There’s something wonderfully beguiling about Moroccan food. It has that tinge of the exotic with an Arabian nights, camels and belly dancers kind of feeling, but the ingredients are usually easily accessible and approachable. You don’t find things like dried fish flakes or chicken feet in Moroccan cooking (not that there’s anything wrong with these — they just usually necessitate an extra shopping trip.) It’s all the stuff of childhood food — cinnamon, carrots, pastry — used in new and surprising ways.
While I love me my couscous, merguez, tagine and harissa, my favorite Moroccan dish is bastilla (also B’steeya, pastilla, and any number of other arcane spellings). It’s a meat pie (originally made with pigeon, but you usually find a chicken version in the US) in a pastry crust sweetened with cinnamon and sugar. I first encountered Bastilla in Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour (a great beach book if you’ve never read it) and I was so intrigued by his mouthwatering description that I set out to make my own bastilla that week. At the time, I lived in a studio apartment in Manhattan with a stainless steel corner instead of a proper kitchen, and the bastilla recipe I found (from Claudia Roden’s wonderfully authentic book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, which I had enthusiastically checked out from the New York Public Library) was so time consuming and complicated (though ultimately delicious) that I swore off making it ever again, and confined my bastilla eating to restaurants.
Continue reading Rock the Casbah — Bastilla
I have a confession to make. I have not been entirely truthful with all of you. I have been cooking this summer, but not dinner, and not dessert. I have been making jam.
I understand jam making to be the latest trend among “hipsters” (google “hipster” and “canning” and you’ll see what I mean.) I never really thought of myself as a hipster, I mean, I’m certainly not a hippie because I don’t like hiking or Phish, and I can’t be a yuppie because it’s not 1987, so I turned to Urbandictionary.com to determine if I am, in fact, a hipster. A quick skim of the 138 definitions of hipster yields a person in their 20′s or 30′s (yes) who lives in Brooklyn (no), values “creativity, intelligence and witty banter” (yes), drinks a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon (no), sports “high cultural tolerance and a slight tendency towards intellectual arrogance” (yes), is too ironic for their own good (maybe), and is cooler than cool (heck no).
I am still confused.
What I am not confused about is this: making jam is a) fun b) easy and c) cool (which may be the hipster connection. I’m certainly not putting PBR into my jam). There’s something special about those little jars of homemade preserves, all lined up, ready to be eaten, or given away as gifts, or, if you have a packrat nature (like nobody I know, nosirree) to be stored in the pantry and gazed at lovingly. My husband makes fun of me, pointing out that I have an Ivy League education, am admitted to the Bar in two states, have a successful career and yet I am proud of making jam, something his great-grandmother did on a regular basis without much fuss. So sue me. I’m proud of my jam. I love my jam. I bid thee to go forth and make your own jam. You won’t be sorry.
Continue reading Jammin’ — Plum Jam
I’m not much of a summer cook. I like to cook the foods of cooler weather — spicy gingerbreads, hearty stews, root vegetables that stick to your ribs. Summer, at least in Los Angeles, is really to hot to do this type of cooking, and those foods are literally the last food on earth you feel like eating. It doesn’t help that in the summertime I can live on Bacon and Tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob, which, while providing an entirely balanced diet (what? That’s what I’ve had for dinner for the past 4 nights in a row!), is not so much the stuff of food blogs.
The problem, of course, is that summertime is when my local farmer’s market offers its greatest bounty. I am confronted with weekly heaps of Gaviota strawberries, Blenheim apricots, Elephant Heart plums, and the biggest, fattest blackberries you’ve ever seen. And while I do LOVE fruit (and my love cannot hold a candle to that of my husband and my child) sometimes I am compelled to buy more fresh fruit than even our family can eat. And so I am forced to cook, even in the summer.
Continue reading Summer Simplicity — Blackberry Galette
When people think of comfort food, they usually return to their childhood, and foods of the nursery. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle soup. The food of my childhood, while delicious, was not in the same vein. My mother was a child of California, and the 1970′s and 1980′s saw the rise of California cooking and a focus on health food. While I did have occasional macaroni and cheese, the foods I remember most vividly from early childhood are grilled steak, fresh cantaloupe, Caesar salad. Oatmeal cookies and Crystal Light lemonade on hot summer days by the swimming pool. Chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour and raw sugar. Lamb steaks with red wine and garlic. These are the foods that evoke childhood for me, but I would classify them as staples more than “comfort food”.
Although I do occasionally, in times of distress, turn to foods of my California childhood, namely whole wheat toast, either buttered or spread with soft avocado and salt and pepper, as an adult, I have had to create my own idea of comfort food, and the world is a different place than it was in 1978. What’s more comforting than a steaming bowl of pho? Or a dish of perfectly puckered soup dumplings? Or some green corn tamales, dripping with melted cheese? When I want quick comfort at home, though, I turn to okonomiyaki.
I first encountered okonomiyaki on a cold day in New York. I had heard about a tiny place in the East Village that made octopus balls, and being interested in any curiosity, I sought it out. It was tucked on a side street, and miniscule – even in NYC, my closet was bigger than this place, which consisted of a counter (for ordering, there was no room to sit) and a galley style kitchen. The menu was equally tiny, consisting of the sought out octopus balls, or takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. The takoyaki were good, but it was the okonomiyaki that really caught my eye.
Referred to variously as Japanese pizza or a pancake, it’s a common street food in Osaka whose name roughly translates to “As you like it.” There are some basic ingredients that don’t vary, but additional ingredients can vary widely from seafood to cheese. The okonomiyaki I make at home is really a few fresh staples that I always have around, plus a few traditional Japanese toppings which are inexpensive and store almost indefinitely, and it comes together easily and quickly — the perfect thing for a Wednesday night dinner.
Continue reading Small Comfort – Okonomiyaki
It’s the fourteenth of July, known in France as Le Quatorze Juillet and in America as Bastille Day. It’s a national holiday in France, celebrating the Revolution and its principles of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite. So what day would be better to return to the summer travel series and talk about Paris?
Is there any city more recognizable than Paris? From the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, the city is firmly embedded in many people’s imaginations — full of romance and possibility and beauty. And the thing about Paris is that it actually lives up to its reputation. It is beautiful, and romantic and glamorous. It’s also noisy and crowded and exciting and infuriating.
Gertrude Stein said, “America is my country, but Paris is my home town,” and I identify strongly with that sentiment. Although I grew up in Los Angeles, my parents are huge francophiles, and we spent a good portion of my childhood summers in Paris. We’d stay in an apartment, rather than a hotel, and live there for a month at a time. As a result, it’s a city that feels like home. I have a mental map of where I am in relation to the river, of the posh neighborhoods and the seedy ones. And Paris holds many special memories for me. I got drunk for the first time in Paris. I felt homesick for the first time in Paris. I learned to walk in Paris. And twenty nine years later, my daughter did as well. Continue reading We’ll Always Have Paris — Duck with Blackberry Sauce