May 2004

FOOD FICTION: Chapter One, “Horace Chesterbottom Makes An Omelette.”

According to this New Yorker piece [linked via], publishers are now scouring blogs for worthy writers to pen novels. Alas, I fear that my blog’s “Food Blog” status will automatically disqualify me from the running; petty publishers dismissing me with the click of a mouse.

And so desperate times call for desperate measures. Tonight I present what may very well be an internet novelty: the first chapter of a first novel written by a food blogger for his food blogging audience. Call it food fiction, if you’d like. And I’m hoping to make the process participatory—perhaps a Choose Your Own Adventure type deal. In any case, please click below for CHAPTER ONE of what is certainly not a masterpiece.

Why Crab, Your Shell, It Is So Soft

The nice thing about being an amateur gourmet is that I am an amateur gourmet. By that, I mean, I have no accountability. Sort of like being an amateur doctor. “Oops,” you can say, “I swapped your liver with your spleen! Sorry!”

Lacking accountability allows me to discuss things I know nothing about without any fear of repercussions. “Why you blasted gourmet!” you can say, to no avail. “Your misinterpretation of vichyssoise ruined my Bar Mitzvah!”

Tonight, then, I ate a soft-shelled crab. I know nothing about soft-shelled crabs. I’ve never eaten one before.

Lauren and I went to dinner with our friends Hetal and Andrew:


Because we were going to see “Shrek 2,” we decided to eat in the mall. And as you already know, the Phipps mall is home to Twist (where I ate with my parents and brother graduation weekend). So we ate there.

The menu there is eclectic, to say the least. Sushi, Tapas and Salads For Two mix awkwardly on four overstuffed pages of options. It’s like EPCOT jammed into one menu. We all read our menus like novels. Then the waiter told us the specials:

“Blah blah blah,” he said, “And also blah blah blah. Then there’s the soft-shelled crab.”

My ears perked up. I had never had a soft-shelled crab. I run an internationally-acclaimed website where millions of readers thrive off my every experience–I must eat this for them.

“I’ll have that,” I said boldly.

“Very good,” said the waiter, running to the kitchen, failing to take anyone else’s order.

“Hey!” said Hetal, “I’m hungry too.”

“Quiet woman,” I snapped, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Moments later, the waiter returned with this–my soft-shelled crab:


I dug in immediately. Andrew, Hetal and Lauren watched with watery eyes that reflected the emptiness in their stomachs.

“Mmmm!” I announced. “This is delicious!”

The batter was nice and flavorful. And the crab–every square inch of it–was remarkably edible. No pesky shell to crack through, no weird parts to scrape aside. I finished almost as quickly as I had started.

“Ahhh!” I said, “What a treat! Who’s ready for a movie?”

Andrew, Hetal and Lauren keeled over dead from starvation. I saw Shrek 2 alone.

And The Winner Is…

So, just to reiterate, the other day (Friday, in fact) I proposed a contest to eat adventurously this weekend. “The entry with the most outrageous, most creative account will win,” I said.

And so our three entrants are as follows: Caitlin and her fiddlehead ferns, Lisa (not the Lisa I know) and her triad of entries (Martha Stewart Souffle, Banana Nut Bread, and Maple Syrup Candy) [her commentary was sent via e-mail] and I’ll share some of that here:

My friend Jesse has been talking about maple candy for a while now, so I told him

if he would buy me the syrup, I would be more than happy to try and make it for

him. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. The first one burnt and

was a total failure, but not to be defeated, I tried again, and it turned out

wonderful. Actually, it turned out more like carmel than the maple candy I grew

up with, but its still really good.

Alas, our winner is the third entrant—and I think you’ll all agree that despite the admirable ambition of our first two entrants, Shari’s Hamster Tribute (El Dia de Los Hammies) is way deserving of a cookbook accolade:


I really enjoyed reading her account. Especially where she attempts to grind a clove on a grater:


Her final hamster arrangement is surely as much of a feast for the eye as it is for the mouth:


So congrats, Sheri! You’re our first Amateur Gourmet contest winner! [Oh, and as per her request, her prize will be Diana Kennedy’s “My Mexico.” Enjoy!]

Condoleezza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction

Great artists require great inspiration. F. Scott had Zelda, Cassavetes had Rowlands, and I have Condoleezza. This is my deepest darkest secret: Condoleezza Rice is my muse.

