Saturday, February 28, 2009

South Beach Food and Wine Festival

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I'm thinking this is an event that I would like to attend some day. Not only does my cooking inspiration and role model, Rachael Ray, frequently participate, but apparently, many former Top Chef contestants make an appearance! Spike Mendelsohn, from Season 4, won the Burger Bash with a most delicious-sounding Smokehouse burger, which contained sharp Vermont cheddar, bacon, and Vidalia onion rungs. My mouth is watering just imagining it!

Check out this article from an attendee-she had the chance to hang out with quite a few of our Top Chef favorites, ate their yummy food, and enjoyed their charitable company. Hosea-haters, STAND DOWN!

World Tour, continued

Tokyo, Japan

"From Broadway to Bourbon Street" or "It's a big deal, because there's alligator on the table."

Whew. I’m reeling from the many articles, interviews, blog posts and approximately 1,000,000 comments from the food- and entertainment-loving fans of Top Chef. Not on MY blog of course-my grand total of comments is a big ol’ 4! It’s a lot to take in! I need some time to collect my thoughts before composing my last recap. (Technically, it’s not my last, because I’ll post a few juicy tidbits, if there are any, from the reunion show, and I definitely plan to recap next season.)

I’ll admit to a bit of sadness as Padma runs through the list of prizes the crowned winner of Top Chef will receive (no trip to Europe sponsored by Evian this time!). Unlike other reality shows, like Survivor and The Amazing Race, Top Chef has almost a full year between seasons. We probably won’t be tuning in to Season 6 until around November, if we’re lucky! Thankfully, I’ve read quite a bit about casting calls lately, so at least I know the producers are staying on top of things! I wonder which city will be next….I’m thinking possible contenders might be Washington D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, or perhaps San Diego? Las Vegas? I hope they don’t repeat locations, but if they do, I’d put money on LA or San Francisco again. A real down-south location would be great-seeing the finale in New Orleans has been wonderful.

Back to the topic at hand! The grand finale of Top Chef: New York! Before our three remaining chefs head to breakfast on the Creole Queen, a lovely ocean liner (No, it wasn’t an ocean liner, rather a small Southern steamboat. I just FELT like saying ocean liner!) we get a peek at Carla’s morning routine (yoga), Stefan brushing his teeth, and Hosea, remarkably, simply dwelling on how great it is to be in the finale, NOT devising a surefire strategy to beat Stefan.

They board the ship for breakfast and enjoy a nice camaraderie over beignets and coffee. Stefan sheds a tiny tear over the demise of Team Europe and once again professes that he is insanely more talented than Hosea, and that he is Top Chef. There IS another chef in this competition guys! And her name is wonderful, fabulous, kind, generous, sure-to-be fan favorite Carla.

After breakfast, the chefs meet Tom and Padma at the New Orleans Collection Museum. How are these meeting spots decided, I wonder? Does the finale host city pipe up and request certain spots? Are they chosen for certain characteristics that lend themselves to dramatic entrances by former contestants?

As anyone who has watched Top Chef is well aware, the final challenge is always something alone the lines of “cooking the best meal of your life.” I, for one, appreciate the consistency and inherent justice in such a challenge. It’s perfect, really, because it gives the chefs absolute freedom-they can choose to be adventurous and daring, or they can stick to what they know is best. Hmmm. Which path do YOU think is best? Some of the details of the final meal do change a bit-in this instance, the chefs are to make a three course tasting menu, to be served at New Orleans establishment Commander’s Palace. Dessert is not required.

What would a Top Chef finale be, however, without sous chefs? And famous ones, at that! Tom calls out for the “help” and previous second place finishers Richard Blais, Casey Thompson, and Marcel Vigneron appear. I like this twist! Granted, there have been previous seasons when the sous-chefs have been of true culinary celebrity status, like my beloved Eric Ripert or April Bloomfield (of NYC gastropub The Spotted Pig). I think there might be a bit less pressure, however, when working with individuals who have been through the same reality show wringer before.

The chefs draw knives to determine in what order they’ll select their sous-chefs. Hosea is able to select first, and he wisely selects Richard. Richard is a very solid technical chef, and also extremely creative. He stood out in his season the way that Stefan has in Season 5. Not surprisingly, Stefan chooses his long-lost blood brother and co-villian, Marcel, who looks a complete idiot in his awkwardly large sunglasses. This leaves Carla with Casey, who is probably exactly the pick she would have made had she been able to choose first.

The chefs are prepping in the Audubon Tea Room-again, I’m confused. Why there? A tea room? It does look to be stocked very well, as Hosea and Stefan almost instantly get into a scuffle over the fois gras. By the way, can you think of another reality show where the question “Where are the proteins?” would be repeated frantically? Hosea calmly agreed to split the fois after Stefan threw a complete fit. There was a small, similar debacle over the caviar a few minutes later.

Let the record show that Hosea’s cool, calm demeanor was admirable from the start here. He chose an excellent sous-chef, was assertive about selecting his ingredients, and didn’t panic when he didn’t have every single detail worked out during the prep time. Just a little sidenote.

Carla seems fairly confident. She’s wants to make French comfort food, simple, elegant, and tasty. Her plan is something along the lines of upscale meat and potatoes, accompanied with a bouillabaisse-style dish. Casey suggests that they sous-vide the beef, a technique that Carla has never done. And Carla doesn’t shoot this hare-brained idea down right away. BIG red flags here. HUGE.

We were treated to a small snippet of the final three meeting with a voodoo priestess-Stefan’s only concern is that his future love life includes Jamie. Not happening, Stefan. Not happening.

The day of the challenge, Hosea, Stefan, and Carla anxiously march into the Commander’s Palace, only to be greeted by a smirking Tom, standing in front of a tray that contains, among other things, ALLIGATOR. He informs the chefs that they will have an additional course, adding an appetizer to their menu. Their ingredients? Alligator, redfish, and crab. How will their protein be selected? Being that it’s Fat Tuesday and all, the chefs will have to dive into a king’s cake, each hoping to find the baby in their piece. Whoever finds the baby gets to assign the proteins. Now, for my two cents, I’m going to say that I found this twist irritating, because it eliminated the “fair” aspect of the final challenge. Redfish is unusual enough, but alligator? It’s an extremely rarely-used ingredient, and the powers that be most certainly knew that it was highly likely none of the chefs had worked with it before. They could easily have required that the chefs share the same protein for the appetizer, and sentenced all of them to death by alligator. If it’s about honoring the local ingredients, the appetizer could have been made in the Creole style. Even better, the chefs create their own appetizer! This was just ridiculous. In the end, it actually didn’t matter at all, but I am still not a fan of that kind of manipulation.

Hosea found the baby, and to no one’s surprise, took the redfish for himself, gave Carla the crab, and promptly assigned Stefan to alligator duty. Of course, Stefan would have done the same thing. No need to get irritated. Hosea decides to make a griddled corn cake with creole remoulade and grilled redfish, because he is proud to be in New Orleans. Stefan makes alligator soup-really, what else can one do with alligator? After being rescued from her especially aggressive crabs by Stefan, Carla decides to make a shiso soup with crab, served in Chinese soup spoons. They’re all looking good.

