Friday, April 27, 2007


As often happens, this so-called bright idea started with Audge.

Last time I was at my kitchen Goddess friend Audrey Smith's house, she had just a few bites of a blackberry cobbler left on her counter top. She's the kind of woman who whips up things like fruit cobblers for her family. And on weeknights. If my family gets desert at all, it's usually several squares of Ritter Sport chocolate and biscuit, and more often than not, it's usually stolen from the refrigerator by my nits without my knowledge.

She gifted me with a bite. It was, not surprisingly, delicious.

It was also, she said, "obscenely easy to make."

"For someone like you," I muttered. This is my standard refrain whenever Audge tells me how easy something is to make.

"No, no," she said. "It even says it here." She pulled out a copy of Cuisine at Home, Aug. 2005. There, on page 49, was the recipe for Summer Blackberry Cobbler with Coconut and Pecan topping. And in the intro, plain as the nose on my face, were the words, ", it's obscenely easy to make."

In journalism we call the final paragraph or sentence of a piece the "kicker." You can see why here.

Call me naive. Call me gullible. Call me impressionable. But I am easily convinced, and yes, I could probably be the one convinced to buy that bridge in Brooklyn. I re-read these final words, and I looked at the picture, and I ruminated on the taste of that cobbler, seeds still in my teeth, and I thought, "This is obscenely easy to make. I can make it for my BBQ next week."

Gentle readers, I can almost hear your hand slapping your forehead. Silly girl, you're saying. Don't waste your time. Buy a pie if you must. Better yet, buy half a dozen Dove bars and call that dessert. And in any case, you're all going to be eating steaks and potatoes and drinking beer and wine and really, who's going to remember anything about any desert? And you'd be right.


Here's the recipe:

8 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen,thawed slightly if frozen. (I bought three bags of frozen.)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca (good luck finding this item. I had to borrow Audrey's)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pinch of salt

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed (1 stick)
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degree F.

Toss berries with sugar, tapioca, lime juice, and salt in a bowl. Spoon into a 2-quart baking dish.

Combine flour, coconut, sugar, pecans, baking powder, and salt in a second bowl. Using your fingertips, knead in the butter until incorporated. Mixture should look like coarse sand. (this was fun, and made me feel like I knew what I was doing)

Blend in the egg. It will get very sticky, like wet Play-Do. Do your best to arrange this over the berries.

Bake cobbler for 45-50 minutes, or until topping is golden and crisp, and filling is thick and bubbly. Cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before serving. Dang. Will your kitchen smell great.

Serve with creme anglaise or ice cream. (Yeah, righto.)

A couple of problems. First, I had no lime juice, having thrown away one, withering lime about a week ago. I did have lemons, though, so I used half of that. Was this a bad idea? Probably. But isn't citrus citrus?

Secondly, I inexplicably ran out of sugar after the first cup. Since it was 11 p.m., I had no choice but to call Tamlin, the only close neighbor I knew who was still likely to be up, and beg a cup of sugar off her. Luckily, she had it. She had a good laugh at my expense, too.

By midnight I was finished. And there was no way in heck I was going to attempt no stinking creme anglaise.

I would not describe this as obscenely easy to make. If it is for you, don't mention it to me.

Thirdly. We did indeed drink and eat meat and potatoes at the BBQ the next night. And I also forgot all about the cobbler. Two days later, I pulled it out and served a chunk to my kids, who ate part of it with interest, but then said it was too cold. I ate the rest of their portion. Not bad. I could taste the coconut, which I didn't entirely care for. I put it back into the refrigerator...and forgot about it until now. I'd throw it out tonight but for the daunting task of having to wash the dish.

Sigh. It all seems a tremendous waste. I might try this again later in the summer, with fresh blackberries. And I'll halve the recipe. And use a pie tin instead of a deep dish. Oh, and I'll have a lime. And enough sugar. Maybe at that point it will have become, if not obscenely easy to make, then at least perhaps not too hard.

