Simply Bread…Simply Divine

I was spoiled living in St. Louis…just a hop, skip and jump away from what has to be on of the best bakeries in the US. 222 Artisan Bakery When we were planning our move to the Southwest…we lamented on not having access to our favorite place for cinnamon rolls..bear claws…pecan rolls….COFFEE!  But, in talking with our friends, we were given a glimmer of hope.  The person that taught our friends to bake the most delectable edibles set up shop in our soon to be new home.  Simply Bread. Talk about luck of the Irish.  Of course, the actually bakery is about 30 miles from our new house…but as if we weren’t lucky enough..the gourmet food store that Simon works at is a Simply Bread retailer.  We wouldn’t get the FULL experience of Simply Bread but we would at least be able to get our hands on a decent baguette.

So, as time passed, we became accustomed to our lovely local selection of Simply Breads in our little town’s store.  Not feeling the need to travel to downtown Phoenix to score our next loaf….we were happy with what we had.

But, as luck would have it again…I got lost.  Yep, on the way home from dropping a friend off at the airport, my trusty TOM TOM ran out of juice.  Now, I like to think I’m pretty go at directions (Simon will tell you different)  I figured if I could just get to a street I recognized, I would be able to find my way home.  As I turned down N. 24th St…looking at cross streets or a sign to the I-10…there it was in all it’s glory.  Simply Bread!  I couldn’t let this chance meeting go by without a stop in…and lucky for me it was a Monday afternoon and they were open.  I parked the car in back…wondering if I should drop the names of my friends…but more curious than that…to see what else was going on inside.  I walked into a small home, converted into a retail space…flanked by what looked like industrial type barns for baking.  I was greeted by a lovely woman who was quick with a slice of a chocolate baguette (I could have finished the rest of the entire thing if she’d let me at it).  I asked for Jeff…my friend of a friend…but he was busy working his magic in the bakery next door.  No matter…I was still in awe of all of the yummy goods that were sweetly sitting in my view.   Without a thought, the nice woman behind the counter phoned the bakery and I was able to make the connection I wished I’d made sooner upon arriving here in AZ.  Jeff was very pleased to hear his friends had sent him a new customer and was very warm and polite during our short phone conversation…despite the fact that I most probably took him away from his work.

The conversation made me long for home…to see my friends that we both had in common…to have a warm cup of coffee and bear claw on a clear and bright Saturday morning in Edwardsville….but, Simply Bread would do for now.  I left with 3 loaves of bread and little package of coconut macaroons as a special treat.

As happy as I was with my bread…words cannot describe the beauty of my little macaroons.  There is another post coming soon on the coconut macaroon, itself…so I will spare you my superfluous diatribe now…but believe me when I tell you that I would drive 60 miles to get my chubby little fingers on these macaroons again….and no, I didn’t share one of them….I couldn’t resist.

The State of Cheese in PHX/Scottsdale

What a sad story…a town full of foodies…great restaurants, wine bars and brew pubs…but not one proper cheese shop.  Yes, they have Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and thier little local gourmet off shoot of their supermarket, AJ’s…but alas…no place sells cut to order, high-end..good quality cheese.  Now, some of you would say…”Why don’t you guys open one?”  And it has crossed our minds…we even found a little space next door to one of our favorite wine shops.   But what is the point of opening a shop if we are going to be here less than a year or so?  I just don’t see how pouring our heart and sou (and savings) into a shop before we head back to the Midwest to start the farm.  I was thinking that maybe we could run a web-based business out of the house…I’m still mulling that one over.

It’s not that the local shops don’t carry cheese…they do.  Whole Foods has thier standard fare…albeit over-priced in my opinion..and even the local Fry’s Supermarket carries Humbolt Fog…but it’s all pre-cut and packaged.  You don’t know where it really came from…or when it arrived.  There isn’t a cheesemonger there to guide you, make suggestions or prevent you from doing something you’d regret.  It’s a lonely cheese experience.

Now, some locals like Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar.  I was not overly impressed.  The cheese looked old and some had an off flavor I just couldn’t put my finger on.  The staff were nice, but the one person I spoke to did not really have a deep knowledge of the cheeses on hand.  I hope to give them another shot…maybe it was an off day.  Folks around here tend to sing the praises of the frommagier there…so..I’ll give it another whirl….because they do have some winners on their cheese list.

