Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dram slam: Scotch school

I’m a pretty lucky broad, Internet.  The universe has blessed me with such fun people in my little orbit who are always game to drag this dame hither and yon to events and experiences.  They are my conduits to a lot of joy!  It’s a downright ball, really.  Pretty often I find myself thinking, “How in the heehaw did I get so lucky to be the someone who is RIGHT HERE, right now?”*  Especially for someone like me who isn’t necessarily a primary initiator of fun.  I’m really more of a workhorse of fun.  I specialize in Fun Implementation, if you must know, but I sometimes need a spark of an idea from someone else before it dawns on me and I say, “Oh! Hey!  We should plan ____, everyone!”  I’m a firm believer in saying YES! to everything…the best times are usually had when the last thing you want to do is wash your dumb hair and dab on some sassy lip gloss**, but you do it anyhow and before you know it, it’s like THE! BEST! DINGDANG NIGHT! EVAAAARRRRR!  It’s true.  But when my cute gal pal Kit invited me to an Orange County Bartender’s Cabinet Scotch tasting event at 320 Main, the rad place where she flings delicious vittles to the people, I didn’t even bat one eye.  YES!  Well, maybe it was more like: YYEEEESSSSSSSSSSS!!!! + an awkward fist pump thing.  Nobody said I was cool, you guys.  Whatev.
So anyway, the OCBC is a collective of like-minded lovers and supporters of the art of the cocktail, and meets once a month where they all mingle and jaw about hooch and the perfect ice and elder flower simple syrups and concoctions and whatnot.  Exciting!  I love a cocktail, as you know, and I love me some whiskey (or whisky, if it’s from Scotland!  They don’t use the “e”, okay?  And they do not call it Scotch if it’s from Scotland, either.  Because it’s just whisky.  Duh.) so this was the perfect night for me.  And there were lots of people in fetching hats.  And interesting moustaches.  So debonair, you guys!  And 320 Main was such a gracious host.  They are not only power players in the world of artful mixologisting and reverence to the classic cocktail, but they're also renowned for their perfected homage to American comfort food.  There was a gorgeous short rib shephard’s pie.  And a glorious, delightful mac and cheese.  And it was a cold, dark night, so those drams*** of whisky and delicious food were the perfect belly warmers, I’ll tell you what. 
This night they’d invited a charming Scot named Jonnie who represents Bowmore and Glen Grant single malt whiskies.  He talked a lot about mill grains (a single malt is one grain!), the aging process, casks, the importance of smoke and peat (which shed so much light!  Sometimes they’re too earthy for me…like how Laphroaig always just bites me and shivers my timbers [DIRTY!] at first sip, which has the most smoke.  Now I know!).  And I fell faster and further in love with Scotch whisky.  The Bowmore I loved most was a 12-year aged, the youngest cask in the batch, and smelled like vanilla, with a good taste of smoke, almond and citrus.  The Glen Grant was a 16-year and it kind of became a default aperitif.  It’s Italy’s #1 seller, which I thought was interesting, and was far less smoky with perfect notes of honey and plum.  It’s swoon-worthy for sure.  The perfect sips.
We sipped this delightful hooch straight, which is perfectly fine by me.  I enjoy one little cube of pretty ice in my whisky, but we drank it neat that night, which really just makes you prettier faster, if you want to know the truth.  And the fine folks and aficionados at 320 Main also concocted three specialty cocktails to showcase Scottish wares.  There was the Orange Curtain, which paired 10-year Glen Grant with jalapeno and egg yolk.  Spicy!  A Scotch Old Fashioned with citrus bitters and lime zest.  Zesty! And my favorite new hot toddy****, a Hot Scotch Milk Punch.  Punchy!  He crafted a pumpkin seed orgeat***** syrup and warmed it with 12-year Bowmore, milk, cream, nutmeg and cinnamon.  And it was heaven!  Heaven!  It even inspired me to run home and churn out a few batches of Bourbon Ice Cream, which I then spent the next two days cramming down everyone's maw who happened my way.  I highly suggest you fiddle and fuss with proportions that work for you and yours and add this Hot Scotch Milk Punch to your Holiday Toddy rotation STAT.  I didn’t get the exact proportions—some things are private, you guys!—but I have made a poor woman’s version since that night with agave and milk, hold the cream please so I can eat more cheese thank you very much, so I know it can totally be done to suit your personal swilling needs.  I’m not kidding: do it.  And if you’re a local or even meandering through or about Seal Beach and haven’t yet, stop in to nosh and sip at 320 Main.  You’ll be so, so happy you did!
Sláinte!


*See: Adele at The Greek Theater, LA.  Magical.  Also, I got to eat some free cheese that night, too, but I don’t want to be all braggy about it.

**Am I right, fellas?

***Drams are a measure of whisky!  But you knew that already, didn’t you, internet?  You’re so clever!

****Lord love a lemon, all y’all know that I love me a hot toddy!  I really, really do.

*****Orgeat is a simple syrup typically made from almonds, but he make a pepita one.  Because he’s brilliant!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hello, Gourdgeous!

