Journal entries from May 2014

Thai After Thai

“The food’s so hot!” said the people at the Washington bookstore, Politics and Prose,  when I told them I was heading to dinner at Little Serow.  “And you’ll have to wait forever; they don’t take reservations.”

It was late when I got there.  A cold rain was falling too, which may be why there was no line.  As for heat - after dining at scruffy raucous Night + Market in L.A., and the even more intense Kin Khao in S.F., this D.C. restaurant seemed positively tame and rather elegant.  The food is also completely delicious, the flavors fresh and distinct, so if the rumors have been keeping you away, don’t hesitate another second.  There is not, I don’t think, another restaurant quite like this one.

Spare, modern, understated, the dining room is a kind of subterranean bunker with the kitchen at one end. A communal table dominates the center of the room.  Earnest young women in vintage dresses lean across the table to eagerly explain every nuance of the Northern Thai menu as they set out baskets of sticky rice and huge bowls of vegetables arranged as lovingly as flowers. 

The set menu is served family style.  It changes weekly and offers no substitutions.  You probably won’t want them.

Nam prik
I love that the nam priks - or what are called jaeows in Laos - are finally getting their moment in American restaurants.  The complex pounded chile pastes I learned to make in Laos are served wtih huge baskets of sticky rice. In Luang Prabang they’re the staple food, eaten three times a day, often with nothing else. The ones I had there were fiery hot, as if they're trying to convince you that you've had more to eat than you actually did. The nam prik at Little Serow, served with great puffs of pork skin, was more salty than hot, with electric jolts of tamarind and anchovy runninng through the vegetable. 

This soup uses snakehead fish - the invasive species that is worrying the fishermen of the Potomac. The smoothly sedate soup has notes of wild ginger and lime leaf.

Pork cheek, springy fresh noodles, rice powder.


Catfish cooked with the spices of the Lanna people (they live up north near Chiang Rai), topped with mountains of fried shallots. You use the cabbage on the side is to scoop up this delicious mixture.


Tofu, cilantro root (classic Thai usage), peanuts.



Duck, duck egg, mountains of basil.


Pork ribs in Thai whisky with the suprising addition of dill.


Coconut milk, sticky rice. An elegant parting gesture. The petit four of this Thai menu.



Time for Dinner

One of the great joys of being on book tour is the chance to eat in fantastic restaurants across the country. Sometimes I did it with friends, but often I just went out by myself, sat at the bar, and made new ones. Meeting all those new people made every city more exciting.. 

Now that I'm back home, I'm still finding new friends in restaurants.  I might even get the chance to share a a meal with you. McNally Jackson booksellers run a great program that brings authors and readers together to enjoy good food, good wine - and each other.  Please join me! June 8th at Contrada restaurant. 

More info here


Another Amazing Toronto Meal in Toronto

It didn't sound like much. Bar Buca. Didn't look like much either: the bottom of a highrise building with a sign so small you barely know the place is there. Inside it doesn't exactly trumpet its greatness; a coffee bar, an open kitchen, tall stools clustered around raised tables.

Then I looked at the menu. And looked again.  I've heard of most of these dishes, but I've never seen most of them outside of Italy. I wanted to try everything. 


Gamberetti. As fried shrimp go, these don't look promising. They look like they spent too long in the fryer.  Looks are deceiving: the crust is crisp and greaseless, the shrimp inside juicy and barely cooked. The color of the batter comes from the n'duja that's been folded in, giving them a strong meaty jolt of heat.  The black powder on the plate?  Rosemary ash.


Tigelle. The menu calls these "Bolognese skillet buns," but I know them as a classic snack from Modena. Inside the crisp little slices is cunza,  lardo whipped with rosemary and oil until it's nothing but a fluff of flavor.

Sardella calabrese, a Calabrian dish that was once known as "poor man's caviar." It used to be made with infant anchovies or sardines that were left to ferment in the sun, then mixed with chiles into a salty, addictive substance. To protect the fishery the use of sardines and anchovies has been prohibited since 2010, and now sardella's  made with smelt. I couldn't tell the difference. The burrata and olive oil on top temper the flavors, softening the impact of the salt. 

Stigghiole is another classic dish, this time from Palermo.  Lamb caul and scallion are wrapped inside intenstine. I wish I could say that I loved it, but I had a hard time eating it in Sicily, and this one struck me as absolutely authentic. 


Raw artichoke salad with buffalo yogurt, bottarga, horseradish. It tastes as fresh and lovely as it looks.


