March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
Today I took a walk to the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax to buy dog food from Huntington Meats, when my iPhone was stolen. There are a lot of good reasons to shop at independently owned stores, but the fact that you can count on the nice guys who work there when you’re in a total panic over a small, stolen, six hundred dollar device, is one not to be overlooked. I’d left the butcher a few minutes before, phone in hand, and walked a few hundred steps to the nut store to buy some salty toasted mixed nuts since I am still not eating sugar, and when I noticed the nuts where in my hand and my iPhone wasn’t, I ran back to the butcher (had I left it there?), then back to the nut place (had she seen a phone?), and then back to the butcher—this time not to look for my phone, but just plain desperate for help. Jim the Butcher entrusted one of his younger employees (i.e. knows how to use an iPhone) to use his “find my iPhone” app to find my iPhone. The guy’s name was Charlie, and, to make a two hour story shorter than two hours, suffice to say that we walked around the grounds of the Farmers Market, following my iPhone, setting off the loud, alarm-like cry it makes for lost iPhones and refreshing its location constantly. At one point, back at the nut store where the phone seemed to linger, Charlie and I thought we even heard it. We asked the nut lady to turn off the the peanut-butter making machine (they make the best peanut butter) so we could hear better, and be sure it wasn’t the rotating belt making the noise. No. I was sure I heard it. But where? We circled the nut store. The noise seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The lady still insisted she hadn’t seen the phone. We sat down and checked my purse for the 500th time. Maybe we were following me around? And when we came back to the nut store, we no longer heard the phone. Had it been our imaginations? Maybe not. Because the phone was now somewhere in the vicinity of a shuttered Johnny Rockets. After two hours of this bewildering sleuthing, we could see from Charlie’s phone that my phone was about to die. Once it did, I’d no longer to be able to track it. By this time, we’d followed my phone around from the nut store to the Coffee Bean to the bathroom to the bar to another bar… and now, we could see, it was in a car. Yes, we could see that my iPhone was in a car.
I was already a huge fan of Apple. What their devices do, well, I’d say it never ceases to amaze me, but I’m hardly even amazed anymore because I just expect the devices to do amazing things. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the fact that “find my iPhone” was at this very moment able to tell me that my phone was not just in a car in the parking lot at the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax where it was last seen buying nuts two hours ago, but this thing could tell me that it was in a small black car, sandwiched by a couple of silver cars exactly five cars from the end of the second row. It even showed me a picture the parking lot in real time! By now, Jim the Butcher had joined the chase, mostly to comfort me because I was nearly hysterical both for the lost iPhone and the frustration, knowing it was so close and yet so impossible to find. Jim and Charlie and I stood there by the car that held my phone. But now my phone was really about to be dead. Five percent battery power is what Charlie’s phone said my phone had. All hope was lost. Except that all hope is only lost if all parties know that all hope is lost, and the one party who didn’t know this was the guy who had put my phone in his car.
Let’s take a moment to think about the last two hours from his point of view. He sees a phone. So close. So tempting. So shiny, and so… within reach. He grabs it. Finally, I have an iPhone! he thinks. He puts it in his pocket. Thirty seconds later, the rightful owner of the phone comes back for her phone. The woman behind the counter who sold this nut her nuts says, “I haven’t seen your phone.” And the lady walks away. The guy thinks, This is great. She’s gone! Now this really is MY phone! Until this phone in his pocket starts making a noise. He can’t turn it off—not the noise, not the phone. And now two people and a scruffy little dog are walking around, following him. Wherever he goes, there they are. They don’t know who he is, but he knows who they are, and this effing phone won’t stop making noise. But he’s a clever guy. He can’t get the phone off (an iPhone tagged as lost or stolen, which Charlie had done to mine, can’t be turned off—how amazing is that!?), but he figured out that if he put the case on backwards, the speaker emitting the noise would now be covered by plastic. The noise was muted. But still, Everywhere I go there’s these people and that dog. I’d suspected that whoever had my phone worked in the Farmers Market because anyone who had the chance to leave would have done so. Without that chance, what he’d done was throw the phone in his car. And now what he evidently saw was the three of us, me and Charlie and Jim, standing around his car, looking through the windows. The truth is, we were feeling pretty much hopeless because of the near-dead battery and all. But this guy didn’t know that. All he knew is that we had the ability to follow him around like a tracking device and cause something in his hand to make noises that he couldn’t stop. I’m going to guess he thought that the cops were on the way. In any case, he came running, wearing a baseball hat bearing the name of the nut store, and without any prompting, said to Charlie: “The phone in my car.” And then in Spanish that the guys didn’t understand. “I found it in a basurera.” Jim handed the guy ten dollars for my phone. He was rewarded for his lie. Someone asked if I was going to go to the nut store or to security to tell. I didn’t have the slightest inclination. I’d spent enough of my life on this phone. Instead, I walked back to the butcher and picked up the femur bones they were cutting into Rufus-friendly rings for me at the moment that I’d realized my phone was missing. As Rufus said, “All’s well that ends in marrow.”
