On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we had toast for dinner. Now when I say “toast for dinner,” you may be imagining a stale piece of bread, smeared with a little butter and jam. That wouldn’t be a very filling dinner, now, would it?
No, the toasts that I made for dinner were hearty affairs; so filling, in fact, we almost couldn’t finish them. Consider them close cousins of bruschetta; they’re the kinds of toasts that you see sometimes at trendy restaurants, like ABC Kitchen in New York which serves a famous butternut squash toast. The premise is simple: a very thick slice of bread, toasted until very dark around the edges, and then topped with something rich and decadent.
Recently on Twitter, someone named @Bobby Tweeted: “The worst writing online is those quirky 17-paragraph preambles recipe bloggers post before telling you what to put in your fuckin lasagna.”
You might think that a Tweet like this (which has over 12,000 likes and 3,000 RTs) might enrage someone like me who spent over a decade of my life writing quirky seventeen-paragraph preambles before telling people what to put in their f-ing lasagna, but actually, I totally agree with this Tweet. In fact, this Tweet speaks to why I kind of gave up food blogging two years ago. The writing seemed besides the point; I was just becoming a resource for recipes rather than a person whose words mattered. In a screenplay or a script for a TV show, every word matters; in fact, sometimes you get into hour-long discussions with producers or actors about one or two words that you feel strongly about. So when the writing on food blogs started to feel disposable, I lost interest. What’s the point of writing on here if no one really cares about what you’re saying?
Trader Joe’s has always been a mystery to me. People love the place, they start to cheer when one opens up in their neighborhood, but I’ve always been stumped by what to buy there. I’ve done well with trail mix (because it tastes more like candy), and it’s nice to get a decent bottle of wine for not a lot of money. But until yesterday, I’d never made a dinner from Trader Joe’s ingredients that I’d be eager to make again. Yet there I was–there’s one downstairs from my gym–and I wanted to make a healthy dinner so I bought a can of white beans (a pretty safe purchase), a bag of cruciferous vegetables (including kale), a lemon and a bottle of white wine. And the dinner that I made was so stupendous, I’ve just gotta tell you about it.
Waking up on the weekend, one doesn’t want to get dressed. One wants to throw on a pair of shorts, veg out on the couch, listen to music and possibly read the newspaper. One–and I’m pretty much talking about myself here–definitely doesn’t want to go to the grocery store to buy breakfast ingredients. So what to do when there aren’t enough breakfast ingredients to make a normal breakfast? You make breakfast anyway.
The New York Times recently published an article with a powerful first sentence: “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.”
I like this news because it’s not like it’s saying “all delicious things are bad for you!” It’s saying: “Hey, you can eat really delicious things, just not In-N-Out burgers and milkshakes, ok?” And though I don’t imagine I’ll be giving those up any time soon, it’s good to know that I can maintain a mostly Mediterranean diet by doing the following: pouring a bag of dried beans into a bowl of cold water before starting my day.
If I’m lucky enough to write another cookbook, I’d like to write one about using pantry staples. That’s how you separate a cook from a recipe follower: the recipe follower makes a list, buys what they need for that recipe, cooks it and repeats that process again the next day. A cook opens the refrigerator, opens the pantry, and makes dinner with what they find. That’s what I love to do most and what I’d like to teach other people to do.
Start, for example, with a bag of dried beans. You know I’m really into the Rancho Gordo brand, but you can use any dried beans. These ones were Pinquitos, but use any small brown beans for this formula.
Let’s start with the toast: instead of a jam-topped breakfast concoction, this toast moves in a more savory direction. I toasted it just like normal (I couldn’t cut a thick slice because Craig bought pre-sliced sourdough bread; I forgive him) and then–here’s where we go savory–rubbed it with a garlic clove and then drizzled it with good olive oil (Katz’s, if you wanna know the details).
The best dinners are the ones that have a story. This is one such dinner.
It started on a typical day: I was driving to Silverlake to eat lunch at Forage (one of my favorite places to grab a bite here in L.A.) and to have coffee and do work at Intelligentsia. Only, it was street cleaning day which means half of the normally available spots were no longer available. I circled and circled and started to go a little crazy. Trying to find a parking spot isn’t something I had to do in New York; here, it can be a totally maddening experience, especially as you pass the same landmarks again and again, not one car budged, not one person dangling their keys.