Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thanks. Wow. Help.

The green chile posole from Homesick Texan has supplanted the seven chile chili as my favorite recipe in Lisa Fain's wonderful book. It is tangy, spicy, hearty, and brothy. And green. I had been missing vegetables. I made chicken broth from scratch for this perfect soup which probably contributed to its perfection. Recipe here. Make it. Don't omit the lime or the shredded jack cheese. They're essential.
Lisa Fain's grandmother's chocolate pie was swell, like chocolate pudding in a crust with a ladylike cap of meringue. We enjoyed this tasty old-fashioned dessert. Isabel offered the first dissent on the vegetable oil crust, said she didn't like it as much as my usual crusts which are made with butter and/or lard. I would have to taste two crusts side by side to opine with authority, but I think she means the vegetable oil crust is "crackery" rather than flaky. It has less body and less flavor. But the difference is slight and this crust pre-bakes like a dream. Fain's recipe doesn't call for weighing the crust down with rice or beans when you pre-bake. Unheard of!  She says you can use weights if you want, but she doesn't call for it. Who wants to line a pie shell with rice? I don't. I dread it. It's that irksome extra step that puts me off making a pie that requires a pre-baked shell. So I tried baking without. Miracle. No bubbles, no shrinkage. I like this pie crust recipe.
There will be no more Homesick Texan reports until the weekend. I am on Catalina Island. Magazine business. I'm moving off of food topics now, because I've got other stories to tell and a few people, like my sister, will enjoy them, but you can safely stop reading if you're here for the recipe commentary.

Yesterday I mistook the arrival time of my flight in Los Angeles for the departure time from San Francisco. I dawdled at the library looking for books for the trip and was happily eating a tofu wrap at the Marin Airporter bus stop, about to open my "in-demand" copy of Anne Lamott's Help. Thanks. Wow., when I discovered the hideous mistake. Raced back to the car, rollerboard rattling behind. Miss the plane, miss the last boat to Catalina, oh you foolish and careless girl . . .  One hour later I was buckling the seatbelt of 18A, holding my shoes, gasping for breath. If you have any idea what's required to get from the Manzanita bus stop in Mill Valley, California to a seat on a Virgin Atlantic flight to LAX in 60 minutes flat, you are either raising a glass to my awesomeness or pursing your lips at the speeding and unseemly begging into the first-class security line.

I read Help. Thanks. Wow. on the plane. Those are Anne Lamott's three basic prayers. I wasn't raised with religion and am always trying to understand it and this short book was amusing and mildly helpful. Very mildly. I thanked the universe for letting me get to that plane without killing anyone or myself. Thanks. I would have done that anyway. I often thank the universe. It doesn't feel like how I imagine prayer.

Then I started my second "in-demand" library book, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I read it on the molded plastic chair at the Long Beach boat terminal, I read it on the boat as we rocked across the channel in the dark, I read it while I drank a buffalo milk (more on that ridiculous and delicious sundae/cocktail later) at a bar here on Catalina. The book is big-hearted, funny, wise, fantastically well written, and I guzzled it down because it was so totally delicious. Wow. Unlike the rest of the world, I didn't get into Wild, but I'd finished Tiny Beautiful Things by midnight.

This book will rub some people the wrong way. I need to say that. Strayed has a strong voice and not everyone is going to dig it. For a while I was recommending Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman to everyone I knew, but I've stopped because one of my best friends and my sister-in-law definitely did not dig it. This is a spot-on and super-clever review of Tiny Beautiful Things if you want to know more before one-click ordering or requesting it from the library. (Justine, you don't need to read the review, just request immediately.)

Anyway, Strayed is one of those cool women writers who toss off  ass**** and mother****** and get away with it and it makes me so jealous. They're tough, useful words, but when I type them I see my mother's face and she looks sad. Disappointed. I'm going to try to embrace jackass, though. That's another Strayed favorite and when I type jackass my mother smiles, very faintly.

The fruit at the hotel continental breakfast here tastes like it was cut with the same knife used to make sashimi. I'm unsure how I'm going to tap into the wonders of this scrubby, rocky island in 2 frigid days and write a sparkling, fun story about it.

Help. And another cup of coffee.


  1. Better than the 7-chile chili, that I made a special trip to stock up for, and cost $27 for the chiles and $30 for the meat? And then was gone in 2 meals? Sigh. Darn it, vile temptress.

    I liked Wild, and I liked Tiny Beautiful Things, too. Wild I devoured, while TBT I had to consume a little at a time. Which sounds like I liked Wild better, but I didn't. They were companion pieces, but only TBT made me want to be a better person. If more people practiced radical empathy, I think the world would be a better place.