March 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’ve never been much of a beverage person. I haven’t drunk Gatorade since I was a 12 year-old girl with wiry, braided red pigtails. I have never drunk a Coca-Cola in my life (a fact that Southerners find fascinating-to-impossible). And I don’t go in for iced tea or Arnold Palmers. When I’m thirsty, I drink water. Plain and simple. No ice, no fruit, no flavoring (please). But then, like love, when I least expected it, this coconut water came into my life. Taste Nirvana. (Sorry about the name. #notmyfault.)
I picked it out of a crowded refrigerated case one hot day last summer in New York City because I liked the tall glass bottle that it came in. It’s the only coconut water I’ve tried that tastes like the actual water of a coconut and not watered down dirty water. I’ve since moved over to cans, which look reassuringly like tennis ball cans. Today, at a rate of consumption between one and three cans per day, it’s fair to say I’m addicted, but worse things could happen. People say coconut water has loads of potassium and is particularly good for hydrating. I drink it because I like the way it tastes. I wouldn’t even know what to do with loads of potassium. Plus how much water can you really drink before you get bored? I only buy the one with pulp, which infuses the water with more coconut flavor and makes it noticeably more coconut-like than the one without pulp. As you can see from the label, the water promises “happiness inside.” Who knew you could drink your way to bliss?
This dreamy anti-dehydrant is currently on sale at that great 21st Century Robber Baron, Whole Foods. You’re welcome.
March 8, 2014 § 6 Comments
Having been sugar-free for 10 days now, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. At the very least I am an expert at getting through the first 10 days. So for that, here are 10 things I’ve learned about the first 10 days.
1. Don’t quit eating sugar without pain reliever in the house. The pain in your brain will be too great to leave the house for pain reliever.
2. Your mind will tell you all kinds of crazy things including: Why are you such an extremist control freak? Sugar is a part of life! It’s Friday for God’s sake and I don’t care if you don’t believe in God. What’s a little agave gonna hurt anyone… Live a little!
3. A few dietary notes:
- Mayonnaise (that’s Best Foods, or Hellman’s, whose key ingredient is corn syrup) will beckon.
- A chinese chicken salad is just lettuce’s way of enabling you.
- Cashews are fattening. This may sound like a non-sequiter until you try giving up sugar.
- Something crunchy is the next best thing to something sweet. Pass the cheese puffs
4. Friends will tell you about the Lärabar. They aren’t that great (the Lärabars; I”m sure the friends are fine). I mean, let’s face it, there’s only so much you can expect from dried fruits and nuts pressed into a flat rectangle. But file under: Good to Know.
5. So-called “friends” will tell you that you’re missing out. That you’re no fun. They’ll show you a picture of some sugar-laden crap they ate at a chain restaurant. They are addicted to sugar and to sabotage. Unfriend them.
6. It gets easier. And then harder. And then easier still. By week’s end, you may even be able to go hours at a time without a single raisin.
7. Not to sound too Marianne Williamson, but you will soon notice that doing something good for you is also addicting. You will start to contemplate giving up coffee. But then you’ll remember the Mark Twain quote about a ship without ballasts…
8. By week’s end, you will be able to taste the sweetness in a grapefruit. “Oh, yum! This grapefruit has such natural sweetness!” you will say smugly to anyone still talking to you after your first 10 sugar-free days.
