Monday, October 29, 2007

Bistrot Zinc

I have been to France only once in my life, when I was 14 years old. I wasn't really old enough to appreciate it for what it is and to really immerse myself in the French experience. The open space of Bistrot Zinc allows me to feel as if I was there again every once in a while. The space is just so, well, French, at least what I remember French to be. The owner said that the bar is his pride and joy, that his design was inspired by the bars of traditional Parisian bistros, and it's beautiful. Wood molding around the length of the bar and a brushed steel top make it seem quite authentic. There are long, sprawling banquettes that run down about one-half the length of the restaurant - straight down the middle. Large mirrors adorn the walls and the front windows open up onto the street. My favorite part, though, are the floors. The red, black and white tile is unimpressive on its own. But as a part of the whole it completes the scene. It brings a quaintness to the space and allows what has the potential to seem too fancy to be entirely unstuffy. The clientele is a bit on the older side; that could be either a cause or an effect of the low noise level of the restaurant. I have never struggled to maintain a conversation, and you are far enough from the table next to you to speak at a normal level and not fear unintentional eavesdropping. The waiters are all dressed in white shirts and black ties with white aprons tied around their waists, and are all very accomodating and pleasant. The menu is typical French bistro fare, featuring staples like Salad Niçoise, Soupe à L’Oignon and Steak Frites. There is also a seasonal menu that changes monthly, but still keeps the typical French theme a running constant throughout the entire menu. I've been here a few times before and have never been disappointed with my food. I've never really left thrilled and blown away, but Bistrot Zinc executes the standard French fare quite reliably, with Chicago-sized portions, which are not so French, of course.

Moules Mariniéres
Mussels steamed with white wine, shallots, cream and parsley:

The portion size of this dish has decreased dramatically since the last time I ordered it, which was probably a good eight months ago and was also the last time I had eaten here. The sauce in this dish is very good, if standard. It is perfect for soaking up and devouring with bread, which I did happily. The mussels themselves are incredibly plump, as you can probably see from the photo above, far larger than any other mussel I have found in any Chicago restaurant. I do wonder, though, why the protion size is now less than half of what it was before.

Sautéed Skate with Brown Butter, Capers, and Lemon:

This dish was a bit too greasy for my liking. I know, I know, a brown butter sauce is going to be greasy, but it permeated the fish a bit too much and made parts of the portion a bit soggy. From the color of the fish I expected a bit of a bite, a slight crunch, but I was wrong. It was cooked well though, it was not at all overcooked and the fish flaked into sections with the slightest touch of my fork. The capers lent a nice flavor to the butter, and thereby to the fish. The plate was completed with a giant mound of mashed potatoes, which were quite bland. This characteristic was at the same time disappointing and relieving, since I then had the ability to season them myself. Why, however, there were croutons thrown atop this mound I don't quite understand. It seemed like a last-ditch effort to complete the dish and give the potatoes a bit more of a presence on the plate, to ensure that they didn't just blend into the white china on which they were served. Grinding some pepper into the potatoes would have lent the same effect, though, and the pepper's role in the dish would have been a bit more apparent. The croutons just didn't do anything for the dish, their texture wasn't necessary and their presence lent no flavor to the dish, as the croutons themselves were not at all seasoned.

And it was another pleasant dining experience. Not the best food I have ever eaten, but I left sated and happy. Part of that happiness has to be attributed to dining with my boyfriend, Andrew, but it was also due to the fact that Bistrot Zinc delivered exactly what I had expected of it, good but not great food and good service, and that was all I had asked of it. I don’t go into Bistrot Zinc expecting to be wowed and awed by culinary creations, but I know what I expect and I get just that, reliably.

