Friday, April 29, 2005

Meat, pancakes, and thanks

Thanks to new Pie Queen reader Christina for turning me onto Food Porn Watch, a compendium of food blogs, and for agreeing that yes, being a Scorpio can be a bitch sometimes. And for SFist for this great line, posted by a reader about wharfside dive Red's Java House,

Years ago I went to lunch there with a few friends. It was a double dog and a beer for $2.25. Bud was the only beer. When my friend asked for a lite beer the old lady behind the counter said:"drink half".

Another find: Meathenge, which sounds like a stoner heavy-metal band, but is actually a Berkeley blog all about cookin' and eatin' the red stuff. Actually, Meathenge is a living cautionary tale, because in a recent post the author spoke woefully about having to lay off the meaty goodness now because he has gout. So sad! So Dickensian! But his pre-gout postings remind me of the great piece my old pal Brian Bouldrey did for his "Paper Dandelion" series in the Bay Guardian (and later published in a book called Monster: Adventures in American Machismo), on a huge all-meat extravaganza held at his Lower Haight apartment. The only critter that escaped was the rattlesnake, and that's only because we forgot to take it out of the freezer.

But back to what I'm actually cooking...Anyone else just about had it with the crumbly matzoh sandwiches? Counting down to Sunday night's pizza and Monday morning's croissants (from Almondine in Dumbo--fine, fine, superfine, and now that it's finally nice out, you can go eat your sublime pain au chocolats and raisin swirls outlooking the river instead of inside the bakery's boxy little front room), but until then, these pancakes are pretty good, even though you do have to get the mixer going to whip the egg whites.

Passover Pancakes (for one)

1 egg, separated
pinch salt
1/4 cup water
good shake cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup matzoh meal

Beat egg yolk, salt, water, and sugar together with a fork until foamy. Add cinnamon and matzoh meal and stir. In a separate bowl, beat egg white until stiff. Fold into matzoh batter. Cook on a buttered griddle until golden brown on each side. Serve with lots of butter and syrup. You can add fruit or nuts to the batter too--I added a couple of chopped-up frozen strawberries, and that helped a lot.

Other things to look forward to this weekend:

The Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. When the cherry blossoms were in bloom in DC, I got a text message from E. saying they looked like giant piles of pink whipped cream. We'll see how the Brooklyn trees stack up.

Hoping the upstairs deck at Alma is open for the season. Margaritas! Salsa! Smoggy industrial views of the roofs of Red Hook!

The movie version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Hey, I did the arty black-and-white French thing at the Angelika yesterday (A Toute de Suite--melancholy, but good. A lot of loooong pauses, with close-ups on the actor's blank but emotionally fraught faces.) Now, popcorn!

Pizza, baby, pizza.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

All Pie Radio

According to this article , the Bay Area’s KYCY is going to an all-podcast formula, ditching their usual syndicated smoothies for amateur chat. It’s the radio version of reality programming—except, of course, if you eat a bug on the radio, no one can see you. But they can hear you scream.

I love radio shows. I’m a sucker for Garrison Keillor’s mellifluous rasp and semi-sermons on Prairie Home Companion. (For some reason, I’ve never swallowed the NPR Kool-Aid, although practically everyone I know is a dedicated listener.) Of course, being on the radio is even more fun than just listening. I said all kinds of things I probably shouldn’t when Karlyn (a.k.a. Fairy Butch) interviewed me on Planet Out back in 1998, the infancy of Internet radio. And I made up a lot of other things when I got to go on NPR myself to promote the Anti-Bride Guide.

Why not take the Pie Queen to the airwaves? I love the idea of a radio cooking show, where it's as if everyone's hanging out in my kitchen while I natter on about butter or dating or the joys of souffles (except that, oh joy, I don't have to clean up first). But how to do this?

Anyone? Anyone? If you've got any kind of podcasting/radio cluefulness, please chime in. You could even earn a homemade pie, baked by yours truly, for your trouble!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kung Fu Fighting

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 21)
Gosh, Scorpio, it sure would be nice not to have to deal with the greedy needs of a stupid body. You could rent yourself a sensory-deprivation chamber or get hooked on drugs in order to escape your physical needs, but why not be as badass as you claim to be and try getting grounded in your bod. It'll help you cut some emotional crap.

