174-186/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die

Aug 1, 2017 by

This summer 2017 edition of the blog includes foods eaten whilst making theatre in West Virginia/Maryland, California, and Massachusettes!  Let’s jump right on in…

 

Schwarzwälderkirschtorte — Black Forest Cherry Cake (174) — German

The first time I had Black Forest anything was as a kid, and it was the Bluebell ice cream flavor (which I think has gone the way of the dodo).  Dark chocolate, whipped cream, and cherries?  What’s not to love?  What I didn’t get from the ice cream of my youth, however, was arguably the cornerstone of the cake.  As Mimi tells us, this cake hails from “the southwestern German province of Swabia that is known for its kirschwasser — the icy-clear firewater that is cherry brandy… all authentic versions include layers of moist, bittersweet chocolate cake sprinkled with fiery kirsch brandy.”  I guarantee there was no brandy in the ice cream, but there definitely was in the cake I experienced at The Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (right across the street from the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, where Miles and I both worked this summer).  And you know what?  The brandy doesn’t hurt the flavor one little bit.

The Bavarian Inn, Shepherdstown, WV

Butterscotch (175) — Scottish/English

& Whipped Cream (176) — German

While working in West Virginia for over a month, we actually stayed in Maryland, which is just a ten-minute walk across the Potomac from the theatre.  Driving through  Sharpsburg, Maryland, every night I would notice a line formed around the block outside a place called Nutter’s Ice Cream.  Everyone working at the theater made it clear that I HAD TO GO, so one particularly hot night, I stood in line for 20 minutes and was presented with the below creation for my trouble: a sponge cake sundae.  This truckload of sugar served as an excellent vehicle for checking two items off Mimi’s list.

Butterscotch is a thing that I love in liquid form (not so much in hard candy form, though).  Mimi educates: “truly well-made butterscotch is a golden delight of brassily caramelized brown sugar, lemon juice, salt, butter, and sometimes powdered ginger… The name of the candy clearly suggests Scottish origins… but scotch is likely either a reference to the process of cutting, or “scotching,” the candy or a derivation of the word scorch — the butterscotch-making process being a hot one indeed.”  I don’t think I’ve ever had butterscotch that included ginger; I’d be very down to try that.

Who knew that whipped cream was German?  My food education continues.  I don’t blame myself too much, though, because who would ever want to eat a huge cloud of schlag, which is the German name for the stuff?  Mimi gives us some great tips for making whipped cream at home: get the freshest whipping cream to start, chill the cream AND the whipping utensils in the fridge until quite cold, and then proceed with patience, “the slower the whipping process, the longer the finished cream will hold its air.”  Well known as a dessert accompaniment, Mimi shares that, “far less known or appreciated in our country is salted whipped cream, a finishing touch much loved in Northern Europe.”  I’d give that a whirl for sure.  But until I find some of the savory variety, I’ll continue to opt-in for the sweet stuff as a perfect final touch on my desserts and coffees.

Nutter’s Ice Cream, Sharpsburg, WV

Caesar Salad (177) — American

I know this is going to sound nuts, but I don’t think I’d ever had a Caesar Salad before this one.  There are lots of foods in Mimi’s list of 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die that I am re-eating for the sake of this project (pics or it didn’t happen), but I truly don’t think I’d tried this salad before, which is so weird because it probably appears on 70% of the menus in US restaurants.  Boy, am I glad that this thing is on the list, though — I’ve probably ordered it five more times since my first experience in late June!  And do you know why?  I LOVE ANCHOVIES.  If it had been called “anchovies salad,” I would have ordered it a heck of a lot sooner.  But instead, it’s named after its place of birth — not ancient Rome, but Hotel Caesar’s, run by an Italian-American guy named Caesar Cardini.  Though the restaurateur and most of the clientèle were American, Hotel Caesar’s was in Tijuana; during Prohibition, “many southern Californians crossed the Mexican border into Tijuana, where they could drink their nights away without risking arrest.”  The legend is that one busy evening in 1924, the kitchen was running out of food, and the chef whipped up this salad with what he had on hand.  The dish soon became trendy, and lots people would travel south of the border for the salad (and also, still, the cocktails); even Cali native Julia Child made the trip as a youngster!  When the salad migrated north, California cooks added the signature ingredient: anchovies (Cardini had used Worcestershire sauce).  Eventually, the salad spread far and wide across America, and you can buy a bottle of Caesar salad dressing in any grocery store.  I’m coming way late to this trend, but I’m happy to have hopped on board.

