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At midweek: (more) chicken, exciting hair, and mishaps with clothing

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 committed to sticking it out. After all, I learned from the New York Times (“Live from Miami, a Style Showdown,” September 26, 2004) that John Kerry has a “buoyantly vertical hairstyle,” and now I have to see what it can do for him. According to Caroline F. Keating, and professor of psychology at Colgate University, “He has exciting hair, which is . . . quite useful.” Let’s hope so. I don't take this as lightly as it may seem.

3. I love riding home from work on the bus. I strategically choose my seat so that I’ll be on the sunny side as we head north from downtown, and then I relish the half-hearted battle with sleep that inevitably ensues. I adore sleeping in moving vehicles—only when someone else is doing the driving, of course.

When I was younger and used to ride horses competitively, I spent many late nights sleeping in the front seat of my riding trainer’s pickup truck as we sped across New Mexico or Colorado to a show. Jenny, my trainer, hated the eerie way my head would flop down over my chest; she always wanted to grab my hair and yank me up, make sure I was still breathing. I was indeed, just very relaxed. Years later, I had the misfortune of doing the floppy-head move in the Paris Métro on my way home from school, and I drooled all over the collar of the long and dramatic black wool coat I’d saved up to buy for myself. I was very careful to avoid making eye contact with anyone when I woke up startled and began madly wiping at the wet spot on my cheek. I do love to sleep in moving vehicles.

4. Speaking of vehicles,

I present to you the pickup that was parked next to Margot’s car in the parking lot on Maury Island. Unfortunately, you can't see the pack of Swisher Sweets on the seat, and the curvature of the glass is not doing flattering things for my waistline. But I know some of you are dying to see my milkmaid / midwife-to-plaster-fetuses-in-rocks outfit. I aim to please.


Windblown and sleepy, with tarte aux quetsches

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 sauce. Sam steamed baby bok choy with shiitakes, tofu, and scallops, and Teresa brought crusty bread and a terrific green salad with walnuts, Spanish blue, and apples from her yard. Following my usual tendency towards dessert, I made a French prune plum tart.

Although it was certainly lovely on the plate and the tongue, I have to admit that the raw pâte brisée was the most satisfying part: rolling it out was like working with a thick sheet of fabric, smooth and cold. Martha Stewart may be in prison, but her pâte brisée recipe remains untarnished.

Sometime after dinner, Sam finished the beer in my fridge, along with the last of my beloved Plymouth gin. He then tried (unsuccessfully) to conceal the evidence by refilling the bottle with water, but I like him anyway. There was much discussion of nakedness, family, and loves lost or thwarted; a bit of tickling and squealing; and some lying around on the floor. I hoped to scandalize them, but I failed. Instead I made everyone touch the razor-sharp calloused edge of my pinky toes. They marveled, and then they went home. I tumbled into bed around one.

I dragged myself back out at seven. Dear photographer-friend Margot arrived at 7:45, camera bag in hand, and we sped out to West Seattle and the ferry that would take us to Vashon and Maury Islands.

We drove to the tip of Maury, where a lighthouse was bleating through the fog, and, after a bit of scouting,

we got down to work.

The theme is reproduction, Margot-style. She’s been making little plaster fetuses for months, forming and painting them and unintentionally frightening family and friends. Last Friday night she had me crouched over a kerosene lamp in a wooden shed, wearing a plain but old-fashioned red dress from Goodwill and a dainty white apron, pretending to examine tiny fetuses hatching from latex rocks. In today’s shoot, I was to wear the aforementioned dress and pretend to collect rocks—presumably baby-filled rocks—on the beach. She shot rolls and rolls of me barefoot amidst pebbles and seaweed and shards of shells, trying to look as though I were not freezing to death and half blowing away, which I was. But the fog was otherworldly; the fishermen kindly ignored us; and we saw a dead jellyfish and iridescent purple mussel shells scattered everywhere. And Margot, ever considerate of her models, had brought me a thermos of hot tea. On the way home we talked longingly of sleep and filled ourselves enormous sandwiches of Swiss cheese, slivered bell peppers, fresh basil leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Tonight there will be more plum tart, and my bed.