Dandelion and blood orange in a pungent Caesar-like dressing, topped with a fragile lacy crisp of  bread.

Fennel salad, puffed veal tendon, red onion, olives, cheese.  A salad with character.


Arrosticini: Ewe’s meat, aged ricotta, grilled lemon.  Rare, tender, completely delicious. 

Afterward we had the most delicious macchiatos. They were made with buffalo milk. Of course.

And did I mention that Bar Buca is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.? Good thing I don't live in Toronto; I'd probably live there.  


open 7 am. to 2 am.


Eating the Landscape

I sat there, looking down at this plate, thinking, "I'm eating dirt."  Except, of course, they call it soil. Sounds so much better.

It would be easy to make fun of Actinolite, a small earnest Toronto restaurant. Until, that is, you taste Justin Cournoyer's food. It is unique. Thought-provoking. Delicious. If you approach it with an open mind, suspend disbelief and simply eat what's on the plate, munching upon herbs and leaves, grass and hay, you will discover an entirely new range of flavors.  You eat the roots, you eat the stems, you find that dirt is very tasty. 

Cournoyer has named his restaurant for the small northern town where he grew up, hunting, fishing and foraging. Proud of his heritage, he puts it right onto the plate.  This, he seems to be saying, is what Canadian food can be.  Dining in this small, spare restaurant was, for me, like entering a dream, a place where all my senses were heightened. A few impressions.

Bread. Olive oil. Butter infused with hay. As a first offering this trio is a statement. Pay attention, it tells you. Nothing here is unimportant.


"Radish," they call the dish at the top. Carrots. Soil. Grass. Eating it with my fingers I am a child again, crouching in the garden, devouring everything I find.  When I was small I loved the scent of new-mown grass and always ate it, hoping it would taste the way it smelled.  Now I'm eating grass again, and this time it tastes wonderful.  I'm acutely aware of each distinct flavor. And for just a moment I am back in Laos, where everything that can be eaten, is. 




The asparagus is sturdy, almost crisp, and yet entirely tender.  The puddle of nettle - so subtle. The lovely bright green spruce tips, a leap of flavor.  The taste of the flowers: colt’s foot, an intense, almost sunny flavor, and the delicacy of violets.  A little dollop of soured cream.



Not surf and turf, but soil and turf. Bright orange sea urchins are enfolded in cucumber peel, which works a bit like seaweed. The interior of the cucumber, dehydrated, rehydrated, completely reimagined, lays along the side. The dusting of buttermilk powder is a jolt: it is ice cold.




The egg has been cooked at 63.5 degrees for an hour and a half, until it is perfect, the yolk trembling inside the barely solid container of the whites. Touched with a fork it becomes an instant sauce for an entire bouqet of foraged flavors: ramps, lovage, something minty. Eating this I suddenly imagine myself running through a forest.  



What a wonderful fish!  Firm. Tight flesh. Its sweetness underlined by the pleasant bitterness of wild watercress, the slightly citric taste of knotweed.  Hovering over it all the delicate surprise of maple.




So gently cooked they're like condensed clouds floating above a landscape of sturdy greens. 


 Curds and Whey.

More gesture than food.  A humorous nod to dessert. A light tangle of textures. The kitchen's wave goodbye.



A Few Fantastic Tastes along the Way: L.A. and S.F.

More notes from the road.  I ate my way around the West Coast, in between book appearances. Some nights I had no time to grab a meal, and simply went sneaking off for snacks at random moments. These are some of the flavors I most enjoyed:


Uni pasta, sitting at the bar at Osteria Mozza. A completely delicious surprise - as was the fact that the stranger sitting next to me turned out to be a friend. The joy of serendipity.


Suckling pig ravioli in fonduta, at the bar at Cotogna. Soft sweet meat in a gentle puddle of melted cheese. So fine.


A medley of gorgeous spring vegetables, from the Quince kitchen.


Chef Michael Tusk with fresh pasta at Cotogna.  And then the result....

This is pasta as it should be: toothsome, with real integrity.


Another night, another restaurant.  This time Boulevard, where everything was wonderful but this fried soft shell crab was served with bacon slaw that continues to haunt me. Hands down the best coleslaw I've ever tasted.


This too from Boulevard: a soft pool of melting Burata paired with tomatoes so fresh they tasted as if they'd just been pulled from the earth. On the side, a counterpoint of crunchy little croutons wrapped in crisped pancetta. 


