Friday, August 29, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: A Right Proper Irish Breakfast

A perfect day for me is easy. All I require to feel like all's right with the world is to kick my own ass in a hard-as-nails workout, before smashing my then-ravenous, totally-earned-it face into a big tableful of carbs and protein. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE me some vegetables. In fact, I rise early in the morning on the weekends for the sheer, cherry-popping pleasure of being the first at the grocery store to dismantle the produce displays after admiring the perfect symmetry of the stacks of crisp, ruffled-leafed lettuce, ogling dirt-crusted violet beets, and inappropriately fondling various types of fruit. However, there is nothing quite as decadent--even with some of the most astounding of dinners--as a post-workout hearty binge of a traditional Irish Full Breakfast. 

Comprised generally of a slice of grilled ham, pork sausage, black pudding, white pudding, a couple of eggs, a grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, some beans, and toast (or in my case, a rather obscene amount of scones), this is the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs and gets you ready to spend the day plowing a field of potatoes, tending to some spray-painted sheep, or, you know, just dicking around the stunning countryside of the Emerald Isle. It's what I call "doin' it right."

Behold, an Irish breakfast in its classic form:

Allow me to walk you through it. Firstly, pudding is not pudding. Rather, it's a slice of warm (not hot, for some reason) sausage, the black being a type of boudin noir, similar to the blood sausages of France. Sounds rather abhorrent, right? WRONG. It is delicious. It's not as iron-flavored and metallic as the ones I've tasted in French- and German-influenced brasseries, but savory, rich, and slightly sweetened by the rice. 

White pudding is somewhat similar, minus the off-putting blood. It's a bit sweeter, with oats holding the meat together rather than rice. I liked this more, because although I'll try a lot of things and like them, it is challenging to get over the fact that you're eating sausage made of congealed blood when there's a perfectly innocuous-looking piece of beige sausage before you.

The grilled ham is an excellent, fairly lean cut, similar in texture and flavor to Canadian bacon. In fact, it's often called bacon, but I say ham because at times, I have obnoxiously American tendencies. Nothing particular to write home about, other than the fine quality of the pork. Same goes for the standard link of breakfast sausage, which is familiar and homey ... unless you happen to be dining somewhere spectacular, which I did later on, and subsequently had my mind blown by a fat, juicy sausage.

The grilled tomato is just a Good Idea. In lieu of ketchup, the slightly charred innards juice slightly and add a vegetable element to the plate in addition to the carby, lightly smoky mushrooms. This hit of acid from the tomato is refreshing after all the savory meats, and the mushrooms fill up the empty corners of your belly rather nicely, and remind you that vegetables, no matter how humble and brown, should have some kind of place in every meal.

The baked beans are also pretty standard, but a welcome addition nonetheless. Along with the juices of the tomato, it serves to moisten the palate a bit, and the sweetness of the sauce it sits in is a lovely contrast to, again, the salty richness of the many meats. They go delightfully with the farm-fresh eggs, which need no more embellishment nor bastardization than what is provided on the plate. It gives a dessert-like feeling of finishing your meal properly, the soaked beans rolling and pleasantly smashing in your mouth, leaving the ghost of brown sugar on your tongue.

Irish breakfast can also be elevated to THAT. Roasted red pepper relish, massive amounts of Bewley's fine coffee (whose tea I can find here, but why the eff not their superb coffee?!), cucumber and grapefruit water, blueberry scones the size of your fist, a gorgeous pile of perfectly fluffy, moist and buttery scrambled free-range eggs, herb-roasted, fat cherry tomatoes, gratined chive potatoes, fantastic ham/bacon, and a dauntingly fat sausage from which an aromatic, intoxicating scent of white wine seeps out from a thin casing that is simply not up to the challenge of holding this glorious pork hostage.

This is, of course, at Queen of Tarts, a shop I'm absolutely obsessed with that I would go back to Dublin for alone. I have neither the focus nor the time to go into detail about it right now, but I luff it like I've luffed few things in my life before. If heaven were a place on earth and calories didn't count, I'd never leave it. Exhibit A of my rapture: we ate there every day we were in Dublin. Multiple times a day, even. From someone who makes 17-page lists of restaurants that I "have to" try, this is a huge concession of the superiority of this restaurant above all things. Again, may I stress: Every. Damn. Day.

