Last week, I shot a little commercial for SAY Media here in my apartment and the food stylist (who ended up being my friend Brett) came with tons of ingredients and left many behind. Most significantly: a bag of shrimp.
On Saturday morning, I decided I wanted to put that shrimp to work along with a bag of very authentic grits that I picked up in Charleston, South Carolina. At first, I thought I might wing it, doing the fast technique that Chef Peter Dale taught me for my cookbook in Athens, GA (it’s a great combination of chorizo, shrimp, and arugula); but then I thought it might be fun to do a more traditional shrimp and grits, and since I was using Charleston grits I turned to the Lee Bros.
I didn’t experiment much in college (well, except in the ways of improvisational comedy and musical theater directing), but as an adult I’ve become a hardcore experimenter, specifically on weekend mornings when Craig’s out of town. That’s when I let my soul run free, tapping into my inner being, and cooking up whatever springs to mind. Sometimes, my ideas are pretty gross (see here); sometimes, though, I hit on something so good, it enters the repertoire. This breakfast, thankfully, falls into the latter category.
One of the very best things about where we live in Atwater Village is our proximity to The Village Bakery. If you live on the east side of Los Angeles, chances are you’ve been to this sunny, cheerful spot; it’s got blue and yellow umbrellas outside, a counter filled with treats on the inside, and the friendliest staff you’re likely to meet anywhere in L.A. Barbara Monderine, who owns and runs the place, is also our neighbor here in our little apartment complex right nearby and what a neighbor she is. When we first moved in, she gave us free cookies; on my birthday, she brought over a box of red velvet cupcakes. But the greatest gift of all came two weeks ago; working up my courage, I asked if she’d share the recipe for one of the bakery’s signature desserts: their berry ricotta cake. To my shock and delight, she said “sure” and went into the back to type it out for me, scaling down the proportions for the home cook. What follows is a recipe that’s about to enter your life in a serious way.
This past weekend, I emceed the cooking tent at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It was a pretty exhilarating experience: after the jump you’ll see pictures of me and Jackie Collins, Hugh Acheson and Carla Hall. But the highlight for me, personally, was getting to stand next to one of my food heroes–the author of one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, Sunday Suppers at Lucques–while she made two extraordinary dishes in front of a crowd of adoring fans (myself included). That would be Chef Suzanne Goin and this post is about that experience.
Unpacking my first CSA box felt a bit like opening presents on Christmas morning. (Note: I’m Jewish but I date a non-Jew, so I know what I’m talking about.) There was the going to bed the night before, knowing the box would arrive the next day; the anticipation, getting out of bed that next morning, going to the front door; and the actual physical pleasure of tearing open the box to finally see what was inside it. You already know the answer from my CSA post, but the most delightful surprise was a head of purple cauliflower. I’d never cooked with purple cauliflower before and I loved the challenge of building a dinner around it.
So I have a friend named Rachel Sheridan who also happens to be a neighbor here, in Atwater Village, and recently she did an Instagram of a CSA box that had arrived at her doorstep. What’s a CSA box? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and the idea is this: you pay a set fee, each week, and as a reward a box arrives at your door full of fresh-from-the-farm produce. I asked Rachel about her CSA and she told me it was called Summerland and that I should check it out. Not only did I check it out, after clicking around for a bit, I signed up too. Cue the trumpets: this box arrived yesterday (Sunday) morning! What was inside? Let’s open it up.
Hey gang, if you’re in L.A. this weekend, come on down to the L.A. Times Festival of Books where I’ll be emceeing the cooking tent and interacting with the likes of Hugh Acheson, Suzanne Goin, Carla Hall, Scott Conant, and–believe it or not–Jackie Collins. All the info is here: should be fun!