Greens (and Reds and Golds): A Recipe to Greet the Spring

Set in historic Fort Mason, with a view of the glorious Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, San Francisco's Greens Restaurant holds its own, an institution in itself. When the landmark restaurant first opened, it was revolutionary in its use of fresh, local produce and elevated vegetarian cuisine. Now 30 years later, Greens is still going strong, surrounded by countless restaurants whose menus owe much to its influence.

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Dispatches from the Bay: Beautifully Comforting


The cold winter months call out for comfort food -- spaghetti and meatballs; warm beef stews; risotto; chocolate chip cookies. Even as our bodies crave this homey fare, however, our consciences -- and doctors -- warn against it.

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Parisian Pitfalls


Paris dining is full of pitfalls. The guidebooks warn you, your best friend who just got back from a Provence tour with a quick weekend stop in Paris warns you, and even your distant college backpacking memories remind you: Paris is very pricey compared to the rest of France, it’s surprisingly easy to eat badly if you’re not careful, and Parisians are not necessarily the world’s most courteous or servile people. This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, of course, it just…is.

I grew up in Paris, I can fully con Parisians into thinking I’m one of them—and still, during my short vacation here this past week, I’ve experienced some of those dining pitfalls. So, in the interest of helping others avoid the same mistakes that I’ve made this week, please find below a short list of the some of the eating and drinking experiences that can go terribly awry in this tough town.

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French Women Eat Milk Fat

Lait concentre

In the Department of Fatty and Caloric Foods the French Seem Magically to Metabolize and Yet Neither Get Fat Nor Die Young, I would have to add sweetened condensed milk. I know, jaws are dropping, the mind boggles: the French? Canned cloying milkstuff?

When you think sweetened condensed milk you picture little cans of that Eagle Brand goo that’s invariably called for in “dessert bars” and “no-bake pies”—those classic American assembly line desserts that usually include whipped topping and butterscotch chips, as well. Or, since the mainstreaming of dulce de leche (which is just caramelized sweetened condensed milk) in Haagen Dazs ice cream and Cheesecake Factory cafés—it’s now their fifth most-popular cheesecake—you might even think of gooey Latin American treats. Or you might just think of fudge, which can be made quite simply by nuking a package of chocolate chips with a can of the condensed stuff, stirring, and then proceeding to have a very excellent time.

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The Golden Egg

Why does free food always taste better? In college, free food—generally mediocre, cold-upon-arrival pizza—was the required lure to get people to come to any meeting. As a journalist just arrived in New York, I made whole dinners of free food at promotional events and book parties, stalking trays of tuna tartare and stuffed mushrooms until I was full. I was 25 and these were exquisite meals. And even now, for some reason that is neither greed nor stinginess, but has more to do with a feeling of ceremony, a meal tends to taste particularly wonderful when someone treats you.

But there is another free-food ritual that tastes better than even a whole free meal: the amuse-bouche. An amuse-bouche is that complimentary hors d’oeuvre served before the first course, a surprise treat sent out by the chef. It’s allegedly to distract you from the wait before the appetizer, but really to impress you with his ingenuity. It must be something that even in a small quantity makes a memorable impact, that leaves you with a flash of flavor or richness in just one swallow. It’s a free thrill—always the best kind!

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In Search of Fluffy White


I love frosting. Love frosting. Which—I know—in these days of cupcake mania, is pretty run of the mill. Every time I turn around there’s another new retro bakery peddling little cakes with a big dollop of pastel goo. But what I really love, specifically, is cheap frosting. I actually dislike real buttercream. I can’t stand the density of powdered sugar and butter icing (e.g. Magnolia Bakery’s), or the hardened-butter texture of a shiny—slimy! —buttercream frosting, the real kind made with sugar syrup and eggs (e.g. the Cupcake Café’s).

I admit it: I prefer fake frosting. Canned ready-to-spread frosting. And since I’m telling it all, what I especially enjoy is Betty Crocker’s Whipped Frosting in that brilliant artificial flavor General Mills has dubbed "Fluffy White." Who knew fluffy white had a taste? But it does, and it’s delicious.

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Salade Macédoine


I was invited to go to Macedonia recently, but I realized that I had only the vaguest idea of where Macedonia is actually located on a map. I suspected that it was one of the many little countries that spun off from the former Yugoslavia, and I did recall some distant association with Alexander the Great. But the only immediate association I could make to Macedonia was…salad.

