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8.31.2004

“Sir Bones: is stuffed, / de world, wif feeding girls.”

The lamb roast has come and gone.

Sunday did not begin well. I had worked until the wee hours of morning on an ill-tempered Parisian flan, a thoroughly nasty end to a lovely Saturday of sailboats and swimsuits and bare feet. The dough for the flan’s pastry shell disintegrated in my hands not once but twice, dear reader. I swore like a sailor, slapped the dough shards into a pile and bullied them into a ball, and then I rolled them flat before they had a second to protest. I chucked the crust into the oven with its custard filling and then tossed it onto the counter to cool, along with two miniature versions I’d made with the extra dough and filling. They tried to mollify me by looking exquisite.


I sunk into bed with a sigh a little after two.

Keaton and I arrived at the Knights’ in mid-afternoon, bearing a six-pack of beer and the aforementioned evil flan. I snarled at it through the plastic wrap.

The sun was shining, and so was the lamb. It had been roasting since ten, filling the air with heat and heady smoke. We stood and admired it, chilly beers in hand. It was enormous, more sheep than lamb. Todd described to us the travail of the night before: the drill-work required to get it onto the spit, the stuffing of lemons and herbs and olive oil, the workmanlike stitches of Kate’s surgeon father. We said hello to the chickens in their coop, one sporting a feathery white crown that Kate called a “frizzle.” Keaton was attacked by bees and ran around in the tomato plants. We sniffed the open bottle of ouzo, our eyes watering. Keaton, Kate, and Margot--my Three Shepherdesses--unknowingly posed for a photograph. And we admired the lamb.


And then it was served.
We loaded our plates with hummus and pita, deliciously lemony dolmas, pickled golden beets, a mess of roasted vegetables, and buttery corn pudding. Then, batting my eyelashes as sweetly as possible, I cut in line for the lamb, two thick slices from the haunch.

Keaton and I found a bench under the pear tree and made quick work of our platefuls, despite the carnivorous bee that had me whimpering and flailing my arms every few seconds. I finally caved in and let him tuck into a slice of snowy fat I’d pushed to the side of the plate. He knew a good thing when he saw it: the meat was tender and juicy, earthy and rich.

Dessert was a blur of sugar, the sort of thing that induces sweating upon recollection: a sliver of dark chocolate layer cake with white chocolate frosting and dark chocolate shavings, a spoonful of tart prune-plum compote, wedges of Kate’s almond and walnut baklavas, and my cursed flan. Surprisingly, the crust was flaky and butter-rich, the best I’ve ever made! The custard was sweet and smooth! I blushed with pride and made everyone tell me that they loved it.

Keats was corralled at the dessert table by the woman who made the plum compote and, incidentally, also raises strikingly beautiful poisonous plants. In her thick Swiss accent, she told Keaton, “I’ve been married for fifty years. After a while, you make your own drama.” I first thought she said “trauma,” an interpretation I in some ways preferred. Her husband, who bragged endearingly about her desserts, is a beekeeper. They were wonderful together.

Half-listening contentedly, I slowly scraped my plate clean. I think I wanted to die afterwards, but only for a little while.


[Thank you, John Berryman, for the title.]


Parisian Flan
From Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets

This recipe, adapted by Greenspan from the esteemed pâtissier Pierre Hermé, makes a traditional Parisian flan, which (unlike the flan generally familiar to Americans, jiggly or gelatinous or covered in caramel) is a custardy almost-cake in a flaky pastry crust. It is unbearably delicious. Dorie Greenspan, I apologize for my lack of faith.

For the crust:
1 stick plus 5 Tbs (6 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
½ large egg yolk (lightly beat one yolk, and then spoon out half)
3 ½ Tbs whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 2/3 cups water
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ cup cornstarch, sifted

To make crust:
Put all of the crust ingredients except the flour in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is soft and creamy. Add the flour and pulse in quick spurts until the dough forms a ball—then stop. Turn the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it together in a ball, and flatten into a disk. Wrap the disk well in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least four hours. [Dough can be kept in the fridge for up to three days.]

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and keep close at hand. Working on a generously floured work surface, roll the dough out to a thickness of between 1/8 and ¼ inch. Cut out a 12-inch circle of dough and transfer it to the lined baking sheet. Cover and chill dough for at least thirty minutes.

Butter a 9-inch springform pan and put it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Fit the dough into the pan, pressing it evenly along the bottom and up the sides. Don’t worry if the dough tears, as it did for me—just patch it back together and carry on! Trim the dough so that it comes 1 ¼ inches up the sides of the pan. Chill the dough for at least two hours and up to overnight.

Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake the crust for 18 to 20 minutes, until it is set but not browned. Pull it from the oven, remove the paper and beans, and cool to room temperature.

To make filling:
Bring the milk and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, preferably one with a heavy bottom, whisk the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch together.

Whisking without stop, drizzle ¼ of the hot liquid over the egg mixture. When the eggs are warmed, add the rest of the liquid in a steady stream. Put the saucepan over medium heat and, whisking constantly and energetically, heat the filling just until it thickens and a couple of bubbles pop to the surface. Immediately remove from the heat, and push the filling through a sieve into a bowl. Let the filling cool for about 30 minutes.

Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the pan with the crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet (if it isn’t still on one), and scrape the filling into the crust. Smooth the top. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake the flan for one hour, or until the filling is puffed and golden and just jiggles in the center when you tap the pan. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let the flan cool to room temperature; then chill the flan for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

According to Mr. Hermé, the flan should be served cold.

8.28.2004

Prelude to a lamb roast, or why it is good to know the Knights

My leisure sports need work. My pool game is almost as bad as my bowling, which is bad. But, on the upside, I am uncannily good at rolling around on the pool table like Tawny Kitaen on the hood of the Jaguar in that old Whitesnake video. I also know all the lyrics to Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” which scored me big Brownie points last night with Keaton’s boyfriend Mark. Keaton said I never cease to amaze her. She thinks I should ride a mechanical bull on my birthday. I think I should ride a real bull. In honor of Oklahoma and all those kids from other states who used to ask me if I rode a cow to school, which I didn't.

Speaking of barnyard animals, tomorrow is the long-awaited Knight family lamb roast extravaganza for sixty! Kate’s friend Nicho has provided an organically-raised lamb from his family’s farm, slaughtered just today, and it is likely being prepped in the Knights’ garage as I type this. There are many meats to love, but lamb, I love none so much as thee.

This afternoon I trekked out to the wooded Knight abode to help with the preparations. When no one answered the front door, I let myself in and walked through the house until I found the back door open and Bing, Todd, and Bing’s friend Steve down by the water, gearing up the little sailboat for a jaunt out on Phantom Lake. Margot whisked me away to the house, where she offered me the family selection of swimsuits and a story for each. After a few tries and much mumbling to myself, I wound up in a red string bikini top and a blindingly heinous pair of green and yellow flowered hot pants. I felt like one of the family. It was a gorgeous afternoon. I went out on the boat with Margot and Todd and didn’t even hit my head on the boom.

Early evening found me and Kate picking supple grape leaves for dolmas, while across the garden her father tended a bed of long-necked flowers, his boom box crooning Al Green.


Kate was nearly swallowed alive by the grapevines, but they yielded such lovely leaves.


I stirred a heavy skillet of onions for the rice filling while Margot and Todd bustled, blanched, and chopped, and shortly thereafter I demonstrated my newly discovered and frighteningly impressive skill at rolling and folding dolmas. Kate set a pound of butter on the stove to melt and settled into a relaxed rhythm with her four pans of baklava. Steve and his girlfriend Amy busied themselves with a cheesecake to prop up the just-picked blackberries and raspberries from the garden.

Tomorrow will be delicious. For the lamb, I will say:

Northern Pike
by James Wright, from Above the River: The Complete Poems

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can't imagine and a pain
I don't know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden's blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.

8.27.2004

I took deep breaths

Heavens to Betsy! The carnage was unprecedented! I made strawberry scones!


A couple of months back, I went strawberry picking in Carnation with Kate, her sister Margot, and Margot’s boyfriend Todd. A mere hour or so of backbreaking labor yielded 16 gorgeous pounds of loot and made me almost dizzy with glee—until, that is, I realized that each and every berry had to be washed and dried. To make a long, messy, juice-stained story short, I cooked up three batches of jam from a recipe given to Margot in Italy, and I now have a freezer full of red-to-the-core strawberries. And I can’t stand seeing them just sit there unused, unattended, unloved. These sorts of dilemmas keep me up at night. If you know me, this is no joke. I need my sleep.

But as luck would have it, this past Saturday I chanced upon my sister Lisa’s recipe for Scottish scones. Lisa makes at least a half-dozen varieties of these scones—from plain to lemon, currant, dried apricot, candied ginger, raspberry, and strawberry—each year before Christmas, stashes them safely in the freezer, and then totes them to wherever it is that we’ve all gathered for the holidays. Lisa’s scones are neat and pretty, with a fine crumb and just a hint of sugar and butter. She has the touch, evidently, and on previous attempts with lemon zest and currants, I’ve come close.

But my strawberry scones are something else entirely. They are lumpy. Floppy. Disheveled. They resisted my efforts to knead them neatly, even forcing me to sling a sticky blob of dough onto a nearby wine bottle. Once in the oven, they oozed pools of strawberry juice and then stubbornly braised themselves in it. I’ve never seen a Silpat so dirty. I took deep breaths and fought the urge to reach for the trash can.

But! They taste absolutely divine. Hideously ugly but wonderfully delicate, they barely hold themselves intact around pockets of soft, jammy strawberry. Those berries! That light, tender, almost biscuit-like crumb! It must have been that minimal kneading I was forced into.


Scottish Scones

This recipe was given to my sister by a good friend of hers who, appropriately, is Scottish. I pass it on to you only on the condition that you try making it first with something neat and non-wet, such as raisins, currants, dried apricots, citrus zest, or candied ginger. Wetter things, such as frozen berries, will send you into murky territory, and it’s best to learn the lay of the land first.

½ c milk (I’ve used skim with no adverse effects, although it might be best to use one with more fat and body)
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3 Tbs sugar (I often choose the finely milled raw cane sugar—hippie sugar, as I call it)
Flavorful additions of your choice, to taste (see above for ideas; if you use berries, make sure they are frozen)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat together the milk and the egg and then set aside. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Rub the butter into the flour mixture, working until you have no lumps bigger than a pea. Add the sugar and whatever additions you choose, and stir or toss to mix. Pour the wet ingredients into the dries, reserving just a tad of the milk-egg mixture to use as a glaze. Bring dough together gently with a wooden spoon.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it no more than 12 times. [Apparently, twelve is the magic number here; surpass it at your own risk.] Pat dough into a round approximately ½-inch thick, and cut into 8 or 12 wedges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet or a Silpat, if you have one. Using a pastry brush, glaze wedges.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack.