So for now…we rely Valley Wine and Cheese in Henderson, NV for our fix..make sure we buy enough to last us a while b/c it’s a 4 hour drive (on the way to Vegas…that’s a whole other post)

From their website:

Valley Cheese and Wine is the premier specialty wine and food store in the Las Vegas valley. Founded in July 2006 by Bob Howald and Kristin Sande, Valley Cheese and Wine features flavorful, artisanal products that are produced in small quantities. Every item we carry is hand-selected with taste in mind, representing the world’s finest. At Valley Cheese and Wine you will find include hard-to-find wines, artisan cheese, charcuterie, specialty dry goods and wine accessories.

“We seek out the very best and are committed to promoting these labors of love,” says Kristin “and we extend the care that goes into the making of each product by offering excellent service to each customer.”

Cheeses and meats are cut to order to insure optimum quality. We offer educational classes and free tastings on a regular basis. Consider Bob and Kristin’s expertise as your passport to a world of tasty and authentic food and wine.

Morning Brew…..

there were a couple of things that we brought with us from St. Louis, knowing full well that we would not be able to find their equivalent for in the Scottsdale/PHX area.  One of them was Goshen Coffee.  I was lucky enough to have gotten the advice from a fellow blogger about 222 Bakery/Goshen Coffee, oh what seems so long ago…..since that fateful drive over to Edwardsville, Illinois those many moons ago….we’ve been hooked.  Goshen Coffee IS the only coffee I will brew at my home.  Imagine my suprise and joy when I found out the Mathew Rice/Gerard Craft were to begin serving Goshen Coffee at Veruca Bakeshop…..oh, what a lucky girl was I…..but then we got the news that we were to leave our little home in St Louis and travel to the great unknown that is Arizona (and it’s still a super weird place for me….I have yet to adjust to my new surroundings).  So, the list began:  what to bring with us (food-wise):  where are we going to buy cheese?…bread?….grass fed meat?….does Arizona even have the ability to grow vegetables?  In time, we have found some decent proprietors of goods….but one thing was not going to be left up to chance….it was way too important to our existance….COFFEE.  We brought 5lbs of whole bean coffee with us from Goshen…..we are down to 3 already and it’s only been a month…, I guess I better call the kids in E-Ville and place an order for delivery.

P.S.:  we found an amazing rancher that does grass fed beef, lamb and free range chicken/eggs….he and his wife deliver to our area once a month….A BAR H Farm.  Still hoping Si can work a miracle out here for cheese…the pickin’s are slim….the best cheese shop is a mere 4 1/2 hour drive to Vegas.  McClendon Produce is our other source….only available at the Chef’s market on Weds mornings…..a very long distance from our new digs…so…it’s been a struggle to get out there and see what he’s got….I hear it’s amazing.

So, about Cafe Bink…..

I’ve noticed some folks have been searching for Cafe Bink in STL….sorry folks…it’s in Carefree AZ.  If you ever travel to Scottsdale…it’s just a 30 minute drive north….don’t miss it.

But I digress:  Lunch at Cafe Bink was delicious….albeit on the spendy side.  We knew that going into it though.  I’m just not accustomed to dropping $75 on a mid-day meal….but it was worth it.

Upon our arrival, Simon was very skeptical.  There was a young mother and her two toddler children in the cafe and (as silly as it may seem) Simon dreads eating out with children around….unless they are well behaved.  Mean, I know…but it’s a pet peeve of his….and I must say I have to agree with him at times.  There is nothing worse than trying to enjoy a great meal with a toddler running around screaming at it’s mother for chicken fingers.  But….that is a topic for another day…..

We were greeted at Cafe Bink with house-made foccacia.  Wow.  It was really good.  Had the lovely crust on the outside and was warm and chewy on the inside.  Flecks of Fleur de sel were strewn across the top and gave a salty little kick here and there.  It was served with a sweet, fruity extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar plate….simple but pleasing.

