A week in the Bay Area has come and gone, and I’m back in my long black Neo-esque wool coat, lugging groceries home in the Seattle rain, fingers numb in my gloves. But no matter. Though it was delicious to have a full seven days with people I adore in what may well be the best part of this enormous country, nothing could match my contentment last night upon returning to my cold little apartment after midnight, cranking up the heat and a gritty old Rolling Stones album, unpacking my suitcase, putting everything in its place, and folding myself into my poofy white bed. This is how vacation should feel.
But as promised, you, dear reader, get the two-dimensional dregs of my San Francisco stay. From Arizmendi Bakery’s eggy brioche knot flecked with cinnamon and golden raisins to Max’s obscenely huge dark-chocolate-dipped macaroons (approximately one pound each and best if bought at the to-go counter and brought home for quartering and sharing), Dungeness crabs, and the Acme pain au levain and olive bread, it was a delicious week indeed.
And the holidays would be nothing without a few little adventures and last-minute errands for crafty present-related odds and ends, such as 9” red zippers at JoAnn Fabrics, where my very petite cousin Katie found the wall of cheap fake flowers very appealing.
And while a snowy white Christmas is appropriate every now and then, I never object to a Christmas Eve walk at Tennessee Valley and out to the beach with the twins, all of us bundled ever-so-lightly in hooded sweatshirts and scarves.
And as for Christmas morning, there was the requisite wearing of gift bows around our heads, and there were the oddly perfect gag gifts, such as my mother’s legwarmers, carefully selected by Sarah and Jim. After all, every Pilates instructor needs pink-and-gray legwarmers to wear with her high-heeled boots (aptly and unabashedly called “fuck-me heels” in this family).
Best of all, my kitchen reeled in quite a load of gifts, such as a long-awaited pair of poultry shears (no more standing on my tip-toes for knife-handling leverage; no more breaking a sweat!); a sparkling white 9- by 13-inch French porcelain baking dish; Katie, Sarah, and Jim’s The Little Family Cookbook; and an instant-read thermometer. There were also gifts for my geeky brain, such as Women Who Eat and Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. And there were gifts that shocked and awed in the best possible way, such as the twelve-quart stainless-steel All-Clad Multipot picked out for me by my half-brother David and his fiancée.
I’d always thought I’d have to wait for a wedding gift registry to get one of these heavy, gleaming beauties, but I apparently underestimated the generosity of my relatives. This may be the most luscious piece of steel I’ve ever seen. I held it and stroked its every curve and ridge. I’ll be with this pot for the rest of my life, and that’s a long time. Between me and this pot, it’s till death do us part.
So it was only appropriate that I get it down and dirty that very night and put it, naturally, to the old trial by fire. Indeed, my new stockpot was perfect for whipping up the evening’s first course, a double batch of apple and butternut squash soup with curry, cardamom, and mace. It’s a recipe my mother has been making for years, and it’s well-traveled, having led off a very raucous, drink- and dancing-filled French-style Thanksgiving dinner in Paris in 1999. Also in its favor is the fact that it’s very, very simple to make, assuming that you’re not averse to a bit of chopping and have some sort of blending apparatus handy. Smooth and warming with an undertone of curry, it’s just the thing for a San Francisco Christmas dinner, or Seattle winter nights with young Mick Jagger.
Apple and Butternut Squash Soup
If possible, make this soup a day or two ahead; its flavors meld and deepen after a day or so of sitting the fridge.
¼ cup olive oil
1 2-lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 flavorful apples, preferably Gala, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
¾ tsp curry powder
¾ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 cup good-quality apple cider
1 quart chicken stock (vegetable works fine as well)
½ tsp salt
¼ freshly ground pepper, preferably white
Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the squash, apples, and onion, and stir to coat with oil.
Stir in the mace, curry, and cardamom, and continue cooking until the onion begins to brown.
Add the cider. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook for three minutes. Add the stock, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, partially covered, for another 35 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Working in batches, blend mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth (be careful to not overfill, as hot liquid could expand when machine is switched on, making a huge, burning-hot mess). Return soup to the stockpot. Reduce the soup, uncovered, over medium-low heat, to about one-fourth. Stir occasionally. Stir in salt and pepper, and serve hot.