Double Team Psychic Dream is the main reason I still check out the Bay Guardian online every week (now that they've finally cancelled my Table Ready column, 2 1/2 years after I left San Francisco). Written by Michelle Tea and her astrology pal Jessica Lanyadoo, their horoscopes are short, pithy, and kick my ass more often than I like to admit. Since I'm on the cusp of Libra and Scorpio, I get to read both, but clearly this is a Scorpio week. Cutting the emotional crap (and earning a living again) is very, very high on my list of What Must Be Done. And after reading this Talk of the Town and seeing the truly fabulous Kung Fu Hustle last night at my local movie palace (Cobble Hill Cinema, on Court Street--all movies only $5.50 on Tuesdays and Thursdays! Rock on!) I know just what to do: Start kicking things. Hard.

Poekoelan (which I always want to call Pokemon, thanks to the influence of my 8 yr old nephew) is a discipline based on traditional Indonesian martial arts forms. My writer pal Louise Rafkin, who runs Studio Naga, a Poekoelan school in Oakland, turned me onto it, when I was equally depressed last summer. There aren't very many Poekelon schools in general, but there is one in Chelsea, right near my old apartment on Hudson St. I started going to the early-morning class, which focused on self-defense. Just the warmup--stretches, kicks, running around the room--had me panting, and probably will even more now that I'm no longer living in a 5-floor walkup. But I need to go back, even though it's 30 minute subway ride away now. Sweat, discipline, counting to twenty in Indonesian, pushing my body instead of beating up on my mind. It's time.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Seahorses and Gefilte Fish

Perhaps if Tasmania had been a normal place where you had a proper job, spent hours in traffic in order to spend more hours in a normal crush of anxieties waiting to return to a normal confinement, and where no-one ever dreamt what it was like to be a seahorse, abnormal things like becoming a fish wouldn’t happen to you.
I say perhaps , but frankly I am not sure.

-Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish

And speaking of fish, it's that gefilte-fish time of year again. Happy Pesach! Got a call from my old friend Molly McKay on Saturday afternoon, asking for help with Seder recipes. Molly has been coming to my crowded studio-apartment Seders for years. Although I'm on the other side of the country these days, she's gotten into the Seder habit now, so this week she's hosting her own, with Supervisor Mark Leno and half a dozen other Bay Area political/activist hotshots in attendance. But first, Molly needed to know: did the horseradish go directly into the charoseth? Yikes! This is why long-distance phone service is a good thing. So I quickly explained that no, you eat the horseradish with the charoseth for the "Hillel sandwich," but you don't mix it in. I also explained the importance of using that nasty sweet kosher concord-grape wine for the charoseth; nice Baron Herzog cabernet WILL NOT DO. Trust me, I've tried, and it just doesn't taste right.

Passover food is, for me, some of the most intensely nostalgic, because it's strictly a once-a-year experience. Gefilte fish, matzoh balls, charoseth, even matzoh itself--I'm instantly back at my grandparents' table, with my grandfather Leo at the head of the table, leaning on a pillow, and my round little grandmother Fae dishing up the chicken soup and brisket.

Once I was on my own, I dropped all the Jewish observance I'd been brought up with for quite a while. I was free, I was in California, I was twenty-two and out and thrilled to be far, far away from the constraints of suburban New Jersey. Judaism meant Hebrew school and sitting outside the temple during the all-day Yom Kippur services making up songs about food (since it's a day of fasting) and not being able to eat the Easter candy we'd get from my other, non-Jewish grandmother when Easter fell during the 8 days of Passover, as it usually did (since the Last Supper was actually a Seder). Since there's (obviously) no such thing as kosher-for-passover Easter candy, we'd spend a a rambunctious day at Gussie's hunting for Easter eggs and Easter candy only to then tote our baskets home, where all the sparkly metallic foil-wrapped bunnies would have to sit there on our dressers, day after day, the Peeps hardening and the plastic grass falling onto the carpet. Temptation--for an 8 year old, that's Eve's apple right there, in the shape of a solid milk-chocolate bunny.

