Monday, August 21, 2006

Bakery Hunting...

After a satisfying lunch of bratwurst, sauerkraut, and German-style potato salad at the Globe German Deli in Costa Mesa, I ventured a few blocks over for a bakery hunt. The hunt started out well, since I was able to use my small amount of Danish expertise to convince one of the shop owners that the DanSukker I was holding was indeed sugar and not salt. After attempting to bake in Denmark and going on supermarket adventures in Kvikly to find the right stuff, I was sure of this one. I was proud of myself today, a little too proud. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to Danish. I love the Globe Deli because even if they don't always know whether they are selling you salt or sugar, they give you great German sausage and they do it with a smile! Plus, they have Danish products, which means that I am a happy happy girl when in the Globe Deli.

Anyway, on to the bakery hunt...

I snooped around the greatly anticipated new location of the Sunflower Bakery to take a gander at their fresh digs. According to one of the employees, the store will not be open for another month or so. But if you're a great investigative journalist like me, you can walk around the back and purchase items wholesale (Alright, alright, so there was a sign with an arrow, but it was in a somewhat tinted storefront window people). The new bakery is located off of Baker in Costa Mesa, tucked away on Grace Street, and I am looking forward to sampling its delights!

The genius of the location is clear: It is extremely close to my house, and since close proximity to me gives bakeries an even better chance of more local bakery fiend business, I'd say they are in for a pleasant surprise. Bakers: stick with zip code 92626, you'll be golden. Also, allow me to point out the genius of a bakery located within seconds of a dairy (and a drive in dairy no less)? This allows for a more satisfying bakery hunt indeed. The dairy I speak of is since is Manneh's Alta Dena Dairy, which is within a minute's walking distance of Sunflower, and located on the corner of Baker and Grace.

Where to find it:
Alta-Dena Drive in Dairy
1085 Baker Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

The dairy is also easily accessible after a visit to French's Pastry Bakery, which is on the same street. (French's hold a special place in my heart since their chocolate fudge cake has always been a fixture at different special events and birthdays within my family. It has become such a tradition that we even declared an annual "chocolate cake season" that spans several holidays and birthdays within about a three month period of one another. Basically, it's a good time to purchase a 3-month gym membership).

But back to the dairy, oh sweet dairy of mine in Costa Mesa.

This dairy reminds me of how I am often torn between two of my favorite European cultures. While I celebrate my French background on my mother's side, I am disloyal to my culture in one respect: their attitude towards consumption of dairy products. Growing up in America, it seemed there was no better combination than baked goods (particularly chocolate chip cookies) and a glass of milk.

When I lived in Denmark, Danes seemed to have an equally great appreciation for a good glass of milk. In fact, Danish milk is the best I have tasted yet. (While I never knew what I was missing as a young American child, studying abroad ruined me as far as dairy libations go--Trust me dear readers, once you go Danish dairy, you never go back). In Denmark, it is not uncommon to see Danish business men and women, teenagers, and kids alike drinking oversized cartons of Matilde chocolate milk as they wait for their bus or train ride home after work and school. Matilde chocolate milk reigns far supreme over any Nestle or Hershey's concoction we have in the US. It is a seriously spiritual experience if you like chocolate milk.

However, when it comes to drinking milk in France, I was told it is unfashionable, juvenile, and ridiculous even. I found this out by accident, when I was walking down the street in Paris, pastry in one hand, small jug of milk in the other. Apparently this was so shocking to a local passerby that she did a double take before going on her merry French way. I was not even sure why she did a double take at first, and quickly forgot the incident.

Then I visited Millies Cookie's, a UK-based cookie shop located in the Opera Metro station in Paris which offers a generic but decent chocolate chip cookie (a European quick fix for any American having a chocolate chip cookie craving, which I seem to have quite often). When I purchased three cookies, and then asked the cashier if I could buy some milk, she laughed at me. I knew something was up, and asked my friendly hotel clerk Sasha why French people seemed to think me ridiculous. He told us that milk is something that "small kids" drink, and could not stop smirking, presumably because of our silly American reliance on calcium products. He did explain that his birthplace, Normandy, makes some excellent dairy products, but insisted that one had no place drinking milk in the city of lights if they happened to be over the age of six. (Even six seemed to be pushing it). What gives Paris? You have all of these amazing bakeries and no love for the moo-juice? I was not the only one with milk woes. I also met a lovely American bakery owner from Boston, who had married a French man and relocated to Paris (I wanted to steal her life, but not in the creepy way you are thinking, just in the way that it would be amazing to live in Paris, learn French, and be a part of the bakery culture there. I am one step closer to being a Parisian at this point, because I just enrolled in Practical French at Goldenwest College, and I am pumped up. This will only aid me further when I pursue future international bakery hunts!).

