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.