Alice Eats Wonderland: Molecular Gastronomy Metamorphosis

Every great journey should be a metamorphosis, and I can think of nothing more life-defining from the canons of literature than Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In deciding to embody Alice for this, the sixth challenge for Project Food Blog, I was able to approach food from a whimsical perspective, but by the end of the challenge whimsy gave way to growth and in fact I find myself renewed for having seen it through. If you enjoy this journey, why not vote for it?

To Alice, eating and drinking is not about sustenance; rather it’s to evoke transformation. This is intrinsically linked with my own approach to food. Yes, I love to eat, but I especially like it when the food that passes my lips inspires mental and emotional reactions that lead to enveloping-contentment far beyond the physical. It’s like umami in the sense that you cannot put your finger on it but when it happens, it makes the bite that much richer, and yes, it can even change your life.

Alice eats a teacup

Ludwig Bemelmans said, “The true gourmet, like the true artist, is one of the unhappiest creatures existent. His trouble comes from so seldom finding what he constantly seeks: perfection.” I’m no true gourmet, but I do strive for Bemelman’s ideal. A handful of times throughout my years, I’ve taken a bite that has brought me to tears (and no, I am not talking about eating magic mushrooms here).

through the Looking-Glass House

Maybe that makes me a food nerd of the highest order, but one of my major life goals in writing this blog is to share that singular passion for perfect food with the world.  And to have a brillig-ly jabberwocky time while doing it, so let’s party, tea-party people.  Wonderland, here we come, through the Looking-Glass House.

Because a major tenet of the challenge was to fit the food into a cooler provided to us by Project Food Blog and Buick Lacrosse (bedazzled a la Mad Hatter), portability drove my selections. I started the journey the way Alice did, with a “drink me” bottle of magic potion. Alice said, “It had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavor of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.” I thought about how to recreate it and I remembered Heston Blumenthal did an Alice-themed menu for The Fat Duck a few years ago.

from infusion to fruition

Sure enough, he made the potion using the method of infusion seen here. I started with all six of those foods and infused them into milk for 12 hours. Then I strained out the solids and thickened the layers with iota carageenan (1% by weight) so they would hold without bleeding into one another and blurring the individual flavor profiles.  I carefully layered them into bottles (with the help of my two co-conspirators, Emme and Andrea). While this drink may sound strange, it was pleasantly-staggering for the senses to distinctly sequentially identify all those flavors. It certainly made me think, even if it didn’t literally make me shrink.

I chose to miniaturize teacups, and rather than fill them with tea which might have been messy, I made blueberry foam “tea” instead. Taking a page from the Mad Hatter’s playbook, I constructed edible teacups from white chocolate using plastic hemisphere molds.

The only really difficult part of this dish is tempering the chocolate. The rest of it involves pouring chocolate into the molds, suspending them upside down until they solidify then popping out the cups. The handles are chocolate piped onto parchment and hardened, and the saucers are easily formed using round cutters. White chocolate “glue” holds everything together.

My favorite creation of the day was a riff I did on incorporating the Royal Hearts Family into the feast. I made a Royal Flush hand of cards by “tuile-ifying” dehydrated coconut milk. I stenciled out card shapes and sifted the coconut milk (along with isomalt, glucose and fondant sugar) inside the stencils.

Then I heated them at a very low temperature in the oven until they had congealed to paper-like consistency. I stenciled the heart shapes much the same way except I used paprika tuile powder instead. The added bonus- I discovered an idyllic flavor-pairing in the process: coconut and paprika. It’s worth a lick or ten.

Once again obfuscating the line between food and object, I created the Mad Hatter’s pocketwatch from an oversized raviolo in beurre noisette (since they butter the watch in the book). I filled the raviolo with a thin layer of Dungeness crab, and painted the backwards numbers on the “face” using squid ink. A little edible gold finished the look.

For the main course I deviated slightly from Alice. I thought paying homage to one of the most lauded restaurants of bygone days, The Quilted Giraffe, was related enough by sheer decadence plus I traveled back in cultural time for the dish’s inspiration. Charlie Trotter said of the Giraffe, “It was not just the food, it was the whole experience,” and I think that embodies Alice to a tee (yes, that was a really bad pun), which is why these crepes made the cut.

Barry Wine, infamous owner of The Quilted Giraffe (and this talented blogger’s father) used to serve a crepe formed into a beggar’s purse filled with caviar and crème fraiche, tied with a chive. I chose to roll the crepes instead so they’d look like little scrolls, and I am certain the golden (whitefish) caviar I used was not as decadent as the beluga from the days of old, but they were blissed-out bites of easily-portable culinary alchemy gone great.

Our blogs exist to record momentous occasions in the kitchen and elsewhere. We share our culinary creations and in the process little bits of our souls make their way to the page as well. Project Food Blog has forced me to go deeper inside to eek out posts worthy of your esteemed eyes, and for that I am grateful.

