I’m no oatmeal expert, but I do make a lot of oatmeal. OK, maybe I am an oatmeal expert.
For a while, I was toasting the oats in butter (a trick I once wrote about here) which kind of makes the oatmeal taste like buttered popcorn. When I’m feeling indulgent, I’ll cook Irish oats and old-fashioned oats in a combination of whole milk and water, à la April Bloomfield’s English porridge. Lately, though, I’ve been keeping my oatmeal healthy: just water and then a few flavor-enhancing ingredients that make it feel special without making it too sugary or fatty.
Mushrooms are scary. Eat the wrong one, and it can kill you or make you think you’re Jesus (luckily, if you think you’re Jesus and it kills you, you can raise yourself from the dead). As a child, I absolutely loathed raw mushrooms in salads at pizza restaurants. That was my first impression of mushrooms: these spongy, weird, white things that ruin a very crisp experience. Blech.
I’m not sure what the sequence was. Let’s say it was this: we were going to Bellingham, Washington for Christmas (as we usually do) and just before we left, Tom Sietsema, of The Washington Post, ranked the best food cities in America and put Portland in at number one. Since Portland’s in between Bellingham and Los Angeles, it seemed like a good idea to maybe stop over there for a few nights before coming back. I pitched it Craig. He said “sure.” And then the great work began, the work of figuring out where oh where were we going to eat.
On New Year’s Day, I didn’t eat a salad, I didn’t hop on a treadmill, I didn’t write the annual letter to myself that I’ve been writing since I read about doing that in some magazine half a decade ago. This year, I grabbed the giant stock pot that sits on top of my oven and put it on the stove. Out of the freezer I pulled a bag of chicken backs that I cut off of chickens in 2015 and dumped them into the humongous vessel along with a whole onion, a whole carrot, a head of garlic cut in half, some bay leaves, peppercorns, and a handful of parsley leaves. I filled it all the way up with water (at least two gallons), turned the heat up to medium, waited for it all to come to a simmer, then turned it to low. Every so often, I’d skim, but for the next eight hours, I just let the chicken stock perk away.
If this year’s reading has a theme, it’s one delineated by Philip Roth quoting Kafka: “I believe that we should read only those books that bite and sting us. If a book we are reading does not rouse us with a blow to the head, then why read it?”
And so it was that I gave myself permission, this year, to put down books that just weren’t doing it for me. You’ll see them below. Life’s too short, I figured, to finish books just to finish them. If, a hundred pages in, I wasn’t in love, down it went with no regrets. The books that I did finish run the gambit, from cooly earnest (Marilynne Robinson, Emily St. John Mandel) to hilariously raw and Jewish (Roz Chast, Philip Roth). Let’s get to it.
My friend Toby grew up in Berkeley and whenever we see each other, we talk about all of the things we might cook together one day. It’s one of those conversations that happens over and over again but the plans never materialize, so at a certain point somebody has to say, “OK, are we doing this or not?” Which is exactly what I said last time that I saw him, pulling out my calendar (or, more accurately, my iPhone with the iCal app), forcing Toby to nail down a date. That date was last Saturday and Toby, showing off his Berkeley roots, promised to make sourdough bread from scratch. To which I replied: “Well, I guess then I’ll make cioppino!”
One cool thing about this new blog is that I don’t have to trouble myself with reinterpreting other people’s recipes—I can just point you in a direction and say, “Do what they say to do!” Except, in this case, I have one tiny quibble. So the recipe that I done made is my friend Deb’s Coconut Brown Butter Cookies. My quibble is that I don’t actually think that you need to brown the butter (!!!). Let me explain.
Confession: we had an amazing dinner on Saturday night at Orsa & Winston here in L.A. and when we left the restaurant, I forgot to ask for a copy of the menu (which changes every day). This is particularly tricky because their website doesn’t feature the menu that we ate and now I have all of these pictures of food and what I remember about them is pretty embarrassing. But you know what? This isn’t an official food blog, this is just my own personal blog, so if you’re mad that I don’t can’t remember things like “nasturtium blossom gastrique” you’ll just have to deal with it! After all, you’ll probably just scroll through the pictures anyway. (P.S. I wrote the restaurant an e-mail asking for the dish names, so when I hear back I’ll repost this post with the menu at the bottom.)
Tom Colicchio’s always like “you didn’t develop any flavor” on Top Chef and most people are probably like “what’s he talking about?” My quick answer is: “He’s talking about making things brown.”
Generally speaking, when you’re cooking something, you want it to turn brown (or, to use a prettier word, you want it to “caramelize.”) What that really comes down to is taking things further than you might otherwise feel comfortable. The hard part is if you take them too far, there’s no going back. So you’ve gotta get in there, hover over the pan, but don’t hover too much–if you stare, you’ll be tempted to stir, and that stops the browning. It’s a delicate dance, developing flavor, but if you do it the right way you can create a dish that’s way more dynamic than it has any right to be–like this dish of spaghetti with crispy chickpeas and preserved lemon.