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SHRIMP-OR-PORK?!

Munchkin 1 – our firstborn – is a cute girl. She’s 4 ½  going on 14 ½. When she was a baby, food was NOT her thing. She loved her bottles, but chewing and gumming was beneath her station. Couldn’t be bothered. The princess has spoken. I remember when she was about 9 months old we went out for pizza. She tossed the crust we gave her to gnaw and munch on the plate. Go figure.

Fast forward, and we have a real foodie on our hands. She dips her chicken nuggets in “that green dip” aka pesto, orders shrimp scampi, turns her nose at American cheese but adores gorgonzola, and happily feasts wherever we take her. And we’ve taken her on cruises, to 5-star restaurants, diners, dives–you name it.

One day she turns to me and asks, “Can we go to that place where there are no menus?” Hmmmm…

“No menus?” I inquire.

“Yes. Where they just walk around with stuff. And have the boba dinks,” Munchkin 1 explains.

“OoooooooOOOooh. Dim Sum?”

 “YES!” she exclaims.

And “yes!” I think to myself. I’ve got her on my side. 🙂

—-

Earlier this this weekend, DH makes mention that “we have a dim sum trip in our future.” “Don’t tease me,” I reply.  Fortunately, he doesn’t. 🙂

In the land that is South Orange County, California, the restaurants can be pretty cookie-cutter, corporate and clean. As a result, the food is usually predictable, which sometimes can be a good thing. But when you want down and dirty or different and authentic, you make the trek.

We’re no strangers to trekking for good food. We’ve driven 40 minutes for good pizza. Heck, we flew across country to get some foodie fixes.  So we’ll happily spend 40 minutes in the SUV for dim sum at Seafood Paradise No. 2

OK, here’s what you won’t get there: Ultra cool ambience, super clean carpets and tables, uber-attentive wait staff. Here’s what you will get: Absolutely, freakingly fabulous, yummolicious food.  And an amusing show.

DH and I have a routine. We’re like hunters on the prowl at our table. We each are in charge of one half of the restaurant. Eyes peeled open, we look for our treasures: BBQ pork buns. Coffee and boba drinks. Chinese broccoli. Pork dumplings. Shrimp dumplings. Fried tofu. Duck. Mmmmmmmmm. …  If it isn’t too busy, if we get there early enough, you can stare ’em down, motion, and will those carts to come hither.

But when it is very busy, making eye contact isn’t enough. You need a seek and destroy mission. Capture the flag, er, the dumpling. One parent hangs at the table with one or both Munchkins. The other heads out hunting and gathering. This isn’t just a meal, it’s an adventure!  

And then, later that night, you get to creep into the fridge, open a little white box, and sample a little lovely leftover.

—-

On our first trek to dim sum, DH was a bit hesitant. A bit shell-shocked. An innocent boy in a foreign land. Strange women with carts yelling some sort broken english, shoving strange small tins in his face. It was overwhelming. I smiled. I reassured. I thought my dream of finding and enjoying awesome Chinese food in the OC was over.

A couple of months later, the PTSD had settled and all he had left were the memories of the food. He decided it was a small price to pay.

Yes! I got me my dim sum place!

Munchkin 1 had the goods delivered in utero. And when she finally was ready to consume food, she was hooked. Oh Yeah, dim sum, she is mine!

Now, Munchkin 2 has fallen in love with BBQ pork buns and sesame balls. Gotcha! … Mamma is sure to keep getting her fix.

Shrimp or Pork? You bet! Bring them both on.

 

 

 

 

 

May 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Sprinkless-In Search of a Cupcake

Hi, my name is H. And I’m addicted to Gimmee Jimmy’s Cookies‘ cupcakes. I need help. Badly.

The big problem is that I’m here in Southern California and Jimmy’s delightful goodness is about oh, 2,790 miles away. So what’s a girl to do?

Well, since I am a ruthless researcher, I start trolling the Web, reading foodie sites, comparing notes, and conducting follow-up interviews with various foodies in my circle. My pages of notes led me straight to one place: Sprinkles cupcakes in Newport Beach.

Hubby is a darling man. If I mention I have a foodie need, he’s right there with me. So Saturday evening we pack up Munchkin No. 2 (Munchkin No. 1 was busy with a birthday party), and made our trek.

As we pulled up, the strip mall seemed like a mecca. This is an upscale area, and the poshness added to our excitement. Park the car. Unload Munchkin. Head down the walkway. We see the sign! There’s a LINE! OUT THE DOOR! Wow, this has got to be good, right??

We get on line and begin entertaining Munchkin to keep him happy while we eagerly await our fix. As the line inches forward, we get our first glimpse of nirvana. Cute and quirky, modern and chic. The list of luscious lovelies goes on and on. I see words like “chocolate” and “peanut butter” and “lemon” … and then there it is!

“Red Velvet”

The anticipation initiates a saliva intensification process in our mouths. This is it! This really is it!!