Much has been said about the project, competitive blogging in general, popularity contests, et cetera. The fact remains that regardless where you stand on these divisive issues as a blogger or reader of blogs, if you decided to take part in this contest and focused on the challenges with zeal, you couldn’t have helped but learned something in the process- made a transformation, just like Alice. Yes, I’ve *lost* my Saturdays (and most of the week, to be quite honest) but I’ve gained focus, an outlet for my madness where people seem to appreciate it, and a few new life experiences that I won’t soon forget. I deeply appreciate your votes in getting me this far, and I hope you’ll help me to continue the journey by voting again RIGHT HERE or using the Project Food Blog widget on the right side of the Salty Seattle homepage.

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99 Responses

  1. Love your take on this challenge! And all of your photos are genius. Really nicely done. Not only is the food fun and whimsical but is also looks delicious. I voted for you!

    Good luck! Hope to see us both in round 7!!! =)

  2. I am blown away by your amazing post. I spent some time going through older posts too, and your creativity, photos and voice are impressive, whimsical, and lovely. You are definitely going places.

    Linda Reply:

    @Mindy, you’re very kind to say that, thank you.

  3. I look forward to reading your post every week as I love your creativity and originality. This is another awesome post. I appreciate the effort you put into your post every week, and can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the next round.

  4. What an impressive amount of work. Best of luck!

  5. I have always suspected Alice was about way more than meets the eye. This just proves it so. GREG

  6. Too awesome that I must vote for you! This is a really cute recipe and post! Good luck to you!

  7. Love this idea!! Voted for you!

  8. This is awesome! So much fun!

  9. (Shaking head in amazement)

    At first it was the food, and now it’s the writing. I’m totally betting on you to take this contest. Harrah’s has posted the odds, right?

    Linda Reply:

    @Rich, you crack me up:)

  10. I LOVE your post. So original. You have my vote seesta.

  11. you have the COOLEST ideas. ever. voting for you again, obviously :)

  12. Genius! Reading ur journey on Project Food Blog is no short of an acid trip. You never seize to amaze and wow us with your your creativity. The only thing missing in Alice’s road trip is a hungry rabbit.

  13. This is beyond incredible… I have no words… just WOW!

  14. You deserve to win project food blog … you have taken it SO above and beyond what I could have ever even imagined. You are a culinary genius. I love the photos too – girl, you’re hot!

  15. Proof that UI graduates are completely awesome!! Linda you rock, this post is amazing!

    Laura

  16. Wow. You are beyond ambitious and creative, and I love what you did with your photos!

  17. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE.

    Your passion is contagious. I loved the links you provided and the educational bits. Thankyou for the heart and soul you put into these blogs. They make a difference in the lives of your readers.

    As an example, I was flipping through the TV stations the other day when I happened upon The Jetsons. With a re-awakened eye, I watched it from a feminist perspective and enjoyed a good laugh.

    It is difficult to gain subscribers and exposure -contests are great for that and this blog deserves exposure.

    xoxo

    Maven

  18. I. Am. High.
    Wasn’t mushrooms, ’twas experiencing this post.
    You are a wild genius!
    I. Am. Addicted.
    LL

  19. Linda….you are so freakin’ cute and endlessly creative. You deserve your own show…no, TWO shows! Because I don’t think all of your talent can fit in one. Bravo!

  20. I love that you referenced The Quilted Giraffe. And the rabbit-hole too, this is exactly what I was hoping for. Bravo to this competition, where even ninjas like yourself seriously step it up.

  21. Dear Salty Alice: I am lifting a mad-hatter hat to you, surprising as always!

  22. lovely post and pictures

  23. What a creative post, and what a fun idea! I think this would be the PERFECT whimsical picnic! Also, as a side note, you could easily change the name of your blog to Sexy Seattle … surprised you did not melt your tea cups! *roar*

  24. Bravo! What a wonderful fantasy…better than original Alice in Wonderland! And well-said footnote about the contest. It is so enlightening, encouraging and exciting! I look forward to your video.

  25. haha.. this is such an incredibly awesome post. Wow. You’re like a firecracker of ideas.
    I conceded defeat already as i won’t enter round 6. I would have loved to hustle until the end but big opportunities came knocking at my door this week and i seriously need to focus. I’ll be rooting for you though. I would say ‘good luck’ but it doesn’t look like you will need any. :)

    Linda Reply:

    @zenchef, I am extremely disappointed you’re not sticking around, although I suppose I understand. It is a huge time committment…

  26. Eat me, drink me, astound me. I think I shall spend the rest of the day looking for my own inspirational white rabbit.

  27. Linda,

    Bemelman would have been proud ! I love the way that your mind reinvents the simple meals that we mere mortals take for granted. Your mind is a scary place :) :)

    Waiting with impatience for the video !

  28. Linda, you absolutely astound me. Every single post of yours is mind-blowingly creative. I love it. I love that you took a British classic, too – Alice is one of my favourites!