Day Two, in which I had some truly transcendental oatmeal, is provided below as evidence.

Now I've gone on at length before about my nearly equal obsession to the precious, golden, grass-fed butter. On a fresh-baked, biscuity scone (NOT to be confused with American scones, which are hard, triangular rocks of candy-drizzled nonsense), the foodgasm is nearly quite without equal. But you know what else is amazing? Oatmeal. Fuck yes, Irish steel-cut oatmeal; you surely know what you're all about.

Strawberry rhubarb below, with Canadian maple syrup (yes, how very exotic) at Queen of Tarts.
But that was the one thing that I had there that was beaten by another place: Wholesome Fayre. This place changed the way I look at oatmeal porridge forever. 

Granted, I've always loved oatmeal. It's creamy and rich, soft and chewy, sweet and decadent. These words, I like. But Irish steel-cut oats, with their toothsome, al dente texture, so different from their American rolled counterparts, mixed with magic butter and happy-cow cream and milk? My fucking God. The joy is simply indescribable.
Difference illustrated courtesy of a photo from

Wholesome Fayre is a casual cafe, deli, bakery, and all kinds of other things in Killarney dedicated to farm-worthy food, and boy do they deliver. The Full Irish is damned good here, too, and of course, their hot, oven-fresh scones, but their vanilla-scented, apricot jelly-topped, honey-drizzled oatmeal is an ecstatic eye-rolling level of goodness that you'd never expect from such a humble breakfast staple. Warming to the core, there's just such a good feeling when you dig into it and feel it fill your soul with homely happiness on a typically gray Irish day. 

Obviously, I fell in deep love with Ireland, and who'd have ever thunk that it'd be breakfast--not brunch, nor dinner--that'd steal my heart?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eater's Remorse: The Life and Lies of the Food Industry

In the food industry, mislabeling of food for marketing purposes, or simply out of sheer ignorance, is very common. Terms are played with fast and loosely, and half of things don't mean what you think they do. There's little to no regulation unless certification is involved, and the FDA allows all kinds of sneaky stuff to come through.

As someone who eats very clean (for the most part, unless I'm eating out; in which case, I have fasted, am hungry, and prepared to be drowned in copious amounts of conventional butter), I've become a diligent reader of labels.

I've learned a lot of things in my growth as a label-pore(r):