Now, mind you,  I think in the back of our heads we both believed that this wouldn’t quite live up to our beloved Jimmy’s red velvet loveliness. But something close. That’s all we wanted. That’s all we needed.  …

The First Sign

We placed our order. First warning sign – pretentious – becomes apparent. Evidently, you place your order, step aside, and wait while they put the order together. Then, they call your name, you pay, and you get your cupcakes. We can see the cupcakes behind the window, all neatly lined up and waiting. How difficult is it to grab a few, let us pay, and commence consumption?

The Boxes – the Second Sign

At first the boxes seemed cute. I mean, four cupcakes will set you back about fifteen bucks, but they will package it up in a brown cardboard box. Good things come in boxes, right? Gifts, surprises, leftover chinese food…. On the other hand, anything that requires excessive packaging is trying to hide something. Meanwhile, the buzz around the store is overwheling: People telling others how they have waited for this, how the red velvets are the best, how good the cupcakes are…

Hubby, munchkin, and I load back into the car and take the 20 or so minute drive home. The anticipation is palpable.

Here Comes the Milk

Just like a fine steak dinner deserves a bold glass of wine, a good cupcake deserves a cold, fresh cup of milk. The cupcakes themselves look like pieces of modern art. The frosting on the red velvet has been heaped on top of the cupcake and rounded to perfection. In the middle is a circular confection, specifically indicative of this cake’s variety. All the cupcakes in the box seemed identically formed in terms of size and frosting amounts. That is impressive. But the taste…..

I sit examining my precious, and then I finally dig in. The cream cheese frosting is a huge let down. The frosting is much more of a butter cream variety, with not even a hint of cream cheese flavor. I’ve made cream cheese frosting, so I know if you don’t put enough in there, you miss that subtle twang. Too much, and it’s overwhelming. My frosting is pretty good. Gimmee Jimmy’s….. Well, let’s just say they are the gold medal! Sprinkles? Not in the ballpark.

The cupcake itself was pretty good. It has an intense warm buttery flavor; it’s rich  and moist. Not much in terms of chocolate flavor, but a subtle hint of cocoa. Again, nothing like Jimmy’s. The cupcake was much smaller in size, less rich, and Jimmy, the lil’ devil (or angel!) that he is, sprinkles mini-chocolate chips in his batter. Oh my. I need a moment just thinking about it!

 The Verdict

 Was it the worst cupcake I ever had? Nope. Was it worth the drive, the cost, the wait, the hoopla? Nopers. It was an ok to good cupcake, but not worth all that.  And, I think I can check off “Sprinkles” from my to-do list.

Epilogue: “Want Something Done? Do It Yourself!”

The above line from one of my favorite movies pretty much says it all. I can’t quite fly back to Jimmy’s, but I’m a decent baker, and so I took the task on myself.  I read all about the history of red velvet cupcakes, differing philosophies on baking, etc., and finally decided on Elisa Strauss’ recipe as posted on the New York Times (posted all over the web, but see this one, for example). And, because Jimmy is my hero, I sprinkled some mini-chocolate chips into the batter. Instead of the one noted online, I used Ina Garten’s cream cheese frosting, since I had tried it before and liked it a lot. (I did use a touch less sugar and omitted the almond extract and coconut.) I read in a few places you should put the cupcakes/cake into the fridge to help the frosting set a bit, and that worked out nicely. It “matured” the flavor of the cupcakes and the frosting looked better.  And they were delish. Ok, not as good as Jimmy’s, but it pretty darn fantastic! =)

Case closed.

 

 

 

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Trip That Started It All

My memories of Bill Hahn’s are a patchwork of sand, food, and family togetherness.

My parents first learned about Bill Hahn’s from my uncle–my maternal grandmother’s brother. He had stayed there several times, and was impressed with the service. Similar to the Catskills resorts, Bill Hahn’s served three sit down meals daily, all included in the lodging price. For the father of two young kids, I’m sure there was a lure of not worrying about where our next meal would be, how much it might cost, and if the quality and variety would be good. If you stayed in the main building, your next meal was as easy as descending the stairs at mealtime. And the food was good: lobster, steak, shrimp, chicken, pasta, fresh vegetables, pastries, ice creams…..  

Leaving for vacation is always fun, especially when you’re a kid. Packing is done for you. Arrangements are checked and rechecked without your notice. All you know is you’re going away–to someplace fun, new, and different. Both parents would be around to entertain *you*. Life is good.

Going to Bill Hahn’s was no different. My dad didn’t enjoy long car trips, and treated every drive that past the 45-minute mark as a looooong road trip, one to be entered into carefully and with great thought, care, and preparation. In my mind, Bill Hahn’s was hours upon hours away. We even planned stops along the way to break up the ride. In fact, in my mind, it was lucky that we could make it there in one day’s time. In reality, a recent Mapquest search revealed our long journey was just under two hours.

The resort itself was magical. Like a page from the history books and stories filled with country and beach adventures. The main building was more like an old large house or even mansion, and it had many nooks and crannies that filled my imagination with stories. One favorite area was a large sitting room with a pink/peach circular sofa in the middle. I can still recall the way the sunlight filled the room, slightly illuminating the particles in the air. It was always quiet and peaceful, as if it were waiting for something. Another favorite area showcased many different tea cups. I would imagine the kinds of people and parties where they might have been used, and my sister and I would take turns picking our favorites and telling stories.

