My friend, Brandon, recently told me that when we are born we have smooth brains. As we get older, acquire knowledge, information and experiences, our brains become wrinkly. I guess as we get older everything gets wrinkly and crevice-y. Not unlike rivers, valleys, and land in general. The Grand Canyon is a very good example of this. Here we have nearly two billion years of the Earth's geological history exposed as a result of the Colorado River and its tributaries cutting their channels through layer after layer of rock.

A week or so ago I was riding out to Malibu with Ryan.  As we were zipping along the PCH, listening to Metallica very, very loudly (is there any other way?), I was suddenly overwhelmed with a flood of visceral memories. As we drove along we passed The Reel Inn where I took my Dad for a dinner while it was so misty and foggy we couldn’t even see the water from our table. It was beautiful. Or Topanga Canyon where I spent most Sunday brunches when I lived out here for a Summer while I was in college. I remember those days being with Emma and Sam. Or that house where I was sent to photograph a brother and sister portrait for their parents. Turns out Heather and Danielle actually pranked me for a Girls Behaving Badly episode. Or that wonky motel on the left where I ended up at 1am with a friend and a backpack filled with wine. We watched episodes of I love Lucy on the little TV and ran around the property like wild animals.

Remembering and feeling all of this again made me happy, sad, longing, empty and completely full. And a little bit old.

I think sometimes about the places we live. The walls we live within. What has happened here? If these walls could talk sort of thing. I wonder about who has loved here, lost here, died here. What sort of wild parties, famous and infamous people have been here? What babies, songs or paintings have been born here?

When I was younger (young enough to still be living in Richmond, Va.), my dad and I were driving down the street and stopped at a light in front of a random, lonely little house in The Fan. He looked at it wistfully and told me about an awesome party, a wild night, he had spent in that house in his twenties. Wow. This little old house? I’ve never even noticed it. And yet every time he drives by it he is taken back to some specific night in his past. How many other people in the world have attachments to that old house for whatever reason? And now I have an attachment, albeit vicariously, to that house.

Much like brains filled with information, causing their physicality to change or actual land changed over time, water, and air - buildings, streets, and places also have a tactile memory for us. They, too, are topographic. All of the traffic over time in all these places makes them their own kind of wrinkly. It somehow reminds me of the Family Circus cartoons. You know, the maps with trajectory using dotted lines?

Obviously food has a special place in our hearts and minds. Restaurants, kitchens, dining rooms, dishes, flavors, smells and textures. The dish I’m sharing with you here is another one of the first ones my dad taught me how to cook. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. 

Sort of like that drive out to Malibu, I don’t have this dish very often. As a result, each time I do I am taken right back to my kitchen on Grove Avenue and I can hear my dad explaining how to prepare it while sharing with me the stories of the times he had made and the guests who partook.

This version has been wildly modified from the original. My dad doesn't even remember how he prepared it initially. The relish he made was Asian-like and incorporated very different produce than I have used here. So, while, over time and use, this dish has changed - become wrinkly, even - its taste and the memory it elicits remains steadfast.

Grilled Salmon with Market Relish over Jasmine Rice

Serves 2

2 ½ lb. salmon filets
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
dash of fish sauce
1/2 lemon
½ cup chopped shallots
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
½ heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (different colors, if possible)
1/4 cup chopped Hungarian Frying peppers
1/4 cup tomatillos, quartered
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded & chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil
1 cup Jasmine rice
2 cups water
salt & pepper to taste

For rice:
Wash rice in several changes of cold water in a bowl until water is clear, then drain in a sieve. Combine with water and salt in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until rice is tender and water is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

For salmon:
Brush salmon with oil and lemon and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Grill salmon on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over glowing coals until just cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.

For relish:
Heat oil in sauce pan, add shallots and peppers. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until somewhat soft. Add garlic, cucumber, wine and fish sauce. Cook down for another 5 or so minutes. Add tomatillos, tomatoes and basil. Salt and pepper to taste.

See photos for assembly and serve with a smooth Sancerre or a dry rosé.


Squashes and Sniffles

I’ve been sick. I never get sick and I’ve been sick. I have a cold. I guess I’m getting over it now. But what misery; a Summer cold.

As a result of this nasty cold, I spent my holiday weekend at home with season 2 of True Blood, a box of tissues, and my dog. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was so sick of being sick that I didn’t even care that my nose resembled Karl Malden’s from so much blowing and I ventured out to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. I’m glad I did. It seems to be better for me to pretend I’m not sick and to continue to do my normal things – with the exception of late nights and too much wine. So I stocked up on beautiful produce gems and marched home to play in the kitchen.

I actually found the most incredible looking potatoes I have ever seen and used them in my World-Famous Breakfast Potatoes a mere hour later. Check these out...

After I made brunch (sans mimosas (gasp!)), I decided to test a couple of the recipes for the next Dinner at Eight: the chilled avocado-cucumber soup with ancho cream and the summer squash gratin with salsa verde. Would have been more fun with mimosas, but such is life.

I was really excited about the gratin recipe, one I’ve adapted from Suzanne Goin. While I am not a huge squash or zuchinni fan, in general, summer squash is the shining exception. And squash blossoms. I adore squash blossoms. They are so delicate, elegant and beautiful both in appearance and taste. I love that summer squash has the tender and edible rind (which is a result of it being harvested early). You could tear that thin veneer with a mere grazing of a fingernail.

In the past I have not waxed terribly poetic over summer squash. I have (rather boringly) sliced it lengthwise and grilled it alongside its plate partner for the evening--a meat item, I imagine. But this dish could very easily stand alone. It has layers of bold flavors within the salsa verde, shallots and garlic. It somehow manages to be both subtle and summery, yet warm and hearty.

Originally I had planned to serve it alongside a Bistecca Fiorentina but thought the flavors would compete too much with one another. Rather, I will be serving it with an herb-roasted pork loin. I feel confident that these two items will dance together brilliantly with their simplicity, comfort and sophisticated earthiness.

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde

Serves 6

2 pounds summer squash
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sliced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme 
3/4 cup salsa verde (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the squash into 1/8-inch thick slices (on the diagonal). Toss the slices in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and let sit 10 minutes.

Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl.

Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the butter and cook a few minutes, until it browns and smells nutty. Pour the brown butter over the breadcrumbs, scraping all the bits into the bowl. Wait for a moment for the butter to cool, and toss well.

Drain the squash and transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the shallots, minced garlic, thyme, salsa verde, and some pepper. Toss to combine, and add the cheese and half the buttery breadcrumbs. Toss again.

Place the squash in a gratin or casserole dish. Scatter the remaining breadcrumbs over the top, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender and the top is crisp.

Salsa Verde

1 teaspoon marjoram leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
1 cup coarsley chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 anchovy
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 lemon, for juicing
Freshly ground black pepper

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the herbs to a paste. Work in some of the olive oil, and transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Pound the garlic and anchovy, and add them to the herbs.

Gently pound the capers until they're partially crushed, and add them to the herbs. Stir in the remaining oil, a pinch of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.