Tuesday, September 27, 2011

At the Mercat Galvany

I don't quite "get" the point of these "Mercats" around town.  They are not quite supermarkets - as they only sell food items - but they aren't like the "Farmer's Markets" that I am accustomed to in Los Angeles.  They are open daily until around 1pm, and have their fixed stalls with their dedicated vendors... but they aren't Farm-to-Market vendors... they are all middlemen, and buy their produce from other wholesalers.  But they do have interesting things that you don't normally find in Los Angeles. 

In honor of Sabel (a co-intern at Ludobites) who taught me how to clean squid... no, i didn't buy any

Not sure what these are - but they look interesting - and I don't see these in LA

Frying fish?  Sardines? 

I usually avoid the center of the market - that's where all the fish are.  They look so menacing and bizarre.

Some knife!  She was actually the friendliest of the fish mongers... all the fish sold at her stand were from Galicia (to the north) or locally in the Mediterranean.  She was filleting Sole from the Galicia area.
escargots!  fresh live snails!

How would I describe this market to my Angeleno friends?  It's kinda like the Farmer's Market at 3rd & Fairfax, yet not... 

And you think you're gonna get organic and local stuff here?  Newp.  Not quite.  I did opt for Fuji apples from France over the Pink Lady apples imported from Chile.  Think either are organically grown?  Newp. 

When I asked about organic or biologica fruits and veggies - they tell me that it all looks ugly.  There is no such thing as gorgeous organic produce in Barcelona.  I think they just want me to give up, and buy from them. 

Be still my beating heart!
Found:  my favorite autumn fruit!  Persimmons (happy dance).  From Valencia.  These small ones seem to be the Hachiya variety... I didn't get them - I got a single giant Hachiya which I will enjoy tomorrow morning for breakfast.  Though I'm thrilled that I found these.  As for the Fuyu variety?  Well, I haven't seen them yet.  I'm not sure which I prefer - I love them both.  But a season without Fuyu Persimmons will not be autumn to me.  In LA, the Fuyus were always ripe in Autumn with the Hachiyas ready closer to winter. 

But you know what they call these fruits?  Kaki.  Doesn't have the same ring as purrr-si-mon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Barcelona at Night

Most of my excursions through Barcelona have been during the day.  Finally, I dared take out my camera while walking through the Barri Gothic last night - the last night of the festival of La Merce.

A random plaza circled by tapas bars & restaurants - and random street musicians

Lit-up balconies at the Hotel Banys

Near the Cathedral of the city - lit up

Another lit-up tower - near one of the stages set up for the festival of La Merce
Strings of lights in El Born

9pm and 24 degrees (75 F)... perfect night. 
Next time, I won't be toting a bottle of wine in my hand... so I'll probably take more pictures.  Until then, this is a glimpse of the city I traced my way through last night.

On a side note, for a country that's suffering from a "crisis" - they sure throw a lot of festivals and put on impressive fireworks displays.  party on?

What's better than 2-buck Chuck?

94 cent wine!

What is two buck chuck, aka dollar ninety nine wine, aka Charles Shaw?  It's one of the house wines from one of my favorite grocery store chains in the States (mostly found in So California), Trader Joe's.  A few years ago they launched a pretty decent wine for $1.99 by Charles Shaw.  It must be some nom-de-plume for some overstock batches from some vineyard that doesn't want to go on record with their name on the bottle.  Anywhoo - it's ok for a wine cooler, or maybe cooking, or maybe drinking while cooking... or non-serious drinking... it's ok - but you wouldn't take it as a hostess gift at a dinner party.

In years past, Barcelona neighborhoods had little shops that used to sell barrel-wine "a granel".  It was the cheap abundant wine of the season... and you could bring your own bottle, and (re)fill it up.

Times have changed.  You no longer find these dark little wine shops, as they have mostly been replaced by fancier places.  But down in the neighborhood of El Born, there's this little grocery store called "De Tot al Born", and they still sell bulk wine.

these barrels are above the refrigerator case of fresh veggies
 They have a few varieties - and you can choose "tinto o blanco", red or white.  I didn't know they had moscatel - i love me some sweet wine... maybe next time.

sorry for the blurry picture - i'm trying to take a picture with my iphone whilst balancing my just-filled bottle of white (in the foreground).
As you can see there's a nice menu... and after i finish this wine, I'll bring the emptied (and cleaned bottle) back down to try another variety.  This little grocery store also sells good bottle wine - down in the cellar.  But why pay 6 to 10 euros for wine that's ok - when you can have 94 cent wine that's ok?  Especially when you're on a budget. 