  1. "All-Natural" doesn't mean shit. "Natural flavors" just mean they have occurred somewhere in nature. For instance, artificial vanilla, raspberry, and strawberry flavors may be derived from the anal glands of a beaver. They don't even have to list "castoreum." Because a beaver is a real thing, found in nature. So, that "vanilla-flavored" Greek yogurt you're eating? Yep, beaver butt. Go ahead and vom. 
  2. "Diet" items may actually be more additive and dangerous than their full-calorie counterparts. Sucralose, aspartame, all that fake shit that has zero calories and no sugar actually triggers you to want more, as well as changing your tastebuds. Harvard has even proven it's more addicting than cocaine. So do yourself a favor when you're ordering that triple from Wendy's and just steer into the skid with the regular soda while you enjoy your diabeetus. Or, you know, just do coke. (Don't do coke.)
  3. "Healthy" can mean anything. The brand Healthy Choice, for instance (and they suckered me in, too) is actually often chock-ful of sugar, and always crazy high in sodium content. There are a bajillion ingredients, many artificial or unnecessary were you to replicate it in your own kitchen, and unpronounceable. And anything can be called "healthy," substantiated by one selling point, whether it's lower in calories than its competitor, has some kind of fiber, or whatever.
  4. Random shit is in everything. There is seaweed in your almond milk, which may or may not cause inflammation in your colon and bloat. (The jury's still out on this, and there are two types of carageenan to add to the confusion.) There is Turtle Wax on your Pop Tart. (In addition to seaweed, and for those shiny frosting varieties. Click the link and look for Carnauba wax. It's all up in that piece, ready to shine your guts.) There is yoga mat in your bread, which created a MASSIVE uproar just this year when Subway announced it'd be eliminating it. (In brief, everyone's response was, "wtF?!? You guys were putting WHAT in my bread, and WHO else does it, too?!") There is a FUCKTON of salt and preservatives added to your raw shrimp and scallops. And of course, again, the beaver butt. 
  5. "No trans fats" is a lie. Okay, that's a little dramatic, and a bit of a hyperbole, but food manufacturers can legally say "0 grams of trans fats" when they taper down the serving sizes so that the nutrition label has to round down from 0.5. The key is to look for hydrogenated oils. If it shows up on the side of that box, you best believe you'll be eating some, because seriously? Who eats two cookies and calls it a day. There's a reason those Keebler Fudge Shop Fudge Stripes doesn't have a reseal. They know those palm oil-oozing, corn syrup-having things are goddamn delicious and addicting. 
  6. Sugar has many aliases. Sure, a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but sugar by any other is even sweeter. They do that because then they don't have to list "sugar" so high up on the list of ingredients, since those labels are designed to taper down proportionately. So if the first ingredient is sugar, that means it has more sugar than anything else. But if they break it up to sucrose, dextrose, fructose (or any other -ose, for that matter), fruit juice concentrate, natural sweeteners, honey, molasses, and etc., then something less damaging may float its way to the top of the list. Sneaky, sneaky!
  7. Kobe beef is NEVER Kobe beef. Now this super sucks, because you pay a premium for it. But it's actually a serious crime to import--even for personal consumption--this rare, fatty, beautifully marbled delicacy from Japan. Plus, in the U.S., were some ranchers able to get their hands on valuable Wagyu cattle, they cross-bred it with domestic cattle, creating a hybrid. Today, scant amounts are now available, but guaranteed, what you're eating is not it.
  8. Prime steak may or may not be Prime. If every neighborhood bar and franchise chain restaurant had real prime steak, it wouldn't be so prime. It'd be average. What makes a steak a real prime steak is a USDA Prime certification, which is given to only 2% of the beef in the marketplace, and reserved for fine dining establishments and affluent, well-connected consumers. There is simply not enough prime steak to go around for everyone to be offering it, which means you're being lied to. 
  9. Your food eats shit. Literally. You like tilapia, and think it's a healthy choice? Well, stay away from the farmed fish, then. If it comes from China, chances are its diet consists of chicken feces.
  10. "Food coloring" comes from the inside. Mmm, farmed salmon -- cheap, healthy, and accessible. It's great, with all its omega-3s, right? Yeah ... except that the lovely red color you see is a courtesy of feed with food dye in it. Oh, and beef is often dyed, too. So there's that.
  11. "Made with Whole Grains" is SUPER misleading. I mean, yeah, there might be a whole wheat kernel in there, or millet or rice or the like. But if "enriched white flour" is the first ingredient listed, there's only a nominal amount of the good, unrefined, unprocessed stuff. They just add enough in so that they can change the label. Smart, huh?
  12. "Protein, Fiber, Buzzwords!" Some foods splash all over their labels and boxes that they're the kings of all these good things that should be in your body. Cool! ... But the thing is, although they're touting these terrific traits (see what I did there?), the quantities are often unimpressive. Many granola bars are cheap with their fibers and generous with their sugar. As in more sugar than a candy bar. Or you might be like, "Whoa! This granola bar has 10 grams of protein!" On the other hand, you could just eat an egg. Like boil it, peel it, and you've got 6 lovely grams without all the car wax and sugar and trans fats and carbs.
I have so many more gripes and pet peeves, but this is it for now because it's been a while since I posted and Boy is haranguing me since we're supposed to be somewhere ten minutes ago. However, I highly recommend reading Eat This, Not That (any of them!), and found them personally highly enlightening, and part of why I no longer eat shit in a box. 

Okay, that's my periodic PSA. Have fun with that!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: Looking Back

I am incredibly fortunate.