Bistrot Zinc
1131 N. State St. (at E. Elm St)
(312) 337-1131

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lula Cafe

Last week I participated in what seemed like an improvisational offbeat tour of Chicago with a friend from high school (and McGill) and a couple of others. We were all over the city, which is great for me because I tend to get trapped in the same routine. My school schedule keeps my life pretty much centered around a few neighborhoods - the one in which I go to school, the one in which I study, the one in which I live. My friend Josh comes in every once in a while and takes me out of my comfort zone and I get to see the city in a whole different way. Josh is a pretty transient person, so he has more of an inate tendency to explore than I probably do. Last time he was in we went to a beer festival at Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Indiana. Who knew? This time there were plans of a corn maze, which were thrown to the wayside one the downpour arrived. We still managed to make some pretty good stops, which took us all around Wicker Park, Andersonville, Uptown, the Clybourn Corridor, Lincoln Park, the list goes on. The feature of the night though, was our meal at Lula Cafe in Logan Square.

Logan Square has recently turned into a haven for young professionals. Hipsters have flocked en masse and the area has become quite gentrified in recent years. Lula Cafe has been around for a while, and like the area in which it's found, has become a destination for the hipster set and yuppies who think themselves edgy. The space itself is really comfortable, no tables are too close together and the bar is in a separate room, leaving diners with minimal disturbances. The restaurant has gained exposure and crowds flock consistently; we entered at about 8:15 on a Wednesday and were greeted by a hostess telling us there was a 40-minute wait for a table. Josh spoke quite highly of the place, so we happily sat down at the bar and waited.

There are two sides to the menu. On the left lays a seasonal menu that changes (I believe, don't quote me on this though) weekly. On the right is their cafe menu, the kitchen staples served year-round. An unexpexted mix of salads, sandwiches, soups and other small bites comprise the cafe menu. Among its entrees are a couple of pasta dishes, a Moroccan tagine and a roast chicken, which is by far the most expensive item on the cafe menu at $14. The food is incredibly affordable and you certainly get a lot for your money. With two drinks and an appetizer for the table, our dinner for four, including tip, came in at around $25 per person. And was it ever worth it.

"Fettuccine Alfredo " with Pumpkin Egg Cream, Wild Mushrooms, Braised Duck, Pecorino, Pan di Zucchero, and Brown Sugar Bread Crumbs:

By the way, that is the pork confit that was supposed to be served with my fish at the edge of the plate above. I ordered it on the side and came on a separate plate with the radicchio. I didn't order this dish, but I had a couple of bites off of my friend's plate. The flavors were really good, the brown sugar bread crumb lent a really sweet note to the pasta, which is something I can't say I've experienced too many times before. At the same time, it was this sweet note that gave me the impression that a full plate would have been far too much. The two bites I had were more than enough for me, I got to taste something I hadn't and that was that. The sauce was definitely not as heavy as actual alfredo sauce, which was a good thing, but I couldn't really discern the taste of pumpkin too well under the sweetness of the bread crumbs and the saltiness of the cheese.

Rabbit Ravioli with Sunchoke, Escarole, Rabbit Broth, and Citrus:

I don't typically eat rabbit, but I was peer pressured into it by the three boys with whom I was dining - I guess I didn't really put up much of a fight now that I think about it. The ravioli were pretty good, the meat was moist and the pasta had a nice bite to it. I couldn't really figure out what the rabbit was seasoned with, but it had a nice subdued spice to it. The greens were good and the broth was really light.

Pan Seared Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout with Pork Confit, Radicchio, Delicata Squash, Watercress, and White Anchovy:

This was a huge piece of fish, so everyone at the table got a good taste. All of my dining companions agreed that this was the best dish on the table. It was ordered off of the (purportedly, this was my first time here) ever-changing seasonal menu, as were the Ravioli and the Fettuccine. I ordered the pork confit on the side, not knowing that the radicchio would come on the side with it, but the dish was still great. The fish was perfectly cooked, the skin crispy. The citrusy-dressed watercress complemented the saltiness of the fish quite nicely. The squash was fork tender and delicious. I don't recall much of an anchovy taste at all and I wish I had, since anchovies are one of my favorite things of late. The sauce from the radicchio and pork plate might have elevated some of the flavors a bit, but the dish was delicious even in its absence.

