7.27.2012

I Am the Ostrich, Coo Coo Ca Choo.


When I was in college, a group of us in Victor Garcia’s Spanish class went on a trip to Mexico – ostensibly to study the language while immersed in its culture. Fortunately for me, a lot of my closest friends, and my boyfriend, Paul, were in that group. I also had a pretty big crush on Victor Garcia. Not the kind where I wanted to get in his pantalones, but more the kind that I just wanted to be part of his life, his family. He was just so great. And his wife and son were great, too. Very happy. And, he was so attractive.

The program took place in Cuernavaca. We were all assigned and lived with ‘host’ families during the stretch of this program. There were four of us in my house. I shared a room with Carl, who, on that trip, became Ray Ray (he bought a pair of Ray Ban’s from a street vendor and later discovered that on the lens read Ray Ray’s in lieu of Ray Ban’s. The die was cast. He was forever Ray Ray.)  Ray Ray was a short, bald, black, flamboyantly gay young man. At the time I had cut my hair off (myself) into, what I thought would be, a pixie cut, and dyed it canary yellow (myself). And so, in traditional, machismo-infested Mexico, the six-foot tall girl with the cut-off jean shorts, Pac-Man tee shirt and canary yellow hair and the short bald, flamboyantly gay black man roamed the streets. We most definitely got rocks thrown at us from passengers on buses.


I will say, however, that my Spanish was great during this time - though more from hanging out and drinking beer and tequila in the bars with the locals than as a result of the program. Or maybe that was the program…

After the ‘school’ part of the trip, a core group of my friends and I split off and went rogue, exploring Mexico the way we wanted: backpacks, hostels in cities, hammocks on the beach, café con leche, homemade mescal, and a lot of bouts of Gin Rummy. Very late one night, I believe we were in Oaxaca; Amy, Paul, Mike, Ray Ray and I were sitting in our hotel room, drinking tequila, smoking and playing round after round of Gin Rummy. At some point during this evening, at some ungodly hour, we all decided to figure out our animal. We became fixated on getting them just right and spent hours doing so. Here’s what we settled on: Amy was an owl, Mike was a walrus, Paul was a koala bear, Ray Ray was a jaguar, and me – I was an ostrich. What a gyp! I couldn’t even get to be a flamingo? Nope, I was an ostrich.

It made sense, I suppose. I was very tall, awkwardly skinny, had that whole hair situation and I was certainly not the most graceful bird in the land. To be fair, I don’t think Paul was feeling very masculine about being a koala bear. But it really did fit.

Wondering how I’m going to wrap this one back around, aren’t you…



About seven or so years ago, I started going to Santa Barbara County for little trips, long days, short weekends, etc. for wine tastings and micro-getaways. I have been with a few people, and I’ve been by myself. I love the tasting rooms, the wineries, the landscape, the food, the people, the drive up and the drive back. It’s very dear to me. There is a pretty cool place in between The Hitching Post, in Buellton and the little, Danish Colony in Solvang. It’s called Ostrichland. Yes, it is. Ostrichland!

Used to be you could roll right up and see, touch, feed, and be bitten by, the birds (they have emu and ostriches). Now you have to pay. But a measly $4.95 is more than worth all that one experiences in Ostrichland. Did you know that ostriches have the ability to run at maximum speeds of 43 mph, the fastest land speed of any bird? And, the Ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg of any living bird!

The largest egg in all the land? I clearly had to have one. So, at about $30 a pop, I bought one ostrich egg that is the equivalent to approximately twenty chicken eggs.

Other than turning the shell of the egg into a lamp base or some such thing, what was I going to do with an egg that big? This question plagued me for quite some time. So much time, in fact, that I realized I had better do something with the egg or it would simply go to waste, and all I would have is the shell with which to make a lamp base or some such thing. I needed to move fast as y’all all know how much I loathe to waste food.

While I really did like the idea of one, ginormous deviled egg, I realized I would have to make scramble-ness with the egg if I wanted to keep the shell intact for my lamp base (or some such thing). I looked around and saw my rainbow of heirloom tomatoes and it hit me: frittata.

  
And so Fred and I went about making the most enormous frittata of all time. For the two of us. It was a really interesting process, getting the eggy insides out without compromising the shell. The dish took the better part of the morning to cook through as it was a LOT of egg. It filled an entire, large, cast-iron skillet almost to the top. I guess you could say it was really more of a crustless quiche. And it was very tasty. While I couldn’t decipher a real difference in the taste of the egg from that of a chicken egg, I will say that it was much fluffier and lighter than a chicken egg. 