Where to find it:
Mr et Mme Crocher- artisan boulanger
off the Argentine Metro stop in Paris
(her husband mostly does all the baking, but she will offer friendly service, food tips, directions, or any other advice you might need as an American in Paris)

A self-described "milk fiend" (I swear, I quoted her in my travel notebook), she commiserated with me as I told my tales of milk mockery. She explained that she had also noticed the void of milk after growing up in the States, and explained that whenever her family visits the USA, their children cannot get their hands on enough milk. Poor French-American kids, all confused and conflicted over their calcium intake. They need to go on a little "holiday" to Denmark, that's what I'm saying.

Even as my taste expanded to pastries, cakes, and tarts, milk always seems an essential companion to baked goods consumption. And this is why I am disgruntled with French culture. Although I have no Danish blood, I have to say that I side with the Danes on this one. Don't get me wrong, I still deeply love Paris. I just don't love having to search high and low for milk to go with my ever present pastry, only to be shamed for it later. Try it our way Paris, it's not all bad.

In other news, I am now officially connected to Chowhound , an online discussion forum for "people who live to eat". I am hoping to find some good contributions to the Great American Bakery Hunt, and have already began to search the posts with a few good leads.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A letter to Jack Silver of KLSX 97.1 and other thoughts...

Last night I watched Ace of Cakes on the Food Network, one of my new favorite shows, and my inspiration to be a baker/welder all in one. For anyone who has not seen Ace of Cakes yet, it features Duff Goldman, baker extraordinaire who is both handy with a cake and with power tools. He is my new hero, and I highly recommend the show for anyone who enjoys baking a good cake. I definitely plan on visiting Charm City Cakes if I am ever in the Baltimore area. What makes me appreciate Duff most is that his bakery appears to be an awesome workplace. He has an open mind to individuals working there who possess more of a creative vision versus a hard core baking background. They all seem like family up there in Baltimore. So Duff, call me if you ever need an apprentice, I'm there!

Although Ace of Cakes raised my spirits last night, I have been saddened by a recent announcement that the radio program "Breakfast with the Beatles" is going to air its final show on September 3rd. There is nothing better than sitting down with some baked goods on a Sunday morning and letting the sounds of the Beatles fill the room. Below is my letter to the Program Director Jack Silver at KLSX, requesting that he do anything within his power to keep the Beatles on the air. If you would like to make a similiar plea, get more information on how to do so here. My letter includes a little ode to Paris, so for those of you who are down with France like I am, I hope you especially enjoy.

Dear Mr. Silver,

I am writing to tell you that the Breakfast with the Beatles program needs to stay on the air.

As a 22 year old resident of Southern California, the daughter of a baby boomer, and a loyal Beatles fan, I have been listening to Breakfast with the Beatles for as long as I can remember. A weekend fixture in my family's home, Breakfast with the Beatles is on every Sunday as we eat our breakfast. I grew up with this program, and every Sunday it nourished me along with my first meal of the day. My pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, or toast were all made infinitely better by Deirdre O'Donahue, and then after our loss, by Chris Carter. Both of these hosts seem like they became friends to our family, as they filled our home with their insightful commentary for so many years.

Sunday morning breakfast with the Beatles is a time for family. Despite the largest and most significant world events, this program would find its place into our existence. On a fairly recent Sunday this summer, the energetic and fierce international cacophony of the World Cup was silenced by Chris Carter's friendly and familiar voice on the radio, as we opted to turn down the volume of our television while watching the competition.

There is something special about this program, something that allows generations to come together and listen to music that is real and powerful. I am unaware of anything else like it on the radio, which I rarely lend my ears to for musical fulfillment (with the obvious exception of Breakfast with the Beatles!). Of course there are programs and stations that feature the Beatles, but none with as much credibility, as much enthusiasm, or as much true knowledge of what the Beatles were all about and why their music continues to mean something to the world.

