Month: August 2004
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.
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.]
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.
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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.…Read more
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 butterCold 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,…Read more
Sundays are 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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
God, 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…Read more
Lovely is my new favorite adjective, so benign and sweet and faux-British. And so, lovely things on Saturday, July 31: -Four heads of baby lettuce (two green oakleaf and one red, plus one unidentified variety with perky burgundy leaves) for $3 at the U District farmers’ market -An heirloom tomato sandwich for lunch: thick slices of green zebra with S & P and a healthy swipe of mayo on toasted sprouted-wheat bread. So drippy, so delicious. I was almost reduced to slurping. -85% dark chocolate from A la Petite Fabrique in Paris. I may have complained about my 66-pound suitcase, but now that my schlepping is done, I have no regrets about having bought 17 bars of chocolate. None. –Six…Read more