Seattle Christmas

My sister lives in Seattle, and this year my whole family, plus her husband’s family, all gathered there to celebrate the birth of jesus christ, or just hang out for a few days.  I’m used to being by myself 90% of the time, so suddenly being around not just other people, but family 24/7 was somewhat anxiety producing for me.  Plus the consumer-capitalist orgy that are the holidays tends to offend me at a fairly visceral level.  I manged these impositions as I usually do, by cooking and eating.

Our first dining experience was my best, at Carmelita.   Carmelita is an upscalish, foodie vegetarian restaurant, meaning they seem to pay attention to quality, in season ingredients and don’t serve any tempeh.  I’m pretty much done with veggie grill type places, so this restaurant was a nice change of pace.  I started out with a “rosemary pear” cocktail, continuing my winter interest in pears.  Because of this, I think I neglected to see the ‘rosemary’ part.  The drink contained “Ketel One vodka, Clear Creek pear brandy, Canton ginger cognac, rosemary, [and] old-fashioned bitters,” but tasted mostly like rosemary.  I stuck with wine the rest of the night, while having the the cheese plate and the “lobster mushroom-pecan-mascarpone tortellini [with] Brussels sprouts, glazed red cipollini onions, [and] grilled endive cream.”  It was as good as it sounds, and unlike the fair at most “vegetarian” restaurants, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t replicate this dish at home without quite a bit of difficulty.  The thick, savory, but not-too-dense endive sauce and perfectly cooked sweet cipollini onions particularly impressed me.  And lobster mushroom tortellini!  and Brussels sprouts!  Perfect flavor combination.  Very clever.

A couple nights later, it was onto Tom Douglas’ Lola.  Tom Douglas is a Wolfgang Puck-ish restaurateur in the Seattle area, and owns several restaurants.  I meant to go to the vaguely asian-themed Dhalia Lounge, but because I couldn’t remember which restaurant was which we ended up at the greek-themed Lola.  Fine.  Tom Douglas’ named sounded familiar when my sister mentioned it to me, and that’s because he was on top chef:

I introduce this video for several reasons.  One, to remind you of the awesomeness of top chef season 6.  Jennifer and Kevin ended up getting Douglas’ box, and Jennifer ended up winning (see, she is a winner, despite recent events).  Also, to indicate the specific high end foodie context in which his restaurants are situated.  Most of the places I go to in LA are either cheapish “ethnic” cuisine places or locally popular hipster joints.  Lola was mass-market high end food.  As such, we had dishes with top chef worthy vocabulary: harissas and ouzo and lamb burgers and a menu heading entitled “starches” (though no geleés or foams or duos of).  Also, the waiter never failed to recommend only the most expensive things on the menu, such as when I asked him for his wine recommendations.  When I went for a slightly less expensive Greek wine (again, this is a greek restaurant), he seemed disappointed.  Still, I had the scallops, clams, mussels and salmon in a tomato saffron broth for a hefty $32 (mom was paying).  The scallops especially and also clams and mussels were overcooked, and the tomato broth was way over seasoned and had no saffron taste at all.  My tablemates all said the broth tasted like watered-down, over-salted, jar tomato sauce or soup.  It was ok, but if the main seafood ingredients were indeed local and carefully and responsibly harvested, they should have survived even the poor cooking.  Instead, I don’t think I enjoyed a single bit of this entree.  For dessert I had a choclate “custard” with a marshmallow on top.  My friend Rachel makes better marshmallows, and the custard was ok, but not as good as, say, the comparatively cheap chocolate mousse at the local Alston Yacht Club.  Maybe I’m just an LA snob now.

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Most of the pictures in the above slideshow are in fact NOT of our dinner at Lola, indicating there were other aspects to this holiday.  Indeed, we saw a gingerbread house exhibition in the lobby of a hotel.  The gingerbread houses were mostly impressive, especially an edible gingerbread treehouse.  There was a huge line to see these edible sculptures, which was really unnecessary because, while you couldn’t get up really really close without standing in the line, you could see pretty much everything else, at a distance of no more than four feet.  And even then, there was no one really monitoring the line.  One could interpret the fact that people were standing in a line at all as a marker of remarkable American civility or, conversely, as a sign of unthinking Christmas mass conformity.  Speaking of, I was dragged to see the Harry Potter movie, which was worse than I thought it was going to be.  Staid plot, too much emo crying, very derivative and inconsistent/illogical fantasy world, and lots of bad acting from almost everyone involved, (except for Alan Rickman and the divine Helena Bonham Carter)  Like Kristen Stewart, Emma Watson’s cuteness doesn’t make up for her poor acting, and she’s the best of the primary actors (what a great innovation, though, to have “Bellatrix Lestrange” torture Hermione by laying on top of her and biting her arm).  Anyway, terrible movie, made worse by the idiots behind us cheering at the stupid capitol one commercials [Insert Adorno quote here].  Whatever.

