Friday, June 30, 2006

My last day in Eureka Springs--for now--started with this good news from the courts in Little Rock. Now, if only the Court of Appeals in NY State would get on the stick and make it so K. can make an honest woman of me next year.

Until then, carrot muffins, bluberry pancakes, and jam for everyone.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Happy days at the market

Rosalina the Pie Queen Explains It All to You

With Heather, the market manager

All set up and ready to cook

Beautiful flowers with Diane. Turns out Diane and I lived in SF at the same time, drinking cappuccinos at Caffe Trieste but alas, never meeting. But now I know her and her lovely partner Marcie, who live out on a wonderful small farm way out in the country.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

PQ at the Market, Take 2

It's time for another farmers' market demonstration, this one at the Eureka Springs market at 9AM on Thursday, June 29th, in the Pine Mountain Village parking lot (out, I believe, on highway 62E). Frittata with farm eggs, zucchini, and whatever herbs are on offer, along with a salad with berry vinaigrette. I have my doubts as to how the frittata's going to go, being made in a clunky electric skillet, but here's my chance for seat-of-the-pants cooking. I might have to do some fancy saves if the whole thing sticks to the pan, as it very well might when I try to do the fancy flipping. Wish me luck! Pictures to follow, and hope to see you there.

To make real berry vinegar, the berries should steep in the vinegar for at least 4 or 5 days. Ooops. Well, I'll have to do an instant version on site, but I'll post the real recipe here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Warning: Armadillo Crossing

The supply vehicle for the Roadkill Cafe...

Double Blueberry Shortcake

Glad you've all been enjoying the rose-apron peanut galley pictures! The demo was extremely fun to do, even out there in the heat, baking biscuits on the sidewalk and having to yell across the plaza, where what audience I had was ensconced 15 feet away, under the sole cluster of shady trees. But I think I convinced the 7-year-olds that if I could make jam and biscuits in a tent, they could make them for their moms and dads in the kitchen. So here's the recipe, and you can do it too. It's a three-step process: biscuits, jam, whipped cream, and then lots of extra berries.

Make it a Fourth of July shortcake by adding raspberries or sliced strawberries to the fresh fruit on top. Serve in shallow bowls so you don't have to chase your berries all over the plate.

Blueberry Shortcake with Quick Blueberry Spread and Honey Cream

Light, fluffy biscuits get layered with a fresh blueberry filling, drenched with honey-sweetened whipped cream, and topped with more fresh berries.

Shortcake Biscuits
Cornmeal adds a pleasant crunch to these delicate, cake-like biscuits. The same recipe also makes tasty hot biscuits for breakfast, especially when slathered with butter and drizzled with honey or sorghum.

2 cups all-purpose white flour, preferably unbleached
1/2 cup yellow or white cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 TB (1 stick or 1/2 cup) butter or shortening, chilled
1 egg
1/2 cup milk plus 1 TB (you may need slightly more or less)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a round cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut butter or shortening into small chunks and scatter over the dry ingredients. Using your fingertips, a pastry blender, or two butter knives, cut butter or shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal with a few larger pea-sized bits. (This can also be done in a trice in a food processor. Once you get used to the fingertip method, though, it's really fast, and there's no bulky appliance to clean!)

Measure the milk in a glass measuring cup, then break in the egg and beat together. Drizzle over flour mixture and mix gently into a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured countertop or cutting board. Pat into an even 1-inch-thick round. Using a floured biscuit cutter or the rim of a small drinking glass, cut out 6 biscuits (number may vary depending on the size of your cutter). Fit biscuits into cake pan, sides touching.

Bake 15-20 minutes until tops are pale gold. Remove from baking sheet and let cool on a rack.

Makes 6 biscuits.

Quick Blueberry Filling
This easy blueberry spread tastes just like a slice of blueberry pie fresh from the oven. If you have extra, scoop into a clean jar and store in the fridge to use like jam. (Because of the tapioca in the filling, this shouldn't be canned for storage; it's best if eaten with a week or so.)

2 TB water
1 TB tapioca (the tiny-pearl kind, such as Minute brand in the little red box)
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups blueberries

In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, mix water, tapioca, lemon juice, sugar, and berries together. Over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, until berries have collapsed and mixture is deep purple and jammy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool (it will thicken as it cools) and refrigerate until needed. If you want, stir in a little cassis or Chambord liqueur before using.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Honey Cream
Each type of flower produces a different flavor of honey; try an assortment of raw local honeys to find your favorite.

