12.25.2010

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.


What a couple of weeks. What a month. 

Without really even recovering from that which was Thanksgiving, I caught a cold, and had some pretty big stuff going on in both work and home worlds. Although I had lined up dinner commitments for a good many of the nights, I also planned to spend all of my home-times meals concentrating on continuing to clear out and utilize all of the ingredients still left in the fridge from that which was Thanksgiving. There were no more leftovers, mind you, but a lot of ingredients that simply didn’t get used as I went a little haywire on that which was Thanksgiving and made enough food to feed greater Los Angeles. 

Since then, in my kitchen, there has been -– peppered between dining out on anything from an entire pig’s head (I ate the eyeball!) to beautiful, simple food, done right -- oyster stew, roasted heirloom carrots, a couple of filets, sausage over lentils, sausage biscuits, beef bourguignon, any number of pastas, some throw-together hors d'oeuvres for a small holiday soiree last week, and a roast chicken over white beans, leeks and garlic with sautéed rapini.

It doesn’t feel like it, but looking at that last paragraph I guess I’ve been pretty busy.
 

So now, I’ve got my tree up and decorated, wrapped gifts spilling out from underneath (Christmas shopping = done), the house is all holiday-y and lovely looking and smelling, it’s rainy and blustery outside, I’ve got a fire in the fireplace, a pot of chili stewing on the stove, a glass of Chilean Cabernet in my hand, my sweet dog lying next to me, and Christmas cookies baking in the oven (my first ever by myself). So what am I missing?
 

Sam.
 

I came home the other night after a decadent and extravagant holiday dinner with Uncle Dougertons, put on my jammies, clicked on the TV to find some completely banal movie on whatever channel it had been left on, which completely absorbed me. When the final credits rolled, the accompanying song was Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. I didn’t see it coming. I was completely blindsided. I didn’t know why for a moment.
 

I was bawling.
 

Then I realized: this was one of Sam’s favorite songs. He even put it on a mix cd for me ages ago. That cd was stolen from my car in Atlanta about a decade ago. It was also the only thing stolen from my car that day that I cared even remotely about. Ironically, also the thing that probably got tossed in the trash almost immediately by whomever broke into that old Jetta.
 

So what did I do? I ran to my room and grabbed a bunch of my old photo albums to pore through, and even put a framed picture of Sam wearing a Santa hat on my mantle.
 

I was still bawling.
 

It was very late – too late to call anyone – so I texted Paz, Heather and Emma. I just wrote that I was overwhelmingly sad about Sam (they all knew him as well). I think I just wanted to talk about him to someone. Good things. I thought it would make me feel better. But everyone was asleep (I assume).
 

That moment has passed and I feel better now. I don’t feel like bawling. But I realized that that which occurred the other night was a really good thing. No, I could not touch, smell or hear Sam – and I desperately wanted to. But I felt him. I remembered him. I thought about him. And I realized, again, how fortunate I am to even have that. I’m not very good at crying or emoting in certain ways and moments like that night only occur randomly (and very rarely), when some obscure visceral trigger is hit. Then, wham-o.


I’ve written about Sam before – a little over a year ago. I’ll probably write about him again. I want you all to know about him, too. He was pretty great – and has had an enormous impact on my life, and very likely had a lot to do with who I’ve been and am, and will be.

Considering that it's now Christmas I was going to share a recipe for Christmas cookies. But considering A) I can't bake, B) My cookies looked ridiculous, C) everyone has a Christmas cookie recipe anyway (or one can just turn to Martha), and D) did Sam even care about Christmas cookies that much? I sure don't..., I decided to go a different route.



Sam ate oddly. He grazed a lot. Small nibbles throughout the day. He also seemed to prefer really basic foods. My strongest recollection was from college: the most common "meal" he would prepare for himself was spaghetti with a ton of butter, salt and maybe pepper. Well, clearly I am not going to - nor do I have any need to - share that recipe with you. So, I thought I'd do it up my own way. And I think Sam would dig this dish.
 