9. You will begin to feel a little bit superior: to those who tell you they have given up sugar but still partake in agave, maple syrup, honey, etc… (You see this as just proof of how hard it is to give up sugar.) To those people you saw at Indian Wells tennis tournament yesterday eating ice cream cones big enough to feed an entire family–or just one American. To those who say, “I want to…,” “I’m going to,” “I should.” But then don’t…
10. If you go public, as I did, with your sugar fast, it will seem that almost everyone you know is telling you that they have tried to quit eating sugar, have quit eating sugar before for a period of time, or want to quit eating sugar. You will also find that a surprising number of your friends do not eat sugar and you just didn’t know this because for reasons having to do with an inner wholeness and lack of a need for validation that you do not possess, they do not feel the need to broadcast this uninteresting fact of their existence to the world. You will wilt in the shadow of their superiority. But in relation to the rest of sugar-fueled humanity, you will feel like a real expert. And like you have infinite wisdom, or at least 10 naturally-sweet nuggets of advice to give them should they decide to quit their nasty habit. They probably won’t want to hear your advice otherwise they would have asked you for it. So you will write it down instead and put it out there in the e-universe like a sweet little dandelion, blowing, positively screaming into the wind…
March 4, 2014 § 6 Comments
I recently decided to quit eating sugar. That’s as much thought as I put into the decision. I didn’t give an end date or a goal or parameters or even a “definition of sugar.” But I did regularly post daily How Shitty I Feel updates on Facebook and my Facebook friends, being the sort of clever people that they are, wanted me to be more specific. They asked me what was my plan. (I didn’t have a plan.) They asked me, “What’s the point?” “When does it end?” And “Why are you doing this again?” So here, below, are my answers to those questions.
Let’s start with…
One. WHY: I gave up sugar for an as yet undefined period of time:
- I don’t know. I only know that I somehow slid down the slippery slope from, “I’m at a nice dinner and the chef sent out this dessert so let me have a bite,” to, “What’s the difference between an oatmeal cookie for breakfast and oatmeal?” Even in my sugar-induced stupor and with an addict’s skill at rationalizing, I knew something wasn’t right.
- I heard that sugar is bad for you, that it feeds viruses and can cause cancer and that it has aging affects and that it makes you tired. Whether or not it’s true, it seems obvious enough to me that sugar isn’t exactly what was intended to nourish the holy temple that is my body that I don’t even want to waste my time reading a book about it.
- Call me a Puritan but, it must be a good thing to give up anything that is as hard to give up as sugar is
- Any substance that makes me feel (in addition to foggy headed and tired and achy and sick), so agitated that I get angry at Rufus for having to smell yet one more effin’ shrub cannot be a good thing.
AND TWO. DEFINE SUGAR, PLEASE:
- Giving up sugar, for me, means not eating things with sugar in them. And by sugar, what I mean is sugar and date sugar and palm sugar and maple syrup and honey and agave and any of the things that you (that means me) will try to convince yourself aren’t really sugar because you are so addicted to sugar you are willing to forego all logic just to get your grubby little sugar addicted paws on the stuff.
- I will eat sugar as it occurs in nature: dates, raisins, those little heirloom seedless tangerine things that go by 47 different names but I can’t tell the difference. And to anyone who says, “Well, it’s the same thing; it’s still sugar,” A) you are wrong. No amount of dates has ever left me wanting to kick my dog. And B) Argofuckyourself.
THIRD AND LAST. THE GOAL? THE POINT OF IT ALL? FOR HOW LONG?
The day I decided to call it quits (for an undefined period of time and with no specific motive other than I didn’t want to feel crappy all the time or even ever, and without actually defining sugar other than to say, If you think it’s sugar, then it is), I had two bags of Trader Joe’s cookies in my cupboard. I’d bought them the day before and they were gluten-free, not because I am gluten-free but because, for reasons having to do with rice flour, I thought they’d be crispier. I contemplated waiting until I’d eaten all the cookies to start not eating any more cookies, but I’ve lived long enough, I’ve woken up enough times with achey shoulders and a foggy head (Thanks, Sugar! You’re welcome, Sweetheart!) to know that this was, for lack of a better word, a retarded idea. I didn’t tell myself, Self, you can go back to chocolate chip cookies for breakfast if you only abstain long enough to suffer, to prove you can, say you did, and then do it again. I just gave it up. For now.