The guest rooms were nothing like the modern decadent chain hotels of today. In fact, many didn’t have televisions, and most didn’t have telephones. But they were very big and comfortable and, if you were lucky, you would have an amazing view of the ocean.

There were several “themed” guest buildings around the resort, and a few bungalows tucked closer to the beach. My favorite building was the library. The small downstairs lobby had an amazing collection of very old, crusty- but important-looking books. Another featured local artists’ artwork. There was a small building where movies were shown on rainy afternoons. Lush gardens filled with flowers and vegetables surrounded the resort, and a walk around was like being in the “country.”

Most resort visitors were older couples, and it was rare that we’d bump into people my parent’s age, let alone my or my sister’s age. Once we found this very cool woman and her daughter who were also staying at Bill Hahn’s. They had the most amazing long, dark, straight hair. In fact, it reminded me of Morticia’s hair from The Addam’s Family. I think she partly reminded me of Morticia because of her odd talent – she would “clap” bees to their death. It frightened me, but I always felt safe from bees when she was around. She’d lift her hands and with a loud >CLAP<, those buzzers would drop to the ground. D-E-D. Freaky. She even taught my mom how to do so. And my mom became the talk of my friends when we got home!

Despite the older clientele, there was plenty to do as a kid. The beach, of course, was the highlight. I’m not a huge fan of sand, but sitting on a towel under a well-placed umbrella with a few Barbie dolls was a great afternoon. We also walked the shoreline and collected shells. There was a small (read: tiny) island off the shore. In low tide, you could walk there, as long as you were mindful of the jellyfish. In high tide, a row boat could take you there in about 5 to 10 minutes. There wasn’t much to do on the isle, except look back toward the beach and be proud of your accomplishment in making it there. Oh, and you could look for more shells. I remember we took off to the island a bit late in the day, and our trip back was in low tide. My dad wasn’t thrilled pushing the oars/dragging the boat in the sand to move our little family back to the beach!

There were also arts and crafts. My favorite was collecting Queen Anne’s Lace flowers and placing them in a bottle with some water and food dye. Part science, part art, we’d watch as the flower slowly changed from white to red or blue or green as they “slurped” up the colored water. Neat-o!

Tennis was also a fun activity. My parents tried to play tennis, and my sister and I would run gleefully around trying to collect the balls.  We also played a lot of card games and Rummy-O, took trips into town, and so forth.

Even back then, the food was the highlight of my trip! As I mentioned, Bill Hahn’s served three meals a day. My favorite was a dinner consisting of grilled baby lamb chops and a broiled tomato with parmesan on top. (I’d eat off the cheese and ask for more!) I also remember trying lobster for the first time. (The bibs were a hoot!) Much of the produce was grown on property, and so the tomatoes were so fresh and sweet and juicy, we’d eat them for snack.

Desserts were heavenly! One older couple seated nearby in the dining room taught us the “drawer principle.”  My sister and I innately understand the theory; my parents needed re-education. “No matter how full your stomach is from lunch or dinner, there is always an extra drawer for dessert.” So true. So true!

And, if you made it back from the beach at just the right time in the afternoon, they’d open up the kitchen and give out huge scoops of ice cream. Fresh-made, yummalicious ice cream.

The dining room was a multi-purpose room of sorts. On many nights they had entertainers, and they’d convert the dining room into a swanky nightclub. Well, I remember it as being swanky, because they put candles dripping with multi-colored wax into old, Italian-looking wine bottles. Hey, I was a kid. I was easily impressed. Evidently, some big names performed there – including Babs, although that was before my time.

My parents befriended Bill Hahn’s over the years we visited. Since we were one of the few young families staying there, we tended to receive a bit more attention. (Who can resist a cute kid?!) Mr. Hahn was like a literary character in my mind: very kind, but sort of eccentric. To dip into Addam’s Family pop culture again, he sort of reminded me of Uncle Fester, but mostly because I remember him being bald and funny. He babysat my sister and I one evening so my parents could attend a special show in town; the resort had arranged for transportation and tickets for those guests who were interested, and he knew my parents would enjoy it. He sat up with us, playing with dolls, and read us Amelia Bedilia books like the best straight man in town. We were in stitches! He was sweet, kind, and warm.

At the end of every visit, when we would reluctantly bring the suitcases toward the front door, he would have a picnic basket lunch waiting for us for our loooooooong ride (of 2 hours) home.  His staff made one mean turkey sandwich!  I remember the bread being perfection–crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside, and the smell of fresh yeast would fill the air. It was heaven. As much as we hated to leave, part of me looked forward to it, only to have that sandwich!

We’d pile into the car, laughing about the fun times we had shared, interesting people we had met, foods we had eaten, and my dad would say aloud,

“So that was Bill Hahn’s.”

 

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments