11.27.2011

Frankly, my dear...


I watched Gone With the Wind for the 7,539th time on Thanksgiving. We couldn’t find Home For the Holidays on TV and Maggie had never seen it before. Seemed like a good idea. That film has always had a profound effect on me, but usually in that hopeless-romantic-why-can’t-Rhett-and-Scarlett-just-figure-it-out-already-and-realize-they’re-meant-to-be-together way. As usual, I was a bumbling mess of tears and sniffles when Rhett walked out the door, but this time, for a different reason. I again found myself really identifying with Scarlett, but for a different reason.

Yes, I always appreciate her spirit, her determination, her independence, her fortitude, her bitchiness, her passion. Her moxie. But this time I really saw what propelled these qualities.

Tara.

It made me think hard on that from which we draw our strength. Or, perhaps, that from which I feel I’ve drawn my strength recently.

The little brick house with the big blue doors. Grove Ave. Richmond. Home.

I don’t know what it is. I realize that, while the climate changes with each season, and, depending on where you fall on the matter, global warming, it also changes in our public and private lives. In our cities, our communities and ourselves. And I feel a new wind blowing through mine.


Los Angeles is so many things to me. The most complicated relationship I’ve ever had in my life is the one I have with this city. And yes, I do call it home. But, even at a fairly steady seventy-five degrees year-round, it can often feel very cold.

It loves me and I love it but rarely at exactly the same time do we love each other exactly the same way. And isn’t that always the rub?

I fancy to label myself as strong. And while, I think if I were in a horror movie, I’d probably play dead to fool the killer and not get killed, I really am a fighter. Or, perhaps, I am a survivor. I left home right after I graduated high school deigning never to return (to live). And since graduating from college in Ohio in the mid-1990s, I have been on a trajectory that has taken me to city after city, each one bigger and busier (and traffic-ier) than the one prior. And all the while I’ve been fighting. I’ve been trying prove something. Right now I’m just not so sure what.

And so lately I think It has all been catching up to me. I’m really tired. I mean, really tired. I feel like I’ve been a player in Running Man or something. I want to sleep.  I want to sleep for a long time. Like, a whole day. I want to sleep and I want someone to rub my head. I want to be the Scarlett that Rhett so longed she would let herself be, but just didn’t know how. And I don’t want to be the Scarlett that realized all of this when it was too late.

Or maybe it wasn’t. 

Photo by Maggie.

I mentioned a month or so ago that I think I just need to go home more frequently. I think it’s as simple as that. I think that once the holidays have passed, and my work slows down, I will do just that. Then and there I will sleep (if Dad lets me). I will fuel up, regain strength. And then I can return to my City of Angels bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

After all… tomorrow is another day.


My mom has been baking cranberry nut bread for as long as I can remember, usually around the holidays. And, although I have never wanted anything to do with cooked fruit, for some reason I have always loved this bread. And so - not unlike Scarlett and Rhett, or me and my City of Angels - here we have another complicated relationship. And one that’s worth it.

This bread is perfect lightly toasted with butter alongside your morning coffee and, perhaps your Scarlett or your Rhett...



Classic Cranberry Nut Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:


2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 tablespoons shortening
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans

 

Directions:


Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, shortening and egg. Mix until well blended. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Spread evenly in loaf pan.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely. Wrap and store overnight.





Two years ago: Bool BBQ Truck

11.22.2011

Simplicity: The Hallmark of Genius


My mother's name Kathryn Virginia. My grandmother called her Divinia (Virginia jumbled up and pronounced similarly) and nicknamed her Divi. Most Virginia's are nicknamed Ginny or Ginger but my grandmother had her own special naming and language process. My grandmother had her own special way of doing most things. The mother of five, she became weary of hearing "Mom, oh Mom, Mama" from her brood. Once she announced that she was to be addressed as Brenda (not even close to her name: Esther), so for almost a month she would not respond to anything but Brenda.

If you recall, my mom also has her own special, shall we say, language. Recently, water has turned into watzee, Maggie is Magothy, and I’m still Tweeters. I too have fun playing with my words. So I suppose the apple has not fallen far from the tree for the past three generations.


My grandmother passed away when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I don’t think I knew her all that well but do I have some very specific snapshots of her and her world. First of all, I swear she looked just like Roy Orbison. There was often cream chipped beef on toast happening in the kitchen. And one time, when I was crying about something, she gave me a Monchichi coloring book to try to lift my spirits. I used to love those Monchichis. I remember really loving her bathtub, and I can also recall a hole in the floor upstairs in her house that looked down into the kitchen. I had all of my Christmas mornings at her house in Roanoke until she passed away.


