Month: March 2005
When one of your (half-)brothers is a restaurateur, paying him a visit means consuming quite a bit of good food. When one of your (half-)brothers is a restaurateur with many reasons to celebrate—a new house, a new restaurant in the works, and an upcoming wedding, for example—paying him a visit means consuming completely unreasonable amounts of fantastic and fantastically rich food all over the Washington, D. C. area, nonstop, for three and a half days. Add to this equation Easter, a holiday synonymous with sugar, and the whole mess is downright obscene. I’m still recovering. Though Veuve Clicquot is fine and Dom Perignon is dandy, at this point I’m very pro-water.
But, as I tripped down this path littered with smoked lobster, pineapple baked Alaska, and cilantro daiquiris, I collected three truths to bring home to you, dear reader, from our nation’s capitol:
1. To make a restaurant look sleek, sultry, and very L.A., cover it with yards and yards of white leather. Oya, a brand-new lounge on 9th Avenue, has mastered the concept. There’s white leather everywhere: the chairs, the banquettes, and—in a very questionable move—even the tables. One wall near the bar appears to be covered in crimson crocodile, and the bathroom stalls are a blinding, futuristic shade of orange-red, but otherwise, the place is nothing but searing-hot white. My fair skin was tailor-made camouflage; I blended in perfectly with the banquette. And the braised short ribs with vanilla-pear purée was nice too.
2. My friend Doron’s fashion sense is even better than his meatballs, which is saying a lot. On a chilly D.C. Saturday, he was a vision in charcoal gray wool. We nabbed a table by the window at Dupont Circle’s Teaism, and over pots of green tea, a salt-laced oat cookie, and a lemon bar, we quickly bridged the two thousand miles’ worth of distance that separates our daily lives. And then he was off, black hair gleaming and Burberry scarf flying, to counsel a good friend who was preparing a special six-year anniversary dinner for his girlfriend. I’m not the only one who needs an expert meatball maker every now and then.
3. And speaking of need, every family needs an Italian matriarch—even a Jewish-Catholic-Polish-Irish-English family. My (half-)brother David is doing his best to acquire one for us, and thank goodness. His fiancée Carée comes with a wealth of excellent attributes, not the least of which is her Italian-American mother Nancy. Months ago, when Nancy and her husband Frank hosted an engagement party for David and Carée, my mother called me on her cell phone from the dessert table. The spread was outrageous, she said, from homemade cannolis to cake and back again, not to mention the savories. This Easter Sunday, I got my chance to see Nancy in action, and her cooking, true to legend, was legendary. Not content to settle for the usual ham, she also baked a turkey, which she filled with a moist and rich bread stuffing, and alongside she served baked ziti, her rendition of Pennsylvania Dutch potatoes (creamy mashed potatoes with marjoram and thyme, baked until crispy on top and barely gold), candied yams, corn, cranberry sauce with lemon zest, pan gravy, cole slaw, four types of homemade bread, and asparagus with a light ginger-butter glaze.
Dessert brought not only chocolate brownies but also a fresh strawberry pie, a pecan pie, and anguished groans around the table. It was stunningly beautiful. It may have been Easter, but at our table, we said amen for Italian matriarchs.
As I said, I’m still recovering. And so, after a full day of cross-country flying, I came home to make myself a bowl of pea soup.
A green-tasting springtime cousin of the wintery split pea, this soup features little more than sweet frozen peas, broth, and a salty, nutty hunk of rind from a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s a perfect restorative for Easter obscenity. I’d dare to venture that even a fancy-schmancy restaurateur might want to curl up with a bowl.
Very Easy Pea Soup
Adapted from Nigella Lawson in the New York Times; January 21, 2004
1 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 scallions, finely sliced
4 cups (20 ounces) frozen peas
½ to 1 cube vegetable bouillon, or 3 cups hot vegetable broth
A piece of rind from a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, about 1 by 2 inches
Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and add oil and garlic. Sauté until garlic is fragrant but not browned; then add scallions. Stir until heated; then add frozen peas. Stir well. Add 3 cups hot water and bouillon to taste (or instead, add 3 cups hot broth), and the cheese rind. Cover, and simmer until peas are tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool until no longer steaming. Remove the cheese rind, and transfer the soup to a blender or food processor. Purée until the mixture is very smooth. Serve immediately, or, if desired, reheat to taste.
Serves two to four.
