Shelburne Farms is hosting a 2-day fermenting workshop with Sandor Katz. He’s the author of The Art of Fermentation. I’m registered to attend! July 22-23. There will be LOTS more information forthcoming!
By Sal Cania
Israeli culture is a fascinating intermixing of many traditions and their foods, in large part due to their geography, but more importantly because of the history the modern state that resides in the hotly contested region has. Early settlers hailed mostly from Eastern Europe, bringing with them many of the local foods they had incorporated into their culture after their several millennia long Diaspora. But, as is common in many settler colonial societies of the era, they fervently adopted local fare. Hummus? Palestinian. Couscous? Lebanese. Shakshouka? Tunisian. Many of these dishes are known in the United States now by their Israeli versions, and that is in no small part because of the Jewish Diaspora that has roots in many regions around the country.
One dish in particular, Shakshouka, roughly translated from Arabic as a “mixture”, is a delicious composition of tomatoes, peppers, onions, cumin, and the star of the show: poached eggs. It’s currently a staple dish in many North African diets, as well as sharing traits with similar cuisine in Mexico, Turkey, and Spain. This is not surprising, since the meal is nutritious, inexpensive, and simple.
I first discovered this little gem when I traveled to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 2012 as part of a scouting trip for the business school I worked at. Our goal was to sample aspects of Israeli culture, food, and learn about the business climate and major industries present in their economy. As you can imagine, food and drink took center stage pretty quickly, largely because the trip organizer had planned a number of fantastic dining experiences to draw us in. Sitting in a board room at an Intel processor factory was somewhat less interesting.
Shakshouka, mainly served for breakfast on trip, was the one plate I went for each day. Alongside pita for dipping and the traditional smoked/pickled fish that Israelis love to eat for breakfast, I was easily full until 2pm. Lunch, after a morning plate of Shakshouka, was not even important. We ate it anyway, because they served plenty of other amazing treats, and kept the [Israeli] wine flowing all day long.
Fast forward to May of 2014, when my wife found this great recipe for the dish, I realized that I had actually forgotten about my Shakshouka experience. Looking to try new things to complement our usual Vermont summer evening meals, we went for it. To start out, we followed this recipe to a “T”, and it came out very well, if a bit dry, but I suspect that was because we left it on for the full simmer time. This is a meal, after having now cooked it, that I can see being extremely versatile and offering opportunities to change out ingredients without adversely changing the overall concept. See: huevos rancheros.
In this age of post-colonialism, a dish that successfully made its way around the Middle East has somewhat ironically come now to Vermont, not at the tip of a sword, but rather the internet. It’s a fitting example of the change we’ve seen over the last century, but also a reminder that some things stay the same. Plus, who wouldn’t like spicy poached eggs in tomato sauce? My fellow Italians, take note.
Sam and I stopped on the way back from New York in Springfield, MA to get a bite to eat. Taking my queues from RoadFood.com, we stopped at Salsa’s Mexican Restaurant (yelp) (RoadFood) for a quick lunch.
I am sorry that I didn’t take any pictures of the food we got. I was too busy eating it. I am sorry that you weren’t there to enjoy the food with us because you missed out on a remarkable meal. I’m sorry we don’t all live in Springfield, so we can go eat here regularly and get happy and fat together. The food was just that damn good. It was some of the best cuicina that I have eaten in years… Probably since we stayed at Rancho Leonaro for my little sister’s wedding.
We had papusas of the pork+cheese and bean+cheese variety. They were accompanied by fried plantains, rice, beans and a cole slaw-type salad. This is NOT typical Tex-Mex food. The salad was unlike anything I had ever had – almost like coleslaw made from crema on a bed of lettuce topped with eye-watering fresh hot sauce. The beans were soup-like with lots of cilantro. The rice was well-cooked and medium grain and had a squeeze of lime, but no other flavorings. The fried plantains were made from firm and ripe plantains and weren’t starchy at all. The outsides were caramelized to perfection.
