Festival + Food = Perfect Weekend

Two of my favorite things are festivals and trying different cuisines. A festival with a focus on international food? Be still my beating heart! If you’re in Salt Lake and looking for something to do this weekend, might I suggest this event?

The festival celebrates the “traditional cultures of the many groups, native and immigrant, that make Salt Lake their home, so the whole community can enjoy a diversity of authentic foods, music, dance and crafts.”

Looking over the list of food booths made my mouth start watering. There’s going to be so many types of delicious food: Tibetan, Sudanese, Lebanese, Soul food, Thai, Hawaiian, Vietnamese, Indian, etc… I can almost taste the momos already! And besides the food booths, there are also cooking demonstrations.

The festival runs this Friday (5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m), Saturday (noon to 10:00 p.m.), and Sunday (noon to 7:00 p.m.). More info can be found here.

My favorite places: The NPS Store

On Friday I was up by the airport and stopped by one of my favorite shops, the NPS store. They had a bunch of Le Creuset pots in stock and I snagged this braiser for a great price.

The NPS store is kind of hard to describe. It’s sort of like Goodwill in that you never know what they’re going to have and that it’s fairly dingy. But everything is theoretically new. They sell misdirected, unclaimed or damaged freight…so basically stuff that fell off the back of a truck. And apparently all sorts of stuff falls off of trucks.

The NPS store is actually made up of three different stores: the grocery store, the industrial store, and Market Square. We haven’t spent much time at the grocery store, but they seem to have a wide variety of items, including produce. The industrial store has aisles and aisles of indescribable machine parts and tools but we’ve also seen interesting things there like car bumpers, a fully-assembled sauna, kickboxing dummies, original oil paintings, and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream freezer.

We usually spend most of our time at the Market Square which sells kitchen items, jewelry, cds and dvds, clothes and shoes, toileties, fabric by the yard, etc… There’s also a separate room in the back full of “collectibles” including fine jewelry, wedding dresses, and original pieces of art.

When we get to the store N. usually makes a beeline for the cd section and picks it over. He’s found some rare releases for $2 or $3. I usually spend my time browsing the kitchen section. I have a couple of Le Creuset pots, all from the NPS store. I bought my big French oven there for 1/3 of the retail price. It was so cheap because the plastic handle on top was broken but then I called Le Creuset and they sent me a new handle for free so it worked out well.

It seems like the store is getting more popular. There don’t seem to have as many crazy sales as they used to, but the prices are still pretty good. I think it’s worth checking out if you’re up by the Salt Lake airport; it’s at 1600 South Empire Road. Let me know if you’re planning on going–E and I will meet you there!

Chocolate Two Ways (part 1)

Whew! So far today I have caught up a bit on work, had a good workout at the gym, and put E down a nap. Now the house is blissfully quiet. The rest of the schedule for today includes 1) showering 2) going to Costco and the grocery store 3) cleaning up the house (a friend I haven’t seen since college is coming over for dinner tomorrow night and lastly 4) making sure that all of my woodworking supplies (and plans!) are ready for class tonight.

I’m not a huge chocoholic but this last week had been very chocolate-centric. When N and I went grabbed a bit to eat at Caputo’s Deli during the Sundance Film Festival I noticed that offer cooking and tasting classes. On Monday night my sister Jan and I went to their Focused Tasting: Intro to Fine Chocolates class. I know it’s pretty lame, but I’m a total sucker for snobby foodie type things. I love the idea of being expert at something. If I wasn’t LDS I would probably be a super annoying tea/coffee/wine snob. But since those are off the table, hello chocolate!

The class was very educational. The teacher is the son of the store’s owner and a few years back he set out on a quest to educate himself about the world of fine chocolate so he could be a more informed buyer for the store. He’s a self-proclaimed chocolate snob and while at times the snobbery was a tiny bit off-putting he definitely knew what he was talking about.

It was fun to learn the “proper” way of tasting chocolate (which is apparently not scarfing down Christmas Hershey’s kisses after finding them in the pantry in March. Ahem.) This is the tasting protocol that professionals use. (Chocolate should be at room temperature.)

  1. Observe the sheen. Shiny=good.
  2. Observe the color. Swirling=bad.
  3. Snap off a piece. Loud snap=good (means it was well-tempered).
  4. Smell it.
  5. Chew it and let it melt in your mouth.
  6. Breathe in through your mouth, out through your nose.
  7. Write down your initial impressions, then repeat steps 4-6 and write down subsequent impressions.

So we smelled and tasted 6 or 7 fine chocolates and discussed the different flavorings of each. They were all dark chocolates but there were huge differences in flavors. The flavor really depends on what type of chocolate bean was used and where the bean was grown.

He said that there are a lot of myths about dark chocolate (which almost all fine chocolates are). Two of them in particular are that 1) more cacao is always better (65-75% is the preferred range) and 2) the more bitter the chocolate the better it is (It’s not. Bitterness often comes from over roasting).

One of the chocolates we tasted was Amano Madagascar (voted #1 by those who supposedly know about these things). I was tempted to spit it out. It was SO tart and vinegary–bleh! I wanted to like it because the experts say it’s awesome AND it’s made by a company here in Utah but it was definitely not to my taste.

Another chocolate, Domori Javablond, is supposed to be simply awesome and is noted for it’s wildly different flavors like bleu cheese and petrol (yes, petrol). I didn’t like it. It smelled like a Sharpie marker.

But the finest chocolate in the world is apparently universally agreed to be Amedei Chuao. I liked it pretty well but at $12 a bar it’s definitely not something you keep around the house for making s’mores. My favorite out of the chocolates we tasted was actually the Pralus Djakarta (smokey and kind of woodsy).

Overall, I would recommend the class. I had never tasted such interesting and pure flavors in chocolate before. It was a real eye-opener. It was convenient to be able to sample small pieces of several different fine chocolates; I would never plunk down the $65+ it would have cost to buy one bar of each of the chocolates. And the chance to hang out with Jan without the kiddos was a much-appreciated bonus.

I still enjoy learning about food but I think I also learned a little lesson about how while being into food is fun, being an extreme food expert/snob can be kind of off-putting to others. (And knowing is half the battle!) So I shall endeavor to keep my snobbery in check.

I Spy

Next Thursday BYU’s Museum of Art is opening an exhibit of the work of the Walter Wick, the photographer behind the popular I Spy series of children’s books and other projects.

The exhibition opens on February 26th with games and activities for kids from 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm and an appearance by Wick himself. Later that night there will be a lecture by Wick at 7 pm.

If you’re local and need a fun (and free!) place to take the kids or yourself, check it out. The exhibition runs through August 1st so you have a while.

Details can be found here.