It's easy to forget such simple facts when the mundanity of everyday life sweeps over you relentlessly, with chores and errands calling your name, the pressure of work weighing down upon your shoulders, and the demands of creating homeostasis in your home -- even without the added intricacies of children -- leave you drained every day. However, it is for this reason we have pictures.

It's a running joke in my family that I take pictures of food when I travel, and Boy takes photos of monuments and statues he can't identify. Both are true. However, it truly is the food that makes me realize just how very, very lucky I am.

I've had real Kaiser rolls in Vienna, and grew up on its equally delicious doppelganger, the New York deli roll (dough conditioners be damned; I'll eat yoga mats if it gives my bread that sweet, fluffy, damp crumb that is my Achilles heel). I've tasted street dumplings in Beijing for 50 cents for ten, made by hand by a toothless grandma in a hutong shop, and was raised on my dad's rendition, with house-ground pork, home-grown organic Chinese chives, and hand-rolled dough -- a painstaking method he still uses at his restaurant to date. I've had grass-fed steak in Chicago and wood-smoked brisket in Austin. Barbecue ribs in Memphis and Birmingham. Experienced the pleasure of beignets among drunkards and revelers at 4 AM on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis Cathedral looking on in silent reproach and majesty. Compared the sweet oysters of the Chesapeake Bay to those of the Gulf Coast and Blue Point. I've tasted roasted Moravian duck in a cellar restaurant in Old Town Prague, just steps from the Astronomical Clock, Long Island duckling covered in cherry sauce, and Peking duck in both Beijing and Flushing. Berkshire pork in the Berkshire mountains, and smoked to perfection in Brooklyn. I've had a seared tuna burger fresh off the dock in Honolulu, the salty Pacific air adding more flavor and a sense of joy in the simplicity of being and eating. Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel, where it was invented, and at Demel in Vienna, the confectionary that served the Hapsburg royalty for generations, and pretty much invented the art of pastry-making. Gyros, Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian in the most unexpected of places. Croissants in Barcelona, Rome, Cannes and Marseille, for comparison, yet not Austria, where it was invented and brought to Paris by Marie Antoinette. Goulash in the Czech Republic and Austria, yet not in Hungary, home of this stew. Shepherd's pie and Guinness in Ireland, in pubs whose woods have been glossed to a rich patina by age and recipes have been unchanged for centuries. 

Every one of these experiences have changed me in some little way, and it is through taste that I experience a world and a culture. It is to satisfy my literal appetite that I travel; my belly inspires me. 

And every once in a while, when I have occasion to glance through the hundreds of digital memories that mark the places I've been, establishments I've patronized, and food I've had, I can't help but thank the roads in my life that have led me to the roads I've thus far traveled, and become even more excited for what the future holds. With my thirtieth birthday coming up, it is with pride that I look at the map I bought Boy for our tenth (dating) anniversary and the many pins marking where we've been, jutting out of its surface like a Voodoo doll, and think to myself, "Man, am I one lucky betch that the best is yet to come." And that for 13 years, I've been with a Boy with a similar voracity for Epicurean Adventures and dreams of a lifetime of stuffing our faces, hand in hand.

"I do believe it's true,
But there are roads left in both of our shoes,
And if the silence takes you,
Then I hope it takes me, too."
- Death Cab for Cutie

Cinnamon sugar chimney bread in Vaci Utca, Pest.

Sweet rapunzel and Styrian potato salad with pumpkin seed oil, spinach and cheese dumplings, and the real, original Wienerschnitzel at Figlmuller's in Vienna.

Bakery of the kings, Demel, in Vienna.

Fresh roasted Prague ham with pungent mustard, fresh rye bread, and sauerkraut spaetzel, accompanied by a giant cheese and ham crepe, from food stalls in Prague.

Breakfast at the famous Cork English Market, where every ingredient served is sourced locally from the bustling marketplace downstairs.

The Temple Bar ... in Temple Bar, Dublin.

Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives-recommended hot dog stand in the International Marketplace in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu.

Dumplings in a delicious dump, just outside of a hutong in historical Beijing.