Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lasagna Lies

In the course of making the spinach lasagna for my holiday guests, I reflected on the concept of "no-boil" lasagna noodles. (Wow, that made it sound like I was peacefully cooking, everything on time and organized instead of dropping things on the floor, burning my hands and praying that everybody would show up an hour late... I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.)
Anyway, I'd like to offer you, dear reader, a challenge, your own Holy Grail if you will: find me the lasagna noodles that DO have to be boiled first. I posit that in fact, there is no such thing. They are all no-boil! Many years ago in a frantic moment before a Valentine's Day Comfort Food Party, I threw my uncooked, very ruffly lasagna noodles into the baking dish and prayed it would not be a crunchy dinner. You know what? It was better than usual.
Back when I boiled the noodles first, the lasagna usually had a swimming pool of tomato water, ick. Who wants soupy lasagna? Dried noodles are ruffled sponges that essentially suck up sauce as the dish bakes. Plus, which would be tastier: noodles boiled in water or those "boiled" in tomato sauce? Come on.
My artistic interpretation (love the new camera!):

Lastly, "no-boil" noodles cost more. It's entirely possible the myth that only special pasta could go in unboiled was dreamt up by a desperate ad exec for the Barilla company who had to figure out a way to charge more money without actually changing the product.
So let me know if you find a noodle that disproves this theory... I'm willing to eat a lot of pasta to prove my point. Really, for science. Seriously. Damn, now I'm hungry.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Even Carved The Roast Beast!

Belated Merry Christmas, dear reader! I had a marvelous holiday, I hope you did too. December is traditionally a dark month for me, but after the Winter Solstice my heart lightened up. whew Which allowed me to prepare one of my favorite meals yet, and I had the good fortune to share it with ten dear, lovely friends! Good food, people I love: there is nothing more I need. But enough with mushy feelings, on to the food!

I made a fantastic roast, ay Dios mio. The secret of roasting big hunks of meat is simple: start with the highest quality ingredients you can find (you do get what you pay for with meat), then don't mess with it too much. I went to my favorite butcher, Marconda's in the farmers market at 3rd & Fairfax... though to be fair, I haven't tried many other butchers in L.A.
Side note: butchers are a flirtatious lot, my goodness. I think it's handling huge chunks of raw meat all day, they can't help but be ribald. And to be honest, I kinda love it. Gloriously marbled meat *and* men who call me beautiful? I'll be a repeat customer.

I salted and peppered my 5 lb. joy, then seared it in a huge dutch oven with olive oil before sprinkling it with my excellent English roasting salt (big fat crystals that pop in your mouth). I slid it into a 250°F oven for an hourish, then raised the heat to 500°F and roasted it for another half hour until it reached an internal temperature of 140°F. I was worried it would be too well-done (it went ten degrees higher than I wanted), but in fact it was perfect. This is what half of it it looked like:

And hey, this photo is compliments of my parents who gave me the shiny digital camera I was hoping for! Thanks Mom and Dad. Prepare yourself dear reader, many more photos on the way!

I sliced up the roast beast, warmed baguettes, made horseradish sauce and assembled the most delicious sandwiches that I topped with peppery arugula. Wowza! Two non-red meat-eaters (they have other fine qualities) even partook. Hah hah~ I love leading peaceful eaters astray. I made a heavenly spinach lasagna (imported Italian tomatoes make it sing) for those able to resist the roast beast, and tossed some green beans in an almond-pink peppercorn vinaigrette. Lovely.
Brendan foolishly showed up first, which means he got pressed into service. He looks evil in this photo, but the green beans turned out great.

Now I'm enjoying my other favorite holiday tradition: inviting friends over for delicious leftovers while I have the luxury of time off.
Does it get any better? Probably not.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

She Wore Red Velvet?

I will never understand Red Velvet Cake. Maybe you have to be from the South to get it, or maybe you just have to like cake more than I do. I was out with my friend Alessandra tonight at Fred 62, a hipster enclave on the edge of Silverbake. We worked together at the magazine; though I have an excellent palate, she has a highly developed sweet tooth and isn't afraid to use it. I had to ask her if the cake was quality, all it did was annoy me. She said it was a good one; I defer to her wisdom.
For those of you who haven't encountered it before, this is a Southern treat the Devil could call his own. I was 23 the first time I witnessed its electric cherry-bomb interior, and was terrified my Yankee eyes might burn out of my head. It scared the bejeezus out of me. Nothing should be that color-- there's a reason they recalled those red M&M's in the 70's. Sweet Lord.
And all it tastes like is sugar. It is tooth-achingly sweet, without much else going on. Tonight's version was very moist, but I swear I could taste the chemical edge of that red dye. Yikes!
Also, it turned my lips red. As I blotted the napkin, I left bright juicy lip marks. If I pay $11 for a tube of gloss to do that, it's ok. But in my cake? Somehow that ain't natural.
Though I did like the cream cheese frosting. To be fair.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back on the Caf

One of the terrible side effects of FOUR DAYS of food poisoning is that even the most faithful among us, the most devout of devotees, cast aside our daily worship practices.
I'm sure some of you are thinking, "That's terrible, there's no excuse for ignoring your God, Tory."
While other, more gentle folk might be thinking, "The Goddess understands, the important thing is to get back to your practice once you're feeling better."
To which I reply, What on earth are you people talking about? I'm writing about coffee here. This ain't no religion blog.
Ahh, my true source of power and wisdom: the lusty bean. I don't know how long it's been since I didn't have a cup of joe in the morning. I had to drink green tea for several days while my body was in protest; it got the job done, but wasn't the same. The smell of coffee is so welcoming and enveloping, it says, come here friend, you are loved and everything is ok.
I like knowing that regardless of what is happening in my life or in the world I can still be greeted by a cup of coffee and feel good. People die, jobs end, a romance goes sour-- through it all I can fire up my espresso machine and find solace in the earthy brown elixir.

Now I have friends in AA who've shared about their gnawing need to drink, how alcohol and drugs made them feel warm and whole when their world seemed empty and bleak, how it was the one friend, nay lover, who (at least for a while) didn't let them down. One of these kind folk recently observed that I seem to "need" coffee to function, that my attitude towards it sounded obsessive. He noted when I don't get coffee in the morning, I become, how do you say, hmmm, I believe the word he chose was hostile.
You know, I can stop any time... I don't need coffee to have a happy life... it's not interfering with my daily living... mmm, must go to Peet's... ah, hello coffee my old friend, my precious...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not Well

Hello, dear reader.