Shiitake Quesadilla with Queso Fresco, Spinach and Chevre:

This was the only item on the table ordered from the regular menu. The shiitake mushrooms gave the quesadillas the impression of meatiness and had a great, substantial presence between the tortilla. My friend declared them the best quesadilla he's ever had. The moisture of the mushrooms did not escape, preserving the crunchiness of the quesadilla. The cheese was perfectly melted and stretched out just enough with eat bite, and the chevre provided the perfect salty edge. The dipping sauce, which was paired with sour cream, tasted pretty heavily of paprika, but was really interesting because of it.

I would love to come back to Lula Cafe and sample more items from their cafe menu. However, I don't realistically see this happening. Seasonal menus always suck me in, I feel as if I MUST order off of the seasonal menu lest I never get the chance to taste what has been offered to me again, or at least for another year. I can see the future of my dining experiences at Lula Cafe: I enter knowing what I want, since it is the item I wanted to try last time but was wooed away from by the hot ticket at the moment. I tell myself that I will not let that happen again, and I will be strong, and I will try that dish. But I know that dish will always be there, and again I will be tempted away to the seasonal delights. Come to think about it, that isn't really such a bad thing after all.

Lula Cafe
2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard (just south of Logan Square)
(773) 489-9554

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

As the Leaves are Changing

One of the benefits of my blogging endeavor is that I now have a reason to buy magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appétit, publications I have coveted for so long on grocery store lines but on which I have never had the will to spend those few dollars. I am just a poor student, after all. My blog is my new baby, my cause, and it places upon me the affirmative duty to broaden my horizons and learn more about the culinary world I have entered. This is one of the main reasons I started this endeavor - I really want to learn. I want to be inspired to try new things. And last week I learned that not all new, exciting things are difficult.

I turned to this month's Bon Appétit for dinner this week, to a simple-sounding yet intriguing dish perfect for an unseasonably warm fall evening. The green of the chutney popped off of the page, serving as a reminder of a summer recently lost. Every once in a while I have a tendency to get a little bit stressed out while cooking, but this dish was amazingly simple - I was handling multiple pans with ease. Maybe it's this new cause I've found - I am no longer making dinner, I'm cooking. I'm doing this because I really, really want to become great at this. I want to learn, but most of all I want to share. This has had a great calming effect on me in the kitchen. I'm doing something I truly love. Now that I've come out and entered this wonderful world of food, I can bask in all of its delicious glory.

Mahi-Mahi with Cilantro Chutney (from Bon Appétit, Volume 52, No. 10)

For the fish:

Cumin, salt, pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Mahi Mahi - 6 to 8 ounce filets. The chutney is probably enough to liberally sauce 4 filets.

For the chutney:

1 large kiwi, cubed
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons diced jalepeno
1 cup cilantro, tightly packed
1/4 cup coconut milk

Put all of the the chutney ingredients in a food processor (I used my blender, did the job just fine) and process into a coarse puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the fish liberally with salt, pepper and cumin on both sides. I thought I sprinkled mine pretty liberally, but the fish itself came out rather bland, so I would sprinkle very liberally. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the fish until opaque, about 5 minutes per side. Spoon chutney over the fish and serve.

I served the fish on top of brown basmati rice with a side of bok choy that I sauteed with shallots, garlic and ginger in sesame oil and then braised in cider vinegar and some soy sauce and water. I really didn't know what I was doing with it, but it worked out alright. In the end, I would have just cut it lengthwise and braised it in two pieces as opposed to chopping and cooking. The chutney is fantastic, incredibly flavorful and the color is really something. I almost felt badly putting the bok choy next to the fish, since it's green had faded in cooking, and it seemed to cruel to taunt it with the color it once had.

