Sunday, August 29, 2010

The English Patient/An Amish Fellowship

One night, some time last year, Dan and I were going back and forth at it in bed, and well, it just wasn't happening. You know what i'm talking about right? It can be incredibly frustrating. You want to scream sometimes. You both keep trying, you go a little more slowly, try putting it out there another way, but still you just can't seem to make it happen. It's a problem every couple has at some point. Heck, it's a problem I have with my Dad all the time. It's even a problem i've had with the Yum Cha Door Lady at Zilver many-a-Sunday... 

Mis-comm-un-ic-at-i-on, yes, that's what we will be talking about today. 

Amanda: I have to get up earlier tomorrow morning
Dan: How come?
Amanda: Have to get a miche from the markets
Dan: Amish what?
Amanda: I have to get a miche
Dan: Amish. What do you mean Amish. 
Amanda: A...Miche!
Dan: How can you get Amish.
Amanda: Miche, it's a bread!
Dan: ohhh, a miche.
Dan:...What's a miche?

He clearly hadn't been initiated yet. Have you?
Beautiful, wonderous Sonoma Miche, what ever did we do without you? Are you bready, my cake and knifelings? Bready to find out what happens when artesian bakers mix white sourdough with wholemeal and malt, fire it up and finish it with a chewy, dusted crust? 
Word has been out for a while, and those of us who eat carbs (there must be at least seven of us in Sydney) are going all Lady Gaga over this delectable little large loaf. I first spied it in the Sonoma cafe at Five Ways, a Stunning sphere of baked beauty, elegant, lofty, caramel-hued and branded with rustic marks, in lovely, lagubrious lines behind a polished glass window. Generous and picturesque, biblical-driblical-the genesis my deepest desire. Baked largess in Love.
Unlike other Sonoma stellars that take their names from the grains from which they are baked, miche is a style of bread, of a French provencial nobility. It is a wheat bread, but of much more malty depth and texture than the normal sourdoughs. It's crust alone is enough to reduce you to tears. Much more than a beguiling bread upon which to spread and fill, a perfectly crafted Sonoma miche is texture Houdini. Rising and falling and weaving in dark golden, baked dough.
The texture reminds me of the opening scene from The English Patient, sinking and spinning in slow motion. Falling. This bread isn't simply a food, it's a terrain. A burning Sahara of luscious surfaces, cracked here and dusted there, glossy and thick, made for terrific tooth tussling. The kind of texture you must gnaw into and rip ravenously apart. 

And like a true desert it has something of the infinite in its voluptuous proportions. The larger size is both table art and food, so European and rustic looking. It is a wilderness in sourdough, dangerous and alive.
Glossy baked wheat within, malted and scrumptiously sour, slightly moist and shiny and divine. It tastes so warm and true and deep. Its depth carries the memories of the flames it was born in.

The first time I tried miche, I wasn't quite sure how to dissect its largess. I tried cutting it like pie, it works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. Often I cut it in gloriously enormous cross sections of elliptical agony, thick and uneven and so moorish. New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything, for the mouth is an organ of fire. 

This is Sourdough Ralph Fiennes a la Almasy - and with the third degree burns to boot!
If the miche is Almasy, then Katherine Cliffton would have to be a gorgeous slab of Harmonie Organic Butter. Rich and pure and deep. Take a fresh wedge and spread it luxuriously and thickly with the soft butter. And...Sigh. Simplicity is heaven, a perfection you can become undone in. The taste is like dying. So moist and chewy, strong grain, crusty and soft against a creamy, unseemly buttery gloss. Dip the knife back into the butter, and then the hollow at the base of a woman's throat.
You'll need a strong knife in heavy silver to cut, and then some softer, lighter silver to spread. Cut and spread and sink in teeth. Seraphically simple, winged, lofty, sublime.
It is nice to reduce food, to pare it down, to take it back to what it is all about. You discover it's quintessence again. Simply, simply. Just ingredients. And just a few. 

Ingredients that are stunning and strong, that can stand alone and blend perfectly. Don't spoil this by eating it with anything. Let just the miche and the butter be the meal itself, a breakfast or a lunch or a lonely but rustically decadent dinner.
We die. We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we've entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we've hidden in - like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. Where the real countries are. Not boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you'll come carry me out to the Palace of Winds. That's what I've wanted: to walk in such a place with you. With friends, on an earth without maps. The lamp has gone out and I'm writing in the darkness. 
This bread is an experience to be measured in sighs. Share it with your friends. Talk to people about it. I haven't met anyone yet who's had anything other than rapturous things to say about Little Miss Miche. Sonoma miche is baked, good and such completely honest food. There is life in it, beautiful life, and there is living in eating it and in taking it deep into your senses. Let it overcome you, think about it as you eat it. It does something to your belly and to your imagining. I promise. 
If you haven't already, please try some. Try it simply and let yourself fall. Miche is available in a smaller loaf (around$6) and a larger loaf for $10. It's available at all Sonoma outlets and at their stalls at Everleigh and Orange Grove Markets. A beautifully crafted piece that deserves to be table center at any dinner party, but with substance enough to have always on hand as a staple.

