Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why I love Craigslist and Taiwanese Hospitality...

A "hot pot soup" feast...

A good friend of mine from Portland just started law school, and as her most locally based crony, I feel it is my duty to help her get settled in the area. She recently found a posting on, a posting that brought her instant and much needed relief.

After purchasing a new mattress from IKEA, with the very Swedish name of Fangebo (!), it had been lying sadly in the corner of her apartment with no boxspring to speak of. But Craigslist offered hope, and Craigslist sure delivered.

We planned to go on Friday night to pick up the goods, but little did we know that we would soon make some great friends through this sale.

In order to make the move, I borrowed my grandfather's old light blue Ford truck, the one he used to cart his construction materials around in back in the day, when he was a contractor. Vintage cars have always been a love of mine, so there was already magic in the air that night.

(Any locals who are interested should check out Adam's Donut Shop in Huntington Beach. If you arrive early on a Saturday morning, you will come upon a gathering of vintage car fiends/donut junkies. You'll get to feast your eyes upon some great rides, and also scarf down some donuts with a gathering of mostly local dudes who have a good old appreciation of good old vehicles. I recommend the Tigertail twists, in case you were wondering about the donut selection)

Anyway, back to the mattress sale. Like I said, there was magic in the air that night.

We set out to pick up the mattress, cruising the 22 freeway and cursing the construction that was adding more traffic during our journey.

After all of the typical confusion about where to park at the apartment complex, a young guy came out to direct us to the boxspring in question.

When we opened the door, we were immediately welcomed by a huge group of friendly faces, seated at a table with an elaborate feast arranged.

We were immediately welcomed to sit down and join in the feast, and after nervously chuckling in that "oh you must be joking" way, we realized they were serious about the invitation. Never ones to turn down a free and piping hot meal, my friend and I accepted.

Usually I am a bit wary of strangers, but these folks were just about the most nonthreatening, jolly people you might ever encounter. We were immediately at ease as they dished out some food to us and started up the conversation. We eventually learned that this group of friends (about 15 people? who could count with the feast distracting me?!) gathers every Friday night for huge, never- ending pots of Taiwanese soup, $5 poker games, and in the case of this night, some TV baseball.

Just about all of the folks gathered here hail originally from Taiwan, and most are here studying at graduate school at either UCI and USC for engineering. In addition to creating lovely feasts each Friday, they also find time to play on a co-ed softball team with one another. One cluster of the party sat in the family room enjoying a broadcast of that evening's baseball game. I couldn't tell you who was playing. Even though we see baseball as an American past time, I hear it is quite popular in Taiwan as well. Personally, I think the best part of the game involves throwing peanut shells, drinking beer, eating hot dogs and possibly seeing fireworks. While half of the room was intently focused on the game, the rest of us were seated at the dinner table, engaging in lively conversation about what exactly we were eating and whether we could handle eating with chopsticks (We could, indeed, handle them- to our hosts' surprise- but I had already dirtied the fork so I stuck with that. My friend switched to chopsticks-- to her credit, she is ever the law student trained to constantly prove a point). But utensils didn't matter here. I probably could have fashioned a spoon out of modeling clay and used that to eat directly out of their soup pot and it wouldn't have mattered-- they were such lovely people, and so good natured, that our interactions flowed on, effortlessly. Once strangers, we went from fidgety people with plans to stay for five minutes, to making fun of ourselves and each other, eating, and being merry for about two hours after that. We asked them about local markets to shop at for soup ingredients (they tipped us off to French 99), and they recommended their favorite Dim Sum restaurant, suggesting that we should all go sometime.

The soup we were eating was delicious-- we learned that the broth is made by placing only the bags of herbs, water, and meat in the pot. After this, additional ingredients are put in such as mushrooms, flavorful little balls of pork, fish cakes, rice cakes, meat, cabbage, and pure goodness!

Perhaps the most charming quality about this soup is the never- ending nature of it. This is the everlasting gobstopper of soups if there ever was one. After a few helpings are taken, dry ingredients continue to be placed in the pot, and after a waiting period, you continue to eat more soup. We tried to maintain an awareness of social cues, a recognition that there would be a point where we overstayed our welcome. But it never felt like this, as people just kept offering us soup, over and over again. How could we resist as they kept encouraging us to ladle more soup into our tiny bowls? It was heaven.

