If we can’t experience joy in the things we absolutely must do to live, such as eating, how can we find it in the optional activities that fill almost all our waking moments? Michael Pollen told us in the Omnivore’s Dilemma that one in five American meals are eaten in the car — that’s 60,550,000,000 whopping meals a year eaten in the car (assuming 90% of America’s population of 307,212,123 people eats three meals every day). Aside from the health consequences, this is a tragic number of missed opportunities. Missed opportunities for conversation, for sensual tastes and smells, for a complete and rich experience revolving around food, and for enhancing our lives.
For this installment of our investigation of Alice Waters’s “delicious revolution” tenants, I explored her maxim “Eat Together.” Unlike some of the other principles—for example, eat locally and sustainably—the correlation between action and social importance was not immediately evident. Last week we put the manifesto to the test and experienced an overwhelming bounty: not just of food, but of friends.
Tuesday we met Michael and Tennesse at Lou, a cozy wine bar on Vine Street that serves delicious, seasonal small plates and cheeses in a menu interesting enough to inspire some attempted recreations at home. The approach is classic hidden-gem Los Angeles: enter an ugly strip mall across from a football-field-size supermarket, pass through darkened doors next to a fluorescent-lit Laundromat, and come into a welcoming low-light, long-tables, tree-wallpapered space. The wine presentation at Lou is smart, and almost all the menu selections are available in three sizes: taste, glass, or bottle. I usually order several tastes, thereby creating a customized wine flight that can be easily adjusted along the way. They also offer curated flights if you prefer to be surprised.
Wednesday night we convened with Food Club. Food Club consists of seven gastronomical freaks who rotate hosting a feast of epic proportions, and it epitomizes how food can enrich our lives. Through Food Club, we stretch out of our comfort zone to produce new edibles to delight our friends. We talk for hours, unhurried, enjoying each others’ company. And we give food the respect it deserves by completely and wholly tasting each dish placed in front of us, discussing the ingredients and preparation and striving to understand the creation in our mouths. (Xander and Danika hosted this week, with the menu living in a separate post just in case you need inspiration for your own dinner party.)
Thursday night we invited Krissy and Brendan to our house. There is a bonus gift in having friends who work in public radio: they are fantastic conversationalists. You’re guaranteed to talk about all those interesting topics that they fill their minds with each workday while the rest of us are busy scratching away at spreadsheets. For evidence, check out Krissy’s blog or Brendan’s podcast, the aptly named Dinner Party Download. We made butternut squash risotto, roasted asparagus, mixed greens with blood oranges and toasted pine nuts, and Nigella’s amazing pantry shelf chocolate cake. It was an impromptu affair, with no planning ahead and no recipes with the exception of the cake (see below).
Friday we R&R’ed just the two of us and had a Hanukah-pantry dinner. This is what we call those meals when you’re sure there is absolutely nothing to eat in the house, but when you scrounge through it all you are someone able to produce a full supper, just like the Hanukah lights kept burning for eight nights with enough oil for one. Eating like this helps keep the kitchen-creativity sharp, and helps reduce the throwout-food that is sometimes a wasteful byproduct of being so excited at the farmer’s market that you buy more than you can consume before it spoils.
Saturday we went with my parents to Cube, another neighborhood favorite. Formerly the takeout place Divine Pasta, Cube has evolved into a low-key, food-focused café and market with mostly Italian cuisine and wine and local/humane ingredients. They rotate their menu every week according to what’s fresh, and this week featured a lot of charred tomatoes. A few highlights from our meal: guiltily non-local Italian import burrata accompanied with rosemary focaccia topped with white fig puree; sweet pea and mascarpone tortelloni with a brown-butter sauce (not nearly as sweet as it sounds, truly divine); and shredded brussels sprout tops lightly cooked and dressed with lemon and pine nuts. We had no idea what a brussels sprout top was until we saw them the next day at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market: they are the little cabbage-like ball at the top of a brussels sprout stalk, and surprisingly delicious.
By creating a social experience that includes food, i.e. by eating together, we subtly shift the role of food in our lives: we bring it out of the realm of requirement and into the realm of fulfillment, out of the realm of animal and into the realm of human. My parents are the original foodies in my life and have definitely passed on the importance of food in bringing people together. My family, their families, and even most of our friends, collectively thrill to an evening spent in the kitchen and around the dinner table, savoring the pleasures of the mouth and of the heart, and the ways in which food can draw us close and remind us that we are fully, wholly, alive. And that, I believe, is why what Alice would have us do, is Eat Together.