Since I included the menus for the first part of the finale, I thought I should probably include them again:


Trio of Sashimi
Scallops and Fois Gras with Pain Perdu
Venison Loin with Wild Mushrooms

My thoughts: Hosea went about his menu in a very determined and sure fashion. He focused on flavor and presentation, and he opted for his favorite meat for a final dish. He doesn’t opt for a dessert, because it’s not “his strong point”, and it’s not the last representation of Hosea that he wants the judges to have. He’s definitely playing it safe.


Halibut and Salmon Carpaccio
Squab with Braised Red Cabbage and Schupfnudeln
Ice Cream and Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Syrup and Lollipops

My thoughts: Stefan feels strongly about a complete meal including desserts, and he has shown himself more than capable of making a good one. His squab with red cabbage is going to be great, without a doubt. He’s shown remarkable ability to successfully pull off European comfort food in the past. The carpaccio is the only question-is it ever a good idea to freeze fresh fish?


Seared Snapper with Saffron Aioli and Crouton
Sous-Vide New York Strip Steak, Potato Rod and Merlot Sauce
Cheese Tart with Apple Coins and Marmalade

My thoughts: I think it’s great that she’s focusing on the sauces. The problem is that Carla is following Casey’s lead, not the other way around. Casey suggests a blue cheese soufflé, rather than the tart, which we all know Carla should reject, because she’s a great pastry chef in her own right. This could be a big problem.

The finale dinner begins with the entrance of many important guests: Ti Martin, proprietor of Commander’s Palace, Hubert Keller, head chef of Fleur de Lys, Rocco di Spirito (wait, he’s not important!), and Branford Marsalis, jazz composer, and yes, brother of Wynton Marsalis. Gail and Toby Young will be judging, along with Padma and Tom. It’s sure to be an interesting evening.

Hosea’s appetizer comes out first, to resounding success. Everyone seems to love it. Stefan’s alligator soup is next. Delicately topped with a bit of puff pastry, it’s actually delicious. Fabio has joined the judges, and they all enjoy every drop. Carla’s crab and shiso soup with crab and chayote salsa is another hit. So far, no clear front runner.

The judges take their seats, and the parade of lovely white square plates begins. Carla’s dish is “something special”, and reminded Ti Martin of her first visit to France. Score! Hosea’s sashimi looked beautiful, but lacked seasoning. Stefan’s technique of freezing the fish so that he could create the perfect, delicately thin slices for carpaccio caused a problem for him, despite getting praised by Hubert Keller. Carla is looking good!

Second course is a different story. Stefan’s squab was beautifully cooked, and Gail cannot stop eating Hosea’s scallop and fois gras. Carla’s sirloin, however, was tough-a negative result of the sous-vide process. Tom immediately notes that this is not what they’ve come to expect from Carla. Way to pass on your inside information, Tom.

For third course, Hosea confidently sent out his venison, Stefan paraded a “dated” version of dessert, and Carla was unable to include the Casey-inspired blue cheese soufflés, because they curdled during cooking. For the most part, the opinion seemed to shift towards Hosea and Stefan. Carla is out of the running.

There were some rousing debates at judges’ table between the final four judges, Toby, Gail, Tom, and Padma. It seemed clear the Carla had no chance to win, and her own acknowledgement of where she’d gone wrong was heartbreaking to witness. Despite feeling sorry for her, I was dismayed to see the poll for “Who Should Win Top Chef?” pop up on the screen with an overwhelming majority for Carla. Even before the challenge, I would never have picked her as a winner! It’s not a popularity contest, people! Carla’s fate was sealed when she wasn’t able to make her own decisions for the dinner, a mistake that neither Hosea or Stefan made. She was sweet, and kind, and made an impressive run to the finale, but Hosea and Stefan would have had to suffer some serious disasters in the kitchen in order for her to be a proper competitor.

Once the judges determined that Carla was out, the decision came down to Team Europe or Team Leah-gate. Toby was firmly on Stefan’s side, in spite of the uninspired dessert and watery carpaccio. Tom, Padma, and Gail appreciated Hosea’s proper progression more, and were disappointed with Stefan’s lack of soul and decision to make a “pedestrian” dessert. This problem with Stefan was his Achilles heel throughout the season, but let me say, with absolute confidence, right now: if Stefan had truly made the best third course, he would have won. Tom, Padma, and Co. have always been consistent with their decisions in the finale, though I’ve been disappointed in one or two individual episodes. Personality comes second to good food. If the show was designed around past performance, Stefan would have been the clear winner. The fact is, it’s judged on a challenge-by-challenge basis, and for the finale, Stefan simply didn’t deliver his best. Hosea deserved the win.

This has been one of the most controversial finales in Top Chef history, right up there with Ilan/Marcel/Sam in Season 2. Frankly, I’m surprised, because any true fan of the show would have expected, and certainly understood, the final decision. I’m not going to say I was back on the Team Hosea train, because he has irked and annoyed me ever since the Leah fiasco, but I can certainly admit that he made the best last meal. He’s Top Chef, whether we like it or not!

I’m going to include a few links here, articles that I enjoyed and feel cleared up a bit of confusion.

Interview with Hosea, TV Guide

Tom Colicchio, People

Gail's Thoughts

I’m looking forward to the drama-filled reunion show next week! And next season, you can’t come soon enough! I’m already missing my beloved Tom!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"With that attitude, you better be able to deliver."

Thursday, February 26, 2009
I'm appalled at my late posting for the last days of my beloved Top Chef! I promise to be better in my future recapping endeavors!

The competition has moved to New Orleans, and since a few months have passed (I’m not sure how many, or why this is always necessary on Top Chef), we have the obligatory airport arrivals and/or new hairdos. Fabio is sporting a fauxhawk, Carla’s hair is long and straight, and Stefan and Hosea have retained their shiny bald pates. I notice that Fabio is wearing a pink scarf, Stefan has apparently knocked back a few too many (it shows in his belly!), and Carla dances adorably to the tunes of the jazz band in the airport.

New Orleans is undoubtedly a cool place for the finale. Lots of history, interesting (and spicy!) food, and culture. The chefs’ first stop is a stunning Southern plantation, where Padma and Tom wait in front of three chef stations bedecked with red and white picnic tablecloths, accompanied by none other than the “King of Creole”, Emeril Lagasse. In case you’ve wondered why you’ve never seen Emeril before on Top Chef, that would be because the Food Network and/or Bravo will not allow such appearances. As Emeril no longer films new episodes for the Food Network, we can now be treated to his expertise. BAM!

The chefs are justifiably confused about the quickfire, because there are only three chef stations. Carla even worries that one of them will automatically be eliminated, on the spot. Do you see the cruelty that the chefs have come to expect from the producers?