Tarte aux Quetsches, or Prune Plum Tart
Adapted from Saveur

This recipe makes one 12-inch tart, or—as I found—one 9-inch and one 7-inch tart. The directions below are for the latter.

1 recipe Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée
2 pounds prune plums, halved lengthwise and pitted
2 eggs
¼ cup sugar (I used unrefined cane sugar)
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup 2% or whole milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, positioning a rack in the top one-third of the oven.

Remove chilled pastry dough from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for five to ten minutes. Roll into two rounds and ease into removable-bottom tart pans. Gently press dough into the corners of pan and trim off excess, or fold it over to reinforce the side rim. Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork, and set aside.

Arrange plums, cut side down, in a single layer inside pastry shells. Whisk together eggs, sugar, flour, heavy cream, and milk in a medium bowl until smooth, and then pour custard over plums.

Carefully transfer tart to the oven and bake until plums are soft and top of custard is golden, about 45 minutes to one hour. Transfer tart to a rack to let cool completely before serving.


On not getting killed, learning to be agreeable, and thereby acquiring cupcakes

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 pencil case at home, tried to borrow something from me: I’d shake my head haughtily and refuse, reminding my bewildered classmate that we were supposed to come to class prepared. By some benevolent stroke of luck, I was not maimed and killed, à la Lord of the Flies, by my peers. Indeed, I’ve survived to see the error of my ways, and I even enjoy sharing. In fact, I give things away whenever I can, and with enthusiasm. And I even come to class unprepared occasionally, which makes me feel giddy and wicked, like knowing I’m wearing racy lingerie under my clothes.

I remember, at some point in my childhood, consciously deciding to train myself in the daily courtesies of American culture: smiling frequently, saying hello, asking “How are you,” telling someone to have a nice day, etc. I was shy, and these mundane niceties didn’t come naturally. I had to actively reach outside of myself to claim them. Each word and act had weight, and they became mine with a certain solemnity, a heavy sense of meaning. One day in particular stands out as a huge first in my young life: I was riding my pink banana-seat Schwinn down our street, and I managed to eek out a hello to an elderly man on his daily walk. I was so proud that I immediately rode home to tell my long-suffering mother.

Today I feel a small private thrill when I stoop to pick up and hand back a bag dropped by the woman behind me in line. And only a month or two ago, I took a tottering old woman by the arm and helped her across the street. I am so nice! So reformed! So human! And there’s that timid-seeming older man at the grocery store: I love taking the time to smile, to be present with him for an instant, to look him in the eye when I ask for the biggest chocolate cupcake. He reciprocates with a broad grin and, of course, the prizewinner of the pastry case.

Now, some of you may not have kindly old men with cupcakes standing by, ready targets for your politesse. But all is not lost: make your own cupcakes. The following recipe makes about thirty-six of these small wonders,

so there will be plenty for you to eat and plenty to share, as I snootily did not do with my pencils, protractors, or Elmer’s glue. Think of this as a token of my hard-earned kindheartedness.

Far-from-Disaster Cake
Adapted from Epicurious

This is the cake recipe that I used for my near-disaster cake (albeit with a different ganache frosting, so fear not), as well as birthday cakes for a couple of very happy friends. It is extremely simple and requires nothing more complicated than a bit of time and a very large bowl for mixing—you’ll have a lot of batter. I will be shocked and horrified if you don’t find this to be the most deeply-flavored, moist-yet-fluffy chocolate cake you’ve ever tried. This recipe makes two 10” layers, three 8” layers, or roughly 36 cupcakes. [As a side note, I’ve been wanting to try taking a syringe or a turkey baster and injecting seedless raspberry jam into the cupcakes; if you do this, report back.] Unfrosted and tightly wrapped, the cakes freeze beautifully for a month or two, so you can spread your generosity over multiple occasions.