Afterward we went on to eat even more at Kin Khao. How could we possibly continue eating? It was 2 a.m. - the restaurant's open late - and there's always room for khao man gai!


Especially when it's served with real Sriracha:


The next day, in Santa Rosa, Spinster Sisters served up the sweetest, most concentrated carrot soup I've ever encountered.  Topped with harissa oil and cilantro cream, it was truly memorable.


Then it was on to Vancouver - another fantastic food city. I ate so much. And so well. Stay tuned.


A Truly Great Meal

It might have been the company. We were happy together.

But when I found myself  closing my eyes on the very first bite so I could concentrate on the intricate tangle of tastes and textures in my mouth, I knew I was in for a wonderful journey. I sat, eyes shut, following the flavors as they slowly faded. When I opened them again I saw that he had also closed his eyes. 

I hadn’t expected this.  The last meal I had at Benu, perhaps three years ago, was very nice, but it did not begin to prepare me for tonight. Walking in, through a calm garden into the spare elegance of the dining room, I was impressed by the voluptuous quiet. It is like entering a Japanese temple.  I sat down and ran my hands across the dark wood of the table, appreciating its size, its distance from the other diners.  Benu offers, among other things, the luxury of privacy. You are aware that others are also dining here, but they do not intrude.

I sit in the hush of the room, enjoying the tactile pleasure of the flat black oval of wood that anchors my napkin. I pick up a glass, amazed at its fragility. Then  that first bite...

If it is possible to pack more intensity into a single spoonful, I have yet to experience it. 


I dip my spoon into this tiny bowl, scoop up the thousand year old quail egg with its funky, mysterious flavor, and encounter a jolt of ginger, the smoothness of the warm potage. 


Astonishing! One minuscule mouthful that goes crackling into the mouth.  A tiny oyster, slick and soft, is wrapped in a casing of dried pork belly and zapped with kimchi. The ingredients do a little tango in the mouth, dipping and swaying as the flavors leap across each other.  


Who know celery could be so sexy?  Add anchovy and peanuts, and you get crisp, crunch and salt in one tiny bite. 

A new texture. A change of flavor.  This trembling little spoonful, sunflower tofu, is all suave subtle smoothness. 

Another tiny but intense bite. The sliver of dried xo sausage is so thin you barely feel it in your mouth. But the flavor lasts, lingering like the final note of a flute whose sound you feel long after the music itself is gone.



On the menu this is called “salt and pepper squid.” On the plate it looks like a brooch you might pin to your dress.  In your mouth it is... astonishing.



Who would imagine wrapping a long prawn in jellyfish, and then embellishing it with caviar and horseradish?  It tastes even better than it sounds.



How to describe this? It looks innocuous, but it somersaults into your mouth, a medley of crisp textures. Is it mimicking shark fin soup?  Perhaps.  But this wild bamboo fungus has a texture I’ve never known before, and I find myself dipping my spoon in again and again, eager for one more taste. 


They call this “porridge,” so how could I have possibly imagined this little bit of poetry on the plate? Hidden inside is vivid orange sea urchin, the flavor as bright as the color.


Pig head
 Pig head in its most elegant incarnation.

Shao lin bao
 There is a kind of magic to ordinary Shanghai soup dumplings, their liquid filling wrapped inside pasta as thin as butterfly wings. But these, which hold lobster roe are especially joyful.


  Sea bream

This small, shining golden sea bream, with its crown of lily bulbs and spring onions, is infused with the flavor of dried tangerine peels. It couldn’t possibly taste as lovely as it looks. But it does. 




Dried, aged abalone from 2008. It tastes like nothing else on earth. The flavor has a kind of sherry richness, the texture is both soft and resilient. Everything that’s come before has been building to this moment, preparing the palate for this stunning jolt of flavor.  It is the high point of the meal. 

 Finally the meat portion of the menu: quail with olive, dandelion, mustard. Followed by beef braised in pear juice.  


And finally dessert. First, sorbet in sake lees. Then this rather amazing yuba - tofu skin - with almond milk and white chocolate. Think burrata - and then think again. 

I haven’t even mentioned the bread, which was another astonishment: the crust crisp, the inside soft, served with this beautiful butter drenched in the lightest honey.

Corey Lee and his kitchen are doing something remarkable at Benu, and they get wonderful support from the dining room staff.  Sommelier Yoon Ha’s pairings are quirky and brilliant; the wines and beers he selected acted like a chorus, humming softly behind each dish.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a meal this much.