And this is why I love Craigslist, and why I adore Taiwanese hospitality, if such a thing even exists specifically. No matter what you want to call it, this was simply one of those good, downright random nights.

It was a really cool experience to be able to peek into another culture- and of course, it's always a highlight when I get to know good people over good food. The best part was being able to hear the stories of the once anonymous online boxpspring seller. Eve and Dale, the couple who live in the apartment (along with a friend) were recently married, and they had purchased a whole new bed set. After "Aww" and heartfelt "congratulations!" came my next natural reaction, as I was compelled to ask: "What kind of cake did you have at your wedding"? (Even in the presence of good soup, the bakery hunt continues).

They explained that they had no cake, since they celebrated with a very small ceremony, with one witness from the chapel. They said that it lasted only 15 minutes long, and I couldn't help but smile. My friends know that if I ever get married, my wedding cake will inevitably prove to be more important than the groom (I'm kidding...?). For years I have tried to coerce male friends into masquerading as future spouses so that I can go cake tasting and sample the very finest in matrimonial bakery goods with no strings attached, but unfortunately I can't find a cake enthusiast brave enough for the job. Despite the fact that I would be horrified if I didn't get a truly satisfying wedding cake, Eve and Dale made me appreciate the no frills approach to an event that seems to be more of an overblown headache and a chance for your friends to get drunk than a night to honor your vows. I can bakery hunt anytime, but I will only (technically?) get married once, if everything goes according to plan. And, if I don't get too greedy about wanting to try wedding cakes. I can always become a "crasher" if going through the divorce doesn't seem worth it.

I learned a lot that night in Garden Grove. I learned about making Taiwanese soup, which will forevermore be deemed "Everlasting Taiwanese Gobstopper Soup". I learned about the true love of two people, who were nice enough to give my friend a good deal on a boxspring, generous enough to share their meal with us, and lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who would at any time, happily get up from watching a baseball game to lug a boxspring out to the parking lot for a couple of random college graduates just starting out in life.

We got into my grandpa's old truck, and my friend flipped through the pictures of the soup we had taken with my cell phone. Dale made sure we got out of the parking space okay, and we rode away into the distance. Normally I always carry my digital camera just in case something like this happens-- in and around Los Angeles, one never knows when you will step into another culture, another network of completely amazing people, another impromptu feast, moments that you MUST capture on film. I had forgotten the camera tonight, but our hosts pulled through for us again, taking down our emails and promising to send additional pictures. When we asked for their Dim Sum recommendation at dinner, Dale searched through the Yellow Pages in a more dedicated way than I had ever seen anyone pursue a yellow page in my life. When he couldn't find it, he emailed it to us (You'll have to comment and leave your email if you really want to know where this Dim Sum is--I can't go giving away all my trade secrets just yet, and I'd like to hear from some of you).

I also learned that our new friends have a love for karaoke. Since karaoke, other than baked goods, serves as one of my defining passions, I would absolutely love nothing more than to go out for a night of karaoke with the softball crew! They were just about the nicest, most genuine people I have ever randomly met while picking up a mattress, or even just in general. We talked about the fact that we should get together again, and I truly hope that this happens someday-- we all exchanged "it was nice meeting you/eating with you" emails.

While at their apartment, I explained to them that since they gave us this wonderful soup, we would be friends for life. They probably thought I was joking, but anyone who knows me understands what it's all about in my life: good food, and good people.

Southern California is full of these beautiful moments of cultural collision, but those with food don't happen nearly enough. I guess next time I'm craving a feast, I should buy a mattress off of craigslist, but I highly doubt that every story is such a success. Not every boxspring trip transports you to another culture, and not every seller greets you with open arms and everlasting gobstopper soup. I think it was my grandpa's old Ford that made the night complete-- riding around in that old vintage truck, we couldn't have felt younger. We were free to eat gobstopper soup all night if we wanted to, and that's how it should be right now. Soon I will be starting a job, and my friend is already in the thick of it at law school, and though we're still young, we know our days are numbered. Granted, we have quite a few good years left in us-- but we know that eventually, we'll have to worry about more than just getting our mattresses off the floor in pursuit of a good night's sleep. We know the time will come, faster than we want it to, when our recent stories from college will become distant legends. Those days of college roommates, freedom, and garden grove friendships will fade, and we will grow in years, and hopefully in annual income too (especially if we're living in Orange County and desire shelters of some sort). We will try to pretend we can still be spontaneous enough for gobstopper soup. I hope we will be. Although I just graduated, I can already tell that I'll never have nearly enough of those nights with the windows down and the true spirit of youth and improvisation and new beginnings in the air. This one was a night to remember, so thank you Craigslist! And my compliments to the chef.