For your next simple yet delicious gathering, Nigella Lawson’s pantry shelf chocolate cake:
Elegant, tasty, and a bit more minimal-chic than La Stomach’s usual fare. We love having such amazing chefs for friends! Menu and ingredients courtesy of Food Club hosts Xander and Danika.
a splash of olive oil (or canola)
toasted sesame seeds
hawaiian rock salt
seared diver scallop w/ ikura in a lemon beurre monte
scallop seared in ghee and garlic
lemon beurre (water, unsalted danish butter, garlic, fresh lemon juice, salt)
ikura (marinate in mirin and water, roughly 3:1, for 3 hrs. or more)
a spot of sriracha
hot smoked tasmanian trout over a miso cauliflower puree w/ spiced broth
mesquite hot smoked tasmanian trout filets, finished in a pan to crisp skin and caramelize
puree: cauliflower, boiling potatoes (both boiled in whole milk), white japanese miso paste, butter, maple syrup, salt to taste
broth: beef broth, thai fish sauce, cinnamon sticks, star anise, clove, orange rind, fresh garlic cloves – reduce 3 or more hours, continually adding broth to thin
molten chocolate cake w/ fresh raspberry compote and tahitian vanilla ice cream
Last night we had our dear friend and kitchen workout buddy Josh over for dinner in honor of his upcoming birthday. The farmer’s market is on the cusp of Spring, but not yet trumpeting any one season. Only the overwhelming citrus offerings declare it to be March, but you can’t very well serve just oranges for dinner, can you?
The hubby and I settled on homemade pasta with strawberry tomatoes and bocconcini as the centerpiece of the meal, since making pasta is always festive and was in keeping with the simplicity of the produce in season this week. We used Alice Waters’ recipe, from The Art of Simple Food– extra egg yolks and always somehow needing more water, but results in a smooth, creamy noodle.
Josh, the hubby, and I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen together, both ours and his, and get in that nice quiet rhythm of mixing small snippets of real talk in with cooking requests – “chiffonade that basil;” “yes, slice the fennel thinly” – that is profoundly awkward with casual acquaintances and deeply relaxing with close ones.
Suddenly the hubby pronounces: “We do most of them.” Most of what, we asked? He reads off the back of the The Art of Simple Food cookbook, still sitting on our counter:
- Eat locally & sustainably
- Eat seasonally
- Shop at farmers’ markets
- Plant a garden
- Conserve, compost & recycle
- Cook simply
- Cook together
- Eat together
- Remember food is precious
Without being conscious of it, we had gravitated into those food practices espoused by Alice throughout her long career and documented in this book as her “principles of a delicious revolution.” Deeply simpatico with La Stomach’s belief in the importance of the food/life connection, we will explore these in a special series called “What Would Alice Do?” so stay tuned for more.
In the meantime, Alice’s recipe for fresh pasta dough:
The other day my birthday rolled around. Twenty-three, I know, ancient… that or I got in touch with David Fincher to turn back the clock for me. The wife and I headed to our usual special occasion haunt to fete the passing of the year. Stuffed in my jacket pocket, I brought a bottle of wine. No, not the under-ten-dollar variety we usually imbibe, this was something special. While we waited to be seated, the sommelier walked by and noticed the neck of the bottle peeking out from my coat. “I can spot a Beaucastle from a mile away,” she smiled.
Remember that guy I told you about that went to live in Amsterdam to work in a button factory? Well, he eventually made his way back Stateside, where he invented velcro and put the buttoniers out of business… no kidding. Or maybe it was a zipper factory. All I know is that he eventually had a daughter that I wooed in college under the guise of forming a rock band, but that’s another story. So it turns out that after a long day at the button factory, the wife’s father would come home and share the day’s gossip with his wife over a nice meal and bottle of wine. This was decades before the dot com bubblers or now failed real estate titans inflated the price of fermented grapes, and a good village wine with character and grace could be had by even the hoi polloi. And so the wife’s parents drank. And drank, until they refined their palettes and learned what they liked. When they finally made their way back across the Atlantic and holed up in the hamlet of New York City, they stocked up on inexpensive village wines from Europe. Some of the bottles became collectibles, so they sold them off and bought more wine — wine that they could drink and enjoy and not feel too stuffy about drinking with dinner.
When I first ingratiated myself into the wife’s family, they plied me with wine — probably to figure out my intentions with their daughter. But I enjoyed being put through the wine ringer and worked my way through reds, whites, and rosés, champagnes, sauternes, ice wines, and ports. And soon enough, I realized, while I can appreciate a crisp white for a summer meal, a hearty, juicy, earthy red holds a sweet spot in my heart. I don’t care if it’s two buck Chuck or a grand cru from the finest terroir in France, I’m hardwired for red wine. And lucky for the wife and I, her parents had accumulated too much to drink on their own and they enjoy sharing.