In Italian, a macedonia is a fruit salad, and in French, a salade macédoine is a vegetable salad. In fact, in France, it’s a classic institutional appetizer, served in the finest school cafeterias and consisting of cooked peas, carrots, green beans and turnips in a heavy mayonnaise dressing that looks like white sludge and, as I recall from my elementary school days in France, tastes just as good (here's a commercial version, minus the sludge).

So where the hell is Macedonia? And how it is that chopped carrots and peas and pears and peaches can all somehow claim to be Macedonian? It turns out Macedonia is actually wedged way down in Southeastern Europe between Serbia, Albania and Greece, that the national diet tends massively toward barbecued meat, and that there wasn’t a single Macedonian salad on any of the menus in the many restaurants I sampled there.

What I did find in Macedonia, however, is an unbelievable hodge-podge of ethnicities. The country that calls itself Macedonia today is actually populated by one quarter ethnic Albanians, two-thirds ethnic Macedonians, equal sprinklings of Serbs, Bulgarians and Roma, and a substantial serving of Turks. Add to that a seasoning of intense religious diversity—one-third Muslims, two-thirds Macedonian Orthodox, and a potent dash of Albanian Catholics—and suddenly you begin to understand why the term macédoine in diplomatic history is synonymous with “complicated mixture.” If, over its many centuries of ethnic conflict, Macedonia has come be known as the “tinderbox of the Balkans,” it’s because no amount of mayonnaise dressing could ever make the ethnic peas identify with the ethnic carrots, or make the green beans speak the turnips’ language.

So a Macedonian salad, in the end, is just a mixed salad. A salad with a diversity of similar ingredients—fruits, veggies, warring ethnicities, whatever. And it also turns out that the sludgy mayonnaise dressing part of the salade macédoine is just some French lunch-lady’s idea that everything tastes better with mayonnaise.

Below, a recipe for a seasonal macédoine of spring vegetables. Hold the mayo.

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Introducing Renée Kaplan

I am pleased to welcome Renée Kaplan as a guest editor who will be contributing a series of guest posts to The Food Section.

Ms. Kaplan is a writer and television producer in New York. Her first novel, Shaking Her Assets (Berkley Trade), came out in May 2005, and her most recent writing appears in the just-released anthology Half/Life: Jewish Tales from Interfaith Homes (Soft Skull Press). She is currently a news producer for CNN, previously produced for “60 Minutes II,” and before working in television journalism was a writer and editor for the New York Observer.

Born in upstate New York, Ms. Kaplan grew up between Ithaca and Paris, France, which probably made her the only kid in midde school who knew more about Michelin stars than the teen ones. She says it wasn't good for her popularity, but it fostered a life-long passion for thinking, writing, and reading about food. In addition, as the daughter of an expert of French bread, she has been talking about the mouthfeel of crust and the alveolage of the crumb since her mother started her on solids.

Look for her first post -- on a curious French salad -- to appear later today.


The Rings of Saturn


The Ninth Ward neighborhood in New Orleans has been on the tip of many tongues over the course of the past two weeks. This area, also known as the Bywater, is the part of the city that has been under the most water since Katrina hit and the levee broke.  Just down-river from the French Quarter, this is an historical neighborhood that many famous residents have called home: trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, the musical Lastie family, poet and author Kalamu ya Salaam, and rock-and-roll legend Fats Domino, who was rescued from his house in the Ninth Ward just last week. But on the corner of Saint Claude Avenue and Clouet Street, there is another star in this neighborhood’s galaxy.

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In Her Own Words


“Because, as I say again, [when you make a drink,] if you don’t put the love and tenderness in there with that, it’s not going to taste good.” – Floria Woodard

Originally from Mississippi, Floria Woodard headed to New Orleans seeking opportunity. She found it as server at The Court of Two Sisters (the first African-American server at that), but she eventually set her sights on the bar. Thirty-eight years later, Miss Flo is still behind that bar, serving cocktails to the locals and returning tourists who seek her out at this well-known French Quarter restaurant.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Miss Flo’s story resonates. Hers is the story of an African-American woman from Mississippi, who set out on her own to find a job and make a new life for herself. She ended up in New Orleans, and the service industry answered her call. The state she left—the state of Mississippi—is where I live today. It might also be the state that Miss Flo returned to in order to escape New Orleans and Katrina. We can only hope.

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