It was an almost tropical-feeling dish, conjuring up memories of summer as the leaves turn colors outside. The fish combined with the chutney really well, and would work well as the main elements of a fish taco. The dish is a quick-fix meal with just enough flair and is really, truly simple.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Something from Slightly More than Nothing

This is the second appearance that salmon is making in my posts. I apologize for the lack of diversity, but that's just pretty much all I've been eating lately. It's just that it's pretty novel to me. I am going to tell you this with the full understanding that I may lose your readership because I am insane. But believe me, I could not make this up.

I used to be allergic to all fish. Well, except canned tuna, I guess that processing did something to the fish that enabled me to eat it without the risk of turning into a puffed-up, swollen mess with a rapidly closing throat. Sound miserable? Well, it was. I wasn't allergic to shellfish, so that was a bit of a consolation. As I grew out of other allergies I began to gain some hope that fish would enter my life without causing me pain. And eventually, it did. I was able to eat almost all fish. Except salmon. I'm not really sure why this one fish decided that it hated me. And like many other broken-hearted, I couldn't give up - I just loved it so. Watching the rest of my family eat bagels and lox on weekend morning was tortuous. I yearned for that which I could not have.

The severity of the reaction lessened as I got older, so every once in a while I would coax myself into dealing with the incessant itchiness guaranteed to follow and binge on some salmon. I somehow (don't ask me how, I'm not really sure) figured out that I had the least extreme reaction to the fish when I ate it cooked and cold. Raw didn't work, smoked didn't work, and for some reason when it was hot it still made me itch. I pitched this theory to my parents expecting them to call me crazy, but my mother confirmed that my grandmother indeed had the same exact allergy. So maybe I'm not crazy. Or maybe the rest of my family is just as insane as I am. No matter, I was reassured.

Towards the end of this summer, the summer of gluttony and seafood about which I will likely post in greater detail a little bit down the line, I decided that I had enough. I was going to will my body to eat salmon if it killed me. I just kept eating it in its many forms, which culminated in a veritable gravlox binge at Aquavit, and eventually, I was able to eat it with no reaction at all. Yes, I know, I likely just grew out of it like the other allergies, it just took me longer, but I like to think that I was responsible for tricking my body this time. And so I have been reveling in my newfound salmon normalcy - I have joined the salmon eating population. And I've been eating it with such frequency that I will likely develop a new allergy, but I'll worry about that when that happens. In any event, I'm going to tell you about a pasta dish I made last week, featuring, what else? Salmon.

While in undergrad in Montreal, my friends and I would frequent L'Academie on St. Dennis. Its name was misleading - despite popular belief, it wasn't a culinary school kitchen at all, just a huge three-story restaurant with a guaranteed line snaking out the door on weekends. It had very reliable food, often quite good, and always at a fair price. And it was BYOB, making it that much more attractive to a poor college kid. There was a salmon and mushroom pasta that was on the menu there, and like all other salmon dishes, it taunted me. My friends would order it and I would stare and long for it. It was something so commonplace, yet something forbidden. That is probably why the one of the first things I did when I absolved my salmon allergy was attempt to recreate that dish. I used many shortcuts, mostly because it was easy and I had it all in my kitchen, and that's the secret. One of my roommates in college would make something like this sauce, she would regularly throw the contents of a couple of cans into a pan and eat it happily. I used a couple more ingredients that she used to, but It's a great last-minute, something-from-nothing dish made with things that are already lying around the house.

Pasta with Salmon and Mushrooms

Sorry for the sub-par photo, the light was not cooperating with me that night. There's no real recipe here, just a bunch of stuff I threw together, but I will attempt to capture it as accurately as possible.

I set some thin spaghetti in a pot of boiling water. While it was cooking I started to saute about 8 ounces of white mushrooms, which I purchased cleaned and sliced, in a pat of butter. Once the mushrooms were well on their way and rather soft, I added some garlic and a liberal sprinkling of dried thyme to the pan. I then emptied the cream of mushroom soup into the pan and added about a half of the empty can worth of water and allowed that to start heating. I would have added white wine instead of the water, but I didn't have any on hand.