And papusas… Papusas are what quesadillas want to be when they grow up. Or what happens when you run a tamale over with a steamroller. Instead of flour tortillas, papusas are made with thinly rolled masa dough layered with fillings like meat, beans and cheese, and grilled until the middle is melted and the masa dough is cooked. These papusas were perfect. The cheese was both melted into the dough and meat/beans AND had spent just the right amount of time oozing out the sized and onto the griddle to get perfectly brown and crispy. The masa was moist and well-cooked. I’m not a very good food blogger, because I really don’t have the words to convey how terribly wonderful the whole experience was…
Pidi and I took in the beautiful Summer weather by hiking into Hanover along Mink Brook Trail to have coffee at Umplebys. It takes us about an hour to walk there and the walk is very pleasant along the bubbling Mink Brook.
On the way out of town, I noticed some berries and stopped on our way back home to pick what I thought were red currants. If we were in Wisconsin, they likely would be currants, but,
TotoPidi, I’m afraid we’re not in Kansas anymore. I took a taste of a few berries and they had the sourness of currants, but also a little bit of bitterness. I picked about two cups into Pidi’s hiking water dish and finished the walk home.
The Foraginging Goddess (God?) must have been smiling on me, because I walked past a bush of ripe blackberries too! I was able to pick a big cup of blackberries, or blackcaps. Beautifully black and sweet. I strode home with a big F of my chest for Forager!
Getting home, the niggling doubt started to eek away at my confidence. Believing myself to be a saavy forager, I turned to the Interwebs for guidance… what were these little berries I had picked? They came from a short (6′) shrub with almond-shaped leaves. The berries grew in pairs along the base of the leaves. They were abundant and ripe in mid-June in New Hampshire.
Winterberries. They were stupid winterberries. Completely inedible due to theobromines, chemicals related to caffeine, found concentrated in the seeds. I had picked compost fodder. Bah. And they were making my stomach upset.
But, unwilling to admit defeat, I did turn the blackberries into some damn good Blackberry Financiers. They’re “rich.” Get it? Look for a recipe tomorrow.
So our options for breakfast places are dwindling. The few remaining places on our list are either too far away, too expensive, or just coffee shops that happen to be open on Sundays. We’ll visit the too far away places when Sam and I get a Sunday where he doesn’t have to be at work too early. However, now that Whaleback is open for the season, our Sunday breakfasts are more time constrained. The too expensive places we’re saving for when friends or family come to visit us – nudge. nudge.
I’ve been procrastinating posting about Cafe Metro, our breakfast spot from Sunday, December 16, because that was the start of Mushroom week – there were better things to be posting about than breakfast at a coffee shop.
Cafe Metro used to be the Bagel Basement and was previously the go-to place for hungover undergrads on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Although we encountered some undergrads, I wasn’t sure they were hungover. Plus, we were at breakfast on Sunday at 9am. Isn’t that a bit early for most undergrads? Most of the complaints about Bagel Basement (see the linked article) seem to have been mitigated – the place is clean, well-stocked and has bagels and pastries, plus a few extra weekend breakfast items.
I had a breakfast burrito with chorizo and eggs. I was anticipating greasy and red chorizo sausage. What I got was mildly spiced pork sausage. It was tasty, but not what I was expecting. Sam had a bagel with lox and cream cheese. We also shared a monkey bread, which is like a cinnamon roll, but cut up into pieces and served in a muffin paper. The dough was yeasted and very tender.
Sam and I drove out to Woodstock, VT on Sunday to eat at Mountain Creamery. It was a bit of a drive, about 35 minutes, thus in the category of “too far away” to be a regular breakfast joint. Woodstock, VT is an adorable little town propped up by rich tourists visiting the Rockafeller mansion and people with “second” homes. Mountain Creamery is doing a good job of providing the authentic Vermont breakfast experience, but with enough consciousness-raising menu items to meet expectations from affluent New Yorkers. For example, the menu included maple sausage made from free-pastured Berkshire hogs and organic eggs from the owner’s Sister’s farm. Of course there was real Vermont maple syrup.
So I rag on the vacation spots of the elite, but they do have really good breakfast. Really good.
Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy
Never in my memory have I eaten such good blueberry pancakes. My breakfast came with two, along with some eggs and sausage. I could have eaten four more. That good. Platonic Ideal pancakes. Fluffy and syrup-absorbing, slightly tart, with little crispy bits around the edges from direct contact with butter in the hot pan. The blueberries were tiny, full of flavor, and the chef rolled them first in flour, so they didn’t explode blue goo all in the pancake. Each and every bite was full of blueberry flavor and maple-y syrup goodness.