Happy Holidays and a beautiful New Year to Sam, where ever and however he may be, to Mary (and Jerry) Trice, and to all of my beautiful friends and family. I know how truly blessed I am to have each and every one of you touch my life.



Linguine with Pancetta Mushroom Cream Sauce

Serves 2

Ingredients
  


8 oz
 dry linguine
 
1 tablespoon
 olive oil
 
3 tablespoons
 Pancetta, cut in ¼-inch dice
 
1/2 cup
 1/4-inch thick slices of cremini mushrooms
 
1/2 cup
 Chardonnay
 
1/2 cup
 heavy cream
 
2 teaspoon
 freshly grated Parmesan cheese
 
2 teaspoon
 chopped flat-leaf parsley
 
Small pinch
 minced garlic
 
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon
 freshly grated Meyer lemon zest moistened in 1 teaspoon lemon juice
 

*Fresh lemon zest added at the last minute brings out the lemony nuances of a nice white wine, such as a Sancerre or Puilly Fume. I also suggest adding a pinch of minced fresh garlic just before tossing the sauce and pasta together.



Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Add the pasta and cook 8-10 minutes just until al dente.
 

While the pasta is cooking, sauté pancetta in olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
 

As the pancetta begins to brown, add the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden brown and dry. Stir in wine. Cook until wine is reduced by half. Add cream. When sauce comes to a boil, remove from the heat and stir in cheese and parsley. Add garlic and salt to taste. Toss sauce and pasta together. Garnish with lemon zest and serve immediately.

 

12.09.2010

Salt's Cure: The Little Kitchen That Could (And Does) - Parts 1 & 2

Part 1:


I am a saltaholic. I always crave salty over sweet. I salt everything. I carry my own salt in my bag so I don’t feel like a jerk asking for it in most restaurants. Almost no one can share my popcorn at the movies because of the almost comical abundance of the stuff.

I also like snackables. I love to graze. So you can imagine my delight upon hearing about the opening of Salt’s Cure this past August. Owners, Chris Phelps and Zak Walters, formerly of Hungry Cat, have created a simple, neighborhood café with a simple menu concentrating – but not limited to -  local, in-house cured meats, pates, rilletes, terrines and an assortment of pickled items. They are open for brunch, lunch and dinner, offering a compact and ever rotating menu of smalls to ginormous entrees that upon hitting the palate are anything but simple.

Finally, last Sunday, a mere five months after their opening, I had my first experience at Salt’s Cure over brunch with Brandon and his friend, Jeffrey. Interestingly I had been driving and walking past this building forever and never really noticed it. It’s an old, white garage-y looking space occupying the corner of  Santa Monica and Vista. And their signage is so small (and so very cute: a salt shaker!) that I had doubly missed it. But there Brandon and Jeffrey were, sitting at the table right by the large, almost floor to ceiling front window (not at the bar, sniff).

The room is small, modest, warm and welcoming. There are only a handful of tables and a bar that looks over their little kitchen. I’m guessing they can seat about 35 folks in the whole place (perfect). And always in that kitchen you will be sure to see Chris and/or Zac, cooking away.

Chris P., working away...

After the French press arrived ($5) and my mimosa, served just the way I like it: with one eye droplet of juice ($9), all three of us ordered the same thing for brunch that day. And how could one not? The 2X2X2 – bases loaded - two eggs; sunny side up, two homemade sausage patties (lamb when we went), a biscuit and two slices of thick-cut beef bacon, a ramekin of fresh plum preserves, and a couple of chunks of heirloom tomatoes in a bit of oil and vinegar ($13). We also ordered a plate of roasted potatoes for the table ($4). 


