Last night the culinary muse descended upon me and whispered into my ear.
“Challenge yourself, my boy!”
I rose to the challenge and whipped out three cookbooks: Mario Batali’s “Simple Italian Food,” Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Cooking” and Sarah Moulton’s “Cooking With Sarah Moulton.”
From the first, I made a bizarre salad of fennel, blood oranges, pomegranate seeds and pecorino cheese.
Here are the ingredients, pre-slicing:
Strangely enough, my favorite element was the pecorino cheese. This is strange, you see, because I come from an anti-cheese family and have spent many an hour struggling to outmaneuver the shadow my family’s anti-cheese stance casts upon my appetite.
The cheese purchasing was strange too. The cheese woman at Whole Foods was incredibly kind and incredibly helpful but also, apparently, incredibly inept. When I asked for pecorino she said: “Well, unfortuantely, all we have is pecorino studded with peppercorns.” I tried a sample (which I enjoyed) but then almost died when a peppercorn exploded in the back of my throat and made me reevaluate my belief in a heliocentric universe.
“Well,” I said sadly, “I guess I’ll take it.”
She chopped me off a chunk, packaged it, labelled it and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said, and as I walked away I noticed a stack of cheeses on top of which was one labelled Pecorino without peppercorns.
I bit the bullet and bought the peppercorn one I was holding.
So, anyway, I still enjoyed the nonpeppercorn parts of the cheese as did other participating cheesetasters. The salad, though, was a bit of a dud.
Next, it was time for a second crack at risotto. My first crack went incredibly well, as documented in my eGullet submission: My First Risotto (A Young Man and His Arborio Rice).
That first risotto, from the Chez Panisse book, was a wild mushroom risotto and so this time I thought I’d attempt the saffron risotto. Did you know that saffron is the stamen of the crocus flower? Forgive the sentiment, but that’s like putting an actual penis or vagina in your dinner.
“How delightful!” sings the muse.
The ingredients this time out were more basic: onions, pancetta, saffron (which is pretty pricey for the little envelope you get of penises), rice, chicken broth, butter and paremsan. The end result?
At first I thought I ruined it by adding too much chicken broth at the end (which, according to the cookbook, creates a severe risk of broth / rice separation) but after some frantic stirring and soul-searching, the risotto came out fine.
How did it taste? Risotto-tasters seemed to enjoy it, though I felt it was lacking in flavor. I much preferred the wild mushroom one.
And then, as if we weren’t full enough, I chopped up a block of chocolate, added simmering milk and made Sarah Moulton’s decadent hot chocolate. (NO PHOTO AVAILABLE) How was it? Very chocolatey. Too chocolatey, in fact. I felt sick afterwards.
Then this morning, Chris and I trekked to a place he declared the best breakfast in Atlanta.
“Better than the Crescent Moon?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said confidently.
“Better than the Flying Biscuit?” I persisted.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he answered.
“Look, it’s good all right, let’s just go there.”
So we went to the Thumbs Up Diner near Inman Park in what Chris called the 4th Ward section of Atlanta. (Apparently, this is where MLK was born).
We waited a scant 15 minutes and were seated at a table by a window. I was slightly tormented by the menu (in a good way). Should I have the sassy scramble or the french toast special?
Let me tell you about the french toast special: two slices of french toast, with CARAMEL, apples, cranberries and powdered sugar. How amazing does that sound? But it seemed too desserty for breakfast. I would feel guilty all day.
So I ordered the sassy scramble: eggs, smoked salmon, herbs and cream cheese; side of potatoes and a biscuit. Here it is several minutes later:
Chris ordered something whose name I forgot but that consisted of sausage and eggs over some kind of garlic-tomato concoction:
Chris enjoyed his and I really enjoyed mine. In fact, I can safely say that it is the best sassy scramble I have had in Atlanta (including Crescent Moon and Flying Biscuit).
Here, by the way, is what the place looks like inside:
A GRAPHIC, UNHAPPY EPILOGUE
Here’s where our story grows grotesque. I suggest that you stop reading here. No, really, please: stop reading here.
For while food writers concentrate on the orifice above the shoulders through which food enters, very few food writers–in fact, NO food writers–concentrate on that other orifice, the one from which food exits.
Oh, God, I’m ruining my blog.
Suffice it to say that on the car ride back my stomach began doing Mary Lou Retton’s winning routine from the 1986 olympics. I began employing severe lamasse techniques–hoo hoo hoo, ha ha ha–opening the window, fanning myself, all the while attempting to drive and carry on a conversation with Chris.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I chirped, “doing great.”
Was it the sassy scramble? Probably not. The risotto? The pecorino? The crocus penises? I think it was the hot chocolate. Whatever it was, though, it was enough to make this food writer consider an alternative career in astrophysics. Or law!