Blame It On the Rain.

Yesterday was another rainy Sunday. That’s fine, really. We’ve had the driest Winter that I can recall for some time. The city, and my garden, could certainly use the moisture beating. But I’m so anxious for sunshiny days and hitting the streets on my new, extremely cool, bike (with a basket!).

When it’s chilly and it rains, especially if you’re an Angeleno, accustomed to arid, sunny days ninety percent of the time, ordinary tasks turn into intrepid endeavors: letting the dogs out, checking the mail, getting gas. I get especially miffed when I’m all out in it, physically huddled inwards, scurrying towards cover, and then that One, Humongous, Drop of Rain hits me square in the one exposed inch of my skin, on the back of my neck. It’s just a drop of rain, but it really gets my goat. It sends chills throughout my entire body.

When the weather is like this we also tend to turn inward. It beckons a fire, a crossword and a stack of magazines. Jammies and a ceramic mug of hot tea. Spontaneity is unrealistic and gatherings must be deliberate. And although I knew Sunday was going to be crazy pouring rain, I also had a couple of events I knew I wanted to attend, rain or shine.

The first engagement was a stop at La Weekend for coffee, quiche and lumples - and to support my Mom. So after sleeping in as much as we could, letting the dogs out, and checking the mail, Fred and I bundled up, scurried out to the car (during which time the One Humongous, Drop of Rain hit me square in the one exposed inch of my skin, on the back of my neck. It sent chills throughout my entire body. It got my goat.) Then, of course, we had to stop and get gas as well. And a newspaper.

But then, drenched and wilted, we arrived at La Weekend, and suddenly entered a space that restimulated our sense of smell and reminded us of color and tastes: of rich coffee and sweet pecan pie. As we peeled off our wet coats and shook off our umbrellas my mom greeted us both with a kiss. While we sipped our coffees we shared a healthy slice of quiche baked with bacon, gruyere and spinach and a lumple filled with creamy pimiento cheese. The room was warm and the air danced with jazzy sounds from the stereo. 

And a few hours later, after braving the flooded blocks of Melrose, and bad drivers with too much bravado, we arrived at our second engagement: Domaine LA for their Rosé and oyster tasting. We weren’t even certain that it would still be happening, the rain was coming down so hard. But Fred and I opened the door to see a room filled with happy, smiling and welcoming people - everyone was full of fresh oysters and tipsy from rosé. Now, together, undistracted by the sounds of the street, the pouring rain, we were all committed to our present time. We were enlivened by community. This day, this rain had become a recognition of a season and, moreover, that we need each other.

So stuffed with wonderful snacks and wine, Fred and I went back to his house to finally turn inward. Though the rain had actually stopped and the city's skyline was crisp, clear, bright and saturated with color, we put on our cozies, cranked up the heat, and, while we worked on the crossword together, I made a soup.

I love Sundays.

Rustic Cremini Mushroom Soup with Chives & Basil Oil

Serves 6

1 large shallot, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
2 tbsp butter
1 lb cremini mushrooms, wiped cleaned, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ cup cream sherry or Madeira
6 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
basil oil and chopped chives for garnish

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Don't wash them! Separate the stems, trim off any bad parts, and coarsely chop.

Heat the bacon drippings and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot. Add the shallot, garlic, celery, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add chicken stock and cook down on medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the sherry.

Using an immersion blender puree soup until smooth.

Add lemon juice, remaining butter and salt & pepper to taste. Using a sparse amount of sifted flour, thicken to your liking.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with finely chopped chives and a drizzle of basil oil.

One year ago: Nutter Butter Cookies
Two Years ago: The Grill 'Em All Truck


Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

I looked the phrase up. Years ago every Las Vegas casino had a three-piece chicken dinner with potato and veggie for $1.79. A standard bet back then was $2.00, hence when you won a bet you had enough for a chicken dinner. Winner, winner...

I’ve never been to Vegas. And I’ve lived in LA for ten years. I don’t care about gambling at all, but I like the idea of winning my chicken dinner. I doubt they still do that, but I should go. I should at least check Vegas off my list.

What I do love, a lot, is chicken. For quite a few years now I have been mastering my whole roast chicken. It’s sort of my Sunday ritual. I get a chicken at the Sunday farmers’ market, or at Lindy Grundy, and roast it that night. In the past year, usually Maggie joins me as she’s generally around on Sunday nights. Fred has had one or two, I think. All of my peoples have had my roast chicken at some point or another. Like I said, I’ve been making it for years.

What I love so much about the Sunday Roast Chicken is how it’s really a whole week of chicken joy. Yes, it is dinner on Sunday night. But then it is sliced in sandwiches on Monday, chicken salad or tacos on Tuesday, and chicken stock on Wednesday, used both for soup bases and in our dog’s food for a little yummy, protein kick that lasts for the rest of the week. All from one, small chicken.