One thing I know for sure: I will eat sugar again. But in the future, I would like to keep it to, “It’s my birthday, I can have a bite of this homemade cake if I want to!” And not, “Chocolate chip cookies are a completely sensible breakfast because the French eat chocolate croissants and Italians start their day with cookies which they refer to as ‘biscuits.’”
So there, in a three-step nutshell, is my plan. My rules. My goal. My initiative.
Join me in the pursuit of nothingness if you want, but whatever you do, pass the dates.
December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
And in honor of great new beginnings, the best darned holiday food I know: Lentils, redux.
I’m not superstitious, but I do appreciate when certain superstitions give me an excuse to do something I want to do anyway. In Italy, lentils, called lenticchie (pronounced “len-TEA-ki-yay”) are traditionally eaten for New Year because they are supposed to bring prosperity to the eater. The reasoning being that the little legumes are vaguely reminiscent of teeny tiny coins so by eating them, you will be showered with money. Which is why every year when the new year comes around, thinking my friends and I could use a little prosperity ourselves, I invite, I make as big a pot of them as I can.
I start with Umbrian Lentils, which grow in and around a town called Castelluccio, in Umbria. Smaller than traditional brown lentils, Umbrian lentils come in various shades of brown and are known for their tender skin and rich, slightly sweet flavor. You’ll have to get them at a specialty food store and be warned, they’re never less than $10 a pound, but don’t worry as you ‘ll be showered with money you won’t bat an eye at the thought of $10 lentils . I spent $40 on three pounds of rogue Umbrian lentils, or roughly eight times what I would have spent had I started with regular brown lentils from the grocery store. The lentil-prosperity project, like so many good things in life, was going to be a story in patience and faith.
This is the “town,” where lentils are grown. It’s full of tourists, mostly Italian, many of them on motorcycles, who come for the beautiful drive and a bowl of rich, sausagey lentils while they’re there. I visited this little crater of the world two summers ago. It’s a long winding drive to the top of the Apennine Mountains, nestled at the crest of the mountains that separate Umbria from a region I’d never even heard of until I got within a stone’s throw of it: The Marche.
Having done this year after year, I’m convinced that a big part of the reason for the prosperity brought by the lentils is that if you make a big enough pot, you end up eating lentils for the next hundred days. I drizzle the lentils with olive oil so good that it could interfere with my prosperity—but certainly not my quality of life. And that, my friends, is like money in the bank. Happy New Year, and all that.
Prosperity Lentils, Umbrian Style
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 Spanish onions, diced
1/4 pound prosciutto (if you are not a vegetarian), pancetta, or bacon; ground in a mini food processor until it’s a paste
2-3 celery stalks, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
4-10 carrots (knock your socks off if you like carrots!), sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably double concentrated)
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound lentils (preferably Umbrian)
2 to 3 quarts chicken stock
Pour enough olive oil into a soup pot to cover the bottom pretty generously. Add the onions and season them with salt. Cook them for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring often so they don’t get color on them. Add whatever ground pork you are using, if you are using it, and cook it for 3 to 4 minutes to render the fat. Add the celery and carrots. (You could also add some leeks if you happen to have them, which I did today.) Season the vegetables with salt and cook them for about 10 minutes to soften them, adding more olive oil if the pan seems dry. (The more olive oil you add, the better your lentils will taste. Period.) Add the tomato paste (preferably the Italian stuff, which comes in a tube, not the canned stuff, which tastes cloying and weird), making sure the paste lands on the pan, not in the vegetables, and cook for 1 or 2 minutes to get rid of the raw tomato flavor. Add the garlic and saute for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the lentils and enough chicken stock or water to cover them by an inch. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the lentils, adding more stock or water (or a combination) as needed, until they are tender. This takes about an hour, and you will probably use 2 to 3 quarts of total liquid.
Serve the lentils with good olive oil drizzled on top. If you want, you can also add crumbled Italian sausage. According to Italian tradition, you’re supposed to eat them with cotecchino, a weird meat product that comes in a box, unrefrigerated, lasts for generations, and that Italians love almost as much as they love their mothers. I never found one that doesn’t taste like Spam to me, so were I to want a super meaty, one pot lentil meal, I’d go the Italian sausage route. Here’s to your wealth.