They all breathe a sigh of relief when Padma informs them that they can “relax and enjoy some Southern hospitality”, instead of competing. This is the signal for the last three eliminated chefs to reappear. Leah, Jamie, and Jeff step out of the mansion’s front door, ready to try for one more chance at the finale. Leah is wearing more makeup than she has worn for the entire competition. Jamie looks great, with a fresh new ‘do and highlights. The producers inwardly lament that Dr. Chase refused to perform the quickfire shirtless.

Fabio and Hosea complain to the camera about the latest twist. While I find Hosea’s comments about Leah’s return to be puerile and slightly self-aggrandizing, I do understand the frustration felt by having to compete with one more chef. All of them have worked hard to achieve a spot in the finale, and it’s more than a little unfair to bring an eliminated chef back. Again, where was that generosity when my beloved Tre was eliminated? And Antonia? I had to look at Lisa’s sour mug for an entire finale last season when I could have been admiring Antonia’s delicious dishes!

Of course, I’m immediately pulling for Jamie-in my opinion, she is the most talented and deserving of the three. The chefs are tasked with creating a dish featuring crawfish, a traditional Creole ingredient. Emeril gazes at the chefs with a big smile on his face from the mansion’s second-floor porch while crawfish skitter around on the tables. Leah decides to make a gumbo (really? For the expert in gumbo, Emeril?), Dr. Chase makes crawfish and grits (despite having multiple personalities speaking in his mind), and Jamie opts for a griddled corn cake with poached eggs, andouille sausage, tasso hollandaise and crawfish. I’m already thinking she has it in the bag.

Despite her usage of the Holy Trinity (peppers, celery, and onion), Leah’s crawfish soup was not enough to please Emeril. Even though her dish incorporated unique aspects of Creole cooking, Jamie’s dish wasn’t quite spicy enough. Dr. Chase’s crawfish and grits, however, were right up Emeril’s alley! Thus, he is able to join Hosea, Fabio, Carla, and Stefan for a fighting chance for a coveted finale spot, with the provision that he has to WIN the elimination challenge. If he doesn’t, two chefs (including him) will be going home. No pressure at all, right?

The five chefs are left alone for the evening, to stew over what the elimination challenge could possibly be. Despite having gorgeous digs at the Hotel Monteleone, the special private dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico is quite somber. Carla, in particular, seems uncharacteristically serious. Hosea keeps insisting that he’s not worried about Stefan. Stefan keeps spouting off arrogant comments. The producers squeal in joy when Dr. Chase’s bare chest is revealed peeking out of his casually buttoned shirt.

The next day, the chefs are taken to a large warehouse, which is full of brightly colored Mardi Gras parade floats. Yes, a Mardi Gras challenge! Padma and Emeril share the details: the chefs will be catering the Orpheus Masquerade Ball, and they will have to create a cocktail and two dishes, one of which must be in the Creole/Cajun style. As an additional incentive, my new favorite car, the Toyota Venza, will serve as a prize for the winner of the challenge. I’ve been longing for Toyota to come out with a new station wagon-esque car, and of COURSE it would happen mere months after we purchased a brand new Camry.

Back to the challenge! After watching approximately 7 Toyota Venza commercials, we get back to the prep time. After checking out the impeccably stocked kitchen at Emeril’s Delmonico, the chefs get started on their menus:

Hosea: Duck, Andouille, and Chicken Gumbo
Pecan-Crusted Catfish with Tobasco Buerre Blanc
Hurricane with Grand Marnier and Rum

Carla: Oyster Stew
Shrimp and Andouille Beignet
Non-Alcoholic Cranberry Spritzer

Stefan: Duck and Rabbit Gumbo with Creamy Grits
Apple Beignet
Black Cherry and Rum Cocktail

Jeff: Fried Oyster with Sausage
Crawfish Pot de Crème
Cucumber Mojito

Fabio: Sausage and Rabbit Maque Choux with Grits
Crawfish and Crab Stew with Caserecci Pasta
Muffuletta Bread
Bell Pepper Martini

There was a lot of focus on the roux used for gumbo, which of course, archrivals Hosea and Stefan are both making. Hosea decides to spend the whole prep time concentrating on his perfect roux while Stefan took multiple smoke breaks and didn’t make his own sausage. Dr. Chase worried about making a winning dish, but he knows the area and flavors (of COURSE he does-was anyone else surprised by his knowledge?), so he’s confident. Carla just learned how to shuck an oyster five days ago, and she has to shuck 100 for her dish. Yikes. Fabio is, not surprisingly, bringing some Italian style to the dish, making his own pasta to accompany his crawfish and crab stew. He’s also making an extra dish, muffaletta bread. A bit worrisome. The editing went a bit overboard here, showcasing Stefan as an irresponsibly arrogant chef. It should have been a big clue, but I couldn’t help but hope that he’d finally get cut down a notch or two.

The chefs transport their dishes to the New Orleans Museum of Art, taking some time to get used to the pink and blue lighting. They have a few minutes to train their bartenders, and then it’s go time! Four masked individuals march down the elegant staircase, which we of course recognize as our judges: Tom, Padma, Emeril and the return of much-beloved Gail Simmons, who Carla is especially thrilled to see. I have to admit, I felt a burst of excitement watching the dramatic entrance-they all just looked great! Emeril took his mask very seriously, by the way.

Catering challenges are always really stressful on the show, but this one went off quite well. Not a single complaint from any of the native New Orleans-ians was shown, which is impressive considering they all probably had excellent palates. Making food to order can be quite dicey, but Hosea managed to do it with his catfish and Carla had an individual oyster shucked for each serving of stew. I would have dived right INTO that catfish, by the way. You know how I feel about crusted fish!

As for the judges’ opinions, Stefan’s grits were creamy and delicious, but his gumbo wasn’t as authentic as Hosea’s. Fabio did a good job in general, but his food just wasn’t a good, spicy representation of Creole food. Dr. Chase has an intelligent approach to his food, but that’s pretty much all the judges had to say about it (the reason behind this careful edit can be found here, in Tom’s blog). Carla hit an absolute homerun with her tasty oyster stew and perfectly New Orleans-inspired beignet.

Judges’ table was difficult for me to watch. Once it was determined that Jeff didn’t win, it was evident that the final decision would be between Stefan and Fabio. Stefan is probably the best technical chef of the group, and he certainly has had many wins throughout the season. However, as I’ve stressed before, the judges are to base their decision on the basis of each individual challenge, and not take into consideration past efforts. This is exactly why Carla managed to stay on for so long-she really came into her own later in the season. Needless to say, the judges determined that Fabio’s lack of spiciness was a greater sin than a lazy roux and bad attitude. I was crushed, to say the least, even though it’s nice to see all of the chefs put forth really strong dishes and I know that Fabio had a strong showing throughout the show. It’s just hard to stomach seeing a Fabio-less finale set against a backdrop of Stefan and Hosea bickering.