3 oz fine-quality semisweet chocolate, such as El Rey (my preference) or Callebaut
1 ½ cups hot brewed coffee (I use decaf—again, a remnant of the straight-edge days)
3 cups sugar
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process; I use Ghirardelli)
2 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup canola oil
1 ½ cups well-shaken buttermilk
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. If you’re making cupcakes, line the wells of your pans with fluted paper liners, or grease and dust them with flour or cocoa. If you’re making larger cakes, grease pans and line bottoms with rounds of wax paper. Grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another (very) large bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until thickened slightly and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed, bracing yourself against puffs of cocoa-and-flour dust, until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans. Bake in middle of oven 20 to 25 minutes for cupcakes, or 50 to 70 minutes for larger cakes, until a tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool cakes completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and remove cupcakes, or invert larger cakes onto racks. If making larger cakes, carefully remove wax paper. Cakes may be made one day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Ganache Frosting
Again, adapted from Epicurious

1 lb fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate, such as El Rey or Callebaut
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs light corn syrup
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter

Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 ½- to 2-quart saucepan, bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. You may want to place the bowl in the fridge for a bit, but stir it now and then until it cools to your desired consistency. Spread.


Tremendous things: what I’m eating and a mad genius

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 inspiration this balding, red-bearded frontman of the indescribable Les Savy Fav. I was first won over when he climbed the walls and shoved whole oranges into his mouth at Paris’ Le Trabendo. Then there was the show at Seattle’s Graceland in which he took off all but his underwear and a towel-turban, climbed down into the crowd, and, passing me, offered the mic. And now this: “I start pretending like I can't get out—you know, it's slippery—so that I can stay there a little longer 'cause the mud felt really good. It wasn't mud so much as like a slick clay. It felt great.” This man is a mad genius. I watch and take notes, just in case I ever get brave enough.

Caramelized Cauliflower
Adapted from Jim Dixon

1 head of cauliflower, white or green
Olive oil
Fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the head of cauliflower on a cutting board, and slice it top-down into ¼-inch slices, some of which will crumble. Toss cauliflower in a large bowl with plenty of olive oil and a bit of salt, spread it in a single layer on a heavy sheet pan (or two, if one looks crowded), and roast until golden brown and caramelized, turning bits and slices once or twice, about 25 minutes. Devour.


A weekend in reverse chronological order

1. This morning’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor quite nearly destroyed me. I’m not so interested in the sonnets, but rather the drama, the intensity, and the jelly. Read on:

“It's the anniversary of the day that poets Robert Browning, 34, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 44, eloped (1846).

The Brownings met for the first time in 1845 and over the next twenty months exchanged 574 letters. Elizabeth's father didn't want her to marry, so their courtship and marriage were kept a secret.

The night before they eloped, Elizabeth wrote to Robert, ‘Is this my last letter to you, ever dearest?—Oh, —if I loved you less ... a little, little less.’

Robert and Elizabeth read and critiqued each other's poetry, and while together they wrote the best poetry of their lives. Robert often called Elizabeth ‘my little Portuguese’ because of her dark complexion. In 1850 she published her most famous work, a collection of poems called Sonnets from the Portuguese.

On the morning of June 29, 1861, as Elizabeth lay dying, Robert fed her jelly with a spoon. A short time later, she died in his arms.”

2. Kate came over last night to celebrate her completion of the GMAT obstacle course. We traipsed down to the Whole for a bottle of wine, a half pint of whipping cream, and some Niçoise olives—a very promising trio. We were giggly and carried on like catty middle-schoolers. Generally our first half-hour together is like this, with both of us incapable of letting the other finish a sentence. As we stood in line to pay for our groceries, Kate pointed out a woman and her young daughter, the latter pushing a tiny shopping cart with a white flag that read, “Customer in Training.” This a strange, twisted concept. Kate suggested an alternative flag: “I’m very small, but I already want to spend money.” We came home for an early-fall meal: the Zuni Café Cookbook's warm roast-chicken salad with peppers, pine nuts, olives, and bitter greens; roasted acorn squash from the farmers’ market; and the defrosted dregs of an insane chocolate cake with floppy crowns of whipped cream. We also said the surname “Putin” over and over for its comic effect, and I made Kate sleepy with anecdotes from Russian history.

