Thursday, December 30, 2010

Las Vegas hate/love/hate story, part 3

Richard and John. 1940s.
If you're coming late to this story, the first two installments are here and here.

In 1995, a month or so after the state mental hospital in Utah bought him a one-way ticket to Las Vegas and put him on a plane, my uncle, Richard Reese, disappeared. My father received a few phone calls from third parties requesting money, purportedly on Richard's behalf, and he sent the money. And then there was complete radio silence.

What do you do when your only sibling, a fiftysomething cowboy with longtime mental and substance abuse problems, disappears? For decades my grandparents had waited for Richard to straighten up and fly right. They bailed him out of scrapes and drove halfway across the country to track him down when he ran off and let him live in their extra bedroom for years at a time and checked him into the hospital as necessary. They were amazing people. But Richard was not exactly grateful. Richard was (quite rightly) convinced that they had thwarted his dreams, which involved an apartment of his own, sleazy friends, and gallons of cheap Scotch -- preferably in Las Vegas. Now that my grandparents were dead, was it my father's job to pick up where they left off, trying to keep him on the straight and narrow? Or was it time for Richard to sink or swim? Did any of us for a minute think he was going to swim? So, really, was it time for Richard to sink?

I saw The Fighter the other day, and the charismatic crack addict character played by Christian Bale reminded me a bit of Richard, and the sober, responsible Mark Wahlberg character reminded me a bit of my father. Addicts are impossible, and Richard was an addict. When Richard disappeared, my father let him disappear. I don't blame him at all.

But I was young and sentimental and it bothered me that we didn't know where he was. He could be dead. He could be in jail. He could be living on the streets. He was part of our family! He was my grandparents' son! And, as impossible as he was, Richard was also very dear. So I flew to Las Vegas to find him. I rented a car, checked in to the Stardust Hotel, called the police station, and then began a 4-day tour of every homeless shelter and freeway underpass in greater Las Vegas.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Texas & Louisiana vs. San Francisco

Sartin's. Beaumont, Texas.
Here, they have deep-fried barbecued blue crabs. There, we have steamed Dungeness crabs, which are bigger and less greasy. Point: San Francisco.
 Mulate's. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
Here, they have fried alligator, which tastes like chicken fingers. There, we have sourdough bread. Point: San Francisco.
Where is the corpse?
Here, they have cypress swamps. There, we have redwood forests. Point: Texas & Louisiana.  Redwoods = John Muir effusions. Cypress swamps = James Lee Burke.

Here, they have racially integrated Starbucks. There, we have liberals who voted for Obama. Point: Texas & South Louisiana. The African-American population of San Francisco: 6.5%. The African-American population of Lafayette, Louisiana: 29%.

We're driving to New Orleans today. If anyone has recommendations for what to do and eat, please let me know!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Miscellany

Santa has a sense of humor and is also very astute. Lucky Mrs. Claus!

Obviously, I've been off my blogging game lately, but I've felt like a dandelion in a strong wind these last few weeks. As, I'm sure, have many of you. But now I am lying in a Houston airport hotel with two snoring children while my husband avails of himself of bad coffee downstairs at the free breakfast buffet.

Christmas was terribly sad but was (therefore?) of the sweetest Christmases ever. I got all my shopping done in time, I almost made all my work deadlines, Isabel and I baked and distributed many dozens of cookies, I learned that my book must be restructured (and, after taking to my bed for a day, accepted the fact), I arranged for our goats to be bred. My dandelion head remains intact. I am proud.

On the plane last night, I started reading a book I can't recommend highly enough: You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier. It's a brilliant, beautifully written and soulful critique of the shape the internet seems to be taking as of 2010 and how that is changing the way we think about people. Lanier is a computer scientist and pioneer of virtual reality, so this isn't just another crabby rage against the machine. I can't do justice to this book in a blog post written from an airport hotel in Houston, all I can do is urge you to read it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Just a pretty picture

I saw these oil paintings of petit fours in the window of a gallery yesterday. What I really want to see are petit fours like this in the window of a bakery.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Boy goats

Dan as a lad.

Kentucky in more innocent days.
You learn something about the earthy roots of the English language when you spend time around farm animals. You're idly observing your chickens one day and suddenly a lightbulb goes off about some dumb phrase you've thoughtlessly used all your life: Rules the roost, pecking order, hen-pecked, flew the coop, clipped her wings. For a while I kept a list, and it was long.