1/2 pint heavy (whipping) cream
1 TB honey, or to taste
1/2 tsp vanilla extract, a few drops of orange extract or a little bit of grated orange rind

Whip cream with a whisk or hand-held electric mixer until beater begins to leave traces on the surface of the cream. Add honey and vanilla. Continue beating until cream is thick enough to mound up on a spoon.


Blueberry preserves
Honey cream
2-3 cups fresh blueberries

Using a small sharp knife, split biscuit. Put bottom half on biscuit on a plate. Spread with a generous spoonful of blueberry preserves. Top with some fresh berries and a spoonful of cream. Top with top half of biscuit, more cream and fresh berries. Repeat with remaining biscuits.

Serves 6

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Snapshots from the market

Questions from the peanut gallery...

Whipped cream doesn't come from a can

The fine art of splitting a biscuit

PQ at the Market, Saturday June 24

Come down to the Fayetteville Farmers Market downtown on the main square, and get a taste of Double-Blueberry Shortcake. I'll be there doing a cooking demonstration, seeing if I can bake biscuits in a toaster oven and whip cream by hand while keeping the crowds entertained. Come by and say hello! I'll be shortcaking it up at 10AM and 11AM. See you there!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

all green and gooseberry

And now starring at Jam Camp: gooseberries!

I have a thing for vaguely British, underappreciated fruits and vegetables--quinces, rhubarb, black currants, and yes, gooseberries. Well, now I know why they're no stars here: the stems. They're in the currant family, which means, sharp little stems that are implanted into the fruit. You can't pull them off in one go as you would on a bunch of red currants; no, these are just about welded on. I got through about a pint of topping and tailing (taking off the stem and the wrinkled little bit of dried blossom on the other end) before I decided: jelly. So, into a pot go the still-stemmy gooseberries, with about an inch of water below. Brought to a boil, let them boil for a few minutes to soften, then mashed them up. Into a colander lined with damp cheesecloth to let the juice drip out overnight. While the mess won't win any beauty contests (it's a lumpy, greenish-pink, seed-flecked slime) it has a wonderful fragrance of roses and summer hay. And the juice is a lovely wild-rose pink.

Fayetteville Farmers Market: Meet PQ!

Come on down and see the Pie Queen in action at the Fayetteville Farmers' Market this Saturday, June 24th. I'll be all decked out in my new flowered apron from K.'s mom (so sweet!), demonstrating how to make Summer Blueberry Shortcake with Honey Cream & Fresh Blueberry Preserves. And they've promised a toaster oven onsite, so those biscuits will be fresh baked! Mmmm, mmmm. Not quite sure where in the market I'll be, but probably near (or at) the stand for Drippings Springs blueberry farm.

I'll be making a more savory breakfast offering at the Eureka Springs farmers market in the Pine Mountain Village parking lot on Thursday, June 29th, at 8:30am--Zucchini and Herb Frittata with a Farmer's Salad with Fresh Raspberry Vinaigrette. Marty of Raspberry Ridge farm has promised to provide eggs from her hens and raspberries from the farm. Alas, I didn't get any raspberries today, since they were all gone by the time I showed up. Did get 4 pints of gooseberries, though--we'll see what I can do with them! I wish I had British food expert Jane Grigson's fruit book on hand, though, as these are a quintessential English fruit.

What else? Opera at the Ozarks--kind of a summer camp for young aspiring opera singers--opens on Friday with La Traviata; tomorrow I'm going for a tour of the War Eagle grist mill, source of fantastic stone-ground organic cornmeal and other grains. And then Friday, out to Dripping Springs to pick blueberries for the demo the following day. Just berry-filled fun around here...and yes, more writing!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chasing the blues

A hot morning out in the blueberry patch, picking a gallon of berries with Barbara. Now, what to make? Preserves? Another pie? Muffins? all of the above? Or the supreme summer-morning breakfast: a big handful of blueberries over a bowl of Grape-Nuts. Mmmm.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Remy Charlip Needs You

OK, pictures and pie chat once today's cherry pie comes out of the oven...but more importantly, put this on your calender if you live in the Bay Area:

Every Little Movement: A Benefit for Remy Charlip: 7:30 p.m. Sat. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida St. between 17th and Mariposa), San Francisco. Minimum donation: $20. Tickets at the door only. Information:

Remy Charlip is a living treasure--a dancer, choreographer, artist, and children's book author--who recently suffered a debilitating stroke. He's slowly recovering and beginning to work again, but as he's in his late 70s, it's no easy road. His amazingly witty and playful children's book Arm and Arm was one of my all-time favorites as a kid (happily, it was reissued in 1997, 30 years after its first publication); it wasn't until I moved to SF, where he has lived since 1989, that I learned he was also one of the founding members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Troupe, as well as an original member of the Living Theater and the Paper Bag Players. He is, by all accounts, an incredibly generous and warm-hearted artist and mentor. The benefit will feature new works by dozens of Bay Area dance groups, possibly including work by Charlip himself. Go, bask, help out.