I’m not sure why, but unfortunately the chicken entrée is historically the pariah of the menu in most restaurants. It’s treated as the throw away, the cheapest option, the choice for the kids, the relative visiting from Iowa or the seniors at the table. I'm thinking about L.A. Story, the 1991 movie that Steve Martin wrote and starred in as Harris K. Telemacher. He attempts to land a reservation at an upscale L.A. French restaurant called L' Idiot (pronounced Leedy-O), only to be interrogated about his finances by the Fourth Reich Bank of Hamburg. "He can't have zee duck!..." the chef snorts. "He can have zee chicken."

There have always been exceptions, of course. Both Zuni Café's Judy Rodgers and French Laundry's Thomas Keller both have very famous roast chickens that are the stars of the menu. And lately, times they are a changing. Suzanne Goin has a Devil’s Chicken with Mustard and Bread Crumbs that blows my mind. Salt’s Cure often offers a half roasted chicken that is pretty tasty as well. But, to be shamelessly, brutally honest – I think mine is better. And the majority of the people that have had my roast chicken will agree.

On the night that I actually roast the chicken, something magical happens in the house. Regardless of the weather or time of year, it might as well be blustery and chilly outside and inside the whole house is warm and welcoming and smells like home. It feels like flannel and fireplace and jazz.

Although, I am ready for Summer in a big way, I cannot control whatever it is that is going on with our weather here right now (or ever, for that matter). And ever since Fred and I returned from San Francisco last week where we finally sampled the Zuni Café chicken, my wheels have been spinning. And so how fortuitous that we have had a cold, blustery, rainy weekend? And so last night, on a rainy St. Patrick’s Day, Fred and I built a fire, put the Pogues on the radio, and got to roasting a chicken – slow and low, that is the tempo. While that chicken cooked, we snacked on white anchovies, cheese, olives, soppressata, marcona almonds and bread. I also worked on a stock from the chicken feet. 

Then when it was all ready, and the house smelled like cozy, Fred and I sat down, poured ourselves a couple of glasses of garnacha and ate until we were sated. Heck, we even whipped up some sauteed broccoli rabe topped with a beurre blanc to add some green in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day (we are nothing if not festive). We saved the other half of the meal for Maggie to have when she returned home from working a double. And with the week ahead I look forward to all of the other dishes we create from that one little chicken. I'm going to shoot for a pasta tomorrow, I think. Or maybe Maggie can whip up some of her infamously spicy chicken lettuce wraps. Who knows, the possibilities are endless.

And, by the way, as I devoured my chicken dinner last night, I couldn’t help but say aloud, “Yep, mine is better”. Winner, winner...

Now, who’s up for Vegas?

A Sunday Supper:
Slow & Low Roast Chicken with Meyer Lemon and Thyme
with Roasted
Heirloom Carrots, Baby Potatoes & Cipollini Onions

Serves 4

  • 3½-4 lb chicken (free range/organic and fresh)
  • Salt and pepper
  • fresh thyme sprigs (or sage, or rosemary, or all of them)
  • large lemon, cut in 1/8 inch slices (Meyer lemons if available)
  • tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 1/4 lb mixed baby potatoes (yellow, red & purple)
  • 1 bunch heirloom carrots (the more colors the better)
  • 1/4 lb cipollini onions
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Special equipment:

A cast iron skillet that's about 3 inches deep, a pastry brush for basting; a board or platter for resting and carving; kitchen twine

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Preparing the Chicken:
Rinse the chicken well (inside and out) and pat it dry with paper towels.
Tuck the wings up against the breast.
Poke tiny holes through the skin, everywhere with a toothpick or bbq skewer (this helps achieve super crispy skin).
Season 6 tbsp butter with 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, salt & pepper and mix together.
Carefully slide your hand underneath the chicken skin, and gently move over the breast and leg meat to create space between the skin and the meat. You don’t want to tear the skin, so try to keep your hand as flat as possible and work slowly if necessary. Once you’ve created space, evenly distribute the butter beneath the skin.
Next, take 6 lemon slices and slide them underneath the skin, giving them a slight squeeze, and again evenly distributing them on top of the breast and thigh meat.
Take the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and gently rub it all over the outside skin of the chicken. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken and inside the cavity. Drop 2 lemon slices, an onion, a bulb of garlic and any leftover herbs into the cavity, giving the slices a slight squeeze as you place them inside.
Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with twine. Place the chicken breast up in the cast iron skillet. Distribute the carrots, potatoes and onion around the bird. Drizzle the red wine over the top of the whole thing. Top chicken with sprigs of thyme. Finally, squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon pieces all over the top of the chicken.
Roasting the Chicken:
Place skillet in the oven, with the chicken legs pointed to the back of the oven.
After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Check on the chicken every fifteen minutes or so, and when you see it beginning to brown quickly on top, baste the chicken with the pan juices. 
Roast the chicken for an hour, basting several times. The chicken will be done when the juices run clear and when the leg joint can be easily moved if wiggled. A thermometer inserted into the thick part of the thigh should read 180 degrees.