She calls to me like a siren. Literally. She sits on top of a police car in the parking lot outside my window.


“Yes Condoleeza?” I reply.

“MAKE ME A SANDWICH!” she replies.

“Right away, Condoleezza.”

I’m not being fair. Condoleezza can be very gentle. Sometimes she climbs up my drain pipe and says things like: “Sweetheart, would you be a doll and make me a pot roast?” Or: “I’d kill for some salmon.” Occassionally she denies prior knowledge of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist plots but then she remembers that I’m not the 9/11 commission and requests a BLT.

Tonight being the fourth edition of Is My Blog Burning?, the internet-wide themed cooking event for food bloggers (tonight’s theme was RICE), I informed Condoleezza that I would be making rice pudding.

“Rice what!?” she demanded.

“Pudding,” I answered.

“Hmmm,” she pondered, scratching her chin. “Not sure that I like that.”

“Well,” I proffered, “Perhaps I can make it a tribute pudding? Put your name in the title? Condoleezza Rice Pudding?”

Condoleezza wailed a happy wail. I took this for a yes.

The recipe I used came from the Food Network: Gale Gand’s Arborio Rice Pudding. I got to work right away.

This recipe is incredibly easy. It requires little work and little skill.

Place half a cup of rice in the pot:


Add three cups of milk and one cup of cream:


Then half a cup of sugar:


Then add a vanilla bean.

“A vanilla what?” asks Condoleezza.

“Bean,” I answer.

“Let me inspect that,” she requests.

I oblige:


“Yes yes,” she says, “Condoleezza likes this vanilla bean.”

“Very good,” I say, a bit half-heartedly.

I slice the bean in half horizontally (the recipe only calls for half the bean) and then vertically. I scrape out the seeds and place them and half the bean in the pot.

That’s all the prep you need. Now turn the burners on and start cooking.

“THE HEAT IS ON!” sings Condoleezza, her photocopied head floating around the kitchen. “THE HEAT IS OOOOONNNNN…”

I bring the milk, cream, et al up to a boil and then lower it to a simmer. For the next forty minutes I stir quite regularly.

Soon the pudding looks like this:


I take a taste to see if the rice is done and consequently burn my mouth.

“Dumbass,” observes Condoleezza.

I plate the pudding and serve, as Gale Gand suggests with berries.

“Those berries look dangerous,” warns Condoleezza. “Perhaps we should inspect them.”

She begins plucking them out of my bowl.


“I’m the National Security Advisor, ok?” she says, chewing away. “These berries could be dangerous.”

She then grabs my bowl, scarfs it down, and goes to serve herself more:


As far as muses go, Condoleezza can be pretty nasty. But truth be told, she’s pretty entertaining. And she sings a mean 80s song.

Three Official Entries! Woohoo!

Blessed be my readers—three of you have generously participated in my generous “Adventurous Food Weekend” contest. All the entries are great so far. I’m still waiting for the pictures from one entrant, so I’ll postpone the “judging” until tomorrow… but please know that I’m incredibly thrilled! If I could I would buy cookbooks for you all. Unfotunately, the losers must be shot. Company policy. Stay tuned!

Say It Ain’t So, New Yorker

The perfect dining companion must be reliable, they must be engaging, and they must have the ability to traverse a wide variety of subject matter. My perfect companion, then, is constantly in my car, bound and gagged in the back seat, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Not only that, my perfect companion is hilarious at times, instructive at times, and always willing to watch me dab cream cheese from my upper lip. My perfect companion, as you can see, is a magazine. That magazine is The New Yorker:


And there I was today, reading my New Yorker, enjoying its company as always. First there was a cartoon or two, the letters to the editor, then, of course, the “Table For Two” feature. I finished things off with Anthony Lane’s review of “Van Helsing.” I flipped the magazine over, contented, ready to rise and go when I cast my eyes down casually only to behold, horrified, the following:


My New Yorker–my beloved New Yorker–had gone the route of Fredo Corleone, not to mention Brutus. (Yes, they were both on Atkins). Oh why, David Remnick? (<--Editor of The New Yorker). How could you sell out to the Atkins people? It's a cold carb-hating slap in the face. I thought I could trust you! You watched me eat a thousand bagels! The hallowed pages of E.B. White, James Thurber, and Roz Chast are now tainted with the blood of countless carbohydrates. A pumpernickel pox on all your printing presses!