I will never deny, you guys, my first--my truest!—love.  It’s spaghetti.  Forever and ever!  SLT + Spaghetti = TLA!  I would doodle that business all over a Pee-Chee folder if I had one right now, for real.  Sophia Loren said: “Everything I am, I owe to spaghetti.”  And I said: "Me too, girl…me too."  It’s my go-to comfort food.  A hot, steamy love affair in a bowl.  Awwww yeah!  It reminds me of being wee at Christmas at my Nonna’s table with the gaudiest china you ever saw and a huge, heavy crystal cheese bowl filled with snowy, stinky salty parmigiano with a teensy, tiny serving spoon* resting in its teensy, tiny spoon divot.   Such a demure little spoon!  That I would cram repeatedly in to my gaping maw!  I’d sneak mini-mountainy bites of that damn cheese right from that spoon whenever she wasn’t paying attention.  She’d set the table all elaborate-like and then get busy in the kitchen to continue her Feast of Fishes prep and whatnot.  The minute homegirl turned her back I’d be all up in that cheese.  She’d get so mad at me when she caught me.  Have you ever been screamed at in Italian by a granny in a hairnet**, housedress and support hose shaking a raw octopus—tentacles flailing about wildly--at you?  I have.  Maria Tricomi don’t play that, people.  She did not think that me and my two ponytails were adorable trying to eat all of the cheese while still keeping one eye on Three’s Company before people showed up.  If you were breaking bread with 5 year old me, you for sure used that germy spoon to sprinkle cheese on your pasta.  Sorry suckers!  And also: too bad!  It reminds me of good days with my Mom, of visits to and from my Aunties Mary and Rose, and of my Gramps, even though he always tried to sneak tripe in there. Gross!
Anyway, if given the opportunity and left to my own carefree devices and wanton ways, I’d eat pasta with marinara sauce and stinky cheese every ding-dang day, all day long.  It’s for sure [part of] my last meal, assuming I get to choose.  Hands down, no question, game over.  But you can’t really eat spaghetti only, Internet, because if you did you’d be 42786 lbs.  Don’t be crazy.  These are the sad-but-true facts.  I don’t like them but what can you do, right?  I’ll tell you what you do: you make spaghetti squash!
Listen up, you guys: I’M ADDICTED.  This damn gourd has changed my life!  I know this is simple and elementary to lots of people, but I think it needs to be shared.  And discussed.  I go through three huge squash (squashes? squashi?) a week.  BY MYSELF.  On Sunday or Monday I make my pot of sauce, I hack away at that squash trying to cut it in half such that I almost always sever a digit but I will not be deterred!   Then I roast those damn squash(?!), get all bonkers scraping them out with a fork or spoon and presto!  It's like magic!  I have my “spaghetti” ready for quick weeknight dinners.  I am spaghetti-ready!  It’s not 100% the same, but its close enough to make me happy and it kind of makes me feel like I’m cheating the system.  Sticking it to the man!  Power to the carb-addict people!  I know two people who hate marinara sauce***, so this won’t excite them, but maybe it excites you!  So here you go, FYI!
Spaghetti Squash
Serves: 2.  Or 1 for 2 days if your 1 is me.
1 spaghetti squash
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise.  (Good luck…these suckers are solid.  Maybe it’ll be easier for you if you’re really tall and can really get after it.) 

Scrape out all of the creepy gourd guts and seeds and discard.  Drizzle cut side with olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. (Disclaimer: I don’t do this…I drizzle the baking sheet directly with olive oil and sprinkle it with garlic powder, salt and pepper and then shimmy the cut sides of the squash all around because I’m SMART!  Or lazy.)

Place squash, cut side down on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until squash is tender when pierced with a knife.

Remove squash from oven let it cool enough to handle.  Scrape the inside of the squash with a fork to resemble spaghetti. You can usually just scoop it out with a spoon, too, and it will still get shreddy.

I like it with marinara and Parmegiano-Reggiano, but it’s delicious with a little olive oil, squirt of lemon and a little lemon zest, lots of black pepper and Asiago!  I’m serious.

*Oh!  I was like a miniature Pablo Escobar!

**She wore a hairnet at home all day and all night for as long as I ever knew her, you guys.  To keep her coiffe in line, is what her plan was.  But really, when she took it off for visitors or to go out and about all that happened was that her bun was intact, but she had a huge indentation on her face, around her hair line.  But she was committed to the strategy, regardless.
***One because growing up as an athlete it reminds her of “carbing up” before a meet and there’s no joy in that.  The other one is just crazy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kentucky woman