Once this started looking saucy (ha) I added probably about half a cup of parmegianno cheese into the sauce to thicken it and give it a good saltiness, since I had used reduced sodium soup. With the parmegianno went another tablespoon of butter for richness. I opened up a can of Bumble Bee salmon (cooking salmon is obviously a good option, but it didn't fit into the theme of a quick-fix dinner too well, and the canned stuff actually tasted pretty good and didn't leave the apartment smelling like fish) and flaked it into the sauce. Once that was heated I adjusted the seasoning and added quite a bit of pepper and some more cheese. I mixed it up with the cooked pasta and it was a lovely dinner for two. And all I had to do was throw some stuff in the pan.

Outside of the grating of the cheese, there was really no effort required. I'll never know how close I came to the dish at L'Academie, and one of these days I'll go all out and cook the salmon and make my own sauce from scratch, but until that day, this will do.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Something from Nothing

I found myself in quite the pickle a little bit earlier today. I was hungry. Not starving. Not I-haven't-eaten-since-8 a.m.-voracious, but 4-p.m.-hungry. Not hungry enough to leave the apartment on an unseasonably cool day, but hungry enough that I couldn't do much (or anything) else until my hunger was sated. I must admit something - the state of my kitchen is shameful right now. It's not that it's filthy, it's that it's understocked. I just have nothing. Alright, that might be a bit of an overstatement - I'm not really talking freshman-year-dorm-room-understocked. I have a few canned goods and a loaf of bread and some eggs. That's better than three cases of ramen (right?). These cans are mostly full of beans of various shapes, sizes and textures. As I racked my brain for ideas, I decided that I wanted something fun to eat that preferably was not labor-intensive. One among my line-up of beans was a can of Garbanzos. And then it came - epiphany.

I drained the chickpeas and laid them out in one layer over a paper towel to allow them to dry. I put them in a mixing bowl with about two teaspoons of olive oil, some cracked red pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, salt and pepper.

I spread them out over a baking sheet and placed them in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 and 15 minutes at 425. The timing will vary slightly and they should be watched carefully towards the end so that they don't burn.

In the end, I had the perfect snack. Some of them looked like Corn Nuts. Damned if I could tell you if they tasted like Corn Nuts. I've had Corn Nuts a mere once in my life, quite a few years ago, so the taste is not something to which I often find myself offering comparisons. The look is unmistakeable though:

They were simple, yet they were so many things: nutty, crunchy, spicy, healthy. That last aspect was an afterthought (I suppose a 'non-thought' is a more accurate description), but it's always a good feeling when you can shovel something into your mouth and not feel too badly about it.

They reminded me of wasabi peas with their crunch, though the flavor profile was obviously different. These would also be good with a curry spice blend or a hot and spicy blend. The combinations are likely endless. I'm not sure how these are going to hold overnight, but I am going to put them in a baggie and hope for the best.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Spring (in Fall)

Since I was a very bad food blogger and neglected to take my camera with me to my lovely birthday dinner at the cozy La Petite Folie by school in Hyde Park on Friday, this is my very first restaurant post (!). A partner from the Firm I worked at this past summer was in town giving a lecture at the Law School. As a result, those of us that had worked there last summer were treated to a very nice meal at Spring on North Ave just west of Milwaukee. A few others from the class the partner had taught joined us, so we were seated in the front room of the restaurant and ordered off of the restaurant's private party menu. The restaurant itself has a very warm feel - the space used to house a Turkish bathhouse, and there is water and steam damage on the walls paying homage to this past. The restaurant is slightly subterranean, which is only an issue from this front room, since from there, if you are easily distracted (as I tend to be), you have to deal with the glares of passers-by as they look down from the street and into your plate. The Blue Line El stops about half a block away, but I heard it rumbling by only once during my two and a half hour meal. The service was friendly and accommodating. One in our party had a severe fish allergy, and the kitchen adapted several of the dishes accordingly. When I called with a couple of questions about the menu, they were answered happily.