From the Archives: Another WWII Recipe

From the time of rationing: How to make one egg, a handful of cheese and a half cup of cereal into an "exotic" dinner for six. Is it the tomato sauce that's supposed to make this dish Mexican? Or perhaps it's those optional olives.



1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Grape-Nuts Wheat-Meal
3/4 cup grated American cheese
1 egg, well beaten
Spanish Sauce

Heat milk in saucepan. Add salt; then pour in cereal very gradually, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and cook and stir 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1/4 cup cheese and egg and blend. Pour into shallow pan. Chill. Place spoonfuls or 2-inch squares in shallow baking dish and cover with Spanish Sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and paprika. Bake in hot oven (400° F.) 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Spanish Sauce. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons fat in skillet. Add 3 tablespoons each chopped onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook slowly until onion is golden brown. Add 1 1/2 cups stewed tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and dash of pepper. Cook slowly until sauce is thickened. If desired, add a few sliced stuffed olives to sauce.


A Small Find


On book tour there are always small pockets of time when you find yourself wandering around your host city, popping in and out of little shops.  When I'm in Seattle I always try to make my way to Melrose Market, for some of the wonderful oysters (and geoducks, and spot prawns) at Taylor's Shellfish. But before I sit down to feast on seafood, I go upstairs to the quirky little shop called Butter Home. They always have interesting objects.

This time it was this cocktail game.


It's a small jar containing a set of tiny cubes. Five are the colorful ingredient dice on top.  Then there are these black and white dice: they tell you what mixers to add, how to prepare the drink, and which glass to use.


It's all very silly. But I can imagine that it would really shake up a slow party.



Notes from the Road: Dallas, Seattle, L.A.


The sun was shining in Seattle. The flowers were in bloom. In clear weather, this city is almost heartbreakingly beautiful. Wandering through the Pike Place Market I came upon these flowers.

And these....


and these


and these...


which made me think of the lovely dinner I'd eaten at Lark the night before.  I've always loved Lark for its simplicity, seasonality and bold flavors, but after a particularly vegetable-deprived week on the road, the menu was a special treat.  I started with some oysters, then a raw artichoke salad, the tender vegetables lightly dressed in lemon, topped with shards of Parmigiano cheese and tossed with anchovies and wonderfully crisp croutons.   Then we had the most wonderful farro - each plump, nutty grain popping in my mouth until I started thinking of it as caviar of the forest. The farro mingled with fava beans and spinach, while a warm river of mascarpone flooded the middle. 

We had oysters, with just a hint of yuzu. Charred octopus was just a little chewy, with crisp edges; it was enlivened with bacon and zapped with peppers.  It was a perfect little meal.

The night before I'd been in Dallas, sharing a snack with my friend Dean Fearing.  He liked it when I said that all I wanted was some buffalo tacos, and joined me in eating these fantastically flavorful,  - delightfully messy tacos.  Fearing has a big personality, and there's nothing modest about the way he mixes flavors; these tiny tacos, with their pickled onions, cheese and Sriracha really pack a punch.



But I digress. Back to Seattle.  I ate nothing that wasn't wonderful while I was there. In fact, I liked my lunch at Dahlia Lounge so much that it was gone before I remembered to take pictures. When the salad came out I looked down at the plate thinking - oh the usual dull mesclun. Then I took a bite. Each one of the greens, grown at Prosser Farm, had stunning integrity.  Each added its own subtle flavor. There must have been a dozen different leaves in there, from nepitella to baby lettuces and herbs, but it was an absolutely perfect expression of a Northwest spring. It was followed by salmon - gorgously fresh and beautifully cooked - that made most of the salmon I've been eating lately seem pathetic.

But despite all the great food I ate in Seattle, the biggest thrill was this:


Live spot prawns, fished from the tank and eaten raw at Taylor Shellfish in Melrose Market.  There is nothing quite so subtle as these little creatures when they're eaten with nothing more than a squirt of lime.  You pick up a shrimp, give the head a quick twist, then suck down the sweet, transparent meat.  Spot prawns must be alive when you get them - they deteroriate with stunning speed once dead - which means them a strictly local treat. And a short-lived one: the season lasts a mere few weeks. The flavor is like nothing else I've tasted; much more subtle than any other creature that emerges from the sea.

Now I'm in Los Angeles.  The trip here started with this delicious little tidbit from the Hungry Cat:


Johnnycake topped with smoked whitefish, salmon roe and creme fraiche.  I could have eaten a dozen. I'll admit that I missed most of lunch, since I was giving a talk, but it made me yearn to go back.

