Month: December 2004
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