Membership in my family comes with a crash course in the local food vernacular. There’s no printed thesaurus (yet), but it all makes sense in context: “strawbuzzy” is synonymous with “strawberry,” “dee-doc-doc” with “chocolate milk,” “cheenies” with “raisins,” and “on-tream” with “ice cream.” And when San Francisco is our holiday meeting place, “Christmas” means “Dungeness crabs.”Of course, Christmas also means plenty of other things: feigned suspense as we peek into our stockings, four-hour one-person-at-a-time present-opening marathons, occasional “sad attacks” and stories of those no longer with us, a full afternoon in the kitchen, and the much-loved and much-dreaded Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album (keeping us cringing since 1984). But in San Francisco, crabs come before all else. Christmas Eve begins with…Read more
Very dear readers of Orangette: The year draws to a close with good news. My little blog is one of five finalists for the “Best Food Blog—Writing” section of the 2004 Food Blog Awards! To those who nominated me in the first round, a breathless, slobbery “Thank yoooooou!” I owe you kitchenfuls of baked goods filled with expensive chocolate and fancy-pants butter. And to the myriad friends and family who’ve contributed to, appeared in, inspired, and/or put up with this endeavor, know that Orangette would be nothing—or at least very shrimpy and malnourished—without you. That said, there’s this final-round business to attend to. If you feel so moved—and I hope you will—please go to the Accidental Hedonist website and cast…Read more
Everything I said about her is true, and more. Kate is dreamy, and so are her mussels—so tender! So sweet! So cheap! So full of crabs! It was a crisp Sunday late afternoon, and my grumpiness was no match for the sun, shining persistently even as it set. I arrived chez Kate just in time to savor the spectacular view of Elliott Bay from her eighteenth-floor sublet before we rushed down to the market, slipping in just fifteen minutes before closing time. Strolling the wet brick streets under the Christmas lights, we collected our wares: big cans of whole stewed Italian tomatoes from DeLaurenti’s, a half-pint of cream and a shiny glass bottle of milk from the Pike Place Creamery,…Read more
Oh, the tenacious grumpiness that is mine! Everything is a muted gray, inside and out; nothing bad—just subdued, monochromatic. And it’s not just the rain. As someone I used to know once said, “Some days are diamonds, and others are cubic zirconia.” In my case, substitute “weeks” for “days,” et voilà. But: 1. My apartment is so clean that I actually did eat something off the floor, just to be able to say that I had. 2. Kale is unspeakably beautiful, especially when barely wilted with olive oil and lemon. A sunny winter day on a plate. And it makes me feel so virtuous. Seattlites, go visit Willie Green’s stand at the extended U-District farmers’ (mini-)market, open every Saturday (except…Read more
Some nights were made for Jeff Buckley and my stove—many nights, in fact, and especially when the city is draped in a misty, blue-gray cloak of fog. Tonight I’m exhausted, but it only makes my singing voice more dramatic. It’s the time of year when we all do lots of giving and receiving, and I’ve decided to do what I should have been doing for ages: make Christmas presents with my own two hands—in my kitchen, of course. My wallet is chronically malnourished, and anyway, my kitchen offers real benefits over the mall: no aggressive, blindingly sparkly decorations; no plastic figurines blaring carols; no tearing-out of hair over parking spaces; no sad, picked-over stacks of turtlenecks; no need to put…Read more
“Pangloss disait quelquefois à Candide: ‘Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles; car enfin, si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l’amour de Mlle Cunégonde, si vous n’aviez pas été mis à l’Inquisition, si vous n’aviez pas couru l’Amérique à pied, si vous n’aviez pas donné un bon coup d’épée au baron, si vous n’aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons du bon pays d’Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches.’ ‘Cela est bien dit,’ répondit Candide, ‘mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.’”—Voltaire, CandideLike Voltaire’s Candide—who slogged his way to the good life through a haphazard and mind-boggling maze of hardships,…Read more
Winter in the Pacific Northwest means dusk at 3:30 in the afternoon, with sunset around 4:15. Six in the evening might as well be midnight. When I look out my rain-streaked window at 5pm, I’m met with the luminous glow of wet asphalt under the streetlamps in the grocery-store parking lot. So picturesque you are, Seattle. These long, cold nights and short, dark days call for rousing breakfasts. We’ve all got to stoke the proverbial fire, but in winter such small rituals feel truly fortifying, somehow more deeply nourishing than during summer’s more carefree months. That said, I should admit that — regardless of the season, gentle reader — each day I wake expressly for the purpose of eating the…Read more