But then somewhere in the mid-90s, much to my surprise, the rituals and the sense of community and family and roots started tugging at me. I didn't go back to temple much, but I did start cooking. First it was a few people for a Rosh Hashanah dinner, with homemade round challah and apples and honey for dipping. A few months later, it was latkes and borscht for Chanukah. And then I got a Hagaddah out of the library, xeroxed half a dozen copies, and had my first on-my-own Seder.

Over the years, the guest list expanded, always including last-minute friends of roommates of friends, whether they were Jewish or not. Passover is like Jewish Thanksgiving; as long as you can possibly squeeze in one more chair, you have to open your door. There's even an injunction to this effect in the Haggadah--"Let all who are hungry come and eat." Traditionally, an extra plate is always laid, and it's a mitzvah (a good deed) to welcome a stranger to your table. Friends became family, coming together for the holidays year after year. One spring, the mystery guest was my roommate Steve's long-lost gay cousin and his WASP boyfriend; my best friend from college Paige, who's a kind of honorary Jewish lesbian (even though she's actually straight and goyishe), came pregnant one year and nursing a baby the next.

On one grand occasion, 13 people sat down for dinner in my tiny Valencia Street apartment. Folding chairs filled my closets, as did garage-sale plates, a extra-long tablecloth, and Jackie's aunt's old Seder plate. I ended up writing my own Haggadah too, mixing in elements from several different Haggadot to make one that was inclusive and feminist and meaningful. (Although the story and rituals are always the same, there are hundreds of different ways to do a Seder, and hundreds of Haggadot, from Marxist to lesbian-feminist to super-traditional. The only Seder invitation I've ever bowed out of, though, was Jill's "nude erotic Seder." There, I draw the line.)

Sometimes the Seders were vegetarian, with golden dill-and-garlic-broth matzoh ball soup and a "paschal yam" (instead of lamb) on the Seder plate, plus the famous roasted-beet salad with orange-pomegranate dressing--my never-fail secret conversion weapon against the beet haters. I tried making sponge cake one year; as it cooled upside down (to keep it from compressing), chunks of cake started breaking loose and hitting the counter in clods. My old friend Jen called to tell me she was having doubts about her kugel; I told her I was sitting shiva (the traditional Jewish rite of mourning) for my spongecake. Luckily, lovely Leslie (living up to her email address of "lesliecake") arriving bearing strawberries, whipped cream, and a flourless chocolate cake, which was instantly devoured and immediately became a Seder menu staple.

This year I went back to Mike's parents' palatial apartment on the Upper West Side, where there were twenty guests and an endless parade of kugels and braised chicken with dried apricots and platters of asparagus and bowls of little chocolate-chip meringues. I sat at the kids' end of the vast table, with Mike (my old college boyfriend) and his wife and his Seattle pals Brent and Lisa and their son Gavin, and we all marvelled at how long we'd know each other, happily toasting the spring.

Passover Rolls

I am a huge bread girl, so the loss of morning toast is a big bummer this week. (The big thing you can't have during the eight days of Passover is bread, which expands to include anything leavened or anything made with grain or beans, except for matzoh.) Basically, everything baked during Passover ends up tasting like eggs and matzoh meal. These rolls are no exception, but served hot and well-slathered with jam or apple butter, they do the trick. The technique is similar to making profiteroles.

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2/3 cup matzoh meal
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring water, oil, salt and sugar to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add matzoh meal and stir over medium heat until dough forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pot. Let cool for five minutes. Beat eggs in one at a time, making sure each one is well-absorbed before adding the next. Drop by egg-sized lumps onto a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then turn down heat to 350 and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until well-puffed and browned. Serve warm with butter and jam.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

jolie fille

B. had graciously agreed to be my escort on a restaurant-reviewing foray into Bed-Stuy, only to find that the restaurant I'd been slated to review was closed for renovations til June. So we walked over to Jolie on Atlantic Avenue, a recent hangout of his. It's a nice little space, with a bar up front and a narrow dining room in back, with the requisite bistro mirrors and lipstick-red walls. In fact, I think I have that lipstick--Tres Tres Dior, a favorite from my black eyeliner/black stockings/Louise Brooks-bob days, back when I worked in a bookstore in Chicago and drank gin and tonics underage in the Clark Street bars that didn't card.
It was still 80 degrees at 8pm; walking down the street felt like swimming or flying through air the exact temperature of your skin. What with the weather (and it being the last night of Brooklyn Restaurant Week), the back garden was full, so we sat at the bar and drank viognier and ate cold raw things: tuna tartare, steak tartare, endive salad with thin slices of toasted baguette spread with herby goat cheese.