The Bavarian Inn, Shepherdstown, WV

Cashews (178) — Brazilian

I could have checked this item off a hundred times over since starting this project; I eat cashews like they’re going out of style.  I almost always have some in the house, and I carry them around in my purse and rehearsal bags for a quick boost of sustenance on the go.  It’s past time they got their due on my blog.  We all know they are delicious, but Mimi tells us, “to make them even easier to like, cashews have one of the lowest fat contents among nuts, and contain antioxidants and healthy oils.”  Though they make an excellent snack on their own (raw, salted, roasted, sweetened), one of the very best things to eat in the universe is the Smoked Cashew Salsa at Empellón Taqueria in the West Village.  Check it out.  It’s transcendent.

Keedysville, MD

Nasturtiums (179) –British/Irish

Taking a break from working in West VA/Maryland, I went to northern California for a week for a silent playwrighting retreat.  It was an incredible experience, and one of the most wonderful parts was that an amazing woman named Hannah cooked us delicious meals throughout.  Hannah sourced a lot from the garden of the house we stayed in, and one of the ingredients she included in several soups and salads was the edible flower nasturtiums.  We even had nasturtium butter once!  So pretty.  So good.  Mimi says, “Among edible flowers… nasturtiums may be the widely associated with the the gourmet plate… The tender leaves have a verdant peppery flavor similar to that of watercress.”  Though most often used in salads in the U.S., Mimi describes a British tradition of stuffing the blossoms with tuna salad — and I swear that I have seen and maybe even eaten this dish somewhere in my past.

Bolinas, Northern California

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie (180) — American

Coming back from California to West Virginia, I sat in first class on my flight.  First class is not all that much better than coach on United, but I did get one of the perks that any jet-setter looks forward to — a warm Toll House Cookie.   This heartwarming dessert catapults most of us immediately back to childhood; I have clear memories of making chocolate chip cookies with my Grandma in her kitchen and picking the chocolate chips out of the batter bowl when her back was turned.  Mimi gives us the scoop on the cookie’s origin: “The Toll House Inn was a historic bed-and-breakfast catering to travelers in Whitman, MA, about twenty-five miles south of Boston.”  In the 1930s, a woman named Ruth Graves Wakefield co-owned the place with her husband, and Ruth did all the cooking and meal planning for the guests.  Well, one day Ruth was getting ready to make chocolate cookies, and realized that she’d run out of baker’s chocolate.  So, she improvised by breaking a semisweet Nestlé chocolate bar (given to her by her friend, Andrew Nestlé) into chunks, and dropping those chunks into her sugar cookie batter.  Ruth assumed the chocolate would melt completely, but happily for all of us, it didn’t.  People went nuts for these new cookies, and the sale of Nestlé’s chocolate bars went through the roof.  So, a deal was struck: “Nestlé would print the Toll House cookie recipe on its package, and Wakefield would receive a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate.”  I just love stories like that!

First Class (up in the sky)

Nopales — Cactus (181) — Mexican

After returning from California, I made a one-day trip to Washington DC to see a 10-minute play of mine performed at The Source Festival in Washington, DC.  While there, I made a lunch stop at Taqueria Nacional and was excited to see Nopales Tacos on offer.  I ate nopales some years ago in Portland, but I don’t really remember what they tasted like.  So I ordered some and dove right in.  Mimi describes these cooked cactus pads as “gently sweet and enticingly pulpy.”  I would describe the texture as “green.” Mimi describes their flavor as “a cross between that of artichoke, zucchini, and  string bean.”  I would describe the flavor as “green.”  I think I now know why I don’t especially remember what the ones I had in Portland tasted like… oh, well.  The flavor is perfectly fine, but unremarkable.  For my money, I’d rather have an artichoke, zucchini, or string bean.

Taqueria Nacional, Washington, DC

Shoofly Pie (182) — American

Now here is some real excitement!  On my drive down the east coast to and from NYC, I stopped at a truly magical place I’ve spoken of before on this blog: Countryside Road Stand in Ronks, PA — a lovely little Amish market in the middle of verdant, peaceful Amish Country.  Here you can find lots of Amish goods and Amish foods, and most importantly, the best soft pretzels on God’s green earth.  The pretzels are the reason I’ve written about this place already.  It is worth going out of your way if you’re anywhere near this place, to get a pretzel (or three) for yourself.  Your life will never be the same.

THE. BEST.