Recap for the official finale coming soon!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Let the pop culture parade continue! For this week's Top 5 list, I have decided to focus on the best moments from the 81st Annual Academy Awards. It's an oft-criticized, monumentally long television event each year, but this time, I think it was a grand success. Great films were nominated, the sets and bits were extremely well-done, and Hugh Jackman was appealing but not too over the top. It doesn't hurt, I might add, that I was viewing it all for the first time on the West Coast, which meant that it was over before 9 o'clock. No staying up for that last Best Picture announcement at midnight! There were many highlights, but I'll just include my favorites here:

5. The Hugh Jackman/Beyonce musical number. I know MANY people abhor musicals, my SH included, but I really loved this little production, which honored many classic musicals, including Grease, Chicago, and even The Sound of Music. There was something so grand and old-fashioned about the whole thing. I couldn't help smiling while I watched.

4. Steve Martin and Tina Fey take the stage to present the screenplay awards. I loved this whole bit, from the typed page on screen to the melodramatic entrance. Not only was it great to have awards presented by two of the best comedians in the business, but the tidbits from the films and screenplay added a great touch.

3. Ben Stiller channels Joaquin Phoenix while presenting the award for Cinematography. In case you didn't know, Joaquin Phoenix (two-time nominee, by the way) has apparently gone off the proverbial deep end. While Natalie Portman gamely played along, Ben Stiller gave a pitch-perfect impression of the celebrated actor's recent disastrous appearance on David Letterman. In bad taste? Undoubtedly. Hilarious? Most certainly!

2. Robert Pattinson introduces the Romance in 2008 montage. Do I really need to say more? I was nervous for the dashing new star, but he did a lovely job. Not a single flub. I must also note that one of my top 5 Coldplay songs, Lovers in Japan, provided the soundtrack for the montage.

1. Slumdog Millionaire wins Best Picture. I was thrilled to see the whole cast and crew crowd onto the stage for this one. It's so wonderful to know that a film like Slumdog, so genuinely human and REAL and good, is recognized and appreciated by so many. An especially touching moment during the acceptance was seeing the film's main star, Dev Patel, towards the back of the crowded cast, holding the youngest Latika.

Next week, I aspire to a list more intelligent and thought-provoking, literary rather than small screen, deep instead of shallow. In my defense, however, the Oscars only come around once a year!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thank you for my fashion.*

Monday, February 23, 2009
Well, the much-anticipated (at least, much-anticipated by me!) Academy Awards were on last evening. I enjoyed all five hours of the show, from the first few minutes of the E! pre-show to the credits displaying all of the upcoming movies of 2009. Yes, I'm one of those people, the drink-up-all-the-celebrity-buzz types. Not that you couldn't already discern this fact from perusing a few pages of my blog.

I must admit that I wasn't completely sold on the gowns of choice. These are the Oscars, people! Time to pull out the big guns! White and red seemed to be common selections, but I'm sure my best friend Pretty Cheap Dress will have plenty to say on the trends of the night, so I'll just stick with my favorites:

Taraji P. Henson, nominee, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I thought the dress was simple, yet glamorous. The perfect complement to the stunning bauble that draped her neck.

Marion Cotillard, attendee, Best Actress Winner 2008. This is the kind of dress I look forward to seeing at awards shows! Daring and original! I'm really loving the blue and black combination, though I must admit that Reese Witherspoon's attempt was not such a success.

Jennifer Aniston, presenter. I was rooting for her to be stunning, and she did not disappoint. She was not too adventurous with her look, but she didn't need to be-the hair, the dress, pure loveliness. Take that, Angelina! (You won't find any pictures of HER on my blog, though I do admit her dress, with the accompanying jewelry was quite nice.)

Penelope Cruz, nominee/winner, Vicky Christina Barcelona. It took me a while to warm up to this dress, but the longer that I watched, the more I liked it. Penelope usually makes great choices on awards show evenings, and at first, I thought her dress was a bit too conservative. Closer examination definitely proved me wrong.

Marisa Tomei, nominee, The Wrestler. I loved Marisa's dress, despite the fact that she might be a teensy bit too pale for the silver white shade. This was the one gown that my mom and I disagreed on-sorry, Mom! I just can't help it! I love the satin, the layers...

Whoops! I have NO idea how that got in there! Who is THAT guy?

Tina Fey, presenter. Now, some of you may look at this dress and wonder why I singled it out for special consideration. It’s not that unique, and really not all that flashy. My answer is this: I love seeing Liz Lemon all dressed up! In both of the past awards shows (for which she was nominee and winner), Tina Fey really hasn’t gone out of her way to look glamorous. This was her best effort so far, and I was super-pleased to see it!

Kate Winslet, nominee/winner, The Reader. A wonderful dress for a wonderful actress. I love Kate because she recognizes that, as a nominee, there is an expectation that one will truly “look the part.” It’s not the time to play it safe (I’m NOT talking about you, Bjork! Be daring, within reason!). She chose a beautiful and unusual gown, opted for sleek, stylish hair, and exuded grace and poise. By the way, I highly recommend The Reader. It’s an excellent film.

I had to include these post-Oscars pictures from the Vanity Fair Oscar bash, because I absolutely love both dresses.

Marion Cotillard. She’s on fire tonight!

Rosario Dawson. Love, love, love this dress. Even though it’s white.

*the words of my cousin’s darling daughter-she’s only four, but she obviously appreciates a nice dress!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Black Pepper and Coriander-Crusted Tuna with Orange and Fennel-Roasted Potato Salad

Saturday, February 21, 2009

From the day that I purchased Express Meals, I have longed to cook this dish. Of course, I bought the book the day it was released, as usual when it comes to Rachael Ray titles, and spent hours thumbing through it eagerly, dog-earing the pages with appetizing-sounding recipes, which inevitably turns out to be most of the book. Express Meals is certainly a satisfying offering from Rachael-I have made many a recipe from it, but somehow, I always felt that I was too busy, or too cash-strapped, or simply too tired to try something new, and I avoided Black Pepper and Coriander-Crusted Tuna, despite how wonderful it sounded. Well, over two years have passed since the day I timidly requested that my father-in-law make a stop at the Borders on University Avenue in Palo Alto so that I could continue my relentless fan streak of buying RR cookbooks as soon as humanly possible, and I can finally say that I gave in and treated my sweet husband and myself to this most delicious recipe.

It did NOT disappoint. The salad was heavenly and light, a mixture of wonderful textures with the crisp white fennel and the roasted potatoes, roasted with a nice crunch on the outside, but with soft, warm centers. Tossed with the ever-dependably pretty red onions, the bright green confetti of chopped basil and parsley, and feathery bits of orange zest (from my own oranges!) and dressed with a simple orange juice and olive oil dressing, we enjoyed it for three days, until every last bit was gone. It's worth making over and over on its own, and it was tasty both hot and cold.