Theoretically, it was a great buy... however I don't live too close to El Born.  I still had a 20 minute walk back to Plaza Catalunya to get to my train.  Did I get strange looks as I wound my way down the streets carrying a bottle out in the open, as I didn't have a bag?  Yep.  And I answered them with a sheepish grin.


Friday, September 23, 2011

"... that way they can cop a feel, unobstructed"

My dear mother just can't seem to "get" the fact that I've lived in a big city all my life.  She was there in LA with me until she came to Barcelona 10 years ago. 

Mom:  "So be sure to keep your keys, and your ID and your money in your pockets.  Don't keep anything of value in your purse..."

My eyes are rolling, and I've completely tuned her out - I've heard this before.  Besides, I've navigated New York City at 3am.  Hell, I've taken the bus in LA at 2am (which is much sketchier than NYC - by far). 

Mom: "did you hear what I just said?"

Me: "yeah - so I should keep everything in my purse, that way my jeans will be completely streamlined with no bulges indicating which pockets have things in them... that way, if any perve or pickpocket comes up to me, they can cop a feel, unobstructed!"

I think she got the point. 

Then I was off to visit my friend Mick down in El Born.  I had a map - but tried not to use it.  We got a bottle of cheap 0,94 euro wine (take that, 2 buck chuck!)  We played ping pong in Ciutadela park.  We got the janky chewed-up table no one else wanted to play on.  It just made the game more fun.   That park is awesome.  I wish I lived closer to it. 

Barcelona can be way fun.  Today was a great day.  forgot my phone at Mick's - so no pictures... sigh.  next time


  I've put the Barcelona back in SharonVioletaBarcelona.

I like collecting stamps.  I even ask US immigration to stamp me back in to the States.  Silly, I know.

And after 3 and a half months of bouncing around from place to place in Los Angeles - living out of my suitcases - They are finally retired (until any road trip/day trip/ski trip?)

Huge thanks to my cousins, my friends, and my employer for letting me housesit, couch surf, guest room crash, and the like.  It's strange not having an address anymore.  I used to be so stable in my living situation. All this is so unsettling.  Let's see what becomes of this trip.  I'm navigating through life without a map.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

About Big Lew...

 Someone I only met once has recently died.

I read the headline "Once promising basketball star Lewis Brown dies homeless in Hollywood" on my Facebook news feed - posted and reposted by some people I know. 

And then I realized who he was.  It was on that night, at LudoBites where I left in tears... no, not the night I had a fever... the other night I left in tears (the onion incident) - August 31st.  I was Hollywood-bound that night because it was a Wednesday - and my friends were working at the Burgundy Room.  I needed some hugs. And a drink.  But on my way there, I saw I was almost out of gas. 

I pulled into the Chevron station at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine - just to get a gallon or 2 of gas (that's an expensive station!).  This big friendly giant of a man walks up, and offers to wash my windows.  He said "I'm not mean, I just look mean", as he noticed how I was a little nervous. 

I mentioned how I was having a bad day, and we chatted a bit.  I told him how the French Chef was being all mean and how I didn't know if I could go back the next day.  He said if I ever needed any help, just look for Big Lew. 

He also told me not to give up. 

He was a nice guy.  I didn't know anything about him - but now I'll never forget that night.  Nice guy.  Sad story.  In the big scheme of things, having a rough night in a kitchen at a restaurant just doesn't matter.  perspective.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

and the packing has begun...

well... it never really stopped.

Since I moved out of my last apartment back in March, I've been living out of 2 suitcases (and whatever I could fit in my car).  I took 2 suitcases with me to Barcelona - but never quite got settled there (*cough* uh, mom - care to make some space for me this time?)