And speaking of jolie filles, Violet Rachel Lollar has come into the world. Yep, Dutch is a dad. All the luck and happiness to Dutch (aka Phil) and wife Joyce. Am I thinking of how every guy (and probably most of the girls too) I've ever gone out with is married now, and many have babies? Of course not! Why would I think of that?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Shock of the New

Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
--T.S. Eliot, "The Wasteland"

After months of mellow comfort in the kitchen, slow roasting and braising to tease out the long-held sweetness of gnarly roots and tubers, spring arrives with a shock. It's the tremor of a chill breeze clattering through new green leaves, lifting the hair on your arms, racing between warm sun one day and scudding wind and clouds the next. So it goes in the garden and the market, as green shoots unfurl and bittersweet is the flavor of the hour.

Much is made of the new sweetness of baby fruits and vegetables: the sugary finger-long carrots, tiny English peas that pop like candy, crunchy sugar-snap peas, skinny asparagus. Verdant and mild, they taste the way freshly cut grass smells. But sharp and sour are what stir us out of our snug baked-potato dens. From the earthy bitterness of dandelion and the pungent bite of green garlic and spring onions to the puckering astringency of sorrel, spring greens are meant to purge and purify. Literally, in many cases: before hothouse tomatoes and Guatemalan mangoes were available year-round, these vitamin-rich leafy greens arrived just in time to scour metabolisms gone sluggish with starch. Freshly dug roots were steeped for spring tonics; leaves went into salads of all kinds. Not that a little grease didn't go far into making these dishes palatable; one of the most traditional dandelion salads dresses the greens with vinegar and hot bacon fat, with the bacon crumbled over the top. The heat "civilizes" the greens, wilting them down just enough so they seem like food, not weeds. I've done the same thing with warm olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and it's delicious. Chopped and sauteed, dandelion greens can be used much like broccoli rabe; mix with sauteed garlic and a dab of anchovy paste and stir into orechiette. Add fresh ground black pepper and a generous fistful of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Lemony sorrel is called sourgrass for a good reason: the tender green leaves (which look a little like young flat-leaf spinach) are almost too tart to eat raw. Cut thinly into a chiffonade, however, they make a spring-vegetable ragout sparkle. I've scattered sorrel over a bowl of asparagus, favas, and fresh peas, pureed it with chicken stock and a glass of white wine to make a quick and elegant soup, mixed it into a frittata. Be warned, though: there is no way to cook sorrel without that lovely bright-green color turning a dull, mucky khaki. The flavor remains; only the prettiness fades.

Every year, I get excited by the fleeting appearance of fava beans, and every year, after a few bagsful, I wonder if they're really worth the trouble. Favas have got to be one of the most labor-intensive vegetables, double-bagged first in thick, foamy green pods and then in sealed white wrappers, both of which need to be laboriously removed before getting down to the sweet, nutty green legume itself. The big pod is always shucked off (although in Italy, very young and tender pods are often cut up and cooked along with the beans); whether or not to slit the thin white pods sealed around each bean is a matter of contention. The pods are bitter, and can be tough; pinching them off is an endless pain, but the reward is unmitigated fava bliss. Smooth and nutty, mashed favas make a delectable crostini topping (add a spritz of lemon juice and a few curls of dry Jack or salty, sheeps-milk pecorino cheese). Whole, they're wonderful tossed into any spring-vegetable saute, especially with a sprinkle of minced garlic chives and a few dollops of creme fraiche or fromage blanc.

Like tumultuous high-water rivers after a spring thaw, April's harvest has its dangers, too. Rhubarb's leaves and roots are poisonous; picked with bare hands, stinging nettles prick and leave a rash; the wrong wild mushroom can be fatal. But I can't help lifting out bunches of nettles (with tongs) when I pass the Star Route Farms stand. Cooked, the nettles taste like an earthier spinach, without that slightly metallic tang. I like them for their weirdness, for the strangeness of turning a toxic, intrusive weed into an edible comestible. Rhubarb stalks are irresistibly pink; raw, they're juicy and very, very sour. I can eat lemons straight, but rhubarb has to be cooked, steamed or baked with raw sugar into a slippery, melodious fruitiness perfectly balanced between tart and sweet. Paired with the first strawberries for pies, compotes, and jam, they match sweet with sour, baby pink and rosy red.