Spring's website describes their cuisine as "New American with a strong Asian influence." The menu changes seasonally. Chef Shawn McClain was the named the 2006 James Beard Award Best Chef Midwest, so I went in expecting great things. For the most part, I was not disappointed.

The meal started with a rather good, if uninventive, amuse bouche: a tuna spring roll with a spicy chili sauce:

I could taste each individual component, and they all tasted fresh. The chili sauce did not overwhelm the freshness of the flavors, since its spiciness hit at the very end of the bite.

Next was a Lemongrass-Coconut Soup with Cellophane Noodles, Thai Chili and Kaffir Lime:

I enjoyed this very much, despite the fact that I tend to shy away from creamy soups. I really enjoy Thai coconut curries, and this reminded me very much of one of those, since coconut milk has a very strong taste and texture and tends to dominate any dish in which it is a major ingredient. The cellophane noodles were impossible to catch with my spoon (and my fork), and chopsticks would have been greatly appreciated. I found their absence rather odd; since the restaurant has prominent Asian influences throughout their food, I thought that the option of chopsticks would have at least been presented to me. There was a spicy undercurrent in the soup from the Thai chili, but it was softened by the coconut. I didn't really pick up much of a citrus taste though; some increased acidity might have been a nice way to balance out the creaminess from the soup. Overall though, I did enjoy it, though the portion was far too large - if I had finished that bowl, I would not have stood a chance against the cod.

Oh, the Cod. It was Black Cod with Parmesan-Potato Gnocchi, Maine Lobster Curry and Corainder Pesto:

The cod was seared to perfection. The pieces slid off without effort and the fish was incredibly moist. The cod yearned for chopsticks, each piece falling off the whole in a perfectly portioned bite, and it felt a little cruel to stick my fork into it. It was incredibly delicate - much more deserving of a gentle, painless journey into my mouth. The gnocchi was very good, not heavy in the least.

The meal ended with an Autumn Raspberry Sorbet with Chilled Jasmine Tea, Black Mission Figs and Citrus Almond Biscotti

This was my least favorite dish of the evening. The jasmine tea was poured on top of the sorbet, figs and biscotti tableside, and I think the taste of the jasmine was what threw me off a bit. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't great. The jasmine tea made the biscotti pretty soggy, and I made the mistake of saving them for last. The crumbled pieces of biscotti held their texture nicely though, and I enjoyed the crunch paired with the sorbet.

The other dessert option was a Chocolate Mousse Cake with Olive Oil Ice Milk. I'm not a huge chocolate person, but I was quite intrigued by the olive oil ice milk. I have heard people rave about the olive oil gelato at Otto in New York, and I figured this had to be pretty close. I loved it. The nuttiness of the olive oil came right through and the temperature of the ice milk allowed it to echo nicely once it was gone.

After dessert I ordered Green Tea, which had a potent jasmine fragrance and was quite delicious. I think it was jasmine at least- it reminded me greatly of what was poured over my sorbet. I didn't account for how heavily caffeinated the tea was, and I paid for that the rest of the night.

I don't know if my experience would have changed had I been the one footing the bill, and not the Firm. I might have been a bit more critical if I knew what each item cost. Since it was a private party menu though, the prices were not disclosed. What I do know however, is that I would gladly return to Spring for an opportunity to peruse the entire menu. I might opt for the salad with spicy popcorn to start, or lose dessert completely for a second appetizer. Either way, I'll be back.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Simple Sandwich

Is all it takes to turn a day around. One second you're in a huff, totally overwhelmed by the happenings in your world. The next second you're reminded of the sandwich that never was, and you get a craving. You rush to the grocery store and buy the items necessary. You get nostalgic about something you can't fully remember because you've never actually enjoyed it. For me, this sandwich is one I spied on a menu at Les Deux Gamins in the Village this summer. I really did want to get it, but something in me told me not to. Since that day, I have envisioned this sandwich. Today was the day I finally decided to make it.