“Will you bring dessert?”Now that is one of my favorite questions to be asked. It’s right up there with “Can I kiss you?” and “You’re from Oklahoma?” But unlike the latter two, it can almost always be counted on to produce an outcome that’s angst-free, a result in which sweet conquers sour. Dessert doesn’t lead to sleepless nights of overanalyzing, or to nightmarish memories of afternoons at the Cowboy Hall of Fame. There will be no broken hearts and no teepees. Dessert is pleasure guaranteed, with no explanations needed. When delicious, dessert is its own best answer—especially when it’s as delicate as frilly lingerie and as rich as a Plains-state oil tycoon. Lemon soufflé tartlets are both. Light and sweet…Read more
Here in Seattle, something is going on. Sunlight is pouring in through my bedroom window at an obscenely early hour (sunrise: 6:05 am), daffodils are sprouting from every yard and florist, and my portly bus driver—the year-round optimist—is no longer the only one wearing shorts. This has nothing to do with the vernal equinox or that start-of-spring nonsense everyone is twittering about. No, dear reader, Seattle is aglow because it’s Pork Week. By most accounts, the first celebration of Pork Week occurred five years ago, when two transplanted Southerners decided to consecrate 1/52nd of their year to uninterrupted praise of the pig. Inspired by a pig roast held by some friends, Mark and Justin—sharing slightly twangy accents and, at the…Read more
When my former employer Rebecca and her gay husband Jimmy promised another buttery breakfast, they meant business. As I learned in the Dutch babies episode, Jimmy fears no fat. He is a firm believer in butter, cream, and all things buttercreamy, and his waffles are no exception. Not content to settle for a normal version, he makes a shortbread waffle that is, as one might expect, heavy on the butter. In fact, the batter is rich and thick enough to be dolloped onto the waffle iron with an ice cream scoop, awe-inspiring in a way that’s both very beautiful and completely terrifying. Rebecca’s straight husband—and comic straight man—John nearly hyperventilated at the sight. Jimmy closed the lid of the iron…Read more
My mother loves Paris. This should not surprise you; after all, I’ve already made it clear that she is a genius. She speaks nary a word of French, but she swathes herself in head-to-toe black (which is, after all, her daily uniform), laces up one of her many pairs of tiny (size 5 ½), aerodynamic, Euro-style Pumas, and hits the streets with the air of one who knows. She is unafraid. She can decipher menus; she can tackle the Métro; she can go into Monoprix with a grocery list and come out victorious. She plays the part so beautifully that Parisians have even been known to stop her on the street to ask for directions—and then stare in open-mouthed surprise…Read more
Dear reader, exciting things are afoot, and it’s not just that I’ve baked two loaves of bread, a deadly chocolate cake, a buttermilk banana cake, and a batch of granola in the past 72 hours. No, this is even better, if you can imagine such a thing. About a month ago, I was contacted by Jessa Crispin, illustrious editor of Bookslut, a whip-smart webzine of book reviews, author interviews, and the like. [“Bookslut,” by the way, is also my new favorite word. I say it as often as possible—three times fast, for extra pleasure.] Jessa has been putting together a new webzine—this time focused on food—and she asked if I might like to contribute. Quicker than you can say “bookslut,”…Read more
It’s that time again. Behold a reprise of geekiness. I’m a sucker for social theory. Really, there’s nothing sexier than the name “Michel Foucault,” and that’s a non-debatable point. A close second goes to a man I once knew who, between sips of beer, spoke the words “Baudrillard” and “simulacra” so suggestively that I blushed, broke a sweat, and nearly passed out. He didn’t stick around for long, but by god, social theory did. In fact, the two of us have just begun the arduous process of writing a Master’s thesis. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’ll make it through.Despite its smart, sexy, and enticingly knotty qualities, social theory is a fickle partner. At best, we together produce only somewhat incoherent…Read more
My French host mother was tall, trim, and proper, with a sing-song voice and a name that skipped and chimed and rang off the tongue. She moved through the house as though on pointe—softly but decisively—and she wore silver bracelets that clicked delicately against each other when she lifted her hand to secure the barrettes in her long brown hair. She was also very Catholic, with four children, ages 9 to 17; a Labrador puppy; and a husband who’d gone—or rather, all but moved—to Canada to find work. It was complicated and exhausting. She did an admirable job, and she often fell asleep in the bathtub after dinner. But most importantly, dear reader, my host mother was the French equivalent…Read more
It was a birthday celebration Nicho–style, with a rousing hike among towering trees, plenty of guffawing, an afternoon rest in a sunny hammock with a chainsaw roaring sweetly nearby, homegrown lamb grilled over an open flame, and apple cake with cream-cheese frosting. Happy birthday to a man who truly knows how it’s done. The celebration began early. I arrived at Kate’s at 9:30 Saturday morning in the finest in hiking grungery wear, with an apple cake, a parka, and a car. Kate and her old friend Mike (visiting from Maine) piled in, and by 10:15 we were far from the city, already among the sheep, llamas, and yelping dogs of Nicho’s family farm in Sultan. The birthday boy was (appropriately)…Read more