And speaking of SF, oh, how I miss it! Especially this time of year, when everything's drenched in gay pride. Yes, it can get a little silly, all the beer ads and triangle-shaped, rainbow everything, but still...I miss all the movies, the crowds of men and women outside the Castro and Victoria theaters, all the dykes on bikes, the masses of art shows and performances and things going on every minute for the whole month. Last night, at the "Poet-Luck" (a potluck dinner/reading series held monthly at the Colony), I ended up reading this story "Getting Out of Dodge," a bitterly funny break-up revenge story, I guess you could call it, and you know, even with it cleaned up ("Fuck Donna Reed" turned into "Forget Donna Reed"--not half as satisfying to say), I don't ever want to say "red leather g-string" in front of nice white-haired ladies old enough to be my mother again. They all laughed in the right places, but I was embarassed, even if they weren't. I just read it really, really fast and hoped no one would notice.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More flora and fauna...

Wildflowers growing along highway 62, on my walk back from the Eureka Springs farmers' market in the Pine Village parking lot.

And more...

The trout-stocked lagoon at Blue Springs

How the trout get fat...25 cents buys you a handful of fish food to toss over the railings into the gaping maws below.

And what, alas, I didn't snap a picture of (at least not yet): the rebel-flag bikini on display outside a souvenir shop along this same highway, right past the store advertising "Christian Biker Gear."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

You've Got a Friend in...Fayetteville

No, really, I do! One of the nice things about being in Arkansas this month was the opportunity to catch up with my old SF pal Josh, who's now a VP at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. He and his lovely wife and their two blonde-ringleted children hopped in the kiddiemobile and drove up to Eureka this afternoon, for burgers and bbq on the balcony of the Basin Park Hotel. (Given their double stroller, and all the staircases in Eureka, finding a place with an elevator was a wise choice. It was a fine place to chat, and definitely the sort of vinyl-tablecloth place where it's perfectly OK to whip out a couple of baby-food jars. Don't go for the food, though; my prefab, run-over-by-the-Sysco-truck burger looked and tasted like well-kneaded grey Play-Doh.) After playing catch-up about our lives over the last few years--their trajectory from Mill Valley to Tiburon to Little Rock to Fayetteville, mine from SF to Bologna to NYC to Eureka Springs-- we headed back to the colony where I got to show off "my" kitchen and actually entertain in the living room.

Mismatched Tupperware and measuring spoons make great kiddie toys, as it turns out...and once toddler #1 was napping in my bed, and toddler #2 was busy with the spoons, I dished out bowlfuls of almond-cherry cobbler with vanilla whipped cream, made with 3 cans of pitted sour cherries instead of fresh sweet ones, drained and tossed with 3 TB tapioca, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp almond extract (the unsweetened juice will go into Monday's cherry lemonade).

Fruit, biscuits and cream have been the theme of the weekend...and since I didn't have time to take pictures of the peach-blueberry shortcakes, I snapped a few quick ones of the the cobbler. (Minus what we munched, and what went home with them for breakfast). And I was all set to post them, except that they came out looking bizarrely lurid, as if Weegee shot pastry in full color. So just imagine a really pretty pan of cobbler in your mind, and let's leave it at that. Josh's wife has promised to trade me her grandmother's secret biscuit recipe if I give her a pie tutorial, so I might be making a field trip to Fayetteville next weekend. The bright lights await!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bagels and Biscuits

Today's the day I'm making peach-berry shortcake for 30. The Writers' Colony is having a big shindig for donors and other grand poo-bahs tonight, and so I've got lots and lots of butter, buttermilk and half-and-half in the fridge, waiting to be turned into many, many star-shaped biscuits. And a trayful of Arkansas peaches, ready to be dropped into boiling water and slipped out of their fuzz-kissed skins.

But before that, I promised--on a whim--to make something tasty for the task-crazed office staff this morning. Not wanting to get them all sugar-hyped on such a busy day, I wracked my little muffin-inclined brains for something savory-ish but good for morning, and came up with...homemade bagels! After all, Brooklyn gots to represent.