A picture with the Chef and his "everlasting gobstopper" soup!

Friends enjoying a good bowl of soup!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pastry crawl, anyone?

Poilane in Paris, France

Chowhounds are people who live to eat, or so says, a site dedicated to everything and anything related to the quest for good food (you might say that The Great American Bakery Hunt is the small, modest, red-headed chubby stepchild of, as we are so focused on one aspect of the food industry and could never possibly encompass the informative, exhaustive, and entertaining culinary grandeur that is Chow. Even so, I'd like to think that Chow and Bakery Hunt readers alike might one day develop a mutual respect for each other in this crazy and mixed up blog saturated, media frenzied, mouth watering land of food-questing Internet utopia).

I was recently looking through Chow's Los Angeles message board when I came across some kindred spirits: Los Angeles bakery hunters who go on much celebrated and adventurous "pastry crawls" or "bakery crawls" in order to search for elusive sources of perfected baked goods within Southern California.

It occurs to me now that I have been on many a pastry crawl, but I had just never thought to describe these searches with such a clever term of endearment. Although I plan on adopting this lingo as a part of my bakery obsessed vernacular, I feel the need to differentiate between "bakery crawls" and "bakery hunts".

Bakery hunting refers to a serious mission, one approached with drive, perseverance, and unfaltering determination to fulfill the quest for new bakeries. During a bakery hunt, you must stop at nothing to pursue discovery and new culinary conquests. This is serious, très sérieux! (French added for emphasis). You vow to try new things. Although the hunt will sometimes end in disappointment, you vow to begin hunting another day with even more vigor. It is always a worthy challenge.

You give no thought to social consequence. Your face may be smeared with sweet jams, your vehicle might be covered in baguette crumbs, you might even have little balls of molasses cookie residue forming in the crevices of your lips. You are certainly not going to be sharing the details of this trip with your fellow members of Overeater's Anonymous, and you doubt you will be squeezing into a bikini/speedo anytime soon. But you go on, you persevere. You're dough-thirsty for fresh treats, and you've got tunnel vision.

Bakery and pastry crawls are much different. Crawls are all about pleasure, not business. Crawls involve a certain amount of predetermined planning. You set aside a whole day for a bakery crawl, it is indeed, a long awaited, much anticipated event-- an occasion if you will. If you're desperate enough for a good crawl, you call in sick to work. You fill up your car with gas on the night before. You make a visit to the ATM for extra milk money. You avoid wearing black in anticipation of powdered sugar consumption. You have extra quarters ready for parking meters, or to compensate "the reserves", aka little kids you give extra change to, so they will go inside the bakery and buy you a fourth helping of your favorite baklava to escape the judging looks of the other customers (Hey, someday they'll be asking you to buy them cigarettes, right?). You tell the girl/guy that you're dating that you have to wash your hair that day, or get rid of them a la Greg Brady, by explaining that "something just suddenly came up". And you enlist the help of a worthy crony in your life, someone who will not judge you when you have to unbutton your pants a little at the end of the day, someone willing to block out an entire day on their calendar for the love of the crawl.

After all of the plans are made, your slumber is hindered by the anticipation of the crawl, much like a child on Christmas Eve awaiting a new Transformer or perhaps a Tenth Anniversary Tickle Me Elmo (Elmo has anniversaries??). You awake to drool, slathered on your face as a testament to your love and dedication to pastries. And the crawl begins. The crawl need not contain new stops along your bakery tour, it may simply be a day for you to celebrate your favorite pastries and baked goods. Sure you can throw a few curve balls into the lineup, but most of the goods will be your old stand-bys.

At the end of the day you will feel satisfied and full. You will allow yourself to sit in a vegetative state, dazed in front of the television by a news magazine show featuring a shocking story about pesticides, then one about teenage prostitution. You will have no free will to move in order to get the remote, so you will then watch an acne infomercial hosted by Marie Osmond. Fabio will make a cameo, followed by Kelly Clarkson, after which you will fall into a deep slumber. Ah, sweet pastry crawl.