Apparently Grandma made a very involved and very decadent rum cake of which my mom has a very specific, very visceral memory. According to Mom, the cake took days. Part of its process involved wrapping the cake in a rum-soaked towel overnight. Apparently this cake weighed about as much as the family dog. Mom has been trying to unearth that recipe for quite some time now, to no avail.


I’m spending today writing this and trying to track down a recipe that fits the bill for that elusive cake. I'm poring through vintage cookbooks, asking my food cohorts via Twitter, and searching online. I even sent an email to Aunt Babe and Noel. We shall see. If unearthed, this will be the cake served at the December 16th Dinner at Eight. I’ll keep you posted.


In the meantime I am going to share with you the recipe for the most elegant, yet simple, hors d'oeuvres I can imagine. They are little onion sandwiches and they were served at the most recent Dinner at Eight during cocktail hour. I had been hearing about them for years. Mom used to make them in her café back in Richmond and they were a hit. My dad even called me one time after he stopped by a party for their mutual friend, Breeda, where Mom had served them. He said he ate five of them in as many minutes and then had to promptly leave because of his onion breath. I guess they were so good, he sacrificed the party for the sandwiches. Priorities.


The success of this dish depends on the quality of the bread used and the thinness of the onion-slice filling, which must be nearly transparent. I highly recommend using a mandoline. And, of course, you must use Duke’s mayonnaise.





Divinia’s Tea Sandwiches


12 servings


24 slices of a fine-textured white bread
36 small, wafer-thin slices raw sweet onion
1 ½ cup Duke’s mayonnaise
Salt to taste
1 cup minced parsley


Cut the slices of bread into rounds with a small biscuit cutter (or a water glass), about one inch diameter.


Choose small onions and slice them so that each circle will be a little smaller than the bread rounds.


Spread each piece of bread with mayonnaise. On half the pieces arrange the onion slice and season with salt. Cover the onion with the remaining pieces of bread to assemble sandwiches.


Spread the remaining mayonnaise on a wooden board and sprinkle the chopped parsley on another board. Hold each sandwich round lightly between thumb and finger so it will turn like a wheel. Roll the edge in mayonnaise, then in parsley. Set the sandwiches, as they are completed, on waxed paper and chill thoroughly.


11.16.2011

M.B. Post - And a Girl Date.


With a little less than a week to go, I have successfully tested, at least once, every recipe for the next Dinner at Eight. I have delivered one of everything to Jill so she can assess her pairings. I have used all of the leftovers to deliver lunches to various folks around Hollywood and I still have a refrigerator that is fecund with said food.

And yet I wanted none of it for dinner last night.

And so I grabbed up Nastassia and headed to Manhattan Beach to finally sample David Lefevre’s kitchen skills at his, highly praised, M.B. Post. My interest was piqued about Lefevre after I tasted but only one dish a few months back at the Test Kitchen reunion. The downstairs of the townhouse (Sotto) had Steve Samson & Zach Pollack hosting Walter Manzke, Nancy Silverton, David and Matt Molina (Mozza). And some cat named David Lefevre whose last job was executive chef at Water Grill.

When I scrolled down the menu, I surprisingly whipped past all of the chef’s-who-I-was-geeked-about’s dishes and became fixated upon Lefevre’s Braised Pork with Crispy Gnocchi, Summer Squash, Bianco Sardo. Without minimizing any of the other chef’s dishes or skills, as the meal in its entirety was remarkable, that braised pork dish, without hesitation, stole the show. And I was not alone with this opinion.

My friend, Emma, and I were also fortunate enough to be seated at the two spots that gaze directly into the kitchen, smack in front of Lefevre’s station. We both thoroughly enjoyed watching him and having some light banter towards the end of the evening (during which we both promised to hit up his new spot, M.B. Post posthaste).


Cut to last night.

It’s not too often I stray from my Hollysphere, but I am rarely a pantywaist about doing so. I guess I just need the right partner to be down with me. Enter Nastassia, and a perfectly pleasant and lovely drive from my Canyon to the most perfect parking place right next to our destination in Manhattan Beach. Easy breezy.

We were shocked to see the place straight up bustling at eight o’clock on a Monday night. Regardless, our hostess was able to seat us immediately at one of the smaller communal tables.