One day I was watching our goat Peppermint after a meal as she went around kicking her heels into the air and I thought, she's really feeling her oats. Ding!

I took the goats up to be bred today and I won't see them again until 2011. I've spent time with bulls and tomcats and unneutered male dogs, but nothing had prepared me for the sheer goatishness of a full grown buck goat. You could smell these dudes from fifty feet away and they did not look like the sweet pictures above.

They looked more like this:

Except they had their tongues stuck out and were making crazy noises. We put Natalie and Peppermint in with the boys and as I walked away Dan was already humping Peppermint while she wailed and tried to squeeze through a 4-inch hole in the stock panel. I felt a little bad. I know it's natural and all and this is the price we pay for cheese and baby goats and life itself, but Dan and Kentucky were acting like a couple of nasty old goats.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Didn't mean to leave you hanging

Heaven and Hell cake.
There's been a lot going on, what with work deadlines and a sick goat.

But Isabel got her Heaven and Hell cake. She seemed pleased. As a commenter to my last post pointed out, this cake is tall. Like, ridiculously tall. Like, move the shelves in your refrigerator tall. The ganache icing alone was 3/4-inch thick and very firm; it was as if I had affixed a thick, firm chocolate bar to the top and sides of the cake. Come to think of it, every element was firm -- firm, dry layers, firm, dryish filling, firm ganache frosting.
Better picture here
I felt it was a waste of angel food cake. You just can't appreciate angel food cake for the lovely fluff it is when it's squished between chocolate and peanut butter mousse like that. To achieve the brown and white effect next time I would probably replace angel food with marshmallow or white mountain filling, which would bring some moisture and creaminess to the experience. Overall I think this is a better concept than cake, but sometimes that's enough.

The best thing I made for Isabel's party: the sardine rillettes from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. I kid not. It sounds hideous but is so very good. All you do is mash up canned sardines, cream cheese, shallots and lemon juice, give it a little cayenne pepper, and wow. I am so happy to have this recipe.

I was thinking of switching over to Greenspan's book, but then I got inspired and bought all my Thai groceries yesterday. I recommenced Thai Street Food last night and will write a separate post about that.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Who doesn't love a bundt cake?

People, it is not hard to cook from Thai Street Food. It is hard to shop from Thai Street Food. There's not one dish in this book you can make using Safeway ingredients and over the last few days it's been impossible for me to get to the Asian market in San Francisco. I will get there soon, I promise. I want to be the first cookbook reviewer who actually cooks extensively (or at all)  from David Thompson's beautiful book.

Since I couldn't do Thai the other night, I decided to make a dinner from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. I really admire Gabrielle Hamilton's writing, but when I first read her review of Greenspan's book on Food52 I thought she was perhaps overly harsh. Then I sat down to choose what to cook from the volume and I found myself curiously and completely uninspired. Almost every entree looked heavy and old-fashioned, stodgy and unappealing. Nothing tempted me except for the cola-and-apricot jam spareribs, but they required long cooking and I didn't have a long time.  In the end,  I only used Greenpan's book to make dessert, which was Marie Helene's apple cake.

I chose the cake because Gabrielle Hamilton approved, as did David Lebovitz. Also: easy. My family hardly touched it, deemed it too plain. At first I agreed, but when I had a piece the next day, I changed my mind. This is a cake that improves with age. It's very moist and rummy, almost like a pudding or clafoutis, almost refreshing. I just now had another delicious wedge for lunch dessert, two words I should probably never use together again. You can find the recipe for this excellent cake here. I'm going to subject Dorie Greenspan's book to further scrutiny in the future.

On the subject of cakes, we are celebrating Isabel's fourteenth birthday tomorrow. Last night I asked, "What kind of cake do you want?"

She sighed and replied, "Oh, I don't really care. You pick." Then she disappeared to her bedroom.

A few minutes later she came running down the stairs with a wild look in her eye, pointing a finger at me accusingly. "NO BUNDT CAKE," she said. "You always run out of time and end up making a bundt cake. I do NOT want a bundt cake."

I knew the teenage diffidence was just an act!