Last night we had a party and the Guerilla Taco Truck showed up.  I've gone on about how much I like these tacos in the past, so I won't repeat myself.  Just let me say that they did not disappoint. And if there's a sweet potato taco anywhere on the planet that can match the one Will Avila cooks up, I'll be absolutely astonished.  

We ended last night at the new Night + Market Song (Song means two in Thai) in Silverlake.  It's a unique restaurant with guaranteed status as a cult favorite.  Painfully bright with orange and magenta walls that vibrate until you're almost blind, it's a true adventure in eating. Chris Yenbamroong understands that he need make no concessions to the American palate. And he doesn't. The larb has liver and bile mixed in, as it would in Northern Thailand or Laos, until is musky, dark, richly funky.  There's a pork blood soup served with cracklings, herbs and fried garlic that leaves your lips a ghoulish red.  It's all steamy and exciting - like a trip to a street stall somewhere in deepest Thailand. But what I like best are the nam priks and the jaeows - pounded condiments of stunning complexity that you use as a dip for vegetables, for fried slices of eggplant, and best of all, for the warm balls of sticky rice that are the staple food in that part of the world.  

Restaurants like this are what make food in Los Angeles so exciting.  It's a chance to take a trip without needing a passport. 


How to Pack a Carry-On Bag for a Three Week Trip

When you're on book tour, you're in a different city every day.  Most days you have to get up early - really early - to make a 6 or 7 a.m. flight.  (Two days ago I had a 5 a.m. flight, which meant getting up at 3.)  And you're always in a hurry; that 5 a.m. flight was late, which meant I started the first interview of the day in a cab, then walked into the radio station, still talking, to take my seat.

It requires a little strategy.  You don't have time to wait for luggage, so you have to carry on.  And you need a seat in the front of the plane, so you can get your suitcase into the overhead bin before they run out of space.

When I found out that the tour for my novel, Delicious! was more than three weeks long, I panicked. I was going to be in wildly different temperatures (so far the range has been from the thirties to a high of 96). How was I possibly going to manage to get what I needed into a carry-on bag?

I'm ten days in, and so far it's working.  Here's what I've got with me (in addition to two pairs of shoe, a pair of sandals, underwear, a curling iron and the usual toiletries).


Three pairs of black pants (one J-Jeans, two Uniqlo) and two jackets (one Zelda, one very ancient Yamamoto).


Five tops (1 Indian silk, 1 Dosa, 1 washable silk, 1 Tory Burch tunic, 1 Moroccan striper).


Three tee shirts (all J. Crew).


One skirt, one dress (Theory), one dress (vintage).


Assorted jewelry, mostly antique.

And finally, the ubiquitous and very useful puffer (Uniqlo).  Airplanes are always freezing - and it doubles as a pillow.



And Now.... A WWII Recipe that's Delicious!

In my novel, Delicious!, Lulu's mother engages in a Thrift Contest with the other women working at the Goodyear Plant; the idea is to reward the woman with the most patriotically spare lunches.  It's an idea I came upon in one of the Department of Agriculture pamphlets, which the government put out to encourage people to ration their food. The prize was an entire ham, an almost unheard of luxury during the war.

But of course once you'd won your ham, it would have been your patriotic duty to parcel it out in little bits, making it last.  I went through all my WW II cookbooks, looking for thrifty ways with ham. And there, hidden among the Peanutbutter Lima Loaves, the Liver Gems and Eggplant Puddings, I finally found a recipe that sounded like something I'd like to eat.  I was so excited that I ran right into the kitchen and made a batch.  They're good!

Ham Turnovers


½ cup finely chopped ham

2 tablespoons pickle relish

1 tablespoon milk

2 teaspoons mustard


1 cup flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons shortening

1/3 cup milk.

Preheat oven to 375.

Stir together filling ingredients.  

Mix dry ingredients and cut in shortening.  Stir in milk.  Roll out to a 16 inch square. Cut into 4 squares.

Put ¼ of ham mixture on each square, fold over into a triangle, press edges together and place on a greased baking sheet.  Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. 







Another Weird WW II Recipe

I found this recipe in a group of war time recipes torn from a magazine.  The page had a date, but the name of the magazine is lost to history. 

I tried it because I imagined Lulu, the little girl in my novel Delicious! finding this recipe and thinking she would try it.  "Mother will love this dish!" she would have said to herself when she read the ingredients.