I look around. I dig it. It’s happy. It’s warm and comfortable. It’s confident. It reflects no affectation. I’m surrounded by flip flops, suits, no make-up, lip jobs, cute boys, frat-types, darling dresses, jeans, button-downs, tee-shirts, regulars and newbies alike. And, hey, it’s in an old post office!

 

Our smiling server, with her Rachel Ray-cute looks and Rita Hayworth-sultry voice, was directly present to get our drinks and had a pretty astute knowledge of the wines on the (solid) list. I went for the Pierre Soulez ‘chateau de chamboureau - grand cru’ savennieres, loire, france, 09 ($13.50).

 

After slightly too long, as Nastassia and I were chatty-chat-orama, we got down to it and ordered a few things in the food department from the menu that wanted to take us on a trip around the globe. We began with the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits with maple butter ($5), blistering Blue Lake green beans with Thai basil, chili sauce and crispy pork ( $9) and the roasted brussels sprouts with Emmental, hazelnuts and sage ($9).

 

 

The biscuits were downright magnificent. Warm, with burny-crispies on the outside and downy and steamy on the inside, peppered with little chunklets of bacon and infused with cheesiness throughout. Then I tried a bite with the butter. It’s a good thing I got to that butter when I did. Nastassia was threatening to lick the ramekin clean… Yes, that’s how good.

 

 

As we giggled in the reverie of the biscuits and got into a little bit of fun girl-talk, our blistery green beans and our roasty brussels sprouts appeared before us. I love a green bean and I love a brussels sprout even more. These were both special, but the green beans really sparkled here. They were perfectly cooked, crisp, but with a give, and accented with bold, heavy flavors. The pork was rich, succulent and salty and added another layer of nuance and texture to the bright and fresh beans.

 

 

Roasted brussels sprouts are something I not only do at home, with great frequency, but I see out often on menus at establishments ranging from gastro pubs to fine dining. More often than not, their preparation with hazelnuts, brown butter, slow-roasted to an almost perfect storm of burn and caramelization is ubiquitous on these menus. This wasn’t a far cry from that, but I will say that I loved that the brussels sprouts were huge, well-prepared and the Emmental and sage were elegant and apt touches.

At our server's suggestion, I moved on to a glass of the Saxon-Brown "cricket creek vineyard" semillon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, 08 ($11.50).

Then we were delivered the Japanese hamachi with yuzu koshu, avocado, puffed forbidden rice ($12) and the Vietnamese caramel pork jowl with green papaya salad and lime ($13). I thought the hamachi was fresh, elegant and delicious. I thought that the dish was conceptually, perfect. But I also thought that the puffed forbidden rice was very big and thick and crunchy and intense. It battled with the delicate and perfect hamachi a bit. I would have loved it just as much sans puffed forbidden rice.

 

 

The pork jowl was divine. It. Was. Divine. It was unctuous, fatty, savory, sweet, acidic, crisp, soft and utterly delectable. This and the green beans are, in my humble opinion must haves. 

 

 

This is normally where I would call it a night, food-wise, and just continue on my wine trajectory. But I was with Natstassia… hello? So, yes, we ordered the Spiced Honeycrisp apple handpies with salted caramel sauce ($7).

I ordered a tawny port to go with this.

 

 

It was awesome. It really was. Nastassia was over the moon. We deduced that there must be lard in that perfect salty crust. I ate a few bites, even with the cooked fruit situation, but I liked it a lot. For a more discerned palate’s dialogue on the dish, I suggest you stay tuned for Nastassia’s words on the matter.

 

But we were really happy. This is a good place. This is a smart place. We both want to return.

 

 

One year ago today: Sausage Over Creamy Lentils

Two years ago today: Grilled Cheese Night at Campanile

 

 

11.06.2011

Mozart. Music. Flowers & poetry.

 
It’s Sunday morning, we’ve just gained an hour, and it’s pouring down rain. It’s perfect. The next Dinner at Eight is creeping up and I’ve been testing recipes like it’s nobody’s business (or definitely like it’s my business). I’m very pleased with the creamy chestnut soup, though I haven’t settled on its garnish. The only problem with the soup is that I gave all my friends samples of it and completely forgot to take some to Jill so she can assess an appropriate paIring. So I’ll be making that again today.

Maggie is infusing the vodka with kabocha and acorn squash for her cocktail and Esi just dropped off her first go at the pumpkin bread pudding with bourbon-vanilla sauce. And I have made two, overly massive, rounds of the short-rib stew with mushroom and parsley dumplings. The second one pretty much nailed it. 