I couldn't quite remember what was on it exactly, but I knew what the building blocks were - a baguette, smoked salmon and hard boiled egg. I also remembered that there was mayonnaise on it, which was probably what led to my order of eggs over a goat cheese potato cake. I just don't really like mayonnaise. I decided to replace it with a dill-speckled creme fraiche. I'm sure the mayonnaise worked better, since it didn't have that slightly sour note lingering after each bite, but I enjoyed that sour note. It was a very simple sandwich in the end - I layered some smoked salmon, julienned cucumber, sliced tomato, onion and chopped hardboiled egg on the baguette. I chopped up some dill and mixed it into my creme fraiche and then slid that on to the top. It was perfect. And when I was finished I understood why I was so nostalgic for something that I had never tasted before. I didn't have to eat the sandwich to miss it. It was a testament to pure simplicity. Those are the tastes we cling to, the ones that are simple and familiar, the ones that you crave even though you've never tasted them before.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Feeling Fallish

I have never really acknowledged September as being a fall month, despite the fact that the season technically starts in September. Seasons aren't so much of a technical thing anyway, or at least they shouldn't be. Yes, it starts getting darker earlier in September. But so what? Are there pumpkins outside of the grocery store in September? Didn't think so. After all, any month during which you expect to spend time on the beach in New York is clearly no autumn month. Fall is so much more of a feeling than a scientific event dictated by the earth's rotation. It's so much more romantic than that. The leaves change color, there is the faintest crisp in the air, and the slightly woodsish smell of Halloween descends upon even the city.

October, then, seems like the perfect time to embrace the coming of autumn. Early October is a lingering segue into fall. I want to embrace the smells and tastes of fall, but I find myself still clinging on to everything I love about summer - sundresses, flip-flops and ice cream. Especially ice cream. As I walked down the freezer aisle in the grocery store, I laid eyes on something that comported seamlessly with my mood: Edy's® Pumpkin ice cream. Then I became inspired. I did not want to confront fall with resentment for taking away the summer - so I decided to make ice cream sandwiches. The perfect fall ice cream sandwich, full of cloves and cinnamon and ginger - reminding me of the pleasures of autumn while acknolwedging the passing of summer, and paying its respects.

Ginger-Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches

This ginger snap recipe was adapted from the recipe submitted by Amy Sacha, incorporating some of the suggestions found within the comments.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup margarine, softened (trans fat be damned...well not really, it's really not good for you, but these cookies are so worth it)
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons white sugar, for covering the cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the margarine and one cup of sugar. Beat in the egg, then stir in the orange juice and molasses. Stir the sifted ingredients gradually into the egg-sugar-molasses mixture.
The dough will likely be sticky, perhaps too sticky to roll. If this is the case, place the dough in the fridge for about 30-45 minutes to stiffen it up.

Roll dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar to cover. Space the cookies about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, and press to flatten slightly.
Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Take the ice cream out of the freezer while the cookies are baking so that it softens enough to spread onto the cookies without warping them beyond recognition. Sandwich about 1/4 cup of ice cream between two fully cooled ginger snaps. Press slightly to evenly distribute the ice cream between the cookies. I wrapped the cookies loosely in plastic wrap and threw them back in the freezer to allow the ice cream to stiffen back up a bit and make them easier to eat.

I rolled the edges of my ice cream cookies in chopped pecans to cover. I had wanted to roll them in a mixture of pecans and crushed maple candies, but I couldn't find any of the latter at the grocery store. My undergrad days are gone and I am no longer in the maple wonderland of Canada. And it's probably for the better, since those would have perhaps brought too much sweetness to the spicy combination. The cookies were just what I wanted, but I tore into the sandwiches with the zeal and impatience that is characteristic of my experiences with ice cream. Since I had not allowed them to sit in the freezer long enough, I made a mess. But was it ever worth it. The spiciness of the cookies overpowered the pumpkiny taste of the ice cream ever so slightly, but the creaminess really helped elevate the flavors of the cookies. Fall is here - and I couldn't be happier.