This is an apology note to you. My plan was to write up a big Thanksgiving review on Sunday night, detailing how awesome my soup was, and how Ray's brined turkey was succulent and moist. Instead, I had the most horrible food poisoning from some French cheese-- yes God, I hear you, abstain from all things French (cheese, men) for a while. I think I threw up 7 times in 8 hours. So the thought of food is still a little eeeccccccchk for me right now.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have something clever and delicious to say. For now, it's all Gatorade and crackers. I need a nap. sigh.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

T-Day Countdown, II

So the cranberry sauce didn't happen last night. I got caught up in the surprise final pass of the avocado cookbook and that was it. This is usually how my plans work out: I make them, they sound good and organized, and then the world intercedes and I get to readjust. I find holidays are all about living life on life's terms.
The new plan: tonight I will make the cranberry sauce and fabulous Wild Mushroom Soup, and tomorrow morning I'll celebrate my favorite part of Tory's Thanksgiving Ritual.
For the last 9 years I've been by myself when I rise on T-day, and before the cooking begins I give myself a space to reflect. I make a delicious cup of coffee (in recent years a latte, mmmm), and write out a list of everything I'm grateful for. People, sofas, works of art, songs, small animals-- some years the list is long, some years pointedly short, but always this leads me to a peaceful space on a hectic day.

But I'm ahead of myself. Tonight, Wild Mushroom Soup and cranberry sauce, soundtracked by my friend Scott's DJ-genius. Fingers crossed it comes out tasty!


I just e-mailed off my last set of corrections and changes for the avocado cookbook I've been editing. This project lasted much longer than I expected, although the Chileans I've been working for have been incredibly pleasant, flexible, and overall a delight. The book looks great, and I'm proud to have my name in it. I know more about Chilean Hass Avocados than I knew there was to know.
But I am so darn tired. It's 1 in the morning. I don't want to look at another avocado until 2007. I'm avozhausted.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

T-Day Countdown

Two days and counting, dear reader! Are you ready? Or preparing to be ready? I have my next few days all planned out, I love this time of year.
My Thanksgiving dinner should be great: I plan to spend it with some excellent friends, several of whom are part of my chosen L.A. family. I love these cats; the year my Uncle Tyler died and I had to catch a red-eye Thanksgiving night, they moved dinner earlier so I could still participate. They were also patient and kind when I freaked out at a friend who accidentally added my soup garnish (delicate fried apple peels) to the salad. You can't ask for a better family experience than that. We've celebrated assorted holidays together through divorces and break-ups, promotions and moves, deaths and new loves. Good times.
This year I will be contributing 3 items to the table
1) A Wild Mushroom Soup, which started out as a recipe by Michele Scicolone but has evolved enough that now I consider it my own. I was not planning on making soup, but Ray and David tag-teamed me in a flattery throw-down on Sunday. I was helpless to say no.
2) An Italian Broccoli and Cauliflower "Flan" with Spinach Bechamel Sauce (though it's really more of a gratin), and
3) Cranberry Sauce. There are 3 cranberry sauces on the docket... it's not a competition, but I predict mine will rock the house. It has a secret ingredient that makes the flavor pop. No, not MSG. Ok, I'll tell you, but you have to keep it between us (no one needs to know how basic these things are): just add a dash of salt. Every year I turn out a nuanced and interesting cranberry sauce that is embarrassingly simple. That's my favorite kind of cooking.

This afternoon David and I will make a pilgrimage to IKEA to purchase the remaining plates and wineglasses for our crowd of almost 20, and afterwards I will head to the grocery store to buy fresh mushrooms and cream, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. I wisely purchased cranberries this weekend- Ray would have a fit if I showed up sans sauce! Last year I had to elbow past an elderly lady to snatch the last bag of cranberries, oh it was ugly. (Yes, I know there's a tart circle of hell reserved just for me. Mmmm, but my sauce was fantastic...)

Tonight I will make the cranberry sauce, tomorrow the soup, and the morning-of my house will smell of broccoli and butter. And you, dear reader? What are you making (or buying!) this year? Let's put it out there- you know me, I love the dish.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Stood-Up Scampi

An astonishing thing happened today. I had a date (a cooking date, no less) with a handsome Frenchman and *he stood me up.* I kid you not. This has never happened before. I looked cute and had shaved my legs, for heaven's sake. I'm still sad and mad and thrown... but forgive me, dear reader. This is a food blog. I will not prattle on about feelings when there is cuisine to be discussed.
The plan was to go to the Hollywood Farmers Market, one of my favorite spots in L.A., then return to my place to cook. He was going to teach me how to pronounce the names of French recipes (hablo Espanol), and I would teach him how to make spinach risotto topped with an elegant shrimp scampi. Trés magnific, no? Cooking is sexy, French is sexy, and I have desperately wanted to know how to say bourguignonne for many years. Seriously.
I will spare you the depressing details, suffice to say I was a class act, he is fired and I should have listened more closely to my English grandfather's rabid denouncement of all things Frog as a child. Oh well. Maybe you were right, Grandad.
So as my icky day came to a close, I realized I still had a pound of thawed shrimp in my fridge waiting for some action. Raw shrimp (as with all creatures of the sea) should not sit in the fridge more than a day. The meat is too delicate. Far better to cook it the day you bought it and eat leftovers the next.
***A note on frozen shrimp: unless you have the good fortune to live in South Carolina or Louisiana, the shrimp you buy has been previously frozen. Most shrimp is flash-frozen on the boat or at the dock right after it's caught, then shipped halfway around the world. Even if it's "fresh" on ice at the fishmongers or grocery store, odds are good you're looking at thawed little suckers. I prefer to buy it raw and frozen, then thaw it myself under running cold water; that way I know exactly how long it's been sitting around (10 minutes, versus all day at the fish counter).
I couldn't bring myself to make the lovely risotto I'd planned, but instead walked to my corner grocery store and bought a lemon and some Italian parsley, and watched the sun set. Back at home I boiled some Italian spaghetti, then made my shrimp scampi. I sautéed garlic in some olive oil, then stirred in the thawed shrimp. When they were almost pink, I added some salt, lemon zest, the juice of half a lemon and some not-great Chardonnay (it was all I had). Stir stir stir. Let it reduce a little. Then I poured the pasta into the pan, along with the chopped parsley and a knob of fantastic Irish butter. Used tongs to mix it all up, and voila: Stood-Up Scampi fit for a queen. I put Michael Penn's newest CD on the stereo, lit a candle, and poured myself a glass of the suspect Chardonnay. I used the tongs to swirl the pasta into a pretty cone shape in the rimmed bowl (I learned that watching Lidia Bastianich, she's so cool), and invited the Goddess to join me for dinner.
And you know, it was delicious. The shrimp was tender, the pasta firm, and the bright lemon flavor was balanced by the mellow garlic. Fortunately the conversation was witty and engaging, the candlelight gave everything a soft glow, and the cook! Well, let's just say anyone would be lucky to share a meal with this lady.

