A Valid Excuse

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Well, with another birthday coming up (can you really call it a big 2-3?). I have a valid excuse to go out with friends to what should be an excellent restaurant. Given, I usually come up with excuses to go to a new restaurant like "Because," or "A meteor will hit earth and kill us all," "Global warming," and my favorite with Rob, "Or else." But this time, my reason is valid. Go not dying another year! In your face circus gypsy, I prove you and your predictions wrong!

We plan to go to Gonul's J Street Cafe. I hear good things about this place and Californian and Mediterranean are my favorite cuisines, and have been jonesin' for some sweet jazz music.
Expect a review sometime this weekend!

A Course on Cheese

I love a good piece of stinky cheese. I enjoy taking it out of the fridge and letting its nasty old stank peel the paint off my walls, knockout my cat, and make the local children cry. It's how you know you gots yerself sum quality cheese right there.

Unfortuneatly, I must admit, my cheese knowledge is limited to about, oh, whatever I might have picked up from a cookbook or Food Network. Thank heavens for Max McCalman, may chiors sing his spoiled milk praises! For those who don't really know this guy, he is the man and fromager (cheese brainiac) who pretty much single handedly spearheaded the idea of presenting true artisinal cheeses, cheese courses, and giving cheese the kind of credit we give to wine here in America. He has become well known for his work in the New York restaurants Picholine and Artisinal, and luckilly for those of us not living shibby in New York, has gone out of his way to create a wonderful guide to the best of the best in his second book, Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best.

While McCalman's first book, The Cheese Plate, co-authored by David Gibbons, was a chic everyperson's guide to wine and cheese pairings, Cheese simply gives us 200 of the world's best cheeses. Listed in alphabetical order, each cheese is described beautifully and concisely noting where it is produced, how it is produced, how best to enjoy it, and the underlying flavors you should expect when experiencing it. I use the word experience, because after trying some of these selections, it really is the only appropriate word that the English language can offer me. McCalman also goes ahead to offer with each cheese a variety of different wines (red, white, and blush) and even some sparkling wines that should help you wow your party guests' palates.

McCalman, also understanding our blind kitten approach to cheese, also guides you through various aspects of cheese. Early chapters deal with how to select, store, prepare, serve various kinds of cheese. Later on we are given a thurough lesson on how to pair cheese with various breads, fruits, and nuts, or how to simply lay back and enjoy a piece unmolested by any other food. Basics for how to create and serve a cheese course or a cheese tasting party will inspire you to host your own (I know I plan to have a truly stinky one shortly!). Lastly, of course, an extensive, though maybe a bit too much so, course on how to pair wine and cheese. The watchful and caring teacher, he does this in a simple, plainspoken manner, allowing any reader to understand not only how to preform each task, but the why behind it as well.

I have to say, I would not have discovered my love of Lancaster, my passion for Prattigauer, my desire for Doddington, and how I give resounding praise to Roaring 40's Blue!

Overall, I give Cheese a 5 out of 5. This book is a wonderful addition to any food lover's bookshelf. It's succinct, informative, and covers a wide variety of cheeses you can find from California to Italy.

Ciocolat for Chocolate (Ciocolat - Davis, CA)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ciocolat has always had a soft spot in my heart when it comes to cafes. This particular place, located so close to the heart of the UC Davis campus, is a gem in itself partially due it's wholly unacademic appearence. You'll find no beaten couches and college garage bands here. No, instead a few quiet students on their laptops, professors conversing, and local Davis residents gathering for tea and sweets. The facade is quaint and welcoming, the inside contemporary with shadows of French influence softening every line of architecture and decor you see. At night, simple strings of white light make the little cafe light up with a romantic and soothing glow.

The food here is sparse but decent, stuff that you would find at expensive bistros but you'll be paying a fraction of the price. The menu consists of only a few items; BLT's with basil mayo, red onion, and hickory-smoked bacon on focaccia, and their wild mushroom lasagna for example are sure to please. The last time I went I ordered their soup of the day. Now unfortuneatly, restaurants have led me to believe that soup of the day is usually synonymous with the word "crap," yet I continuously order it anyways. I regretted my decision imeediately, but gosh darn it, I loves my soup.

Did I receive my synonymous soup? Oh no, no! Not this time! I was presented with a gorgeous butternut squash soup, swirled with creme' fresche and parsely, and a slice of fresh focaccia on the side. It was mind blowing, I actually unraveled secrets to the universe. Example? Seven angels can dance on the head of a pin unless they've been drinking. (Then they're just passed out on the couch, or eating 7-11 nachos the next day.)