Recently I traveled to Paris and visited the Cite de la Musique museum, which was featuring an extensive exhibit on John Lennon, his life, and his music. In one section of the exhibit, they had built a replica of the Beatles old studio, which you could view from behind glass. In the same room, there was a dimly lit area with some couches, where museum visitors were gathering to reflect, relax, or simply listen to the sounds of the past. At the same time that the studio scene and even the sounds of the music were historical, those who were gathered there were very much in the present. The people in this room were not merely of one age bracket, but were young, old, French, American, and who knows what else, all bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the same music in appreciation. Perhaps the music may have touched them in different ways depending on their age, but it is music that clearly remains lasting and influential in their lives. Others within the exhibit crouched by a small table, so low to the ground and crowded that it was almost uncomfortable, only to read a few report cards from John Lennon's days in grammar school.

To see the appreciation of these museum visitors is to know why Breakfast with the Beatles belongs on the air. I don't know how many other 22 year old baby boomer daughters there are out there, but I think I am safe to assume that I am not the only one. The audience for this program is not always obvious, but there are those of us out there (everywhere) who know the Beatles must be, and always will be, a part of our lives. If they could stay a part of my Sunday, along with Chris Carter, it would be much appreciated.

Thank you for your time.


Kristin M. Friedersdorf

p.s. I am also CCing this to my mother, because this letter is for both of us! She will also be truly heartbroken if Breakfast with the Beatles goes off the air.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Thanks Costco Chili Guy...

Today was a fairly uneventful day as far as bakeries are concerned, I was running a lot of endless errands and had little chance to bakery hunt. Perhaps I will come across some bakery news for you later on, but as long as I'm posting: a salute to the Chili guy at Costco.

Yesterday my mother and I ate a delicious dinner at Costco, the best deal in town really. Two hot dogs and two refillable drinks, all for three bucks!

Of course, these hot dogs are not as good as the ones from dog stands sprawled across Copenhagen, now those are some dogs to get your hands on. Besides a bakery visit, Danish hot dog stands provide the perfect means to warm one's belly while exploring this chilly Northern European paradise. Even better were the days when my host mother greeted me with piping hot sausages after school, wrapped with her homemade bread dough and there for the taking! Oh happy day... In Denmark, even the dogs at 7-11 are inexplicably good, not to mention 100% more edible than those at the American version of the convenience store. 7-11 also has a small bakery case in its Danish stores with items that appear mediocre (in comparison to other Danish bakeries), but still much more upscale than any baked goods you might find in a 7-11 in the States.

At the same time that I am reminded once again of all things Scandinavian missing from my life, I have found that cheap American hot dogs at Costco have a certain charm of their own. As my mother and I feasted upon our dinner at the outside cafeteria, we commented that the only thing that would make our meal better was a healthy serving of chili on top of our dogs. If you're an onion lover, you're taken care of with a heavenly self-serve contraption which allows you to turn a crank and generously smother your dog in all the free onions you can eat (the same with relish, mustard, and ketchup). Had I seen a suggestion box, I would have recommended a complementary vat of chili too. But little did I know that Costco had surprises in store for me.

As we ventured inside to purchase zillions of miscellaneous objects within Costco's warehouse, we came across a Costco sample stand. Now, sample stands in Costco have always been near and dear to my heart. I have never, I repeat never, taken for granted the opportunity to sample clam chowder, miniscule bowls of cheerios, beef jerky, and frozen fruit desserts within a three foot radius and two minute time span of one another. But this was a special day.

We are greeted by a Costco employee, who is surprisingly jovial and pleasant despite his employer's forcible hairnet mandate. He is serving none other than canned chilli, and we instantly comment that this is fate. Coincidence? I think not. He expresses the same after hearing about our recent meal, and then offers to use his powers that be and ladel some chili onto some new dogs for us.

"Go outside and get a couple more hot dogs and I'll pour some on" he suggested. I have no problem doing it. I've done it before." We were too full already to enjoy, so we just sampled a bit of chili with a ridiculously tiny plastic spoon instead. It was the thought that counted though, and that is why I salute you Costco Chili guy. Thanks for taking a chance on a stranger-- you're clearly a fan of life. Chili guy, you take hot dogs and make them better, and we love you for it.

We're taking IKEA by storm!

At IKEA, not only can you buy reasonably priced products with cool Scandinavian names such as: SULTAN FÄNGEBO, MAMMUT, and HENSVIK, but you can also feast on warm cinnamon rolls. The rolls are mediocre at best, but after trekking through the entire massive store, it seems appropriate to have a little celebratory snack at the end of your shopping venture. Plus, you're going to need a little fuel in order to assemble everything you buy.