Whatever Sam had for Breakfast
Sam had an omelet with roast potatoes and toast. Three things were remarkable, but not as remarkable as the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself. First, the omelet had apples and cheese. This is a local flavor, methinks, because who would have thought to put apple in an omelet except for people who also serve apple pie with cheddar cheese. Second, the potatoes were very good due to a generous tossing with a mixture of herbs and garlic. Third, the ingredients in the strawberry jam (jars were available for sale) were, “Strawberries, sugar.”
Back to Discussing the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy
If I were to close my eyes in envision my ideal blueberry pancake, it would be just about exactly what I had at Mountain Creamery. The only difference would be that I would still be a kid and my Mom would have served the pancakes to me. Mind you, my mother made pancakes infrequently when we were kids, and I only remember a handful of occasions that she made Blueberry pancakes. My point is that the only way these could have been made better was by adding Mother’s Love. Even the whipped butter was salted – adding the mix of salty, fat, sweet, fruity, tender, crispy… All of the ideal flavors and textures.
I think my ideal Upper Valley Breakfast is forming. The biscuits and gravy at Quechee Diner were fantastic. I think I have effectively lauded the greatness of Mountain Creamery’s Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Eggs cooked at 4 Aces Diner were made with real butter and left a little underdone, close (but not exactly) how I like them.
We will likely be back… Almost certainly.
We’ve had a long couple of weeks without Sunday Breakfast. Last Sunday, I was sick with a terrible cold, so I stayed in bed for the day and kept my germs to myself. As much as I would have loved breakfast, I was still feverish.
This week, I’m healed up, and we went into Hanover to a old-standby restaurant Everything But Anchovies, that has recently started serving a Sunday brunch. I guess EBAs has served a Saturday breakfast buffet for some time, but is only now expanding breakfast service to Sunday morning.
The service at EBAs is typically a buffet – in the evenings they have a pizza and pasta buffet set out. Following that theme, EBAs set out a brunch buffet. Since the Sunday service was rather new, the place was mostly empty at 9:30. The service picked up more toward 10am. We stayed until almost 11 and the place didn’t fill up. This was our first Brunch Buffet and so had to set the standard for diversity. The buffet included:
- standard breakfast fare – steam tray eggs, roasted potatoes, sausage links and bacon, pancakes, a waffle machine,
- Toast, bagels and muffins
- Breakfast burritos (Unfortunately I didn’t have one, as good as they looked, because they all had cheese in them.)
- Cold plate (lox, onions, capers, tomatoes)
- Fruit salad
- Shrimp cocktail
- Salmon with wild rice pilaf (the lunch-like entree)
- A collection of deli-style salads and greens salads
- Vegetable sides like roast green beans, roast squash
EBAs also had a standard menu, but we didn’t even look at it. The buffet was pretty good, and worth the $11.95 (including drinks) price.
I’m sorry that I didn’t take any pictures. Sam and I were actually really chatty through breakfast (no TVs to distract us this week), and were well-ignored by the waitstaff, who probably struggle to make a living serving breakfast buffet. We gabbed over a long breakfast, going back for TWO plates each and ignoring our books.
My impression was that EBAs had all the benefits of a brunch buffet – fast service, great for big groups, meets different dietary needs, etc… But I admit, the buffet was missing a “star.” It needed the one dish that was so darn good that everybody had to take a bit. I’ve been to two extraordinary brunch buffets, the Buffet at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC (PDF), and the Brunch Buffet at Granite City Grill in Madison, WI. I could gush for hours about brunch at the Capitol Hilton. The food is excellent quality, the tea service is spot-on, and the items rotate around for great diversity. The “star” at the Capitol Hilton is the fruit parfaits – local fruits, tart yogurt and homemade granola. They bring them out in trays because everyone wants one. Plus, their croissants are very flaky and buttery. Granite City is a big indulgence – a place to goto brunch when you don’t want to eat for the rest of the day. Granite City has a egg benedict station and the chef has ingredients to make 5 or more variants on the dish. Yes, they will do Hotel Benson eggs – biscuit with ham and a poached egg, topped with cheddar-based mornay sauce. Plus, they put out sauce for everything – gravy for biscuits, au jous for the carving station, homemade ketchup for potatoes.