8.24.2004

A flurry of fingers and cupped lettuce leaves

I love driving home alone at night. I race west across the lake, Seattle blinking silently before me, its streets wide and burnished-looking under the lights. I know my way without thinking, and it feels so solid here on my own, coming home to myself. A noteworthy day all around. My belly hurts from laughing too much.

The rains have returned, and this evening Keaton quite literally blew off the downtown street and into my car. We came home for gin and tonics, which, after a busy couple of days at work, Keats admirably threw back like a pro. She then quickly got to work making herself a second one, not without a near-catastrophic misjudgment of lime juice quantity and a splash of Plymouth gin on the formica counter.

Meanwhile, I made my first larb. Sweet, sweet larb! Good larb! Oh, larb have mercy. From now on, I’m going to larb everything in sight. Henceforth, no meat will be safe. Tonight it was ground pork, cooked in my big heavy skillet with a bit of chicken broth and then exuberantly doused with an aromatic rust-colored mixture of lime juice, fish sauce, minced shallots, slivered scallions, finely chopped lemongrass, ground red chilis, powdered galangal (which takes second place in the Favorite New Words category, coming in right on the heels of “larb” itself), and a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves. I set out a pot of hot sticky rice, and Keaton artfully arranged some sturdy red-leaf lettuce in our bowls. Then we attacked, chopsticks clicking madly, and the larb soon disappeared in a flurry of fingers and cupped lettuce leaves. I got a splinter from overly aggressive chopstick use. We feasted.
And so,

Larb
[Slightly adapted from recipeGullet, with all credit to snowangel and her Thai nanny]



3 Tbs chicken stock
8 oz ground pork
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
3 Tbs nam pla, or Thai fish sauce (I used Three Crabs brand)
4-6 tsp ground red chili (dried, not fresh, and not to be confused with cayenne; or try using 3-4 fresh red bird chilis, thinly sliced)
4 small shallots, minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom 3” minced
3 small kaffir lime leaves, sliced into a chiffonade
1 tsp powdered galangal (apparently a close relative of ginger, commonly used in Thai cooking; you can buy it fresh, but for this recipe, look for it in the spice section of your local Asian grocer. Sometimes I go to the Asian grocery store just to feel tall for a while. Not that I’m short, but only average. I like to feel above average now and then. Don’t you?)
1 Tbs toasted rice powder (you can purchase this, or make your own by toasting raw sticky rice in a heavy skillet and then grinding it in a spice grinder)
Lettuce leaves and sticky rice for serving

Poach ground pork in broth in a wok or large skillet. Add remaining ingredients and heat through. Serve warm with lettuce leaves for scooping and cooked sticky rice.

8.22.2004

Prose poem for Paris, inspired by an ugly tart

Oh Paris, your pastry is perfect. I’ll eat you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Paris, you kept me up until 3am and made me shy on the phone. You laid a blanket in the park and spread it with saucisson sec and fromages qui puent and we drank Champagne at two in the afternoon on your big day. Paris, I watched the eight o’clock news alone in your apartment and ate chaussons aux pommes in line at the movies, and I bought your small modern packages delivered by the small trucks that block your ancient streets.

Oh Paris, you gave me skirts with rabbit-fur trim and danger-sexy designer bags on sale. You told me I looked like Cleopatra. You said j’ai envie de te faire l'amour and you brought me croissants in the morning, and oh Paris, you looked away when I walked your streets red-eyed, holding a wad of Kleenex. You made me say stupid things and stay too long and we were so lonely together, you and I.

Paris, now you’re making me write like Allen Ginsberg in "America."
Oh Paris, Sundays in Seattle aren’t the same.

8.20.2004

Les mots et les choses

Words hold such promise.

Yesterday morning I received a spam e-mail from someone named Napoleon Mayo. I deleted it right away, of course, but what a name! Napoleon Mayo. It reminds me of Colonel Mustard. Condiments with military prowess.

Sometimes anthropology is so exciting. Yesterday, while doing some editorial work for the department website, I was faced with a document called “What is Luminescence Dating?” Now, this stuff is entirely beyond me—dealing as it does with natural radioactivity and artifacts and other things that concern archaeologists and not people like myself—but what a term! I’d like to appropriate it and twist it a bit. What is luminescence dating, you ask? Why, it’s a date so fantastic that by the end of the evening, both parties are actually emitting light—luminescent, if you will. What a lovely idea.

And a phrase I shall never tire of saying: “Picard: les Surgelés.” It’s the name of a French chain store that sells high-quality frozen foods. Go ahead, say it. Now say it quietly, almost a whisper. Now smile while whispering. French frozen foods are so sexy.

8.17.2004

Oh, Seattle

Seattle, the Ave makes me sad, and you’d better do something about it. It’s the strung-out street kids and their skinny dogs. I suppose the Ave is good for those days when I enjoy being ogled and harassed, but for the most part, it just makes me sad. Seattle, are you listening?