You may have heard me speak of my dad: the man I called “Burg,” the one who took me to Paris for the first time when I was only ten, introduced me to caviar long before puberty, revealed to me at sixteen the homely pleasure of rice pudding, and gave me a Cuisinart—carefully selected from his favorite shopping spot, eBay—for my 24th birthday. He loved to spoil me. Today marks the two-year anniversary of Burg’s death to advanced-stage cancer of the kidney. He lived only ten weeks after his diagnosis. The disease had already spread to his spine and pelvis, skull, and legs. As a radiation oncologist who’d spent nearly fifty years treating and curing patients, his most poignant remark…Read more
This Thanksgiving, the focus wasn’t on the ritual turkey and stuffing; it was on a wedding engagement. After all, my (half-)brother David has certainly made us wait. David was fifteen when I was born. A mid-seventies transplant from Baltimore, he took Oklahoma City by storm with his stylish and shiny Farrah Fawcettesque hair, striped knee socks, and devilish ways. Although he kept himself busy scandalizing various cities and defying death and teachers, he also took care to do the requisite brotherly things: asking me (à la Telly Savalas), “Who loves ya, baby?” and training me to say, “You do!”; sitting on me and tickling me until I couldn’t breathe; harassing me about boys; and giving me a beer-derived nickname, Molson.…Read more
My entrance was less grand than I’d hoped, but the birthday cake and I made it home intact. It is virtually impossible to fly directly to Oklahoma from any West or East Coast city, and I had the grave misfortune of passing through Dallas-Fort Worth on Tuesday afternoon and finding my one-hour layover stretched out into seven as a riot of nasty weather cavorted around the Great Plains. But I passed the time with a very chatty 83-year-old Manhattanite named Edith who sat down next to me and, among other things, told me where to find the best steaks and the wealthiest men in the Big Apple. Edith had beautiful deep-set blue eyes, red lipsticked lips, and shiny crimson nails,…Read more
Dear readers, today we celebrate the strongest woman I know, a truly swanky dancer, the epitome of poise and slightly goofy sophistication. Happy 58th birthday, Mommy dear. It couldn’t have been easy all those years, fending off my pre-teen pleas for Vienna sausages (in a can, pale and slippery), Cheetos, Bubblicious bubble gum, and Hawaiian Punch. While pining away for these forbidden “junk food” items, I was deathly picky: no condiments on anything, no lumps in the Campbell’s Tomato Soup, no bananas, nothing spicy, nothing jiggly, nothing remotely gristly, no mushrooms, no nuts in the cookie, no asparagus, no jam on the PB & J. But with patience and a steady diet of bologna roll-ups,* she brought me around. What…Read more
Dear reader, I am a true pioneer woman. Round three of the sourdough experiment—the second go-round with Jack Lang’s method—was pretty damn fine. Poilâne has nothing to fear from me, but then again, I’m just looking to keep the breadbox full on long, windy trips in the covered wagon. Somewhere, my sweaty man is grunting with pleasure.Read more
Inspired by Kate—who was inspired by someone else I can’t remember—I present the good, the very good, and the wonderful of the past week, all lumped together and in no particular order, which sort of defeats the purpose: 1. Veteran’s Day afternoon with Kate: being unstylish, unshowered, and happy on a sunny day and walking arm in arm along the piers and down to Myrtle Edwards Park, after which we split a spectacularly buttery brioche (her very first!) from Le Panier, bought some deep green crinkly dinosaur kale from flirtatious vendors at the market, and talked chamois creme. 2. Meeting a real, live (ex-)break dancer. Bonus points for recent thumb injuries incurred while break dancing at parties. Yeow. 3. A…Read more
Forget the Ann Demeulemeester sex bag and all that snooty France stuff; give me a bull-scrotum bag and the open prairie, land of my birth. Forget the joys of a shower with excellent water pressure; all I need is the Red River and some pumice. Cast off the lacy lingerie and other things requiring delicate hand-washing; give me leather, rags, and a splintery washboard. And down with Mr. Pete, my trusty four-wheeled steed; I want Cinnabar, that wild-maned, dead-legged beast we fought over at summer camp. Dear reader, I’m trying my hand at being a self-sufficient pioneer woman, able to sustain herself, sweaty man, and grubby kids on nothing more than flour, salt, and water. How convenient that some flours…Read more
It has been a very dark week in this land. Much doom, much to be gloomy about. Times like these make me wish my father had kept his Canadian citizenship. But then I remind myself of the thirteen holy reasons to love America despite its shady leaders, twisted foreign and domestic policy, and general unholiness. 1. History2. The idiosyncrasies of American English3. Blue states (and Oklahoma, because of a few shreds of irrational hometown loyalty)4. The Star-Spangled Banner (okay, okay, it’s pretty)5. Bruce Springsteen6. Thanksgiving7. S’mores8. Peanut butter9. Filibusters10. Dischord Records11. McSweeneys12. American mice, which are bold yet mind-blowingly stupid and thus make for a great story. For purposes of comparison, French mice are bold, but they have the sophistication…Read more
