We got a tree, a Christmas tree, and it’s my first one–Rabbi Schlomo, plug your ears–and it’s making our apartment seem so festive. Somehow I thought getting a tree would be a big ordeal: with the lights and the stand and the balls and the baubles. But, actually, it was a totally easy process. On the advice of my friend John, we went to the Target in Eagle Rock where we stocked up on all the tree necessities (a tree skirt, to attract male trees; lights, balls, etc.) and then we bought a tree right outside at a pop-up tree farm. The tree came on a stand so we just carried it through the door, stood it up, and started wiring the lights. Voila. Now all we had to do was to have people over to enjoy the tree, which is why I spent some time figuring out the perfect December menu.
Loyal Amateur Gourmet readers, it’s time to come clean: I’ve been a bad blogger lately. It’s been a busy time for me here in L.A. but the hard part is that I really can’t get into why it’s so busy, just trust me that I haven’t really had time to devote to the blog. Can you forgive me? What if I share a bunch of really good things that I’ve cooked/eaten recently, will that make things better? OK, let’s try that. In random order….
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.
There are people in this world who can read the same book over and over again. That’s hard for me because I view my time on this earth much like Dorothy views the red sand in the Wicked Witch’s hourglass, constantly sifting downward until there’s nothing left. I almost never read the same book twice (though I did recently re-read Cooking For Mr. Latte but that’s only because I’d just finished reading We Need To Talk About Kevin and, after that, I needed something that made the world not seem like a festering black hole of misery and despair; though I do recommend that book, I do).
Anyway, I’m saying all this because I have a similar attitude about desserts. Almond Cake notwithstanding, why make the same dessert again and again when there are so many desserts out there for you to try? In case you haven’t noticed, I make a different dessert for almost every dinner party. Well, did. See everything’s changed now because I just discovered the recipe for Al Di La’s Chocolate and Pear Cake on Smitten Kitchen and it may be my new favorite go-to fall dessert. I’ve already made it twice.
When I went to Paris in 2005, the warm croissants certainly set my heart aflutter, as did the cracklingly fresh baguettes and the dainty, delicate macarons. But the moment my heart almost stopped beating from the shock of deliciousness was the moment I tasted my first Pierre Hermé dessert, a dessert called H. Mogador that contained, “Biscuit au citron, gelee de fruit de la passion, ganache chocolat au lait et fruit de la passion.” It was basically a chocolate popsicle filled with passionfruit, one of my favorite flavors; I didn’t eat it, I inhaled it (watch me on video here). That dessert was the first thing I thought of when years later–this year, in fact–I found Pierre Hermé’s dessert cookbook (which he wrote along with Dorie Greenspan) at the used book store on my street. I immediately snatched it up.
Speaking of British food people, did you know that Daniel Day-Lewis’s sister is a cookbook writer over there? Her name is Tamasin Day-Lewis and hey, look, she’s on Twitter. I picked up her book Supper For A Song when I visited Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York; I’ve really enjoyed flipping through it, so on the day I made that chicken tagine I decided to put her book to the test for dessert. You never know if a cookbook purchase has been worthwhile until you cook from it. Would this one measure up? Click ahead to find out.
The question often comes up: “Do you like baking more than savory cooking? Or the other way around?”
I always give a thoughtful, complicated answer but there’s a much easier way to address the question: look to your right, scroll down. See where it says Recipes By Category? Look at the numbers. 36 salads. 22 soups. And (drumroll) 153 desserts. Um, so yes, I really like baking and, more importantly, I really like dessert, both making it and eating it.
If you’ve ever seen “Fiddler On The Roof,” you probably know the term “yenta.” A yenta, in Yiddish, is a busybody, a meddler; in “Fiddler,” though, she’s a specific person, a matchmaker.
My whole life, I’ve always been something of a yenta. I love to get involved with people’s life decisions, telling people where to work, where to live, who to date. I’m kind of annoying that way. Which is why, over the years, I’ve pulled back a bit and let people lead the lives they want to lead, not getting too involved. And as far as matchmaking, occasionally I’ll set people up–I have some successes under my belt, some disasters too–though now I think I’m better off applying my skills to food: which is why I decided to pair pineapple upside-down cake with homemade toasted coconut ice cream.