Personally, I adore seeing the Swedish flag billowing high above Costa Mesa from the 405 freeway, but that's just me. For Scandinavian wannabes and others alike, IKEA is a crowd pleaser with its cheery blue and yellow nationalistic color scheme, strategically placed child-oriented play areas throughout the store, and readily available cafeteria meatballs.

IKEA also offers more subtle hints of Scandinavian culture, such as having to bag your own merchandise. Bagging your own merchandise at IKEA may be an annoyance to some, but for me it is a happy reminder of my days shopping in the Danish grocery stores. (Danish grocers often do not bag your groceries for you, and even more often do not provide bags for free at all. Here in America we are a bag-entitled society). In Denmark, I often forgot to bring my own bags while shopping, forced to lug my edible loot to the bus stop, all the while trying to figure out whether I bought the right kind of flour.

As a traveler, I find that what a local views as an annoyance translates into a traveler's idea of adventure. If your hometown hassles you, it's something to write the local paper about. But if you experience minor hassles in a foreign city, you are taking in another culture, intrigued by its quirks and allowing them to enthrall you in a way that the details back home never would. You are less boxed in by your own expectations, more open to a change in plans at any given moment.

Denmark could chew me up and spit me out but I would still come back for more.

Besides bakery hunting, shopping for food was one of my favorite activities in Denmark. When my local market did not have all ingredients I needed for my family guacamole recipe, this gave me the perfect excuse to explore other neighborhoods and find alternative markets.

And it all leads me back to The Great American Bakery Hunt. With the void of excellent bakeries in my surrounding area, I feel it necessary, essential to my happiness even, to take on American cities and see what their baking cultures have to offer. Taking IKEA by storm was fun, and clearly sentimental, but I need more than just any batch of warm cinamon rolls at the end of my day.

A worthy hunt indeed.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oh Those Donuts!

I know what you're thinking. This is not a blog about donut culture. However, there is one donut shop who has graced us with glazed twist perfection ever since I can remember. Oh Those Donuts on Newport Blvd in Costa Mesa deserves mention here not only for its glazed twists, but also for its friendly staff, convenient drive thru, free WiFi, and 24 hour service. Of course, the glazed twists are best early in the morning, when you can get them warm and fresh. Growing up, glazed twists from Oh Those were a weekend fixture in my household, and my mother still insists it a crime to eat them unless they are fresh fried from that morning!

I was just browsing through the "Desserts to Die For" issue of OC Weekly and I think they forgot about Oh Those. Oh Those is a Costa Mesa institution, and I think it deserves some recognition. Yet I do not blame OC Weekly for omitting the glazed twists from their list. Rather than a dessert to die for, an Oh Those glazed twist is a breakfast worth living for. (Thanks for the "Desserts to Die For" issue of OC Weekly though, it's like you are doing all the work for me! Great contributions to the hunt!)

I will rarely give props to local donut culture on this blog, so you know that I'm serious about these glazed twists (One serving of glazed goodness runs you about 85 cents! I recommend splurging on some milk to help wash it down! 2%, whole, skim- your choice, because it's all good with a glazed twist from Oh Those).

They also have decent sandwiches if you are looking for a 24 hour sandwich spot after your libations at the Goat Hill Tavern down the street.

Where to find it:

1734 Newport Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 646-4046

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A preference for kringles...

Melanie Conklin's story in the Wisconsin State Journal brought us a daily reminder that Danes are well-loved for their baked goods. The story features several attempts at bravery, audacious displays of Scandinavian pride, and a shoutout to the baking culture which is so celebrated on this blog and in my heart.

In Wisconsin, the self-proclaimed "Dane County Danes" group on the UW-Madison campus has taken credit for a prank in which they hoisted a Danish flag high above one of the campus facilities. The Danish flag flew high for four days before campus facilities workers could get it down. Apparently the prank's longevity was achieved by the pranksters' calculated use of heavy-gauge plastic ties which were attached to the flag pole. Ultimately, staff at UW-Madison had to put their heads together, and in an ode to MacGyver, fashioned a pole rigged with a cutting tool in order to halt the red and white object from continuing to wave in the breeze.

The highlight of the story is this quote: "Our Danish friends are certainly enterprising," concedes UW Communications' Dennis Chaptman. "However, we would have preferred if they would have brought a kringle instead."

Who can blame him?

Danish bakery sighting in Colorado!

It's as if John Lehndorff of the Rocky Mountain News has answered my prayers. Just yesterday he wrote about "Taste of Denmark", an authentic Danish bakery in Colorado.

