Can we stop using the phrase “ethnic food” and just say “brown people food”, which is what we really mean? Nobody means Italian or French, even though those are ethnicities. The only thing that Ethiopian food has in common with Vietnamese food is that brown people eat it. So let’s just say brown people food.
What should we eat today? I’m really craving some brown people food.
You’ll find soy sauce and canned water chestnuts in the brown people food aisle.
I try to avoid brown people food because it tends to upset my stomach.
I lived in New York for 14 years — even now, it’s strange to conjugate the verb in the past tense. But then I left as suddenly as I came. I’d been talking about moving back to L.A. to be near my family for years. When my father was hospitalized at the end of April (he’s better now, thanks), it was very easy for the apple to pick up and return to the tree.
Packing and unpacking 14 years worth of stuff has been an intense, exhausting process. Whenever you move, you are forced to sort through all of the things that represented hopes you once had — the electric guitar that never came out of its blue fur-lined box, the ice cream maker, the avant-garde dress with sculpted shoulder pads, a plastic bag filled with various international bills and coins. Then you decide which dreams come with you and which get left behind.
I had thought about doing ALL THE THINGS! I have ever wanted to do in New York during my final weeks there, but I didn’t. Besides, I told myself, I’ll be back for a stay in July. I couldn’t bear to do a goodbye tour. New York is part of my DNA. How do you say goodbye to yourself?
But here’s where I sat today at a friend of a friend’s house, sipping mango lemonade and seltzer in a sun-warmed wicker chair in front of a blooming jacaranda tree in Beachwood Canyon. (I don’t even know where Beachwood Canyon is. I have to look it up on a map when I get a chance.) Down below, the neighbors across the street had put a ceiling fan out on top of their garbage can, and its wide wooden blades spun lazily in the breeze’s lick. Just left of the frame stood a house-tall rubber tree, its broad, perfectly ovate leaves like something out of a child’s chalk drawing. My friends’ toddlers had their own table out on the deck, tucked behind the long picnic table we adults sat at to enjoy a brunch of quiche, a lively salad, and the kind of fragrant ruby strawberries you can get everywhere in California.
I’ve been starting my mornings with a run around the neighborhoods I’m staying in, marveling at my hometown’s blowsy fecundity. A leisurely jog around my block alternates between the scent of night jasmine, baby pink tea roses, and snowy gardenias from a blooming bush as tall as I am. Jewel-toned bougainvillea pours down brick walls like winking sari cloth drying in the sun. The studded orange trees’ boughs shrug, ambivalent that nobody comes to unburden them of their heavy fruit. From my barrio in San Gabriel Valley to the sidewalk-less, steep curves of Bel-Air, the same sun shines hard upon all of L.A.
Diet: Had three bowls of Lucky Charms at 11pm last night. I swear, it’s like half marshmallows now.
Feeling: My legs are getting a bit stronger, I think. This is good. But I’ve got a lot of work to do.
Spring, are you really here to stay, or are you doing that deadbeat asshole thing where you tell us you’re here for good and then you leave us with evil winter and his corporal punishment? Nevermind, I’m glad that you’re back, don’t explain. No lobster gloves, no balaclava today!
I’m reacquainting myself with my gears. My friend Raymond says I shouldn’t be riding with the chain on the big front gear and the big back gear, which means the 2 on the front and the 1 on the back of my 12 speed. I risk breaking the chain. I did not know this! So I’m trying to keep myself in the middle range of the back gear and switch between the two derailleur thingies in front. (Apologies to you people who have actual vocabulary for these objects.)
I’m always happy to give pedestrians a wide berth and to slow down when people want to cross. And I do enjoy that downhill part on the Prospect Park Southwest side. But it can also be a little hairy. Today, there was an older couple trying to cross into the park right where momentum is increasing the cyclists’ velocity as they zip down the hill towards the lake. The lady was wisely standing back at the side of the road, but unwisely refraining from giving her husband shit for being a dummy. The man had daringly dashed to the first white line, a streak of paint which may divide two lanes for cars on the weekdays, but on a Saturday becomes the wispiest of abstract notions. When I rode past, he was just standing on that line like the last standing bowling pin eager to become a spare. I yelled, “What are you thinking, my friend?” which he probably heard as, “What rrr thttt…”
Some people want every meal to be made to order; once their food is in its finished state, it will never again see the inside of a refrigerator again. Hint: I am not one of those people.
