November 2005

Secret Cookbook Santa II

Last year, we played Secret Cookbook Santa to joyous effect. All participants were assigned a Santee to whom they sent a cookbook (preferably one of the Santee’s choosing) and they, in turn, received one of their own. The spirit of the season infected everyone involved and many were so buzzed they combusted on the spot. We dedicate this year’s Secret Cookbook Santa to their memory.

Here’s the thing. I’d love to do this again but I don’t gotz tha time. However, I’ve had several offers from people to help me organize it. So here’s your opportunity, whoever you are, to step up and make yourself available. You’ll probably have to make a secret santa e-mail account and then field all the e-mails, make the list, check it twice, and then assign everyone their Santee. It’s a lot of work but if you’re willing to do it, I’d be super grateful. So will the thousands of children you’ll save by doing this. Oops. I mean the 50 people who will receive cookbooks. They’ll be happy.

If you’re interested in playing this role, simply leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch with you in the order your respond. Chances are the first person who responds will have the job. But I may need others for back up. Thanks in advance! Santa Adam.

Feeding in FLAH-rida: Ago, Cafe Boulud, Norman’s

My friends mock the way I say Florida.

“FLAH-rida,” they tease when I tell them where I’m going for the holidays.

“How do you say it?” I protest.

And then they correctly pronounce it: “Floor-IH-dah.”

After much examination, we’ve determined that mine is the case of the New York Jew pronouncing words through a Long Island filter. This make sense because I lived on Long Island until I was 11. Then we moved to FLAH-rida. There we eat ARE-enges (as opposed to ore-anges) and call the summer heat HARR-ible (as opposed to hore-ible.)

We also eat many meals when I visit and that’s the segue we need to get us to the subject of our post. I was in Florida for four nights this Thanksgiving and in my time there I ate three meals I’d like to tell you about. Meal One took place at Ago in the Shore Club:

That’s the inside of the hotel: it’s very zen.

The other meals were at Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach: (which I’ve written about before, but two times is a charm)


And, finally (and most interestingly) Norman’s—called, by The New York Times, “the best restaurant in South Florida.”


Are you ready to delve into the swampy marshes of my food writing? Press ahead!

Another Gourmet Cupid Update

For those who cheered the advent of the Gourmet Cupid here’s a little update: We’ve had 53 entries so far. Of those 53, I’ve successfully paired up two “couples” who are still in the planning stages of their first dates. When they do finally go out, they’ve been instructed to bring along a camera and to write it up afterwards: so stay tuned for that. And for the 49 remaining bachelors and bachelorettes, have no fear. The Gourmet Cupid has you all in mind and as more contenders pour in, you never know when the Gourmet Cupid will strike you through the heart with his bamboo skewer of love.

Whose Plate Is Whose at the Roberts Family Thanksgiving?

I offered to cook a Thanksgiving feast this year for my family but my offer was kindly rejected by parties who preferred to go to a buffet at Woodfield Country Club, one community over from where we live in Boca Raton, Florida. Since eating at “the club” offered very little in the way of gourmet content, I decided to devise a game where you, the reader, would look at a plate assembled by a family member and then try to determine whose plate it is. To be fair, you should get a look at my family first. I’m not in the picture because I’m taking the picture, but you know who I am, don’t you reader?

From left to right there’s my brother, my father, my mother, my grandmother and grandfather. In front of them is a spread purchased by my mother from Publix.

“Don’t make fun of my spread on your website!” intoned my mother.

And so I’ll remain silent and let you click ahead to play “Whose Plate Is Whose?”

Late Night Kitchen Makeover

Why does one start a massive kitchen makeover at 11 pm the night before he’s flying home to Florida, when he’s yet to do his laundry, pack his suitcase, or finish the homework he must do for class the next day? To answer such a question is to penetrate the psyche of one Amateur Gourmet and so it is with a profound sense of mystery and a certain amount of pride that I present to you my gleaming new kitchen makeover, accomplished two nights ago in a fit of hysterical renewal.

[Click to make larger.]

I feel so dumb for not taking a “before” picture: this kitchen was a MESS. Spices were scattered all over the countertop, little plastic containers of popcorn and candied ginger were stacked in random corners, and giant bottles of olive oil and vinegar monopolized much of the countertop. As you can see, I installed a spice rack that I purchased from the Container Store; I switched the location of the food processor and the freestanding mixer (they were on opposite ends before) because I figured one could be the chopping station (to the right of the sink) (see also: cutting board) and one could be the baking station to the left of the sink. And I’m hoping that the space opened up near the mixer is large enough to roll out pie dough.

As for the cabinets, what was formerly a world of chaos is now a semi-orderly world of calm. Proceed ahead to see how I put things in a much more logical order.

J’Going To Paris!


So when the book thing happened a few weeks ago, I made a quick pact with myself to use a tiny portion of the proceeds to do something fun and exciting. Chatting online with my friend John, I told him that I really wanted to go to Paris.

“So let’s go,” he wrote.

Easy for John to say. John’s the most well travelled person I’ve ever met. You’ve read some of his accounts here–his trip to Iceland and his trip to Peru, to name two–so John doesn’t kid around when he says “let’s go.”

“But how will we get there? Where will we stay?”

John had that covered: Virgin Vacations. The deal is you have to prove your virginity by submitting blood and sperm samples, and they fly your way around the world…

Haha, ok just kidding. But Virgin Vacations offers wildly reasonable vacations for what seems like very little money. For example: you can get a round trip ticket to Paris and 6 nights in a hotel for $479. And that’s precisely what John suggested.

“A trip to Paris for $479? How can I say no?”

“Well there’s tax, too, and obviously meals and…” John continued.