August 26, 2013 § 6 Comments
Every summer, for me, has its culinary victory. One year it was gelato. Another: jam. There was the summer when the takeaway, clearly, was old fashioned American pie. This year, as the days get shorter and the occasional tree begins to turn color, the one thing that is obvious to me is that this summer was all about lamb and if you forced me to get specific, I’d say it was about lamb ribs.
Lamb as a victory and a theme for my summer has everything to do with the fact that I was collaborating on a MEAT book with Pat LaFrieda, New York City’s paint balling, turkey hunting, Prada shoe-wearing, scimitar wielding celebrity artisan butcher. Before that, I wouldn’t have known there was such a thing as lamb ribs. I mean I knew lambs had ribs. I have ribs. My dog has ribs. But who knew you could or that anybody did eat lamb ribs? Lamb being fatty, lamb ribs are also fatty, in the best way, and lamb being exceptionally flavorful, lamb ribs… don’t even get me started.
I recently brought several racks of lamb ribs with me to Lake Placid, where I visited the Tennesse-born, North Carolina-living cook, Sara Foster. Sara knows a thing or five about pig ribs, so we applied these things to the ribs of the beautiful, all-American lamb that Pat deals in. Sara and I added a hint of mint to the formula–I mean it is lamb, right? And what we came up with were fall-off-the-bone, succulent, glazed and caramelized riblets that are about the most delicious thing anyone we served them to had, up to that point, ever eaten. When we piled them high and put them out as an appetizer to our party of 12, guests started yelling–and I mean screaming. (It was that kind of party, they were those kinds of guests.) “What are these things?” One yelled from the patio, while another guest, known to subside off of Coors Lite alone, was spotted in the kitchen quietly tearing into not one rib but one after another. “These are the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten!” another guest exclaimed. And “Lamb ribs? Who knew lambs had ribs?”
Lambs do have ribs. And you can eat them. And you should eat them. Here’s how.
Double Glazed Lamb Ribs with Mint Pepper Jelly
I used Foster’s Market Seven Pepper Jelly to make this, since I made them with Sara Foster, who invented that jelly. (Plus it’s the best pepper jelly you’l ever eat. It has seven peppers!) Use whatever pepper jelly you want. You could serve these as a main course, but they are rich and sticky and perfect for cocktail time. You can also make these with pork spare ribs (aka St. Louis ribs), which are easier to find and also less expensive than lamb. If you are cooking pork ribs, lose the mint; if you’re dying to include a fresh herb, make it thyme.
Serves 6 or 8 as an appetizer
2 lamb Denver (spare) rib racks (about 1 1/2 pounds each; or pork St. Louis/spare ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 (12-ounce) beer
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (or fresh thyme if you are cooking pork)
1/2 cup pepper jelly
Maldon sea salt
First, get the lamb. Getting your hands on lamb ribs may be the most difficult part of your journey. Your friendly butcher, such as the nice guys at Huntington Meats in Los Angeles and at Ottomanelli in New York will order lamb Denver ribs for you with one or two days notice. Whole Foods will, too.
Now that you’ve got your lamb, preheat your oven to 325°F.
Season the lamb racks with salt and pepper on both sides. Put the onion slices and beer in a large baking pan. Lay the lamb on top of the onions and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Put the lamb in the oven and bake the ribs for 1 hour. (If you’re cooking pork, make that 2 hours instead of one. Lamb is more naturally tender than pork, and it’s also smaller, thus the time difference.) This step is what gives you the juicy, tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. From here you’ll take the lamb, which at this point is a not appetizing shade of gray, glaze it with pepper jelly, and throw it on the grill, where you get the beautiful charred meat. You can prepare the lamb up to this point up to a day or two in advance. Let them cool and keep them in the braising liquid until you’re ready to grill them.
When you’re ready to grill and serve your lamb ribs, preheat a gas or charcoal grill.
Stir the mint into the pepper jelly. Remove the ribs from the braising liquid and onions and brush the racks on both sides with the pepper jelly. Throw them on the grill until the glaze is gooey and the ribs are charred in places.
Take the lamb off the grill and brush another layer of jelly on the ribs. Do this while the ribs are still hot so the glaze melts into the ribs.
Cut the rack into individual ribs but cutting between each bone. Sprinkle them with Maldon if you want and serve them piping hot with lots of napkins.