Stood-Up Scampi
serves 3-4, or 1 with great leftovers

1/2 pound good spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 big cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound shrimp, thawed, rinsed, shelled except for tails
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon (add more if it makes you happy)
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus some for sprinkling
2 tablespoons butter (the best you've got)

In large pot of salted water, boil spaghetti until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain.
Meanwhile, in large nonstick skillet sauté garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add shrimp, sprinkle with salt and sauté until nearly pink, about 3 minutes. Add lemon zest, juice, and wine; simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour in pasta, chopped fresh parsley, and butter. Using tongs, mix until butter is melted and pasta is incorporated into sauce. Serve warm in rimmed soup bowls, sprinkled with additional parsley.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pepper Kapow!

Pepper is not something I grew up thinking about, even though it was the co-starring spice in my mother's cooking (Salt & Pepper, that was it. No wonder The Man is so intent on invading spicier countries). Our pepper appeared in a little round canister, like our Parmesan cheese, and had about as much flavor. As a kid I eschewed it mostly for the color-- it looked like dirt sprinkled on my food, yuck.

Fast-forward a lifetime: I'm at the magazine and in charge of bringing in new products, testing them, and writing up the ones that make our mouths sing. My buddy Janet, a genius in the Test Kitchen, pushes a package of stuff from Nirmala's Kitchen into my hands. Their tagline, Bring Home the Exotic, seemed a little stank to me; I've yet to find a friend who likes to have their food (or self) called exotic.

But then I opened a tin of the whole Tazmanian Pepperberry, and all political thought stopped. The fragrance was from deep in a magical pine forest, spicy without being harsh, with a whisper of dried green bayleaf and a citrusy brightness. For tasting, the Test Kitchen simply cracked them and pressed them into a steak. The result was magnificent: the peppercorns were the color of black velvet and the kicky, floral flavor developed slowly in the mouth, like a good pinot noir.

I was thinking about good gifts for cooks for the coming holidays, and though the price is a bit gasp-worthy at $13 a tin, this one's a winner. Also as a gift for oneself...

Disclaimer: if you go to the Press portion of Nirmala's website, they quote a snippet of my review in Bon Appétit. I'm not a slacker! They're just so excellent I wanted to mention them again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Candy Connoisseur

I never considered my friend Jeff a foodie. When we met in college, his diet was almost exclusively burgers and pizza, with pancakes in the morning. (Yet he magically retained his ripped physique.) On occasion I'd find him eating lasagna and spaghetti, and oh, the Twizzlers. Good Goddess did he eat a lot of Twizzlers. At the movies I'd order popcorn with enough "butter" to make me queasy- what is popcorn but a vehicle for butter and salt?- and Jeff would sit down next to me twenty minutes before the previews started with a lap full of Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids, maybe some Spree or Bottle Caps, Nerds if he could find them, and polish off the lot halfway through the film. I don't recall any SnoCaps, with Jeff it was pretty much straight sugar.

Back then I was obsessed with trying every dish at the one tiny Vietnamese restaurant off campus, figuring out what that mysterious herb was in the salsa at the Dutch Cabin (answer: cilantro. I come from white folk), and perfecting my one-dish couscous suppers. Jeff was always in the mood for a burger... he had other fine qualities.

After school he moved to L.A., and when I had the good fortune to join him in Lalaland we picked up where we'd left off. Here his diet had expanded to include the occasional salad. No one can resist the Los Angeles "I'll Just Have a Salad" ethos; it's an unavoidable part of the culture even Jeff got sucked into. So far it hasn't killed him, and fortunately hasn't affected his well-defined abs. (How does he do that?)

About a year ago we were wandering through a candy store after a roller coaster at Six Flags. I was expounding on my working theory of Fast Food French Fry Superiority when a funny thing happened: Jeff started talking about Swedish Fish. Or rather, complaining. Apparently, most Swedish Fish are stale. They sit too long and get stiff and tough. I'd never thought about "candy freshness" before. I watched Jeff feel up every bag in the store; when he finally abandonded his search in disgust, it occured to me I may have underestimated my friend. I suggested perhaps Red Vines would suffice? and the look on his face reminded me of my own when people tell me they know a great "Philly Cheese-Steak" place. His eyes held the contempt I usually reserve for militant vegans and "compassionate conservatives."

A lengthy treatise followed: I was schooled on the horrors of Red Vines in all their West Coast-Twizzler-Imitator-Evils, how they're hard, not pliable and the flavor is weak and tastes of chemicals. It was like watching an inverse image of me in the mirror, his blue eyes ablaze, squawking about the finer points of candy texture. He was beautiful. He finally settled on some Skittles (regular, not the Tropical kind).

We had brunch yesterday. As Jeff ate his pancakes, he explained to me that the Nerds Cherry and Sour Apple flavor combination was terrible, the importance of buying the smaller packages of Laffy Taffy (the easier to switch between flavors), and we had a lovely seasonal chat about the best brand of candy corn. Apparently, one company makes it too grainy and soft, though Jeff is wary of tough candy corn as well. I made a mental note for next year to buy him a package of the uber-fancy, homemade candy corn sold at Boule, an elegant patisserie on La Cienega. I just hope it's good enough.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Matzoh Balls, Brisket and Babies! Oh My!

On Sunday night my fabulous Cooking Club convened for a comforting evening of Jewish cuisine, and I made my beloved matzoh ball soup. Beloved because
a) I render the schmaltz (chicken fat) myself; the purity of chickeny flavor that results is the best I've tasted. I think Canter's, Jerry's and all the other Jewish faux-deli's in L.A. use margarine in their sodden, salty lumps. Wretched. The other reason my matzoh balls are beloved is
b) they remind me of these German dumplings my Pop-Pop (grandfather) made for soup when I was small. Elaborate discussions always followed the meal on how heavy or light they were that day: was it his gentle blending that made them so buoyant? Was it the humidity that made them doughy rocks? (Surely it couldn't have been his cooking, oh no.) My matzoh balls achieve the same feathery lightness his best efforts produced; when I eat them I swear Pop-Pop is next to me, nodding in admiration despite himself.