Then she casually pointed out a cake she wouldn't mind having. It consists of angel food and devil's food cake layers sandwiched with peanut butter mousse and frosted with chocolate ganache. It makes me tired just to look at it. Here are some more pictures of said cake

Of course, she was absolutely right. I was going to think about it and think about it and eventually just make a bundt cake. 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Las Vegas hate/love/hate story, part 2

Nice grandparents, 1983
Some backstory to the Las Vegas narrative I started the other day, to explain how my uncle moved to Las Vegas, and why I cared so much when he vanished.

For Mormons, my paternal grandparents had very few children. They had just two, my father and his younger brother, Richard. We were a small family, but close. When I was a kid, the only vacation my family ever took was to visit my grandparents, which meant visiting Richard as well, because he always lived with them, or near them. They kept him out of trouble and when they couldn't keep him out of trouble, they bailed him out of trouble.
Bob, Glade, Richard
And Richard got in trouble. Richard was trouble. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Richard was bipolar. Or schizophrenic. Or something. The diagnoses varied, but even when he wasn't sick, Richard was completely crazy, in all the best and worst meanings of the word. He was extravagantly warm and opinionated, loving and funny, stubborn, belligerent, and morbid, and he had the most amazing cackling laugh. In a family of mild, moderate people, he was intransigent and passionate in his likes and dislikes.  He loved Scotch, Joan Baez, Bear Lake raspberries, and Navajo jewelry. He disliked Aunt Ida, pigs, pork, and several tight-lipped "witch" ladies in my grandmother's ward. He drove a brown Mustang until he lost his license for drunk driving, and he smelled like cigarettes and drug store cologne.

Richard was extremely sentimental and, perhaps because he had no children of his own, he was particularly sentimental about his nieces. The world is full of bad, abusive, and merely indifferent uncles. Richard, for all his problems, was a prince among uncles. My sister Justine and I could not have loved him more, and it went both ways.

I don't want to romanticize, though.  By the time I was 15, I knew Richard was a wreck, irresponsible and impossible, a heartbreaking burden that gradually became a crushing burden on my well-meaning grandparents. Here's what my grandparents and Richard taught me about parenting: You do not necessarily reap what you sow.

In the mid-1990s, Richard was checked in to the state mental hospital in Provo. While he was there, my grandparents both died, within months of each other, almost like they needed to hurry up and check out before he was released because they were too old and tired to take care of him anymore.

Shortly thereafter, without consulting my father, someone on staff at the hospital bought Richard a one-way ticket to Las Vegas, gave him a wad of cash, and put him on a plane.  I don't know who that person was, but what a heel.

Richard, of course, was delighted. Vegas was his Xanadu. He checked into the Stardust Hotel, called us drunk and jubilant late at night, spent all his money, and within a few weeks, disappeared.
Part 3 coming soon.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

How to spend 90 minutes in St. George, Utah

Conoco station 

The cashier showed me how to crack the swarthy little nuts in my teeth. 
If you've never eaten pine nuts straight from the shell, they're softer and fleshier than what you buy pesto-ready from the supermarket, and have a tiny green sprout in the middle. There's a resinous flavor on the shell that I didn't absolutely love.
There was nothing about Nielsen's frozen custard that I didn't absolutely love.

Brother Brigham's stove

I also toured Brigham Young's summer home, which I highly recommend if you're ever in St. George. 

Now, with great joy, I am going home.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Las Vegas, a hate/love/hate story, pt. 1

My first car looked like that, but blue and with a "Save Mono Lake" bumper sticker.
I know I've drifted from my cookbook-reviewing mission, but I'll get back to that when I return home on Sunday. I have a lot on my mind and if I don't post about it, I'll never write it. Or, I'll write it, but never polish it and no one will ever read it. So what's the point?

I'm in Las Vegas, though leaving momentarily. I have a long, emotional, and surprisingly rich history with this challenging and (to me) unappealing place. I'm going to write about it in installments.


When we were in college, my sister, Justine, and I went on a road trip around the Southwest in a used Toyota Tercel. We camped and slept in the back of the Tercel and sometimes stayed in motels, which made our mother happy. One of our first planned stops was to be Las Vegas, where neither of us had ever been. We rolled into town and drove down the Strip. As earnest young admirers of Edward Abbey, we were appalled and disgusted. We never even stopped the car. Vegas was not our thing at all. We could not get to Canyon de Chelly fast enough.

