towards the grocery store for some supper fixings and then home.

This was my first bicycle ride for the month and next month’s riding schedule looks even more doubtful. Still, I’ll have August to get into shape for the annual Bike MS ride. I lost ten pounds on our camping trip, which is odd, considering that we ate out most days. Still, we got lots of exercise in the mountains, lots of hiking, but no biking. When we were not dining at the [insert national park of choice here] lodge, we were doing our own rustic cooking. We have a Jet Boil stove that we used every morning to hot-up water for breakfast coffee and oatmeal and we usually cooked a dinner stew using a combination of fresh vegetables and canned goods. Lunch was mostly cold sandwiches, with veggies and fruit, which was fine, because most days warmed up quite nicely. 

Nink

Phalaenopsis hybrid

Yesterday, Nink dropped from the sky, but you need not worry, because the cloud ceiling was so low that she didn’t have to fall very far. We picked her up in a snowstorm and then whisked her away to lunch at the Olympia. She’s in town for a conference. After lunch, we did a driving tour down memory lane.

Joanie joined us and we had a foursome for dinner. I made a meal of chicken tikka masala réchauffé, basmati rice and roasted parmesan zucchini. Nink’s daughter Megs is a photographer and has an Etsy website to hawk her wares. This sparked in me the idea to mimic her. I have begun setting up my own Etsy site, not because I expect to make much money doing it, but because it is a thing to do. Click on the Etsy badge to the right, the link will take you to my new store, which is still under construction. So, please forgive our mess.

Today, I served Trader Joe’s croissants with bacon. Hmmm, bacon! Eventually the girls got going and we went to the garden. We saw the orchid show, the Climatron, Kemper center and the Japanese garden. For lunch, we dined at Pho Grand, which was surprisingly better than Lemon Grass, down the street and is where we usually go. Finally, we dropped Nink off at her convention hotel. 

Soul Food Supper

Research in a Growth Hormone, Alfred Jensen, 1978

Black History Month is winding down and last night, Anne and I attended the annual Soul Food Supper, at the high school. We have been regular attendees of this event for years and the turnout this year was the biggest ever. We arrived only 15 minutes after the doors opened and there was already a huge line that snaked through the cafeteria. This afforded Anne the opportunity to hobnob with everyone as we moved along: Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came…

While in line, we passed by the high school jazz band that was serenading the crowd. I quipped to her, “Look, it’s Dave’s old band.” David had played the saxophone in the jazz band, when he was in high school. The current iteration of the jazz band is a lot larger than when he was there and I must admit that they sound better too. Dave never liked to practice the sax all that much. Now, music students use software that monitors, tabulates and reports on how many minutes are spent practicing. It looks like Big Brother would have been better at getting Dave to practice than we were.

Still in line and just after we had passed the jazz band, we met Chris H, Dave’s former music teacher and band director. Chris still works for the school system. He is in IT now. When he asked us how David was doing, I was able to regale him, “He is Doctor Dave now. Last year, he got his PhD at Purdue. Now he is at Harvard Medical School.” Chris asked us what was Dave’s area of research. I told him hearing, which seemed to impress him more than all of the rest.

Finally, we reached the serving line. The fare has changed little over the years. Fried chicken headlined our plates and was accompanied by sweet potatoes, collard greens, mashed potatoes with gravy, black-eyed peas and corn bread. We found seats right in front of the middle school choir, just as they began to sing.

As we closed out the supper, people came and went from our table. The most memorable person who shared our table was a two-year-old child. He never said much, primarily because he spent most of the time feeding his face. He ate every food on his plate and then he began raiding the plates of his two parents. Yeah folks, the food really was that good. 

Crème brûlée

Crème brûlée

It’s a rainy day, but that’s OK, because I made crème brûlée and served it for breakfast yet. I also fried up some strips of pig fat to complete our weekly eggs and bacon routine. Then I taunted my son by texting him pics of his two favorite repasts. Bad dad! For Valentine’s day, Anne game me a pair of ramekins and a butane blowtorch to go. Last night, following an online recipe, I made the creme part and then left them to chill overnight in the fridge. This morning, after very carefully reading the instructions, I filled the blowtorch with butane. Only then did I discover that our brown sugar was ten years past its expiration date. I had to use a hammer to break it apart. It still ended up being a little lumpy. Then it was time to flame on! I must admit that it was a lot of fun making burnt creme. It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. Next time it will be even better. 

Dinner for Two

Tiny Phil

This year, Anne and I celebrated Valentine’s Day, big time! I had made us table  reservations for dinner at Acero, a nice Italian restaurant in Maplewood. While not on the Hill (the Saint Louis Italian neighborhood), it was pretty close to it. Acero had a special menu for this holiday. It consisted of five courses, with three choices for most courses. The menu follows. We tried to cover as much of the menu as the two of us could. I’ve grayed out courses that we did not order. 

Cime di Rape Crocchette – Parmigiano, pecorino, pomodoro, butter

Ribeye Crudo – endive fonduta, chive oil, sprouts, shallot, Parmigiano reggiano
Gnocco Fritto – Prosciutto di Parma, olive oil, sea salt, black truffle
Shrimp & Lobster Bisque – shrimp, lobster, tarragon aioli

Egg Raviolo – nduja, black garlic, Parmigiano
Risotto – saffron, bone marrow & lardo butter, parsley
Tagliatelle – twelve vegetable Bolognese, Parmigiano reggiano

Caul Fat Wrapped Porchetta – potato puree, braised vegetables, herbed sugo
Black Bass – garlic confit potato, fennel, broccoli rapini, white wine
Beef Tenderloin – leek whipped potato, porcini mushroom, asparagus, sugo

Chocolate Torte – red velvet cake gelato, raspberry cream cheese crema
Tiramisu – espresso soaked lady fingers & glaze, mascarpone, cocoa powder
Strawberry Cannoli – fresh, roasted and strawberry balsamic reduction

When I originally made our reservation, I was unaware of their special menu. We had some trepidation about the amount of food to be ordered. No one likes to feel too full. The amount turned out to be a non-issue, because the above menu turned out to be a tasting menu, with portions sized accordingly. So, we enjoyed a romantic evening, with some pretty fine dining.