Speaking of the Ave, I met my dear friend Kate for an early-evening drink yesterday before her GMAT class in the U District. We sat next to the window, where there was a cool-ish breeze coming in from the door, and we Ave-watched and drank Bohemia with big wedges of lime. Kate had brought me a groaning basket of treats from her family’s garden: dozens of dusty purple prune plums, ten or so little Japanese pears, and big handfuls of Romano beans.



Opening my refrigerator gets more and more satisfying every day. Summer’s bounty, you are mine all mine. I think a plum-and-honey tart is in the works for this weekend.

It strikes me that I must sound like a broken record, going on and on about Romano beans and ricotta and plums and tomatoes and and and and, but it’s a delicious monotony. One of my childhood babysitters used to tell me that I’d turn into chocolate milk if I drank too much of it. Dear Virginia Hamilton, rest in peace. If your reasoning is correct, I suppose I’m now going to turn into heirloom tomato-bread salad. Delicious monotony, indeed.

But when I’m not reveling in garlicky bread and tomatoes, I often find myself bothered by the fact that I’m not fearless, food-wise. I do love liver, preferably chopped chicken liver with caramelized onions, eaten off the side of a knife or spread on hunks of boule from Au Levain du Marais. Actually, liver in any form will do. But on the other hand, take snails: I fear them alive; I fear them dead. Or witness tripe, which has been described as tasting like a hot-water bottle. I hear kidneys can taste like urine, although I do wonder how many of us have tasted urine. I worry about the gelatinous quality of oxtails. And a friend told me today about a Korean dish that conjures up what may be the most horrific mental image I’ve had in quite some time. A block of tofu is boiled in a pot. Live baby eels are added. The eels, seeking the coolest place left to them, burrow madly into the tofu. They die there. The block of tofu is then sliced and eaten. This aforementioned friend also told me about a dish involving little octopi that are hacked up alive and then eaten with a dipping sauce, their body-bits still squirming and twitching on the plate. He said that you have to chew them very thoroughly so that the tentacles don’t cling to your gums and tongue and throat. The mere thought of this makes me feel itchy.

But on a brighter note, dear reader, today ends well. We drank Champagne after evening mat class at Pilates Powerhouse NW. Rebecca Leone, my former employer and owner of Pilates Powerhouse NW, is a genius. A force of nature, nothing less. Alarmingly strong. I try to stay out of her way. She wears enormous diamonds. She downs coffee mugs full of Hershey’s kisses and orders the biggest steak on the menu. Today I watched her eat an entire tub of cottage cheese and drink three glasses of pink Champagne.

8.15.2004

"Sing into my mouth..."

David Byrne, I may never recover. The muscles of my face ache. The moment you took the stage, I settled into an alternately dreamy-giddy-ecstatic-awestruck-giddy-dreamy smile that lasted for two hours. Oh David Byrne, I love you till my heart stops, love you till I’m dead. Oh David Byrne, you’ve got a face with a view.

Thanks be to Keaton, who turned to me in the third song and said “Let’s go down and dance!” And so we climbed toward the stage, where big thick bouncers were glaring at anyone who tried to get any closer than the wings, but then all of a sudden the people around us rushed forward and Keats grabbed my arm and we ran in front of the stage, right up against it and right in front of David, who was wearing a train conductor’s striped overalls and a white shirt, his white hair turning red and then green and then yellow and white again under the lights. He loves dancing backwards and he shakes his hips with a fair amount of awkwardness and he does that odd neck-dancing thing he’s been doing for years and he makes funny rhythmic movements with his arms floating out from his sides and his eyes get big as globes when he wiggles in his overalls and when he sings loudly and strongly and opera-like his face spreads into an otherworldly grin and it’s almost as though he’s left and gone somewhere else, and there we are together. My halter top and I danced ourselves damp and Keats’ blond ponytail was bouncing and her big boots thumping, and I kept looking over to see if she was as irrationally caught up in it all as I was, and at one point we turned to each other, dancing, and smiled so wide we thought our faces might split and she made a motion with her hands like invisible tears were rolling down her aching cheeks, and David looked so happy and so genuinely moved by all of us down below him, adoring. Oh, it is good to be so silly and adoring at a David Byrne show. I almost cried again when he played “The Great Intoxication,” and you would have too. It's so beautiful. I would say I’m ridiculous, but I’m not.

But, dear reader, I am going to try my hardest not to write any more about Major Genius Mr. Byrne. I don't want to bore you.

Happily so

1. Julia Child, you taught me how to hard-boil eggs and make soufflés! You give me hope. When I was about eight, I used to do an imitation of you misting water into the oven for your baguettes, crying “Water! Water! Water!” On Friday I read in the newspaper that you and your husband Paul sent out Valentine’s Day cards one year with a picture of the two of you in your bathtub in Paris. That makes me so happy.

2. There is no way I could be a poet anymore, even if I wanted to regress to 17 and try it again. I am too verbose, and happily so.