And now I have the shell. I can’t imagine what on earth I’ll do with it. But I like it.

So here’s the deal; after my multiple visits to Ostrichland and bonding with its residents, I guess my animal being the ostrich is not so bad. I’m not really that gawky and lanky any more, but I’m still pretty tall. My hair is not hacked off my head in my personal attempt to resemble Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, nor is it canary yellow. I can’t run all that fast, nor do I really try. But, like the ostrich, I’m kind of goofy, kind of awkward, not very graceful, love to eat, and have my own brand of cuteness and allure. I have also been known to bite.

 



For the recipe below I am providing you with the recipe with the standard measurements rather than the ginormous ostrich egg version. If you would like to try this with an ostrich egg, multiply everything by four...




Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Basil Frittata



Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
6 large eggs
¼ pound ground sausage
6-8 slices of red onion, very thinly sliced 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons grated gruyere cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped pistou basil
Handful of green and purple basil, mixed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (mixed colors & sizes), cut crosswise into 1/4" slices


Directions


Preheat oven to 350°.

Brown sausage in a 10-inch (2-inch-deep) ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, 7 to 8 minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink; remove from skillet, and drain. Wipe skillet clean.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in sausage, cheese, pistou basil and garlic, cubes of butter and season with salt and pepper. When oil is shimmering, pour egg mixture into pan and cook until eggs begin to turn golden brown around the edges. Arrange tomato slices, red onion cirlces and basil leaves on top of egg mixture. (Some tomato slices may sink.)

Transfer skillet to oven and bake frittata until eggs are just set in the center, 10-12 minutes. Using a heatproof spatula, loosen frittata from pan and slide onto a warm plate. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.




Three years ago: Vichyssoise


7.16.2012

Girl on Grill.



I feel bad. Maybe you haven’t noticed, or maybe it’s not a big deal, but I feel bad for being kind of absent lately. For the past couple of months a lot of things have been in flux. It’s felt a little bit like a deck of cards tossed up in the air. And some haven’t even hit the ground yet. But everything is all good, mind you. 


You all know Maggie, my dear friend and roommate of two years? She recently moved out. She found a magical, little spot all her own. Don't worry, she didn't go too far. In fact, we have plans to kick back with some wine at her new place tomorrow night.

Alas, you know how it go – Ch, ch, ch, ch, changes.


In the midst of Maggie’s move, my birthday happened. It was a fun one. Fred and I went to Los Olivos (and places surrounding) for the better part of the weekend, explored, went to wine tastings, had a beautiful dinner, and embraced the drive both up and back. I got some beautiful and touching cards and some wonderful gifts. Surprisingly, I actually received a couple of pretty extravagant gifts. One of these was from my dad. He called me and told me he wanted me to have a gas grill. The wording here is important: he wanted me to have. I already have a charcoal grill that I have been perfectly happy with for years. I had no idea I wanted or needed a gas grill. Dad’s logic was that, with a gas grill, I could use it like an oven and wouldn’t even have to heat up the kitchen. I guess in the Summer in the South that is a huge plus.

Dad seemed very enthusiastic about his gift idea (it reminded me of the time I was thirteen years old and he was brimming with excitement to give me the surprise gift of, wait for it… a plant), and I get it. It’s fun to give a gift. It’s rewarding. And when you think you’ve drummed up the best gift idea ever, it’s downright titillating. I’ve often felt it more fun to give gifts than to receive them. I guess that all depends on the gift going in either direction, though.

And so, after an arduoulsy involved process, I brought home my shiny, new gas grill. Dad insisted I get a Weber. He has one and he loves it. He told me, “I’ve had dozens of gas grills and this one is the best.” So that’s what I got.


This was about two or three weeks ago, and ever since the first day we put it on the patio, Fred (who was captivated by the idea from the get go) and I have done some thing or another with the grill almost every day: steaks (two or three times), BBQ chicken, mojo chicken wings (courtesy of Erika at Lindy & Grundy), vegetables, salmon, veggie burgers, meaty burgers, sausages, lamb chops, onions, a pork tenderloin. More than once I’ve sparked it up just to grill a zucchini or a sausage to use in a separate dish. And tonight we are going to grill oysters! I must admit, I love it and it is tons of fun – Thanks, Dad! Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about my little charcoal grill still which sits proudly on the patio, right next to The Monolith.