A few years later, our only and beloved uncle, Richard, who was bipolar, moved from Utah to Las Vegas following the death of our grandparents. Vegas was totally Richard's thing. Getting to move here was his lifelong Rhinestone Cowboy dream. He checked in to the Stardust Hotel right on the Strip, spent down his small wad of cash, and promptly disappeared. Which led to my second, very strange trip to Las Vegas circa 1995 to try to find my uncle.

But that's chapter 2.

Now, I have to get in my Ford Focus and drive to Springdale, Utah.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

It was a pretty good movie other than that

It doesn't look like a horror movie, does it.

Many years ago, I went on a date to see Lorenzo's Oil, a movie about a little boy with a degenerative neurological disease. About twenty minutes into the movie, watching Lorenzo's health deteriorate, I began to feel very hot and ill. I excused myself and went to the lobby and standing in front of the counter of popcorn and Junior Mints, passed out. When I came to, I had no idea where I was. Eventually, with the help of the concessions clerk, I figured it out and all was well, though I never saw the end of that movie.

Eighteen years passed. No more vapors. I'm just not the fainting kind. 

Last night, I decided I'd go see Love and Other Drugs at the theatre in Jackson, Wyoming. The story, briefly, is this: pretty Jake Gyllenhaal and pretty Anne Hathaway fall in love, but Hathaway has Parkinson's disease which complicates their romance. About an hour into the movie, watching Anne Hathaway's health deteriorate (very decorously, I might add) I began to feel hot and ill. Then unbearably hot and ill. I thought, I have got to get out of here NOW. But as I walked up the aisle,  I passed out. The next thing I knew I was flat on my back with all these people standing over me in this big dark room with lots of chairs. I had no idea where I was. That was the weirdest part. 

They had called the EMTs and cops and everyone was very kind, but ouf, how embarrassing trying to explain what happened, which is that I can not sit through cinematic depictions of neurological disease without having a panic attack. I'm unfazed by so many "difficult" things -- killing poultry, dead rats, blood, 127 Hours -- but tell a Hollywood actor to fake a tremor and I'm out like a light.

Nothing to do with food, but bizarre enough to share. Do others have mysterious psychological quirks like this? You must!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Yesterday in a picture

The interstate looks so peaceful when you're not on it.
I tried to drive up the east side of Idaho yesterday. The first three hours were a bit icy, but fine. The last half hour, when, through the crazily swirling snow I could barely see oncoming trucks barreling up the center line (or what I guessed was the center line), I was pretty sure I was going to die. Thirty miles from my destination, I gave up, turned around, and very slowly made my way back to Jackson, Wyoming, whence I came. Possibly wimpy, but definitely alive.

As expected, Good to the Grain won the Tournament of Cookbooks, tapped in the final round by Mario Batali. I'm sad this is over. Where will I get my cookbook talk now?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where the deer and the antelope play

I was a bit disappointed by Susan Orlean's contribution to the Tournament of Cookbooks. She's usually a sparkler, but seems to have phoned this in. It looks like it's going to come down to Plenty vs. Good to the Grain. I predict Good to the Grain will carry the day. Those chocolate chip cookies are reason enough.

I'm in snowy, moribund Jackson, Wyoming in a hotel room with log walls, lighting crafted from antlers, and an overactive heater. The two guys at the car rental agency were puzzled by my choice to come here in the off-season to report my story. I agreed that the timing was unfortunate then said I was sure I'd find plenty to do and see and write about anyway. I concluded cheerfully: "In any case, I'll gin something up!" 

They both burst into loud, nervous laughter, like I was the most hilarious gal they'd met in eons. I wonder if they thought I was saying I was going to drink a lot of gin. That would be fun! But it's not what I meant.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving wrap-up and beyond

Father. Turkey.
The big news from Thanksgiving:  I will never brine a turkey again and neither should you. The method outlined here yielded a succulent and perfectly salted bird. I'm not sure I've ever roasted a better turkey.

Isabel's pies were, of course, stellar.

Clockwise from right: chess, sour cream pumpkin, buttermilk, pecan, chocolate caramel with sea salt.
And the kids -- 1 to 98, as mentioned by my husband -- were wonderful company and perfectly well-behaved.