Save for the anxiety dream in which I told the guests the wrong date resulting in no one showing up, I think everything is on course.

It seems things are going well in my universe. Things are stable. Work is picking up, I finally caught up on Sons of Anarchy and sleep, and an old, college friend, Frampy, stopped through town for a visit. That was nice. Mostly.

But let’s get back to the stew. And the dumplings. You see, I had never made dumplings before this whole project. I didn’t really know exactly what to expect. The recipe I used is from The Colony Club Cookbook: one of the dozen old school cookbooks I brought back from my recent trip to Richmond. The recipes in this – and many of the cookbooks from this place and time – are very archaic and very, very simple. They are made for people who were already familiar with the techniques and ingredients that they require and also with how the end result should look, feel, smell, and taste. They are short and sweet.

But for someone like me, who is accustomed to Sunday Suppers at Lucques, with recipes that are pages long, these old school cookbooks are so simple that they become complex.


For instance, with this stew (recipe originally from Gloria Brahany), after searing off the short ribs in their flour mixture, I am supposed to combine four cups tomatoes, some garlic and a little Worcestershire, simmer for and hour and a half and pour over ribs. Fresh tomatoes? Canned tomatoes? This is my stock?  No red wine? No chicken or beef stock? The rest of the directions instruct me to add sliced carrot, onion, potato, and simmer for forty-five minutes. Well, that’s hardly enough time to get the veggies all soft and smushy. Where’s the bay leaf? Where’s the thyme? Hell, where’s the salt and pepper?

Apparently the good folks using this cookbook needed only some bare bones, a skeleton off of which they could riff. And it’s true, a basic beef stew is not rocket science. But what’s the point of a cookbook then, right?

So first off the lack of anything except tomato that would create liquid bemused me.  But the tomatoes quickly became a viable stock, if a bit too sweet. And too tomato-y. Also, Maggie thought that we should do mushroom and parsley dumplings rather than just parsley dumplings. Without thinking I followed the recipe for parsley dumplings and did not compensate for the amount of moisture the mushrooms would add. The dumplings fell apart if you merely looked at them too hard.

Okay. Round two. This time I began with marinating the short ribs in red wine, salt and pepper overnight. I then used about half the tomatoes but added two cups of home made chicken stock and a quarter cup of the marinade wine. I doubled the garlic, added a bay leaf, a sprig of fresh sage, a little thyme and a generous amount of salt and pepper. For the dumplings I compensated for the moisture by adding a great deal more flour, less milk and a drop more salt. I also made the dumplings considerably smaller as they poof up twice their original size once they steam up. They still looked weird to me, but after I did some research online, they looked exactly the way they were supposed to. 

Another example of how stripped down the instructions in the cookbook are. There is no description of how things are supposed to turn out.

The fact that I used LindyGrundy’s meat the second go ‘round also made a world of difference. I would have used theirs the first time but they were closed on the day I needed to get started. Of course, their meat will be used for the stew at the dinner party.

So, in the time it’s taken me to write this, the sun has come out and the sky is clear and bright blue. I’ve still got that extra hour. It’s perfect.

But we are full-on in the throes of Fall and Winter is three weeks away. The holidays are not far off. It’s time for stew.




Short Rib Stew with Mushroom & Parsley Dumplings


Serves 6
Cut 2 lbs beef short ribs into serving pieces. Marinate in red wine overnight.

Combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tbsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper; dredge ribs in mixture and brown on all sides in 2 tbsp hot fat.


Combine ribs with 2 1/2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes, 2 cups chicken or beef stock, 1/4 cup marinade wine, 4 cloves of chopped garlic & 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. 

Add 4 sliced carrots, 2 medium onions, chopped, 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped, 1 bay leaf, a sprig of fresh sage and a tsp of thyme. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 2 more hours.

Skim off the fat and season with salt & pepper to taste.



Mushroom & Parsley Dumplings


Sift together 1 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt. Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 3 tbsp chopped mushrooms. Combine 1/4 cup milk and 2 tbsp vegetable oil, and add to dry ingredients. Stir just until flour is dampened. 

Form small, large-marble sized balls atop bubbling stew. Cover tightly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat (do not lift cover!) and simmer for 15 minutes longer.



One year ago today: SugarFISH
Two years ago today: Scallops with Wild Mushroom Risotto & Rosé Fonduta