I do not take well to being hungry, especially when the source of my next meal is unknown. Consider yourself warned. And woe betide those, such as Nicho, who choose to test me. This story takes place on a crisp, sunny Halloween morning. The evening before had been spent at the home of lovely Kate, whooping it up at her second annual “catastrophic success” cocktail party. I’d gone over early to provide costume consultation and get a head start on the (yes, post-season) gin and tonic. Kate, eager to wear a 1970s getup she’d found at a thrift shop, successfully morphed into a (half-)Chinese cowgirl with the addition of a hat and boots. I transformed into my alter ego, a…Read more
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac is a village nestled under a cliff alongside the Vézère River in the beautiful Dordogne region of southwestern France. The self-proclaimed “capitale mondiale de la préhistoire,” it boasts a supremely boring (but, I understand, newly revamped) museum of prehistory and a nameless café where I bought some Orangina and used the bathroom. Most importantly, however, it was in Les Eyzies that I had my first taste of a gâteau aux noix, a French walnut cake. It was October 1999, and I was a month into my two-quarter stay in France as a student in the Stanford-in-Paris program. Thanks to Helen Bing, a truly worship-worthy Stanford donor, we students hopped a train down to Brive-la-Gaillarde and spent a weekend…Read more
Every week should begin this way: watching the sun rise over the Cascades from a warm bed next to an enormous window, the wind whistling outside, a flock of tiny birds circling and swooping above the spruce. This is a bluegrass song. Late Sunday morning took us down idyllic two-lane roads, past pastures full of cows and trees shaking with turning leaves, to Nicho’s family’s farm in Sultan. Along the road, the dahlias stood out bright under a sky blanketed with clouds, ripped and streaked with blue. A slow fog rolled between two hills, and in the distance, the Cascades foretold winter with their jagged white caps. We arrived just before noon with empty stomachs, and Nicho threw together a…Read more
It’s a bit after eleven. My apartment smells of frittata; the bed is pristine and pale green with fresh sheets; and my social calendar is recently ridiculous. A late Friday night home alone is fine indeed. This being-single thing is quite time-consuming: people to see, spontaneous things to do, loss of sleep to angst and scandal. It’s fantastic. I think I’ll do it for a while. Tonight Keaton and I had dinner chez moi, a cozy plan for a chilly, off-and-on rainy evening. We broke open a bottle of Red Truck California Red Table Wine (not the most promising name, but perfectly drinkable) and settled into an evening of catching up. Dinner began with last winter’s favorite broccoli soup, courtesy…Read more
My weekend in the Bay Area wasn’t entirely about traipsing around without a schedule and sleeping like the dead. I had work to do. My mission, dear reader, was to serve as a bridesmaid to my childhood friend Jennifer, who I’ve known since I was three and she was five, when our backyards butted up against one another and we met over the fence. Together we terrorized more than one hapless babysitter, not to mention the other neighborhood kids we’d frighten by blacking out our teeth with stage makeup and dressing up in the dregs of an old Dolly Parton costume. We also had our own “radio” show, recorded on junky cassette tapes, featuring DJs Alfonso (me, of course) and…Read more
Oh Northern California, I’ve been unfaithful, but you take me back every time. You meet me at the airport with Laurent Garnier on the stereo, and you give me fresh white towels and a bedful of down pillows. You roll out the brown hills of your early fall, and I speed along them, through streets and names I’d almost forgotten, to smelly cheese and good bread and bad classic rock on the staticky radio. You know me so well. My very petite cousin Katie and her new man Andrew picked me up at the airport late Wednesday night and whisked me across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Corte Madera. There we found Tina, my mother’s identical twin sister and Katie’s…Read more
Tuesday night, and I feel selfish and lazy and wonderfully sleepy. I love a quiet night at home like this, eating a simple dinner of peanut butter on warm toast and zucchini in a tomato-y sauce with onions, capers, and mint. Afterwards I dug into the freezer and came out with half a chocolate gâteau fondant de Nathalie, from which I cut a generous wedge. With a few seconds in the microwave and a cold glass of milk on the side, it was luscious. Dinner alone, if approached willingly, can be the greatest luxury. But dinner with others is awfully nice too. Sunday night brought Nicho back from the Olympic Hot Springs and to my apartment, where we drank Grant’s…Read more