3. Seattle legend and wild-haired Pilates partner Vincent gave me a ride home from class yesterday morning in his big bouncy truck. Along the way he shared with me his Buddhist-derived concept of “special hells,” citing as an example the special hell for people who never use turn signals. These sorts of flagrant sinners are banished forever to a large room filled with people. This room has two doors, one on either side, and everyone in the room walks in straight lines but can turn, without warning, at any time. The sinner must continually attempt to cross this room, from door A to door B. If he or she so much as touches one of the many people milling haphazardly about, the sinner must go back to door A. Vince, thanks for the ride.

4. Rebecca has hung an enormous graffiti-covered canvas on the wall at Pilates Powerhouse NW. After a few minutes of puzzlement and neck-craning, I decided that its big squatty block letters read “Stay mean,” an interpretation I liked immensely. I was corrected, however: it apparently says “Life” and was signed by a graffiti gang called “By Any Means.”

I love this story. Rebecca’s former hairdresser is married to a breakdancer who is in with the aforementioned graffiti gang. About six years ago, Rebecca and her husband John decided that they wanted a graffiti wall in their condo, so they invited over the breakdancer and his crew and commissioned three murals, offering guidance by telling them, “We love the Seattle skyline, the Sonics, (our gay husband) Jimmy, our garden, and drinking beer.” Thus “Life” was born—although, Rebecca says, it’s not their favorite of the three. This story, which I have condensed dramatically and with great reluctance, also includes: a restaurant called Thai Ho; an elaborate description of noodles; a very sleepy, hard-partying lesbian couple; a wedding officiated by Dan Savage at the Crocodile; and an invitation to a party. The whole was concluded by Rebecca’s exclamation, “It’s a delight to be me.” I nodded my agreement, breathless.

We live in a city of dreams.



I can't keep it to myself.

FareStart is a Seattle nonprofit organization that “transforms lives by empowering homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and families to achieve self-sufficiency through life skills, job training, and employment in the food service industry.” And through this admirable program, FareStart gives me a reason to feel even better than usual about treating myself to a three-course meal. A $19.95 three-course meal.

FareStart holds weekly Guest Chef Nights, in which stars of the Seattle restaurant scene work with FareStart students to produce complex and delectable three-course meals. Volunteers from local groups and businesses act as servers, and all proceeds are put to use for training and social-service programs for the students. And in case you can’t get a coveted reservation for one of these evenings, you should know that the restaurant is also open for lunch Monday through Friday and for catered events as well.

This week I had the immense pleasure of nabbing a seat at the Guest Chef Night featuring Ethan Stowell of the remarkable Union, one of my favorite spots in town. Keaton was to join me, but a last-minute invitation for a free trip to Thailand—how does this sort of thing happen?!—stole her away. I instead wound up squeezing into a table of fellow food nerds from eGullet and was thrilled to find myself there, amongst fifteen raucous, chatty near-strangers.

The restaurant was full to the brim, buzzing and warm on a rainy night. Our evening began with the graduation of one of FareStart’s students, which elicited much applause and general good cheer. Ethan Stowell was introduced, and I successfully resisted the urge to throw myself at his feet. Our enormous eGullet table was singled out and thanked for much support and foodie enthusiasm. Pride all around. And, of course, dinner was delicious:

-A very delicate chilled heirloom tomato soup with a large poached sea scallop (tender, rare), garnished with finely chopped chives and a few dribbles of olive oil

-A small round of roasted beef loin (perfectly rare, buttery, melty) perched on a crispy disk of sautéed Parmesan-enriched polenta and splashed with a shallot sauce, whose hint of balsamic vinegar cut the richness of the beef beautifully

-Vanilla bean panna cotta (creamy, aromatic, refreshing) with peach soup and blueberries

Yes, this bounty for $19.95, plus tax, tip, and beverage—and all proceeds to the best of causes. Get yourself to FareStart. It’s enough to leave a girl positively glowing, satisfied in so many ways. And the bagful of free chanterelles (from two eGulleteers who’d been out foraging only that afternoon) didn’t hurt either.