I welcome suggestions from anyone who has a favorite pastry crawl. Hopefully, with the help of my blog, you will begin to understand the subtle differences between pastry crawls, hunts, and everything in between.

Personally, the following is my ideal pastry crawl if expense and logic is not an issue:

I would fly to Denmark, landing at CPH, Copenhagen's peaceful airport, and then take the train to the Norrebro stop. From there I would go to Skt Peders Bakery, which is about a ten minute walk away from the train. Following my stroll in the city, I would surprise my host mother in Roskilde, and request that she make me her famous Cinnamon rolls and breads. Also, I would ask for her hot dogs and sausages with warm, homemade fresh bread wrapped around the dogs in a heavenly warm embrace.

The best hot dogs in the world, straight from my host mom's Danish kitchen!

My host mom's cinamon bread-- It must have been fate when I was placed in a homestay with such an excellent baker!

Then I would fly to France, stopping off for breakfast at the Hotel DeVille Bakery (Hotel DeVille stop) for an Ouranais. Then I would swing over to Poilane, where I would have an open faced sandwich at their cafe (featuring their famous bread), and then grab one of the best apple tarts I have ever laid my eyes on (it has the best flaky outer ring of dough), waiting to eat it until I reached the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Boulangerie de l'Hotel de Ville in Paris, France

Then I would come back over to the U.S., grab some French's chocolate fudge torte cake, and call it a day. (Of course, I would need a side of ice cold milk). If there was still room, I might squeeze in a chocolate chip cookie or two made by my mom.

Next week, on the Great American Bakery hunt:

Pastry benders, binges, and extravaganzas- indulgent and excessive pastry marathons, resulting in sugar-induced stupors, empty wallets, and most likely health problems if you engage in this behavior enough! Then again, let us not speak of such things. A crawl is indulgent enough-- a bender just goes beyond reason. Pastries, especially exceptional pastries, should be savoured, not devoured. Thus, our adventures of pastry crawls, not pastry runs! Pastry crawl, anyone?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oh Canada!

I recently ventured to West Hollywood for no good reason in order to go to a trendy bar with a group of my friends, who are mostly the kind of people who I love for not really caring about going to trendy bars. But alas, the air hockey table and long list of imported beers (including Danish beers) awaited. I quickly cut to the chase with my fellow bar-goers as I set out on a quest for some bakery blog material. That's right-- some go to bars to party and meet up with intriguing members of the opposite sex, but let's face it, I have a job to do. My priorities are in order.

After striking up a conversation/air hockey challenge with a group of visiting Canadian air force pilots, I started to think about what people eat in Canada and I had an unexpected flashback. Although I have never traveled to Canada, I once had a nice old Canadian neighbor who helped me with my fourth grade school report on Canada by giving me a cherished Canadian recipe.

As the conversation waned with the Canadian air force pilots, it was my golden opportunity to broach the subject of my most favorite Canadian baked treat: The Nanaimo Bar! It's actually quite a miracle that I remembered these Canadian delights. Had I not pounded on my Canadian neighbor's door, in the desperation of a fourth grader who needed two sources besides the encyclopedia, I might have never obtained the recipe.

One of the Canadians immediately smiled when I mentioned Nanaimo bars, saying that "Those are SO good!". Common ground. I still maintain that we could resolve countless international disputes if only we conversed just a little more about food together, if only we had transnational food appreciation conventions with open bars.

I get the impression that Nanaimo bars are quite the revered baked goods around Canada, and this is somewhat warranted. Canadian expatriate blogs wax on about Nanaimo bars being the much longed for treats of the Motherland. Apparently there is also a certain amount of mystery and lore surrounding the original recipe. All I can say for sure is that my neighbor's recipe was amazing, and it reminds me of my happy chubby fourth grade days eating sweets and feeling jolly.

I posed an important question for the Canadian: Is the Canadian Nanaimo bar tradition the equivalent of the America's love affair with the chocolate chip cookie? The Canadian answered firmly: "No. The Nanaimo bar is for special occasions. It is much more special than the chocolate chip cookie."

