Friday, July 22, 2011

The Monk & The Explorer: Final Menu and Cook's Notes 6.5.2011

Final menu for The Monk and the Explorer @ Bakery Bar Sunday June 5, Bakery Bar 2935 NE Glisan St. Portland, OR 97232

Tibetan barley bread, little T's spelt bread
Pasture butter, goat butter with smoked pork fat
Honey, yogurt, jars of Marmite
Water buffalo jerky
Fried fish bones and sardines
Ginger-pickled cauliflower, carrots and scallions

1st Routing: inspired by Asian temple food
Soba with pea shoots, ponzu dipping sauce (iriko, bonito, kombu, citrus)
Roasted purple yams with scallion miso butter
Mushrooms in seaweed broth with citrus zest
Black kombu relish with toasted sesame seeds

2nd Routing: inspired by Continental cuisine
Wild boar legs with caramel, cocoa, cranberry sauce
Saffron'd fish and shrimp pie
Green salad with strawberries

DESSERT: Rhubarb crumble with elderflower and earl grey crème anglaise, matcha and cocoa nib cookies flecked with pink Himalayan salt

Ok, because the menus are so heavy on the conceptual front, some people have asked me to provide some cook's notes. It's hard because so much of this exists in my head and it's hard to unpack. But I will try. First, I do want to say that I'm equally interested in the social practice, connector part of the supperclub as I am the food, but I will address that at a later point.

Because I write fiction, I tend to think of characters when I write my menus. For the monk, I was thinking about monks in Tibet and Japan mainly. I wanted to emphasize that other cultures depend on grains other than wheat- so wanted barley, spelt and buckwheat on the menu. Although the name may be misleading, buckwheat is not related to wheat, it's a pseudocereal, and has been eaten in Tibet and northern China for centuries. So that's why I served Tibetan barley bread, spelt bread, and buckwheat soba noodles.

I served fried fish bones because I was thinking about Tibetan sky funerals. It's also a good way to use every part of the fish. I wanted to honor that-the bones give calcium, and I wanted to give the monk fortification for the bones. In Tibet, because of permafrost, the dead cannot be interred in the earth, and there's no forest fuel to incinerate the bodies. Therefore bodies are placed outside so vultures can pick the bones clean. Somehow I think this is kind of beautiful and pure. And whether you eat flesh or vegetables, there is always death on your plate, so that you may live. I like to be honest (yet subtle) about this, and it seems very Buddhist to acknowledge this openly. In Japan, at some restaurants you can order a whole fish, and when you are finished, they will whisk away the bones to fry them up and return them to you, this is called "senbei."

Readings re: Tibetan sky funerals: Tibet: Travellers' Tales. "Mondays are best." Pico Iyer. Pam Houston has also written about hanging with female buddhist monks in Tibet, soaking in hot springs, and watching a sky funeral.

So I was always thinking about how to nourish our Continental Explorer and our Monk. The jars of Marmite on the appetizer table are also a nod to maybe some English roots, and Marmite was given out as rations to soldiers during WWI and British travellers abroad have been known to bring along Marmite as a taste of home; apocryphal reports of Marmite warding off malaria and other diseases abound, but there seems to be no proof. I toyed with the idea of making Marmite croutons with the salad but our sous chefs, Remy and Teresa, made an "oh gross" face, and really, I have to agree. That might have been a bit much, esp. as we wanted a delicate salad, with herbs and strawberries.

I was also thinking about the Continental Explorer and how important fat is for someone who is trekking and for whom food may sometimes be scarce. Fat is a really efficient (and delicious) source of calories, so that's why there's pasture butter and goat butter with smoked pork fat, and water buffalo jerky-again, air-dried meat would be ideal for a traveller who does not have access to refrigeration. I wanted Tibetan yak, but our supplier was out. Water buffalo plow rice paddies throughout Asia, so that also seemed to suit. The water buffalo was amazingly tender and really lovely to work with. I almost hated to dry it for jerky, it would have been wonderful as well as a simple roast.

For the 1st routing, Asian food, I was having a cinema moment. Soba and yams are frequent companions at the table, so not surprising, but when I think of wild boar and yams, it makes me think of the movie Tampopo (Juzu Itami, 1985). A gangster and his girlfriend are ancillary, but recurring figures who frame the film narrative at beginning and at end, and basically we break away from the main story to watch these characters eat, drink, and share sensual pleasures. At the end of the film, the gangster is shot in the gut, he staggers, collapses and bleeds out. As he lays dying, he tells his girlfriend about wild boars in the mountains who gorge on yams; hunters take their intestines stuffed with yam, basically sausage casings for the yam, and roast them over the fire, he says that he wishes that he could have eaten them with her. This is probably one of my favorite food=love equations and it feels true and compelling. There are certain things that I eat that make me miss someone that I love, and I have this same wish.

The ponzu dipping sauce for the soba is super umami-intensive: seaweed (konbu), iriko (tiny dried fish), katsuo boshi (fish flakes), dried shiitake mushrooms, and shoyu. I squeezed lashings of fresh citrus to get some acid lift, up and away from the umami. Ideally, the citrus would have been sudachi and maybe yuzu; I used a mixture of lime and lemon. I then used the sheets of konbu seaweed to make the black konbu relish. Basically, had to simmer the konbu an additional hour or more, and then chop finely (slippery! my knife slid and I scored my thumb, ugh, thank you Neosporin and razz to supposedly waterproof band aids by 3M), added a little soy, some sugar, and some toasted sesame seeds.

For the 2nd routing, "Continental Cuisine," I thought of how our Explorer would be hunting and foraging. So that's why the wild boar. I marinated the legs for two days in wine and juniper berries and other aromatics. The sauce was to display some nods to spice trade/Empire incursions: cocoa, caramel (sugar), and cranberry was supposed to give some acid. I couldn't find fresh cranberry and used dried, but I don't think dried is a good sub, making note for future reference. Splashed with lots of wine vinegar helped to raise the acid quotient, but fresh cranberries would have helped a lot.

The saffron'd fish and shrimp pie was more like a cottage pie, with mashed potatoes on top. We keep the skins on (that's why we buy organic!) and do a rough mash to make it rustic. I got the fish at ABC market on Powell where I got up close and personal with our fish before they are unceremoniously uhhh, okay, TMI, you get the idea. That fish was fresh, and the source of our fried fish bones. The saffron was also a nod to spice trade and I imagined that our traveller would have treasured having some dried spices as a luxury for enjoyment alone or for shared meals.

The green salad was just supposed to be a light end to the savories, strawberries to me seemed quintessentially English, so giving our traveller some nostalgia and homesickness, and I couldn't help it, the Mt. Hood strawberries at the farmer's market looked so delectable. I had some arugula and basil and mint, but confess in a spastic moment, forgot to add them. It still turned out ok, there were olive and almond oils, and drizzlings of balsamic vinegar. I think the sap from lettuce leaves helps with digestion and encourages relaxation.

DESSERT. The elderflower and earl grey crème anglaise was veddy British (even the Frenchified "English Cream"), it's marvellous to imagine that you are eating flowers at dessert time and of course Earl Grey gives some lovely smoke and citrus to a sweet cream custard that could tend to be insipid without some flavourings. We got East/West together in the Matcha and cocoa nib cookies flecked with Himalayan salt. Remy and Teresa worked extra hard on these, did a test batch that they threw out, and perfected in the next. Well done! And many thanks.

Ok, phew. I think that's it for cooks' notes. Thank you diners, thank you readers. XOox, Heather

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