The Cooking Club has been one of the best parts of my year. Every month or so a group of foodies as insanely into eating as I am gathers at our friends Susan and Wylie's place to put our best fork forward for a different cuisine. We started with a Spanish noche of paella, divine despite its blanket of peas, and have chopped, stirred, nibbled and baked our way through Persian, Italian (you know the pasta was homemade), Indian, Vietnamese (God's food), Carribbean, White Trash BBQ (I cannot deny my heritage), a Brunch when we were tired, and Jewish food. We've scoured Indian markets, Chinatown grocers, bodegas and Iranian mini-marts in search of authentic ingredients and the best cooking advice.
The passionate opinions in the flurry of e-mails as we decide which dishes will star in the next feast, the intensity in Susan's kitchen as we finish the last bit of prep (I'm forever behind schedule) and the hearty good cheer around the table have produced stellar results, both in my belly and out in the world. We were featured in The Christian Science Monitor and on the Bon Appetit blog (which included a photo of the torso and spring rolls of yours truly). All we need now is a series on Bravo. Hmm, I'll make some calls...

This past feast was especially sweet because two of the ladies announced they are pregnant. We toasted to the tiny members-to-be, then dug into meltingly tender brisket, a sweet and nearly healthy kugel, some Sephardic couscous-stuffed eggplant, and rounded out the meal with Nina's stupendous chocolate-cherry rugelach (thanks, Hashem) and Josh's first attempt at chocolate-dipped macaroons. You'd never guess he was a novice, that one. My matzoh balls compared favorably to several folks' grandmas, high praise, and I thought my belly might pop by the time I rolled home. I left with block of kugel and three more rugelach, score!
In December, we're throwing ourselves a party filled with holiday treats and sparkly drinks to celebrate our excellent year of eating and good cheer. We have plans to compile a cookbook and heck, who knows what's next. Maybe Inuit cuisine? I always wanted to try Polar Bear...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dinner, 5 Minutes Late

This was one of the pieces I exhibited Friday night.

People had strong reactions to it. One guy dragged his girlfriend over, pointed, and said, "That's every Thanksgiving my whole life." Some folks ran off, and a lot of nodded vigorously with tight lips. People sought me out to share what they thought.

What a gift it was to make art, have the chance to put it into the world, and receive such a big response. I am blessed.

Many thanks to Tara for the photo! I came home that night to discover my camera had no film in it. Time to go digital, I suspect. If I can get clear photos of the other two pieces, I'll post those too. I did one with egg timers that people freaked out about. Mind-blowing. I can't believe this is my life.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Makin' food art

Tomorrow night I'm putting some artwork into the public sphere for the first time ever. Yikes! It's for my friend Russell's monthly club down in Chinatown, Knobturnal. If you live in L.A. and are free, please come by! It's food art; I have far too much experience with food and have had brushes with art, hopefully it'll balance out into deliciously disturbing pieces. Two are done (one's a bit naughty), and the third I'll assemble there. They're not even edible- it's really art.
In my family growing up my sister Jen was The Artist (my dad is a closet artist, he's great at drawing feet). I was The Writer, hey... and there was no point in trying to live up to Jen's talent. I'm glad I found a roundabout way to make a little art of my own.
Despite my difficulties with technology, I'll do my best to post some photos of the work... though it's best seen in person!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Urban Tomato Growers, Unite! (Membership: 1)

I'm growing my own damn salad. Well, that's the plan. We'll see how it actually pans out.
Tory plans, God laughs. -Shiksa proverb

I don't know if you noticed but recently spinach, a veggie I've always loved (the only one my mother couldn't overcook) has been killing people. Or making them grossly ill. Though this was tidings of great joy for most small children, I was not pleased. The bigger huge agribusiness gets the more often these problems occur, and the more homogenized our food becomes. Think about all those pale sad tomatoes you see in the grocery store (not the beautiful heirlooms you find at your farmers market, on or occasionally at Whole Paycheck). They all look eerily the same, don't they? And they're all quite equal in their mealiness, bland flavor, and boredom factor, no? It's not a mistake. Those suckers were bred to be shipped long distances, nothing more.
And let's reflect on the word "agribusiness" for a minute. It gives me chills. They lopped off the "culture" for a reason: it truly is factory farming now. There are three big corporations (ConAgra and friends) that control a scary majority of our country's food production. That's unnatural. For real reporting on this, check out At the point where spinach isn't safe anywhere, something has gone wrong.
Ok, so what can I do? Other than complain while the children shout with glee? I live in a city, I have no yard, I'm not a lobbyist in D.C. What can I actually change?
It all started with this tomato.
In July I was slicing one of these glorious fruits in half for lunch; when I opened it up I saw all these crazy squiggly green and white thingys. Ack! My co-worker leaned over and said, "Oh look. The seeds must have started to sprout." Uh, right, yeah. You'd never guess my dad planted a big vegetable garden every summer for much of my childhood. sigh. So I took that sucker home, stuck it in a tiny pot and dumped some dirt over it. I set it outside my door, right next to the basil plant I was slowly killing (something I do every summer), and forgot. When the basil leaves were shrivelled and crying I'd water everything, but whatever. I watered a pot of dirt for a month and a half, simply because I was too lazy to throw it out.
But then It Happened. One day a teeny tiny sprout with two little leaves stuck up a 1/2 inch from the dirt. Eureka! I'd done it, in spite of myself! I was growing a tomato. After that I took a keen interest in caring for my tiny charge, and today a big yellow flower bloomed on top of my 18-inch tall tomato plant. Magnificent.
Check it out, dear reader, here's the result of that flower a few weeks later!