She would have been right. Mother wasn't very adventurous, and she probably would have appreciated the inoffensive, eager to please nature of the eggplant.  But Lulu, I'm pretty sure, would have been bored. 


Eggplant Pudding

1 large eggplant

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ onion, minced (1/2 cup)

¼ teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

3 tablespoons cooked rice

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees 

Boil the eggplant in salted water, stirring occasionally until it is fork tender, 15 minutes. (I found it took half an hour, and even then it wasn't completely tender.)

Cut a horizontal slice from the top of the eggplant and carefully scoop out the eggplant with a spoon, leaving ¼ inch of pulp all around. Finely chop the pulp and set aside to drain.

Melt the butter in a skillet and sauté the onion, salt, a few grinds of pepper for 5 minutes.  Mix in the parsley. Transfer to a bowl until cool, and mix with the eggplant pulp, rice, egg yolks, and breadcrumbs. Moisten with a little cream if necessary. (I did not find it necessary; it was moist enough without the cream.)

Fill the eggplant shell with the mixture and bake for 25 minutes until golden.



Ever try to boil a whole eggplant?  A very strange process; it wanted to float like a boat, and I kept having to push it down to submerge it in water.  It took half an hour  to cook all the way through, not the 15 advertised minutes, and even then, it wasn't completely soft. Still, I managed to scoop out all the flesh.

It wasn't bad. But it was very bland, and having made it once I don't think I'd bother to do it twice. Lulu, I imagine, would have been disappointed that she didn't have something more delicious after all that trouble.  "Eggplant," she would have thought, "surely there are better things to do with it." And then she would have written to James Beard and asked for his advice.


A Few Random and Delicious Bites


A brief stop at The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, before going upstairs to tape Close Up at NY One with Sam Roberts.  I love the energy of this place, which is almost always packed with people tearing steamed lobsters apart with their fingers, slurping oysters at the bar, eating sushi or simply browsing the extensive seafood offerings. I thought I was just looking around, but when I saw whole sea urchins at the oyster bar, I couldn't resist. 

Even though they weren't as well-cleaned as they might have been, each fat orange lobe was sweet, sexy, singing of the sea.  It felt like the most indulgent treat - just the thing on a gray New York day.


How can something as simple as a broccoli rabe frittata be so satisfying?  Stopped in to meet some friends at The Breslin, thinking I'd have just a few bites of this puffy little egg cake before moving on. It turned out to be so delicious I had to order my own. Deceptively simple and utterly seductive, this was gently bitter, soft yet slightly crisp, spare and somehow rich.  I litterally couldn't stop eating it. Then I had to steal some of this spectacular Caesar salad, dripping with anchovies, larded with crisp croutons and wonderful finger food.



Wandering down Elizabeth Street on my way to the Leonard Lopate show, I walked by the new Black Seed Bagel.  I'd heard there was always a line. There wasn't. Impossible to pass up this opportunity to get in the door. It's a tiny place, spare and very crowded, and I stood for a while, studying the offerings.  In the end I decided to go old school. This is the #1.


I like the size of the bagel, the density, and the way each one is baked over fire. Such a relief not to be faced with those airy baseballs that pretend to be bagels in New York these days.  Small and compact, this one was delicious right out of the oven. But I can't help wondering what the bagels taste like once they cool down.  Next time I'll get some to go.

Traveled on to Boston, where I ate one of the most delicious sandwiches of my life: heaps of rare roastbeef with crisp shallots, cheddar and Thousand Island dressing on a lovely little brioche from Cutty's in Brookline. It was so delicious - and I was so hungry - that I'd eaten the whole thing before I thought to take a picture. But I'll be back for another.

But  here's my favorite flavor of the week.  


After our talk at the Brattle Theater, Barbara Lynch took me to B&G Oysters.  The oysters were perfect: cold, gorgeously opened, spilling with liquor. These clams, however, were even better. Fried Ipswich clams are my guiltiest pleasure. I've loved them my whole life. When the bellies are fried just right they turn into a kind of crisp, mysterious clam pudding. The B&G clams were so spectacular I ate two orders almost single-handedly, and I know I'll be thinking about them all week. I wish I'd eaten more when I had the chance.  

Just one of many reasons to go back to Boston. 



