Friday, April 24, 2015

Restaurant Review: Cafe Muse

It's Spring and it's Delightful

I recently saw a post from Cafe Muse on Facebook announcing their new Spring Menu. Since we visited a couple of weeks ago, I think we had a preview of some of these dishes before they were officially announced. Cafe Muse has made a commitment to local grown which means seasonal offerings that vary. There are some staples to their menu but there are always new twists. For instance you may always find a spare rib dish but the way it is prepared, with the sides and seasonings, as well as sauces, will change. A risotto is consistently features as well, along with a seafood dish and typically a duck entree.

Cafe Muse will always have some staples that are just not going to change and that's a good thing too. One of those staples is their grilled cheese which is pretty famous due to Oprah's friend Gayle recommending it. It features three kinds of cheeses (havarti, fontina and fresh mozzarella) along with a bit of honey and basil. Their bread is a delicious organic bread that may be healthy but don't let that stop you. It's a wonderful sandwich and shouldn't change. I feel the same way about their mushroom bisque that is usually on both lunch and dinner menus.
This is a great restaurant for brunch or lunch but I typically save it for an evening out with just my husband. They have grown over the years with more space but never at the sacrifice of having it be an intimate experience. We sat in the newer of the two rooms which is more sparse and modern, with a bar and a row of tables that allow you to focus on dinner and conversation without much distraction. I would suggest you like who you are going with as you will spend a lot of time together.

I started out with a cocktail. Muse always has a variety of offering to provide choice and since I'm really just a novice when it comes to harder drinks and interesting concoctions, it's always an adventure. On this particular night I chose a Bouldevardier which featured bulliet bourbon, campari, sweet vermouth, and a cherry. It was potent and delicious.

We decided to be even more adventurous with our appetizer. Muse typically has a Mushrooms and Toast available but on this particular outing they had discovered some exotic mushrooms to add to this dish. I believe they were Chanterelle mushrooms that night. They were buttery with a wonderful nutty note, placed on a piece of buttery toast, covered with a hen's egg and garnished with what I believe were radish sprouts. I wasn't sure about eggs and mushrooms but this was a wonderful dish.

One of the items I  like to sample most at restaurants are salads. I won't make a salad at home and when I go to a place like Muse it has all those little extras that I just don't have at home. This one featured kale, goat cheese creme frache, along with roasted red and yellow beets, candied hazelnuts, roasted mustard seeds and cloves of pickled garlic. The dressing was a simple roasted olive oil. I would not have imagined adding things like mustard seed but it was wonderful. I would have liked a little more of the goat cheese as it was on the bottom of the plate and very subtle but that is the thing about Muse. Nothing in pretentious or overdone.

My main entree was the short rib offering for the evening. I have had short ribs there on several occasions because frankly, it's very good. Their short rib is typically boneless and oh so very tender. Often it is paired with a homemade Spaetzle that I lament does not come in a huge overfilled bowl. The Spaetzle on this day was green (and it wasn't St. Patrick's Day) due to some of the ingredients and it was very very good. The dish also featured endaname, Swiss chard, and greens. It was truly delightful.

Cafe Muse is a wonderful romantic spot. I love it even more when we can eat outside and watch the foot traffic in Royal Oak. It's one of my local favorites and I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Book Review: The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Sisters, Antique Books, Dot.Com Companies, Spirituality, Activism, Love

These are just some of the themes in this book that has a little bit of everything. In the center are the alternating lives of two sisters who are as opposite as can be. There is Emily who is the CEO of a company that is about to go public and she will be the successful businesswoman that she has strived to become. Her sister, Jessamine, is a long time graduate student of philosophy who spend her time donating to causes as an activist, and has little concern for money.

They are only two of the multitude of characters that show up in this book but are the central figures with many other individuals circling in their orbits. This makes for a rich book that covers so many themes that it was often hard to keep track. If there are any I could pick out as primary the story provides a great backdrop of the industry and how start ups quickly rose to meteoric proportions but eventually busted. We also get to see what love looks like in a business world with shared ideals and pursuits and how it really may not be that much different from what happens when a philosophy student / activist tries to maintain a relationship.

There is so much in this book it is hard to describe all that is going on in this book but I can say it's a wonderful journey. Did I mention the Jewish mysticism too? Because, yes that is in here as well.  9/11 also comes into play, and yes, a cookbook collection.

I don't want to give anything away. I just think it's worth the read to find out for yourself.

Book Review: Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

A 1950's Independent Woman

An Italian - American Story

Recently, I read The Shoemaker's Wife by this same author and really loved that book. This story shares many of the same central themes with that novel focusing on large Italian families living in Little Italy, dressmaking, returning to the Mother Country, and tradition. That is not to say that this book is a repeat of the other but I can see that these are important themes to this storyteller, and may be a point of reference that is personal in her own life.