The weather is getting cold (well, by Southern California standards), so yesterday I replanted the tomato plant and the basil, which miraculously survived my "care" this summer. I stuck them both in a pretty aluminum trough, filled in the gaps with potting soil and brought them inside. Apparently basil and tomatoes are more than good neighbors on the plate; an English gardener who has genuine expertise informed me they grow well together, uh, there are complimentary nutrients that they give or deplete from the soil... I wasn't paying close attention, but it's a good pairing. This morning I found a packet of organic mesclun salad greens from Seeds of Change. I think I'll throw them in the mix and see if I can grow my own damn salad; bite me, ConAgra.
And you know, there's something deeply satisfying about growing a little seed (ok, weird sprouted tomato) from an empty pot of soil into a strong, tall plant that smells green-tomatoey and may someday feed me. I feel a little closer to the mystery of the Universe.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Bone Strippers

This past week I learned of the deaths of four different people who made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Tonight I sat down with a leg of chicken, some green beans and a smidge of macaroni and cheese. Even in my sadness, I felt alive as my teeth sunk down to bone. It gave me great pleasure to leave a tidy pile of bones on my plate, and I thought about how the most tender, juiciest meat is always found by the bone. Why do some people leave it?
I've concluded there are two paths: you're either a Bone Stripper, or a Meat Leaver. I am a Bone Stripper, which means when presented with a barbequed rib, leg of chicken or t-bone I leave that sucker clean. I like to think it's indicative of a fearless lust for living, that I truly "suck the marrow out of life." I used to work with a guy I didn't like or respect, but when the two of us were given a plate of ribs it was a bloody carnival. There's something very primal about sinking your teeth into the flesh of another creature until you hit the bone; in our sanitized world of styrofoam wrapped meat that doesn't bleed, I like to be reminded of the wild violent truth behind my dinner. A living creature died to become this rotisserie chicken. I appreciate the chicken's sacrifice for my table; it seems disrespectful to waste any part of it.
Sometimes I judge people who are not bone strippers. I see them as fearful, reluctant to embrace being fully alive. Then I realize I'm judging people, something I try not to do (everyone's doing her best, me included) and I strive to see it differently. Is it possible the Meat Leavers are more peaceful, dare I say it, more evolved than those of us driven by our baser instincts? Perhaps.
Or are there hints of desperation in my determination to ferret out every last tiny bit of food? This preference might've been set by my humble early years: when your family has little money for meat it is sacrilege to leave any behind. We did not have the luxury of acknowledging an 'ick' factor with the soft, too-pink meat at the center of the leg. Hmm, but one of my sisters is definitely a Meat Leaver today. It cannot be all nurture.
To live a lusty and passionate life I must eat with gusto, even in my grief. My best thanks for this time is to be fully, deliciously alive, to savor the juicy, tender meat all the way down to the bone.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'd like to teach the world to eat...

I spent a *delightful* Saturday morning with my friends Nina and Grace, pals from the magazine, eating dim sum until our bellies were about to burst.
Ben Franklin (Patron Saint of Philadelphia) said, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." He was almost right. I'd argue dim sum is much better proof: it lasts longer on the palate, and I don't think anyone ever started a fight after dim sum. You're too sleepy. Plus it's freakin' delicious.
A quick primer for the uninitiated: dim sum is a traditional Chinese brunch usually eaten with several generations of family around a big table. Or if you're me, a motley crew of hearty foodies. It's the original tapas, the OG small plate. Many brusque, often pushy ladies wheel shiny metal carts to each table and lift the lids off little steamers to reveal every imaginable delight. You point to what you want and she plunks it on the table, then stamps your check (all the stamps are tallied when you're done to determine the bill). Then the cart zooms off with a zeal that makes NY taxi drivers seem like drugged turtles.
These ethereal morsels have every sort of wrapper and filling. If there were a poster dumpling for dim sum, it would be siu mai (pronounced shoo-my), which has a thin wonton wrapper filled with a mixture of ground pork and shrimp, and is open on top. There are also crispy fried delicacies, steamed buns, crunchy Chinese broccoli (like a non-bitter broccoli rabe), little pork spareribs... I'd estimate there are easily 50 or 60 different options floating around in different carts at any one moment. Each dish contains 2-4 items and everybody shares. It's easy to try something new; if you're only committing to half a little football-shaped rice puff stuffed with beef (an excellent choice, yum), why not be brave?
There are sometimes language barriers in this process. One cart has many choices; I only know the (Cantonese) Chinese name for a few of my favorites, and the ladies driving the carts speak very fast when describing each dish. They're tough cookies with little time for round eyes who don't speak Chinese.
This Saturday was different. I'd brought a little book with me, aptly titled Dim Sum: A Pocket Guide by Kit Shan Li. It's ideal: each page has a yummy photo of a dish, and underneath are the Chinese characters, a phonetic pronounciation, the English name and the ingredients. A picture book for hungry grown-ups.
Now Nina, Grace and I are consummate dim sum eaters. Heck, even Graciela's frijole-in-the-oven had been before. (A blessed child already.) But Nina started flipping through the book as our chopsticks slowed down, and a curious thing happened. One of the ladies with carts actually stopped. She pointed to the photo of the sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf and the characters written underneath it, and gave a smile. I, because I am fearless or foolish (depends on the day) made an attempt at the pronounciation. She glanced at me a little wide eyed and said it back. I grinned.
She motioned some other ladies over, and soon we had several carts parked at our table. The ladies waited while Nina turned the pages, occasionally pointing at the photos while murmuring to each other. They looked pleased, and I continued here and there with my best attempts at saying the names (I've been listening carefully for many years, it wasn't too bad). The first lady smiled and corrected me a couple times, and we all glanced at each other and laughed a little. Then the carts zipped away and we set the book down to finish eating. Grace, Nina and I went back to talking about writing and babies and my colorful love life.
It was a quick exchange, but I believe this is part of how we make the world a peaceful place, a little nudge of the scale towards the 'stop killing each other' end. In that moment we were all just people delighted by the same book, who giggled at my attempts to get the words right and the wise lady's corrections. We paused to look each other in the eye.
This is why I love food. We all eat, but when you're willing to do something as intimate as take another person's history and culture into your own body, it's also a political act. It's better than "tolerance" because it's literal acceptance. My parents have these neighbors who say rotten racist things about Mexicans; I can't picture them at an Oaxacan restaurant eating nuanced, earthy mole, even though it's so delicious it (also) proves God loves us. But I like to think if someone dragged them there, if they took a bite, maybe in their hearts they'd suspect they'd been horribly wrong.
I have this fantasy of opening a kosher, halal falafel stand in the Gaza Strip. I know fried chickpea patties alone can't fix things, but I want to keep nudging that scale towards the peaceful, loving end. Besides, we have to eat every day. How cool is it to use a basic need to connect with the rest of humanity? We can all sit down at that table.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

WANTED: Dishwasher

I need a dishwasher. Apparently I've offended the Dishwashing Fairy (probably that snide remark about the dishpan hands), so no dice there. Seriously you guys, I hate it and they won't wash themselves no matter how long I leave them alone. Since I left my parents' house I haven't had a dishwashing machine to call my own. Do you have any idea how much money I spend on hand lotion? And I'm such an old-school hostess-with-the-mostess that I can't bear to let guests "help" after dinner (no one should lift a finger when they're in my home). Please, help a sister out. I gotta find a dishwasher quick! Even at this very moment, I'm putting off doing the dishes by writing about not doing the dishes. Hey, is that postmodern? Nah, just lazy. Anyway, here's what I'm looking for. Tell your friends.