Looking over a unidentified pile of Asian greens at the farmer's market a couple of weeks ago, I asked the woman next me what she used them for. "Very good if you are sad," she said, busily cramming bunches into a pink plastic bag. Spring is like that: with a blast and bite, it wakes you up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

More Fiction

…I’m in the kitchen, trying to find anything to drink besides expensive beer and cheap tequila when this guy comes up and offers to make me a mojito. At first I don’t know what he’s talking about.* Even if it just means he’s a bartender in real life, it’s a hell of an opening line. And he’s not exactly hard on the eyes. Dark hair, kinda long but not annoyingly so, green eyes, musician hands, cheekbones that could make you want to hurt yourself. So I tell him okay, I like surprises, and then I ask him what's in it.

Sugar, rum, lime juice and mint, he tells me, which sounds weird and aquatic, but I like the idea of rum and lime juice, it’s very tropical and I think maybe this guy’s a secret Hemingway fan, the strong silent type, Jake Barnes or the one in Cuba, the alcoholic with the beautiful filmstar ex-wife who goes to the Floridita on Christmas Day to hang out at the whores’ end of the bar and drink 28 double frozen daiquiris without sugar and when his beautiful filmstar ex-wife walks in out of the blue and asks if he’s tight, he answers maybe just a little. You don’t show it, she says. Only around the eyes.

So Mojito Guy finds a cup and starts shaking powdered sugar over a handful of mint leaves, someone in the house must have just come back from the Caribbean because the rum’s got a fancy black label that I don’t recognize and all the writing’s in Spanish. So he’s mashing the rum and the mint leaves around with the handle of a spoon until the sugar dissolves and then he’s slitting open a lime and squeezing it in, one half in each hand. Then he’s dropping in ice cubes from a gutted plastic bag, picking out the little round cubes from among the solid chunks melting into puddles all over the formica counter. Club soda on top and then he hands it to me, it’s pale green and leafy and smells like something you might boil shrimp in if you were living on a beach in Thailand. It tastes like that too, but it also tastes like something you would sip on a teakwood veranda while the monsoon blows all around you just before your old lover, long presumed dead in the First World War, materializes out of the rain and thunder to take a seat next to you, delicately picking up the palm frond fan you had dropped, offering it to you with that sly tilt of the head you remember so well…

Or maybe I just feel like drinking, and since I’m at a party I don’t have to worry about drinking alone. So he makes himself a mojito too, this time with more speed and less finesse, and we go outside to join Spence and Joe, who, it turns out, is mojito guy’s brother, meaning mojito guy is the one I’m supposed to be watching out for.

-from Cupcakes

* Note: this was written back when only one bar in San Francisco had even heard of mojitos

Monday, April 18, 2005

Waiter, bring me shad roe

Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it…

Oh, spring! Finally, finally, it was really warm yesterday, with the sweet old-lady perfume of plum blossoms and shy flowering apple trees making frothy bridal arches over the narrow streets downtown. E. was visiting from DC and we spent the day strolling the city, stunned with warmth, seeking iced tea and crossing paths with every dog in the city, from purse-sized to sheep-shaped.

the dutch in old amsterdam do it
not to mention the finns

Not surprisingly, the lines from the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, newly reopened after its winter hiatus, snaked back to the street and the benches were filled with people clutching hotdogs and little orange buckets filled with frozen-custard sundaes. Is the Otto gelato cart doing business in Washington Square Park yet?

cold cape cod clams ’gainst their wish, do it
even lazy jellyfish do it

Getting back to the house at 5:30pm when you’ve got 5 people coming to dinner at 7pm is, as you can imagine, a little hectic. Especially when you had to buy a extra folding chair from Home Depot on the way and then carry the chair along with four boxes of strawberries, a tub of Greek yogurt, a bunch of asparagus, a few pounds of baby potatoes and a carton of cream four blocks from the F train to home. It was dinner-party triage for the next hour: first shoving the enormous 6 1/2 pound chicken into the oven, then making room for the wine bottles in the fridge, heaving the potatoes in a big pot of boiling water, whipping up the batter for the madeleines, and wondering where all the butter knives went.