Of course, there was a downside. My friend's Seasonal Green Salad was, while tasty, a bit disturbing. I know they have to hand crumble feta over the damn thing, but seeing thumbprints stamped into every piece is just a bit, oh, gross to me. Chef's should put their mark on their food, but not in such a literal manner. It's unappealing and unappetizing.

They also serve high tea. A decadent four course meal, consisting of fancy little sandwiches, white chocolate and raspberry scones served with lemon curd and red currant raspberry jam, followed by an assortment of desserts, and ending in fresh berries with chantilly creme. This is only served Friday and Saturday from 2-4:30, so set aside some time. You'll need to make reservations for this breathtaking event.

This time, however, I went specifically for the desserts. I dragged my partner in crime, Rob, with me. For someone who was hesitent to come, he was more than pleased once he saw the dessert case, filled to the brim with a few dozen assortments of truffles, cakes, tarts, and other orgiastic little bits.

The Blackberry and White Chocolate Mousse was definetly calling out my name. A large tier of white angel cake, a layer of an unidentifiable sweet cream (honestly, I really have no idea what it was 'cause I ate it so fast, but seconds please!) and a thick layer of blackberry mousse. The whole thing covered in piles and piles of white chocolate shavings! It was embarrassing salivating all over the display case. Towel please?

My eyes started to tear up after one bite. The play of flavors and textures between the cake, mystery creme, mousse, and white chocolate was bliss. I honestly don't think I have ever had a cake this good in my entire life. When I die, I want to be re-incarnated as this cake.

I pretty much threw a tantrum when Rob insisted we trade. He gave me his Orange Chocolate Mousse Cake. This was a beautiful orange mousse, sitting on top of a small layer of chocolate cake. Sounds great no? Yeah, well I thought it would be great too. The orange mousse tasted like whipped cream mixed with Orange Extract, and it totally overpowered the cake which could have been missing all together and you really wouldn't have known the difference. Given, though, I can see other people enjoying this, but I myself shrug it off with indifference.

Now while Ciocolat is overall a great place, there are downsides. The people working there, while friendly, seem slightly reluctant to be there. They don't seem to know a whole lot about what their selling, and their coffee is way to watered down. The staff could use some tasting and training to make them a little more excited and knowledgeable about what they are offering to the customer.

Overall, I give Ciocolat a 4 out of 5. Ciocolat is a pleasant, sweet, and calming exprience, and I plan to go again. My advice to you if you go? Try not to make too much of a scene when inhaling your cake.

301 B Street
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 753-3088

A Vanilla Read - "Vanilla: The Cultural History..." by Patricia Rain

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Vanilla is the only member of the orchid family, a family consisting of 90,000+ types, that has any edible properties. Vanilla is also used as an aphrodisiac to entice the opposite sex in the modern world, the same way it was back in the Aztec world. Of course it was also used to entice the Gods before a human sacrifice. Vanilla is also the cause for an unknown number of murders throughout history, flavoring your favorite foods, and is one of the most chemically complex compounds known to man! Vanilla, truly, is anything but vanilla.

Given, my book club was hesitant to read Patricia Rain, the Vanilla Queen's, newest book Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance. Food histories are rarely on the top of anyone's "Must Read" list, and why would it be when The Secret Life of... can condense it so much easier in a simple half hour serving? But I was able to convince them otherwise, and they for the most part, enjoyed it.

Patricia Rain is by no means a truly professional writer (pot calling the kettle black), as the book is laid out much like a college thesis - chronologically, and by subject.Luckily it doesn't read like one; most of the time that is. While some historical backgrounds of the sweet bean may drag a bit, the favorite flavors' fascinating and intriguing story always pulls you in and Rain's writing always catches you time and again.

Rain begins the book with a short rundown of how and where vanilla grows and subsequently the how and where vanilla is cured and processed. She then proceeds to take us through it use and history in Aztec culture such as the above mentioned people slaughters and seductions. The tale then weaves through it's migration to Europe where it is subsequently forgotten except as a component of hot chocolate. An interesting story here is one of a pastor baning the high society parishioners from having their servants bring them their hot cocoa and vanilla to church, consistently interrupting his services. He is soon dispatched of via poison. Fun, fun. It goes without saying that the next pastor is more than happy to allow steamy sweet drinks.

The book soon goes into vanilla's sudden boom in France and Spain. We also delve into it's explosion into America thanks to prohibition, because bathtub vodka's flavor just demands to be covered up. Vanilla candy and vanilla flavor was a popular choice much like orange juice (the birth of the Screwdriver) to create tasty boozy drinks, bringing on the phrase, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

Luckily she not only covers the social context and history of vanilla, but also it's significant standing in botany, religion, mythology, agriculture, and economics so the book in itself is quite complete. The pictures and "side bar factoids" are always welcome and help break up the sometimes monotonous vanilla musings.

Of course the book does have pitfalls. As I have mentioned before, the book does sometimes get itself in a rut. I think some of the European history chapters I just ended up skipping all together as it reminded me of dry cultural geography classes back in high school. The history section is also so long that I just started to randomly read the chapters in an order based on what sounded fascinating at the time. I think it just reads better that way, allowing you to dote on the topics that intrigue you and disregard the ones that don't.

The contemporary history is by far the most intriguing section where we see why Vanilla beans are so expensive; with difficulty in cultivating them in addition to constant theft and murder over them being the main reasons (although the World Market has Tahitian beans for 2 bucks! I assume they somehow bypass the murder somehow...). Plus, it goes through the scientific experimentation as it is utilized as a perfume, aphrodisiac, and drug, each with quixotic, though not surprising, results.

Ms. Rain appropriately sprinkles in some vanilla recipes throughout the book, creating a mouthwatering read to say the least. I tested out a few of them and let me say they truly rock my socks. The Vanilla and Coconut Milk with Shrimp recipe is heavenly, though I suggest you add a bit of cayenne to give it some kick. Plus the Chipotle-Vanilla Salsa and BBQ Sauce is a mind altering experience. It's really like nothing you have ever tried before! I love me some vanilla and garlic, and this married the two together into a perfect spicy sweet union! The taste of this and all her recipes is a mix of ephemeral and exotic.

People who like food literature and academic histories like this will adore Rain's vanilloquy. The everyday reader... not so much. It is however a book that you can easily pick up at anytime and will make a gorgeous addition to your book or cookbook shelf!

The Blogged Culinary Sacramento

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I swear to God, I'm gonna' get fired and I won't have anyone to blame but the coalition of S.F. food bloggers. They have gotten me adddicted to their damn food blogs. I read them all day. They're like my coke, but without the 80's music in the background.

They all ranged from cupcakes to restaurant reviews, but each one of course was located and surrounded topics all in... wait for it... San Francisco! Surprise, surprise.

Entertaining yes, but not very helpful to me. So I searched for some in the Sacramento area. Yet, as the crap shoot that is my life has demonstrated time and again, I have shit luck. Not one Sacramento food blog has been written, let alone has the Sacramento area even been mentioned in one. All that exists are travel guides run by big ol' websites, and local restaurant critics who get free meals, which I think might influence their opinions.

I am here to remedy that problem.

Well, no, that's too altruistic. I do this for selfish reasons, too. (I live in California, what can I say?) I want to be a food writer and this is the next best thing. Plus, I can write food histories, fun recipes, and so on here at my blog. Of course, the restaurant reviews and certain events and misadventures will all be Sacramento based (but never fear, Davis, Woodland, Natomas, and so on for you will not be left out).

And who knows? Maybe my little soapbox might actually help people out in their culinary times of need and curiosity.

Frequently Asked Questions about Vanilla Garlic and Garrett McCord

So What Does Vanilla Garlic Focus On?

Vanilla Garlic originally started back when the food blog world was young and there wasn't much food information online yet, let alone a restaurant guide for Sacramento. I decided the blog would be a chance for me to try out new restaurants and writeup my own reviews. Eventually, I started to include cookbook reviews, and use the blog as a space to write down my favorite recipes. A year later I went on a cupcake craze and this became one of the top cupcake blogs with a huge repertoire of original recipes.

Nowadays, I just write about my adventures and experiences in the many facets of the food world. People seem to like to read my stories and posts and I'm more than happy to share them.

Are All Your Stories True?

Yes. I do change names or locations at times, but the events I write about do actually happen. Oftentimes, I may simply combine two or three different events together into one instance for the sake of story-telling. Ahh, the powers of creative non-fiction.

Do You Review Products?

I love to try new things, but don't always have time. If I agree to accept your product I do not guarantee a review on the blog in return. However, more than likely if I said yes to begin with I have an interest in doing so. If you want me to review cheese I will almost always say yes because - Christ Almighty - it's cheese. I usually ask for some product to give away to blog readers in a contest so as to drive up hype for the product. For the review I am more than happy to work with you in the process on driving traffic to your Facebook page, website, etc. Just tell me what you want and we'll find a solution that best shows off your swagger.

Do You Review Cookbooks?

Yes, but I'm picky about what I pick up and only review those which catch my interest. Furthermore, I prefer to be able to talk to the author in order to write a good review should I decide to. If I do review it, I read the book cover to cover and then prepare about five of the recipes to ensure the review is fair and thorough. Afterward, I will review the book and, preferably, give a copy away on the blog. For the review I am more than happy to work with you in the process on driving traffic to your Facebook page, website, etc. Just tell me what you want and we'll find a solution that best shows off the book.

Do You Review Restaurants?

I enjoy doing so very much, but I usually do it on my own time. It's not often I go to tasting dinners or openings (though it has been known to happen). Furthermore, I believe a review is only really fair if I eat at a restaurant as a regular paying customer. This usually means if I love your opening/tasting/event then I will swing by again on my own dollar to get a street-level view of how your place works to ensure a fair review.

Can I Talk To You About Your Research?

Of course! I feel that sharing resources and information is one of the best parts of academia. Please e-mail me about any specifics.

Will your write/cook/develop a recipe for us?

I would love to. I've done recipe writing for Gourmet, Saveur, Cheese Connoisseur, and written a cookbook. I'm also a trained pastry cook. I've got the chops. Write me and we can discuss payment options and what you need.

I am more than happy to do some charity work for nonprofits and any good causes should you have one to present. I come from the nonprofit world so I understand your needs.

I specialize in baking, cheese, and Chinese cooking. For more about my work, check out my personal website.

My Cupcakes Aren't Working, What Should I Do?

Yes, this used to be a cupcake blog and you'll find a lot of cupcake recipes here. If you have questions I made a handy little cupcake troubleshooting guide just for you.

I hear you are working on a cookbook?

Currently, I am also writing a book with fellow food writer Stephanie Stiavetti called, Melt: The art of Macaroni and Cheese. To be released in Fall 2013 by Little, Brown. If you have questions about it I would love to answer them as I love chatting cheese.

About & Contact

So this is nifty and a nice boost to me ego since the reason you're on this page is to learn more about me. I'm flattered, really. My full name is Garrett Michael McCord. I am a middle child, but have been told I don't show the symptoms as such. I think cake itself can be a meal. I have a predisposition towards baking at odd hours of the day. I seek out cheeses with strange names and stranger smells. I’m also a magnet for curious occurrences and the oddest people the world has bred (or in some cases, seemingly congealed). At the same time, I do my best to chronicle it all here at my blog, Vanilla Garlic.

Vanilla Garlic is where I sit down to write about life, food, and whatever seems to intersect the two. You’ll find recipes and photographs here but I tend to focus on the written word. Hopefully, you'll like what you read as it usually is tasty and/or funny (or so I like to think).

I tell people I meet at parties that I’m a food writer by trade. I'm also an ex-assistant pastry chef who now works in the nonprofit world because I like having weekends off. They're jobs that I love as they allow me to explore and interact with some pretty amazing people, a few adventurous places, and some the occasional dim sum lunch.

I have a MA in English Composition where I focused on teaching writing through the use of food as a medium; and where food, writing, and culture were my focuses for research. My thesis was an examination of exclusionary rhetoric using the Slow Food movement’s texts and recipes as a medium. Super scholarly stuff. Also crazy boring, but I’m more than willing to share it if you want to read it. God help you if you do.

The best thing to come from that school and pastry experience is that I get to spend time teaching both cooking and writing classes to adults and kids. I also work as recipe and cookbook tester, and once in a blue moon assist in food-related social media and as a public relations consultant. I’ve also spoken on many panels on topics in writing and cooking at a number of conferences. The best part of all this is that I get to do what I love and it helps people in the process. That, I feel, means I’m living a pretty successful – but busy – life.

As a food writer I’ve written for multiple publications and websites including Gourmet Live, Epi-Log, Cheese Connoisseur, Leite's Culinaria, Edible Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee. My work on this blog has been featured in many places as well, including the Miami Herald, New York Times' Best of the Blogs, The Kitchn, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Saveur.com also nominated Vanilla Garlic in its Food Blog Awards for Best Individual Post in 2010 and Best Food Essay in 2011.

As a recipe tester and developer I have worked on the best selling cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook; and The Great Big Vegetable Challenge, which was a top-selling sensation in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This is too long a list, but I guess that's a good thing.

Currently, I am also writing a book with fellow food writer Stephanie Stiavetti called, Melt: The art of Macaroni and Cheese. To be released in early 2013 by Little, Brown & Company.

If you have questions about me, my writing, research, or recipes or just wish to tell me I suck then feel free to contact me at vanillagarlic@gmail.com.

To read more of my writing outside of the blog, read my curriculum vitae, or stalk me then go to my CV website at http://garrettmccord.com/.

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