I am just a bit of toast my friend, said Almasy (seriously)!

Toast, nonetheless, Go on, Swoon, i'll catch you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Tale of The Very, Very Long Onion.

Once upon a time, there was a little boy from a land far, far away who came to be in a Kingdom by a Pool. In his home it snowed most of the time and they ate a lot potatoes. The little boy had Sharp Liquid Blue Eyes and Deep, Deep thoughts. His eyes were blue like the water and his thoughts were deep like the days. He noticed and he puzzled and he asked. And sometimes, no one knows why, but he sang! His two most favourite things in the world were swimming all day and eating soft, white yoghurty cheese. He was a dolphin boy and he laughed in the pale blue water. He played guitar, slowly like a lullaby, and he liked his cucumbers dipped in honey. Sticky sweet slices of cool cucumber honey. He wasn't like the other children at all.

He was different, unalike, unusual. He was young but he was old, he was happy and he was serious. And all at once. The dolphin boy was tall and he was skinny. He had a fake spider tattoo on his heart and long blue flippers on his little boy feet - so his could swim far and fast, and up and down, and under and over - all day long. He was special and he was kind, the dolphin boy, and his grandmother loved him very, very much. They all loved him very, very much. Maybe it was because he was so different and special. Different and special like a long, purple onion.

A long purple onion! Most onions are round and stout, low and rolling. But not a long purple onion. It's long and purple and oniony. You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but there are long purple onions and they are wonderful.

So wonderful and so familiar and so different, and...

So beautiful! Long purple onions are pretty. They look good this way,

and this way,

and also like this. But they look even better roasting with some honey seeded mustard, potatoes and chicken in an oven in provence. Did you ever see a long purple onion? Did you know they were real?

Long purple onions, different, and wonderful. Just like the little boy. Maybe if we knew we were like long purple onions we would always feel special and different and delicious and we could stop trying to be like all the other round onions out there.

Meeting the dolphin boy and eating long purple onions meant that every body lived happily ever after in the Kingdom by a pool. The summer never ended and the sun forgot to set in the sky because they were all so happy. It stayed there - the sun, smiling as it watched from the sky, over a day that it knew would eventually become a lifetime.

The End.

Special x's to Risha.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Berried Alive

Zermatt in Switzerland is a somewhat vertical place. In summer, it is an endless European fairy tale green, arcing all the way across and up, with icy spatterings of the memories of many magical winters. The air is clean and the water is pure. Little chalets like gingerbread houses stud the steep mountain side, while a gushing limestone river cuts the valley through the trees in between. It is elevated and inspiring, more of the skies than of the earth. Staying here for a week is a wonderful experience for all your inner and outer being, with the exception of a very little part of you. Little for some, anyway.

Your eyes will love it - all that green and blue to take in, vibrant, aching colour. Your mouth will be fine - ample CreamySharp fromage and new born baguette. Your arms will have so much space to gesture and stretch to their arms content. Your lungs will lap up the pristine air. Your legs might even enjoy all that sun. But your poor, poor bottom - it won't fare nearly so well. Everything in Zermatt is Very Up or Very Down. After a day or two of wandering around and a couple of respectable hikes, Gluteus Maximus and Min, noble gladiators that they are, will die their own silent, sinewy death inside the beige colosseum of your hiking shorts. They'll be aching in actin and moaning in myosin.

But there is a very good reason to climb up to Zermatt, and it has nothing at all to do with the scenery.

It was another ordinary day. We all gathered around the table, earl grey and bread and rich coffee piping from the special machine, talking about this and that and what we were going to do that day. Enter Anton, back from the supermarkets carrying a bundle of fresh berries. I was sipping tea, calm and happy, unaware that my life was on the verge of changing, irrevocably and wonderfully - forever. After a little toasted baguette I grabbed a big white bowl and went to help myself from the mesmerizing mess of berries that lay before me, raspberries, blueberries and...strawberries.

Gasp. Fireworks. Stars Exploding behind my eyes. Seraphine sweetness bomb in shuddering scarlet. It was like falling back through centuries, wandering into Eden and tasting the Very First Strawberry. The Prototype of Strawberry. I had long heard that Australian strawberries were the Ugly Taste Step Sisters to the European counterparts. Hela had told me tales of how it only takes one or two good, deep Polish strawberries to stain a glass of milk the deepest, smoothie pink.

This was gentle, sweet and blushing, the length of flavour is entirely different. Usually strawberries taste like sweet and tart and all at once. This little Swiss Miss tasted sweet all the way through with a little kick of tartness coming in towards the end - and then sweetness again. It tasted happy, alive and wonderful.

Biting into shiny, seeded pith and into plump, burgeoning strawberry flesh - raging in redness. Every one else at the table was no stranger to Swiss strawberries, so I looked like a bit of an idiot running in my Pj's to grab my macro lens and start shooting off. With pink stained lips I was stuttering over how wonderful they were. Sweet, sweet, teeny-tart, round and furiously full of flavour. Perfect as they are, no need for flan or tart or short-cake. Just the naked, stunning fruit.