Delicious. Fantastic. Titanic in flavor. This was a perfect plate of brunch-ness. Even the tomatoes were reminiscent of the Hanover variety I vividly remember from Virginia – unparalleled. The biscuit was delicate and creamy, the eggs (Schaner Farms) were bold and nutty with a beautifully bright orange yolk, the house-made sausage was rustic and fresh, and the bacon… oh the bacon. *Swoon*. The potatoes were nice, but not as crunchy, smushy, crazy as I usually prefer them. I loved that they used a medley of different types yellow, red and purple. I will say that the caramelized onions accompanying those potatoes were outstanding. Brandon kept going on about them while spooning little bites of them onto my plate.


Plus, looking around the room, I kept thinking to myself (and saying aloud to Brandon and Jeffrey) that, not only the staff and owners (cute, cute, cute), but the clientele, all looked like my kind-of peoples. The ones who go to the farmer’s markets, the ones who read, the creative ones, the ones with genuinely slightly mussed hair (not cultivated), and big, kooky accessories (or none at all). I felt at home and knew it would be a very short time before my return.


Part 2: 



Less than a week ago, last Friday night, I met my friend Emma back at Salt's Cure at 7pm (told you so!) for dinner before she was meeting a first date at 10pm. And when I said this place was welcoming earlier, I was not just whistling Dixie. Zac literally opened the door for me when I arrived. He did the same for Emma and every other customer that night.

This go ‘round, I had my druthers and sat at the bar. Luckily, we secured my favorite two seats at any bar: the corner. Zac was to the left of me, greeting folks, quality control and whatnot and Chris was right in front of me, cooking epic portions of red meat. The room was warm and lively and smelled delicious. I was happy. I started everything off with a glass of champagne and Emma, a glass of sauvignon blanc.


While we caught up, we decided to order some cheese. Our server helpfully informed us that the cheese selection ranged from soft to hard (insert joke here (which I did that night)). The cheeses are $5 each or $13 for three. We ordered three: the Red Hawk (cow), the Winchester Sharp Gouda (cow) and the Pepato (sheep). The plate was served with some candied pecans, honey and a pair of oat biscuits. I was hesitant to order the gouda because I thought it would be too pedestrian. It was anything but. All of our cheeses were sublime, actually. This was followed by a plate of the pork shoulder ($8) served with walnuts and large, flat-leaf parsley, lightly blotted with a delicate olive oil. The meat was chiffony, tender, and almost melted on one’s tongue. I could have eaten mounds of it (I guess I did eat a mound of it).


This was around when Emma and I (round two or three on our glasses of wine) started obsessing about the enormous slabs of meat Chris was working on the grill. And Emma really started fixating on the Pork Shoulder-n-Beans ($18). Every time she saw it being plated (just about under her nose) she would squeal with delight about how amazing it looked and smelled. Then the two men seated next to us were served one of the gargantuan steaks ($62, serves two people). I asked if I could take a picture – they obliged – and we all ended up tasting each other’s food (the chocolate cake bite I had was outstanding) and laughing and chatting for a while: reason 2849606 I like to sit at bars.


Then Emma decided she had to have the pickle plate ($5) with foie gras pudding ($18) and grey snapper. Don’t get me wrong, no one was twisting my arm either. That foie gras was so light and airy and delicate, it was like a foie gras cloud. I actually screwed the lid back on to save it to take home and, of course, forgot and left it there (wine + karma = sucks). Emma was so blown away by the pickled onions, she ordered another plate of them (good move prior to a first date). It was all beautiful, elegant, yet bucolic. 

 
And then, Emma looked down in front of her, and lo and behold, Chris had placed a half plate of the Pork -n-Beans there, just for her! He had overheard her oohing and ahhing all night (how could one not), and obliged her with a treat of treats.


And this treat, my good people, was dazzling. Emma asked for a knife but immediately realized that it was unnecessary: this meat literally fell off the bone. It was simply prepared yet clearly tended to and thought about for hours and hours, if not days. As Emma was (still) going on about the dish, she offered a bite to the gentleman sitting to the right of her – he partook. Turned out he works there!

Oh, those crazy kitchen guys…

Listen – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, this spot is so much, and then so much more. I hope they don’t get sick of me, because my eatin'-drinkin' self plan to make me part of the atmosphere more often than not.

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