I get anxious when parting ways with the last three tablespoons of stew, a picked-clean T-bone, or a Chinese takeout container half-filled with cold, hard rice. I have no shame asking the waiter to Drop. That. Plate. when one tries to clear the remains of ravaged crostini. I like food. I really like saving food.
For home economists like me, a meal tastes even better sauced with the satisfaction of knowing you salvaged what someone else might have tossed. In The Road, the protagonist in the fills up the bathtub with water in preparation for the post-apocalypse. With enough of that water and the contents of my always overstuffed cupboards, I’m pretty sure I could feed myself and some friends through three months of end times.
You probably could, too. The EPA says that we generate 34 million tons — as in 68,000,000,000 pounds — of food waste every year. I see it happen in my own house on a much smaller scale. I have a lot of storage space, and it’s packed to the gills with dried chiles, cornmeal, juniper berries, and other odds and ends that were used once and then left to age ungracefully in the back of the cabinet.
The idea for a reclamation potluck came up during a chat I was having with my like-minded pal, Rachel, extolling the virtues of making meals from those cupboard orphans. Wouldn’t it be great to have a potluck where you have to make something with the stuff you already have in the house?, we thought. This would be especially fruitful for us food editor/writer types, as we tend to squirrel away weird samples and fancy food stuffs into the backs of our pantries and freezers.
The rules for a Reclamation Potluck:
Use something you already have in your fridge or cupboards.
Cook the kind of thing you would normally eat for dinner — no need to get fancy
Share with your friends
And you know what? The idea seemed to bring out our cooking friends’ A game. Rachel made a huge pan full of tangy grits plumped up with a broth made from random cheese rinds, along with cider-vinegary black-eyed peas, rich with andouille sausage. Francis brought some marrowy, meaty beans made with beef bones and rendered salami fat, which he talked up on Twitter for the half hour prior to actually coming to the party. When he finally arrived, he put them on the stove to rewarm, stuck the handle of a spoon into the pot, and held it out for me, imploring, “Just taste the FAT, man; that’s just the FAT.”
JJ took some leftover frozen pork belly gaeng hang lay and threw it together with vegetables and thin rice noodles. He was humble and unassuming about it, but the dish was spectacular. You’d never have known that the sweet, tender, fatty pork, stewed with fragrant spices and plenty of whole kaffir lime leaves, had been resurrected from a cryogenic state. It reminded me of my dad’s nightly dinners, in which he’d mix leftover stir-fries into a bubbling broth with a packet of ramen; A toothsome noodle can revive anything.
Obvious benefits include clearing out your pantry to make room for new stuff, not letting food go to waste, and seeing friends. We covered a broad range of cuisines and flavors, which is one of the things about a reclamation potluck you just have to embrace:
For my part, I’ve been dying to use more of these salt-packed anchovies that have been sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to be interested in puttanesca sauce again. I also figured that, as the host, I could provide some greens for what was sure to be a starch-heavy table. This bagna cauda recipe is loosely based on one by Suzanne Goin in Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I really upped the anchovy count and decreased the amount of butter. All the salt is in the sediment, so be careful when you salt to taste. Any leftovers can be tossed into a salad the next day. If you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll also have reclamation leftovers to pad out your meal.
Bagna Cauda with vegetables
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 stick butter
15-20 salt-packed anchovies, soaked, deboned, filleted, and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Vegetables for dipping, such as fresh radish, endive, blanched cauliflower, blanched broccoli, blanched carrots, boiled fingerling potatoes, blanched artichoke heart
Maldon sea salt
Heat olive oil and butter over very low heat until the butter is melted. Add anchovies and stir until they dissolve into the oil. Add garlic and thyme and cook for just one minute longer, being careful not to brown the garlic. Taste for salt and add as needed. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice in there.
Squeeze more lemon on your vegetables. Sprinkle with Maldon. Serve the sauce with a spoon so it can be spooned over the vegetables. Reheat as needed.