Back in Sydney, I waited a little while, hoping the memory would fade a little so I could enjoy strawberries back here again. I have enjoyed a few plausible punnets since.

Despite the fact that other Harris Farm shoppers will think you're a tad perverted, always lean your nose right up against the top of the punnet - run it along and over, up and down - and draw a deep breath in. If the strawberries don't smell intensely fragrant then they definitely won't taste sweet. Although, sometimes they can smell sweet and still be dull. Make sure to turn over the punnet and inspect the strawberries at the bottom to make sure they're consistent all the way through. You want a deep bright red colour, when the hue becomes a bit maroon then the berries are a bit too ripe and the sweetness will be more sickly than subtle. If the whiteness that circles around their tops, under their leafy green hats goes down too far, its probably a bad - watery berry. You want just a simple, thin crown of white at the top, and generous gushing red around. It used to be that only the smaller ones tasted amazing, but larger ones are beautiful as well. Generally look for a well formed berry, they shouldn't be too squarish and should converge into a properly pointy end. Deformed strawberries usually taste a lot like they look.

There you have it, a tale in tragic. Snowed in under so much scarlet starlet glory. An avalanche in berried beauty - I was simply berried alive - and I never, ever want to be rescued.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Figments of Imagining

There is a planet in the universe they call Earth. Earth has many continents, and one of them is Europe. In Europe is a little patch of hexagonal earth they call France. France has a North and it has a South. The South, sunken and purple with infinity in lavender, has a countryside and a sun that produces all of the glories of a fertile earth. In Summer it is Alive. Chirping, buzzing, churning with life. There is a little town, with a bridge, called Avignon. There is a little villa near that little town. It has a countryside pool in blinding azure, an indoor kitchen, an outdoor kitchen, a massive spa, a shimmering summer sky, a view of fields that merge into a mountainous horizon- and not much else.

And this is the VeryPolishButReallyAussie Hela, Legal Wunderkind and Recent Mushroom in a pink poncho - FishAndChips fan, OtherHalfOfHowie, beautiful, brilliant and more direct than a bullet train to Tokyo. When she kindly invites you to Summer with her very cool dad, her tres stylish mum, her silently SharpKind sister and her husband and their tattooed dolphin of a son, the proper response is: oui.

With daily trips to nearby provencial markets and nothing to do in a stultifying summer heat but eat (salami and fromage) and drink (white wine and vodka), it was stunning in silence - with the occasional patter of Polish parlance.

People tell you they went to China and walked the Great Wall. Or they saw NY and the Empire State. Well, the best thing to do in Provence is to eat. LunchBrunchBreakfastDinner - just keep eating and nodding. This is lunch. Dejeuner. Simple. So simple. But so, so complex!

The Anatomy of the perfect salad starts with a beguiling buffalo mozzarella. Jesus christ. Delicate and almost buttery in its softness, the creaminess is bloody transcendent. White like snow under a hot, thick sun. Cooling and very slightly salty, it takes you away from senses and then promptly delivers you back into them. Normal buffalo Mozzarella is pretty good. Can you even imagine what this one tastes like? Paradise on a Plate.

Paradise with perfect prosciutto, layered and curled and twirled and weaved inside and out, shiny and salty in DeepRichMeat, wrapped around glorious globs of voluptuary as fig. Intricate. Bejeweled. Colourful. Rustic. God. Go, go salivary glands.

Heavy figs. Dizzy Figs. RichSingBurn figs. Figs like little globes of sweetened glory. Bountiful in green-black skin with luminous swathes of gentle ruby pulp - glistening under the cut, refracting light, dancing with it, catching it and throwing it back again. God. As someone with Middle Eastern genealogy, I never had a choice about whether to love figs or not. These were ridiculously sumptuous. Fragrant and soft and willing. So juicy and so delicate, so wonderfully ensconed between flesh and pith. Wonderful, wonderful fig. Tasting like it stole the life of so many vibrant suns. Edenic.

If I look into that image for just long enough I feel like I could fall deeply into it - and get lost there...

When you add to this glorious confusion a random spattering of the sharpest provencial basil I have ever laid lips on. You have simplicity as agony - in hues of pale pink and milky white and glorious green. And Hela arranged it all so perfectly.

Salty meets creamy shakes hands with sweet dances with sharp and then bows to fragrant and goes home with verdant spikes of agile, pungent herb. I've had this salad so many times but never so well. The produce in France is amazing, don't tell them, I don't want to give them an even bigger head. But Glory be to God. This plate will make you a believer.

Perfect ingredients in simple combinations don't need much to make Amazing. Figdumentally figtastical. Enchanting beauty. Love.

I can't believe it's still summer over there. I can't believe i've been reduced to toast and a medical law class to get to. Looking back now, it seems like so long ago. Like a sublime dream that was vivid in memory but could not possibly have ever happened.

Hela! I love you and your ships and sheeps. Thank you to the Family G for taking in the hungry and showing them how the Polish do Bliss.

J'ai Faim and Do Widzenia*

* = courtesy of google, don't be too proud.