Luckily, no one showed up til 7:30, and by then things were sufficiently under control, or at least not frantic, and I was out of my sweaty t-shirt and into a summer dress and glitter lipgloss. The menu:

Roast chicken, roasted in a cast-iron skillet, served on a bed of tonic spring greens--chopped dandelion greens, pea shoots, and arugula--all quickly sauteed in the chicken pan and spritzed with lemon juice
Chilled asparagus
A little taste of sauteed ramps
Cold French potato salad, in a tarragon-mustard vinaigrette, which tasted much better the next day after it had marinated in the fridge overnight
...followed by..
Strawberries, dusted with powdered sugar and splashed with the sweet golden nectar that is Bonny Doon’s muscat vin de glaciere.
A bowl of Greek yogurt drizzled with heavy cream and honey
A basket of warm lemon mini-madeleines, fresh from the oven. Did you know that you can buy little plastic packs of madeleines from vending machines on the Paris Metro platforms? Like the accordion players and the people walking home holding baguettes under their arms, it’s nice when a place fits its stereotype, even just for a moment.
..and then some...
Robiola (Italian cow’s milk) cheese, brought by Julie from the Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, which came with a lovely little pine bough pressed into the top, served (with a little embarassment) with whole-grain saltines, the only crackers in the house.

The day before, I had gone to the greenmarket with high spring hopes; after all, there’s been asparagus and artichokes and fava beans in the California farmers’ markets for weeks now. But no—still just the same old potatoes and knobby roots and hothouse greens, storage apples and maple syrup. The only thing new were the ramps, wild leeks that look like tough, leafy crosses between green garlic and scallions. Snipping off the straggly corkscrewed root ends, I threw the whole stalks into a pan with a little olive oil, where they cooked down alarmingly. From two bunches, I got a small handful of cooked greens, which meant everyone got just a little taste.

But overall it was a lovely night, full of chicken and strawberries and a plethora of NYC celebrity-sighting stories. Julian Schnabel (multiple times), Jon Stewart (nearly everyone), Bill and Hillary Clinton, in sweatpants and t-shirts walking around the Stone Barns Farm near Tarrytown, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, whom everyone would sleep with.

why ask if shad do it
waiter, bring me shad roe...

And speaking of spring treats, the highlight of the week was a first-ever taste of shad roe, poached in butter and served with crisp slabs of English-style bacon, at Diane's home-cooking class on Park Avenue. Much less creepy than I expected, and fully worthy of its Cole Porter immortalization.

Let's do it, let's fall in love

Monday, April 11, 2005

Piglets and Presidents

Coming ASAP... a report from the country, including a visit to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, little black piglets, Hudson Valley cooking classes on the Upper East Side, no-recipe apple crisp, coffee with Bill and Hill, and more! Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

the dumont burger

Well, le printemps seems to have commenced, lasted for two days, and then turned, weirdly, into humid almost-summer. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Isn't it bliss, utter bliss, to leave the house without socks and a down coat for the first time since November?

Went over to Williamsburg this afternoon to talk politics and dog biscuits and get my hair cut by Jessica at the nifty Beehive Salon, and then ended up rambling past Dumont, a nice neighborhood hangout that I never got around to trying back when I actually lived in the neighborhood. Inside, cream-and-black, stamped-tin walls, high ceilings, a nice bar and the specials up on chalkboards around the room.

Their namesake burger is very tall and pink as a baby's tongue inside, with hot-pink pickled onions and a nice firm bun. Mmmm. Not cheap at $9.50, and for some reason they won't give you salad instead of fries with the burger (although they will with the sandwiches) but very tasty. And it was 80s day on the sound system, with everything from New Order to INXS playing and sending me right back to college. Except that I would have had silver shoes and an assymetrical haircut back then....