Putting my American pride aside, I acknowledged that Nanaimo bars were delicious. But in my head, I was defending the chocolate chip cookie like others might defend American football, freedom, or cheeseburger drive through joints (all logical choices, the cookie being the most under appreciated as far as I am concerned). The Canadian insulted my favorite cookie of choice, and this meant war, conflict, heartache. The chocolate chip cookie can be special, and often is special, but it has to be done right. And we all know that this rarely happens. How many times have you paid more than one hard-earned dollar on a rock hard, almost burnt "chocolate chip cookie in what is clearly a disgraceful representation of one of our most beloved national treats? Don't even get me started with Chips Ahoy.

For my new Canadian friends, I must state for the record that they are right, but only in one sense. Any old chocolate chip cookie (i.e. the Chips Ahoy variety) may not be the cherished dessert for special occasions and celebrations in America. But the truly satisfying chocolate chip cookie (slightly crispy edges, gooey slightly undercooked middle, warm from the oven with a chilled glass of milk), the chocolate chip cookie that is done right, can be cause for a celebration all its own.

I'm still going to dig up my Nanaimo bar recipe, and I'll always dig the fact that my old Canadian neighbor gave it to me. She was a sweet lady who shared her Canadian pride with the little waddling fourth grader neighbor child. And the jovial Canadians visiting West Hollywood shared the same sense of pride as I cunningly preyed upon them for blog material (We even got them to sing their anthem "Oh Canada" to the bar at one point). They told us sugary tales of Canadian forests, filled with maple trees with taps in them, and spoke highly of the local sweet shops which feature maple syrup products. Apparently they are sugar fiends over there in Canada. As one of my friends put it, when Americans hear this, we picture small Canadian children frolicking around in forests, running up to maple trees and licking them, out of control despite their parents' warnings not to spoil their dinner. Totally accurate? Perhaps not. Entertaining visual? Indeed.

Conveniently enough, our night ended across the street at IHOP, where American folks venture when they just simply "need" a stack of pancakes at 3 am, (or in WeHo perhaps also when they are having clandestine Hollywood affairs). As always, IHOP featured several selections of maple syrup to choose from. We asked the Canadians to rate the syrup, and it was just as we suspected: sub-par. "Too runny," one of them commented with a tone of Canadian authority. After one Canadian ordered bacon, we discussed other stimulating topics such as whether Canadian bacon was just bacon to them when they ordered it back home (To clarify, they identified Canadian bacon as "back bacon", and bacon bacon by its regular American title. Clearly, these are the burning questions of the American intellect).

As I reflected on the night of my maple-syrup induced coma, I caught a glimpse of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central when Colbert was "interviewing" comedian Martin Short. During his interview, Short stated if someone were putting a gun to his head, forcing him to choose between his Canadian and American citizenships, he would pick Canada. I would think him a traitor if not for the glory of Nanaimo bars, clearly a part of his unstated rationale for this decision, eh?

Monday, September 04, 2006

In absentia...

My posts have been dwindling over the past week, as I took a much needed vacation to Mexico with some family and friends. Sadly (and happily) there were no bakeries to be found there and no bakery hunting endeavors to engage me. I say happily because this is not the sort of vacation in which anyone involved engages in any way with outside civilization. (As everyone who has ever lived in the vicinity of Los Angeles can attest to, this momentary alienation can be a relief).

We retreat to a house by a fairly remote beach with a beautiful ocean view, barricade ourselves in with little more than food (mostly dozens of avocados, chips, all the makings of guacamole, and several cases of Corona), tequila, and a reading list that we look forward all year to completing with no interruption. No phone calls, no network news, nothing.

Since I couldn't go to bakeries myself, I decided to live vicariously through my growing collection of European travel novels, which I gathered to devour on my trip. I am determined to read each and every story about Americans who have moved or traveled to Europe, particularly the ones who definitively and openly share my love affair with France and/or Denmark.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik has become one of my immediate favorites. Gopnik writes so beautifully about his family's stay in Paris that I do not even fight the urge to make excited notes in his margins, constantly agreeing with his observations and sentiments about living abroad. (This is why I loathe borrowing books from the library, because I don't get to make enthusiastic notes in the margins. Plus, when it comes to novels written by expatriates, you better believe I am keeping detailed records of where to visit when I finally get back to Europe.)