WANTED: Dishwasher
Hours: flexible, possibly erratic
Pay: negotiable... uh, unpaid internship
Experience: crucial, ideally many years spent honing your craft
Requirements: able to stand for long periods of time, must love smell of soap, can withstand very hot water, has patience to scrub tines of forks until there's no icky bits of egg left... you know, long muscular arms would be nice, as would broad shoulders and a strong back. Actually, I heard Abercrombie & Fitch has topless male models in their store at the Grove, that could work... twinkly eyes, can carry a tune... honesty matters, clever, a razor wit...

Uhh, yeah. A dishwasher, like I said. What?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Julie Dove's Magic Buttermilk Pie

There have been a LOT of people who've approached me, either in person or via e-mail, about the Buttermilk Pie. Some of them (you know who you are) have been rather, umm, aggressive. Luckily for us all, Julie agreed to share her excellent recipe. And for those in the L.A. area, she'd probably sell you one too. My cut, of course, would be a 2-inch slice!
I did a little editing stylewise to make the recipe more cook-friendly, but this is Dove family goodness.

Julie Dove's Buttermilk Pie
serves 8 (unless you're alone, then...)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
dash salt (Tory's suggestion)

1 prepared pie crust, unbaked

Preheat oven to 350◦F.
Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Whisk in flour and eggs, then buttermilk, vanilla, and optional salt.
Pour into prepared crust. Bake for 45 minutes or until puffed and tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Let cool slightly (puff will deflate), invite Tory over, and enjoy.

If you make this delectable pie, please post your comments! And thanks again, Julie, for sharing.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Friday night I went to a Dodger's game, compliments of the Chilean Avocado Council. They were rolling out the new "Avodog," a Dodger Dog topped with avocado mashed with a little onion and lime juice, basically a streamlined guacamole. A totally tasty item. I'd never had a Dodger Dog before- I know, hang my head in shame. They're quite delicious on their own, a little skinny but great flavor. Hmmm, that's true for a lot of things in L.A. There's a crisp snap when you bite into them, and they're juicy with a clear meaty flavor and peppery kick. The addition of avocado (Chilean, that is) only makes things better. It's also true to the SoCal experience.
Avocados pop up in the funniest places out here. Sure you find them in salads or on top of the occasional burger, but it's also hard to get a BLT without one ("You meant BLTA, right?"). They guest-star in omelets, shocking when I first moved west, and more than one fine and costly fish entree I've enjoyed has had delicate slivers of avocado dancing across its middle. I even encountered an avocado ice cream once. I couldn't bring myself to order it, but it made me smile.
On the East Coast, avocados are a luxury item reserved for special occasions; back in '96 I believe I bought them for $2 apiece. Ay dios mio. They were hard little rocks too, hardly any buttery goodness to be had. When I moved to San Francisco I was blown away by the avocado trees. They're huge with wide rounded leaves the same color as the fruit, and my god there are thousands of them hidden amongst the branches. Ok not thousands, but a lot. We have many varieties here: Fuerte, Pinkerton, Gwen, though 95% of what's grown commercially are the lovely Hass (sometimes spelled Haas).
I have no idea if there's a state fruit, but if not I vote for nature's butter, the deep green, teardrop-shaped nirvana on a plate.
Mmmm, and try an Avodog if you're at Dodger Stadium. Not just because the nice Avopeople took me out and treated me well- those dogs are truly Avolicious.
I'll stop now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Eggs Foo Young

Growing up I loved the one Chinese restaurant in town. The red walls, soy-salty air, and (no joke) backlit moving waterfull artwork seemed magical to my wide blue eyes. I loved that the owners talked differently, that the names of the food held promise and mystery. General Tso's Chicken- who was this general? Why did he care so much about chicken? Did he eat it before battle and emerge victorious because it warmed his belly? Egg Drop Soup sounded so friendly: in my house if I dropped an egg I'd be in big trouble, but at Lotus Chinese that same mistake turned into delicious soup.
And I loved that every time I ate there, the owners brought me strawberry ice cream for dessert, whether or not I ordered it. Even when my mother protested, they wouldn't take the dish away until a scant spoonful of ice cream soup was left.
I will tell you a secret: I didn't like strawberry ice cream. I don't care for it now, just give me chocolate. But I'd eat it and say thank you while they smiled and nodded at me. I felt we were friends in a way. I like to think they noticed the goofy little white girl who was really into their food, who gobbled up everything (even broccoli). Actually, my love of their broccoli got me into trouble many times.
"Why do you eat their broccoli but turn your nose up at mine," my mother asked whenever we ate there. I'd shrug helplessly. It wasn't until years later I figured out it was a texture issue. In traditional Chinese cooking, veggies are generally cooked until they're crisp-tender, not a second more. This keeps them delicous (plus they retain more nutrients). My mother's background was English, German, and Donna Reed Casserole. All that history was an unstoppable force: she couldn't help but boil broccoli for a solid ten minutes. I'd smush it with a fork just because I could; obscene amounts of butter and salt still didn't make it edible. My dog wouldn't touch it. But oh, the beef and broccoli with its hearty crunch and sweet, salty sauce. Powerful.
After I learned to read I started pointing at the menu, What's that? And that? By the second grade I had mastered chopsticks, much to everyone's surprise (a story for another day). I took great pleasure in trading in my fork for two rough wooden sticks and consuming slippery lo mein noodles and eggs foo young with aplomb.