Fallafel and gin, by way of an anniversary

Happy anniversary to a shameless reader of Us Weekly and his significant other! Have a wonderful dinner at Ceiba, Doron, complete with an exotic-sounding cocktail or two and some Jamaican crab fritters! And please, don’t be shy: ask for my brother David, introduce yourselves, and demand to be treated like kings. Were I there, I’d roll out a red carpet for you to saunter down in your excellent pants. If all is not perfect, I will give that brother of mine the best sisterly talking-to I can muster. When he was a teenager and rode his motorcycle down our street without a helmet, I—then only two or three years old—tattled on him to Mom and Burg. And [, she says threateningly,] I can do it again.

Now, dear Doron, I’m going to hijack your happy occasion and use it to my own ends. This is a fantastic chance to share, gush over, and celebrate two things you’ve taught me—both food-related, of course.

The first, in our 1999-2000 students-on-a-stipend days: l’As du Fallafel (34, rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris).

How many times have I ordered these messy meals from hip-hoppy waiters with slicked black hair and yarmulkes? How much tahini-soaked cabbage have I dripped onto the table or licked from my fingers, sauce piquante burning a hole in my tongue? How many crispy, golden knobs of fallafel can one small girl eat without seeming reckless? Unfathomable questions, all. This summer Doron had the tremendously good fortune of finding an apartment only four doors down from this Israeli outpost, and the season’s refrain was “Une fallafel spéciale, s’il vous plait!” L’As, I dream of you. Seattle's Zaina works in a pinch, but it doesn't come close.

The second, in our June-July 2004 sorely-missing-a-stipend days: gin and tonic! [Actually, Doron and Elizabeth were my co-teachers in this venture, so I celebrate you both. In fact, those who’ve been reading closely may have noticed that I’ve celebrated you often this summer.] Oh swelteringly hot Parisian summer evenings under the eaves, nothing tames you like a gin and tonic. Oh dirty laundry and cursed crowded streets and a million flights of skinny stairs and sweat dripping into the crease of my elbow, nothing refreshes like a gin and tonic. Liz says that gin tastes like paint thinner, and if that’s true, I’m lucky that my art supplies are in Oklahoma. Before summer recedes and we turn to more wintery beverages, please try this:

David Rosengarten's Frosty Plymouth Gin and Tonic*

This formula serves two if your name is Molly, or one if you are less of a lightweight and/or do not find yourself sometimes restrained, as I do, by the vestiges of teenage straight-edgedom. I can say from experience that the recipe halves just fine.

Mille bises à toi et le tien, Doron, from your darling Bitter.

*Update as of May 2005: since the date of this posting, I've been converted to Tanqueray 10, thanks to a very thoughtful and gastronomically adventurous reader of Orangette. David Rosengarten would kill me, but I'll say it anyway: his formula is even better with Tanqueray 10.



My little heart thumps with joy. I just love you so much.

First, the singers:
Mom, your rendition was tasteful and quite lovely, but Katie, I would have preferred something louder and with more off-pitch screeching. Jen, you—after some palpable initial reluctance—pulled off a beautiful answering-machine solo. Sarzee, I purposely let the voicemail pick up so that I could listen over and over to you singing (in a fake eastern-European accent, to boot) in the train station. And Rebecca, your slow, soulful, and brilliantly on-key version quite nearly stole the show, but I expect nothing less: it sounded as though you were stretched over a piano somewhere, your ubiquitous rhinestones shimmering under a pencil spot.

And those who didn’t sing:
Jess takes high honors for sending the first birthday wishes of the day. David, I love you madly for breaking the family tradition of forgetting birthdays. Doron, hearing your voice was the best of surprises! And Carey, another terrific surprise! Keaton bravely left her first Orangette comment just to chime in and then called later, breathless and giddy. And Guillaume, tes très belles photos de l’Islande weren’t solely for me or expressly for my birthday, but they make an exquisite and very timely gift.