I know my mission right now is to cook through Thai Street Food, but I'm going to be traveling for most of the next ten days, reporting a fun story that will take me to a handful of small towns in cold places around the West. Owen and I are currently in Groveland, California (just outside Yosemite) where it is raining and we are staying in a haunted hotel.

Owen is the messiest person I've ever met. He's disorganized and overemotional and forgets to put the lid on the goat food. He doesn't take pains with his homework and can never find his shoes or his backpack and he routinely leaves his jacket at school. He worries his parents.

But he's curious about everything, excitable and enthusiastic, and he has this wellspring of joy that sometimes seems like the most precious and mysterious of gifts. You can't imagine the ecstasies over everything we've seen so far on our very modest trip -- roadside petting zoos, haunted hotels, dioramas in small museums, snow. He may never master long division, but he's a peerless traveling companion.

P.S. Brilliant piece comparing two very different cookbooks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A prettier Thanksgiving post

Thanksgiving 1998
My mother was a great one for holidays. She did not just tolerate holiday parties -- she loved holiday parties. She always dressed up and made toasts and called me the next day at 8 a.m. to rehash every single detail and comment on every single thing we ate. Tonight isn't going to be the same without her, and neither is tomorrow morning. I wish I could tell her how much I miss her.

See my pretty turkey platter?

Three years ago my mother and I wandered into a shop and I said, "I want that platter for Christmas." And she said, "You will have that platter for Christmas."

Isabel has had mixed success with the pies.
Cookies hide crust shrinkage.
She wanted to throw this particular pie away, but I forbade that. She also made a chocolate caramel tart and a pumpkin sour cream pie. I made a chess pie and a buttermilk-maple pie. Too many pies is our tradition.

Time to put on makeup and a festive dress. My mother would want that.

Thanksgiving miscellany

Why I'm not brining. *
1. We're hosting Thanksgiving. I decided not to brine and instead to pre-season the bird as recommended in this recipe. Much neater and easier. We'll see if tastes as good.

2. Isabel wants to bake all the pies -- pumpkin, pecan, chess, and chocolate. I feel both happy about this, and displaced. Mostly happy, though. And proud.

3. Owen left the lid off the garbage can of goat food (again) and it got rained on. When I went out yesterday morning it was like forty pounds of gruel. Soon it will be forty pounds of moldy gruel. He loudly denies that he left the lid off, insisting that someone else did it. The likelihood of this is practically zero, but I can't prove it and therefore can't make him pay for the replacement goat food, which is what I wanted to do.

4. Speaking of goats, we all love our short, dumpy goat Peppermint more than our tall, beautiful goat Natalie, though we try not to show it. Do we love Peppermint more because she has a better personality, or does she have a better personality because we love her more? I worried that because she lived in our house for a month as a baby, cosseted by adoring humans, Peppermint would end up spoiled and high maintenance, like the cat in Babe. Quite the opposite. Peppermint is mellow, quiet, and droll. It's like she never doubts we'll take good care of her, whereas Natalie, who has always lived outdoors like a proper goat, seems less confident that we'll come through for her. She's clamorous and demanding, perennially anxious, really obnoxious. There's a lesson in here somewhere.

5. I saw 127 Hours. It's not for everyone, but I liked it a lot. If nothing else, it will make you feel thankful.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

*photo credit goes to this site.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lamingtons and some soup

That's a Lamington cupcake made last night by Isabel. It looks like a cuddly mammal and tastes like a Sno Ball if Sno Balls were actually delicious.

Lamingtons are an Australian treat, typically square in shape and sometimes, I have read, sandwiched with jam. This American recipe comes from The Craft of Baking and involves dipping a spongy white cupcake in liquid chocolate icing and rolling it in coconut. The result is a tripartite confection: fluffy and white/sticky and chocolatey/coconutty and crunchy. All day I have been thinking of the Lamington cupcake I am going to eat, very, very slowly, tonight after dinner. Martha Stewart has an appealing recipe here, if you're interested in baking some. I would be!

I've started cooking from Thai Street Food by David Thompson. It seems futile and silly to try to replicate Southeast Asian street food in a temperate zone First World kitchen, especially in late fall, but I love this kind of food and will persevere through ten recipes. I said this was my plan, so my plan it is.

Last night, we had Thompson's roasted duck and noodle soup.