Today if we were to dine, I'd take you out to the heart of Chinatown. There hardly anybody looks like me, and the food is a clever symphony of funky and mellow, bitter and sweet, crisp and soft. I'd show off my affection for jellyfish and chicken feet, and probably act confused if you asked about moo go gai pan (a dish my father loves that I suspect only the white man eats). I might even wrangle you an invite to my pal Vanessa's Chinese New Year feast (sweet Jesus it's amazing). And I'd certainly deny ever eating at a little spot on Santa Monica where forks are on the table, moo go gai pan is on the menu, and everything needs more soy sauce to give it flavor... but I recommend their eggs foo young.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Philly Love Poem #18

for Kate Flannery

Shall I compare thee to a bag of Utz?
Thou art more salty with potato crunch.
Rough winds may shake an ex-pat Philly clutz
When Lay's chips are what we are forced to munch
Sometime too hot the eye of L.A. shines,
And oft' is Philly's finest dinner ruin'd;
As every mile from home cheesesteaks decline,
By chance or moron's cooking style untrimm'd:
But thy eternal add-i-tude shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that "Yo" thou owest;
Nor L.A. brag you a lollipop-head babe,
When in eternal love to scrapple thou grow'st:

My sweets I'll ship, which should arrive day three,
My heart I send, my TastyKakes for thee.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cheese Fight

Let me preface this by saying I rarely get into fights. I'm a lover all about finding peaceful solutions, personally and globally. However, this doesn't mean I stay silent in the face of evil.
Today I went with two friends for lunch in the Hollywood & Highland tourist trap. (Time was short and it was walkable.) We decided to eat at a little spot called the Green Earth Cafe. Makes you think avocado, sprouts and 9-grain bread, right? I enjoy a well-made hippie sandwich, but it turned out this was just a standard sandwich joint run by what appeared to be a family who had recently arrived in the States. Which is also ok.
I ordered the ham & swiss sandwich on a long roll ($5.89 with tax, no pickle), and watched as the lady behind the counter began. She sliced the roll in half and laid down some curly lettuce and bright red tomato slices. Excellent. She carefully layered the ham on top, and then took two solid white squares of cheese and laid them over. They looked like Kraft singles in need of a tan.
"Excuse me," I said in my polite little girl voice, "I asked for Swiss cheese please." The lady looked confused and said, "This is Swiss cheese." She had a strong accent and I thought, she must not know.
"No," I replied, "it isn't. Swiss cheese has holes in it. That looks like American cheese. I don't like American. I'd really like Swiss please."
"This is Swiss cheese," she said again. "May I try it?" I asked. She handed me one of the white squares. It was horrible, gritty with no dairy flavor (let alone a discernable Swiss or American vibe), the kind of cheese that were I alone, I would spit out and look at with disgust. This is the fake food killing the American palate.
However there was a small crowd of customers watching now, and the Mom-lady running the register had wide eyes. The teenage guy (I presumed the son) behind the counter disappeared into the back. My friends looked concerned. I handed the rest of the evil imposter slice back to the sandwich-maker and said, "Look, I'll take cheddar, or whatever else you've got. I just can't eat that cheese."
"We only have Swiss cheese," the lady replied. Then the son reappeared, two bright pink spots on his cheeks and a log of food service cheese held high. "See," he said loudly, brandishing the log before the crowd, "it says 'Swiss.'" I had insulted the family's honor. My face flushed, but I couldn't help myself, "Well, it doesn't look or taste like it." $5.89 is too much to pay for fake Swiss without a fight. I took my sandwich and walked away with my shoulders square.
A few minutes later my friends joined me at the table. "What was that about?" the lithe Frenchman asked as he bit into his sandwich. I used to go to this guy's parties solely for the cheese plate, and I wondered what he would think. He stopped mid-chew and stared into his food.
"This cheese is an outrage."
I love the French. So what is my peaceful solution? It occured to me the owners may never have tried real Swiss cheese. Next weekend I shall return to the dreadful Green Earth Cafe with delicious slices of actual cheese, and I will share them. To hope for better quality might be too ambitious (there's great profit to be had in fake food, sigh) but perhaps they'll understand when the next grumpy eater starts a cheese fight.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Exquisite Lovely

I hope you ate a peach this summer. This had to be their best year on record. I ate peaches from everywhere: one perfect, supple organic peach from the farmers market, flat little donut peaches from Trader Joe's, delicate white peaches from Costco-- it didn't matter how low on the produce ladder I slid, they were marvelous. I even bought a couple yellow peaches at Ralph's. One turned moldy the next day, ick, but the other: exquisite.
A great peach is transcendent. The gentle fuzz that scratches your tongue right before the sweet juice of flowers and sun rushes in, the way the flesh yeilds to your teeth, easy but firm, how it slowly dissolves down as you begin to chew; is there a better summer lover to be had?
The summer of 2006 was the hottest we've had in a long time. Heat waves punished us all, the blackouts were sweeping. An Inconvenient Truth told of melting ice caps and withering destruction speeding toward us, Manhattan under water and polar bears drowning. I like to think the peaches were our moment of beauty before the fall, the one gift of our foolishness. The sweetest, juiciest peaches are those that linger too long on the branch, in the blistering sun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

You're wearing that to dinner?

I had the great good fortune tonight to test drive a swanky, hip restaurant that's about to open. Unfortunately, I am verboten from writing about it before they have a chance to get into 4th gear. Plus my meal was gratis in exchange for feedback; my opinion might be as reliable as a Vice President who lets his former oil exec. buddies create energy policies for America... but I digress.
Instead, let's talk about what people wear to dinner in L.A. In the interest of full disclosure, I was raised a no white after Labor Day, no grey shoes in winter, never a skirt without a slip WASP. However, I also fled to California at 22 and haven't looked back. Where do I fall, then?
I confess, it pleases me to know the rules. I own the guidebook: want to know which spoon is for dessert? where your left hand should be while you eat? what to bring to a dinner party? The best part of this knowledge is the delight that comes from willfully ignoring it. I appreciate having a choice.
The dress code for dining (and living) in LA follows a basic principle I haven't seen in any other city: the more successful you are, the more you dress like a slob to prove that now you don't have anything to prove. This means there are people stepping into beautiful, expensive restaurants on grandma's birthday clad in jeans, t-shirts, backwards baseballs caps and flip-flops. Except the jeans with the pocket embroidery cost hundreds of dollars; so do the carefully ratty designer t-shirts and (for ladies) sequin-encrusted flip-flops.
The other option for ladies is to be as hooched out as humanly possible. A few months after I moved to L.A., I put on a long, flowy dress for dinner at a dimly lit, elegant French restaurant on Beverly. I ended up sitting by a woman in a glitter tubetop, achingly tight jeans and five-inch heels. She had sprayed out, bright blond hair with highlights that looked like she'd been attacked by a mob of furious kindergartners armed with magic markers. And I assure you, I was the only one with wide eyes and a jaw on the table. No one else even noticed. Later I heard her talking; she was totally smart. Ehh?
And I thought to myself, forget Kansas, Toto. This makes San Francisco seem fussy and uptight. Now when I go to dinner, you'll even find a little glitter on me. Well, but only on my eyelids.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday Night Dinners