For maximum chewiness, the flour should really be bread (meaning hard wheat, which has higher protein and gluten) flour; given that this is the South, land of biscuit-ready soft-wheat flour, the random zip-loc bag of extra flour in the kitchen probably wasn't exactly right for the job, but luckily, there was also a box of vital wheat gluten lying around the kitchen, too. So I threw a little in there and hoped for the best. The dough is rising now, waiting to be shaped, boiled, and baked. Boiling, by the way, is what gives bagels that special chewy crust. Many so-called bagel bakeries now skip this step, or do some freaky steam-injection thing. No, no, no. A real bagel is a boiled bagel. Accept no imitations!

And here they are, ready to eat. Turns out the convection option on the super-duper oven does a bang-up job of browning, so use it if you've got it. The last few bagels I baked--which got more rising time-- turned out the puffiest and prettiest, so I've added a final post-shape rising to the instructions below. Variations I made: black and white sesame seeds; granulated onion; "everything"--kosher salt, onion, and sesame seeds; egg-washed plain.

These made everyone in the office very happy.

Brooklyn Bagels in the Ozarks

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 packet dry yeast
1 TB brown sugar or 2 tsp malt syrup
4 cups bread flour, or 4 cups regular flour + 1 TB vital wheat gluten
1 TB coarse or kosher salt

Egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 TB water
Cornmeal for sprinking on baking sheets, or baking parchment
Toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, coarse salt, dehydrated onion or garlic, cinnamon sugar

Dissolve yeast and 1/2 TB brown sugar or malt in lukewarm water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Dump into a big bowl and add 1 cup flour. Stir together, then add salt and rest of sugar and flour. Tip out onto a lightly floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes, until smooth and stretchy. Drape a towel over the dough and let rest for 30 minutes.

Now, pull off an egg-sized lump of dough. Roll and stretch into a rope approximately 8-10 inches long. Wrap the rope around the widest part of your hand, forming a loop. Pinch the ends together. Looks like a bagel, doesn't it? Put the shaped bagel back onto the floured surface. Repeat with rest of dough, forming around a dozen bagels, depending on size. Drape with towel and let rise 20 minutes or so, until puffed up a bit.

Meanwhile, fill a big, wide pot with hot water. Add 1 TB of brown sugar or malt syrup and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a rolling boil.

Preheat oven to 425F, using convection option if possible. While water is boiling, set up your bagel-assembly line: Line a baking sheet or cover a cutting board with a clean towel. Sprinkle another baking sheet with cornmeal or line with parchment. Make egg wash, if using (it helps the toppings stick better and gives a shiny coating). Pour toppings into separate saucers.

When bagels are risen slightly, pick up 2 or 3 bagels with a spatula and drop into boiling water. Let cook about 45 seconds, then flip over if possible and boil on the other side for another 45 seconds or so. Boil only a few at a time, so they aren't crowded. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and deposit onto towel-lined sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining bagels.

While bagels are still moist, brush with egg wash, then dip rounded side into topping of choice. (The bagels can also be dipped directly into the toppings, without the egg wash.) Line up on cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Let rise again for 10-15 minutes.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden-brown. Cool on a rack. Best when eaten while still warm, or within 2-3 hours of baking.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Flora and Fauna of Eureka Springs

The mouth of the Grotto spring, in full bloom

And guarding the spring, a great blue heron...

...not to outdone by the sunbathing stegosaurus of Spring Street

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sunny day bread

It dawned cloudy again today, but now, another sunny day up in the Ozarks. Off to the impressive Andrew Carnegie-built library for some jam-making tomes and continued shortcake research...eggs or no eggs? But before that, breakfast out on the deck, with the noisy birds and inquisitive squirrels.

And, as promised, the oatmeal bread recipe.

Rainy Day Oatmeal Bread

1 cup milk
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup sorghum or molasses
2 TB butter
2 tsp salt
1 envelope dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 to 4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, or a mix of whole wheat and white flour

In a small pot over medium heat, bring milk to a simmer--just until small bubbles form around the edges of the pot. (Why should I dirty up a pot with milk sludge, you ask? Well, bringing the milk to a boil destroys certain enzymes that could make your bread soggy, or so I've been told. The heat also helps soften up & hydrate the oatmeal flakes so they meld better with the dough. Do keep a close eye on that heating milk, though-it only takes a minute or two to get hot enough. A few more unattended minutes and you'll have a boiling burnt-milk volcano all over your stove, definitely not a good time.) In a large bowl, combine oats, sorghum, butter and salt. Pour milk over oat mixture and stir. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and mixture is barely lukewarm.