I was having one of those days last week, you guys.  You know those kind.  Where you’re just kind of…meh.  Like where you have a frillion BRILLIANT, WORLD-CHANGING ideas swirling around in your head but can’t figure out how to execute them.  Or initiate them.  Or remember what any of them are.  And then you’re just sort of exhausted, frankly, by the sheer magnitude of all of the BRILLIANCE!  And GRAND IDEAS!  So OVERWHELMING!  So much TO DO!  So you just don’t do any of it.  And then you catch yourself wondering if you’re even making any iota of difference in this world.  Like even a smidge?  Does any of it even matter?  Is anyone paying attention?  Like who cares? Are you there, Universe?  It’s me!  Suze!  And the Universe is all, “Who?” and so then you’re just totally over it.  Whatever it was.  That was my day.  If it was raining, I’d have pulled a chair up to the window and stared forlornly out of it in quiet contemplation whilst some kind of appropriately emo tunes played in the background because, yes, I am that dramatic.  And I also always think I’m in a made-for-TV movie at all times*.  But it wasn’t raining, so I had to table** my melancholy for another time.  Way to cramp my style, Mother Nature!
Anyway!  So I’m having one of those days, right?  And in the throes of it my phone rings and I see by the photo that pops up of her adorable little moppet*** that it’s my friend Vicki!  Who I never really talk to on the phone, per se, so this is exciting!  What could it be that she’d like to discuss?!  Hooray!  And also, perfect timing because Vicki will get it because we are similarly-minded**** and she knows a lot about a lot of things.  She’s a real-life Sommelier cattin’ around in California wine country!  And she’s from Kentucky so she, naturally, knows all manner of things about whiskey and bourbon!  And she likes information and she likes to share information.  She likes to hug people.  She likes my risotto.  And she likes nature.  And bargains.  And fancy skincare potions and products!  She’s very good about forwarding interesting emails and likes to establish good karma!  Also, she really knows how to wear scarves which I realize in that moment I will need to remember to don if I ever do sit and stare out the window at some kind of rain and pensively contemplate.  Snazzy!  She has good juju.  She is a loyal advocate for the people she loves and is always a good personal cheerleader.  Everyone needs a Vicki!  And Vic is the kind of true-blue pal who takes the time to do considerate things for people.  A few months ago we got in to some kind of discussion—on Facebook, I’m sure—about music and because she is also a master mixalot and CD maker, she made me my own box manila envelope 4-pack set!  It was a serious compilation of tunes that she was so thoughtful about…there were liner notes about each song’s significance and relevance.  Kind of a mini life-soundtrack*****!  And I sure do love them.  I listened to them all back to back—twice--the night I got them, armed with my cheat-sheet liner notes while main-lining Malbec with the fella I was dating at the time.  I’m certain he was thrilled as I got increasing more pickled and belted out my most favorite selections after referencing any notes of relevance from Vicki.  I’m such a fun date!    Come watch me and my purple wine teeth sing the beejesus out of a Loudon Wainwright jam, with an encore that includes a song or two from “Rent”!  These are the secrets of my seduction, Internet.  Anyhow, my favorite CD of the entire set was a disk entitled “Bacibug”.  Isn’t that just the cutest?  Yes it is!    
Frisky with whiskey!
Bacibug: “Hi!  Hello! WHATAREYOUDOING?”

Vicki Lynn: “Hi!  I’m driving around doing sales blitzes and I happen to be listening to my Bacibug Mix and I wanted to call you and tell you I love it and I’m thinking about you!”
Bacibug: “I love it, too!  Yay!  Thank you!”
Vicki Lynn:  “You’re welcome!”
Bacibug: "Knock 'em dead out there!
Vicki Lynn: "I am!"
Bacibug: "Okay!"
So that was the jaunty and riveting extent of our conversation.  Yes.  Really.  It was maybe two whole minutes, but it perked me right the hell up, I’ll tell you what.  It made my whole day!  And it reminded me that you are always making a difference to someone, somewhere.  And that we should all take a minute every day to let someone know if you’re thinking of them.  You’d like to hear it, wouldn’t you? 
You totally would, Internet!

     
*What?!  Maybe I am.  Don’t judge!
**”Cut!”   
***Willow!
****Dramatic.
*****For my made-for-TV movie!  Clearly!  Or maybe hers.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Virgo(ne)

You would have turned 61 today.  Instead, today, you've been gone exactly 6 months.  16 was always your divine number, so I guess it makes perfect sense that the universe worked it out like that.

Salvatore Bruno & Susanna Lucy
More and more lately, really out of nowhere, it comes to me in this quick, searing, shocking flash that you're actually gone gone.  Like dead gone.  It's unreal.  Not like in the last few years where you were just sort of, you know, gone somewhere else  and, even though things were so different, we all knew you were still out there and around.  Distant and removed but still, technically, close.  Weird, right?!  I have to remind myself that you're not just in Pasadena or wherever and that I'll never get to talk to you again.  And I'm just so surprised at how surprising it is to me.  I mean, I'm a big girl and it wasn't like it was sudden or a surprise.  Afterall, you were sick and we all got the chance to brace ourselves and prepare, to make sure there was nothing left unsaid, but still.  It seems that the longer you've been gone, the more surreal it is to me.  It's like some absurd delayed-release grief I'm struck with.  I'll be walking down the street minding my own business (well, sort of...you know me.) and it just hits me for no real reason.  It's like a punch in the gut and, since I'm being honest with you, it sort of takes my breath away. The car show was here last weekend and I couldn't even bring myself to set foot anywhere near it for love or KettleCorn lest there be a '67 Mustang or bathtub Porsche or some classic restored Ford pickup.  This week a song came on in spin class and I burst right in to tears.  Embarrassing, right?!  Hallelujah that I always hide in the back anyway so I don't think anybody saw, but...is this going to happen to me every time I hear any Motown now?  Hysteria is so inconvenient!                  