I returned with 2 (lighter) suitcases, and re-filled them with clothes I'd left at my dad's.  Now I'm trying to re-pack those 2 suitcases for the return...  and decide what I'm gonna ship, and how I'm gonna ship what's left.  Funny how it's gotten easier to let go of stuff. 

I think I can fit everything I want on a pallet.  Though there is a box of clothes that I'd want sooner rather than the 6-10 weeks via air-sea packing. All this stuff that's for shipping is at my dad's.  I was there for a good 7 hours today.  He hardly said more than 5 sentences to me all day.  Didn't even ask me about my whole LudoBites adventure. 

Last week: 

Me:  Hey dad, I got a reservation at LudoBites on the closing night - for 4.  Mike & Veronica (my cousins) wanted to go - so I got a table for family! 
Dad: Oh, Saturday?  I had plans.  I just changed my trip to San Diego from yesterday to Saturday.  It's a good thing I changed it from yesterday because of that power outage.
Me: uh - you can't change it again?  This is the last chance.
Dad: ummm, no - it's ok.

Wow.  This thing that I was really proud of, and excited to be a part of just wasn't interesting enough for him.  San Diego isn't going anywhere... And he's known that I'm leaving on the 20th... does he ever call me?  It's ok, I can write about it - he won't read any of this.  He likes to say he cares about me, but in reality - his actions speak louder than words... oh wait - he doesn't even talk to me.  We're not fighting or anything - he's in his self-absorbed little world, and I'm just not a part of it. 

Poor Lisa, my whole inventory of stuff has exploded all over her living room floor.  Three days.  I feel like listening to some Jane's Addiction now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Day of Denial

I'm in a strange sort of limbo here. 

A job that occupied a large portion of my life for the past 6 weeks has ended... And I am one week away from my return to Spain. 

I've been hitting some hurdles...

How did I start off the day?  I re-visited "Doughville"

A single batch of the recipe is very easy to handle. 
I then caramelized some onions (following the instructions that Joon had shown me way back long ago during week 4 of LudoBites), made the mixture of creme fraiche and greek yogurt, and proceeded to make a tart for Lisa at lunchtime. 

Then off to my erranding.  The Spanish Consulate relaxed their rules about getting fingerprints cleared with the FBI since it takes 8-10 weeks... Now I just need to get proof with the State of California Department of Justice that I have an absence of a police record... which takes about 3 days... but just about every place I go - there are issues, and they can't do the LiveScan (come back with the proper form, the person isn't there, the computer crashed, the appointment window is closed, etc.) I had an easier time getting the FBI clearance back in February!  Too bad those are expired now. 

So what did I do when I returned to Lisa's?  Re-visited "Tartlandia"...

But I got a little creative.  Or rather, I wanted to combine a Smitten Kitchen recipe that I love with Ludo's recipe, which I know inside-out.

Yellow & Green Zucchini, with lemon, thyme and the creme melange
perfect crisp golden thin cracker-like crust... not dough-y like pizza.
But I didn't stop there... I then wanted to combine the 2 tarts I made during LudoBites - based on what I had. 
Caramelized onions, thinly sliced fingerling potato coins sauteed in clarified butter & pepperoni slices (we had no bacon)

Great color, perfect crust... but i preferred the zucchini one.
 I'll look for new topping combinations - and if anyone has any suggestions, please pass them on!  Lisa said put an egg on it - to make a breakfast pizza...

hmmmm - the last time I opened my mouth about making eggs - specifically an omelet, French Chef traumatized me (story for another day).

So I'm in denial that Ludobites is over, and I'm being denied on my attempts to get a temporary residency visa for Spain... I hate being in limbo.  and less than a week left.  gahhhh!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Photographing LudoBites

While I didn't get to go around taking pictures, there were several professionals who were invited in to the kitchen to document the experience that was LudoBites 007. 

There will be a LudoBites book coming out sometime next year... perhaps I'll make an appearance?  who knows. 

One guy named Wesley came in for a couple of days, and shot hundreds of pictures.  It's funny looking at the whole photo stream - looking at the experience I lived through from another person's perspective.  I also get a glimpse of the magic that happened in other parts of the kitchen - things I never got to see.  

If you're interested, please take a look... some of the photos are simply gorgeous.  There's one in particular of Chef joking around with me just laughing.  This picture makes me happy.  