To make this, you pick the meat off half a Chinese roast duck (bought at a Chinese deli) then put the bones in a pot with some chicken stock, star anise, oyster sauce, sliced daikon and rock sugar and let it simmer for a few hours. Meanwhile, you slice the duck meat, deep fry some garlic, blanch some choy sum, boil noodles, and chop a tablespoon of Chinese preserved vegetable. You put all of these goodies in soup bowls then pour over the broth. Not exactly hard, but labor-intensive, requiring a special trip to the Asian market, lots of little steps and pinches of exotic this and even more exotic that and while the results were tasty, this was not a soup that I would go to the trouble of making again.

Lamington cupcakes are another story.

On another subject, I took the goats in for blood tests last week and am awaiting the results. Provided they're in perfect health, I'm sending them to spend some time with a buck in a week or two. This one, I think.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pioneer Woman meets Ethan Stowell

 Start with two delicata squash.

Now, cut the squashes into halves and scoop out the seeds.

Slice them up into half-moon discs and saute them in olive oil until really brown.

Oops. I don't know how THAT got in there. One of my little cowpokes doing his chores. Sorry. Another story for another day. Where was I?

Oh right, squash. Put it in a roasting pan, dot with butter and drizzle generously with honey. Plenty of butter. Plenty of honey. Don't hate. Appreciate.

Roast until molten. Mmmmmmmmmm.


Homage/affectionate parody over. For the last 24 hours I've been unable to get PW's sweet potato cobbler recipe out of my head. I want to make it for Thanksgiving, but don't see where it fits -- seems too sweet for a side dish, at least in our house, and dessert is always pie. Thoughts? Should I just go for it as a side?

The squash above is not a PW recipe, though. It's Ethan Stowell's roasted delicata with chestnut honey. This was very tasty, albeit more caramelized than I like. I bought chestnut honey just to see why Stowell specifies it in several recipes and the flavor is indeed distinctive, with almost a metallic edge to it. Don't love it. Now I know.

Even better than the squash, though unphotographed, was the brussels sprouts salad I served with it, made using this brilliant Food52 recipe. Raw brussels sprouts taste nothing like cooked, so even haters should try this. It's fantastic.

Two thoughts about the sprout salad:

1. You could reduce the cheese and still have a delicious salad. I think you could get away with 1/4 cup, if you're at all concerned about calories.

2. She says to serve the salad right away, before it wilts. Actually, it doesn't wilt. I ate leftover salad the next day for lunch and it was crunchy and delicious. The beauty of brassica salads, as I've recently discovered, is that, unlike lettuce salads, they keep. My sister and I have in the last month both become hooked on this Martha Stewart kale salad and I seem to always have a bowl of it in the fridge. Between brussels sprouts and kale, I may never buy lettuce again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Just another Tuesday night

This is the kind of foreboding my cooking inspires in a 10-year-old boy:

I picked Owen up from school yesterday and he asked, in broad daylight, while still in the car, "What are we having for dinner tonight?"

I replied, "Chickpea soup with mussels."

He said, very quietly, "I guess I won't be having dessert again."

Then he pointed out that he was expressing himself the way I had asked him to the night before -- calmly and politely, at low volume.

I thanked him for that.

His low expectations of Ethan Stowell's chickpea and mussels soup turned out to be in order. He didn't touch it, and the rest of us ate it without gusto. Mussels are cheaper than clams, but I just don't know if they're worth doing at home and I definitely don't like them with chickpeas. Chickpeas are grainy and nubbly and mussels are visceral and chewy and they didn't harmonize in a soup. That was Ethan Stowell recipe #10.

Despite mediocre soup, everyone was happy and we were having such a pleasant evening that Owen got to have dessert anyway. It was a good dessert and to deny him would have been cruel.

First, there was Stowell's toasted walnut ice cream (recipe #11). To make this, you toast whole walnuts then let them steep in hot cream. You strain them out after an hour or so, by which time they have imparted their flavor and color to the cream. This ice cream was superrich and pale brown, and I could not stop eating it.

To go with it, I baked Stowell's cardamom sables (translation: shortbread) which were agreeably easy and tasty and reminded me of a giant Parsi cardamom cookie I made a long time ago. Recipe #12.