Anyway, Paris to the Moon is a treasure (you should buy it NOW), and I am in love with several quotes from Gopnik's commentary (see citation at end of post). Like myself, Gopnik appreciates the details that arise when visiting the small shop owners of Paris. These details are immediately apparent to a first time Paris visitor, at least to the visitor who pays attention. The best way to describe the experience of the small French shop is that it feels like a real human exchange, wholly devoid of the usual corporate flavor of your local strip mall bakery in Typical, USA. The French small business is without any robotic customer service behavior-- it does not seem to be influenced by an employee handbook with catchy marketing slogans and reminders to greet customers with a pre-formulated "how can I help you today?" statement (that is most likely delivered half-heartedly by the person behind the counter because this greeting is mandated). It has no rules about singing a corny song if someone throws their change into the tip jar, in fact, it does not even have a tip jar. You get a friendly "Bonjour!" with no hidden intentions, no motives, no countertop tip jar coercion to speak of. It certainly does not sell apparel for dogs, the bakery insignia strategically placed across the canine's torso. (Readers who are interested can note my prior blog entries about the maddening trend of 'dog bakery culture'). Furthermore, there are no customers holding up the line by yakking on their cell phones, yelling at their child's nanny that 'NO, she most definitely cannot have Tuesday night off to take her mother to dialysis, your husband's gala event is on that same night, you have a million things to do, and the children mustn't be forced to endure the traumatic transition of a new babysitter, and on such late notice too'. There are no French people who would put up with that crap, only in Orange and Los Angeles County I tell you! People are missing out on the daily quirks of life-- our cell phones are so glued to our heads that we feel the indentation of the rubber keypad upon our cheeks more often than we feel the human touch of a handshake or appreciate the value of a sincere hello while in public.

The French bakery has warmth and character, and Gopnik captures this perfectly in his analysis. Gopnik writes the following, in harmony with this concept of warmth:

"There is hardly a day when you are not wild with gratitude for something that happens in the small shops: the way that Mme. Glardon, at the pastry shop on rue Bonaparte, carefully wraps Luke Auden's [Gopnik's son's] chocolate éclair in a little paper pyramid, a ribbon at its apex, knowing perfectly well, all the while, that the paper pyramid and ribbon will endure just long enough for the small boy to rip it open to get to the éclair." (pg 103)

This passage says it all, and although I do not know Gopnik personally, I feel confident in assuming that he was not on his cell phone while Mme. Glardon attentively and gracefully wrapped his son's pastry. Clearly Gopnik and I are on the same page when it comes to French bakeries, when it comes to life really. The small things must be appreciated, without a doubt. At the ripe old age of 22, this is one thing (and maybe the only thing), that I can truly say for certain.

My dream would be to move to Europe and spend huge chunks of time in Paris and Denmark training with the best of the pastry chefs there. Afterwards, I would bring excellence to the American people in pastry form, and I would have a blast doing it. I would probably never be as truly charming as a Danish or French baker, but hell, I could still try.

Gopnik inspired me once more as he wrote about a pair of Americans who left their lives behind in the academic field to live with a flock of goats and make goat cheese (pg 162). And it's Gopnik-esque anecdotes like those that make me think to myself, why not? If someone offered to pay me to make goat cheese and live with goats, I would be down for it. You just can't say no to something like that. Saying yes to goat cheese is like saying yes to adventure, to absurdity and spontaneity and random challenges--the stuff that should make up your life if you are lucky.

Other highlights include Gopnik "refining a long term plan" (pg 230) with his wife to have their ashes permanently placed atop the dessert counter at their favorite Paris restaurant. Moments like these make it clear that Gopnik and I are kindred spirits. They also make me regret having lived six whole years since Paris to the Moon's original publication date without discovering the treasure of this book.