Of course we ordered the famous fries.  Now, you have to understand something…..I am not a big potato fan.  I like them two ways, whipped with cream and butter or deep fried to a golden brown.  I don’t like new potatoes, potato gratin or scalloped….just whipped or in fry form…I know…I know….but it’s who I am.  Before leaving St. Louis, we fell in love with the Shaved Duck’s fries….uber shoestring potatoes fried in duck fat.  Now….I have said this from the beginning and the boys at the Duck know all about it…..I just wanted the fried thicker cut….I don’t mind shoestring but these were SUPER shoestring and they were tricky to eat….although delicious….I always managed to get them down.  The fries at at Cafe Bink (not fried in duck fat mind you) were thicker and friend to PERFECTION!  Jesus H Christ…..they were the best pomme frites I have EVER put in my mouth.  They arrived in the traditional Parisian fashion (wrapped in newspaper and stuck in the little metal cone)….and were accompanied by 3 different dipping sauces: 1) truffled catsup 2) herbed mayo 3) traditional aoili.  Each sauce was beautiful.  Don’t need to say much about the truffled catsup…it was simply that…house-made catsup with a hint of truffle.  I almost died and went to heaven.  (I am a big catsup eater….and truffle lover).  The herbed mayo was jam packed with herbs…a bright green concoction with a heavy dill flavor….would go great with fish….and the aoili was light and garlicy…..not heavy or oily…perfect.

Next Si had the french onion soup….nothing very fancy but it was executed properly.  The gruyere was strong and flavorful….so many times they top french onion soup with chinzy swiss cheese and it has no flavor….not at Cafe Bink….the cheese was great.  The soup was rich and almost resembled an onion compote under the crouton.  I had a mixed green salad with chevre, dried figs and pancetta.  Simple and good.  The one thing I must say is that they knew how to dress a salad properly.  There wasn’t a pool of vinegarette at the bottom of my bowl…each leaf had a nice touch of dressing and that was it.  Simon had a truffled grilled cheese… about decadence.  It was one of the best grilled cheeses I have ever had.  Not greasy at all!  The bread was crispy golden and the cheese was melted just right… came with house-made dill pickles and chips…both good as well.

We finished off the meal with a strawberry milkshake and some chocolate chip cookies……I must tell you that I am VERY picky about dessert and have been spoiled by one of St. Louis’ best pastry chef’s magical creations…..

while the shake and cookies were good…they couldn’t hold a flame to the work of Mathew Rice.  Not even close.  The presentation was cute but the shake lacked strawberry flavor and the cookies we not fresh…..what i wouldn’t give for a peachy keen shake from Veruca right now…….or a peppermint matty….ugh.,…

now…all Binkley’s needs is a little jonny style stage action……but alas, the man himself is in NYC……playing with the cool kids….

Why did we move to Arizona? Well, let me tell you….

I apologize for not discussing this in more detail.  I have gotten all the emails asking “WHY ARIZONA”…and I’m sorry it has taken me this long to lay it on the line.

So here it goes:

We moved to Arizona to help Simon’s folks with a bit of a relocation dilema.  Background:  Simon has a brother that is 16.  Yep….he is the baby of the family.  There is a 15 year age difference between Simon and his brother.  Simon’s father builds malls. Back in the day he was one of the men that refurbished St. Louis’ Union Station (that is how Si got to St. Louis from WI)…years later he build the St. Louis Mills.  Well, as luck would have it, Simon’s dad took a postion in Arizona building not so much malls, but ‘communities’.  And as more luck would have it, the company he works for is building a new ‘community’ on the beautiful island of Kauai.  Now, the sad part comes in.   Baby brother could not move to HI with his parents b/c of school.  The school year in HI does not jive with the school year here on the mainland….so…baby brother is staying put here in AZ.  Enter the cheesemonger and his wife.  We moved to Arizono to be with Wilson while his folks do some serious commuting between HI and AZ.