I have now exceeded my quota of recipes from Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen, but may give it one more night. I can't go to San Francisco today to buy the ingredients to start Thai Street Food. That is going to require both serious planning and momentum and I don't think I can pull it off until Monday.

On another subject, if you haven't been following Food52's Tournament of Cookbooks, check it out. Today's writeup and decision, by Salon writer Francis Lam, was especially generous and thoughtful. And then I read this. Now I want that Dorie Greenspan book, which I need like another mollusk dinner.

Or another scoop of walnut ice cream. I actually untagged some photos of myself on Facebook today because I looked so plump. I was almost as ashamed of the untagging as I was of the chubbiness. But not quite.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I forgot how to blog

A draft of the book is done-ish and I am back to normal life and back to my cookbooks. I didn't just neglect the blog over the last few months. I throw open my french doors in the morning to gaze out at the garden and . . . want to close them.

I did stumble across this carrot growing there. I planted the seeds last spring and then forgot about them. Beautiful, no? Sadly, I waited too long to harvest. Not delicious at all. It tasted rooty.

I think where I left off blogging was in the middle of making Duck Egg Ravioli with Ricotta and Swiss Chard out of Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen. This would have been recipe #7 from the book. One night about a month ago, I stood there dotting a strip of pasta dough with fresh ricotta and into the middle of each ricotta blob I put a duck egg yolk. It took forever and it didn't work out right -- the dough was too sticky -- but the idea behind the recipe was so fascinating that I did it again the next night with a better dough recipe. Again it took forever, though this time it worked beautifully. The eggs barely poached inside the thin ravioli and so when you cut into the pasta, the yolks broke and formed a sauce.

I thought, I can't cook like this and blog about it and at the same time finish writing a book.

Anyway, this recipe is on page 104 of Stowell's book and if you make it with Marcella Hazan pasta dough, it is great. I would make this again, except we gave away the ducks.

This cookbook reviewer really loathes Ethan Stowell. He makes her want to poke hot needles into her eyes. I agree with many of her points, that this book is overly precious and "cheffy," but I think her reaction is a bit extreme. I'm also puzzled by the fact that she didn't seem to cook a single recipe. I'm always interested in a conceptual critique, but also think you need to try the recipes before weighing in on a cookbook. This particular book becomes far less irritating when you actually use it -- there are some fantastic recipes in here, not all of them cheffy and ridiculous.

Last night I made Ethan Stowell recipe #8: Clam Risotto. We haven't had a real barn burner family fight at the dinner table in a while, but the clam risotto go us going. Felt like old times. Owen screaming, me yelling back, Isabel rolling her eyes, etc. Classy. Just the words "clam risotto" may go down in family lore. I liked the clam risotto fine and it was simple to throw together, but the associations are now very bad. Also, it was gray. And clams cost more than I think they're worth. Not so into clams.

But we had the best salad to go with it: Endive Salad with Creamy Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. Owen was outraged that there wasn't enough for him to have seconds. That was part of the fight. It was that good. I am putting the recipe here with a few changes. You have to boil the lemon rind three times, which caused me to roll my eyes, but it is so easy, just do it. Also, it calls for a raw egg yolk which would probably weird me out if I bought supermarket eggs after the events of late summer. So probably you should invest in farmers' market eggs if you make this salad, or get some chickens. I tell you, it is a gem, this recipe.

Ethan Stowell's Creamy Endive Salad

8 heads endive (he calls for four, but I think you should double)
3 lemons, preferably Meyer
2 tablespoons water
1 fresh egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup pistachios, toasted
1/2 bunch Italian parsley leaves picked
5 radishes, thinly sliced

1. Remove the outer leaves from the endive and trim the stems, leaving enough intact so that the endives hold together. Quarter the endives lengthwise. Soak them in salted water for 10 minutes.

2. Peel strips of zest from one lemon. Wide is fine. Put in a small saucepan with water to cover, bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat three times.

3. Juice the lemons. Put the juice, the boiled lemon rind, the water, egg yolk, mustard and salt in a a blender. Pulse. Add both the oils in a slow steady stream. You'll end up with a mayonnaise-like dressing, very soft and pale yellow. Taste for salt.

