Archives for posts with tag: food

I have been privileged to dine at some great restaurants.

Dinners at Le Bernardin before I even knew who chef Eric Ripert was. Same with Jean-Pierre. Dinner three nights running one magical week at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans in the era of chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. A buffet catered by Alice Waters. Dinner at the original Spago by Wolfgang Puck (ask me about him sometime…). Citronelle, Jean Claude, Le Bec Fin, Café Milano, Nobu, etc.

It is one of the few privileges of being a journalist – to dine with the rich and famous while you are neither.

This week I dined with journalists at a restaurant in St. Louis that is the equal of any of the elite. It was a meal that one jaded journalist said was the best of her life. I told her: if you can remember any one dish in six months, then indeed it was the best.

Where? Farmhaus, in St. Louis, where chef Kevin Willmann is at the helm. Born into a farm family, raised on the Gulf of Mexico, trained in kitchens all over and then came “home” to cook his own food, a passionate blend of local ingredients from Missouri, Illinois, the Mississippi River and the Gulf.

Willmann delivers. I had an amazing meal there with 20 journalists chosen for the National Press Foundation’s food and farm sustainability seminar. His restaurant is normally closed on Mondays but Chef Willmann made an exception to teach journalists about his special brand of locavore.photo (27)

He created a menu to showcase the best of the season:

*Missouri caviar (from paddlefish) on a corn blini

*Charcuterie board with porchetta di testa, smoked hogs head, chicken liver mousse, cheese and assorted embellishments

*Summer veg salad with corn, pepper, tomato, goat cheese on a lettuce leaf.

*Snapper en papillote with chanterelle mushrooms, husk cherries and fennel

*Bacon-wrapped meatloaf with charred tomato reduction

*Peach cake with candied ginger streusel and blackberry sorbet

Did I mention the local wine and beer pairings? Without reservation I can recommend Farmhaus. If you’re in St. Louis, see a baseball game or walk the amazing botanical gardens. Then find an hour or two for Farmhaus, a foodie’s dream.

Watch the 5-minute video by NPF digital manager Reyna Levine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu9a6rpGVOM

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

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My son insisted (as only Sam can insist) that the best soup dumplings in all of Shanghai are made at Yang’s Fry Dumpling.

So I dutifully downloaded a list of 10 Yang’s across this city of 24 million. I kept an eye on the street signs as I traveled across Shanghai on business. Meanwhile, I had some pretty darn good soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) elsewhere: from the 6-for-$1 variety at a little shop serving students at Fudan University to the sophisticated crab soup dumplings at a YuYuan Gardens restaurant where President Clinton once dined.

On my last day in Shanghai, as I strolled People’s Square, I finally spotted a Yang’s, barely a hole in the wall. So even though it was 10:15 am, just a few hours after my buffet breakfast, I knew I had to eat a few more soup dumplings.P1000618

At Yang’s, you can watch the dumplings being made by hand. An assembly line of cooks rolls out dumplings by the hundreds. One worker throws a small ball of dough onto the counter and rolls it thin. The next smears the circle of dough with a congealed fatty sauce (this is what makes the soup part, so don’t flinch!) and adds the small meatball of choice: pork, shrimp, crab. Then the dough is quickly pleated into the classic soup dumpling style and transferred to a huge saute pan to cook by the dozen.

The fun comes next. You carefully place a soup dumpling into a spoon, poke a hole into the top with a chopstick and suck out the soupy goodness. Forget what your mother told you about manners and slurp away. The only sound you’ll hear across the room is slurp slurp slurp. Then carefully dip the dumpling into vinegar and savor the meatball and dough.

This is interactive food at its best. Oh, and Yang’s charges 6RMB ($1) for four big xiaolongbao, a bargain in any language.

P1000619Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

It took three trips to the Gothic quarter of Barcelona before I found La Boqueria. Granted, the first two were evening dinner forays where I simply explored the old city and enjoyed tapas and gelato and cava with a wandering eye that did not land on the market.

I knew I had to make a dedicated trip to find the ancient market because my friends were insistent that it was a must-see on my trip to Barcelona. So glad I made that third foray!photo (44)

La Boqueria is simply astounding, a covered market with hundreds of vendors. It dates to the year 1217 when farmers sold their produce on the outskirts of the old gated city. The current structure was built in1840.

Today’s vendors artfully arrange their goods, a feast for the eyes to tempt the belly. Each vendor has its specialty. Spices sold by the kilogram. Eggs sized from tiny quail eggs to softball-sized emu. Iberian ham stalls where the butchers patiently explained the origins of the much-coveted pork while carving paper-thin slices. Pate stands. Beautifully packaged salt flavored with provencal herbs or chilis or lemon. And of course more veg and fruit stands than you could count.

These vendors know their tourist audience. They package many items for people on-the-go: papayas halved and wrapped with plastic with a tiny spoon, paper cones filled with jamon ham slices or cheese wedges, plastic cups of colorful fresh-squeezed juices chilled on ice, skewers of all combinations, and empanadas to eat out of hand.

At 10 am, people were bellied up to a handful of tapas bars within the market, sitting at counters to watch the creation of their small plates.

And what I really loved was the little old Spanish ladies doing their daily marketing, nimbly navigating the narrow passages and towing a small cart to stow their purchases. La Boqueria is a ‘supermarket’ for the ages.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

My mother was the original master gardener. She may not have the formal certificate but she’s got street cred. Her vast garden fed a hungry family of eight year-round, and inspired a love of gardening in all six of her children.

Oh, we whined when we were sent out to weed, a never-ending task, and bickered among ourselves about who was slacking. Weeding eventually gave way to picking the day’s bounty. There’s nothing like eating a carrot just pulled from the soil, or splitting open the first peas and gobbling them on the spot. But shucking enough peas or stringing enough beans for our big family was hard work.  There were occasional benefits to having six children – and assigning the garden work to the child labor force was one of them.

Mom had a green thumb, and her bounty graced practically every meal put on the Johnson table. We ate fresh produce all summer and into the fall. She also ‘canned’ fruit and vegetables, a lost art. Her gorgeous produce lined the shelves of her basement pantry – hundreds of Mason jars that gleamed like jewels.  Ruby red beets, emerald beans and pickles, carrots, tomatoes.  Peaches, cherries, pears bought by the crate, patiently peeled, pitted, blanched and sealed into glass jars.

Mom’s garden was ringed with apple trees, so she canned and froze apples that provided an apple pie every Sunday until the next season rolled around. (Her flaky piecrust secret?  Pork lard. She would smile to know that lard and lardo are on every chic restaurant menu today.)

Mavis Johnson picking cherry tomatoes. Credit: Sara MacGregor

Once we settled down, the Johnson children eventually drifted back to their gardening roots. My brother in Minneapolis starts his seeds under grow lights when snow still covers the ground, lovingly tends his veg in terraced beds, and then gives away the harvest. Another brother is in pursuit of the hottest peppers on Earth, astonishing his sibs by chewing on pickled habaneros. Sis in Alaska gets “biggest veg” bragging rights, taking advantage of Alaska’s endless summer sun. San Diego sister has citrus trees of every color. And Oregon sister harvests “U-Pick” cherries and berries.

Dearest Mom: Thank you for giving us the lifelong gift of gardening.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.