Chef was tough to work for ("I may be an asshole, but i'm not a monster"), but he joked around a lot.  It was fun.  It was intense at times.  And if things were going wrong, it got scary.  But in the end, he got the results he wanted: the diners were served some beautiful, inventive, and delicious meals...

I just love food.  I love being around people who appreciate good food.  Food should be enjoyable, and fun.  I consider myself lucky that I got to experience working at Ludobites.  And if I could do it again, I definitely would. 

Where The Magic Happened

Add caption

The "punishment jam" was cooked in that lovely copper pot

The mayo on the ceiling after Chef "expressed" his anger by slamming the container down on the ground.


Pistachio financier with berries and marscapone - it was a lovely deep green, but the picture doesn't do it justice... so good.

Foie gras, creamed corn & popcorn - plated, and ready to take out for service.

The outline of where the mayo was on the ceiling... I'm sure the glops of mayo fell to the ground that night, but the cleaning staff at Gram & Papa's still didn't clean the ceiling... ewwww.

yes, it's The Fred Savage - from the Wonder Years.  He interned a couple of nights.  Chef had him peel grapes that night.  And he did it. 

Rosanna, the pastry chef during the last 2 weeks.  Such a sweetheart. 

Me, sauteing the coins of fingerling potatoes that I'd sliced on the mandolin.  I look happy there, but I was always worried and nervous when using the "plancha" or flat-top. 

Erika, Rosanna & Joon (the machine)

Greg, moments after the sink handle fell into his hand again, and Grace totally cracking up, again.  Yep, it was a fucking miracle that we got anything done in that kitchen

Me & Ila - line cook, blogger, doodler extraordinaire

The Mise en Place for the Tropezienne dessert - strawberries macerated in sugar, black currants, powdered sugar, lavender blossoms

Sabel!  I adore this girl!  she always had the best disposition - always happy to be there, she also got assigned "standards"... and she taught me how to clean squid.  she liked that task.  me? not so much.

The oxtail entree - closing night... it was really good

Ludo Lefebvre - with his intimidating glare... this is him in a good mood. 

Chef & Joon

Scallop & Prawn ceviche - the leftovers plated for the after service final staff gorge-fest.  I took a deli-cup of this for take away

Brioche for the Tropezienne, with the creme patissiere & black currants - these were the leftovers for the staff

Now I get to wear a big red coq on my chest. 

I probably would have lost it if he'd told me to use nice long strokes...

All of the equipment French Chef brought into Gram & Papa's need to be treated with lots of care.  Many items - like the giant wood cutting board below, are very expensive...

This wooden cutting board is 24"wide x48"long x2" thick
Chef:  You see that Paco Jet machine (it spins the ice cream)?
Me: Yes, chef?
Chef: you be careful around it - it's more expensive than your car.
Me: (ouch, that's a low blow!) yes, chef. 

That wooden cutting board is also probably more expensive than my car.  And it needs to be conditioned.  With oil.

Chef:  Tonight, Sharon, you are going to oil the cutting board.  Scrub all the dirt off of it first.
Me:  (using a scrubbing pad & soapy water, I clean it off, and wipe away the soap with a clean towel).

Chef: (squirting a cutting board mineral oil generously over the surface) Now you need to massage the oil onto the wood...

"Be sure to use enough oil... rub the oil into the wood... use both hands, Sharon!  Like you're massaging the wood... that's right... don't forget the sides, they need it too..."

What's a kitchen without some innuendo? 

He is French, after all. 

She Noms things - and blogs about it

Another co-intern at LudoBites, Ila, has a pretty awesome blog. 

You should check it out.  Her comic strip drawings are the most adorable things - and she totally nails it.

She refers to herself as a doodler extraordinaire - and she is!

Go and visit. now.  just click here.
and her comic for LudoBites 007 can be found at the link below.  Maybe you just had to be there to get it... but it's true - what we did there was a miracle. She called it 99 problems (but I think there were more).


I'm gonna miss her.  She got us all laughing a number of times. 

Too bad she had another job at this Gastropub down in Orange County - so she couldn't be with us daily.  At least we can always keep in touch on Facebook and via our blogs.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Just Make Happen

LudoBites 007 has come to a close.