Thankfully, blessedly, naturally, finally all of the good memories are rising to the top.  I'm so grateful for that because there really were so many more good, fun, happy times than not.  It weighed so heavy on me that they were tarnished for awhile by disappointment, bad decisions and wrong turns.  But I think time and perspective are polishing their veneer and--Hurray!--they're starting to shine bright again.  I sure miss the you that I remember.  And I sure wish I could talk to you today to see how you'd feel about being 61*.  And to give you my standard, annual argument that you really should dig out your enormous Virgo medallion from 1976 and wear it around the town** on your birthday.  And to make sure you know that I'm remembering you with love and affection.  And to tell you that even though the last 6 months have been kind of wacky, we're all doing ok.  We'll always be ok.

Happy Birthday.  I really, really hope that someone wherever we really go when we're gone remembered your German chocolate cake and made you blow out every single one of those candles.



* 61?!  That sounds craaaazy! That just seems kind of old, right?  Like that's how old grandparents are or something?  I just always think you're stuck around 45.

**Which you never even did one time despite all of my convincing arguments.  For as much as that thing petrified little tiny me, I'm sure it's still kind of awesome in a Studio 54ish way.          
 
   

Monday, July 18, 2011

Churn, baby, churn

Oh, Internet!  Have you missed me?  I've sure missed the beejeezus out of you.  You look so tan!  And skinny!  It’s been one heck of a summer for me so far with lots and loads going on.  Some of it good*, some of it not so good.  In all honesty, life has been handing me more lemons** than is usual or necessary or appropriate and you all know what they*** say to do when life hands you lemons…
Make ice cream!
I have been on a churning tear for weeks, you guys.  And I just realized that July is National Ice Cream Month, so now it all makes total sense, doesn’t it?  It does!  How apropos!  I’ve been doing things as simple as blitzing a frozen banana with some cocoa powder and peanut butter in my food processor (um…easy and DELICIOUS!) to more complicated custard ice cream like Salted Caramel and Chocolate Peanut Butter.  I have celebrated National Ice Cream Month by cozying up with my favorite ice cream recipe tome--The Perfect Scoop****--and churning out Strawberry Sorbet, Lemon Ice Cream, Blueberry Ice Cream, Espresso Ice Cream, Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream and Coffee Ice Cream.  Lest you be concerned, my undying passion for the glorious granita remains intact and I’m never far from a grapefruit/citrus slush of perfection.  So delicious!  And so much easier than standard ice cream because it takes way less planning.  You just juice, freeze, scrape and stab and you’ve got a delicious, refreshing sweet treat on your hands.  And then you EAT IT!  Or pour vodka over it and DRINK IT!*****  I also make coffee granita and use it to make iced coffee******. 
Grapefruit granita! Nectar of the Summer Goddesses!
But for ice cream, you need to be prepared, Internet.  You need to make sure your ice cream maker******* isn’t just cold, but FROZEN TO THE HIGH HEAVENS or you’re just wasting your time.  And your ice cream base?  Even though it says to make sure it’s chilled, you’re better off if you get it practically frozen, too.  Or else you end up with cold ice cream soup.  Which…I’ll be honest: there are worse things in the world than cold Salted Caramel Ice Cream soup.  I still ate it and I made my neighbors eat it with me.  Suckers!


I sure hope you’re summer has been filled with delicious, icy treats and lots of smutty beach book reads.  If you have a hankering and a sweet tooth, you should make some ice cream and get in to the celebration…maybe try this one!  I added limoncello to mine instead of kirsch but if you don’t care about being totally awesome, you don’t have to.  Churners choice!
 
Lemon Ice Cream+Strawberry Sorbet= Sweet & Sour Heaven

Strawberry Sorbet
The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed & hulled
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp kirsch (optional)
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt
Yields: about 3 cups.
1. Slice the strawberries and toss them in a medium bowl with the sugar and kirsch, if using, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve.
2. Cover and let stand for 1 hour, stirring every so often.
3. Purée the strawberries and their liquid with the lemon juice and salt in a blender or food processor until smooth.
4. Press the mixture through a strainer to remove seeds if you wish.
5. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
   


*More on this later this week.  It involves poolside getaways, pals and bourbon!
**Oh, I know, you guys…”wah wah wah”, right?  It’s not as if I’m homeless, terminal, being sent to war or, say, missed a World Cup winning goal, but still, okay?  Dang.  Don’t look at me like that.
***Me.
****If you don’t have it yet, buy it!  It’s like an ice cream bible!  And you should follow him at www.davidlebovitz.com, too!
*****My newest strategy is to conjure a lime-pineapple granita and pour tequila over it.  Stay tuned!
******Because I’m mildly brilliant…as if you didn’t know!
*******I have this one…in case you care.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The love you take

