On The Adobo Road
Some news! I’ve started reviewing cookbooks and food literature on Bookslut (you can call me Cookbookslut, if you please!). My first column was about Filipino food and centered around Marvin Gapultos' The Adobo Road Cookbook. I had fun cooking from the book, writing about it, and I’m looking forward to putting together more of these columns in the future.
Soraya and I like to talk about cake. Last year while driving home from a long weekend roadtrip in Detroit, one of the first things I did was call to tell her about a regional cake I’d never heard of: Bumpy Cake. I knew she would be just as interested in it as I was. Bumpy Cake is fairly simple – plain chocolate baked into a rectangle, striped with vanilla buttercream lines and then coated in fudge. The buttercream lines give the cake its bumps. Ta da. I’d thought about making her a Bumpy Cake for her birthday, but somehow didn’t get around to it, although she did make me a cake for mine – a classic vanilla cake iced in chocolate. It was delicious, and even more so because there’s something about having a cake baked just for you that makes it even sweeter. But we talked about baking something more complex together, not so much for the baking part, but for the eating part. The thing is, as much as I enjoy baking, I’m very much a one-bowl kind of baker. If we were going to attempt something complex, we would have to bring someone else in.
Emily is one of the funnest people I know and definitely the most hardcore baker. She churns out deserts like it’s no big thing . Recently for a friend’s baby shower, she baked a series of deserts around the theme of children’s books – cupcakes that formed the Hungry Caterpillar, shortbread cookies with EAT ME stamped on them a la Alice in Wonderland, little Horton Hears a Who-pie pies. We had talked about baking something together for years and had somehow never gotten around to it.
A few weeks ago, despite the fact that the city was in the throes of a heat wave, I’d decided the complex cake baking moment had arrived. I emailed both Soraya and Emily and asked if they wanted to attempt making a Momofuku Milk Bar cake. They wrote back almost immediately and the game was on.
Momofuku opened a Noodle Bar in Toronto last fall. I’ve been twice, and while I can’t say I had the best ramen ever, I don’t think I know what qualifies as the best ramen ever. I enjoyed it enough, the pork buns were amazing, the beer was overpriced and on my first visit, after sampling a few dishes between two of us, we dropped $70 for a meal that lasted about 30 minutes. Was it worth it? I’m not sure, but at a certain point you’re paying for a brand, and I’m fascinated by how David Chang has branded Momofuku so well. They do the high/low thing perfectly; they are McSweeney’s level cool with Lucky Peach; they are David Simon level cool with David Chang’s role on Treme. And if you don’t care so much about the savoury stuff, you have Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar. There’s a kind of stoner genius to the Milk Bar deserts – a consistent salty/sweet crunchy/smooth dichotomy, the insistence on certain synthetic ingredients to replicate very specific flavor profiles, a good dose of nostalgia.
Toronto didn’t have a Milk Bar, which is why I figured we should make something ourselves, although the day we chose to bake our cake one coincidentally opened here in town. We took it as a good omen and proceeded with our baking date. We were going to make the Birthday Cake.
Baked a cake, FYI.
These days when I get my period I crave a burger and fries. For the iron in the red meat and the salty carbs, maybe, but also for the immediacy of the meal and the ingrained comfort I associate, for better or for worse, with greasy fast food. This isn’t a difficult craving to satisfy, but it happened once when I was in the Philippines last year with my mother. We had spent the day in the car returning from the mountains of Baguio back to Manila. We stopped once along the way to visit Our Lady of Manoag, a shrine in the province of Pangasinang, and again to eat chicken and rice from one of the many Max’s along the way, a Filipino chain you’ll see as often as Swiss Chalets in Canada. I spent most of the drive staring out the window at rice paddies and mango trees and the greenest mountains and then, as we got closer to Manila, cars and scooters and trucks piling up on each other in streams of traffic. The drive was tiring in the way that long drives in foreign places are tiring even if you’re not the one driving. It was exciting, but my period had also started, and I was unsettled. Back in Manila I ventured out for something to comfort me. Our apartment was in a modern, Americanized commercial and residential development and nearby was a Johnny Rockets where employees wore 50s style uniforms and at various times during the day would break into dance to whatever song was playing on the jukebox. I had never intended on eating there – I was in the Philippines; I wanted to eat Filipino food – but I craved that burger and fries, so I ordered and hoped for the best. I wasn’t disappointed. It was maybe one of the best burgers I’d ever had.
I’m afraid that I’ve been relying on fast food a little too much recently. There are many reasons for this – life has been busy and even when it’s not busy in the scheduled sense, there’s something about it that feels full, puffed out, hard to fill with things I normally do, like cooking. I shouldn’t be eating so much fast food though, and have paradoxically been thinking more than ever about the things I put in my body. I’ve developed rules, but they don’t make much sense. I can have fast food, but only when I’m desperate. At home we’ve cut back drastically on alcohol – I can’t remember the last time we had a bottle of wine. There are vitamins, some bought from Shopper’s Drug Mark, others ordered online or taken on recommendation from an acupuncturist. Lots of water, green tea is good too. I don’t know if any of this helps.
I wrote this thing.