“Stop trying to talk me out of it! I’m going!”

And so last night we worked out the details on the phone with Virgin, faxed over our credit card info, and today we got the confirmation. We’re going to Paris from December 14th through the 23rd! (Well I’m staying through the 23rd, John’s coming back earlier for work.) A whole week in Paris!

Parisian food bloggers Clotilde and David have already been notified (David’s getting back from his book tour on the 21st, so I’m staying two extra nights to finally meet him and experience what promises to be a superior Parisian chocolate tour) and I can’t wait to see them both in their natural habitat.

John and I are staying near the Arc de Triomphe, so if anyone knows any good places to eat around there let me know!

Actually: this is a great time to ask those of you who’ve been to Paris, who live in Paris or who have a superior knowledge of Paris, where should John and I eat when we’re there? John’s basically bankrupted himself with the ticket-purchasing, so cheap (or reasonably priced) places would be much appreciated. Also: we’re happy to take suggestions on fun things to do besides the obvious touristy stuff.

The Virgin people tell me our hotel will have internet access, so I’ll try to blog while I’m there. That way you can enjoy our vacation vicariously and comment as we go.

Going to Paris as an adult (I was there in high school) has been one of my highest ranked dreams since the time I graduated college; and now that I’m so into food (and also smarter than I was in high school!) I can’t wait to soak in everything Paris has to offer. J’can’t wait!!

A Bird of One’s Own: A Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One

“You should do something on your site for Thanksgiving,” suggested my mom yesterday in the afternoon.

If only she knew the grand plan I’d been hatching over the past couple weeks. I was to invite hordes and hordes of friends over on Sunday to revel in the splendor of my autumnally decorated apartment; to clink glasses of champagne merrily and ogle over the gigantic turkey I roasted for hours in my perfectly heated oven. These friends would declare the experience “the best Thanksgiving they’d ever had” and mourn the fact that they were headed, in a few days, home to their family feasts: meals that would pale in comparison.

Yes, my plan was grand–Martha Stewart meets Frank Capra with music by John Tesh–and I carried it with me like a young Napoleon once carried the dream of conquering Europe. Only, unlike Napoleon, my dream was only that: a dream. A flight of fancy. Friends over on Sunday? Cook a giant turkey? John Tesh music? This would be impossible. And I’d practically given up.

But on my mom’s suggestion, I suddenly recalled an episode I watched of a certain someone’s show on The Food Network where she (this certain someone’s a woman) made an alternative Thanksgiving dinner with a guinea hen, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and roasted Brussels sprouts. This I could make and write about. And that’s in fact what I did. Behold, my Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One:

Won’t you come inside and discover the identity of our secret someone and the recipes for this luscious meal?

Instant Pleasure

Rufus Wainwright has a song that’s featured in “Big Daddy” called “Instant Pleasure.” The lyrics start: “I don’t want somebody to love me / Just give me sex whenever I want it / ‘Cause all I ask for is instant pleasure / Instant pleasure, instant pleasure.”

This song came into my mind recently when talking to my mom. No, I don’t have an Oedipal Complex. We were at lunch a few weeks ago and at one point, talking about the website, she asked me in a hushed whisper: “Do you really like cooking?” As if beneath the surface of my enthusiasm was a crafty little schemer out to conquer the world by posing as a foodie.

I paused for a moment, pondered, and replied: “Yes, actually I do.”

“It’s so messy, though,” she said. “Is it really worth it?”

Though I couldn’t articulate it then, the lyrics to “Instant Pleasure” (or at least the tone) helps me to articulate it now. “Instant Pleasure” is the mantra of our era. At the push of a button you can instantly chat with friends, instantly read the news, instantly order a stereo from Type a text message into your phone and it’s instantly delivered; take a picture on your camera and it’s instantly visible. There’s instant music (see iTunes, Napster, LimeWire); instant movies (HBO On Demand); and even instant sex, if you’re so inclined. We live in an instantaneous age and, consequently, most of us eat instantaneous food. Eating a quick burrito or slurping down a smoothie isn’t a crime once in a while, but it’s a shame when it becomes a lifestyle.

And that’s why I love to cook. It forces me to exercise my emotional intelligence, the part inside of me that can delay gratification. When I come home hungry, it’d be easy to nuke a frozen dinner or order a pizza. And sometimes I do, in fact, order a pizza. But more and more I make the effort to choose something that requires some effort; even if it’s boiling some pasta and coating it with butter, nutmeg and parmesan. That takes 20 minutes, at the most. And it’s pretty bad, nutrition-wise. But it’s completely gratifying because I took the time to make it.

Perhaps a good parallel might be reading. There are those who will see books as a chore for the rest of their lives, never escaping the threat of having to finish a novel the night before a class and scanning the internet for condensed summaries. It’s not that their lives will be bad or unhappy—hell, maybe they’ll be happier—but they won’t be as textured, they won’t be as rewarding.

Same with food. Once the passion ignites in you, it’s not a road to everlasting bliss. If you only knew how many hours I spend circling neighborhoods, settling on where (Jesus, make up your mind already) I’m finally going to settle down to lunch. Or the time I spend flipping through recipe books at 5 PM, desperate to find the perfect recipe to quench my particular desire for dinner. I’m embarrassed to say, I even spend time now tabbing my food magazines so I don’t lose a particular recipe that I’m destined to forget about later on.

My life isn’t happier because I cook, but it’s richer. I’m convinced that all the time I spend thinking about what I’m going to eat on a particular day, the time it takes to go food shopping and the time it takes to actually cook (and then clean) is time well spent. The rewards aren’t explicit, the rewards aren’t tangible, and the rewards certainly aren’t instant. And that’s what makes them wonderful.

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