Meanwhile, sprinkle yeast in lukewarm water, stir to dissolve, and set aside. When oat mixture is ready, beat in 1 cup flour, then beat in yeast mixture. Add enough flour to make a soft but not sticky dough.

If you want, you can let dough rest for 10 minutes, or you can get right into the kneading. Lightly flour your countertop and knead thoroughly for at least 10 minutes. Dough should become manageable and smooth. If you use mostly white flour, you'll probably get a stretchy, elastic dough; mine was half whole wheat, so it stayed a bit more muscled. Drop dough into a large clean bowl,top with a clean towel and place in a draft-free place (like a turned-off oven) for an hour and a half, maybe more, until doubled in bulk.

Turn out, knead briefly, then stretch into a flattish oval. Tuck edges under and form into a loaf shape. Pat into a greased loaf pan and let rise again (it will go much quicker this time) until it is puffed over the top of the pan.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until well browned. Let cool for a couple minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack (to keep the bottom from getting soggy from released steam). Let cool to room temp before slicing, if you can.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rain, rain

It's teeming rain and crashing thunder and lightning this early morning; I'm lying in bed with coffee and yesterday's blueberry muffins, listening to the rain spattering on the skylights. This may cancel the planned trip to the farmer's market...but I love waking up to the sound of summer rain. Later on, oatmeal bread, sweetened with sorghum, and white-bean soup on the big stove...

Once the rain tapered off, I took a walk through the woods up to the grand (and 1880s-ish) Crescent Hotel. There's a sweet, crescent-shaped swimming pool there along with pretty gardens and a wide, wide back porch with rocking chairs and a newspaper coin box. I forsee a Sunday morning up there...Today, though, the chairs were deserted, but I took a picture of the top of St. Elizabeth's church.
The little bell tower on the left actually leads to the entrance to the church, since it's built into the hillside. The surrounding grounds are very pleasant, although there is a large headstone dedicated "To the Victims of Abortion", which is a little creepy, since I doubt they're commemorating the women who lost their lives to illegal operations or terrified do-it-yourself remedies.

When I got back, after a long walk, the bread was risen--really risen--and ready for the oven. Finished loaf pictures (and an easy recipe) to follow!

Monday, June 05, 2006

June Blues

Picked up 2 pints of Arkansas blueberries yesterday at the Sunday open-air market downtown (when I asked the guy if they were local berries, he said, straight-faced, "No, they're blueberries."), which meant, of course...blueberry muffins for breakfast! I have a small but maneagable obsession with blueberry muffins, and often feel I could write an entire cookbook of blueberry muffins alone. That seems just a TAD specific, however, so I'll content myself with a rotation of 3 or 4 recipes. Although right now, with this kitchen at my disposal, I could bake muffins for an army.

For a while, I was enamored of blueberry corn muffins, but they seemed a little dense for this summer morning, so instead, we're back to the regular old muffins, made with half-and-half whole wheat pastry flour and regular all-purpose. And buttermilk, every baker's best friend. As PQ readers know, I like a healthy muffin in the morning, so those typical fancy-bakery muffin recipes with a stick of butter and a cup of sugar per dozen are not what you'll find at PQ Castle. Instead, these are pleasanty grainy, fruit-studded warmers, just what you want to start a summer day. And they make the kitchen smell buttery-perfect.

June Blues

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla or 1/2 tsp orange or lemon zest (can add more, depending on your taste)

1 cup blueberries, rinsed, picked over (take out the squishy ones), and patted dry
3 or 4 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil

topping (optional): 2 TB sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 12 muffin cups. Whisk dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla or zest together. Dump wet into dry, and stir gently until just mixed. Stir in blueberries and butter. Divide into muffin cups. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dirty Sugar Cookies

Good morning! Today's the day for Dirty Sugar Cookies author Ayun Halliday to visit the Pie Queen, wearing a leopard-print bra and proffering really delicious Spanish fig jam from the just-opened Fairway in Red Hook. A pie-baking session had been planned, but when the day came we were both way too wiped out and overscheduled to do anything but drink cappuccino and talk, talk, talk. We're Brooklyn neighbors, as it turns out, a fact I didn't know til I read the recent Vows "State of the Union" column about Ayun and her Tony-winning playwright hubby, 11+ years after their initial hitch in a Soho loft. Reading about their bohemian Brooklyn home and slapped-together (and very productive) artists' world was a welcome change from plowing through the vapid life histories of the inane 26-year-old lawyers and hedge-funders that typically populate the wedding section. (Are K. and I going to submit an announcement to the Times next year? Oh, you bet. I haven't been reading everyone else's writeups all these years for nothing. After all, she'll be fresh from combat and I wrote a wedding guide. That trumps the typical schoolteacher-investment banker combo, surely.)