The cake is long gone, but there’s plenty of chocolate to be found in the cupboard and elsewhere. The only drawback to celebrating your birthday over two weekends is that by the time the actual (Tues)day rolls around, you find yourself at home and alone, save for a VHS of Annie Hall.

The rains have begun. It's alright.

Goodnight, dear sweet well-wishers near and far. Thank you.


26, or almost

Dear supportive reader, I need not have feared.
My near-disaster cake was roundly applauded and went smashingly with Keaton’s Bonny Doon Framboise dessert wine.

Saturday evening’s early-birthday festivities began lazily around the table with dollops of Jessica’s garlicky Greek lima bean puree and whole wheat pita, which some of us washed down with Fischer Amber. Next up was Keaton’s autumn-like carrot-fennel soup, with a 2001 Charles Mitchell Pinot Noir I had inherited from Burg and saved for a special occasion. Then Kate presented us with lovely composed plates of linguine with red chili flakes and olive oil, steamed clams, cherry tomatoes, and bias-cut scallions.

I slurped, splashed, and, yes, succeeded in staining my flimsy filmy 0044 shirt yet again.

And then I lit my cloth napkin on fire.

Accidents are so exciting! I’m sorry, Kate. But then again, have you noticed that your napkins match your (heinous) flowered hot-pant bikini bottoms? When I buy you a new set of napkins, I’ll look for a more flattering color scheme. I am a generous and memorable—if occasionally alarming—dinner guest.

After cake and dessert wine,

Keats and I did our best to imitate David Byrne’s signature dance techniques, and there was much lying around on the floor, watching of “Mr. Belly” across the street through Kate’s binoculars, and talk of my smug superiority at 19 over Keaton and the unsanctioned Fugazi patch on her backpack. And Jess regaled us with stories of bowing reverently to QFC employees and showing excessive gratitude for correct change, effects of culture shock upon returning to the U.S. after four years in Japan.

We tumbled out onto the downtown streets around midnight, me bearing the leftover cake and an enormous bouquet of flowers from Kate. On the sidewalk all eyes were riveted to the cake platter; someone even said, “Nice cake!” as we passed. I was in heaven.

You girls know how to do birthdays, or mine at least.


In which I find a terrific quote and get very anxious

Diego Luna of Y Tu Mamá También is apparently my male counterpart. This morning I happened to thumb through a copy of Interview in which Luna is, as you might suspect, interviewed. Take note of the following passage:

Interview: What do you want from life? You told me before that you want to find a woman.

Diego Luna: Definitely. I want to be in love and eat as much as I can!

[Molly: Who can disagree with this man? Look at that enthusiasm! And that exclamation point! Amen!]

Interview: So it’s love and food and sex, I guess.

Wow, what a morning! Mexican movie stars really know how to live. And how to steal my ideas.

After that serendipitous find, I rewarded myself with a drippy tomato-and-mayo sandwich on toasted wheat berry-y bread. I must gorge myself on these while I still can, before fall arrives with its tomato-killing chills. I never get tired of drippy tomato-and-mayo sandwiches. I am so boring and happy.

But then things went downhill. After lunch I set to work putting the finishing touches on my birthday cake, unfortunately destroying my chocolate ganache in the process. My forays into baking are not usually so dramatic, I assure you. I’m not used to these feelings of panic and betrayal in the kitchen.

In today’s ganache episode I unknowingly overheated the heavy cream, and the chocolate, when added, proceeded to separate into little bumpy grains and puddles of slippery oily sludge. Most inconveniently, it waited to really do this until after I’d already begun pouring and spreading it over my two-tiered dark chocolate and raspberry cake.

I carried on, terrified, working my icing spatula with a fool’s determination. Once the entire thing was covered with my broken ganache, I called my mother and left a frantic message about being afraid of my birthday cake. She didn’t call back.

I will spare you the ugly details, but I did manage to salvage the cake and the ganache with a combination of desperation, very dirty fingers, and aggressive spatula action. My cake looks smooth, modern, and architectural, with dull spackle-like frosting.