Things I Love: Real Popcorn


If you’ve stepped into a movie theater in the last twenty years, chances are you’ve been lured into buying a bag of day-glo popcorn. It's often delicious, especially when doused in that fake butter. But consider something I just learned: the oil that’s poured over the kernels before it’s popped can cause skin rashes in concentrated form. Unsettled yet? A medium bag of popcorn and a medium soda have the same number of calories as three Big Macs. It’s hard to imagine why.  But it certainly doesn’t make me want to eat the stuff.

But I love popcorn.  And so I make my own.

My favorite is Rancho Gordo red crimson popping corn. (I wish it popped red, but sadly it turns white with heat.) I haven’t been able to get it for an entire year, but I just discovered that it’s back in stock, and I can't stop making it.  This is popcorn with minimal husk, and it actually tastes like corn. Pop it on the stovetop in a little neutral oil, drizzle with real melted butter, and finish with smoked paprika and salt. Or grate some parmesan or cheddar cheese over the top (it clings). Refreshingly straightforward. Totally addictive. 



From the Forties: A Way with Green Tomatoes

Among the recipes I considered putting into my novel, Delicious!, this was one of my favorites. 

After Lulu harvested the last ripe Climbing Trip-L-Crop Tomatoes there were a lot of green ones left sitting on the vine.  In the cool of the Ohio Autumn, some simply never ripened.  But the war was on, everyone was using every edible bit, and Lulu didn't want to waste them. She went to her Department of Agriculture pamphlets and found they suggested this recipe for green tomatoes left on the vine.

What I love about this recipe is that it's a perfect example of what novice cooks had to contend with. This is exactly as printed in a pamphlet for wartime ration cooking. The recipe works.... but only if you fiddle with it. As a beginning cook, Lulu would have ended up with a liquid mess.  

Green Tomato Mincemeat

4 quarts finely chopped green tomatoes (about 30 tomatoes )

2 quarts peeled and finely chopped tart apples (about 8-10 apples)

1 pound raisins

4 tablespoons minced lemon or orange peel

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 ½ cups brown sugar

2 ½ cups sugar

¾ cup vinegar

½ cup lemon juice

Combine the tomatoes, apples, raisins, lemon or orange peel, cinnamon, salt, allspice, cloves, brown sugar, sugar, vinegar, and lemon juice in a large pot.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 2 hours.

If the mixture is still not sufficiently thickened, raise the heat and allow it to boil gently, stirring constantly until ready.


I tested the recipe as written and ended up with something sadly soupy. It certainly did not need those 2 cups of water. The apples, tomatoes, vinegar and lemon juice provide plenty of  liquid. I simmered it for a good two hours, which should have been enough.  Then, disgusted, I strained the liquid off, reduced it separately, poured it back into the pot and gently boiled the mixture, stirring constantly so it didn't burn.  

Would Lulu have known to do this?  Probably not. I think she would have simply sat there, staring at that sorry mess. 


The Weekend that Was

James Beard Award weekend in New York is always exhilarating and exhausting. Endless parties lasting late into the night.  Chefs filling up every restaurant.  Too much food. Too much wine.  I love it.

But the highlight of my weekend was a stroll around the lower east side, visiting my favorite food places with a group of new friends.  We began at Katz's - of course - and some of their tender, spicy, irresistible pastrami.  Just walking into that enormous room packed with raucous people makes me insanely happy.  The walls throb with that intense scent of smoke, salt, pepper, garlic, spices and then, somewhere, like a reverberating backnote, the richness of beef.

Afterward we went down the street to Russ and Daughters, where we ate - what else? - some herring,  while Niki Russ Federman told great stories about growing up in the shop she now runs.


Then it was on to Deluxe Foods, a fantastic Chinese market where we feasted on 


roast duck and the most delicious roasted pork belly.  Not to mention tendon, with its wonderful texture, and scallion chicken so soft and silky it literally melted in our mouths.  We ended with their spectacular just-made char shiu.

Then it was on to Di Palo's, Yhst-19848659287055_2250_68479096

where we drank wine and ate spectacular cheeses for a very long time.  A new discovery for me: Camembert di Bufala - a rich, runny cheese that seemed less like its namesake and much more like the infinitely more delicious Epoisses.

By then it was late, and dark, and I said good-bye to the group and walked up the street to Estella, where almost every table was occupied by someone who'd come to town for the Beard awards. (Restaurant people included Nick Kokonas (Alinea), Daniel Patterson (Coi), and Sean Brock (Husk, etc). 