But pretzels were checked off my list a while back.  On this recent visit, they were merely a bonus.  What I was really in search of was Shoofly Pie, an Amish specialty describe by Mimi as, “a blessedly enticing conglomeration of crust; a rich filling of dark, malty molasses, brown sugar, and butter; and a crackly crumb topping. … For the Pennsylvania Dutch, it was a staple wintertime dessert — for that time of the year when the fruit supplied had dwindled down to nothing, and the very expensive eggs in the cupboard had been designated for more important uses.”  I would describe the filling as akin to a pecan pie without pecans, and in this version, topped with a cinnamon cream.  Very, very, good, but extremely heavy and tooth-achingly rich.  I bought half a pie and it took me about a week to finish it.

Countryside Road Stand, Ronks, PA

Crab Cakes (183) — American

One sees ‘crab cakes’ listed on lots of menus around the country, but in my opinion, the best ones are found in Louisiana (natch).  However, Mimi specifies that the crab cakes of New England’s Chesapeake Bay are the ones to try, so to honor that specification, I waited until we were just across the bridge from Maryland to check this item off the list.  Miles and I had lunch at The Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown, a lovely establishment we visited with our pup several times during our time in the area.  The service is fantastic and the outdoor patio is lovely.  But the crab cakes… I mean, they were good.  They were ample and made with good-quality lump crab meat and fried just enough but not too much.  Solid execution of the crab cake.  But I gotta say, I prefer the Southern way of seasoning them.  My final word on this is: get your crab cakes in Louisiana.  Maybe I’m biased, but I call ’em like I eat ’em.

The Blue Moon Cafe, Shepherdstown, WV

Sweet Potatoes (184) — American

I love sweet potatoes — baked, fried, in a pie, in a casserole, any way you serve ’em.  It’s another home food for me; we make my Grandma’s sweet potato streusel for Thanksgiving every single year.  So it was really only a matter of time before I got around to documenting my love and checking this item off the list, in the form of sweet potato fries from Dan’s Restaurant and Taphouse right on the main drag in Boonsboro, Maryland.  Mimi educates us that, “the intensely moist and sweet root vegetable — often mistakenly referred to as a yam — is one of the defining ingredients of the American South, where the vast majority of those harvested in the U.S. are grown.  A member of the morning glory family, it is native to Central America, where it has existed since prehistoric times.”  Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients, keep well for a long time, and don’t need additional sweeteners to make them delicious.  They’re just a jewel in the food pantheon, in my humble opinion.

Dan’s Restaurant and Tap House, Boonsboro, MD

Moules Frites (185) — Belgian

After finishing opening our shows in West Virginia, Miles, the dog, and I made our way north to Williamstown, MA for the Williamstown Theatre Festival.  Miles worked on a fantastic show, and after it opened, we were joined by my in-laws for a mini vacation.  One of the places we ate a couple of times was Hops And Vines, a fantastic restaurant and bar that even hosted the opening night party for Miles’s show.  On the menu there, I found one of the true joys of life: perfectly prepared Moules Frites.  This doesn’t mean “fried mussels,” but instead, “mussels and fries.”  The mussels are simmered in a bath of white wine (or beer), shallots, garlic, and parsley.  Upon serving, the chewy, light bivalves are perfectly accompanied by crispy, salty fries.  This is one of my favorite dishes, and H&V did it up right.  I can also enthusiastically recommend the version served at Hopleaf Bar in Chicago.

Hops and Vines, Williamstown, MA

Pots de Crème au Chocolat (186) — French

And, finally, after all of this adventuring up and down the East Coast, I picked up my little sister from Washington, DC.  She lives as a missionary nun in Tanzania; she’s part of the order of The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará.  She’s in in the US for two months doing mission appeals and visiting family and friends, so after I picked her up, we went back to West Virginia for one night to see my show, EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL, before heading home to NYC.  Before the performance, we had a lovely dinner at The Press Room, followed by a delicious dessert that I can now check off the list: Pots de Crème au Chocolate.  Mimi tells us that the dessert should be so heavy, so luscious, that “a spoon dipped into its petite cup should stand upright unassisted.”  The Press Room’s delectable dessert passes this litmus test, as does the version available at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, North Carolina.  “The key to its exceptional richness is the high proportion of egg yolks to whites; it is the abundance of yolks that creates its distinctive silky, smooth texture.”  This dessert is delicious, but above all, shareable.  I recommend eating it with your sister.

The Press Room, Shepherdstown, WV

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1 Comment

  1. Jean

    I’ve eaten a few of these. They all sound delicious, except maybe the cactus. Love the pictures! ❤️

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