Earlier this week, Jennie asked that people take a moment to make Mikey’s favorite peanut butter pie and share it with someone they love. I made mine last night. It’s deeply imperfect, with a crust that won’t stay together and a chocolate layer that’s too thick.
Still, when I cut a messy slice for Scott last night, I did so without apology and with gratitude that he was standing right there to receive the plate.
It’s been twelve years since I last stepped into Baba Malaysian restaurant in NYC. It was before 9/11, as it seems every thing that happened in the past twenty years is defined as a ‘pre’ or ‘post’ this date. It was my birthday in April of 2000 and my partner, who was from Long Island, took me down to celebrate at my favorite restaurant and attend an Astrea Foundation concert that featured Ani Difranco and Margaret Cho. It was a weekend of shopping, eating, music, and friends. It was also the birthday when I was approached by someone of the Twelve Tribes who assumed, probably based on my Pepto colored hair, that I was a lost soul and should join them on their bus for a spiritual awakening.
One of the best moments came when a car full of friends and I were driving 80+MPH on the L.I.E. and found an ice cream truck in the lane next to us. Through a game of charades and yelling, we convinced the driver to hand over some ice cream pops while we were driving. Luckily, it wasn’t rush hour and there were no troopers on that particular stretch of highway, because we were rewarded with a couple of chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream bars. I still laugh at the memory of my pink haired self stretching a third of the way out the window as this twentyish year old guy struggled to hand over the ice cream bars while driving with one hand on the wheel. I swear, those were some of the best ice cream bars any of us had ever had.
But, as easy as I remember something as crazy and idiotic as that, I still remember the meal.
Baba was my favorite restaurant in New York(this was when I was 23, still unversed in ethnic foods and just realizing that I had more than a fleeting passion for food) and getting down to eat there was always a treat. But, it’s not overly noteworthy that I can remember what I had twelve years ago because we ordered the same thing whether we were there or at Penang. Penang’s menu was much more extensive than Baba’s so there was the occasional change or addition in starter or entree but the desserts usually remained the same.
The dessert, with the funny sounding name of Burbur Chacha, made me fall in love with Malaysian food. It was sweet, gelatinous and warming. When Baba closed in late 2002, before I got to bid it a proper farewell with one last meal, I tried to find that dessert around Albany to no avail. Sticky rice in coconut milk with taro or black eyed peas were as close as I could find in the Asian supermarkets in the area. Theywerethisclose yet it still wasn’t the same.
Then this year, when there were quick plans being made to hop on the Concord bus to Boston for Chinese New Years(where the picture above comes from). I decided to try to track down a recipe, procure the items while in Chinatown and make a go for it at home. So, between laughing at the Missus’ cousin marvel at the Lions Parade
and having dim sum at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe
I dragged their asses from one side of Chinatown to the other looking for ingredients for the recipe:
11 ounces/ 300 grams purple yam, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
1lb/ 450 grams sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup dried tapioca pearls
2 cups/ 450 ml fresh or frozen coconut milk
¼ cup/ 200 ml water
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 pandan leaf, shredded into thin strips and knotted together
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped palm sugar
Steam the yam and sweet potato cubes for about 30 minutes or until tender. Leave aside to cool.
Prepare the tapioca pearls. Submerge the pearls in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer them to a saucepan filled with water. Boil the pearls, stirring constantly, until the pearls turn translucent. Drain the pearls in a fine-mesh sieve and pour cold water through the sieve. This helps to break the pearls up and prevent clumps from forming. Set aside.
In a large pot, combine ¾ cup/200 ml of coconut milk with the water, then add the palm sugar, granulated sugar, salt and pandan leaf, and bring to a boil. Add the rest of the coconut milk, the sweet potatoes and yam, and the tapioca pearls.
The Pandan leaves, very much like palm leaves, were the hardest to find, located in the back of the frozen area of the Chinatown C-Mart we finally tracked down. The scavanger hunt for these ingredients–as well as some ingredients for XO Sauce–kept us warm and out of restaurants where we would have sat and stuffed our faces.
Maybe it sheds or something, I thought to myself, as if it had some outer husk attached. But, it doesn’t, does it. No. I just managed to find the shittiest Tapioca Pearls in all of Boston’s Chinatown. The reality was obvious at this point: It was too late to turn back from all of this. The taro and sweet potato had been steamed, the pandan cut and tied and the coconut milk removed from it’s tin. I decided that it was best to just pack everything up for the day before I trashed my kitchen out of frustration and rage(we’ll blame the full moon for the grossly disproportionate reaction I was having).
Later the next day, I opened up my Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything in the World” and settled on making an uberstarchified version of his Kheer. The end results were ok, as the taro was undercooked, more palm sugar could have been used, the milk was too thin and I ate it cold. Yeah, it was basically a big bowl of disappointment in trying to recreate what I once had and I learned that I’m better off leaving that dish to the memory of what it was.
Ok, I’ll admit it right now… this post was intended to be done just about a year ago. It was football playoff time and I was watching whatever game I could get with our non-cable set of rabbit ears (this was before we were living the high life and had cable).
Then the ad came on, a mash up of old and new players, set to Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young‘. It was sentimental and well done and it made me want the soda. I was hooked.. I needed to have a can. Right then. This would hold no significance for me had I not gone without having a Pepsi(or Coke or Tab or RC Cola–the latter two were very popular in my house growing up) in over seven years. I swore off caramel colored soda, opting only for ginger ale or ginger beer or the more recent addition of the locally brewed Green Bee Soda.
