Right this minute
Sometime last fall, we decided that we needed a vacation. March sounded like a good time to aim for - soon enough, but safely past the hubbub of the holidays - and so we started poking around online, looking for airfare to somewhere relaxing. We sort of ran wild with the whole idea, really, mulling over Mexico and Spain and New Zealand, but as you might expect, everything was stunningly expensive. Like, please-pass-the-smelling-salts expensive. So we recalculated and decided that a simple road trip would do. In fact, a road trip to San Francisco would more than do: there would be palm trees and possibly even sun, and we both have family to stay with nearby, and then, you know, there’s also plenty to eat. So we started making plans. Brandon’s father even got in on the action, deciding to fly from New Jersey to Seattle and join us for the drive down the coast. We were going on vacation! To San Francisco! And then, of course, I went out for prosecco and pizza with our friend Olaiya, and she had found cheap tickets to Brussels, and after that, uh, we were going on vacation! To Brussels and Paris!
But Brandon’s dad had already bought his plane ticket, and it would have been cruel to make him cancel. And between you and me, it’s kind of hard to say no to a drive down the Oregon coast, to the promise of sandy beaches shrouded in fog and root beer on tap at the Rogue Brewery. So we went to Brussels and Paris. And then, last week, we three piled in the car and came, winding through the redwoods and eating way too many M&Ms and jelly beans, to California, where I sit right now, on my cousin Katie’s couch in Oakland. There are palm trees, and the sun is shining, and though I woke up this morning under a haze of dread, thinking of the loads of work I should have been doing last week when I was instead driving along the coast and eating fistfuls of Easter candy, for a Monday, it’s not bad. I mean, as Brandon’s aunt Pam said a couple of nights ago, when we sat lazily around a table in Santa Rosa and played cards for four hours, why do today what can be done tomorrow? (She then proceeded to completely thrash us at Quadruple Solitaire.)
Anyway. Where I really meant to go with all this - because I know you’re wondering - is here: artichokes. Have you seen them in the market yet? Because California is apparently crawling with them. Because they’re coming into season right this minute, and unlike some things, they cannot wait until tomorrow, or at least not if you like them as much as I do.
The half-eaten, oddly lit beauty above was my dinner last night, along with some scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, and approximately one quarter (and entirely too little) of a very, very tasty bottle of rosé. Brandon and I had planned to cook dinner for my cousin and aunt, something easy and springlike, and yesterday morning, as though on cue, a little light bulb in the shape of an artichoke clicked on over my head. So we walked to Berkeley Bowl - what I would not give, I swear, to live out my days within walking distance of Berkeley Bowl - and found not one but three different sizes of artichokes, plus a separate display of fat globes with long stalks still attached, artichokes like strange, alien roses. For the right bride, I found myself thinking, they would make a very nice bouquet. They were plump and round and heavy, much prettier than their stalkless cousins, so we came home with four of them. Then we lopped off their stalks, snipped away their thorns, and steamed them until their leaves pulled easily from the choke. I guess we could have eaten them plain, but we’d just been given a bag of homegrown Meyer lemons, and it seemed sort of reckless to ignore them. So we scanned Katie’s cupboards, and while the artichokes were steaming, we made a Meyer lemon aioli. Which, come to speak of it, is what I really want to tell you about, even beyond the artichokes.
I forgot to mention this a couple of weeks ago, back when the issue hit the stands, but my column in the April issue of Bon Appétit is on the subject of mayonnaise. And while I understand that mayonnaise is a contentious subject - haters, I know you’re out there, because I once walked among you - I don’t want to let the month slip by without mentioning it, because making my own mayonnaise, or aioli in this case, is among the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in the kitchen. (Second only to my first kiss with Brandon, which took place in front of the dishwasher in my old apartment. And maybe also to standing at the counter and eating ice cream straight from the carton. Maybe.) It seems daunting, I know, the thought of turning oil and raw egg into something pleasantly edible, but once you get started, there’s nothing to be afraid of - or, at least, nothing but the possibility that you might fall madly in love with it. I speak from experience.