3. Flirting is a skill I’m not sure I ever had.

4. I have a TV now, thanks to über-generous neighbors Paul and Jennifer. I’m afraid I’m never going to leave the house again, or at least not until the Olympics are over. I love the Olympics. The suspense, the joy, the agony, the swimmers’ Herculean bodies. But I’m also afraid that my television may make me stupid, and if I don’t have my brain, what will become of me? I’ll laze around all day in trashy tube tops, listening to Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild” and lying on the floor. I’ll spend all my money buying French pepper mills and Tawny Kitaen memorabilia on e-Bay and have nothing left for food. I’ll stop believing in liberal politics.

5. I’d like to make dinner for Cal from Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. What a story he tells.

6. I think we should each have a special theme song that plays whenever we enter a room, any room, anywhere. All rooms should also be equipped with fans to blow our hair back enticingly on days when we are wearing our hair down. Just imagine it. I’m not sure how the logistics of this would work, but I think about it often and contemplate which song I’d choose.

7. Oh Paris, I miss you.

8.14.2004

What a feeling

The torta di ricotta was a smashing success at Robert’s dinner party last night, if I do say so myself.



And I am one lucky girl, because I still have some ricotta left in the fridge. The only thing better than torta di ricotta is fresh ricotta straight off the spoon.

Robert has been taking a cooking class and produced a beautiful spread for fourteen(!): braised “Riviera” chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and paper-thin slices of lemon and lime; a pasta salad with sliced radishes, dill, and chunks of some sort of creamy mild white cheese; sautéed zucchini rounds with garlic; and a baby arugula salad. At some point after dinner, I sang “What a Feeling” (from Flashdance, in case you’ve forgotten: “Firrrrrst when there’s nothing…but a slow glowin’ dream…that your fear seems to hide…deep inside your mind…”) with piano accompaniment. I didn’t even have to look at the lyrics; I knew them by heart. If you're one of the lucky ones who has heard me sing, you know how painful this was for me and all involved. Oh, what a feeling.

This morning was cool and sunny, very dewy and golden. I woke up an hour earlier than I’d wanted to, and when I realized my mistake I climbed back into bed, on top of the covers and with the fan pointed directly onto me. I woke up an hour later with little icicles for feet. It was delicious. I walked down to the farmers’ market and came away with more of those sweet Romano beans, little French filet beans, four lemon cucumbers, one squatty head of soft red leaf lettuce from Willie Greens’, and a pound of the first Italian prune plums I’ve seen this year. I’m sooo excited. Prune plums! Quetsches! They sound even more exciting in French. Back at home, lunch was routine but mighty fine: a sandwich of barely toasted wheat bread with creamy salty peanut butter and La Trinquelinette apricot jam, a pile of blanched Romano and filet beans, and half a cold sweet-tart Early Gold apple. Peanut butter never stops hitting the spot.

While I was eating lunch and listening to the radio, something reminded me of an odd discussion I got into with one of my classes of high school students when I was teaching in France from 2001-2002. The context is blurry, but I remember saying something like, “It’s all about food, sex, and Star Wars, honey!” I have no recollection of what led to my making that exclamation, but holy holy, how inappropriate, Molly. One thing is infinitely clear to me: they should have never let me loose on those kids. But their English conversation abilities were quite excellent by the end of the year. Quite excellent.

Oh, Saturday, Saturday.

8.12.2004

“I scream the whole way and appear to brace my self in crash position”

Oh, dear readers! David Byrne blogs too! Now I can stop feeling sheepish, because blogging must not be as questionable as I thought. In his blog, he mentions a recent rollercoaster ride he was talked into, and there's a picture of him ducking as the rollercoaster swoops around a loop. David Byrne doesn't like rollercoasters (see title). Guess what? I don't like rollercoasters either! David Byrne also riffs relentlessly on reality and rationality and refers to himself as “Mr. So-Called Anthropologist from Mars.” I am an anthropologist! David Byrne, I am you.

In other late-summer news, tonight I've laid waste to more Romano beans, which are my new favorite farmers' market item. Summer makes everything taste good, except those lovely winter things like cabbages and stews.

I'm also in a heirloom tomato-bread salad rut, and it's delicious. My father would have loved joining me in this rut. He was the official tomato grower in our household, annually starting, fertilizing, and bringing to fruition dozens and dozens of them. In the summer of 2002, his last summer, the harvest was especially impressive, almost overwhelming. I'd slow-roast pan after pan of tomatoes, halved and salted and brushed with olive oil. That fall, when he was sick and bed-ridden, he told me dazedly of a dream he'd had in which we'd grown 10,000 beautiful tomatoes in the backyard. Ten thousand, he said. I loved being able to tell him that it wasn't a dream; he'd actually done it.



Romano beans with garlicky breadcrumbs
[Inspired by a dinner at Kirkland’s Café Juanita, fall 2003]

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and toss in a handful of Romano green beans (sometimes known as Italian green beans), cooking until just tender. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Heat a glug of olive oil in a medium skillet, and gently sauté one large clove of garlic, minced. Add Romano beans, a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs (I used some very finely ground whole wheat breadcrumbs I found in the freezer), and a bit of salt. Shake skillet, tossing beans to coat with oil, garlic, and breadcrumbs. Heat until everything is warmed through and breadcrumbs have absorbed a bit of oil and are crispy, just a few minutes. Plate. Eat.
Serves one.

8.11.2004

That's my answer.

Much to attend to. It’s apero hour, and I’ve been eating edamame and drinking a chilly gin and tonic with lots of lime.