Although we live just a few blocks apart, I haven't yet seen the lemonade stand* Ayun and her kids India and Milo have been running out on the stoop, just a few doors down from the jillion-dollar renov supposed occupied by hotshots Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams (no one sees them around much, although my pal Jane swears Mr. Wish I Could Quit Yoo walked right behind me on his way out of Frankie's last Sunday. I was too preoccupied with stealing yet another forkful of Jane's French toast to notice any foxy cowboys in my near vicinity. A girl has her priorities). But if you pick up the latest copy of her excellent, hand-drawn little 'zine, the East Village Inky, you can read all about the history of Heath and Michelle's house, which involves an old Cuban lady, red-bobbed former nightlife queen Nell Campbell, and about 10 dumpsters of junk.

But back to Ayun. I first met Ayun when she came up to the Manic D Press booth at last year's Book Expo America. BEA was great for actually meeting writers in person. I already knew Ayun's extremely funny work, including No Touch Monkey and Job Hopper, and now here she was, with great springy curly hair, nice and chatty and proffering copies of the Inky. There was a long, hysterically illustrated piece in that month's issue, all about the hell of teaching kiddie art classes. I was hooked.

Now she's back with Dirty Sugar Cookies, a sassy memoir tracing her evolution from fearfully picky eater to world traveller and adventurous cook. The title sounds, well, dirty--one could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be one of those food-and-sex things, like this chef-and-Elvis shagfest, or a guide to making, I don't know, cookies in the shape of naughty things. Thankfully, though, there are no Saveur-style (or Gael Greene-ish) rhapsodies here. After all, Hoosiers have no indigenous cuisine, no wood-grilled sardines or wood-fired loaves. Instead, there are paens to the best morning-after diners in Chicago (oh, Melrose Diner, where every plate came with a banana on the side, and its nearby cousin, the Belmont Diner), and hysterically accurate evocations of early-80s culture (Tickle deodorant! Love's Baby Soft! The Silver Palate Cookbook! Grapes in the chicken salad!) followed by forays into earth-mother, hippie-skirt cooking, Asian backpacker escapades, and now payback: her trials in raising a daughter who is at least as picky an eater as she herself was.

(And, although she's too cool to mention this in the book, I did get the dish that "Mr.Swain"--one of the many Chicago-theater-scene boyfriends who show up for a meal or two--is now a famous TV personality. Not Jon Stewart, let's just leave it at that.)

I look at Ayun's blog Dirty Sugar Cookies all the time, and I always wish I was eating dinner over at her house, because she's always making some swell-sounding Asian thing with lime juice and Thai fish sauce and a lot of cilantro. And avocado! You have to love a cook who notes that if you can roll a doob, you can roll maki. And whose husband isn't afraid to wrap a t-shirt around his head and morph into White Guy Sushi Master. She also takes pictures of her kitchen, which looks like an actual New York City kitchen crowded with honeydew melons and many, many repurposed glass jars doubling as canisters full of stuff, and nothing like the irritatingly professional food-porn that all those other food bloggers claim to be whipping up after work.

Really, her book's a scream, and you should hustle right on down to Book Court today and buy it. And if you're walking around Boerum Hill and see a woman and a couple of kids selling lemonade, get in line behind Heath and Michelle and get it autographed.

*And speaking of lemonade, I never got around to asking Ayun if they're selling real lemonade, the kind made with actual lemons and sugar and water, or whether they're just mixing up some Crystal Light and upping their profit margins. I have yet to hit a kiddie lemonade stand that has come within squeezing distance of an actual lemon, despite that New Yorker cartoon of the kid with the sign "Artisanal Lemonade, $5".

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Eureka Springs!

I'm here! You never know what life is going to hand you, and in this case it was a big sign at the end of the jetway ramp reading "Welcome to Northwest Arkansas." So far, it's damp and warm out, the town is crazy cute, and my "culinary suite" is way bigger than my Brooklyn apt, and the kitchen--well, I could weep. Counter space for days, every kind of knife and pot and pan any Pie Queen could ever desire. Whooo-hooo! More later--there's exploring to do!