We were all there because the food is so impressive. Fascinating flavor combinations and very precise and careful cooking.  My pictures, I'm sorry to say, are terrible: this mussel escabeche is the best of the lot, which tells you something.  This seemed more like a panzanella made with mussels than a true escabeche, but it was wonderful. Mussels

So was beef tartare, studded with crisp little bits of pungent sunchoke,  and kampachi tartare popping with tart tiny squares of apple and singing with yuzu.  There was a wonderfully musky aroz negro, dense with squid ink, and this celery salad, dotted with mint and cave-aged cheese:


and these lamb ribs scented with charmoula:


Lovely food. Lovely evening.

On Sunday, more food people gathered for a friends and family brunch at the new Russ and Daughters Cafe. It's a lovely place, respectful of its origins, lovingly put together (note the marble floors, the poppyseed wallpaper in the bathroom, the comfortable stools). The counter in front looks a innocent as an old-fashioned soda fountain, but it actually functions more like a bar where elaborate drinks are carefully concocted. This cherry shrub was shot through with hints of pepper:


The food is also very respectful of history. Lots of smoked salmon and herring. Some chopped liver. Matzo brei. Eggs. Not to mention the best rye bread I've ever eaten: dense with a deeply fermented flavor, this is bread that makes you understand why it's called the staff of life.  Made from an 80 year old starter, it is, literally, the taste of tradition.

The bread is perfect with this rich, smoky, delicous whitefish chowder: Soup

Leaving, we walked across the island in sunshine. Then, in the middle of Chinatown, sun still shining bright in the sky, it suddenly started to rain. Everyone looked up, startled, and laughed. We were wet by the time we arrived at Barbuto, where chefs drank endless glasses of rose, ate lovely little tidbits - and talked about where they were going to eat dinner.

Me?  I ended up at The Breslin with these people - and 20 or so other friends - eating this crisp little roast piglet. 


And just because I like this picture, here I am a week ago at the Time 100 Gala, toasting honoree Alice Waters.





Where I Write



Been doing a lot of interviews lately, and one of the questions that keeps coming up is this: "Where do you write?"

This is the answer: a little cabin in the woods in the foothills of the Berkshires. From my window I can look down at the pond below and the catskills off in the distance.  Deer come crashing through the trees. Birds perch on the roof. Occasionally a chipmunk hops up the steps and peers inside.

There's no internet, and the only heat is a wood-burning stove.  My daily ritual begins with building a fire, coaxing the flames to catch the logs, then making sure it doesn't die.  Amazing how much heat you can get from one small stove; on even the snowiest days, by the time dark falls it's so warm I have to open up the windows. 

It's peaceful in here.  I sit in this quiet place, waiting for the characters to come and talk to me, tell me what they're thinking. There is no place I would rather be. 



A WWII Recipe Classic

Woolton pie was THE dish that every British person thought of when remembering what they'd eaten during the war. Named after the Minister of Food, Frederick Marquis, 1st Lord Woolton, it was that beloved British savory, the meatpie - with no meat and no pie. What it had was lots of vegetables.

Lord Woolton was a great showman. He was often photographed eating his namesak dish with great apparent pleasure. 

Woolton Pie

The Official Recipe, as published in the Times of London, April 26, 1941 

Take 1 Ib each of diced potatoes, cauliflower, swedes (ie. turnips), and carrots; 

Three or Four spring onions;

One teaspoonful of vegetable extract and

One teaspoonful of oatmeal.


Cook all together for ten minutes with just enough water to cover.

Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking.

Allow to cool; put into a pie dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley and cover with a crust of potatoes or wholemeal pastry.

Bake in a moderate oven until the pastry is nicely brown and serve hot with brown gravy.


The American translation, as printed in many wartime cookbooks. This is the version Lulu would most likely have made.

Woolton Pie

1 lb potatoes

2 lb carrots

1 lb mushrooms

1 small leek

2oz margarine or chicken fat

2 spring onions

Salt, pepper, nutmeg, chopped parsley

Bunch of herbs made of 1 small bay leaf, 1 small spring of thyme, parsley and celery.


Peel the potatoes and carrots, and cut them into slices the thickness of an old penny. Wash them well and dry in a tea-cloth. Fry them separately in a frying pan with a little chicken fat.

Do the same for the mushrooms, adding the finely chopped onions and leeks.

Mix them together and season with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and roughly chopped parsley.

Fill a pie dish with this mixture, placing the bundle of herbs in the middle. Moisten with a little giblet stock or water. Allow to cool. Cover with a pastry crust made from half beef suet or chicken fat and half margarine.

Bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour.









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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.