And now I’m afraid that the El Rey bittersweet chocolate I used may be too bitter for my comrades in tonight’s birthday festivities. I am full of fear.


On cheese and frivolity

I’ve been shamefully slow to hop on the bandwagon.
But I can now declare with great enthusiasm and ample experience that Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk is a stunning cheese. Easily the finest domestic cheese to make its way to my plate. Red Hawk, there is none so fair as thee in all the land!

Produced in Point Reyes, California (only a dozen or two miles from the site of my conception, dear reader!), Red Hawk is a triple-cream cheese with a red-orange washed rind, made from organic cow's milk from the Straus Family Creamery. I first learned of it a year ago, when the American Cheese Society named it “Best in Show” at their 2003 competition. Upon hearing this news I immediately sprinted down to Whole Foods, only to be informed that the last wheel had just been snatched up by another customer. It was the hot ticket, and I apparently missed the show.

Weeks went by, and my feverish curiosity cooled to tepid. I nearly forgot Red Hawk altogether. One day months later I happily stumbled upon it, only to find that the small, paper-wrapped wheel was nearly 13 dollars! My Frivolity Prevention System kicked into high alert. Under no circumstances would I spend that amount on a hunk of cheese, especially since I’d be the only one in the house to eat it: my then-boyfriend had only recently renounced his veganism and was quite squeamish about dairy, stinky or otherwise. And even if I’d had someone to share it with, the bottom line is this: I’m not programmed for frivolity. For example, I clearly recall ragging my mother for her expensive (and, of course, terrific) taste in clothing before I was even a pre-teen. I once caught a horrifying glimpse of the price tag of a Chanel dress hanging on the doorknob of my parents’ bathroom, and my reaction was dark and visceral, somewhere below any consciousness or learning. This behavior is something I’m working on, however, and I’ve overcome my anti-fun instincts in rare moments, such as when a half-off Ann Demeulemeester handbag simply oozing sex presents itself to me. And at Paris’ hyper-bourgeois Le Bon Marché I managed to try on—just for kicks—an absolutely gorgeous Stella McCartney shirt with a plunging neckline and near bustle in the back, and I didn’t even vomit on the price tag and its unapologetic “570 euros” ($700, roughly) in bold-face font. I simply took off that lovely garment, hung it up, and tried not to look too mousy on my way out of the dressing room. I’d be a good Depression wife, as long as beautifully made objects could be bought relatively inexpensively and I could get an Ann Demeulemeester sex bag every now and then.

I digress.
This past Saturday turned out to be Red Hawk Day, after a year of silly wavering and passive wondering if the hype could be legitimate. Mom was in town, and we’d planned a late-summer picnicky dinner complete with all the things she can’t get back in Oklahoma, that friendly land of oil pumps, chicken-fried steak, and strip malls. At the farmers’ market, we picked up some prune plums and a bag of soft organic spinach for sautéing with olive oil and lemon. At Whole Foods, we collected boquerones (meaty white anchovies from Spain), a pain au levain from Tall Grass Bakery, and a wedge of creamy bleu d’Auvergne. I spotted a Red Hawk and paused before it reverently: now was my moment! It felt solid, heavy, promising.

Back at home, I lovingly unwrapped the cheeses and set them on a platter to come to room temperature. Mom and I began work on the evening’s dessert, but something smelled like dying. I am not one to shy away from so-called stinky cheeses, but this was truly exceptional. It was as though I were wearing a gas mask with a direct feed from the mouth of a halitosis sufferer. Identifying the culprit, Mom kindly moved the cheese platter to the other side of the apartment. Even from there, the odor was pervasive, competing quite successfully against the warm aroma of cinnamon from the plum torte in the oven.

But when we sat down to eat, I was a changed woman. The Red Hawk was a light straw color inside, and the knife slid through it like butter. It called to mind Italy’s Tallegio, but with a much deeper flavor and pungency. It was creamy and musky, milk in a higher form. Had my father been alive and with us, he would have pushed himself back from the table and opened his arms wide, exclaiming, “Ah! This is it!” Indeed, this is it.