Audrey, meanwhile, asked for the recipe back, (hope she doesn't mind all the smudges), and has since made it again. Her husband and kids have already eaten it.

Eliza, who writes Notes from my food diary, makes a beautiful version of this. Please note that mine did not turn out this beautiful, hence the generic picture of blackberries.

Look at that cobbler. Can you blame me for trying?

Monday, April 23, 2007

The radish spirit

I bought a daikon radish a few weeks ago at Marukai, the giant Japanese supermarket not far from where I live. It's possible to spend several hours at Marukai, perusing unfamiliar condiments and 27 different kinds of dipping noodles, and never even make it upstairs to where the furniture is. I have my Marukai game down, though. I know what I need, and I procure it quickly: Japanese snacks for the kids (Yam-Yam sticks and honey balls), noodles, dipping sauce, "fish bits" (processed fish roll that my kids, strangely, seem to love), Miso paste, fresh fish and of course, some chestnut mochi, because you know, oishi desu, ne?

And I swung by the produce section to get me some of those crispy Fuji apples. Then I spied the daikon radishes. Oooh. I was inspired suddenly to try my hand once again at the Japanese Breakfast. And didn't I need a daikon radish to make the dashi - the base for miso soup?

I bought one: a large, sturdy specimen. I brought it home. It sat on my counter for a while. I looked up the recipe for miso soup and realized I was mistaken. You don't need daikon for dashi, only kombu, a kind of seaweed, which I didn't have, and bonito flakes, which I didn't have either.

I didn't fancy another schlep to Marukai just for these items. So the daikon sat unused on my counter. I half-heartedly flipped through my Japanese cookbook for ideas on how to use it, but nothing enthused me. So the daikon radish continued to sit on my counter. My kids started referring to it as "The Radish Spirit," after the silent but heaving character in Hayao Miyazaki's fantastic animated feature, "Spirited Away."

Then one night I drew a face on it. I added a little bottle-top cap.

Not long afterwards, I realized the face kind of resembled Tony's.

Seinfeld aficionados will remember the very funny episode called "Fusilli Jerry." Kramer makes a figurine of Jerry out of fusilli pasta.

I call this creation: Daikon Tony.

Daikon Tony sat on my counter for a few weeks, where he lost water and twisted and withered slowly away. I was forced to throw my creation away, for decorum's sake.

One can extrapolate from this that I will very soon, probably this week, be back at Marukai, to procure benito flakes and kombu, and probably some small pieces of salmon to fry up for a traditional Japanese breakfast. Tony - the man, not the radish - is bound by honor to try it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Me and my almendrados

Before I tell you how I rocked my own world and made almond-lemon macaroons that actually turned out, I should inform you of several Bad Home Cook standards:

Sunday morning I went to make toast for Tony and burnt black the last piece of bread in the house. Not long afterwards I forgot to watch the half and half warming on the stove for coffee, and it boiled over, making a mess of my stove top.

At least I had the sense not to try and make eggs or anything. Tony swore up and down he wasn't actually hungry, but I think he was just being smart, in the Darwinian sense.

It's my tendency to botch the simplest things that pisses me off most. That's why the Almendrados so delighted me. They've restored my faith in myself. Maybe I can be taught.

Tony, ever helpful, had sent me a link to the New York Times' food section piece about Sephardic cooking from Morocco (I wish the link were still free, it was a wonderfully-detailed article about a woman collecting old Jewish Moroccan recipes that were in danger of being lost forever). One recipe jumped out at me for some reason: Almond-lemon macaroons, or Almendrados.

Four ingredients. Three steps. The name alone had me tasting the Levant. If I closed my eyes I could almost feel the Sirocco wind on my face, smell the lemon tree outside my window and hear a distant Muezzin wailing away the appointed hour.

I opened my eyes again. There was a Santa Ana blowing debris around the yard. I could smell the Lemon Pledge underneath my sink. I listened to the distant drone of the leaf blower. And I knew I'd make these macaroons, damn it. They were calling me.

Here's the recipe, adapted from "Dulce Lo Vivas," by Ana Bensadon (Ediciones Martinez Roca)

2 cups whole blanched almonds, plus about 30 for decoration
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
zest of one lemon

The recipe calls for grinding the two cups of almonds, but that's much too difficult for someone like me, even if I did have a working food processor. I scored a bag of ground almonds from Trader Joe's and used that instead.

Mix the almonds together with 3/4 of the sugar. Add the egg and the lemon zest. Mix together until you have a cohesive dough.

Cover and chill for at least 12 hours. I chilled mine for almost 48 hours because I couldn't get around to baking any sooner than that.

Preheat oven to 350.

Pinch off dough about the size of a walnut and roll into balls. Roll the balls in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Place them on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Gently press the decorative almond into the center and reshape if necessary. This step made me deliriously happy for some reason. Even my son got into the game.

Bake for between 8 and 10 minutes. Don't touch them until they're cool. This makes them firm and crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. Oh. My. God. I was so impressed with myself.

I want you all to be impressed, too. Of course, they could look fancier. They could be bigger. And I probably should have used whole almonds instead of the slivered blanched I had in the back of my pantry. But one thing at a time. Besides...the taste....

Macaroons make good monsters, too.Jacksmacaroons

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How to avoid bread and pasta for a week and live to tell about it

Sardines Sardines are very tasty. They taste good on crackers, which means they're good on the Bread of Affliction (matzohs) too. If your foodie friend is visiting you, she will not let you eat these out of the can, hunched over the sink, as you intend to do. Rather, she will dish them into a bowl, spread fresh avocado mixed with freshly ground black pepper and capers onto a matzoh, place a single sardine just so, and hand it to you on a plate. She will make you sit down at the table to eat it. And she will make you use a napkin. And it will be good.

Matzo brei is also very tasty. You learned to make it from a Nice Jewish Boy from Long Island many yearsEggs ago when you were giving the other coast a whirl for a bit. It is his grandmother's recipe. You run several sheets of matzoh under the tap until they're good and wet, shake them out, then crumble them all up into a colander. Then you melt butter in a pan, and fry the damp matzo bits until lightly browned. Then you add three or four eggs, beaten with a little milk, salt and pepper. The resulting scrambled egg and matzo is then eaten, in delicious little bites, with jam and a giant cup of coffee. Your children announce that they love matzo-brei. This will make you feel like a righteous Jew.

Carrot salad with avocado and tofu sounded good (well, maybe not the tofu part necessarily), and since the gorgeous Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini eats it for lunch every day, you decide you should try it. You took four years of high school French. There's no reason why you should be so impressed with a dish called Carottes Rapées à l'Avocat, but you are. In any case, the recipe, in English, sounds like simplicity itself. You grate the four carrots. You dice your ripe, medium avocado. You toast your sesame seeds. Then you realize that your lemon is too big and that you probably added too much lemon juice and absolutely too much balsamic vinegar, and then, unable to stop the train wreck, you dump in your carrots before it's all mixed and you can't quite scoop it all out again to backtrack. What you're left with is balsamic-flavored vegetable slop. Good thing you opted not to use tofu in the end.

Refrigeration for a few hours doesn't fix the problem. You eat most of it anyway, because you sense that, if prepared correctly, it could be very good indeed. And at the very least it's probably healthy for you.

Eat the ginger and carrot soup you bought three boxes of from Trader Joe's, for several meals.

Make the kids a lot of hard boiled eggs. Color some and call it Easter, prompting the kids to continue eating them, along with their chocolate.

Have Tony over for more salmon.

Passover is over the next day and dream of the biggest, creamiest bowl of fettuccine Alfredo you can conjure up.

Next year in Greenblatt's.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Una Sopa Romero Malisima

I could see it, and it was inspired.

Rosemary Red Soup. Delicious. Creamy. Vegetarian. And, like the name suggests, a deep, ruby red.

It would look fantastic in my Heath bowls. Never mind that I didn't have enough for all the guests. Such details were not bothering me at the time. I could only see the visuals.

Details often come back to bite me in the butt, however. Indeed, it's a wonder I have any backside at all these days.

A friend of mine, a fabulous woman with a PhD in Moroccan Jewry and enviable hostessing skills gave me this recipe, promising that it was so simple even I could make it. The secret, she told me, was in the beets and the miso. Red beets give this vegetarian soup its shocking color, while the miso gave it a sort of salty kick from deep within. I made it only once, probably five years ago. But as I recall, it turned out, and impressed everybody so much that nobody minded that it also terminally stained clothes.

As with so many dishes I ruin, this one started out with my focus on entirely the wrong element: I was concentrating on the reaction it would surely win, instead of focusing on the constructive details.

First I bought the wrong kind of beets. We got two kinds at the Farmer's market, neither of them the right ones. We needed red beets. The kind that are red throughout, not the ones that are just red on the outside. The orange beets weren't going to work, either, although yes, they were very pretty and exciting.

The proper beets seem to be an essential element in creating soup of this color. Most cooks would understand this fact. But not me. I have said this all my life, but clearly it remains true: The obvious never occurs to me.

Second problem: We started late in the day, when the Tagine was a bubblin' and Julia was assembling the bitter herb salad and attending to a trillion other details. This would have been fine, had the soup turned out.

Bad enough the soup wasn't the color I'd expected. But it wasn't any acceptable color, unless you like your diarrhea color on the mustard-yellow side of the spectrum. For some reason the puree wasn't as smooth as it needed to be either. Maybe I hadn't cooked the lentils long enough? Hadn't chopped the vegetables enough? Hadn't minced the rosemary right? Realizing you've botched a recipe at the very first, most basic step is pretty demoralizing. But if your dish tastes OK, it's possible to redeem yourself.

Alas. Even Julia, a hardy optimist, was underwhelmed with my Rosemary Red Soup That Was Diarrhea Colored. For a soup with several vegetables, salty miso and an herb widely understood to be taste-enhancing, this was remarkably taste-free. I held out the wooden spoon for her, accepting my fate.

"I don't think it's any good," I said.

She tasted. She didn't grimace, which gave me hope for a small second.

"No. It's not good."

That's when I panicked. It was 6 p.m. People were going to start arriving any minute, and we didn't even have the soup course done.

"We can't serve this! We can't serve this! What are we gonna do?!"

Now I was openly cursing myself. For not paying attention to the ingredient details. For telling Tony NOT to bring Matzo-ball soup as originally planned, because I was going to make my own soup. What the hell was wrong with me? WHY was I even trying to pull off a Seder when obviously it was horribly beyond my abilities, even with more experienced backup? You've heard of fight or flight?

"I'm going to Trader Joe's!" I yelled, running for my keys. "I'm just gonna buy some soup!"

"Wait!" Julia held up her hand. "I have an idea." Obviously she intended to fight.

Her idea involved orange juice. Audacious, I thought. And if it weren't Zero Hour I would have embraced her creativity. But I was already flying. "Ginger carrot soup! I'll just get four boxes of it, we'll heat it up, and nobody will know the difference!"

"Quiet. Taste this now. What do you think?" She'd poured probably 3/4 cup of orange juice directly into the soup and turned up the heat.

I swallowed my heart and tasted.

It had *some* taste. As opposed to the no-taste it had just moments before.

Maybe it would work.

And in fact, in the end, people ate their soup. Some confessed to enjoying it. The two vegetarians at the table wanted more. Wanted the recipe, even. "...this isn't really the soup I'd intended to serve," I stammered.

Here's the soup I intended to serve. Maybe Sher or Janelle or one of the Gracious Bowl gals can make this correctly and show the food-blogging world what it's really supposed to look like:

Rosemary Red Soup
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 beets (RED!!!) chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (fresh)
1 tablespoon chopped oregano (fresh or dry)
1 cup red lentils (washed and picked over)
2 bay leaves
6 cups water or vegetable stock
2-3 tablespoons light miso

Saute onions in oil, add carrots and beats. Saute as long as you feel prudent. Add herbs, lentils, bay leaves and stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and puree soup in blender. Dissolve miso in 1/2 cup water and add to soup. Reheat and serve.