Some people didn't think I would last.

Sometimes I thought I wouldn't last.

I'm a stubborn girl.

I wouldn't give up.

Kinda like that marathon I completed back in 2004... I'd had food poisoning two nights prior... That was a miserable marathon... couldn't eat... could barely drink... took me 7h 14min to complete (some people can complete 2 marathons in that time)... but I didn't give up.   After all that training & raising money for AIDS Marathon, I wasn't going to return to LA with any excuses... I finished it...practically doubled-over in extreme discomfort... but I did it. 

What was I thinking as I crossed the finish line?  If I can do this, I can do anything I set my mind to. 

And I completed the 6-week run of LudoBites 007... It was an honor and a privilege to work under such an inspiring and accomplished chef, and with such a fabulous crew. 

There was blood.
There was sweat.
And yes, there were tears. 

As Chef likes to say - Never give up, and Just Make Happen. 

Just like on the day of the marathon, I wasn't having my best personal day (a fever?  why?  thankfully there's Advil)... but I didn't want to miss the final day of the run.  Which was tougher?  Ludo Bites, by far. 

... pictures and fun stories to follow. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

LudoBites - week 5

What a crazy week!

I got the new recipe for the new tart - the Choucroute Tarte Flambe.  With it came a whole slew of new responsibilities.  And a very valuable lesson:

Joon:  "never trust anyone in the kitchen."

What Joon was telling me was more of a guidance of not relying on anyone else - be sure you know your own inventory, and know what you need.  I had been relying on Elodie too much for my own good.  But now that she left for France, it's up to me to be sure I get my one dish done.  And help out with desserts when I can.

Rosanna joined the team on Tuesday to take over desserts from Elodie.  As they worked together on getting the recipes down, I was learning the components of my new recipe. 

I still start the day in Doughville

next I have to slice 5 pounds of Russian Fingerling Potatoes into thin coins on the Mandolin (yes, I already skinned my knuckle on it).  Rinse well, pat dry - then sautee them in clarified butter... Pommes Sautee a la cru.  It takes me forever to sautee 5 pounds of potato coins - so I've been moved to using the plancha. 

Some time in between, I need to cook the bacon & slice onions... and make the creme melange (with mustard).  And be ready with my "Mise en Place" by 5:30.

Well - this is how it went:
Tuesday: I got help from Elodie - and the tarts were fine - no snafus.

Wednesday: Miserable.  I still hadn't taken charge of the inventory for my recipe, or the techniques for getting it all assembled.  But I tried to get it all done on my own... Somehow I still earned the scornfull wrath of Chef. It was Elodie's last day (sad face).  I also left in tears.  Next stop, The Burgundy Room for a much needed drink and hugs from friends.

Thursday: I was so nervous and anxious about getting everything done, that I over-prepared the components for the Mise-en-Place, leaving me with plenty of extra for Friday. I knew what ingredients needed to be ordered, and put them on the shopping list in time. We also had a full house in the kitchen with extra interns who were helping with the tarts.  I found myself standing around with nothing to do.

Friday: We were short-handed in the back kitchen.  It was just Joon (3 different entrees), Rosanna (3 desserts & an appetizer), me (Choucroute Tarte Flambe - and helping out Rosanna & Joon).  I had a bit of help from Sabel to get a few tarts assembled before service started... but then she had to go to the front to help Grace, Sam & Greg.  And you know what happened?  Everything went right! 

Chef:  Sharon! How many tarts do you have in ze oven?
me:  2 chef!
Chef: ?? (confused for a moment)
me: one that's on order, and one is par-baking
Chef: ok, good.  Well done, Sharon.

No mistakes... well, one slight mistake of a torn crust - that I gave to Mike (owner of Gram & Papas)... but no missed orders, no late orders, and I had just the right amount of ingredients for the Mise en Place.  And after the appetizers were done, Rosanna & I helped Joon.  When desserts were being ordered, I helped Rosanna.  And then the appetizers again... Just the 3 of us back there - we worked well together... no time to just stand around twiddling our thumbs - we were constantly moving.  And to see Joon work - it's like a well-choreographed dance. 

Best. Night. Ever.