Anyway, we started last night with my usual mayonnaise formula, and from there we sort of played around, using a good dose of Meyer lemon juice, plus smashed garlic and a small palmful of zest. Then we spooned it into a bowl and passed it around the table, scooping it up on the warm, meaty leaves. And then, when the leaves were gone, we dragged the soft, dense hearts through it too. It’s my favorite kind of dinner, really: the kind that gets your hands dirty and makes a mess of the table, the kind that makes everyone go quiet, chewing and gnawing and tugging with their teeth. I guess it goes without saying that we won’t be planning - or not planning - any more vacations for a while, but so long as there are artichokes to be had in Seattle, I’m ready to be home.
Meyer Lemon Aioli
Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2008
You could make aioli - or mayonnaise, for that matter - in a blender, but I like to do it by hand. For one thing, it’s kind of fascinating, in a totally geeky way, to feel the emulsion come together under your whisk, taking on body and oomph, growing silky and thick. And though it’s a major arm workout, it’s so simple to do, and so satisfying, that I’ve just never felt inspired to pull out the blender. To make it especially easy, I like to wet a dishtowel, fold it, and place it under the bowl to steady it, so that I can pour the oil with one hand and whisk with the other without the bowl jumping all over the counter.
1 medium garlic clove
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. Meyer lemon juice
¼ tsp. champagne or white wine vinegar, or to taste
Heaping ¼ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. salt, or to taste
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 medium Meyer lemon, or to taste
If you have a garlic press, press the garlic clove. If you do not have a garlic press, mince the clove finely; then sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and smash it a bit with the side of your knife, so that it softens to a dense paste.
In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, egg yolk, Meyer lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt. Whisk briefly, until the mixture is bright yellow and well blended, about 15 to 30 seconds.
Now, start adding the oil. It is absolutely crucial that you add it very slowly. For the first ¼ cup, add it impossibly slowly – only a few drops at a time – and whisk constantly. Make sure that each addition of oil is fully incorporated before you add any more. (Your arm will get tired, yes, but don’t worry; you can stop to rest as often as you need to.) As the oil is incorporated, the mixture should begin to lighten in color and develop body, thickening tiny bit by tiny bit.
After you have added the first ¼ cup oil, you can increase the speed at which you add it, pouring it in a thin, continuous stream, whisking constantly. Stop every now and then, if you need to, to put down the measuring cup, whisk well, and make sure that the oil is fully incorporated. The mixture should continue to thicken, and by the time you have added all the oil, it should be pale yellow (or yellowy-green, depending on the color of your olive oil), silky and thick. Whisk in the Meyer lemon zest. Taste, and adjust seasoning - vinegar, salt, zest - as needed.
Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to three days.
Note: For safety’s sake, raw egg is not recommended for infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. To avoid the risk of salmonella, buy your eggs from a reputable source, and take care when separating the yolks and whites, so that the contents of the egg do not come in contact with the outer part of the shell. Or use pasteurized egg yolk instead.
Yield: about ¾ cup, or enough for at least four artichoke eaters
Olaiya’s Favorite Artichoke Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Good Food
Here’s a little bonus for those of you who like to dip your artichokes in the classic combination of melted butter and lemon juice. This sauce is based on the same concept, but I think it’s even better. Our friend Olaiya found this recipe a few years ago in the British magazine Good Food, and it’s been her favorite accompaniment to artichokes ever since. Feel free to taste and tweak as you go; you hardly need a recipe, really.
½ cup dry white wine
14 Tbsp. (1 ¾ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup finely grated parmesan, or more to taste
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
Pour the wine into a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and whisk in the butter a couple of pieces at a time. Whisk in the parmesan and lemon. Taste, and adjust lemon, parmesan, and salt as needed.
Serve hot, with steamed artichokes.