On a birthday many years ago, the wife’s parents gave me five bottles of a 1998 Beaucastle Chateauneuf du Pape. The wife and I opened a bottle that year and savored its bold fruity bite with our celebratory meal. On a curious whim, we decided to wait a year to open the next bottle, and soon it became a tradition to open a new bottle every 365 days. I can’t tell you what the differences were each year, but each time we popped the cork open it was a different gastronomic experience. Maybe it was the milestones of the year, or the fact that the wine aged with me, but each year it seemed to get better.
When we settled into our table at our favorite Los Angeles restaurant this year, our waiter kindly decanted our last bottle of the Beaucastle. When the cheese course arrived, we took our first taste. The big upfront fruity roughness had smoothed out into something rich, velvety, mature and refined, something that I can only describe as pure delight. The wine had hit its peak, a portent for a good year to come.
The next week a box arrived on our doorstep. A half case of 2001 Les Quartz Doman du Caillou Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a note, exclaiming, No man (or woman) should ever be without a good red!
The wonderful thing about nature is that it reminds you that somethings are ephemeral. Unless you cross the equator and turn winter into summer in the same day (which the wife and I recently did on our trip to Patagonia… thus my long absence), nature makes you wait for things to come around again. Things like blood oranges that I just squeezed and made into the most delectable balance of sweet and tart sorbet this weekend. But before I tell you why you need to go out get yourself a bushel of bloods, I thought you should know about how I first came to know the peculiar orange.
The year was 1971. It would be years before I even became a lustful thought in my parents’ minds. Spring had just arrived and the first tulips were in bloom. Or maybe it was 1968, no 1969. Yes, February 3, 1969. The Vietnam war was raging, the Tet Offensive launched days earlier. Johnny Cash had just taken his the Folsom Prison Blues to the Folsom Prison. And my father-in-law had just received a plumb assignment oversees. He’d be heading to Amsterdam along with his new wife and two dogs. Ah Amsterdam, where they put mayo on fries and sell space cakes on every corner according to John Travolta. Oh Amsterdam, with it’s canals, windmills, tulips, bicycles, Rembrandts, and Farmer’s Markets.
But before we continue, it might be instructive to tell you a little about my in-laws. You see the wife and I met in college, and I had known her older brother. I first met the in-laws as the nice guy down the hall from their son who freeloaded along with some of the son’s friends for a parent’s weekend dinner at the nice restaurant in town. One day that morphed into the guy who’s dating their youngest daughter. And that’s when strange things started happening. They begun to forget my name. And somehow how, their smiles turned to suspicious grins. What were my intentions anyway. But I stuck around, and somewhere along the way, I proved myself worthy of having my name again… in the kitchen of all places.
You see, back when I was eating my iceberg salads (or refusing to eat them,) growing up, my wife was enjoying endive and radicchio with her butter lettuce and pear vinaigrette. After their yearlong sojourn in Amsterdam, the in-laws returned to New York where they brought their new European culinary sensibility. They ate salad after dinner and had three cheeses for dessert. They were drinking Rhones before they were commodities, having lavish dinner parties with their friends inspired by Julia Child. And just as our relationship began over fine food on that parents’ weekend dinner, it was over the gastronomy that we connected, and somehow, my name came back to them.
Flashback to 1969, or ’72, or whenever the in-laws landed in Amsterdam where the locals rode their bicycles to the market with their straw baskets to shop for the week. And so my mother-in-law made her maiden journey one Wednesday afternoon into the sprawling local farmer’s market without knowing a word of Dutch. She picked up some fennel, celery root, and italian parsley for a winter salad. And some oranges, make that a half dozen oranges. Back at home she chopped the fennel and celery root in razor thin slices, tossed it with the italian parsley, some toasted pumpkin seeds, and then came the oranges. She cut into the first orange, and the flesh was a deep crimson hue. Rotten, she thought as she tossed it in the garbage. The next orange was a ruddy red, followed by one with a ruby tint, then a wine colored tinge… she worked her way through the entire bag of oranges deciding never to go back to the little old lady who sold her rotten fruit. Of course these were ripe blood oranges, but what was a girl from New Jersey living abroad for the first time supposed to know about blood oranges.
Flashforward to one of the in-laws elaborate dinners, closer to the days when they started to re-remember my name, and I had already loosened my belt a notch from the artery busting food they’d plied the wife and I with, when the wife’s father brought out a selection of sorbets and gelatos. While we had in the past made ice cream together, he figured it was easier to make nice with the local italians around the corner who gave him the stuff that never makes it into the main freezer. And feeling that I should cut the richness of a Julia Child student’s meal, I opted for the deep red blood orange sorbet. It was the perfect refreshing blend of sweet and tart, and a crystalline red that just glowed in the dish. My palette cleansed, I was ready for some of that pistachio gelato too, since I had learned early in life, always make room for the finer things in life. Or to quote my precocious nephew, I have two stomachs: one for dinner, and one for dessert.