Tierra is Verra Verra Good

Piedmont Road is one of those connector roads in Atlanta: it connects you from Buckhead to Midtown and intersects, along the way, with Rock Springs (taking you to Emory), Monroe (taking you to Ponce) and Tierra–a funky yellow South American fusion restaurant that my friends and I went to tonight.

Driving past, you wouldn’t necessarily think this was a special restaurant. I surely didn’t. I only learned about it reading, among other things, Chowhound and the AJC. The restaurant also has its own website: Tierra’s Website. The place is run by a husband and wife and according to the site’s ABOUT section:

Ticha is from Central America and was raised in South America having lived in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Panama and Nicaragua. Dan is from New York and pairing his love of food and classical training to Ticha’s understanding of the different flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean have made Tierra the success that it is today.

I’m glad I read this now. It really gives me a good way to understand our meal. Classical meets South American. Whatever it was, it was delicious.

So I went there with Lauren, friend Michael (aka “The Good Doctor”), the infamous Trey Givens of (who I met for the first time tonight) and Mark (who you met at the rib place a while back):


Now the first charming thing about Tierra is that they give you a glossary of food terms, to help you with the menu:


The other charming thing is that the husband and wife who run the place are on the scene: the husband cooking in the kitchen, and the wife doing the rounds. She sat us at our table and helped us with our wine.

[Though apparently she cooks too.]

Michael, a bit of a wine expert, chose a bottle of this:


It was a good red; it had a Latin flair, like Zorro. It did not, alas, wear a cape.

Bread was served. Michael pouted because the butter was too frozen. So then he did something that was, errr, something to do with frozen butter. He attempt to melt a bit over the candle:


I felt that this was a bold creative gesture. Then the butter fell into the candle:


So much for that.

Now for the food.

I took the waiter’s recommendation for an appetizer and went with the mussels:


A Bon Apetit magazine hung framed on the wall with the mussel recipe. I enjoyed them; there were bits of corn and Jicama floating around. The broth was rich and flavorful. Was I supposed to drink it like soup? I did that a little bit. I’m not so much an expert mussel eater.

But it was Michael who got the winning appetizer. He got “platanos filled with beef picadillo” which are basically plaintains and meat:


As for an entree, I had the snapper–“Genuine Gulf Snapper: pan fried in coconut and beer batter, served with kale and red rice”:


On first bite I was a little disappointed. But that’s because the first bite didn’t have any skin on it. Once I got some skin, I got the flavor and it was great. Very unusual and very expertly done. The rice was good too; though the kale was not something I particularly enjoyed. It tasted rather like a thorny bush.

Michael took the liberty of ordering another wine:


I took the liberty of going to the bathroom.

The plates were cleared. We drank more wine.

Then there was dessert. The waiter suggested the passion fruit flan. I love passion fruit. I like flan. “It’s very tart,” he warned, “it made me make a face when I tried it.”

“Cool,” I said, “let’s do it.”

The waiter gave me a strange look.


“Oh, I mean, I’d like to order the passion fruit flan.”

“Right away,” he nodded, traipsing off.

He returned moments later. Here’s the flan:


And it was, indeed, tart. But beyond that it was slightly bitter. And it was the bitter quality, not the tart quality, that I didn’t enjoy. With that said, though, I’m glad I ordered it. It definitely tasted of fresh ingredients and that I appreciated it.

Post-dinner conversation focused on pleated skirts, IMAX movies, and cicada consumption. Soon the bill came. Soon we paid. Soon we left.

‘Twas a fun night for all.

On Ironing

Getting ready to go out, for me, involves many a process. There’s the plucking, the grooming, the showering, the shaving, the full body moisturizing compress. Selecting clothes takes several committees and seventeen models who strut past with different variations until I am completely satisfied. What going out does not involve, however, is ironing. I hate ironing. I never do it.

Lauren does it all the time:


“You might want to iron your shirt,” she said tonight.

“Uh no,” I said, “it’s supposed to have a wrinkled look.”

“Ok,” she said, shaking her head and sparying her starch.

The only starch I need, I’ll have you know, is a potato.

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