Saturday, May 26, 2007

And the winners are.......

Camp Bread flew by, and Team USA for the 2008 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie has been selected... including one Solveig Tofte, head baker from Turtle Bread Bakery in Minneapolis! And if I am not mistaken, she is the world's very first female representative in her category, that being baguette and specialty breads. I had the good fortune to taste her winning breads: one incorporating American chestnuts and cocoa nibs, a fig rye, a Scandinavian sowing bread (with barley, oats and rye), pain de mie boosted with potato, a great baguette made with 140% poolish and 10% liquid levain, and my personal favorite, an intensely substantial and flavorful cracked wheat bread with a remarkable open crumb. Made frail by exhaustion, I broke down in a fairly uncharacteristic Oprah moment at the announcement of the winners... there may well be some photos floating around out there of yours truly all snot-nosed and teary-eyed at the surprising election of a team that is 2/3 female and 1/3 Chinese-American! This is probably the first (and potentially the last) time I will say, Go USA!

Even aside from that momentus occasion, the rest of Camp Bread was truly a great time; it rekindled in me, as might be expected, a real passion for bread. This is something that I certainly never had lost, but I've been on the pastry boat, so to speak, now for quite some time. I must say, pastry certainly lacks the elemental satisfaction that is inherent to the idea of bread. This week I've once more been reflecting upon the common thread that bread, and grain in general, has always woven between cultures. Pastry appeals to me for its creativity and hedonistic nature (in spite of the fact that I don't have such a sweet tooth), yet bread is incomparably more soulful. By the same token, I feel that the bread crowd is a better fit for me on a personal level, though I'm not positive if it is more so than the crazy line cook set I'm so used to (friends, you know who you are...). I do appreciate the fussy, technical character of high-end pastry and plated desserts, but in a sense it's not always so "me."
All my Camp Bread photos can be seen here.

On a different note, due to my extreme business I've been remiss in dining out for the most part. One exception to this is Little Sichuan, inconveniently located down in San Mateo. I've gone twice, the first of which yielded painfully (and deliciously!) spicy dishes such as dry fried string beans, cold beef and tripe in chili oil, szechwan whole fish, cold szechwan noodles and excellent dry fried chicken wings utterly encrusted in mouth-numbing szechwan pepper. (And yes, you do indeed feel the spice twice.) On my second visit, it was less impressive and less painful, but we still had a well-executed ma-po tofu (creamy tofu that was delicate yet fully intact) and what we believe to have been "water-cooked beef,"(pictured above) despite the fact that we had actually ordered "cold spicy beef tenders." What we received turned out to be a large steaming bowl of thick chile-saturated liquid chock full of preserved cabbage and very tender beef slices, topped with a good scattering of chopped cilantro-- this was certainly the best dish of the meal. Less outstanding were the eggplant and the intriguingly-named "powdery steamed beef," but hey, live and learn. All my Little Sichuan photos can be seen here.