Taking a Leap

This is a leap year. Last Wednesday was the twenty-ninth day of February. A date that occurs once every four years.

A leap year is a year containing one additional day in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year. Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track. By occasionally inserting an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected.

A year that is not a leap year is called a common year.

Admittedly, thus far, this year has been anything but common. At least for me.

But I’m not writing about me today. Well, not much. This one is about my mom. My mom is also anything but common. My mom is also taking a leap right now. This isn’t unusual for her – a woman that packed up her entire life at sixty-one years of age and moved clear across the country with nothing but her two Chihuahuas – to be closer to her daughter. That’s me.

Mom had accomplished a great deal in Richmond prior to up and leaving. She was a bit of a local celebrity there – reinvigorating the 17th Street Farmers' Market, establishing Shockoe Tomato Festival, The Brunswick Stew Festival, a street/art/food festival called Broad Appetît and opened an art gallery – all of which are going strong to this day. She had two cafes that enjoyed much success and appreciation. People still lament the absence of her lumples and  signature sandwich: grilled fresh roasted turkey, pistachio goat cheese spread and red onion on a glazed doughnut.

Since she arrived those three years ago she has had all sorts of unusual jobs. But none of them have resembled the work she did in Virginia. Not even remotely. Let’s face it: this town can be really tough. Really tough.

And so very recently my mom decided that by Independence Day she will be independent of her current job situation - one that is both unrewarding and grueling. 

She is taking a leap.

This past Sunday she launched a project she has been considering for some time now: La Weekend. On Sundays, in the lobby of her rad, old-school building in Koreatown, my mom has set up shop. She’s selling her amazing baked goods – sweet and savory - from breakfast pastries to lavender cupcakes to buttermilk and pecan pies to Ghirardelli brownies to apple cake to sandwiches and breads with compound butters. She’s also offering bottomless coffee (free if you bring your own mug) and iced tea infused with honey and Meyer lemon. Everything ranges from $1 to $4 – and that you cannot beat.

And, no joke, this woman can bake - it is her passion. She was doing all of the desserts for Dinner at Eight until recently. Nastassia said Mom's pecan pie was the best she had ever had (and Nastassia is quite the baker, herself). On Sunday a woman that ordered a slice of her buttermilk pie in the morning (who had never had buttermilk pie before) knocked on her door at five o’clock that afternoon to order a whole pie. So mom got back to baking. Heck, since I've been writing this she's told me she has received two more pie orders: another buttermilk pie and an apple pie.

It’s pretty cool. It’s like she’s got her own, little pop-up. People from the neighborhood and people from the building milling about, chatting, mingling, reading the paper, doing the crossword, watching their dogs running around in the grassy courtyard and around the fountain, Marvin Gaye crooning from the speakers, everyone with their coffee (mostly in their own mugs) and their little breakfasts. It’s something you don’t see in this big ocean of a town too much. My mom has brought that Southern, small town, sense of community to a little nook of Los Angeles. And did I mention she can bake?

You know I’m a savory girl. My favorite item of the day was something she calls Left on Red, a little tribute to a significant element of our fair city. It’s simple, it’s her signature pimiento cheese sandwiched between a plain lumple. It’s rich, creamy and salty surrounded by soft, slightly crumbly and crispy. It’s perfect. It’s filling, yet you’ll want to want another. It’s $3.

However, as I’ve shared the recipes for both pimiento cheese and lumples here in the past, today’s recipe is that of Byrd’s Apple Cake. Mom found the recipe in one of those local Junior League-y type cookbooks in Richmond.  You know, the kind that have spiral binding and very low printing expenses involved; yeah, that kind.  This cookbook is called "Historic Richmond Cooks" and the recipe was submitted by Mrs. James E. Ukrop.  These are the very cookbooks that have some of the best finds.

You can make it yourself or you can meet me, Fred, Maggie, Uncle DougertonNastassia and the gang next Sunday to sample it straight from my mom. And she’ll probably be dancing to Marvin Gaye while she serves it to you.

Oh, and true to the monikor, La Weekend will be open on Saturdays as well after Mom's independence day. 

Until then La Weekend is: SUNDAYS from 9am-1pm  
Ancelle Lobby - 701 Gramercy Drive, Los Angeles CA 90005 

*All photo credits go to Mr. Fred Turko.

Byrd's Fresh Apple Cake

Note:  This is the recipe exactly as it appears in the cookbook.  Mom does not include dates; she uses pecans and Granny Smith apples, goes heavier on the cinnamon, puts in a little fresh ginger and 2 to 3 generous tablespoons of bourbon.

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh apples (about 3-4 apples)
1 cup chopped nuts 
1/2 cup chopped dates

Mix sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, salt and lemon juice.  Beat well.  Sift flour, soda and spices.  Add flour mixture to sugar mixture and beat well.  Add fruit and nuts.  Mix well.  Bake in greased and floured Bundt pan at 325 for 1 1/2 hours.  
This cake freezes well.

One year ago: Son of a Gun
Two years ago: Creamy Artichoke Soup