They say, whoever “they” are, that you should consider yourself lucky if you have two good friends.  Apparently some statistic somewhere has proven that if you’ve got two people you trust to be true blue, to—as the cool kids say—have your back, to depend on when the chips are down*, to lean on and/or think of when that nauseating Dionne Warwick & Friends song** comes on, then you’re L-U-C-K-Y lucky, Internet.  My favorite and most resonating piece of advice that my Uncle Sal ever gave me was to choose your friends wisely; that the people you surround yourself with are a direct reflection of who you are and that they will, undoubtedly, affect the course of your life.  You can’t choose the family you’re borne to, but you can choose the family you create with the friends you hold dear.  And that has remained my personal, universal truth.  I feel like I’m always aware of and so very grateful for my pals, but I got a not-so-gentle reminder a couple of weeks ago when I was tasked with calling my Auntie Micki’s best girlfriends of 70+ years to tell them that she was nearing her end.  If you know me, you know that I simmer with emotion on a good day…that anything even too happy can send me straight in to the weepies with appreciation***.  So imagine how my phone call with “Auntie” Helen went.  Exactly, you guys.  And, despite feeling sad for my Aunties losing their mom and all of the grandkids who were so sad, what struck me most at the funeral was seeing Helen and Josie, hand in hand, walking up to say goodbye to one of their feisty little trio.  All three fancy, all three full of the dickens, all three with their own signature coiffeurs, they were friends for decades and decades.  They were in each other’s weddings; they raised their kids together and shared life’s happinesses and its sorrows.  Seeing them together and knowing my very own cluster of besties sat a few rows behind that afternoon  reminded me to never take for granted the people we choose.
There’s a photo in my house that I see every day.  And every time I spy it, it always fills me with adoration for these sisters of my heart, with such deep gratitude for being so bless-bless-blessed with the very best-best-best friends a gal could ever hope to have.  There are a couple missing—surely up to something slightly more fabulous that kept them from traipsing around with us in our platform slides****that weekend of San Francisco treating and Napa wine tasting--from this snapshot but, as with any picture of my beautiful motley crew, I always think of them collectively.  Kind of like they’re there even though you can’t see them*****.  Look, I ain’t gonna lie…I know I’m super, duper lucky in the best friend department.  More so than most and I’m so grateful for these blessings.  I have more than two people to call in a pinch.  I have cultivated some amazing, invaluable friendships above and beyond these lunatics gemstones, some that I know are angels sent to help me navigate my way through this thing called life******.  But the memory of this little moment in time never fails to bring me right back to center.  This photo was taken months after two of us buried parents and after, unbeknownst to them, each of the now-wedded had already met their eventual beloveds and baby daddies.  It’s us on the precipice of being big girls and grownups.

Two of my most favorite things: bubbles and these broads. Domain Chandon circa 1999

This year I celebrate 20 years of friendship with these dames.  This little troupe that my Uncle Bob still and always refers to as “The College Girls!(and Carlos)”.  20 years!  I can’t even believe it.  They are my dynamic rainmakers.  Among them Masters (Mistresses?) of Business and Masterful Mommies.  Some both.  They awe and inspire me.  They always make me proud to be in their orbit.  I have laughed and cried, traveled and fought, mourned and celebrated with them.  Together we have navigated through joy and heartbreak.  It amazes me the life’s dance we’ve unknowingly perfected.  That when one stumbles, the others rise to the occasion.  Like our own relay race of survival through friendship...when one falls, the others carry you to the finish.  (Or ply you with copious amounts of booze.  Same same.)  They know when to circle the wagons.  They know when to pop a cork and toast.  They are my people, my cheering section, my village, my team, my soul mates, my straight-shooters, and my sisters.  I have seen them triumph and succeed with humility, and handle failure and disappointment with grace and dignity.  They encourage when you falter and humble when you peacock.  If your ego needs knocking down a peg or twenty, they’ll do it just as quickly as they will inspire you to take what’s yours.  The hours and hours spent cooking and sipping and scheming and solving all of the world’s problems are too numerous to count*******.  You need a recipe, a laugh or a disgusting story about motherhood?  These are your girls.  You need to get talked down from a ledge or riled up about an injustice?  These are your girls.  You need to be reminded that Doritos are not appropriate breakfast food and that people really, truly LIKE going to the gym every damn day?  These are your (annoying) girls.  I'm grateful to have them on my side.
So of all of the pictures of all of the trips and special times we’ve been fortunate enough to have together, this one remains my most cherished.  And every time I see this snapshot I feel so lucky that these girls are my allegiance and my alliance.  I will never forget what a special and exciting time of life this was for all of us.  And I know that somewhere out there, possibly still in Nob Hill, there’s a scared little pizza delivery boy twelve years older now but scarred for life at having the fortunate misfortune of delivering a couple of pies to these wicked city women after a day of wine tasting.  We’re sorry, whatever your name was!  But only a little.                                    