I have been so foolish.


The questions themselves

This afternoon I felt still, quiet. Lonely, pretty, like singing. Abstractly emotional, on the edge of something. I think too much. Jeff Buckley’s “Morning Theft” is lush and beautiful.

In the car on the way home from the airport, I began a list, organizing myself. Sundays are for taking stock, returning to wakefulness, asking questions that don’t need immediate answers.

Underrated Things
(which, by the very act of this writing, shall no longer go unremarked-upon, at least not by me):

Malty chocolate malts
Buckwheat flour
Bare feet on warm pavement
Being healthy and free from pain
Being taken care of
Cool air from the open window while you sleep
Eating food made for you by someone you love
“Perhaps Love,” Placido Domingo’s 1981 duet with John Denver*
Kissing a man who has been eating cold applesauce
Kissing a man who has been smoking a cigarette and eating a sugar cube**

Friends, I hope you are list-makers too.

Nine days remain until my 26th birthday. That is so much closer to 30 than 25. I’ve got to get busy living.


*Oh Jesus, I’ve blown my cover. This is the sound of my childhood. It’s the house on Westchester, that interminable road trip west to La Jolla when I was six or so, a lullaby.

**It should be noted that this erotic and oddly tasty experience is best left to us non-smokers. And smoking should not be encouraged. No cigarette shall cross these lips.


Unionized pre-birthdays

Mom is lying on the couch, recovering. Eight-course tasting menus at Union are exquisite. If I could do high kicks, I’d compose a cheer for Ethan Stowell and his Union. I’d also add that Union’s tasting menus are an incredible value, a real steal, but that makes it sound as though I’m hawking a used car.

Nonetheless, get thyself to Union, and make haste. I am a wonderfully cheap date, so please invite me when you do so. One and a half glasses of wine (Mom finished the other half) and I have to really concentrate to get to the bathroom without leaning on the tables en route. But I am very charming, poised, and well-trained, so no one will know but you and me.
The menu:

-Amuse bouche of a halved fingerling potato with lobster/crème fraîche salad and lime-infused olive oil

-Smoked Scottish salmon stacked with heirloom tomatoes and microscopic watercress leaves (so perfectly salted! Mmmm, salt!)

-Lobster soup with Dungeness crab cake (so fragrant; I moaned)

-Seared sea scallop on a bed of braised beef shortribs (the scallop was enormous, meltingly tender, and pungently scallop-y; the shortribs were chocolate-dark in an unctuous glossy glaze; together, the beef and scallop made some novel third flavor that has yet to find a name here on Earth. Beef + scallop = beefy lop, perhaps. I moaned again.)

-Muscovy duck breast on artichoke puree with aged balsamic and port reduction (slices of rare seared duck breast with a thin layer of fat that melted on the tongue, punched up with a very jammy, fruity port undertone. Encore du moaning.)

-Lancashire cheddar with raisin/hazelnut bread, balsamic frisée, and stewed fig (superlatives all around, more moaning)

-Orange-fleshed honeydew sorbet on fresh huckleberries with mint syrup (wonderfully refreshing and clean, and huckleberries taste much like I imagine wild blueberries do)

-Vanilla panna cotta with plum soup and diced nectarine (again, please)

We each had a glass of Grüner Veltliner to accompany the first four courses, and then a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. I can’t remember the vintners, if I ever knew them. The cat's out of the bag; no one will ever take me seriously again! But I can throw around adjectives like “flinty” and “minerally” and “mushroomy” and "wet doggy" and convince any sommelier out there that I know exactly what is what. Indeed. I think that’s what the wine snobs do. Dirty wine snobs.

In other news, last night I indoctrinated Mom into the ways of larb. Mom says that “powdered galangal” sounds like a venereal disease: “Um, Doctor, I think I’ve got galangal again. It’s really powdery this time.” But if she ever wants to make larb, she’ll be getting herself some powdered galangal, and you can bet she won’t be laughing. Larb is nothing to laugh about.