David Byrne, like Nan Goldin, is so very brave. He is so extremely odd. It makes me exquisitely happy to see how odd he is. Take a listen to “Au Fond du Temple Saint” on his newest album Grown Backwards, and you will understand. It’s Byrne-esque opera, for one thing, and he is singing loudly. He may have perfect pitch, but it takes some kind of courage to push that voice to that decibel level. The way those strings build into the chorus almost brings tears to my eyes. Also, David Byrne is silver-haired, foxy, and stylish. Keats and I (and a horde of her relatives) are going to see him play at the Pier this Sunday. I almost cried when we saw him there in 2001. He is so odd, out in the world doing his own weird thing and making it work. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? His lyrics sometimes sound like instruction manuals. He puts clothing on furniture and calls it art, makes it to the Venice Bienniale. David Byrne, I want to work for you. Or be you.

In other quotidian news, I found myself in conversation today with a school friend who tells me that she has given up sugar. “It’s toxic,” she tells me, “Even worse than drinking or doing drugs!” Her eyes are wide, her tone insistent. “Don’t get me started,” she warns. She’s flailing her arms. She’s taking cod liver oil.

Now, we all have different bodies and different experiences of those different bodies. I know this, yes yes. Trite though it may sound, this body wants everything in moderation. Or usually in moderation. Usually. Food—contemplation of, preparation of, and consumption of—is a tremendous source of pleasure, both intellectual and sensual. From earthy Brussels sprouts to sweet green beans and crusty bread and gamey meat and runny-yolked eggs and barnyardy cheeses and cold apples and bitter chocolate, everything in its right place—but everything. Sugar tastes good, period, and it’s wickedly fun to not obsess over everything that crosses your lips. I will admit to having found diet/lifestyle guru Dr. Andrew Weil (e.g., Eating Well for Optimum Health) pretty sympathetic, but I can’t help but stray, no matter how sensible he is. He would look askance at the products of my weekend baking binges, and I just won’t stand for it. So onward I go. There is so much to be baked, roasted, braised, eaten! I wonder if David Byrne likes torta di ricotta. I've got the ingredients in the fridge, just waiting.

8.10.2004

A few of my favorite things, as inspired by the oscillating fan

When it is this hot, it can be difficult to use complete sentences. Everything must be short, easy to blurt out between gulps of cold water.

Today’s favorite snacks for hot weather, consumed while sitting in front of the fan:
One spoonful of cold unsalted natural peanut butter
Cold leftover French fingerling and German Butterball potatoes with mint, dill, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper

Newest favorite hot-weather activity: tearing day-old bread into shards, tossing them with olive oil, baking them for ten minutes or until crispy, then tossing them while piping hot with halved garlic cloves, adding chunks of deep crimson and/or green zebra heirloom tomatoes, splashing on balsamic, splashing on olive oil, scattering slivered basil over the top, salting, peppering, letting the whole sit and get juicy for ten or so minutes, removing the garlic cloves, and eating aggressively. But aggressively. This is heirloom tomato-bread salad.

And while we’re on the topic of favorite things—one of my favorite topics, actually—I’d like to share a few others with you. You, dear reader(s), are very courageous to come along with me. You and I may well disagree on some of the items that follow, and it may well get tense and awkward. Or we may agree, but sharing might prove too difficult. And one never knows what I might decide to like next, so we’ll both be constantly on the edge of our seats. But I won’t let that stop me, and you shouldn’t either.

And so, favorite things. Because I, like Talking Heads, “dream of cherry pies, candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies”—or at least things in the favorite sweets and desserts category—I begin Part One of this journey with:

-Dark chocolate, preferably between 70 and 85% cocoa mass
-Dark chocolate with whole toasted almonds from A la Petite Fabrique (12, rue Saint-Sabin, 75011 Paris)
-Chausson aux pommes, preferably from Au Levain du Marais (32, rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, or at the corner of blvd. Beaumarchais and rue du Pasteur-Wagner in the 11th)
-A baton of dark chocolate wedged into the doughy center of a hunk of good baguette
-Graham crackers, slightly soggy with milk
-Marian Burros’ Plum Torte


-Moist, dense cakes containing ground almonds, almond paste, and/or pure almond extract
-Vegan chocolate cupcakes (deep dark chocolatey cake with a thick hard shell of bittersweet chocolate over the top) from Whole Foods in Seattle
-Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, made by me

And because you’ve indulged me thus far, I now grant you a recipe.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from this recipe



I love plump, rustic-looking cookies, and these make me happy indeed. They’ve got plenty of toothsome texture from the oatmeal and a little salty edge that heightens the flavors of the butter and chocolate. While I’m not faint of heart, these cookies almost too rich when warm, so I find that they’re best at room temperature or even slightly chilly from the freezer.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs best-quality vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 ½ cups best-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups quick-cook oats, or rolled oats zizzed in a food processor for a few seconds

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats (I use the latter, which keeps the cookies from spreading too far and makes for easy clean-up).

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter and brown and granulated sugars until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk, mixing until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients, working until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and oats by hand, using a wooden spoon. Chill dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to one hour. Use a table knife to scoop and press dough into ¼-cup measuring scoops, and plunk the mounds onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be three inches apart.

3. Bake cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. [Mine often take longer than 15 to 20, but start there and then eyeball it.] Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cook completely. Eat.