So missing at EBAs was the “star.” Everything was ok, but nothing was exceptional. I guess it came off more like a mid-tier hotel “hot free breakfast” rather than a coherent breakfast buffet.
I do give them a lot of credit for having a lot of seafood on the buffet: lox, roasted salmon, and shrimp.
We’ll likely go back, but probably for pizza and pasta, rather than breakfast.
Today we had a good breakfast. We drove down the hill to the Lebanon Diner (Yelp) that is located on the corner of the pedestrian mall in Lebanon. The Leb Diner is a red0-retro. The Quechee diner and 4 Aces used to be dining cars and were refit to modernize the kitchen and increase the size of the service areas. The Leb Diner was never a diner – it’s just a first-floor retail spot on the mall in Lebanon. The pressed tin walls and the stainless steel counter are afterthoughts.
I was happy with their menu selections – basic American breakfast fare. Sam had hash and eggs. I had biscuits and gravy. The B&G wasn’t as good as Quechee diner, but it was made with very good, spicy sausage. Sam’s H&A was also pretty tasty, but they obviously didn’t make their own brisket. The coffee was robust but didn’t taste burnt.
Yes, they serve only real maple syrup, and the don’t charge extra for it.
The bill was a little less than some other places – $23 with tip.
I was quite happy with our experience, but I have to admit, I really hate eating in a restaurant with a television. If you’re in a “sports bar” while “sports” are being broadcast, sure, fill every vertical surface with televisions, pour me a beer and serve up the hot wings. Everywhere else – Please get rid of your TVs or flip them over to the video-of-a-roaring-log station. I just don’t want to see it. The Leb Diner had a flat-panel TV over the counter playing highlights from Saturday’s college football games. The food was good. The service was good. I can’t see myself going back because I don’t want to have to see TV every Sunday morning. Mickey’s Roadside Diner also had televisions, but they were a _bar_ serving food on Sunday mornings before the football game. Leb Diner didn’t have much of an excuse – Turn the TV off.
This week’s breakfast at Mickey’s Roadside Cafe in Enfield, NH (link plays music… sorry) was the opposite of last week’s experience: good food and bad service.
For a moment I want to rant about the new maps in iOS6. I am an “eager upgrader”-I sit at my computer obsessively pressing reload until I can get the latest iOS updates AS SOON AS they are made available. I really like the feeling of having a shared experience with other people across the world where we all are downloading and installing the same piece of software. The point being – Like other iOS users, I am finding the world around me is a new place, when seen through the eyes of the map software on my phone. Now, my phone will talk to me and tell me where to go, but I no longer have any confidence that where I’m directed reflects realty. It was my quick wits that kept me from going the wrong way down a one-way street in Hanover, and I still can’t convince the map software that our home address is anywhere near proximate to our physical location.
Back to breakfast…
We got in the car and made an attempt to goto Enfield, NH, about 10 miles southeast of Hanover, to a place called Mickey’s Roadside Cafe. It had received good ratings from the Yelpers, and we had got a good review from a former waitress while in line at The Fort last week. Phone navigation was failing us, so we resorted to old-fashioned maps to get to Enfield.
We didn’t have to wait for a table to eat breakfast at 9:30 on Sunday morning. This can say either good or bad things about a restaurant. Too many people means breakfast is likely to be good, but very rushed. Too few people means breakfast may be new to the restaurant or downright bad. Or, it means the Packers are playing at 10am and nobody wants to watch at a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol. Sam and I try a bunch of different times to eat at a restaurant until we find the ideal time where we can sneak into a table or first-come-first-serve counter space, then watch from our vantage while all of the less-experienced and knowledgeable customers arrive on the hour or the half and wait in line for tables. While not waiting for breakfast at Mickey’s Roadside Cafe was a plus, we didn’t get the feeling of moral superiority for being able to get to the restaurant at the perfect time to avoid a crowd. (Hubbard ave Diner in Middleton. Either 8:25 or 8:50am. Lazy Janes: be in line when they open at 9:30.)