There you have it.  We packed up our life in St. Louis to help out Si’s folks.  But, funny thing is….it is really helping us out as well.  We sold the house in St. Louis so that is one less thing to worry about (or pay for)…I can concentrate on going to school full time and working a traditional RN schedule (3 12 hour shifts/week) and we can hoard cash away to buy our dream farm.  It really worked out well for all parties involved.  The only downside is that we moved to the desert and left our friends and my family in St. Louis……BUT the upside is that Simon’s other brother is here in AZ with his wife and kids….so….it’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time with Simon’s family.  If his sister lived here (she’s in DC) we’d all be together.

Some have raised the question of dealing with one’s in-laws on such a personal level.  I am one of the lucky people:  I love my in-laws….it’s that plain and simple.  We get along really well….other folks are not so lucky from what I hear.

I am looking forward to this new experience.  The last time I lived with at 16 year old boy was…well, never.  By the time my brother was 16, I was at University.

This will be a learning experience.  I’ve actually learned a lot already.  For instance:  16 year old boys eat a lot….they espcially drink a lot of milk.  We’ve been here 2 weeks….I’ve been to the grocery store 5 times already…including Costco.  8 gallons of milk….that’s right 8 GALLONS!  When it was just me and Si…we didn’t go through 8 gallons a month!  But, growing boys are different…and he hasn’t even started wrestling practice yet.  And these folks are from Wisconsin, so you can only imagine how much they love thier dairy.

And to clarify our true whereabouts….we live in small town just north of Scottsdale…but we just tell everyone we moved to Phoenix b/c it’s easier than explaining where Carefree is.  Our town doesn’t get mail service….that’s how small it is.  We are about 45 mintues (without traffic) from downtown PHX.  I work at the a well known resarch hosptial (not going to name it for fear of legal action…but if you look up the hospital systems in PHX/Scottsdale…one name will jump out) in the OR now and Simon is heading up the cheese dept and a local gourmet food store….hopefully he will show these folks out here what real cheese is….cause they haven’t a clue!

So, this year will be full of suprises, challanges and lots of swimming as we now have a nice pool in our back yard.  I have a nice tan now…after getting a bit too rosy the first week.  You need to re-apply the block out here often…and you still tan.  Last night while walking the garbage out (in the dark) I heard someting rooting through the cans….I ran.  I’m still adjusting….but I’m loving it so far.  We have a list (see previous post) of new spots to try….there is a new farmer’s market going into downtown PHX and we have a very cute little local market here during the fall/winter/spring.  Most things are closed down now b/c of the unbearable heat.  But there is a cold front moving in….only 106 today.  And as much as I hate to admit it….it really is a dry heat…it’s still effing HOT but not as stifeling as St. Louis heat+humidity.

One week down….51 more to go…

Well, it’s been an eventful week here in AZ.  I’ve managed to scorch my skin, get bitten twice by God knows what, eat out at some mediocre restaurants, have delicious home-cooked meals in my mother-in-laws kitchen (of which I have craved for since July.  We packed up our entire house back in July prior to our departure…so we were relegated to eating out exclusively….and I grew very very tired of the restaurant scene) and spend some good quality time with my nephews.  I have a list growing in my head of all the restaurants I want to try before we leave AZ.  I keep reminding myself that we don’t need to rush….we’ll have plenty of time.  Here is the list so far (please feel free to comment or add to it):

Cafe Bink (new cafe by Amy and Kevin Binkley of Binkley’s fame)



Cowboy Ciao


Pizzeria/Pane Bianco

The Estate House


Humble Pie

Roka Akor

….just to name a few.  Arizona Restaurant Week is in September so we are going to take advantage of that since we missed St. Louis’ Downtown Restaurant Week…again.

I start work next week…..yay.  School starts back up in September as well…..sooooo…stay tuned to see what is edible in Arizona!

sidenote:  I had the most amazing soup the other day…at the hospital!  Yep!  The soup was really really good…well seasoned with fresh ingredients…and my grilled cheese with rye and Swiss was amazing too!  Who would have thought that hospital food could be so delicious!  Lucky me, I guess.

And another thing:  my 2 1/2 year old nephew Jackson…he eats fruit…and loves veggies.  I witnessed him eat 3 raw mushrooms the other day and love it.  He would eat his weight in blueberries if you’d let him.

I wish all the kids in my family ate that well.  Heck, I wish I ate that well!