*I always wonder if this is a gambling reference.  Like at the blackjack table?  Or like at your party if your Frito bowl is low?  Either way: where my friends at?!
**”Keep smiling.”? “Keep shinin’.”?  How about you keep your bossy boots to yourself, Dionne.
***Me=BARREL OF LAUGHS, people.  This is why I had to stop watching Extreme Home Makeover.  And Hallmark commercials.
****Ah, the ‘90s!
*****Creepy!
******I’m like Prince!
*******Over 7634926769.  At least.  Which reminds me that we (Heather) need(s) to schedule the next Supper Club Extravaganza.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mini Mighty Magpie

It’s no secret that I didn’t come to this family organically.  I’m the luckiest of lucky because not only did Wee Me have my wacky Italian bloodline and it’s people but, because my uncle married smart, I was also inherited in to an equally wacky family with big hearts, big belly laughs and big brimming kindness.  I was 9 when I moved in with my aunt and uncle and until then, I was used to seeing my Nonna every day.  I'm sure that that fostered my always-instant connection to the granny set at large.  And while everything changed for me that summer, I was also graced with my aunt’s parents--my grans south: Uncle Harry and Auntie Micki.

Me & The O'Gs circa 1995
Auntie Micki was in her 50s when I became a permanent fixture and was there from the get go.  It was she (in her peep toe Sbicca clear 4 inch heels, thank you.) and my Auntie who came to fetch me with my sassy mini side-braid and (unfortunate, horizontally) blue and white striped culottes that first day, and drive me toward my new life, my reconfigured childhood.  She made it seem like the most normal thing in the universe that her daughter was inheriting a kid and that even though we’d only seen each other a few times a year on holidays until then, this full time transition in to their family was going to be a piece of cake.  I got to spend lots of time with her that summer and I feel so lucky to have had such special moments with her.  A couple times a week I’d get dropped off before sunrise where I’d  lurch straight to the twin bed she’d have turned down for me, because no kid should start their summer days at 5am.  I’d collapse for a few hours in the cozy, perfectly warn bed* and wake up to find my 6 month old cousin Dana dropped off for the day, too.  We’d sit at the silver-starred Formica kitchen counter and have breakfast and plan our adventures** for the day.   
Micki/MickiMa/MickiO’G/Mags/Maggie/Magpie/Margaret/Marguerite/SMags/SMaggletooth was feisty and no-nonsense and spunky and fancy.  I mean she was, afterall, Miss O’Keefe & Merit 194something and we’ve got the formal publicity shot (somewhere!) of her draped across a(n) (unlit)stove to prove it.  She’d start every day of domesticity with her makeup perfect and her hair (which she used to wrap in toilet paper every night) did.  She also rocked a cocktail ring like it was her job.  I learned lots of lessons from her.  So, so many things from that little Armenian firecracker of a lady—she was no bigger than a minute at about 4’11” and probably 100 lbs. –but she was a force to reckon with, especially when she was giving the 6’3” strapping Irish husband she adored the what-for***.   She was a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother and an auntie.  She loved chocolate and dessert in any and all incarnations and in these last years when she couldn’t keep anything else down, she was always able to miraculously kill a box of See’s, eat 14 cookies and drink her Chablis****.  She left an imprint on everyone she met and I am grateful always for all of the memories I have of her and the things she gave to me:

Busy summer mornings followed by lazy summer afternoons of “Match Game” and “All My Children”.  Erma Bombeck and joke books.  Spending hours and hours looking through all of her photo albums where she was almost always laughing or eating in every shot...sometimes both.  Uncle Harry coming home on the hot summer afternoon of their anniversary to find his bride of 30-something years crammed in to her wedding dress.  My love of oatmeal and her perfectly scrambled, never to be duplicated eggs*****.  Perfect, buttery rice pilaf.  The art of hiding valuables in the Rice Crispies and sweet treats for personal consumption tucked in the empty fish stick box in the freezer, always having Sees Candy at the ready and using the empty boxes to store 562846 sets of plastic ware.  Always having stacks and stacks of pink butcher paper for all of my very important art projects.  The smell of her gardenias, the lemons and grapefruit from her trees and her always flowering plumeria.  After back surgery, in a medicated haze from her hospital bed, looking me right in the eye to say: “I really, really hope all of the confetti fell out of my underpants in there.”******, her cure for insomnia: a slug of whiskey, preferably from a miniature airplane bottle.  Her weekly hairstyle appointment, her perfect manicures, seizing an opportunity to re-use a greeting card if someone signed it in pencil, Christmas Day breakfasts and buffets, teaching her to use her “micro”, Easter spreads in her patio and egg hunts, New Year’s Day parties, staring at her on New Year’s Eve 1985 when she stood in the living room calling me in the kitchen on the house phone from their business phone in her pajamas and party tiara to holler “Happy New Year!” at me…we were 6 feet apart.  If she thought you were bragging: “Oh, well…pin a rose on your nose.”  On people who had bad salutation manners: “What?  No “hello”? No “how are you”?  No “go to hell”?  Hrmph!”.   She loved to feed people, she loved to squeeze to-go ketchup packets in to her big bottles, she confiscated Sweet & Low from restaurants for home use, she hoarded new shower caps from hotels to cover chips and dips from flies at outdoor parties*******, made the very best gravy at Thanksgiving, taught me that beating some sugar with a block of cream cheese and a drop of food coloring makes perfect frosting for springtime cupcakes.  Our girls trip to Vegas--just me, Auntie Micki and AD celebrating our December birthdays.  Have you ever known someone to get rated and score two free nights by playing quarter slots?  I do, and it's her.  And she always, always introduced me as her granddaughter without apology or explanation to people who found this confusing.
Heaven got a new angel last night.  My sweet aunties said goodbye to their Mommy and after 88 years of life and laughter and love and family, surrounded by our deepest gratitute and affection for the woman she was, Auntie Micki quietly left us to be reunited with her one true love at the pearly gates and get busy flitting about with the business of catching up with so many people that meant so much to her.  Her version of resting in peace, I’m certain. 
We sure will miss her a whole lot down here.                   
            