The delicate "crust" for the tuna was a snap to prepare, just a bit of flour, pepper, and ground coriander. I have mentioned, more than once, how much I LOVE and ADORE any sort of crusted, coated, or dredged fish. This tuna was no exception, and it felt lighter and healthier, because I only used a bit of oil. I'm not a master of fish-cookery, however, and I think I might have over-cooked it a bit. Good quality tuna can practically be eaten raw, and the best way to prepare it for a dish like this is something akin to medium-rare. It still tasted quite good, however, especially next to the salad.

Despite the expense incurred when purchasing tuna steaks, I highly recommend this dish, and I can now add it to my list of "Great Dishes for Dinner Parties." Actually, I just conceived of the idea for such a list, so this recipe will be the first entry. It looks absolutely lovely on the plate (don't judge by my pictures!) and tastes marvelous. When I made it for my SH, I actually purchased only one large tuna steak and had the fish man cut it into two nice pieces-it was a perfect amount for one special dinner.

Black Pepper and Coriander-Crusted Tuna with Orange and Fennel-Roasted Potato Salad
from Express Meals, by Rachael Ray

2 pounds red or white boiling potatoes, washed
8 tablespoons EVOO
1 tablespoon grill seasoning such as McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning, a palmful (you could easily just use salt, pepper, and a few minced garlic cloves, if you prefer)
1 fennel bulb, fronds trimmed and chopped, the bulb quartered, core removed and discarded, quarters thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, a generous handful, chopped
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (eyeball it)
salt and black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground coriander, a palmful
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper, a palmful
4 1 1/2 inch-thick tuna steaks

1. Preheat the oven to 450.
2. Cut the potatoes into wedges and drop them onto a cookie sheet. Coat the potatoes in 3 tablespoons of the EVOO. Season the spuds with the grill seasoning. Roast the potatoes, turning them once, for 25 minutes, until tender and brown at the edges and a bit crusty.
3. In a large salad bowl, combine the fennel fronds, thinly sliced fennel, red onion, basil, and parsley. In a small bowl, combine the orange zest and juice with the Dijon mustard and a little salt and pepper. In a slow steady stream, whisk in 3 tablespoons of the EVOO. Pour the dressing over the fennel salad, toss to coat, and reserve.
4. When the potatoes have about 10 more minutes to roast, start the tuna. In a shallow dish, combine the flour, coriander, and coarsely ground black pepper and a little salt. Pat the tuna steaks dry and then coat them in the flour mixture, pressing it in lightly. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over high heat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO, twice around the pan. When the pan is very hot, add the steaks. Sear and brown the tuna steaks for 2 minutes, then turn, and immediately reduce the heat to medium. Loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil and cook the steaks 5 minutes for rare, 7 minutes for medium. The steaks should be firm but have a little give, and some pink should remain at the center.
5. Remove the roasted potatoes from the oven and add them to the dressed fennel salad, tossing to combine. Taste them for seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if you want. Serve the tuna steaks alongside the orange and fennel-roasted potato salad.

For the record...

...I KNOW I'm usually very late with my Top Chef recap, but I have a good excuse this time! I'm waiting for the pictures to come up on Bravo's website, and so far, all we have is this shot of Padma looking doubtfully at guest judge Emeril. It was actually a great episode, in terms of food, drama (from Stefan, of course), and even twists. I'll have to scour the web for good pictures if more don't appear soon.

To brighten my Saturday morn...

Somehow, the English accent increases the adorable factor exponentially!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Yes, this week will be yet another list in the realm of entertainment. That does indeed make four straight weeks of my own personal thoughts about various television shows and/or movies. I’m kind of a pop culture addict, if you must know, so it’s quite easy to dream up light little lists about trivial entertainment. I put quite a bit more thought into it when I’m writing about the books I love or my family. Pop culture lists are also more amenable to working on critical, close readings for my Wednesday class. You should know that I often draw inspiration from what I see and hear in the entertainment world, and this week’s list, my top scariest movies, was inspired by the much-hyped premiere of the remake of Friday the 13th.

Granted, the classic slasher franchises will never find a place on my list of scary movies-I enjoy watching them (Halloween is my favorite), but more for the cheap thrills aspect. I should mention, once more, that I do NOT enjoy the more recent ridiculously gory and gratuitous trend in horror films. Only old school horror for me, thank you.

The movies that really scare me tend to fall more in the thriller genre, although two of the entries on my list are of the supernatural/horror type. I’ve always been much more frightened by things that have some semblance of reality, that could happen. Martin Burney is MUCH scarier than Jason Voorhees.

5. Sleeping with the Enemy. As I've mentioned before, Sleeping with the Enemy gave me nightmares for several days after my first viewing. Each time, I could “see” a silhouette of evil Martin Burney in my doorway, and I felt the cold fear that Julia so emphatically expressed when she opened her kitchen cabinet to reveal all of those perfectly stacked cans.

4. The Gift. Despite starring Cate Blanchett, this movie is relatively unknown. She plays a widowed fortune teller of sorts who begins to suffer visions of untimely deaths. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that the visions are specifically related to one victim, a pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes. The whole thing is supremely creepy, made infinitely more so with the addition of Giovanni Ribisi as an abused mechanic and the Southern swamp setting. I watched it for the first time a few years ago, while still in college, and my roommate fell asleep before it was over. I was so scared that I had to turn it off and wait until she woke up to finish it.

3. Silence of the Lambs. This movie is probably on most people’s top 5 scariest movie lists, although for me, it didn’t get really frightening until the very end, when Hannibal kills the guards and makes his escape. I’d actually read the book beforehand, so I knew what was coming when the SWAT team and EMT’s rushed out what they thought was the mutilated body of one of the guards. You just can’t be fully prepared, however, for the sight of Anthony Hopkins literally peeling off a bloody face and gleefully dispatching the innocent technician.

2. Jaws. I absolutely love watching Jaws, so my reasons for including it on this list are twofold: pure enjoyment combined with utter terror. There is pretty much nothing more terrifying, in my opinion, than being attacked by a shark. I would faint dead away in the water if I even caught a glimpse of a larger-than-normal fish, I think, much less a great white shark. I admit to something of a morbid fascination-I eagerly anticipate Shark Week every year (my brother actually purchased me a DVD set, to enjoy over and over!), I’m embarrassingly knowledgeable of quite a bit of trivia, and I enjoy reading books like The Devil’s Teeth (about the great whites that migrate every year to the Farallon Islands, which are conveniently located off the coast of San Francisco) and Close to Shore (nonfiction account of a string of shark attacks that took place on the New Jersey shore in 1916). Needless to say, Jaws is a great, good ol’fashioned scary movie.

1. The Ring. Is there anyone who can truly say they weren’t at least a little bit spooked by this film? I won’t say too much about it here, but I made the mistake of watching it alone, at night. A very bad move! I had to get on the phone with my best friend to help me get through the scary parts, and when we’d finally made it to the scene where Naomi Watts sleeps peacefully with her son, she told me I would be fine to finish it alone. She was so wrong. Does the question “Why did you help her?” cause anyone else’s spine to quiver in fear?