The most interesting thing we’ve been doing on the grill, and the most frequent – hell, and the most fun – has been pizzas. We have now made pizzas four different times, with a number of different kinds of pizzas each night. This past weekend we made four pizzas: a breakfast pizza with sausage egg and cheese, a classic pizza Margherita (but with purple basil instead of green (pictured above)), a dessert pizza with grilled peaches, mascarpone, mint and honey (not pictured) and Fred’s wild card pizza with grilled corn, salsa, cilantro, onions, bacon and Cotija cheese (pictured at top). They were all fantastic except for the dessert pizza. A - we didn’t think it through completely and the mascarpone turned into liquid and B – grilled fruit is going to make me hesitant because it just does. But I loved the idea of breakfast, dinner and dessert pizzas, all in a row. My favorite of all of our pizzas was the 'breakfast pizza'.


And so, my dear dad ended up giving me a pretty rad gift. And one I didn’t even realize I would want at the time. And I can’t even imagine all the amazing meals that lie ahead in the years that I will have my grill. So much better than a plant.

And with this, things are settling. New colors and shapes and people and sounds. 


You all know Fred? Well, pretty soon he’ll be moving in. The grill, Maggie, Fred…

Strange fascination, fascinating me.
Ah, changes are taking the pace I’m going through.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.


Sausage, Egg & Fontina Cheese Pizza


Makes 8 slices

What you need/what we used:
Pizza dough: make your own or use prepared pizza dough. In full disclosure, we used the prepared stuff from Trader Joe's = Not. Too. Shabby.

1-1 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes, cooked down with olive oil, basil, salt & garlic

1 1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese

1-2 grilled Andouille sausage(s), sliced

2-4 eggs (entirely depending on your eggy wantonness)

Salt & pepper

What you do/what we did:
Prepare the grill for high direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat for 10 minutes until the temperature is between 550 and 600 degrees. Prepare a small bowl with olive oil for greasing the grill grates and for brushing the pizza. Prepare the toppings so they are ready to go on the pizza - tomato sauce, cheese, and anything else you wish.

Shape the pizza dough by flattening it with your hands on a slightly floured surface. Either use your fingers to stretch the dough out, or hold up the edges of the dough with your fingers, letting the dough hang and stretch, while working around the edges of the dough. Once you've stretched the dough, let it sit for 5 minutes and then push out the edges with your fingers again, until you have a nice round shape, about 12-inches in diameter. Do not make a raised rim, it will interfere with the grilling process.

Note that if you are preparing the pizza dough for a party, you can make several pizza dough rounds, stack them separated by parchment paper, and keep them in the refrigerator for up to two hours before cooking.

Once the grill is hot (you can hold your hands an inch over the grates for no more than 2 seconds), dip a tightly folded up paper towel in olive oil and use tongs to wipe the grill grates. Then place a pizza dough round on a lightly floured (or you can use cornmeal) pizza stone (or rimless cookie sheet). Let the dough slide off the stone onto the hot grill grates. Close the lid of the grill and let cook for 2 minutes.

After 2 minutes, open the grill and check underneath the dough to see if it is getting browned. If it is on one side, but not another, use a spatula or tongs to rotate the dough 90 degrees and cook for another minute. If it is not beginning to brown, cover the grill and continue to cook a minute at a time until the bottom has begun to brown. It should only take a couple minutes if you have a hot grill. The top of the pizza dough will start bubbling up with air pockets which you should stab and pop - gently.

Once the pizza dough has browned lightly on one side, use a spatula to flip the dough over so that the grilled side is now up. 

Paint the grilled surface of the pizza with a little olive oil, then cover with 1 ladle of sauce – no more, or you'll end up with a soggy pizza. Sprinkle on your grated Fontina cheese, slices of grilled sausage and, finally crack the eggs on top. Remember to go light on the toppings, or your pizza will be heavy and soggy.

Slide the topped pizza back onto the grill. If you are using a gas grill, reduce the heat to medium. If working with a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way. Close the lid and continue cooking. After 2-3 minutes open the lid to check the egg and the bottom of the crust. You want the whites just cooked through and the yolk soft. If the grill marks start to get too dark before the eggs is done, lower the heat some more and rotate the pizza 90 degrees. Check every 2 minutes until the eggs is done and and the cheese is bubbly, pull off the grate with a spatula onto a cutting board or other flat surface and let rest for a couple minutes before cutting into slices.


Salt & pepper that bad boy, slice and serve!




Three years ago: Pimiento Cheese