*With the comforter safety pinned 45728 times to the top sheet…for ease of bed making.  Brilliant!
**Adventures?  Usually helping her clean the house and plan dinner, eavesdrop on her phone calls with Lucille the Neighbor, play Businesslady by making Dana sit in her highchair across from me and pretend-interviewing her to be my assistant (I never gave her the job.  Insubordinate!), and sneaking Mags’s Jackie Collins books under the gardenia tree to scan them for smut before she noticed they were missing.  9 year old me knew how to party.  Clearly.
***It was like watching a Chihuahua try to boss a Great Dane.
****Believe it.
*****It’s the butter!  And the pan!  And the Lawry’s Season Salt! I just know it.
******Uh, so do we.  I guess.
*******Oh, yes, girl.  She totally did. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meringue merengue

Well, it’s come to this.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d fall for it.  But I did, you guys.  I really did.  I fell and I fell hard, people.

For the meringue.   That's right...you heard (read?) me.  The. Meringue.
Now, I know what you’re going to say because I said it, too: “Meh.  I’m just not a meringue person.”  Yeah, I said it.  And when I shared my loot last week three of my people said exactly that, too.  And then they ate one.  And they were smitten.  And then they ate two more. You can tell by the look in their eyes after they take that first bite.  It’s part glee, part surprise, part joy.  But it’s all good.
To be fair, I haven’t had loads of experience with meringues.  They typically don’t interest me, so I can stay away from them pretty easily.  I considered them a waste of a sweet treat.  One time I was at Joan’s on Third  and they had these cute little bags of hazelnut meringues and they were so twee—with their itsy bitsy bag tied up with a cutesy little ribbon—and since I’m a sucker for good packaging, I bought them.  I ate two.  They were fine.  Kind of crunchy and super-sweet.  Just sort of eh.  But if I’m craving something decadent and trying to satisfy my sweet teeth, those ain’t cuttin’ it.  I walk right by them at Trader Joe’s.*  And I always scrape the goop off of the top of lemon meringue pie (What’s the point of it there?  There isn’t one…that’s what.) to get to the good stuff underneath.  I’ve seen Nigella make pavlova, which seems to be a giant meringue you try to eat like a weird flat cake, and all it did was make me change the channel.  Boring.  I felt like meringue was a place-filler; a waste of my attention.  Until last week.
So, last week I was minding my own beeswax, as I do, but also eye to eye with about 46299374 egg whites.  I’d made a round of espresso crème brulee** and needed as many yolks, so had all of the whites saved for something else.  One egg white omelette in, I realized I needed to either freeze those suckers or use them lickety split because they shouldn’t just be left to loll about in my fridge without purpose.  So I turned to Alice Medrich--one of my favorite go-to baking gurus--and, as luck would have it, she had the answer.  In spades.  Meringues! ***
Dark chocolate hazelnut pillows. For angels! 
You guys!  They couldn’t be easier.  You just beat up those whites until they’re shiny, add a little sugar and then fold in whatever other loot you have on hand, plop them**** on to a baking sheet and then bake them for approximately 67 frillion thousand hours*****.  And then they are chewy and sweet and creamy and DELICIOUS.  So very delicious.  Like, surprisingly delicious.  Like, “Seriously?!  Meringues?” delicious.   Now I’m hooked!  I made the chocolate hazelnut****** ones that I had a hard time sharing, and then I made peanut butter ones, which were ooey-gooey and just like a fancy Abba Zabba. 
And now I'm like super-crazed with all of the possibilities.  What else can I throw in there?  Can I make a savory meringue, for soups or something?  Kind of like a weird crouton?  I also want to make a meringue-like layer cake!  And eat it!  And caramel or coffee ice cream with some sort of meringue bit-lettes in there.  I'm crazy!  
Consider yourself warned, internet.  For real.  

* Like I’m really going to pass up the mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups for a tub of hard froth?  Think again, Joe.
**FANTASTIC!
***This book is like a cookie bible!  You know I reserved it from the library before it even came out.  Nerd alert!
****I used my mini ice cream scooper because I like it.
*****Okay, just 2 hours, but then you also have to let them cool in the oven for a 168 years.  Hurry up!
******I’ve had 3 dreams about them.  This is no lie.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ode to the musical fruit