Since the Patriots (no comment) weren’t playing until 4, I suspect breakfast was new to this restaurant, because the food was pretty darn good. Sam had hash and eggs with homefries and sourdough toast. He was quiet while eating, so that meant it was good. The potatoes needed a bit more cooking from my vantage point. I got to have “redneck benedict” – english muffin, sausage patty, poached egg with sausage gravy – with a side of tater tots. The gravy was good. It was peppery and had small pieces of sausage, and was made with milk. I was very happy. With tater tots.
The service, on the other hand, was mediocre. Sunday breakfast servers (and Saturday too) need to act as if they are just as desperate and hungry as the patrons. Stopping to drink coffee, to nibble a piece of toast, to chit-chat with other staff – these are all the actions of the fed and caffeinated. Breakfast patrons DESPISE the fed and caffeinated until they themselves are fed and caffeinated. Waitresses should be efficient and expedient, not ask unnecessary questions, and deliver caffeine as soon, or before, butts hit the seats. I really feel for Sunday breakfast wait staff and I always tip well, even for bad service. Their job is hard. They must ease the transition from hungered to fed, and to navigate a slew of breakfast option questions that are unheard of in other meals. (How would you like your eggs: scrambled, poached, sunny side up, over easy, over hard, egg beaters, hard-boiled, coddled? What type of toast: white, wheat, rye, sourdough, cinnamon raisin? Potatoes: homefries, hashbrowns, mashed, tater tots, fries?)
The service at Mickey’s Roadside Cafe made two sins: they made people wait for caffeine (including Sam and I and the table across from us) and they chit-chatted among themselves while sipping coffee. I hate to damn someone for such minor sins, but at the time, I was HUNGRY, so minor things get exaggerated. In retrospect, the service was on-par with a restaurant that doesn’t often serve breakfast beginning to serve breakfast. The wait staff have yet to develop the ESP necessary to be good at breakfast. By the end, though Sam and I were both well-fed and didn’t feel rushed. The bill was $23 and some change, right on par with our expectations for what we “should” pay for breakfast.
We’re quickly running out of affordable ($$) breakfast joints, so we’ll be moving onto the more pricy options in the next few weeks. I’m sure there will be a carving station and lobster at breakfast in the upcoming weeks. We’ll see…
To continue on our quest for Breakfast (previously) this morning we headed down the hill to The Fort at Exit 18, a truckstop diner just off exit 18 of Interstate 89.
Previous reviews have spoken highly of the hash and the muffins. I also have a fondness for biscuits and gravy, so we tried those too. The muffin was a “morning glory” with carrots, raisins and apples. It had frosting on top… hmm.
We had to wait in line for about 15 minutes for a table. And by “wait in line” I mean stand around in a truckstop convenience mart that is attached to The Fort while chatting with the grey-haired locals who have been eating here regularly since they were our age. I didn’t see many truckers. We bought a copy of the New York Times and browsed the front pages while waiting.
The best part of breakfast was that we had a waitress with ESP. Her timing was PERFECT on all items. We closed our menus and put them on the table and she apparrated out of thin air to take our order at the precise second the menus touched the table. The instant I had an anxious thought, “When will our breakfast arrive?” she appeared with a muffin. I took the last sip of my coffee and as the cup was about to be placed on the table, she was there! – with a coffee pot to refill my empty mug. I thought to myself, “Did we get the check yet?” and VOILA it appeared on our table. Maybe this was Hogwart’s Truckstop of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It became eerie. But made breakfast really pleasant. Her timing was perfect and we didn’t feel rushed at all, which is important on Sundays.
The food, on the other hand – not as perfect. The muffin, as predicted, was great, but the frosting (yes frosting) was unnecessary. The hash was definitely homemade, and more brisket than potato. I like my hash pretty crispy, so this needed a bit more cooking, and a shake of salt made it more balanced. The biscuits and gravy was weird. First, the sausage came from slices of links, which left little rounds in the gravy. Second, the biscuits tasted sweet. Seriously. The gravy had separated a little and had lots of visible pepper, but no actual pepper taste. It was also made from chicken stock and milk, not all milk.
So overall, the hash is good, but needs salt. Knock the frosting off your muffin. The service is amazing. The overall breakfast was worth the 15 minute wait.
Other breakfasts have been: