With the end of the year approaching and our fifth month in market coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on all that I’ve learned in the course of writing for Rum & Biscuits. It’s been an amazing year for experiencing new foods and places, and learning new things between the empty donut boxes, census spreadsheets, and Santa Monica Library e-books of 36 posts! And so now for our 37th, and final of 2017, I’d love to share with you all just a few of those learnings to take with us into the new year:
1. You should be baking your bacon
As I first head from Anthony Bourdain, both in his latest book Appetites and a subsequent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, it’s the best way to cook it evenly, and it’s what they do in restaurants. Thanks to foil, it can also be a much easier clean-up job. It’s the only way I cook it now – 350 degrees until crispy, usually 30 minutes – and I cook it nearly every night. Don’t judge.
2. There are sparkling red wines, and they’re perfect for your Afro-Caribbean Christmas dinner
A fruit-forward red to balance the spiciness meets a bubbly effervescence to cut through richness and fat. The Bulles de Miniere was my first, and still fav.
3. Donuts have a wild connection to Catholicism
While accounts of folks frying dough in oil go back as far as ancient Egypt and can be cataloged in the Middle East from A to Zalabia, the ones we know and love in America – the French beignets, Italian zeppole, or German bismarcks and berliners – have a unique historical tie to Christianity in Europe. It’s there that the treats began to proliferate through an association with the celebrations immediately before the month of lent (hence Mardi Gras, or literally, “Fat Tuesday”). And just how did Tuesday get this fat? As donut scholar Michael Krondl explains in his delightfully thorough book, The Donut, Christians spent the winter months butchering hogs for meat and accumulating their fat. Consumption of animal products during the fast was forbidden, so approaching mid-February, folks had a lot of pork sandwiches to get through, but also more lard than they knew what to do with. Naturally, rendering it and dropping a hundred spoonfuls of choux into it made everyone happy – a sweet fried treats to clear the pantry of the pork products and then, you know, better more appreciative Jesus Time. Win, win!
4. The Whole Foods at Runway Playa Vista has the best New York style pizza in L.A.
Who knew?!?! I don’t know if they import their water from the Hudson but it’s got that perfect chew, exceptional sauce-cheese-oil ratio, and it’s dumb cheap.
5. The Painkiller = a piña colada + respectability
Throughout all my dabbling with zombies, punches, and piña coladas throughout the years, it still took me until 2017 to try a Painkiller cocktail, when I first tried it in – of all places – Napa. Six months later, I’d tried it in three other cities and it had become my cocktail of the year. It’s everything I loved about the shameful piña colada, but with orange juice and nutmeg, and without, you know, being served in a sundae dish.
6. Portland is doubling down on Spanish food (and we are all in)
While the year was certainly not its beginning, nor was it without its hiccups, 2017 was something of a stake in the ground for Spanish cuisine in a city that has mas o menos zero Spanish population to speak of. Anecdotally, by the time I made it back North for Thanksgiving, four out of any five hot new restaurants I wanted to try were Spanish: none hotter than Bar Casa Vale (opened in late 2016, rewarded in all 2017) and Can Font (opened in May by a Michelin-recognized chef in his first venture outside of Barcelona). And if that weren’t enough, this summer the city went on to host two large Spanish food festivals one month apart – in one case becoming just the third U.S. city to do so, behind cities like Washington D.C. that made sense. WTF, you ask? My favorite and only rationale came from an Oregonian interview with Can Font chef Josep Vidal’s managing partner, Vladimir Zaharchook:
“Josep was looking at several locations — in California, Miami — but he told me what he likes about Portland is people here really like to try different foods, they appreciate ingredients and we have a lot of great local farms that can deliver vegetables and other ingredients.”
Esta es ciertamente la verdad.
7. Pennsylvania and D.C. may be the next chicken biscuit frontier
As a former colleague of mine reminded me just this last week, this is the type of thing that goes through our mind almost every day: when will Bojangles open a location in New York? Only God knows that, but I’m optimistic because He loves us. I’m also optimistic because Big Chicken Biscuit loves Big Northern Markets. And it’s openly acknowledged that the central Mid-Atlantic is a proving ground whose success could pave the road to NY, Boston, Buffalo, and beyond. So keep your wings crossed, yall, because business is booming and their could be Fixin’s in Flatiron soon enough.
8. You Braquet you buy it
The braquet/brachet grape, unique to the tiny region of Provence comprised mostly of Nice’s AOC Bellet, turns a life of low-ass yields on steep-ass hills made of rock and clay into aromatic, floral, delicious rosés. Their distinct rose petal notes – for me – put the grape, the wine, and the AOC Bellet at the apex of any other in Provence for roses. Like any good Oregonian, whose allegiance is inevitably to a hoppy IPA, I like myself a flowery drink.
9. The Wine Show Season 2 is available on Hulu now
And speaking of wine, we honestly should have reported this as the story broke. Regardless, consider yourself informed that the addictive, informative, expensively produced – if less debaucherous than promised – British import, The Wine Show, starring Matthews Goode (The Good Wife) and Rhys (The Americans) is available to American audiences once again as of Dec 7. It was four months after its UK premiere that Season/Series 1 reached the states so that I could binge (watch) four hours a night, and I waited even longer because nobody told me. So, you know, you’re welcome. But for those who loved the globe-traversing of the show’s two wine experts, the uninformed charm of their two Hollywood counterparts, gadget recos, challenges, and plush Italian villa of Series 1, you should find plenty to love in the second installment, this time set in France.
10. If you like spiced coffee, there’s a much easier way to do it than this
Just toss some (heavy) dashes of the store-brought ground spices in the filter before you add the coffee grounds. Easier and better tasting. Note: does NOT work for vanilla.
11. If you make a melting coconut cream ice cube for a cocktail, make sure you dilute it about 50% with water
Otherwise the cube will not freeze, it will become a slow moving gelatinous cream glob. You know what, I think we’ve spent enough time here, let’s move on.
12. Poke bowls will have you thinking pescatarian thoughts for the first time ever
Do you like sushi, but not the pesky carbs of rice? Does your sashimi do a crap job of capturing all the ladles of shoyu, ponzu, and sriracha mayo you cover it with? Poke – the Hawaiian raw fish salad that will find you in L.A. as well – will answer your prayers with a sweet, soft, Sade Lover’s Rock voice. With all the fresh, protein- and omega-rich perfection of its Japanese cousin, poke comes through with the bed of baby greens, kale, or most commonly seaweed to keep you
13. It’s easy to fall in love with Castilla y Leon wine
My aforementioned love of the Bellet AOC notwithstanding, I discovered this year that for my palette, no other European wine region is as consistently delicious as Castilla y Leon. And it makes sense, given that several of their more famous DO’s share a topography, river, and even a border with my next favorite European wine region: Portugal’s Douro Valley. Reds from the region are described as rich and intense, with notes of all my favorite things – blackberries, balsamic, granite, and toastiness – and rosés boast bold red fruit flavors with floral undertones. One sip will make you nod like a Dilla beat, so go get you some.
14. Williamsburg (Brooklyn) Caribbean hasn’t died
This news is two years old at this point, but just as I thought my old stomping grounds had hit their critical mass of Trendy Caribbean fare with the closing of N 6th Street’s Jifys in 2015, that same year they opened Pearl’s on N 8th, and Streets on Broadway, both of which I only heard of this year, and the latter of which I have tried, seen the glory, and developed knock-off cocktails inspired by their fare. If the price of more of these is a Whole Foods and losing a train line, so be it, it gives us hope.
15. Oregon is still breeding better blackberries
As we discovered in a piece we did earlier this year, the undisputed champ of American-grown blackberries – Oregon’s marionberry – actually has a triplet of shortcomings. It’s considered too soft, too thorny, and too cold-susceptible to allow for broader usage and more timely growing seasons. Hardier up-and-comers with marion taste like the Black Diamond and Columbia Star, or something even more perfected, could eventually replace the marionberry and we could be seeing Black Diamond Ice Cream and Columbia Star Pies in stores across the country.
16. Some bread is worth it
From the uninspired plain wheat toast whose smell alone brings you back from the brink, to the softest, whitest, buttery French pan au lait, to the dense, moist potato-based Portuguese flatbread bolo de caco, there are some carbs even an indoctrinated Angeleno with an aging metabolism can no longer avoid.
17. Travel food blogging is 10% food, 10% travel, and 80% stuff you don’t think about
After the re-hashing nightmare of our otherwise Heaven on Wheels romp through South France and Portugal this summer, our first foray into international travel/food blogging taught us some vital lessons about details beyond the plate that are just as important to capture. Details like the bartender’s name, tasting notes, and nearly a dozen other things you should be snapping a pic of that aren’t food you enjoy. It was definitely an invaluable lesson, and hopefully the chance to put it to the test again comes soon enough!
And we certainly wish the same for you in the year ahead and beyond!
Happy holidays, everyone! Thank you for reading, and to all those who have liked or followed – we’ll see you again in 2018!