He describes the owner, Ronny Tronoe, as a Danish man who "eats two chocolate-filled croissants every morning to keep going". This is my kind of person, someone who fully appreciates the bakery culture. Plus, he grew up in Roskilde, the city where I lived during my time studying in Denmark!

I'm going to have to find an excuse to go to Colorado, this guy sounds like the real deal. (We know this because the article explains that Tronoe goes through 800 lbs. of butter a week, plus he makes everything from scratch of course). I want to go there and now.

Where to find it...

Taste of Denmark
1070 S. Union Blvd., Lakewood
Colorado, USA

Information: 303-987-8283

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An introduction to the hunt...

While The Great American Bakery Hunt glorifies pastry consumption and bakery visits, The Hunt is about much more than this. This blog is a way to show reverence for the practice of living of life at a slower pace. A visit to the bakery is surrounded by a thousand small and beautiful interactions and details: a bakery is a place to slow down and appreciate these details, an opportunity to savor life.

Whether I am writing about breaking bread or hunting it, The Great American Bakery Hunt is about the simple things that feed us in life- physically, culturally, or otherwise. I long for the bakery culture that I once experienced as a temporary resident of Roskilde, Denmark and as a pastry-obsessed traveler to Paris, France. In both countries, life at a slower pace allowed me to wander freely through an endless maze of bakeries, and to explore my historic surroundings with a warm belly full of hand-crafted, mouth-watering baked good creations. Some of these creations came from the very kitchen of my Danish host mother, a professional baker whose tasty recipes were brought into my life by a lucky twist of fate.

By traveling through these faraway lands, I realized that while we have some wonderful bakeries here in the States, we lack the same appreciation for bakery culture that other societies have. Throughout the world, others know the importance of a strong bakery culture-- the beauty of a well-executed baguette, or a carefully crafted pastry are widely appreciated art forms. The EU, for example, even developed a special campaign glorifying baked goods and their recipes from various EU countries. "Sweet Europe: Be Seduced," reads their transnational bakery mantra. Meanwhile, American bakery culture continues to be under appreciated and underdeveloped. I know there are some amazing pastry chefs and bakers in America, and I look forward to discovering more of them as I continue The Great American Bakery Hunt. However, when it comes to bringing their creations to the people, there is a disconnect between culinary creation and consumption. Through The Hunt, I hope to bring new discoveries to those who crave bakery culture. I demand more American bakery culture now.

Here in Southern California, we have some great bakeries, but little bakery culture to speak of. Instead of stopping by their neighborhood bakery, most folks frantically stop at Starbucks, ready to juice up our system in preparation for intense freeway commuting. We have no time for eye contact or pleasantries with the barista, we only stop momentarily to check the time on our cell phones before we race out the door and pound down an uber-caffeinated hold- the- whip beverage, cursing our burning hands because we forgot to get our cardboard sleeve. Americans are all about convenience, but in this fast-paced convenience, we lose something. Unlike the countless layers of buttery Danish pastries, there is no soul, no depth to our triple cappuccinos. (Certainly those coffee beans came from somewhere, but human connection is a faraway one indeed.)

But in this loss, we have gained a worthwhile challenge, and this is where The Great American Bakery Hunt comes in. Great bakeries do not just come to you-- you must search far and wide, tirelessly and devotedly, to find the best in bakery culture. You may even need to use the fearless, aggressive, and unstoppable tactics of a hunter to gain what you need. Not just any bakery will do-- you must search high and low for bakeries that fortify the bakery culture with pride, expertise, and vision.

Before all witnesses of this blog, I vow that I will tirelessly explore bakery culture, reporting items of baked relevance to readers to the best of my ability.

The Great American Bakery Hunt is a place where European and American bakery cultures meet. It is clear that America is settling, but I will hold continue to hold dear the idea of a nation where individuals enjoy quality baked goods as an everyday right.

I welcome any American baker to send me samples, locations of great American bakeries, challenges, rebuttals, comments, questions, concerns, rants, or even recipes if they feel compelled to do so after reading my comments. I want to believe in great American bakeries, much like I always wanted to believe in the tooth fairy, but I have not seen much of either of you yet. I hope you prove my suspicions wrong. There must be others of you who long for truly amazing bakeries around every American corner, I know there are. I would love it if you shared your insights with me, as fellow bakery hunting enthusiasts. Until then, the hunt continues...