8.08.2004

And then the cake came forth

Sundays are so very nice. My New York Times and I are very cozy on the couch.

Last night Kate and I made dinner and watched the boats sail in and out of Elliott Bay from her 18th-floor downtown apartment. It was an excellent reason to eat lots of bittersweet chocolate and Plugra, but you can rest assured that we ate our vegetables first.

We traipsed down to Pike Place Market just before closing and snatched up a bell pepper, red and gold tomatoes, a cucumber, two yams, and three sausages from Uli’s: spinach bratwurst, hot Italian, and lamb. Back home, we opened a bottle of white that happened to be lurking in the fridge, and, glasses in hand, put our bare feet up on the railing of her balcony to catch up for a while. There was much girly locker-room talk, and a pearl earring was nearly lost but wasn’t.

Then dinner threw itself together gracefully. The yams were sliced into long, flat fingers and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. The pepper and tomatoes were likewise dressed, then tossed onto the grill with the sausages, which sputtered at the heat and quickly began to glisten. The cucumber was sliced into rounds, tossed with vinaigrette and torn basil leaves from Kate’s thriving balcony garden. Meanwhile, the boats sailed on, and soon the cake came forth, trailing in its wake a bowlful of loosely whipped cream. We had two servings each, and poor Kate had to lie on the floor afterwards. It was really something.

And so, with no further ado, the recipe.

Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie,
or, Kate's Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake
Adapted from Je veux du chocolat!, by Trish Deseine



7 ounces (200 grams) best-quality dark chocolate
7 ounces (200 grams) unsalted European-style butter (the high-butterfat kind, such as Lurpak or Beurre d’Isigny), cut into ½-inch cubes
1 1/3 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.

Finely chop the chocolate (a serrated bread knife does an outstanding job of this) and melt it gently with the butter in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring regularly to combine. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition, and then add the flour. The batter should be smooth, dark, and utterly gorgeous.

Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (I usually set the timer for 20 minutes initially, and then I check the cake every two minutes thereafter until it’s done. At 20 minutes, it’s usually quite jiggly in the center. You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.) Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan and revert it, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.

Serve in wedges at room temperature with a loose dollop of ever-so-slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Note: This cake is even better on the second day, so consider making it the day before serving. And thank you to Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini, whose mention of a clementine cake in Trish Deseine’s Mes petits plats préférés led to my stumbling upon Je veux du chocolat! in the bookstore one day.

Updated on July 21, 2007.

8.07.2004

"There is no need for this dream-compelled narration; the rhythm will keep me awake, changing"

It is a sleepy afternoon. I am sleepy. It is sleepy.

Last night I dreamt that I was on some sort of a quest--the phrase "vision quest" was running through my head when I woke up--alone in the semi-wilderness. I was sent out on my own into a not-too-wooded-but-dark-and-shadowy place, and I was supposed to find my way to some mystic destination I now can’t recall. I would have to keep warm, sleep somewhere along the way. In the dream I went on this quest twice (it was only an overnight quest, and thus a repeat performance seemed somehow not illogical), although I woke up before fully completing the second go. Oddly enough, and not at all in keeping with the poetic feeling of the whole experience, whoever was coaching me on these missions told me that I should go to the parking lot of U Village to sleep. This is a metaphor for…? Maybe I’m really supposed to go to the Williams-Sonoma at U Village and investigate that roasting pan I want. Maybe that’s it. Vision quest for a roasting pan.

[Thank you, Robert Hass, for the title.]

8.05.2004

Before I do the dishes

Tonight’s dinner for one:

--Lamb sausage with fennel seeds, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and feta, seared all nice and golden and shiny in my beloved Wagner 9” cast-iron skillet
--Salad with baby lettuces from last Saturday’s market, shaved fennel, and thinly sliced cukes, dressed with mustard vinaigrette
--Tall Grass Bakery pain au levain
--And for dessert: 85% dark from Paris, along with some honey grahams dipped in milk

Oh, meat meat meat. Maybe it’s because I was delirious with hunger, but I don’t think so: that sausage, dear heart, was nothing short of rapturous. So juicy, so earthy, delicately tinged with anise, shot through with melty feta. I actually exclaimed “Oh my God!” aloud, and I may have moaned a couple of times. As if that weren’t enough, I noticed that the very nice meat man at Whole Foods mismarked it—hmm, intentional or no?—as corned beef, so I only paid $1.19! Oh Mr. Meat Man, my wallet and I love you so. Oh, meat!

8.04.2004

"Chicken; pastry; cream; cucumber..."

I stabbed my big toe tonight on the steel blade for the Cuisinart. It’s really not so complicated as it sounds, or else I would explain. The pesto smells luscious, and that’s all that matters.

I’m now taking contributions to buy a roasting pan, dear readers. My birthday is barely over a month away, and I’ll be ringing in the big two-six. 25 was a solid number: a quarter, a silver anniversary, the square of five. But 26 feels round and smooth, full of possibilities for adding, dividing, multiplying. And I’m already behind in the meat-roasting game; women of previous generations would be well on their way to spinsterdom for such shortcomings. I’ve got work to do. I’ve got my eye on an All-Clad roaster in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, but I’ve got to actually get myself to the store and hold the thing in my little hands to know for sure. I think I should have a V-shaped roasting rack to go with. And an instant-read thermometer. And trussing string. And that chicken down the street. Oh, winter! Roasted chicken with Brussels sprouts and chestnuts!