For more inspiration, I highly recommend Tamar Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal. It’s a modern handbook for home economists, full of lots of brilliant dinner renewal tips.
Diet: Vegetables in bagna cauda, leftover chopped liver. Iron and nutrients, like a champ.
Feeling: Optimistic. And a tiny bit saddle sore.
It’s on! Raymond and I talked about doing five laps at Prospect Park. I huffed and puffed up that cursed Park Slope and felt a little less confident about completing five turns. After two laps, I tried to negotiate down to three but ultimately rallied for four when I realized that I’d been in the wrong gear during the 2nd climb.
The worst part is this irritatingly tenacious cold weather. The padded tights weren’t that successful at keeping my calves warm. My beloved lobster gloves were a bit too toasty, but somehow I managed to lose all of my right-hand gloves and am now the annoyed owner of four left-hand gloves. I’m like the Isotoner Michael Jackson.
But I refuse to buy another pair of gloves. I am done with you, winter!
I spent part of my morning on the top floor of the main New York Public Library at 42nd St. and 5th Ave. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS FREE, PEOPLE? There are lamps, chandeliers, windows taller than some people’s apartments, wi-fi, and loads of BOOKS that you can summon a (civil) servant to retrieve. The chairs are big and wooden and don’t roll around. To work in that silent cavern is utter bliss.
Oddly, many tour groups roll through the room with their DSLRs and camcorders. I wanted to yell, “HEY! YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO A DRIVE-BY! YOU KNOW YOU CAN TAKE A SEAT AND BASK IN THE READING ROOM’S GLORY LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, TOO, RIGHT?” But I didn’t. You know, ’cause I was in the library.
Why in the world would you ever wait for a grotty table at a crowded Starbucks when you could come here and spread all your belongings out over a long wooden table like a queen? LIKE A QUEEN, I tell you.
So I was doing a little research and came upon this little passage in the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking. I have no idea if it’s still in the most recent edition, but it made me laugh:
Also known as MSG, this substance has recently been revealed as the cause of the allergic reaction known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome which causes untoward physical side-effects in some people.
Ha! So then I was like, that’s not a real thing, is it? And, actually, I found Chinese Restaurant Syndrome listed on MedLine Plus, the National Institute of Health’s own medical dictionary site. The entry was last updated on October 14, 2012. The NIH says studies have not conclusively linked MSG to Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (though I really don’t see how you can legitimize the syndrome and not legitimize the connection to MSG. What else could it be?)
My favorite part of the entry is that an alternative name for the syndrome is “Hot dog headache”. That sounds like a euphemism for the repudiation of a sexual advance.
UPDATE: My friend Eszpee points out thatModernist Cuisinecalls bullshit on the anti-MSG crusade:
“Alas, the bottom line is that science has found no health effects due to MSG consumption at the levels in which it is present in food.”
(For the record, I am very confident in my ability to pick out food with MSG in it. My mouth dries up like it’s full of cotton balls. But perhaps I should put this to the test.)
UPDATE 2: Ooh! Ooh! Now if you, like me, are kinda curious about how one cooks with MSG, here’s an interesting discussion on Chowhound and a sort of oddball post on Serious Eats about how much to use in addition to your regular seasoning. (Basically, very, very little. Like, a pinch for every two servings. And lay back on the salt/soy sauce if you do use it.)
FREE advice! You just have to deal with my crankiness.
I am not here to admire your taste in hex colors or to click through your clever sections. And stop autorotating through your image galleries, because these are not photos of Sports Illustrated babes in bikinis and I am not a teenage boy needing to loop through them, hands-free*. I want information and I want it now so I can get my ass off my computer and into a seat at one of your tables. PLEASE TAKE MY ADVICE.
1. No music. NO MUSIC. NO MUSIC. NO MUSIC.
2. Include a map, for the love of God. Put a map on it, preferably a Google map. Include a link out to the larger map on Google Maps so I can get directions.
3. Address and phone number as text. Make your contact info TEXT, not part of an image, so I can email that shit to my friend who is meeting me there or call directly from my phone. Put it in the footer or the header so I can always find it, no matter what page I’m on.