I always wanted to come from a family that had Sunday night dinners. I envied the Italians I grew up around, the garlicky smells from other families' bubbling pots of sauce (or "gravy," as true Philly Italians call it). My big and rowdy extended family liked to spend a Sunday hiking through the woods or throwing a football in the back yard. My mother's "gravy" came from a jar, and was as likely to appear in a hurry on a Tuesday than Sunday.
We all have our cross to bear.
Living across the country from my family has drawbacks (I miss graduations, birthday parties and piano recitals), but a bonus is that as a transplant I get to pick an L.A. family. Though it wasn't a conscious choice, I have many great cooks with different backgrounds in my chosen family. (Some of them are even Italian!)
Last night I had the thrill of going to my friend LeeAnn's place for a traditional Sunday night dinner. She made her grandmother's sauce, which is a two-day affair involving slow-cooked shortribs, a rich tomato base, and homemade meatballs. Oh it was heaven. The shredded shortrib meat was strong and earthy, the sauce itself had layers of flavor, and her meatballs. sigh. My meatballs are a pale reflection of LeeAnn's splendor. I suspect she used several different meats, plenty of garlic-- they were hearty, not heavy, and had a firm texture but weren't rubbery (like mine). She started us with a beautiful salad of avocado and golden tomato, there was garlic bread, and the meal ended with two kinds of delicate cream puffs. Amaretto chocolate and lemon raspberry. Sweet Lord.
It was the night before September 11th. On the eve of a day of great loss, what a gift to look around the table at LeeAnn and my friends Ruth and Benno, to eat delicious food prepared in love, and to feel like family.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tomato Glory

Tonight was wonderful. I swear, I am my own best date. The other day I bought a pound and a half of beautiful organic heirloom tomatoes at Whole Paychec- uh, Foods. They were only 2.99 a pound, a minor miracle right there, and oh the smell. I buy all my tomatoes by scent. Try it next time you're shopping: pick one up, hold it to your nose, and inhale deeply. Sure you look weird, but you'll know immediately whether it's a tomato worth eating. Most grocery store tomatoes smell like nothing, it's like sniffing a photograph. But these heirlooms, oh my Goddess. They smelled flush with tomatoness and green leaves-- I knew they had to be mine.
Tonight I invited several people over, all of whom had plans. I carried on anyway. On my way home I picked up a ball of luscious fresh mozzarella and let the games begin.
I blanched three garlic cloves in the water I boiled for the perciatelli (a thick spaghetti with a skinny hole in the middle), then minced them up. I sliced the tomatoes into chunks: dark purple Brandywines, a heavy golden one running with juices, a small firm Green Zebra, and what I suspect was a Supermarmande because it was bright red, oddly shaped, and tasted more nuanced than most wine.
I plucked some basil from the plant I'm slowly killing (I murder one each summer, it's terrible), slivered it and tossed it in the bowl. I drizzled a fantastic Greek olive oil over all of it, sprinkled on some flakey Welsh seasalt, and cracked some of my floral Tazmanian peppercorns into the mix. Then I cut hunks of the fresh mozzarel (as they call it in my hometown) and stirred them into the tomato madness.
Using tongs, I swirled some hot pasta into a pretty white rimmed soup bowl, and then spooned some tomato-mozzarella mixture over top. I swirled it into the pasta, added a sprinkling of salt and pepper, drizzled a bit more olive oil, and voila!
Tomato Glory.
I lit a candle, opened a bottle of Syrah even though I'd only have a glass or two, turned on some music from Mali (so beautiful, and great with tomatoes), and sat down to the best date I've had in a while.
You've got to try this before the tomatoes are all gone. There's only a week or two left when they'll be good enough for an uncooked sauce... and really, why not have a sexy tomato date with yourself?
Even if you share them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Score one for the South, or Buttermilk Pie is magic

Despite my fast talking early childhood training that the South lost the war, and thus Southerners were lesser people, I'd like to posit that when it comes to dessert our friends below the Mason-Dixon line may have my Yankee fork licked.
Tonight my friend Julie, a native Texan, made two buttermilk pies. I never understood the physics behind any milk-based pie. Could it really work? And frankly, was buttermilk interesting enough to merit a pie of its own?
I watched Julie mix eggs and sugar, butter and buttermilk, vanilla and flour (to help firm it up) and a dash of salt into a goopy mess. There were teeny bits of butter left swimming around like tadpoles in a murky creek; I was skeptical. It did not look elegant, emulsified, or intricate. This was her first attempt and Julie was nervous, but she poured the goop into the crust and carefully slid the sloshing pies into the oven, no spills. And we waited.

I'll start with the delicate scent that wafted across the room. If there is a heaven and I actually get in, it might smell like this: the sweetest dairy, with hints of vanilla and a promise of compassion in the buttery, browning crust. Wow. When Julie finally maneuvered them out of the oven, they were speckled brown across the top and had puffed up like a bullfrog about to sing. She let them cool a bit (and the puff deflated), and then it was pie-time. My slice was pale yellow with a custardy, rippled texture. It was achingly sweet but tempered by the little tang from the buttermilk. The brown speckles across the top were caramlized bits that hinted at creme brulee and toasted marshmallows-- it was fantastic.

I take back all my trash talk about the South. And I'm willing to eat other fabulous items to prove just how foolish I was :)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Welcome, my delicious friends!

This is an exciting day, fellow eaters! Welcome to my blog! I am delighted you arrived. We're going to eat well together, I can tell already.
So why are we here? Excellent question. Here's why I'm here:
I love to eat. Really love it. I might be a *teensy* bit obsessed... for me, eating is a way to celebrate good things, a way to honor where I come from (cheesesteak, anyone? how about a porkchop with saurkraut?), an opportunity to understand people and cultures, and a way to heal. Did you know a steaming bowl of pho cures heartbreak? Totally true. I realized it's time for me to share the love, along with the super-nerd sized database of food/dining wisdom (ok, opinion) between my ears.
Why are you here?
Beats me. Who are you, anyway? Hmmm, maybe we're friends, or you're hungry. Perhaps you've got some excellent food wisdom to share, or you're bored at work. You might have questions like, Why is cooking fish so scary? Why did America freak out over carbs? What should I make for dinner on date #3, something sexy that won't slow things down, if you know what I mean?
Oh my.
Hey, you got questions, I got answers. Or I know where to find them.

Welcome to the table.