So, my next jaunt out to Hannaford’s found a 20oz bottle in my basket. Actually, I think there were three and one Throwback Mountain Dew and the ‘Heritage’ Dr. Pepper for the Missus to try. Those two, according to her, were absolute shite. The Pepsi, however, was enjoyed. Highly. Not only were those bottles consumed but more were purchased. Until, that was, it ran out. Then we didn’t see it again until later in the summer while shopping @ BJ’s Wholesale. We bought a few cases, which lasted us well into the fall. And then it was gone again.
But, a year later, it’s back in time for the Superbowl. This time I found it at a Hannaford’s in Falmouth, which I went into while waiting for Harmon’s to open. I bought three cases and we’ve already gone through one–and since that initial purchase, the Missus has picked up yet another.
I do feel a bit of shame over this obsession. I know far too many soda addicts and knew that when I bought it chances were that it was going to turn into an obsession. But, there truly is a nostalgia factor for me. It does bring me back to being a kid, when soda was almost always in the house. The flavor of it is exactly the same and you can truly taste the difference between their use of High Fructose Corn Syrup in the regular Pepsi vs. the natural sugar in this one.
So, I’ll enjoy this obsession while it, and the NFL Football season, lasts. I’ll be waiting anxiously for both to return again in late summer.
The Mission: Challenge myself to dine at 4 restaurants during “Restaurant Week” over the short course of two days; consume approx. 6 courses over the span of 5 hours. My partner, whose dishes are also included in this count, joined me on 4 of , what turned into, 5.
This was all well and good until we decided to start things a smidge early and stop by for a first look at Boda.
They were not “officially” participating in Maine Restaurant Week, but they are a restaurant in Maine, so I think they qualify to be counted.
March 4, 2010–7:30ish
First impression: I want to live there or, if I can’t, then I want to steal all of their wood tables (salvaged wood that was shipped from Thailand). The walls are earth tones and decorations simple. Stripped down and comfortable, it was homey. I can see why they wanted this to be the antithesis of Bangkok and it’s mass of take out–here, they make it so you never want to leave. The only odd piece is the large tv above the bar in the back. When we were there they were playing BBC America, so it wasn’t obnoxious as say, COPS. On first glimpses this was a far cry from Bangkok and I was already grateful.
We were seated, ordered House made Mango Iced Teas and proceeded to have an unexpectedly amazing meal.
Fried taro sticks: seasoned with sea salt. Served with spicy chili Sriracha sauce
Pork belly skewers: marinated with salt, sprinkled with chopped scallion.
The presentation on the Taro Sticks was great: simple spider cradling a decent batch of fresh taro fries. And it’s served with Sriracha. Really you need more? Ok, they were perfect. Now, fry them in duckfat and I would dub them “Grandruler of All Fries in Portland!” They would be stern, but gentle rulers.
Grilled Pork belly was nice, nothing overly fancy. The ridge of fat at the top had a decided crunch that was a bit surprising. I’m still debating if they would have benefited from some sort of sauce or if they were served as they should be and I’m just missing it.
The Mrs.: Pork hocks braised with Star Anise Simmered in a rich dark stock made with “parlow spice”(Chinese five spice). Served with jasmine steamed rice, hardboiled egg, tofu, Asian mustard green pickles, and spicy & sour chili sauce. One of the most popular street foods in Thailand.
Me: Beef Panaeng: Braised beef in a flavorful panaeng curry paste (salty and sweet with aromas of Thai basil and lime leaves with a background taste of peanuts) and coconut cream, served with jasmine steamed rice. Panaeng curry is one of the most popular dishes in the Thai repertoire.
Ok, I do have to confess that I got nearly a bit weepy when my meal was placed in front of me and I was taken back to BABA, a Malaysian restaurant in NYC that closed after 9/11. Only there, it was Beef Rendang. And it was my favorite dish in the world. And I’ve been chasing that particular dish, or one to match it of that level, for nearly 10 years. The beef was painfully tender, slightly spicy and drizzled with coconut cream to bring the dish around with a bit of sweetness. While this one had it’s particular regional differences, it was just as comforting. Though the portions are generous there, I have to say that I held back on my hunger so I could have something to bring home to savor later on. I tried to convey all of this to the waitress, she just smiled and looked a bit sad for me.
But, through my own Oprah moment at my plate, my partner was presented with the most tenderly shredded ham hock I have ever seen. And, god, the sauce that was served with it was rich and earthy; peppery with a bit of sour. I picked at her plate as often as I could tear myself away from my own. The only odd thing for me was the pickled egg–just odd. She, too, ended up having enough to take home and enjoy later that night.
The last course was inevitable. I wouldn’t stop going on about how happy the food made me and how I truly didn’t want the experience to end until I was at complete and utter sensory satiation.
Chinese Doughnut: Fried dough, coffee served over ice cream
Thai Rice Pudding
First, I’m going to be a 5yr old and state that ‘Chinese Doughnut’ is my new favorite term for a highly inappropriate sex act. I know it’s wrong and immature, but it’s funny..so it’s mine. For a doughnut, of any sort, it was kind of meh.
However, the black thai rice pudding was striking in appearance and delicious beyond words. Thick with coconut and sweetened condensed milk, the only thing missing were some black eyed peas and I would have been food bliss overdrive. I’m not sure if this is a regular item that they make, but I highly recommend you order it if given the chance.
Actually, I hold that to all of the dishes that we sampled.
Ambiance: I want all of the furniture in my next house. No campy decorations, tourism posters or weird animals hanging from the ceiling.
Service: Younger waitress, a bit inexperienced or just flighty. Ok, but not great. Hostess/Manager was definitely on top of things, swooping in behind our waitress when drinks were refilled or dishes cleared. Probably one of the most attentive hosts in Portland.
Food: Brought Thai in Portland to a whole new level. We left very happy and it actually made us very interested in trying their other venture, The Green Elephant.