I can’t promise a non-entertainment related list next week-it’s Oscars week!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Tomorrow, I will deal with nine finger."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yes, small band of readers, this is the most appallingly late entry to my Top Chef recaps. I truly am without a decent excuse, other than the fact that Leah saps all creative energy and inspiration from me, so I have not even felt particularly motivated to pen (type, rather) a breakdown of her demise.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that episodes in which the vast majority of food prepared is quite good do not exactly make for great entertainment. As a lover of food AND cookbooks, it was nice to see such bastions of the culinary world as Jacques Pepin and Lidia Bastianich, but without a real disaster (or at least a potential disaster) on our hands, the episode was kind of a snooze-fest.

While Hosea, Fabio, and Stefan bathe in the light of a glorious New York summer morning, they discussed Jamie’s departure. Stefan is, of course, heartbroken. Inside, Leah makes her bed apathetically and shares with the world that she failed out of college only to determine culinary school was a better route. Really haven’t displayed much culinary prowess in the past few episodes here, Leah! What will you try next? Perhaps you can get a few modeling tips from Carla, former model turned caterer turned miracle of longevity on Top Chef?

I shouldn’t criticize Carla-as I mentioned in my last recap, I’m growing quite appreciative of her. She is refreshingly level-headed and upbeat, without being over the top. Well, I guess a little bit over the top. Hootie!

Oh no! It’s Wylie Dufresne in the Top Chef kitchen! Culinary innovator! Wonder of molecular gastronomy! What WILL the quickfire be? Vegetable foams? Green tomater-tots? Cocoa packets? Pizza pebbles? (Those last few were extracted from the wd-50 menu-Wylie has some crazy ideas!)

Actually, Wylie is obsessed with eggs, according to Padma, so the chef’s deceptively simple-sounding task for the quickfire is to create something with eggs that will “surprise and delight” him. Breakfast is his fave meal of the day. Thus, I’m extremely alarmed with my beloved Fabio immediately decides to fill an eggshell with lychee soup. He’s also the only chef who attempts to employ molecular gastronomy-a risky move to pull with a professional.

Hosea decides to put a Japanese twist on his eggs. Leah says something about molecular gastronomy, but it was hard to hear in such a bored tone. Stefan, ever sure of himself, is making what actually sounds quite interesting: an actual, perfectly cooked poached egg next to a dessert that will resemble a poached egg when sliced into. Carla is making green eggs and ham. Fabio is running “like flash” through the kitchen as he works on his many components. I am dubious.

As it turns out, Wylie likes simple dishes, and Carla’s creative, yet simple take on Dr. Seuss gave her the victory. He also enjoyed Stefan’s dish, but the rest of the chefs fell short of egg cookery expectations. Fabio is NOT happy about being on the bottom, especially since he used his own packet of alginate (whatever that is), and Hosea seethes with jealousy of Stefan, the only feeling he knows ever since he explored the waters with Leah. Leah has no response.

Padma then informs the chefs that for the elimination challenge, they would have to draw knives. Right out of the box, Fabio draws Lidia Bastianich, the “queen of Italian cooking in this country.” How ironic. Hosea draws Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, Stefan picks Marcus Samuelsson, Scandinavian chef extraordinaire, Leah selects Wylie himself, and Carla ends up with Jacques Pepin. He needs even less of an explanation than my beloved Eric Ripert. Padma repeats, for what feels like the millionth time, that this is the last challenge in New York. Appropriately, the chefs will be cooking what each of the culinary celebrities would choose as their last meal:

Jacques Pepin:
roast squab with fresh peas
Susan Ungaro: shrimp scampi with tomatoes Provencale
Marcus Samuelsson: roasted salmon and spinach
Wylie Dufresne: eggs benedict
Lidia Bastianich: roast chicken with roasted potatoes and a leafy salad

Carla’s bonus advantage is the opportunity to switch with any of the other chefs. However, she is NOT “giving up Jacques!” She’s thrilled by the chance to cook for him, plus she feels that they are kindred spirits because of their shared affinity for peas.

Is that Harold I see on the commercial break? My fave from Season 1? At his restaurant on the very street upon which I used to reside? Yes, it is Harold Dieterle, Season 1 winner, at his restaurant Perilla, located at 9 Jones Street (I lived at 10 Jones Street! Why, oh why, did I have to move away before Harold wisely used his prize to open a good restaurant in that perfect little spot?!) giving the chefs good food and advice. The only contribution Leah can make to the conversation is how the competition is so much harder than she thought it would be. And I used to like this woman?

Shopping is uneventful, though I continue to inwardly stress about how one manages to find all the right ingredients in such a short time, with camera crews following you every second and a strange bald Finnish man yelling about European butter in the background.

The chefs head to Capitale to begin their two-hour preparation. Carla is sticking with simple, once more, while Leah thinks she should veer just a bit from the traditional. If only she had any idea at all of what Wylie’s own eggs benedict looks like:

Hosea decides to double the butter in his scampi, which alarms me right away. Shrimp scampi has two main components: butter and GARLIC. You need lots of that, Hosea! Do not cut down on the garlic! Do not play with the food! Do not put your “own spin” on the dish!

I am wondering about Fabio’s approach when suddenly, there is a loud crash, the sound of glass breaking, and muttered Italian curses. Alas! Fabio has literally broken his finger! It crack! How will he manage to prepare a perfectly roasted chicken for Lidia, his own personal culinary goddess? Yes, that is the Fabio I know and love. Completely unfazed by the accident. Refuses to go to the hospital. Struggles to peel his potatoes. Bless his heart.

The panel of celebrities and judges is bathed in a glowing white aura, as though they’re already in heaven. Leah, unfortunately, has to go first. Her eggs look great to me, but they are not wholly successful, although there was no egregious error made. It was more a matter of personal preference (Wylie thought the white was runny, Toby likes it that way, blah blah blah). Stefan then trooped out a roasted salmon that was so obviously overcooked I was slightly embarrassed for him. The entire panel felt the same way, particularly Lidia Bastianich. Hosea’s dish was a decent balance between creativity and tradition-I KNEW he should have kept the garlicky presence! Fabio’s roasted chicken is divine, though his salad resembles airport food-what a terrible criticism! It looked like he hid his injured hand, which I admired-no pity votes for him! Lidia loved it-does anything else matter? Carla feared her squab would be overcooked, but the panel loved it, and her peas were universally praised. By the way, Jacques Pepin was nothing short of lovely. I’m writing this recap and searching for used copies of his books on Amazon at the same time.