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mr Whippie

Ever wonder how the Brits got their lovely teeth? Banoffee Pie, darling--say no more, say no more. Think of a sugar-to-the-vein version of banana cream pie, with a caramelly, dulce de leche-style goo substituted for the usual vanilla custard. The Hungry Monk restaurant in East Sussex claims to be the originator of the recipe in 1972; I first heard of it last week, when a slightly drunken Englishman cornered me at Jane's party and recited the recipe, down to the topping of "Mr Whippie" (the Brit version of Cool Whip or Redi-Wip, presumably, although it's hard not to believe that English SM fanciers don't get a giggle out this every time they go to Sainsburys).

The filling is made from sweetened condensed milk--the same old supermarket staple that's the secret ingredient in those creamy-sweet, bright-orange Vietnamese coffees and teas. To reduce the milk to a toffee filling for the pie, the sealed cans are covered in water and boiled for a really long time--anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Just make sure they stay fully submerged the whole time, otherwise they'll blow up. Isn't cooking fun?

Banoffee Pie

2 cans sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
1 package Hob Nobs or McVitties digestive biscuits
2-3 TB butter, softened
1/2 pint heavy cream
1/2 tsp instant espresso granules (oh, go ahead and use regular instant coffee, or leave it out altogether. I think it's just a tiny attempt to mitigate the insane sweetness of the toffee-banana goo)
1 tsp sugar

Using a deep pot, immerse cans of sweetened condensed milk in at least several inches of water. Bring to a boil, then let simmer gently for several hours, topping up with additional hot water as needed to keep cans submerged. The cans MUST BE thoroughly covered with water AT ALL TIMES, otherwise they can explode. So don't wander off, and do not leave the house with the cans are still boiling away. Put a post-it on your door, set a timer, anything to avoid boiled toffee goo splattering all over the walls of your kitchen. Let cans cool before opening.

To make the crust, thoroughly bash up a packet of digestive biccies. Mix the crumbs with softened or melted butter and press into a pie dish. Whip cream with 1/2 tsp espresso powder and 1 tsp sugar until stiff. Spread cooled toffee goo over crust. Top with bananas, sliced lengthwise and arranged like the spokes of a wheel, or daisy petals (depending on your frame of reference). Top with a nice fluffy blanket of whipped cream. Refrigerate before serving if you must, but keep in mind that bananas don't love the fridge; it's better to assemble just before serving.

and in the What's Up with That category...
Is it just a big shaggy-dog stunt, or is Dan Leone, who's been chronicling his life through the Cheap Eats column in the Bay Guardian for 12 or 13 years now (and with whom I shared a page in the Guardian for 4 years during my time as the paper's main restaurant critic), turning into a girl? I don't mean metrosexual, eating salad and having facials and going to Will Smith movies; I mean actually male-to-female, losing the facial hair, getting divorced from the wife, the whole SF thing. For some reason, this staggers me, although it shouldn't, since over the years I've certainly seen enough women, from foxy femmes to andro-butches, turn into men. But Dan Leone? Mr. Fried-Food-Eating, Barbecue-Loving Ohio Baseball Fanatic? Not that any of those things are gender specific; it's just that in his writing, he always seemed like such a guy. Let's just hope he doesn't start worrying about what his butt looks like after a week's worth of fried chicken and two-pound omelettes.

and in the Line(s) of the Day category...

Well, I was going to post something nice and poetic about the cleaning of the Cloisters' Unicorn tapestries from this week's New Yorker, but that was before I read Shuna's paen to guianciale, aka cured pig jowl, and since we're going whole hog with the sugar thing here, might as well add in more fat and a bunch of salt and make it a real Southern-fried feast.

"Mmmmm jowl. Now there's a word! Rhymes with growl and there's a reason for that. My roommate was confused. 'Does the jowl have enough meat on it to eat?' To which I replied happily, 'You can eat the entire pig's face.' He left the kitchen looking a little upset."

Want more? Oh yes you do. Go over the right and click on the link for Eggbeater, Shuna's nifty little site. Greens, baby, greens, now with MORE PIG.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Art Makes Everything Better

Maybe it’s the weather…endlessly gray and chill, with a dull flat sky like a dirty blanket and a surly cold wind. Maybe it’s being at home for days on end in freelance limbo. Whatever it is, depression is crouching on my chest while I'm longing for love and sunshine and gainful employment. Of course, sitting around whinging does no good, nor does weeping in the shower, so after a day of both uselessly self-pitying activities, I put on some lipstick and dragged my sorry ass over to Park Slope’s Lucky 13 bar for Cheryl B’s monthly Atomic reading.