For all this time, Gopnik was ruminating on the same European love affair that I was obsessing over myself, the one which led me to start this blog. Longing for Paris and Copenhagen has created an ever present ache in my life. Luckily I have a knack for discovering the happy distractions of French and Danish culture in the United States. For example, Netflix selections from the foreign genre section always seem to find their way into my queue. I have even taken to watching my Curb Your Enthusiasm DVD's with the French subtitles turned on (who knew you could do that!?). I have my first "Practical French" lesson tomorrow at our nearby community college. I admit to buying somewhat ovoverpriced language CD sets at bookstores, and then making the most out of traffic ridden commutes by practicing on the 405 freeway (Most likely this makes me look ridiculous to other drivers, but in the end I will have the last laugh when I can order the best pastries flawlessly in the baker's native tongue! Take that you freeway skeptics). Besides that, there are the typical food festivals, enclaves of European communities within L.A., the occasional Octoberfest here and there, the French owned bakery/restaurant I discovered in Silver Lake while dining out with a friend. There is the Nordic Fox in Downey, CA, which did not wow me with its food but had a Scandinavian themed interior/menu that charmed me nonetheless. I can always drive to Solvang if I'm really desperate. (There will never be better Danish cooking than my host mother, so at times it seems pointless to search). There are also some other European themed shops scattered across Orange County and LA. (My next conquest is a Danish furniture store in LA that I recently discovered online). And of course, this blog has allowed me to obsess on an even deeper, some might say scarier, level that my friends and family marvel at.

I'll leave you with my favorite quote from Gopnik, a simple one which seems to perfectly encompass my hopes and dreams of an adventurous European life-- as well as the inadequacy I feel in trying to describe why I need Europe in my life. Gopnik explains that "The hardest thing to convey is how lovely it all is and how the loveliness seems all you need" (pg 270). I don't think anyone could ever sum it up better than that. Don't take it from me, buy the book people! Or, just go to Europe and learn to make a little goat cheese, you'll see what I mean.

Gopnik, Adam. Paris to the Moon. Random House, 2001.

Old Towne Orange International Food Festival...

Tonight I attended the Old Towne Orange International Food Festival, which included a Danish street! Nothing made me happier than approaching random Danes (or "Danes by marriage"as some of their buttons indicated), and speaking to them about my love for Danish culture.

I was able to gather a wealth of information about Danish events in my local area as well as Danish lessons that are available to take in Yorba Linda. (I got to listen to Danish accents, which I love! I was so inspired that I bought some Danish CD's later at Barnes and Nobles, something I have been wanting to invest in for awhile). I even got invited to a happy hour after the Danish Sunday mass. I am considering a membership in their church to gain access to endless events with traditional Danish food and undoubtedly awesome Danish folks (Does that make me a bad person, or a smart person?). The fair itself could have used some more traditional Danish food, but being able to chat with some Danes was enough to make me happy for tonight.

I may not be moving back to Denmark anytime soon, but a life with some Southern California American-Danish fusion action will have to do for now.

There were no promising pastry sightings at the food festival (disappointing, particularly in the area of Danish pastries), mostly there were a lot of fried "pastry" items being sold at the booths that were not so appealing to me. But I still got my international groove on and chowed down on some bratwurst!

While in Old Towne Orange, I also noticed that the Frogs Breath Cheese Store is attempting to start some wine/cheese tasting events (pending approval from the city of Orange), so I am looking forward to swinging on by and checking it out. I don't know of many cheese stores around here so I am planning on going back there during their normal business hours. (It was closed during the fair, which was a shame because I was in the mood to buy some cheese).

I am reminded of the Danish phrase "Jeg elsker ost!", which is Danish for "I love cheese!". My host sister was quite proud of me when I successfully learned to repeat this one after Danish class. I would be even prouder if I could remember the names of cheeses that I sample (I always get so darn caught up in the cheese sampling moment that I forget to write them down. Or, I eat the cheese with wine and forget to care or have slightly illegible writing).

While we're on the subject, there is one particular cheese that I enjoyed in Denmark that is a mystery to me. It was insanely stinky, very strong, and very delicious with fresh bread, butter, and jam in the morning. (Also, my Danish family and I invented a sandwich with this "mystery" cheese, butter, jam, and then some Port Salut cheese which was truly unforgettable--a sandwich I have been craving since June of 2005). Someone help me discover my lost mystery cheese! The one in my host family's fridge never had a label, and they could never seem to tell me the name of it in a way that I could understand or repeat as a non-native Danish speaker. Oh, what to do!?

I will continue my quest for this lost cheese! I have decided that Orange County is lacking in its amount of cheese shops featuring cheeses that smell grotesque but taste amazing. If anyone knows of any, please pass them along to me. These are the times when I wish that I could stroll through the cheese shops in France once again and inhale the strong odors of truly legendary cheese. (I could speak of my favorite goat cheese pastry here, but it deserves a blog post of its own, believe me--I await my next trip to Paris just so I can go and have this one amazing pastry. It is worth a lifetime of saving for that next plane ticket abroad).