4. Place endives, nuts, parsley in a bowl and toss with dressing to lightly coat. (You may have dressing left over -- don't overdress.) Top with the radishes. Beautiful! Should serve six.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Folks, I didn’t mean to drop the ball. I’ve cooked several interesting meals from the Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen over the last week but one day I realized I’d never finish writing my book if I didn’t cut back on the blogging. In the morning I’d write a blog post and if I was happy with it I’d have this swell feeling of accomplishment that eroded the motivation to write anything else and the day would be lost. I can't afford to lose any more days. Hell, I can’t afford to lose any more hours. There’s the small matter of the deadline, plus, if I don't finish the book soon, I will become mad. Writing a book is like driving all alone through a long dark tunnel that you’re not sure is ever going to end and might, in fact, never end.  By contrast, blogging is like zipping around in a convertible on a sunny day, waving to people. I can not tell you how I miss the daylight.

My last four meals have consisted of BLTs made with Ethan Stowell’s home-cured bacon and his homemade mayonnaise, which is absolutely lovely. I could eat it by the spoonful.  It turns out that two things you can’t do while you’re finishing a book -- or at least I can’t -- are diet and blog.

Back very, very soon, I hope.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I wish I could stay and chat

Busy today, but I don't want to fall behind.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #4: duck leg farrotto with spinach

It's bugging me the way that strand of spinach stretches out of the frame in the picture. In any case, this was incredibly delicious. The recipe uses farro instead of rice in a risotto-like preparation which seems healthier and worked beautifully. Bought the duck at the Chinese deli in San Francisco yesterday, which made it all very easy. Speaking of ducks. I'll be sad to see them go, but they are so rough on our chickens.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #5: roasted figs with chocolate sauce.

These are the figs pre-roasting; my photo of the finished dish was hideous. You toss figs with brown butter and honey and roast until they're dry and super-concentrated, then serve hot on a bed of cool chocolate ganache. This was a rich, intense, and unusual dish and we all felt it was more of a dessert garnish than a standalone dessert and would have been better served over ice cream. Nonetheless, every last fig got eaten.

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen is a lovely cookbook and I don't know how I'm going to stop myself at ten recipes.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

You win some. . .

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen recipe #2: bacon

The fire was not his fault. I was so proud of my stovetop smoking method -- developed and "perfected" over several months during which I smoked many batches of pastrami and Canadian bacon -- that I was going to unveil it in the blog today. Now I think I'll wait until I've ironed out some of the kinks. For the record, Stowell recommends smoking bacon in a smoker.

Anyway, I smoked one batch of Stowell's bacon successfully on the stovetop and then with the second batch, I foolishly turned up the heat to super-high, left the room, came back to the fragrance of barbecue, opened the pot, allowed some spattering of fat and . . . you can see. It wrecked the pot, wrecked the bacon, and did not want to die, that fire. I poured all our baking soda on it and after that an entire bag of flour and only then did it sputter out.

That said, the bacon from the first batch was fantastic, very sweet and curiously, deliciously fruity. Stowell calls for Aleppo pepper, which is an exotic spice, but cheap if you go to a Middle Eastern market. I've made a lot of bacon recently -- it's surprisingly easy -- and this was one of the best. I'd give you a tutorial, but my confidence is shaken.

Ethan Stowell New Italian Kitchen recipe #3: corn and chanterelles soup

First, you make a rich broth by simmering in a big pot of water all the mysterious and desiccated rinds of old Parmesan and Pecorino in your refrigerator. If necessary, scrape off the mold. I'd been saving rinds for years.

Then you scrape the kernels off of two ears of corn, quarter eight ounces of chanterelles, chop some onion, combine with the broth, and within 20 minutes you have an easy, tasty soup. I don't mind spending money on chanterelles for a dish this satisfying. Eight ounces of chanterelles is cheaper than anything at the butcher counter.

For you're amusement, here's a fried silkie egg:

As you can see, the yolk is about the size of a man's thumbnail.The new oddball silkies haven't yet merged with the rest of the flock and are being bullied by our evil ducks. Some of the silkies have problems jumping up onto the roosting pole, but some have managed to do so just fine. They're a mystery, those silkies. Incidentally, as soon as I have collected eight more duck eggs to try a duck egg ravioli recipe from Ethan Stowell's book, we are getting rid of the ducks. If anyone is interested in four noisy, dirty, unfriendly, violent birds, let me know.

In other news, here's a very nice review of the new Dorie Greenspan book.