4. Mobile optimize! Speaking of phones, I bet 40%+ of your traffic comes from mobile. Prioritize your mobile site.
5. Show me your interiors. Actually, some pictures of the dining room would be nice so I know what I’m getting into, whether or not my friends will fit, whether or not the table next to me will overhear me talking about my alarming rashes. I also want to know if you have a garden, and what your garden looks like, so please show me.
6. Hours. Put your hours in, preferably in the header or footer like the address and phone number, as long as they aren’t too complicated. And if it’s near a holiday, put your holiday hours on your home page, even if you are still going to be open.
*A postscript from my friends on Facebook — kill the interminable Flash intro. It doesn’t work on Apple devices, and nobody wants to see it, anyway.
Feeling: Pear-shaped. My shoulder meat is trying to abscond with my chin.
Well, at least I got on the bike today. I spent the morning shlepping groceries from the store in preparation for our 25-person brunch (unaffiliated with St. Patrick’s Day). (Tangent: F this winter. F THIS WINTER. I am so, so, so over it, as are my poor, gloveless digits, which nearly fell off during my five-block journey to the supermarket.) La Doug did most of the cooking for this one. I was happy to nosh myself into a totally unearned carb coma. When Doug first told me the menu, I was like, there’s no way we are going to need all that food. However, we managed total high glycemic decimation. We’re awesome?
Like really fresh-squeezed orange juice. My tender legs hauled probably 30 lbs. of oranges in my trusty Ortlieb panniers, so that’s got to count for something. Doug wanted the oranges for fresh-squeezed orange juice, which is the kind of thing that I would NEVER think to do. I love fresh orange juice, I do. But you haul 30 lbs. of oranges into your house and squeeze maybe 4 lbs. of juice out with a five-piece contraption that needs to be cleaned by hand; then the skin and pith and pulp fill the trash bin, which means you have to take the trash out at least once before your guests even arrive. My lazy preference is to buy Odwalla or something like it, because that tastes perfectly fine to me — especially with a chaser of all-that-time-I-saved. (Even better than that would be getting fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of the Mexican grocers in our neighborhood, where you can often get a gigantic foam cup filled for only $5.)
But this is precisely why Doug and I make such a good kitchen team. His idea of a dinner party is an elaborate, plated, 11-course orgy with themed tablecloths and placecards; my idea of a feast at home is one in which all cooking happens in one pot, and guests are free to serve slop a scoop onto their plates their own damn selves. In real life, here’s how our kitchen personalities play out: when he has to turn his attention to a white chocolate habanero ice cream that refuses to set, I can swoop in and improvise a simpler salad to serve to patiently waiting guests; and my participation in his culinary choreography teaches me that I am a lot more capable of fancy timing and service than I think I am. He drags me along for the extra ten miles when all I think I’m capable of is five, and I push him forward with practical tactics when his ambition has surpassed his energy.
Back to my sad face cycling — the only reason I got my mileage up to 1.5 instead of 0.8 miles is that the orange haul left no room for milk, and I had to go back to pick up Rice Krispies for the waffles. Rice Krispies?, you are asking, intrigued. Yes! It’s the special ingredient in one of the many ingenious recipes in the Cook’s Country Cookbook, which is Doug’s absolute favorite go-to book. (There’s a newer edition available through Amazon here, but I don’t know if this recipe is in there.)
Light and Crispy Waffles from Cook’s Country: The recipe calls for beaten egg whites, nothing unusual there, but it requires milk, not buttermilk, eschews butter for vegetable oil (a common Cook’s trick), and uses 3/4 cup of cornstarch “to combat excess moisture.” But the totally brillso bit is that you add a cup of Rice Krispies to the batter. Doesn’t matter that they get soggy in the batter — through some awesome alchemy, they add secret pockets of snap, crackle, and pop, but don’t at all mar the deeply caramelized, perfect grid exterior. (Okay, I nearly burnt the one in the picture, but it was still delicious.) We use a Cuisinart Round Waffle Maker, which we set to 3. Nonstick surface and a well-oiled batter means we didn’t have any problems with sticking, even when one of the guests overfilled the grid, spilling batter down its sides. We also doubled the recipe without any problems.