Writing it down now, transcribing from a stained and well-thumbed notepad from another life, I note that I didn't follow any of these simple directions. Saute first?

That'll teach me to cook under pressure. Probably should have made this the night before, with a glass of wine in my system and no time constraints. But that's just one of the many lessons learned this Passover holiday. Stay tuned....

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lamb Tagine with a Thousand Spices

The recipe promised to bring men running.

"When I made this dish, I left the kitchen window open," writes the anonymous Lisa, who posted this dish on the allrecipe website. "The smell attracted several male neighbors, and when my husband came in, he said that it smelled so good, he hoped it was coming from our house and not from someone else's! Serve with my Moroccan Couscous and Cucumber Raita on this site."

That sounded good to us. Not so much the men coming running bit, since Julia is happily married to an eminent Ancient Near Eastern scholar, and I'm still stupid for the flamenco guitarist. But anything that smells good enough to bring men running must by definition have something extra; some mysterious something contained within the 14 spices (plus lemon zest!) that touches the primal animal. It sounded promising indeed. So we printed it out and ventured into my spice box to see what I had on hand. It was when we saw how much space the spice and jar bottles took up on my table that we gave the recipe its new working name of Lamb with a Thousand Spices.

Sure you can click above and see the original recipe, and you should. But I recreate it here for you. Because I love you. The measurements are strangely worded, because on you can change the portions and the ingredient measurements change accordingly.

Lamb with a thousand spices:

1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

3 pounds lamb meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

Ready? Take a deep breath...

1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 pinches saffron
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 lemon, zested

3 medium onions, cut into one inch cubes (huh?)
7 1/2 carrots, peeled, cut into fourths, then sliced lengthwise into strips (You know what? Just buy a bag of baby carrots and achieve the same thing.)
4 1/2 cloves garlic, minced (hell, throw in that last half a garlic clove while you're at it.)
1 1/2 (14.5 ounce) low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons sun-dried tomato paste
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and the same amount of water (optional, for thickening sauce if need be)

Toss the lamb with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside in a bowl. Measure the spices (the paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt, ginger, saffron, garlic powder and coriander) into a large, resealable Ziploc bag. Mix well, then add the lamb. Mix well, then refrigerate overnight (or for at least eight hours.)

Brown half the lamb in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan (we used the tagine). Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining lamb. Add onions and carrots to the pot and cook for five minutes. Stir in the fresh garlic and ginger; continue cooking for five more minutes. Return the lamb to the pot and stir in the lemon zest, chicken broth, tomato paste and honey. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hour to two hours (we did two and a half). You can thicken the broth if it's too thin.

Working the night before, Julia spooned out the spices into a gallon Ziploc bag. We doubled the amount because we'd almost doubled the amount of lamb to feed the Seder guests. This is before I remembered that two of the wives in attendance are strict vegetarians and wouldn't be touching the stuff. No matter, I thought. If this dish came out as promised, the men would eat more than their fair share.

It marinated overnight. Already I was all tingly with the thrill of the unknown. The scent of danger. Me! Marinating!

The next day, the day of the Seder itself, we started cooking at about 1 in the afternoon. I chopped and diced, trying hard to stay focused in the face of my growing panic that we'd started too late and that none of this was going to turn out anyway.

The first problem: We had too much lamb for the tagine. We had to split the portions between it and my dutch oven (or is it a soup pot? Who cares. It worked!). Before long, the lamb was bubbling away.

Luke arrived to see the kids and Julia. First words out of his mouth: "It smells incredible in here! What are you cooking?"

Julia and I just smiled.

The second man to show up was my friend E.J., who beat the traffic (and his wife, apparently, coming in a separate car,) to be the first arriving Seder guest.

"It smells fantastic in here! What are you cooking?"

Third man: Dr. Ash. "Oh my God. What are you cooking?"

Fourth man: Tony. "Que Alegria! Is that the lamb?!"

Over the course of its simmering, we noted that the lamb had a significant kick at the end. Maybe we'd put in a bit too much cayenne pepper? Julia suggested adding a lot more honey, which we did. I can't tell you exactly how much. Two twirls around the perimeter with the bear.

Finally. The Lamb with a Thousand Spices was done. Julia added a fistful of prunes to the mix toward the end, because a lot of traditional lamb tagines include prunes, apparently. And at the table she sprinkled it with freshly-chopped coriander.

Lambtagine Did it taste as good as it smelled? I am happy to report that it did. Even though I was running around mitigating the million little details that I had not attended to (like preparing the actual Seder part of the Seder dinner, for example), and serving things up and pouring wine, I finally sat down and tried a mouthful. The lamb dissolved in my mouth like butter. I could taste the honey, and the cardamom, too. There was still a nice little kick at the end. We served it with roasted heirloom potatoes and other vegetables. But oh, for some crusty bread to mop up those juices!

Next time, I suppose. This dish paired great with the shiraz Tony brought and got raves from everyone who tried it. There were some leftovers, but not a lot: The males came through, each going back two or three times for more. In all, it was a vast improvement over my miserable failure two years ago. But that was a wholly different recipe, and of course, I didn't have a tagine yet, either. Lamb with a Thousand Spices will be made again, and soon. Perhaps for a Spring party?

Now if only I could say the Ruby Red Soup turned out as well. More on that next post. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Date me

Ever do something and not quite believe you've done it? I like to think of myself as the type who lives by that credo. Yet in reality, all I've ever craved is the comfort of the known and the safety of the un-ventured.

Unless someone has my back. Then almost anything, apparently, is possible. Luckily, my friends seem to believe that I'm capable of impressive feats. They think that I can not only finish my novels but publish them, sell screenplays, knit my own sweaters, grow successful tomatoes and dance flamenco before a paying audience. And maybe with their help these things will come to pass. Or not. But it was a sort of thrilling moment when Julia looked up at me last week and tapped the cookbook she'd been perusing for Seder dinner desert ideas.

"Date and almond truffles."

"Excuse me?"

"Date and almond truffles," she said. "For desert."

"...we can probably buy them from the Lebanese restaurant..."

"We can make them, silly."

We stared at each other for a few beats.

"Can we do that?" I squeaked.

She started laughing.

Things involving food processors tend to scare me away. I had a food processor once, an early '80s-style Cuisinart I inherited from my step-mother. It was huge and unwieldy and resembled a space station, with all that plastic and all those mysterious attachments. And indeed it did take up a lot of space. It took me several months to screw up the courage to try it and when I plugged it in it didn't work. With relief I now use my blender instead. I'm sure it's not as functional as a proper food processor, but it's unlikely I'm going to be getting to those advanced functions anytime soon.

I tell you all this because Tmar Kweerat (or Fatima's Date and Almond Truffles) requires grinding almonds and chopped dates into a paste. Right away I was terrified. Julia took it calmly.

From Kitty Morse's: The Vegetarian Table: North Africa, p. 148

1 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted.

1 cup pitted dates, chopped

1 tablespoon orange flower water (Ah! This is how Seville smells, they say)

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup shredded coconut (we used unsweetened)

Put half the almonds and dates into the blender and grind into a paste. Do the same with the other half. Transfer to a medium bowl. With your hands, blend in the orange flower water, honey and cinnamon. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll them in coconut.

We found these cute miniature paper cups at Marukai, and we put the balls into those to chill overnight.

Were these hard to make? Not at all. But I would never have ventured them on my own. Silly, really. These, eaten with sweet mint tea and the end of the Seder meal, were a huge hit. Alas, none survived, and I'll have to make some more if I want to experience them again. Which I will, because now I know I can. Thanks be to Julia for laughing at my panic. Maybe I'll knit a sweater for her.