This story opens in present day Greenwich Village but quickly becomes a narrative of Lucia Sartori, the older neighbor of a young aspiring playwright who get Lucia to open up about her past. Lucia quickly transports the reader to 1950's New York when she was a vibrant 25 year old woman trying to forge her own way in the world. While from a traditional Italian American family with an expectation for her to settle down, Lucia has found success as a dressmaker in an upscale department store and questions why she should get married and raise a family if it means giving up her career. Lucia is also looking for a fairy tale romance, rather than an arranged marriage, and dreams of a life full of more beauty and the finer things, like she creates for the patrons of the department store.

What seems like a plan in her youth, becomes entirely something else as real life gets in the way of dreams. As is often the case, those early decisions set a path that takes Lucia in a direction that she may not have really envisioned.

This is a good book and held my interest but I really liked The Shoemaker's Wife so much better. It is probably unfair to compare them but because of the similar central themes I can't help but put them side by side. In some ways, I found it harder to empathize with Lucia because she often seemed shallow and cared to much about nice things and I couldn't relate. However, she had spunk and cared about others and ultimately I wanted to see her happy.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Copper Medallion

This will also be known as "cover the ceiling and get rid of the ugly marks when you check for power".

A home built in the 1920's is always full of surprises. Some of those are good and some of those can lead to projects. Before we moved into our home we had a checklist of items to look for when we were housing shopping. You see, we found out after moving into our last home, that 2 of our 3 bedrooms did not have closets. It was one of those things that you discover when you are moving in but maybe you don't look for it when you are falling in love with the house and imagining what you will do with the front room or what color paint you will use in the kitchen. Well, we checked for those closets this time around, as well as for central air conditioning and a few other necessities. . . Actually this house has really good closets.

But there's always something you miss. . . at least in my world. The night we closed on this house we figured out that our front room did not have any lights. Yep, you heard me right. No light fixture. Even more intriguing was the fact there was no light switch anywhere. Well lamps are an easy solution but sometimes we can't leave well enough alone. See my husband works in electrical and he has a love of ceiling fans. We were installing them in the kids' bedrooms in anticipation for summer's humidity and we thought we might as well check to see if there was power in the ceiling in that front room. See, there was a blank canopy up on the ceiling and it must be covering something. . .

Now you might say, 1. "What would be the point of finding power if you don't have a switch to actually use it?", and 2. "Why would you have power and have had a light in the past if there is no switch?" and finally, 3. "What did they do with the switch?"

These are all valuable questions.

1. There is a new fangled device that allows you to use a remote switch to turn on the light.

2. They might have had a switch in the past but when they removed the light fixture they decided to just get rid of the switch in a remodel.

3. WTF? Why would you get rid of a switch?

So we removed that canopy and it had been painted over to match the ceiling and lo and behold there was power there. Old knob and tube wires that are frankly a little scary. Part of the mystery is solved but we still don't know where the switch went and why.

But this left damage to the ceiling. We had to score the canopy with a utility knife to remove it and that left a couple of cracks where the canopy met the ceiling. There were also some smudges around the canopy from fingers keeping balanced up right on the stool.

We aren't putting up a ceiling fan just yet but I didn't have any touch up paint for the ceiling and the idea of painting all it didn't sound all that appealing. That's where these cool plastic medallions from Westinghouse come in. They are pretty lightweight and I have used them in the past to cover up holes around ceiling fans but this time it was purely for decoration. 

Now in the past, the white worked just fine, looking like plaster, and would add a little flair to a ceiling that was painted a bright color. But in this case we already have a white ceiling and I wanted to do something that said "This was not just a cover up for a mistake but a really beautiful focal piece in our home".  There are many different designs to pick from but I went with this sunburst pattern.

I first sprayed the entire medallion with a primer and then followed with a base coat of spray paint. I had envisioned this as a copper medallion aged in place to have a nice aqua patina but in looking at the copper spray paints they looked too new so I settled for this bronze that I got at Michael's. This gave me a really thick good base to work with. I actually had a problem with the first can's nozzle but Michael's staff were kind enough to let me exchange it and the second can worked like a charm. One coat was plenty and it gave this a good thick coverage that I was able to work with. It dried rather quickly on this nice spring day.

I bought a some craft paint, those little jars that are 99 cents at Michael's, in three colors. I bought the Craft Smart Brand and used the Mediterranean as the base color for my verdigris look. I mixed this with a bit of Espresso and Steel Blue so that I could get variances in the color. I did this with a dry brush method, building up the colors and mixing them right on the medallion, using a paper towel at times to get rid of any excess.

