23 June 2007

The New York Times Dining & Wine Section

I’ve added a new link in the left-hand panel of Krik’s Picks, below the archive. It’s the New York Times Dining & Wine section. It is probably my favorite on-line newspaper food section. I always make a point of reading it every Wednesday. I don’t spend a lot of time with the restaurant reviews because I seldom travel to New York City. On the other hand, I get a lot of recipes from the site, and I have found the recipes that I try to be consistently good and deliver tasty results. They also have articles by and about major chefs and cookbook authors.

I’ve got a couple of columnists that I read regularly. One of the other links on Krik’s Picks is The Pour by the Times’ wine columnist, Eric Asimov. Another columnist is The Minimalist by Mark Bittman. So far, I haven’t read an explanation as to why Bittman calls his column The Minimalist. It may be because his recipes generally are simple and quick to prepare.

The other thing I love about Bittman’s column is that he usually has a video with it. In the video, he demonstrates a cooking technique, how to use a specific ingredient in a recipe, or simply makes a point about cooking. He has a really quirky sense of humor and the videos often include some funny production techniques.

I searched ‘cooking’ on YouTube and looked at a few of the cooking videos there. Some of the clips were straight from the Food Network. Some were entertaining, but not instructive. I didn’t see anything that combined practical cooking advice with an entertaining on-screen presence as well as The Minimalist.

The Minimalist has an archive of his clips on the NYTimes Food & Wine web site. So one day, I decided to review some of the columns that I missed or that appeared before I started reading him. I found a great one that brought back wonderful memories for me.

Apparently as part of a series on food around the world, Bittman traveled to Spain and did a video on preparing classic Spanish paella. During the video, he visits the central market in Valencia. His reaction on the video was the same as mine when my wife and I visited Spain in 2001.

Our daughter enrolled for a summer term in Spain following her junior year at Florida State. That created an opportunity for us to visit Spain. We spent a couple of days in Madrid and then traveled to Barcelona by train. Our daughter met us there, and we spent a week enjoying the Catalan culture and food and the remarkable architecture of Barcelona. Then we went by train to Valencia where our daughter was going to study.

After getting her settled in her dormitory (which was far more modern than her dorm at FSU), she turned to us and told us, politely but firmly, that we could go now. Somewhat crestfallen, we went back to the central city where we were staying. (Her school was on the outskirts of town, about six blocks from the beach.)

We had a couple of days to explore Valencia before we returned to the USA. One of those days, we wandered into the Central Market. It was fabulous. Row upon row of vendors selling everything imaginable for Spanish cooking. There were beautiful displays of cheese. I was especially impressed by the fresh mozzarella. There were meat vendors and fish mongers. Lots of fresh vegetables. Lots of local olive oil and vinegar vendors. And then, there were the spices – huge mounds of paprika, precious packets of saffron, pepper corns, sea salt, you name it and it was there.

Like Bittman in his video, it was an almost irresistible temptation to buy stuff and bring it along home. As it was, I limited myself to a container of olive oil and a small amount of Spanish saffron.

Valencia is Spain’s third largest city. It has an interesting history and a charming central city including a bull ring. We had a great visit. On the evening before we left for home, Valencia celebrated the festival of the “Virgen de los Desamparados” in the square near the cathedral. We listened to music and watched dancers until late into the evening.

After it was over, as we made our way back to our hotel, we suddenly heard someone call out, “Mom! Dad!” It was our darling daughter, sitting with a large group of new friends around tables outside a café on the square. She came over and gave us a hug and a kiss good-bye.

The next day, when we left for home, we felt assured that she would be all right and she was and she had a wonderful time and a great experience.

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