And so it was that I found myself at an AirBnb in Santa Barbara with persimmon trees. The trees were so beautiful — I’m mad at myself for not taking a picture of them (sorry!) — it felt like a crime to actually pull persimmons off of them. But pull persimmons off of them, I did, and when I got home with them, they were so very squishy, they almost seemed rotten. But I knew better.
There’s a certain type of cooking that I excel at and it’s called “I just got back from a trip and what do I have in my fridge?” cooking. Usually, when I get back from somewhere, I’m too fatootsed to go food shopping, so I either (a) give in and order take-out from Pine and Crane, our favorite take-out spot; or (b) take a culinary swing with what whatever I have around. Last night after getting back from Santa Barbara, I went for option B.
We spent last week with some friends (our quarantine pod) in Santa Barbara to ride out the election. And what a week it was! We thought we might be celebrating on Tuesday night as the results rolled in, but, as we all know, Tuesday’s uncertainty led to Wednesday’s uncertainty as the votes were slowly and meticulously counted.
How best to get our mind off of election stress? The ghost of Julia Child visited us one evening and told us to go visit La Super-Rica. The place is legendary — Isodoro Gonzalez opened it in 1996 — and Julia Child counted it as one of her favorite places to eat Mexican food. So off we went.
You could bite your nails right now, you could doomscroll through social media, or you could do what I’ve been doing: stressbake.
Stressbaking isn’t so much a strategy, as it is a state of mind. It’s where your body — your hands, your stomach, your taste buds — jump up into your brain and say: “Halt! No more perseverating. There’s work to be done.” In this case, the work involves taking very ripe bananas off of your counter and turning them into a cake.
One of the biggest clichés in food writing is the idea of cooking with love. It’s abstract, vague, overly sentimental.
And yet, there’s something about it that makes sense to me, especially when I’m making soup. You can cook with a lot of love when you’re making soup. You can take the time to strain it, for example, to make it extra smooth. You can take the time to make stock from scratch, instead of using stock from a box. Most people won’t notice the difference, but you’ll know that you took the time to do it. So what else to call that except cooking with love?
As a person who’s devoted most of my life to food, I have certain beliefs that I fervently hold on to. One: never grill chicken breasts for a dinner party. That’s depressing. Two: When baking with chocolate, it’s important to eat a quarter cup of the chocolate in its raw state. Quality control. And three: there’s absolutely no reason to make pizza at home. Order in, it’ll be better.
Pause on that last one. Recently, I felt inspired to try my hand at homemade pizza again after many unimpressive efforts from the past, earning comments like this one:
Nicholas Bergus had a point. I never quite got the dough thin enough, giving up on stretching it while it still looked rather puffy. The resulting pizza was, as Nicholas Bergus says, “more like focaccia than pizza.” When the internet trolls are right, you know you’re doing something wrong.
I own a dangerous book called By The Book. It’s a collection of the By The Book column from the New York Times; a column where artists, musicians, and writers talk about their favorite books and what’s currently on their nightstand. It’s dangerous because any time someone sings the praises of a book, I immediately want to own it. (See: the stacks of books currently on my desk, coffee table, and nightstand.)
Not only am I susceptible to “By The Book,” I’m also susceptible to book suggestions in real life. Case in point: Nik Sharma came on my Instagram Live two weeks ago, and sang the praises of Samantha Seneviratne’s Sugar and Spice. It was on my doorstep three days later.
It’s hard for me to think of dinners that aren’t pasta. When I have sausages in the refrigerator, for example, I think of all of the different pastas I can make with them: rigatoni with sausage and broccolini, ziti with sausage, onion, and fennel. I think I took it too seriously when Sophia Loren said: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
A year or two ago, though, I developed a dinner that feels like a pasta dinner that isn’t a pasta dinner, it’s a polenta dinner. I take whole sausages, brown them in olive oil, add onions and garlic to the pan, make a quick tomato sauce, and braise the sausages in there. Meanwhile, I cook a pot of polenta at the same time.