[Thank you, Gertrude Stein, for the title.]

8.03.2004

Free range

Just walked down to Scarecrow Video to return discs 1 and 2 of Six Feet Under and pick up discs 3 and 4. Am so excited. Think I'll try to prolong the gratification by only letting myself watch two episodes at a sitting. Can hardly wait. Good thing I don't have a television, so I can't get this irrationally excited about too many other shows.

But this is all a tangent. The real meat of the deal is that, as I was walking home, I saw a chicken. I was on 11th Ave NE, near 56th St.--no barns in sight, just some asphalt--when a brown-and-grayish chicken came nonchalantly hopping out of someone's yard and onto the sidewalk a couple of feet in front of me. She trotted along for a few seconds and then nonchalantly hopped back onto the lawn. I was caught off guard and a little startled, but then I was all jealousy: someone nearby is probably getting fresh eggs straight from their backyard, and I'm not.

8.02.2004

"saying, what other amazements / lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes"

A resolution on writing:
I’m trying to remember that feeling exactly, that feeling I had after leaving the Nan Goldin show at Galerie Yvon Lambert. I felt as though I’d been somewhere far away. I had let myself be wrapped up in the music she’s using (a uniquely uplifting snippet from Godspeed You Black Emperor!) for her “Honey on a Razor Blade” slide show, and I was half in love with her brazenly beautiful nephew Simon. And I was so in awe of her bravery, her embracing of the messiness, frailty, ugliness, and shattering beauty of human life. I left the gallery feeling full to bursting, like I might laugh and cry all at once, explosive. It reminded me of the end of that James Wright poem about the ponies: “Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom.”

A few weeks later, my mother and I were sitting on the terrace of Café des Phares when, lo and behold, Nan Goldin walked by. Mom pointed her out. Bless you, Mom. I, as coolly as possible, sprang from my seat and followed her for a minute or so, until she turned the corner and headed down the rue de Rivoli, towards the bustling and appropriately messy heart of the city. I wanted to shout after her and thank her for her bravery, for scaring me and challenging me, for making me uncomfortable.

When I was little, a psychic told my mother that I was a “new soul,” that this was my first time on Earth, and hence my rather substantial childhood fears, namely of needles, loud noises (vacuum cleaners, thunderstorms, the dial on the stereo cranked too high), and people with anything physically out of the ordinary. [I’m not proud of this last, but you should know that it's visceral and instinctive, and, after years of learning to talk myself down, I'm at least rational about it now. There will be no more running or sniffling and crying upon seeing the Oklahoma artist with no arms, or the child with progeria on the airplane.] But new soul, new schmoul. I won’t hear a word of it.

It's important to write this down, I think. To resolve, and to write, to preserve this "suddenly lit, awakened state," as poet Heather McHugh once said. It's terrifying, this breaking and blossoming. It's terrifying to begin this being brave.

[Thank you, Mary Oliver, for the title.]




8.01.2004

Slow-roasting

Goodness, my apartment is hot. It's not even that horrible outside on this sunny Seattle evening, but the kitchen is a blazing inferno. Jess, my dinner guest, will be shortly. The yogurt cake with lemon zest and lemon glaze is resting contentedly on the counter, seemingly oblivious to the heat. The sockeye is roasting ever so gently in the oven. I've got the fan firmly parked in the doorway to the thing I optimistically call the balcony, and I've got myself firmly parked in front of it. I feel shiny. It may be time to get the wine out of the fridge. Oh, how I suffer.

But I've rediscovered the Old 97s album "Wreck Your Life," and I can sing just like Rhett Miller. I'm so impressed. It looks like growing up in Oklahoma pays off after all; I can get a nice, soulful twang and sway my hips like a two-stepping pro, preferably while wagging a chef's knife over a pile of steaming potatoes. Too bad I don't look like Rhett Miller too.

The doorbell will ring any minute, and soon the sockeye and I will be fork-tender. As for you, dear reader: may your apartment possess a powerful air conditioner; may your evening filled with the best of company, and may your cakes be always light and lemony.


Gâteau au Citron,
or, French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon
Adapted from Gâteaux de Mamie



This type of cake is an old classic in France, the sort of humble treat that a grandmother would make. Traditionally, the ingredients are measured in a yogurt jar, a small glass cylinder that holds about 125 ml. Because most American yogurts don't come in such smart packaging, you'll want to know that 1 jar equals about 1/2 cup.

For the cake:
1 jar plain yogurt
2 jars granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 jars unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 jar canola oil

For the glaze:
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 jar powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep stirring, and it will come together into a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (after buttering, I sometimes line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, and then I butter that too).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely.

When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup.
Serve.


Variations: This type of yogurt-based cake is a terrific base for many improvisations. For a basic yogurt cake, simply leave out the lemon zest, and do not use the lemon juice glaze. For an almond version, try replacing 1 jar of flour with 1 jar of finely ground almonds. You can also play with adding various fruits (if frozen, do NOT thaw before adding) or nuts, if you like. When I add fruit, I generally pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan, top it with a layer of fruit, and then pour in the other half of the batter, sometimes adding more fruit on the very top.

Recipe updated 28 March, 2007.