Not surprisingly, Stefan, Leah, and Hosea received the lowest marks of the evening. It wasn’t an easy decision, but ultimately, Leah was sent packing, losing her opportunity to cook in the quarterfinals in New Orleans. I was in something of a quandary because of this decision. On the one hand, Leah has been an absolute disappointment in the past few episodes. She has lost all motivation and interest in the competition, and it’s rather soul-killing just to see her talking head interviews. Sending her home is certainly justifiable. What does bother me, however, is that I felt that in this particular instance, the judges allowed prior performance to affect their decision. Stefan is undoubtedly the best remaining chef, both technically and creatively, but a key aspect of the Top Chef competition is that the chefs are judged on the one performance. In this performance, Stefan made an extremely elementary mistake, one that simply should not be made by a Top Chef. Even a fairly inexperienced home chef would have seen that the salmon was completely overcooked. Personally, I’d rather watch Stefan, with all his arrogance and swagger, than have to spend one more minute watching mopey Leah. It’s just frustrating that this happens to be the one instance the judges dodged the rule. Imagine if Antonia (Season 4) and Tre (Season 3) had been given one more chance! Both of those eliminations were shocking, and we had to deal with undeserving candidates instead of being able to watch truly talented chefs.

I am still excited about the finale, and I’m glad for Carla’s presence. Here’s hoping for an Italian victory in the end! Fabio won the elimination challenge, by the way...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Academy Award-worthy?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Most definitely.

While I was watching Rachel Getting Married, I found myself becoming increasingly irritated with one or both of the leads, Kym (Anne Hathaway) and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). On on the one hand, I found Kym incredibly annoying and self-centered at times, while Rachel appeared callous and self-absorbed. Much like my reading of The Hotel New Hampshire, however, I realized that this movie is indeed quite good, if for no other reason than its effort to portray real life and the constant challenges to an authentic family dynamic. We've all got some sort of issue hindering us, but at the end of the day, we can't choose our family. While I still hope that Kate Winslet proves victorious on Oscar day, I wouldn't mind at all if Anne Hathaway was recognized for this poignant, "playing-against-type" performance.

Chile Relleno Casserole

As some of you may know, a chile relleno is a classic Mexican dish. It it literally translated as "stuffed pepper", and the most common versions found in the United States are usually a Tex-Mex variant-a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and/or meat and lightly fried in an egg batter. My family has taken this bit of deliciousness and translated it into a casserole. Well, actually, we have used "Seasoned with Sun", an El Paso Junior League cookbook, to make our own version of chile relleno casserole. It is EXTREMELY satisfying, especially on a rainy winter's eve. I grew up eating this dish, and I have actually only ordered chiles rellenos in restaurants once or twice. I prefer my mother's casserole.

My pictures do not exactly sell the dish, but I guarantee that you'll be pleased, so long as you enjoy Mexican food. It's very simple, and it can be made with what you have on hand easily-the beef is optional. It's also very amenable to halving and doubling. I used an 8 x 8 dish to make the full recipe, so a 9 x 13 would be good for a doubled version. I also used extra green chiles, because we like it spicy!

I like to serve Monterey Rice on the side, even though that makes the meal pretty heavy on the dairy factor. We had fresh guacamole instead, last week. Not a bad exchange.


Chile Relleno Casserole, adapted from Seasoned with Sun

1 lb lean ground beef (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 4 oz cans whole green chiles (I used 1 1/2 7 oz cans)
1 1/4 cup grated cheese
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
4 beaten eggs
salt and pepper

1. Brown beef, drain well. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Place 1/2 the beef in casserole dish, top with 1/2 the green chiles, and sprinkle with 1/2 the cheese.
3. Repeat layers.
4. Combine milk, flour, eggs, and salt/pepper, beat until smooth.
5. Pour over meat and chiles and bake 45-50 minutes at 350. When a knife comes out clean, they're finished. Cool for five minutes.

Monterey (Chile Cheese) Rice, adapted from Seasoned with Sun

3/4 uncooked rice (I prefer to use a cup of uncooked rice)
2 cups sour cream (can most definitely be minimized!)
1/2 lb. Monterey Jack cheese (I use pepper jack, and I grate about 1 1/2 cups worth)
2 4 oz cans chopped green chile (again, I like lots of chile-I usually use 3 cans)

1. Cook the rice. Combine with sour cream and season with salt. Arrange half of the rice in a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. (I have also used 8 x 8 pans)
2. Layer with shredded cheese and chopped chiles.
3. Top with remaining rice, and sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese on top.
4. Bake for 30 minutes at 350. This recipe can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, or frozen, then thawed for 1 hour and baked.

"If you love me, won't you let me know..."

Just thought I would commemorate my purchase of Coldplay concert tickets for the SECOND time on the Viva la Vida tour by sharing this clip of their performance from last weekend's Grammy Awards. I. Love. Coldplay. As if you weren't already aware of it, my dear loyal few :) I'm not at all ashamed to admit that when I received my copy of Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights for spring quarter, all I could think about was that Coldplay had also used Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People for cover art. Or that I follow not one, but two Coldplay groups on Twitter.

I love how Will Champion (drummer) gets SO into this song!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Um, my previous title was lame. I shall now call this post: Volterra.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Apparantly, Volterra is not a fictitious spot, and is in fact a real location in Italy. Am I a total idiot for not being utterly aware of all famous medieval spots in Europe? I am looking forward to the deluge of paparazzi photos that I can expect when the New Moon crew heads there to shoot in May. Yes, that's right. I have no shame. I fully embrace those aggressive photogs, as long as they share pictures of my beloved Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Under a near-constant cover of clouds..."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You most likely discerned from this that I did indeed go on a book-lover's/Twilight fan's vacation to Forks, Washington. It was a lovely four day jaunt, and worth every penny spent. I always love the idea of visiting a spot from a favorite book, and Forks certainly did not disappoint.

The trip was ostensibly planned to celebrate my sister's 25th birthday, as she has always wanted to visit Seattle. Our mutual love for the Twilight saga provided the perfect incentive to make the drive from Seattle to Forks. I was thrilled with the opportunity to visit Seattle, actually. Growing up in the midst of a drought can make one very appreciative of rain, so the overcast skies and occasional drizzle of the first day were welcome to us.

We spent the majority of our first day making our way through the winding halls and stalls of the Pike Place market. Open since 1907, the market retains quite a bit of aged charm. It's not fancy, by any means, but heavily traveled and crowded. There was a plethora of excellent food to be had, and loads of stalls brimming with fresh, brilliantly colored produce and flowers. After living in California for awhile, one gets used to the sight of a good farmer's market, so it wasn't necessarily new to me-the great difference is in the fact that the Pike Place Market is open daily, while we have to wait for a few hours on the weekend, usually, to go to a decent market.

We sampled crisp slices of Jazz apples and juicy sections of tangerines while waffling between purchases of fresh berry jams or Jane Austen bookmarks from one of the many bookshops. Our breakfast consisted of thick, perfectly buttered slices of sourdough toast, enjoyed with coffee while looking out the window at Elliott Bay. We observed tiny doughnuts being made in an old-fashioned machine, dipped in hot oil and then quickly doused in cinnamon sugar. All in all, a perfect start to our day.