Stay tuned for details about the Seder entree...lamb tagine with a thousand spices!

Sludge morning

I hyped the heck out the oatmeal breakfast my kids would be eating this morning, since they can't have their normal breakfast cereal due to Pesach. (No bread or grains for seven days, according to tradition.) Brown sugar! Butter! Blueberries! Apples! And they were game for it, indeed. My daughter was particularly excited about getting to consume parentally-sanctioned sugar for breakfast.

Then I woke up a little later than planned, because Julia and I stayed up late making almond and date truffles for our Pesach spread tonight (but more on them later) and drinking wine.

Then I found I didn't have any brown sugar.

And no more apples.

Then I put too much water into the oatmeal...or something...because I am the bad home cook, remember, and I only just redeemed myself by cooking the hell out of it and hoping to boil off some of the excess water. My kids, hungry and irate already, cast me baleful looks, and I knew I would only be keeping them cooperative if I delivered the goods.

Luckily, I had good local honey from the Farmer's Market. (added bonus: In a bear, which is always more fun than a regular jar), and frozen blueberries. And bananas! And in the end, the kids were happy again.

Tonight's the seder. We've got lamb marinating in a hundred spices in the refrigerator as I write this. We have amazing almond and date truffles rolled in coconut that I can't quite believe we actually made. It's gonna be interesting. My only hope is that I get my traditional Passover Cosmo first, to ease me into my long night.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Julie and Julia

In preparation for my second-night Seder, Julia and I visited the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. This final day of March was sunny and bright and not too hot -- the perfect day for spending several hours perusing organic vegetables and obscure greenery.

"Oh look," said Julia. "Ramps."

"Ramps?" I looked around for the wheelchair ramps, thinking to myself, how cool of Santa Monica to make sure our nation's disabled have full access to organic fruits and vegetables.

She pointed to a box of weeds. "No, ramps. These." She picked one up. It was thin, with long green leaves and an anemic white bulb at the end. Dirt still clung to its roots. It really did look like something I'd pull out of my flower garden. I've never heard of ramps before. But then I don't read my Gourmet magazine very closely.

The vendor smiled brightly. Surely these two women would be buying a nice supply of ramps, priced at only (cough) $16 a pound. They did have a powerful, peppery taste. Maybe we could incorporate these into our planned "bitter herb salad."

Julia and her daughter are staying with us for a few days, and she is the primary reason I'm going ahead with my insane plan of hosting a Pesach Seder for nine adults and seven children next week. She's a foodie who cooked for a Parisian family in Corsica for a few years in her '20s, and continues to live a bountiful, delicious life. She's a woman I can bounce my half-baked ideas off of, someone I can watch and learn from. Best of all, she's someone who can take all the stuff about to go over in my refrigerator and make something marvelous from it.

I got home today and she's cooking up a compote. "I'm making apple sauce out of those five apples that were about to go bad in your fruit dish," she says, maddeningly matter-of-factly.

"Thanks," I say. "And why is the oven on?"

"I'm roasting those beets you forgot about in the crisper."

Later on she sliced the beets and zested some lemon over them. I stood watching her in awe.

I'm so glad Julia is here. She makes my kitchen happy. We spent several hours last night pouring over my cookbooks, and we're gonna have a kick-ass Moroccan-style seder. We're gonna make a tagine! We're even gonna make date truffles. Stand back! It's going to be the kind of dinner party I've longed to have...which is to say, it will be a dinner party that will actually feature edible, nay, exceptional food. Because Julia is here to oversee.

We didn't buy any ramps in the end, because we figured such a gourmet ingredient would be lost on our audience. We did buy $10 worth of heirloom potatoes to roast, however, because they were colorful and presumably tasty, and because I figure that if I can utter, "These are roasted heirloom potatoes," then my transformation from bad home cook into sophisticated foodie will have begun.

Keep your fingers crossed.