A gold-star day, in the words of fashion maven Elizabeth! 1. My mother called at 10:30am, wanting to know if I would wear a crocheted poncho, just hypothetically. She is well trained, having survived a trial by fire. When I was fifteen she really outdid herself at Christmas. Mom usually has exquisite taste, and she fully supported my teenage forays into burgundy hair (which she dyed for me), clunky boots, lots of layers, and 11-cent thrift-shop men’s pants. But that Christmas, she strayed too far into the realm of ultra-trendy grungesque wear, bringing home for me a baggy flannel dress and a rubber belt with bottle-caps on it, among other unmentionables. This was a huge mistake. Dear reader, I very…Read more
I am a victim of identity theft.I can’t believe this. My poor brain is flogging itself. I won’t go into the details in this loud, echoing, painfully public venue, but yesterday I was weaseled out of the last four digits of my Social Security number by a nasty scheming liar. And then he—no doubt rubbing his hands with devilish glee—called my wireless telephone provider, bought a $600 cell phone in my name, and had it shipped to himself. But my mother and I, an unbeatable cross-country sleuthing duo, put a stop to the madness in less than two hours. There will be no fancy cell phone for you, Mr. Evil Liar-Man, nor will you be buying any flashy hookers with…Read more
I have somewhat contradictory fears: I’m afraid of not getting enough sleep and, on the other hand, of sleeping too late. While it seems perfectly alright to bow out of an evening early, I’m terrified of missing morning: the sweet slowness in my limbs, the ritual first meal of the day, the clanging and buzzing of the street as it begins to wake. In college I’d sometimes sneak away to bed at 9 or 9:30, feeling smart and smug and sensible, as though I were putting an entire paycheck into savings rather than spending it. But I’m softening with age: these days sleep comes closer to midnight, and morning isn’t welcome until eight. I’ve even been known to find ample…Read more
1. I am officially an old pro at roasting chickens. Golden, plump, juicy chickens. I’d say I could do it blindfolded, but there’s no need to brag. Plus, I did have to struggle through another potent “I’m joining PETA now” moment when I was holding the bird and patting salt along its back. At once tender and disturbing, it really felt just like burping a baby. But dinner was delicious: roasted chicken, ratatouille, and warm farmers’ market fingerling potatoes with cider vinegar and olive oil and fresh dill and salt. Miam miam. 2. U. S. of A., you’d better be watching the first presidential debates tomorrow evening. I’ll cringe each time George W. opens his little pursed lips, but I’m…Read more
This morning’s heavy fog turned the parking lot outside my window into an abstract painting—maybe a Jasper Johns, a soft gray with faint white diagonal lines and tiny brown spots where leaves had fallen. Oh dear reader, I am windblown and sleepy. My kitchen table is filthy with crumbs, oil smears, and a streak of blue cheese. There’s sand inside my shoes and between my toes.I can’t complain. It’s Monday. Last night was a potluck dinner for four. [Jess would have made five, but she was absent due to an unfortunate bout of onion-ring-and-Velveeta-dip-induced food poisoning.] We made do. Robert baked a slab of king salmon in parchment paper and doused it with a sauce of honey, lime, and soy…Read more
I’ve never read Ted Kooser’s poetry, but I love the following excerpt from the September 12 New York Times Magazine: “Q: How did you find out you’d been selected as the new poet laureate?Kooser: I was informed by a phone call. I was so staggered I could barely respond. The next day, I backed the car out of the garage and tore the rearview mirror off the driver’s side. [Insert lots of other good-natured, self-effacing talk.] Q: Are you always this agreeable?Kooser: I try to be.” I was never very good at this sort of thing—this being pleasant, affable, agreeable. Take, for example, sharing. I can think of several instances in which a grade-school classmate, having forgotten his or her…Read more
1. Got home from work very very hungry and went straight for a cold spoonful of saltylicious peanut butter. I’m so all-American. 2. Tonight I inaugurated fall by roasting the first cauliflower of the season. Perhaps the coming of autumn isn’t so bad after all, if it means more caramelized cauliflower. This may well be the most delicious vegetable preparation ever conceived—thank you, Jim Dixon! I restrained myself and only ate half a head. I also roasted a delicata squash and loosely scrambled some pretty brown eggs, and then I ate very dark chocolate. 3. Tim Harrington is at it again. A few very dedicated readers may remember when, in my first-ever post, I mentioned as a source of great…Read more