    And as for us both doing tea parties, great minds think alike…? But then again that would just be me trying to put myself in the same camp of awesomeness as you, and that could never be done!

    Well done, lovely. You are the shiz.

    Jax x

  29. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Linda M Nicholson, Jackie Baisa. Jackie Baisa said: Sexiest Alice in Wonderland EVAR. "Alice Eats Wonderland" @SaltySeattle http://www.saltyseattle.com/2010/10/alice-eats-wonderland/ [...]

  30. I join the choir in hallelujahs to your creative spirit, charm and culinary intelligence! You live in a gastronomic rabbit hole the rest of us only dream about. Brava!

  31. Oh Salty Alice… I fall a little more in love with you w/ every post. You put soooo much effort and care into your food creations, your writing, your photography, and the overall flow of your blog. As always, I am blown away. You absolutely embody ALICE in this post. I couldn’t imagine a more suitable character for you to impersonate. Brilliance.

  32. you are awesome!! Im stunned for words… beautiful!

  33. I couldn’t wait to see what you would do for this challenge, and I knew it would be something incredible. I love the whimsical theme and I’m blown away by the creativity and difficulty of everything you are able to pull off! Can’t wait to see what you have next!!

  34. You definitely deserve your votes and then some. You have brought a lot of (unmatched) creativity to this competition and it’s been very enjoyable reading your posts and anticipating what you will come up with next. I’m sure everyone shares in this sentiment.

  35. Rita Miller

    You never cease to amaze me! I only saw Alice in Wonderland one time, but this definitely brings back memories. I love the watches . . . I can clearly hear the saying ” I’m late, I’m late for a very important date”. Can’t wait for your next post.

  36. LInda, this was just so much fun to read! Amazing post and I really enjoyed how you referenced other people and sites. And the color… lovely!

  37. You are just ridiculously amazing, Linda, and including the QG beggar’s purses in your trippy post was very trippy for me indeed. My dad doesn’t really read blogs (including mine), but I’ll make sure he reads this. He will love it, as we all do ;)

  38. For Pete sakes…
    You have actually made ME at a loss for words. You are amazing and reading your posts makes me squee with joy just to read about the twist and turns in your culinary adventures.

    You rock. What more can I say?

  39. is the first time I’m reading your blog and all I can say right now is : Wow, you are an amazing girl, with lots of imagination and great cooking idea. I’ll be coming back for more.

  40. It turned out amazing! I’m honored to have been part of the experience. xoxo.

  41. OH MY WORD I seriously have no words for how amazing and creative you are! I absolutely LOVE Alice in Wonderland so you know I’m all over this post. I would have never of thought of doing something like this for a picnic! Off the topic but my parents got me this crazy mad hatter style Alice in Wonderland cake for my 25th birthday.
    I would have loved to go on a picnic like this! What a crazy one that would be. And you know I’m definitely rooting for you because you’re from the Pacific Northwest! (I’m from Portland) :) Great job, AMAZING!

  42. Stop it!!!! These posts make me feel like I’m on one giant food-filled acid trip (and this is coming from someone who has never tripped on acid before)!

    Needless to say, I’m stunned… I can’t wait to party with you at Food Buzz Fest. I just know we’re going to get along famously!

  43. Linda ~ While I’m not participating in this competition (THANK GOD!) I’ve no doubt loved every single challenge you have done. You are over-the-top fearless and brilliant all in the same breath and the journeys you have taken us on have been memorable indeed! I find it fascinating to watch your creative juices shine and am certain I’ll be watching you finish as the winner – congrats on another beautiful job well done – BRAVO!

  44. Linda, you are so utterly talented wow, it’s just amazing! And, way to rock that Alice costume by the way! ;)

  45. Can you please be honest with all us mere mortals and tell us you have the professional chefs, photographers and food stylists working on these projects for you 24/7? :)
    I’m running out of synonyms for “amazing” to describe each of your posts! Umm, amazing job:)

  46. Tell me, does it hurt to be this creative?!

  47. I love that this process has in fact given many of us a chance to see ‘thru the looking glass’ and experience your slightly scary, always genius and never boring takes on these challenges.

    You are frigging amazing woman!

    Linda Reply:

    @Barbara | VinoLuciStyle, I do 50% of them just to bask in your awesome comments.

  48. once again, simply amazing. and I love Alice. once again, I will absolutely be voting.

    Linda Reply:

    @Kristina @ spabettie, so glad you love Alice- me too:)

  49. Oh Linda. As I tweeted, shall we all just concede defeat right now? What a wonderful, creative, intricate post. Mine that I literally just finished pales in comparison… You’ll remember me when you’re famous, right? ;-) I cannot wait to see your video for the next round..

    Linda Reply:

    @Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite, you pale in comparison to no one, ever, Mardi. you are the best ever. xo

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