    I saw Strayed in person, and she was charming as all get out. And she urged us all to "write like mother f-ers".

    But reading TBT did make me want to use MF way more often, which is not necessarily useful for this mother of 2 small children. so I often just add it in my head, but hope that it continues to stay on the inside: Put on your boots, ..."

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  3. I finally received my copy of Fain's book. You just had too many wonderful things to say about it. I couldn't resist any longer. You have my admiration for making the flight. I don't want to think of the frenetic activity it took to get there. I will check out TBTs. I love book recommendations, so thanks! I think profanity is a medium, and one that can be used effectively if that is actually how you express yourself. I admit that I am proficient in it!

  4. I say MF all the time in my head, and jackass aloud when it is necessary, which is more than one might think.

    My library doesn't even carry "How to Be a Woman," so I will have to buy it on the cheap, I guess.

  5. Buffalo Milk sounds like of good... reminds me of the Hummingbirds I drank in Jamaica!

    I went to Girl Scout summer camp in Catalina as a kid. Summer camp was great ~ we used to pull our bunks out onto the beach to sleep at night. Winter's probably not the best time to visit, though isn't it 75 in LA today?!

  6. just put Tiny Beautiful Things on hold at library and checked out San Miguel. I feel like I hit the lotto!

  7. Did you roll out the cracker textured crust, or pat it in? The patted in crust is crumbly, like shortbread, so she may like the texture better. I also like the addition of almond flavoring. When you add sugar as well, it mysteriously makes the crust taste like marzipan.

  8. Best. Post. Ever.

  9. Lard crusts a dessert in and of themselves. Vegetable-oil crusts a functional container for the pudding filling.

  10. I love Caitlin Moran and didn't like _Wild_ so I'll take your rec on this one. And on the posole, yum.

  11. Too bad it's raining in Southern California today! Yesterday was sunny and stunning. I hope it clears up for you. Catalina is weird. Pretty, but in my experience oddly conservative, considering they all scoot around on bikes or in electric vehicles.

  12. How funny! I loved How to Be a Woman too, but as a bookseller in a hippy town, find it a bit hard to recommend to those aging hippies who think they know it all. I say that with love.
    And I loved Tiny Beautiful Things...Katherine Lanpher who moderates Upstairs at Union Station through Barnes and Noble recommended it while I was taking a class from her. I ate it up just like you did. And then started over. But I too recommend with reservation. I can't pull off swearing all the time. Sometimes I mean it. And sometimes, I just want a laugh. People know the difference in real life or in my writing.

    I love your voice so don't change a thing...and jackass works for you:) I don't do well with emoticons. Sorry.

  13. I think if you're looking to Anne Lamott to understand why people get into religion, you might want to check out one of her earlier books, Operating Instructions. The focus is on becoming a single mother but her Christianity was newer and fresher then also.

    I was raised in a Christian context, so for me life has been about coming to understand that in interaction with the rest of the world. Why people convert is something of a mystery to me too.

  14. I too love the easy of an oil crust. A mild olive oil provides more flavor, and if you chill the dough, actually hardens into little balls which when rolled out give a tiny bit of flakiness. If mild enough I find the olive oil flavor doesn't taste awry with sweet pies, though savory pies are admittedly better. Also, using buttermilk instead of milk adds a bit of bite as well as that little bit of acid that helps with tenderness. I also use melted coconut oil, but the flavor is obviously stronger. When used firm, in place of shortening, coconut oil makes a tender and flaky crust. It can also be combined with oil or butter.

  15. Your writing is in my head. It is cold and dry in Southern California right now and my house is filled with scent of chicken stock reducing on the stove top.

    At the end of a recent self-inflicted stressful day I asked my husband to stop by KFC. As my family munched on honey topped biscuits I read to them your paragraphs about the Lord of the Rings and KFC. My husband was appalled, I countered that it was brilliant because you had done it, wrote about it and therefore I didn’t need to live it out myself, which I would have absent your words of wisdom regarding home fried chicken dinners.

    With regard to religion, a wise rabbi stated the first two commandments are key, everything else is commentary. Love God (thank you) and love thy neighbor as thyself. Jesus says he didn’t come for the saints, but for the sinners.

    For dolts like me who need more explicit instructions.

  16. I was a bit disappointed with the posole. In the end it was still tasty but lacked any real chile pepper flavor. I was particularly looking forward to the roasted poblano flavor, but it just wasn't there. I'm pretty sure I followed the recipe but there is always a chance that I screwed something up.