It’s been a torrid love affair, me and blood oranges. Maybe it’s their brilliant color. Maybe its their tangy zest. I just know I can’t get enough of them. Last winter I experimented with different fruit from different farms, turning our kitchen into a chemistry set, mixing up different concoctions. And the winner always… The Friends Ranch from Ojai. So this weekend, I picked up four pounds of bloods and turned my food processor into a juicer. Then comes the magic: you add 1/4 cup of sugar per cup of juice to the mix (made into a syrup with some reserved juice) and throw it into your ice cream maker (I subtracted a 1/4 cup of sugar this time because the juice was on the sweeter side)… Fifty minutes later, presto — the little men and women inside the ice cream machine that have been working overtime churning away for you pop out sorbetto. It was the first blood orange sorbet of the year, and I couldn’t believe I had to wait so long. So hurry to the market while the bloods are still in season and what ever you do, never, ever, waste a blood orange!
Spank me, curse me, flog me! I know it’s been too long since my last post and I’ve got a boatload of excuses for you: I was making calls for Obama, obsessively checking election results, scouring political blogs, training for a backpacking trip (and hiking with all my free blogging time), my computer was on the fritz, my camera’s acting up… all true, but the truth is we’ve still been going to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. Except for one Sunday morning trek along the PCT, today I give you autumn’s turn at the Market — a variation in four parts.
November 16, 2008
My peach lady (who was selling apples this week) may not be coming back next week so we picked up five pounds of Fujis to tide us over in case she bolts early for the season. We’ve been saying goodbye to a handful of farmer’s whose fields are resting for the spring, part of the seasonal eating ritual. So what did we get? That mound of broccoli is going into some broco-potato-cheese soup along with the celery, carrots, and onions. The oodles of basil will probably be pesto-ized to go along with some lightly sauteed tomatoes and garlic. Those shitakes, thyme and leeks seem to scream F-A-R-R-O to me, while the butternut squash is baking for it’s final resting place on a pizza from scratch (the dough is rising as I type thanks to the Wife). Brussels will be flash steamed and then fried in some butter, while the spinach and it’s baby brothers along with the pepper will probably be eaten straight up — that is unless you send my last minute suggestions and we retool the this week’s improv. Oh let’s not forget the free range eggs that’s be scrambled up or made into a cake.
November 9, 2008
We’ve been spoiled this year with a long succulent peach season. This week Autumn Ladies made their last stand at the Market, officially closing out my fair peaches for 2008. I’m starting to think I should have made some peach jam to tide us over, but oh well… gotta wait until next year. Other highlights from this week include apples, a pomegranate, raspberries, blueberries, an heirloom tomato, farm fresh eggs, kale, arugula, spinach, italian parsley, onion, sage, rosemary, and the first of the season celery root that’ll go well mashed with those yukon golds.
November 2, 2008
Election fever was in the air and everyone seemed to be wearing Obama buttons and No on 8 (Equality for all) and Yes on 2 (give animals the chance to turn around) stickers. This week also marked the debut of fresh pasture raised chicken from Healthy Family Farms. The bird we picked was living less than twenty-four hours before I put it into the oven to roast along with rosemary, thyme, garlic, and a handful of baby fingerlings — this was by far the best roast chicken I’d had in years. We also picked up some leeks, shitakes, apples, peaches, peppers, a pomegranate, raspberries, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, arugula, snap peas, a bushel of basil, sunflowers, and our favorite creamy Soledad Goats Cheese.
October 26, 2008
Radicchio, radicchio, and radicchio joined some crimini mushrooms, italian parsley, sage, and garlic for an earthy lasagna this week. In addition we picked up some baby spinach, onions, carrots, cauliflower, fingerlings, tomatoes, zucchini, tri-color berries, peaches, and flowers.
There have been many meals with friends and family and hopefully I’ll get the time to write about a few of them soon. Until then, happy eating everyone! And feel free to send in your suggestions, who knows — you might get a dish named after you.
The “Farmer’s Market Bounty” series is a weekly, typological photo essay of my Market shopping, which charts the possibilities of seasonal eating.
Fall has finally arrived at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. There were smatterings of summer fruit, past-its-prime-corn, and last hurrah heirloom tomatoes making their final stand, but the season is turning a page. This week we bought our first butternut squash in months that the Wife is currently christening in a squash-sage-hazelnut lasagna with a nutty rue (stay tuned for recipe). We also picked up some Bubalus Bubalis ricotta from our stoned cheese mongers for some more gnocchi adventures. We added to the mix basil, sage, thyme, chanterelle mushrooms, two kinds of cherry tomatoes, honey dates, raspberries, haricot verts, spinach, arugula, brussel sprouts, shallots, “last chance” variety peaches, and some flowers.
The “Farmer’s Market Bounty” series is a weekly, typological photo essay of my Market shopping, which charts the possibilities of seasonal eating.