I love beans, you guys.  Holy smacks but do I love me some beans!  Garbanzo, cannellini, kidney, pinto, fava, black, green*.  Refried? Hell yes, please**!  I’m a bean enthusiast.  I’ll try to throw them and they’re creamy delicious bite in to anything.  I love them in salads and I love a beany soup or a pasta fagiole.  (PS: And lentils!  Lentils are like beans even though they’re technically legumes.  But they’re still bean-ish.  And I love them, too.)  Maybe it’s a problem.  Maybe it isn’t.  But they’re good for you, right?  Yes!  They’ve got some mad protein and fiber and yum.  Glory, glory hallelujah!
Beantown!
Anyway, I’m yip-yammering about beans today because I’m trying to detox*** a smidge this week and change things up.   You know how I do.  And with this recommitment, I have reunited with and turned to my beautiful little friend, the health-FULL bean.  Unfortunately, as with most everything I take a liking to****, I’ve gone overboard. I'm in a bean frenzy, y'all.  Bonkers. Kookoopants. Barreling headfirst in to a bean-related 12-step program.  It’s only noon on Wednesday and I’ve had some version of that bowl of bean delight no less than 5 times.  I’ve already gone through 4 cans of beans.  For just little old me.  Um…yikes?  Here’s the deal, though: SO TASTY*****, you guys!  I can’t stop!  In fact, I couldn’t help myself and ate a whole bowl of this right before I went to spin class the other night, then spent the first 20 minutes supremely annoyed at whoever was audacious enough to show up to a crowded class getting ready to work it on out all smelly like onion.  I mean, the nerve, right?****** 

I'm here to say, though, that you should try it.  Well, if you’re a bean lover, as I’m sure you are.  And I’d like to suggest you get some crusty bread for a-soppin’or toast up some little baguette slices to make you a fancy bean bruschetta.  I cannot do such a thing because I’m being virtuous here, you guys…pay attention!  But you totally should.  The grassier and greener the olive oil, the better.  And it’s also super good with red wine or champagne vinegar, I’ll tell you what.
Bean Bowl Surprise
Serves 1…if your 1 is me.
(adapted from Orangette)

1 15oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed
¼ cup chopped red onion
Zest and juice from half of a lemon
1-2 glugs of extra virgin olive oil
A good, healthy grating of Reggiano (or goat! or feta!)
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss it all in to a bowl and jumble it around.  I’d chill it for a bit in the fridge and let all of the flavors get to know each other, but it’s good right away, too.  Mangia!

*Both the regular and French.  Especially straight out of the can.  I love the teeth squeak.  Don’t even try to judge me.
**Lard shmard!  Put some extra cheese on those bad boys and pass the damn tortilla chips!
***People, I have been living on cheese and cured pork.  And olives.  And wine.  And bread, even thought I GAVE IT UP FOR LENT.  Dang!  What am I?  Vacationing in Capri?  Did I move to France and start wearing a beret-a-day? Sadly, no.
****Hedonist!  Party of one!
*****Though I was trying to regale my pal Chris the other night about how delicious this concoction is and she was all, “Ew. No.” Whatever.
******And then I realized it was me.  Dang!  Sorry suckaaaaahhhhhhhs!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Perfect little vittles

You know how I feel about sausage*, Internet.  Some would even say that I’m a bad, bad Italian—a downright embarrassment to my countrypeople!—but….ew.  I am not a fan of the links.  Blech!  I do love me a sausage and pepper on a roll, hold the sausage.   And I have been known to partake in a dog now and then at the ballpark, but that’s just because I need a vehicle for the condiments** I adore piling on.  I’m not totally insane***…I love salami, so it isn’t the flavor of sausage as much as the texture of a link, but I generally stay away from sausage all together.  I’m not sure when it started, but I know for a fact that while some people live for it all, “Ohhhh!  Let’s eat sausage!”, just the mere idea of those creepy summer sausages that come in those gift baskets at the holidays scivose the beejesus out of me.  (Why don’t they have to be refrigerated?!  Why?!)  And those miniature weird Vienna sausages in a can?  Sick!  What is that? Gag-a-roo.  No thanks.
So it would stand to reason that I would be tasked to recipe test something with sausage in it, right?  Of course!  It was chorizo****, which I don’t really have an issue with.  And you all know how much I love a nibble and snack, so I was super excited to test the Cornbread, Chorizo & Peperonata bites when they sent them my way.  And seriously?  Y-U-M, y’all!
The cornbread was out of this world super easy.  The carmelized peppers and onions were sweet and tangy and were perfect with the spicy chorizo and creamy dollop of crème fraiche.  In fact, I loved those dang peppers so much I made another batch and threw it on anything I could get my grubby mitts on last week: pasta, chicken, a turkey sandwich.  I had a suggestion to top eggs with it, which I’d totally do if it lasted that long, but it didn’t.  SO GOOD.      

So I rallied some folks to be my sweet little guinea pigs.  There was a super-fun family-style brunch where they were the starters with some prosecco, and then later that night they joined other nibbles and nosh for a sunset snackfest, where we just had to sample them with Sauv Blanc, Zin and Cab.
Verdict?  SO YAY!


*I do not like it!
**Mustard, ketchup, onion and relish.  Is there chili, too?  Yes, please!  I’m gross.
*** Shut up.
****And, after all was said and done, I realized I had actually bought  Soyrizo.  Ha!  I pulled that sucker out of the fridge after all of the other components were ready to be assembled, saw my mistake, and still used it anyway!  AND NOBODY COULD TELL.  True story, you guys.  I basically turned all of my willing taste testers in to unknowing hippie vegetarians!  Sorry suckas!