I lamented about not having had the chance to ride on a ferry (I have a thing for ferry boats-who said that, pop culture addicts?) as we began our drive to Port Angeles, our second stop, by my worries proved to be in vain. In Kingston, just a few miles from Seattle, my trusty GPS directed us to a ferry. I've ridden on them before, but never with a vehicle, which was an experience in itself, but the best part was seeing the serenely cold beauty of the sound and evergreen covered spits of land that extended on either side. We slipped out of our car and sat on the refreshingly clean leather banquettes upstairs, just like any other commuters.

Port Angeles gave us our first hint of the effect of Twilight mania. Bella Italia, the restaurant where Bella acknowledges that she knows Edward's secret, was a quiet little place a few streets from the waterfront. The hosts and waiters were quite warm and friendly as we ordered plates of mushroom ravioli (well, I was the only one who actually ordered the ravioli, but I thought "we ordered plates" sounded better :) ), which of course had to be inserted into their menu after the books. Various posters and signs were strategically placed in corners of the restaurant-Stephenie Meyer has visited, as well as many, many other legions of fans on their way to Forks. On our way out, as we took a quick photo in front of the restaurant, we were stopped by a reporter and photographer from the Seattle Times, who was doing a feature on Port Angeles. We were interviewed about our trip, and my mother has since received three phone calls about the article-you'll have to look us up!

By the time we started on the winding road to Forks, it was dark, so we didn't see much but the dark forest on either side of us, for fifty-seven miles. It was very slow-going, and I was already struggling to imagine why a high school student from Forks would even want to make that trip very often. We could see a brief shadow of a lake as we drove, which proved to be stunning. Our greeting at the Pacific Inn was extremely warm and friendly, and we were even given a tour of the "Twilight Rooms" that had been recently renovated. It was not an elaborate renovation, but was certainly cute. After having spent a night in a major chain hotel in Seattle with no wireless, I was cheerfully handed a code for the free wireless in our room, so my sister and I were able to watch The Office that evening.

For our first morning in Forks, we decided to try the Forks Coffee Shop, which was right across the street from our motel. In the light of day, it was quite obvious how quiet and small the simple town, so recently become a focal point of obsession everywhere, really was. One main street, with one stoplight, stretched through the town. Three or four motels clung to the sides of the main road, as well as a smattering of local stores, including an ice cream shop, drug store, bank and "Dazzled by Twilight", a store so new that the local Chamber of Commerce hadn't yet added it to the Twilight town map.

We had toast with blackberry jam, fresh pancakes and bacon, and hot coffee, for a grand total of somewhere around $10. Our waitress was sweet and unassuming, despite the fact that we most definitely stuck out like sore thumbs. A stunning selection of jewelry made by the shop's owner was displayed under the cash register. I would have loved to share it with you, but she didn't have a web site. Open since 5:30 a.m., the coffee shop was obviously quite essential to the locals.

We headed to the local shops first, in quest of some decent souvenirs. The shops were replete with Twilight paraphernalia, including model silver Volvos, movie posters, and blankets emblazoned with the phrase "If I could dream, I would dream about you." I was pleased to hear, in the "Dazzled by Twilight" store, a Stephenie Meyer playlist melodiously emanating from the sound system. Creating her playlists take an effort!

After picking up a few trinkets, we headed to the Chamber of Commerce, the site of Bella's truck and various other Twilight-related things. My sister and I gamely posed by the truck, pretending to knock the dent out of it (a la Edward Cullen) before heading inside, where we witnessed a huge map covered in pins from what must have been thousands of world visitors. Yes, WORLD visitors. There were even three pins stuck soundly in Russia! We picked up our Twilight packet, handed out to every visitor, which contained a town Twilight map and four sheets of book trivia. The town created their own locations for Bella's house and the Cullen's house, and spiced up the hospital parking lot with a spot for Dr. Cullen. The movie was shot in Portland and the surrounding towns, as Forks was not financially feasible for housing a movie cast. One can see why immediately-the town seems to be quite impoverished. Everyone was extremely kind and generous, and willingly admitted the positive influence that the books' successes have had on the town and its economy. However, it was impossible to ignore the pervasive sense of isolation. At the candy shop, we learned that in spite of the logging and fishing industry, the biggest employer in Forks is the hospital.

The highlight of the day, by far, was our trip to La Push, on the Quileaute reservation. While the little town itself was not especially memorable, the stunning shores of First Beach were breath-taking. My mom really hasn't spent much time on beaches, and seeing the rough, wild beauty of the Pacific was a major experience for her. We hiked down to Second Beach on our way out of La Push, which was really the best part. The hike took us through the lush green forests of Olympic National Park down to the driftwood-strewn beach. It's difficult to really capture in words how beautiful it was-suffice to say I feel very lucky to be able to drive a mere hour or two, here in California, to see similar sights. My sister and I had a marvelous time recreating forest scenes from New Moon, and we also felt quite virtuous after completing what would certainly be considered an arduous hike for those of us who are shamefully out of shape.

We stopped by the local Thriftway to pick up a few Bella essentials: Pop Tarts for my sister and I-a rare, very bad-for-you treat. While we were there, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: "Bella and Edward, please bring in the carts from the parking lot." We laughed, of course, then quickly discussed how such a mundane task wouldn't fit Edward. In case you were wondering, we're kind of hard core about Twilight. :)

Our dinner at the Smokehouse Restaurant that evening was not particularly memorable, despite a fairly delicious "Bella Berry" pie and entertainment from the precocious townsfolk. We were sad to drive away from Forks the next day, though excited to actually able to see the Sol Duc River and the lake that had eluded us on our first night.

The trip just kept getting better and better-upon our return to Seattle, we discovered that our hotel (the downtown Sheraton) was actually quite lovely, and Twilight was playing on pay-per-view in our room! How perfect for us! We did some shopping at H & M, then headed out to the Space Needle for dinner. It was truly an incredible experience, perched high above Seattle and watching the scenery change as the restaurant made its slow, but definitely noticeable orbit. I would not say that the food was the best, and considering the accessibility of all kinds of fresh seafood and produce, it was disappointing. Still completely worth a trip, though!

We woke up early on our last day, eager to spend a bit more time in the market, which was only a few blocks away from our hotel. This time I really indulged in the doughnuts, and also picked up several varieties of herb and spice-infused pastas. The selection was impressive, and it was very hard to choose, but I narrowed it down to sweet potato orzo, rosemary-garlic linguine, basil garlic penne, and green jalepeno linguine. After a last lunch of crisp, lightly battered fish n' chips eaten overlooking the bay, we prepared for our sad drive back the airport. I did pick up a tiny fresh berry cheesecake from The Confectional, that was probably the most delectable bite of dessert I've ever had. It had the additional bonus of coming in a tiny box stamped with a sticker that said "Forgive me chocolate, for I have sinned. I have not yet had my daily confection." I love Seattle, I really do.

Thus, our vacation came to an end. It was far too short, and I think we could have all spent several more days exploring the tide pools at Second Beach or combing through more stalls at the market. We're already discussing how we expand our trip for the next time.