I also painted the original canopy to match the medallion so we could fasten it to the ceiling without any adhesive. Ironically the canopy turned out to be an old copper one underneath layers of pain but I still used the same process of adding a coat of spray paint and then my faux finish so it would match.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Potato Frittata

I have made potato frittata before but this one is more of a "back to basics".  I have been thinking about this dish for quite some time and today was the perfect day to make one. We had stopped at Trader Joe's to buy some flowers for Passover dinner later tonight and I was admiring these beautiful little bags of assorted potatoes with a variety of russets, gold and purples that were calling to me. Because we are eating dinner so late tonight it seemed like a good little meal to tide us over.

Years ago I used to go to a restaurant in Royal Oak called Sangria which really did specialize in pitchers of liquid goodness but they also had a variety of tapas. They served their potato frittata cold, with a nice little Thousand Island dressing on the side. The restaurant has been gone for a few years now but I feel like we pay homage to it by having this dish every once in a while. It really was my favorite thing there besides the Sangria. I will probably try another go at a wine cocktail later this weekend that will be reminiscent of Sangria as well.

I sliced the potatoes pretty thinly, less than a 1/4 inch thick, and picked a few different varieties. I placed them in a heavy skillet that is also ovenproof, and sauteed them slowly with some olive oil. To begin with I carefully arrange them in a single layer which is a good way to gauge if I will have enough for the fritatta later when we add the eggs. I let these cook for quite some time, until browned, and then turned them over to cook again.

Once the potato slices were cooked, I placed them on a plate lined with paper towel. To the pan, I added a little bit of garlic and minced shallots with the leftover oil, cooking for just a few minutes on low. While this was going I quickly whisked 8 eggs in a large bowl. I added a little bit of butter to the pan before adding my mixed eggs. After the eggs set a bit I arranged the potato slices and cooked a little longer so the bottom would be closed to done. The top takes longer in this thick pan so I sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top and finished it in the broiler. Once it cooled a bit I cut it into wedges.

This tastes great warm but I like it even better the next day chilled. I was hungry so I didn't wait, serving it with a quick little sauce of mayo and ketchup. I'm going to put the other wedges in a Pyrex for tomorrow morning's breakfast so I can enjoy it straight from the fridge. It really does taste good cold!

Potato Frittata Recipe

5 small potatoes
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced shallots
Pat of butter
8 Eggs
Salt to taste

Slice potatoes thinly, place in a heated pan with olive oil. Flip slices halfway through, when they begin to turn golden brown. Place on plate that is lined with paper towel.

Place garlic and shallots in the pan with remaining olive oil, cook gently. While this is cooking, mix the eggs quickly. Add a pat of butter to pan and let heat for a few seconds without turning brown. Add eggs.

Let eggs set slightly. Add potatoes in a single layer to the egg mixture. Cook a bit longer. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on topPlace the pan in an oven on broil, far away from the top rack and cook until fully set.

Let frittata slightly cool and cut into wedges. You can also store in Pyrex overnight in the fridge and serve cold the next day.

Book Review: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Sweeping Novel in Italy and America

In many ways this is your typical story of an immigrant coming to America and trying to pave their way to success. While there are some of the events and sequences that you would expect in a tale like this, the author tells the story magnificently and I was able to easily forgive any predictability.

The story focuses on the two story lines that will eventually merge. First there are the two boys, left at a convent in Italy when their mother feels she has no choice as she has become a young widow without any means to support them. Eduardo and Ciro are exceptionally close brother, who are as different in personality as can be, and find comfort and a life with the nuns who take them in. There is also the story of Enza, a girl that lives up on the mountain with her large family who are forging their living with their father's work transporting people and goods with his horse and carriage.

Ciro and Enza's stories intersect on several occasions, beginning with Ciro's mother leaving the convent after dropping off her boys by Enza's father's carriage. Later, Enza's youngest sister dies suddenly from an unexplained fever and Ciro is the one that climbs the mountain to dig her grave. Even in this dark period of grief, Enza is touched by Ciro and so begins her lifelong attraction and connection with him. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that obviously someone ends up becoming the shoemaker's wife.

As in every immigrant story, there is a reason or motivation for those to venture to America. Both Ciro and Enza come to the United States for very different reasons and through a series of events connect again over time.

This is a long book that covers Enza and Ciro's separate lives in Italy before they immigrate, their travels to America, and their acclimation to this country and how they build their own lives. While it is very long, it is also enjoyable, and in a lot of ways is really ultimately a love story between two people. What makes it different in some ways is that it's like real life, where not everything is neatly wrapped up in a bow and the people are not perfect. Ciro is often a little selfish and can something of a womanizer, which makes him wait much longer to finally commit to Enza. Enza is very headstrong and is able to make something of herself because of her perseverance and talents but in the end doesn't continue to pursue her artistry.

All in all I found this a very enjoyable book. I found myself sneaking off to read it, and staying up well past midnight one night to finish it. I hear she has many more books so I will be researching Adriana Trigiani.