Alicia Kennedy, Food & Drink Writer

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wearing dr. martens to alinea / brown sugar shortbread

Wearing Dr. Martens to Alinea could be the title of my chick lit novel, about a tattooed vegan who finds meaning and love in the kitchen of the nation's foremost molecular gastronomy restaurant, whilst gently plating the petals of edible flowers just so with tweezers. Instead, it is half the title of this blog post about the fact that I went to Alinea last week and did indeed wear Dr. Martens.

Words fail this dinner. I feel an intense amount of gratitude and a bit of guilt about having been able to fly to Chicago for one day to eat a 15-course, $300 meal. It was the most indulgent and incredible experience, though, on so many levels. I teared up multiple times throughout the course of the dinner and thinking on it afterwards. Bubblegum noodles! The taste and texture of the ocean via bean (pebbles) and a white bean puree (sand) in an herb vinaigrette (sea)! Impossibly luscious sous-vide eggplant! A charred turnip that gave me all the flavors of a barbecue that have been missing from my life! What was also so beautiful about it, aside from the fact that they made me a completely vegan tasting menu that mirrored perfectly the non-vegan one, was that nothing felt centered around protein. When I am planning a meal, the hardest thing is to break out of the conception of it as "protein, starch, vegetable"; this blew my mind open on that front. It was a pure composition of flavor and texture. They made meringue that looked like concrete and spray-painted it with balsamic vinegar. For the finale dessert, "Tropical Fruit," spiced rum, allspice gel, and mango puree were painted on the table, then passion fruit, watermelon, dragonfruit, golden pineapple, lime candy, and caramelized banana were strewn about, before a freeze-dried coconut was dropped in the center to shatter. 

It was difficult, the next day, to eat again. I wanted to let it linger as long as possible. But I can't starve myself for long and ate a lovely mushroom torta at O'Hare. It's shocking to me that food is still the same, still nourishing and delightful even when it's not a hot and cold potato soup that you drop back like a shot of tequila after releasing the components from the pin upon which they've been propped. 

On Saturday, it was the polar opposite of Alinea. I got up early and made cashew mac and cheese and a pumpkin-pie tart with brown sugar shortbread crust for a Friendsgiving gathering. I then biked my ass to Williamsburg for brunch, ate a vegan BLT at Lodge, and then biked my ass back to check in on the green bean casserole Sareen was making with my instructions to vegan-ize this haricots verts casserole. It ended up so delicious (just use coconut milk instead of heavy cream)! Friendsgiving was great — I got to eat some killer Brussels sprouts and put great fresh cranberry sauce on everything, after already having eaten a sandwich and fries, so I had a sweet day. Sunday was for doing absolutely nothing other than making pancakes, eating pizza, and going to see three hours of mostly very awkward (in a good way) comedy at the Knitting Factory. Dave Attell showed up to do a set; Michael Che made everyone uncomfortable (for the second time in a row that I've seen him perform live); and Sean Patton destroyed me. He is my new favorite. He makes me laugh so hard that it is just silent and agonizing and makes me feel a little bad that I'm not contributing to the laughs he can hear. He deserves all of the laughs.

That pumpkin tart, tho. I have wanted to put pumpkin pie filling (and it was basic silken tofu pumpkin pie) in a brown sugar shortbread crust. It worked. You can roll this out and just bake the shortbread as cookies, or you can press it into a tart pan. It'll give you enough for a crust and some cookies, if you go that route.

Ingredients:
200 g butter
53 g sugar
53 g dark brown sugar
1 t vanilla
300 g flour

1. Make butter and chill it. Heat the oven to 350. Measure the sugars and flour into separate bowls.

2. Measure the cold but scoopable butter into the stand mixer bowl and cream it, until it's smooth and has no chunks. Drop in the sugars, and when they're all well combined, add the vanilla. Once that's all combined, pour the flour in three parts, pulsing the mixer so as not to create a flour cloud. Mix until it's a thick dough that's all coming together around the paddle.

3. Shape the dough into an inch-thick block and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then chill it for an hour. If you're making cookies, roll it out to your desired thickness and cut out your shapes. If you're using it for a tart crust, you want to get it smooth to press into a tart pan, so roll it out a bit and then take chunks to press into the pan. (It's so much easier than pie crust — God bless shortbread.) Once you've got it all filled up, poke holes in it with a fork. You wanna go a bit crazy with this, going all along the edges and throughout the crust. Parbake it for about 15 minutes, then put it straight into the freezer to cool down. Once it's cool, add your filling and then bake accordingly. If you're making cookies, let them go 6 minutes, then rotate the pan and do another 6.