Just walking in made me feel better. With the Chinese red lanterns over the bar, skull lights strung along the walls and a painting of the Pope with devil horns, Lucky 13 looks like every funky rocker bar where I spent my twenties as a cigarette-and-candy girl, a go-go dancer, a lounge-party promoter and the girlfriend of the drummer.

And then there’s the work, which is so good—especially the pieces by Sara Seinberg, who I used to know back in the days of SisterSpit, and Janice Earlbaum, who has a book coming out called Crash, about her days living and volunteering at Covenant House, the runaways shelter in Hell’s Kitchen. Both their work is sharp and funny and poetic and heartbreaking, and I want to sit wrapped the warm red light and listen all night. Walking out, 5th ave feels like that stretch of Mission Street where it turns by Bernal Heights,windscoured and chilly with that perpetual April weather that San Francisco has, with a 24-hour panaderia and little restaurants with yellow plastic tablecloths and Spanish menus.

Okay, I know, 10 posts and NO PIE. Coming up SOON, the insanity that is Banoffee Pie. Bananas, toffee, and Mr. Whippie. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cake for One, and My Nigella Problem

Who doesn’t love homemade chocolate cake? Much of the time, though, just a little warm bite of cake is enough, instead of an entire hatbox-sized rich chocolate thing sitting around the apartment with no one but me to eat it. That’s when Tiny Easy Chocolate Cake comes to rescue, especially late-ish in the evening when you don’t want to go to the store or start a big kitchen production. Because it calls for oil and cocoa rather than butter and chocolate, it’s less rich than most cakes, and much easier—you just throw everything into one bowl and mix. Plus, the ingredients are pretty much pantry staples, at least chez moi, where every day is better for some hot cocoa and a buttermilk pancake or two. Buttermilk’s a handy thing to have around (for pancakes and biscuits especially) and since it’s cultured, like yogurt, it lasts much longer than regular milk in your fridge. You can turn the recipe into Tiny Cakes by baking the batter in little tart pans or muffin tins.

Tiny Easy Chocolate Cake

2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven 350F. Mix dry ingredients together. Add buttermilk, oil, and extract, and stir until smooth. Scoop batter into muffin pan, tart pans, a small greased cake pan or a loaf pan; bake for 15-20 minutes (possibly less for very small pans), or until a cake tester comes out almost clean.

You can flavor this in different ways: 1/2 tsp almond extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon; 1/2 tsp peppermint extract; 1 tb strong coffee; 1/2 tsp grated orange rind. But it’s pretty good just as it stands, especially straight out of the oven.

I was actually going to talk about real food, a.k.a. last night’s dinner, this time around, only nothing came out very well. I have to say, charmer as she is, Nigella Lawson’s recipes leave something to be desired. Maybe it’s a British thing. She seems to have a taste for very, very mild things, even when she describes them as “sharp and spiky.” Alright, it’s true: her food is BLAND! My sister gave me Feast, her latest book, for Christmas, and while I love reading it, all the recipes I’ve tried so far seem to have be run through the wrong end of the flavor-extraction machine.

This time around, I made Lamb Keema and Aloo Gobi, 2 Indian dishes, and sweet Jesus, were they boring. The lamb keema started out well, with a nice lush saucy base of caramelized onions, fresh ginger, garlic, curry powder and diced tomatoes. But then it got diluted with way too much ground lamb, and worse yet, a cup of boiling water. It occurred to me as I followed the recipe that boiling ground meat did not sound like a good idea, and yet…I didn’t bail and make cilantro-ginger lamb burgers like I should have. I threw a pound and a half of lamb, a packet of frozen peas, and some cilantro into the pot, added water and let it simmer for half an hour, until it turned into a grayish mass of…boiled lamb bits, studded with khaki-colored mushy peas. The aloo gobi was a little better, but where did the flavor of the cumin go? The coriander? The lemon? It tasted like potatoes and slightly mushy califlower which had walked through an Indian restaurant, briefly.

Oh, well. I ate it anyway. And since both recipes made a LOT, I'll be eating both of them for quite a while longer.