As far as cooking goes, I made polenta, braised chard, fresh bread, and a “spanish” style potato gratin, all from Deborah Madison’s book.  All turned out well and were a hit, especially the chard, which I did not make enough of.  I decided I needed a food processor so I can make more bread at home (because I’m not the kneading sort).  It all went well, and most importantly, it was very relaxing and meditative to cook.  I also made sugar cookies.  So go the holidays…


ducks of the week, in india

But it’s also raining here.

I did not take this video

rainy day food

It’s raining!  I love the rain in los angeles, much more than the sun.  I guess I’m just more at home in cooler weather, not to mention how beautiful the city looks in the rain and how clear the skies are after.  In light of said rain, I made a butternut squash pasta sauce which I had with the last little bit of some red wine (not wanting to venture out to the store, obviously).  I did venture out once, to my friend Michelle’s housewarming party, to deliver some bread pudding and play with her playful cat Mari.  This bread pudding is good.  Make it now!

Duck of the Week: Marlene disapproves

Marlene asks that you not throw your old Percocet bottles into her home.


Unique LA

I spent last saturday at Unique LA with my friend Lara.  Unique LA is a clothing and craft convention in downtown LA.  It was held at the California Market Center, an odd 13 story office building with a sort of warehouse-y convention space at the top.  I mainly went to see my friend Reneé and her wares, which are handmade bags (automatic sweetheart).  Being around so many design and fashion conscious people ended up being fairly draining, and I actually ended up a little sore from walking around, although this probably only denotes my current state of physical decay.  But there were some interesting things there.  I kept finding the perfect gifts for people I didn’t know, like vampire oven mitts and a pre-obama bill clinton poster, in vaguely shepard faireyesque style (just in the sense of bright, exaggerated graphics).  I now wish I had taken a picture, or bought it, because it was completely hilarious, though probably not meant as ironic.  What I did find were some cat toys and cards from modern cat, an interesting, non-ostentatious, reasonably priced print t-shirt by I forget who, and some recipe cards from shortstack that I gave as a housewarming gift.  I bought the recipe cards because, as a paper thing to buy, they were sort of unique, with a nice design.  But what I also realized is that most people doing ‘indie’ paper design seem to have exactly the same little otsu aesthetic: pastel colors, semi-minimal design, lots of rooted plants and animals, especially birds.  Some of the cards even played a Sufjan Stevens song when you opened them. J/k.  There was also some good chocolate and other food at this event.  Lara and I got free tote bags, two drinks, and a picture with a crazy snowman for our $10 entry fee.  Swell day.

Now go buy some shit from automatic sweetheart!


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Pie of Pears, with crust

When I flew to Denver, Colorado, recently for thanksgiving, I somehow had one thing on my mind: pears (well, also seeing my family and friends and grading, etc, but mostly just pears).  Though I forget it now, my brother-in-law John informed me that this is not my first holdiay season pear fixation, and that in fact I made a pear cobbler or something of that nature a couple years ago around Christmas.

But who doesn’t like pears (who doesn’t?!).  Especially cooked, with other sweet things, like sugar.  Considering I have also been walking around rather smugly since my friend Reneé and I made a savory pot pie, I decided that I was going to make a pear pie.  With two crusts, one on the bottom and one on the top, just like a real pie (not with criss-crossing crust strips, made while listening to the latest (?) Boy Least Likely To album..I’m not that twee yet).

Good thing I had just watched an episode of Alton Brown where he makes exactly such a thing: a no pan pear pie!  A galette, basically.  Except I wasn’t making a galette, I was making a pie.  In a pan.  That’s not important, what’s important are the pears.

Basically the pie came out as a smashing success.  It was ridiculously rich, but the crust was, indeed, tender and flaky, if a bit too thick, and the filling was really heavenly, with concentrated fruit, sugar, and balsamic flavors.  So it was tart, sweet, and tangy all at the same time, in a crust that was rich and creamy, and of coursed served with vanilla bean ice cream, so as to kill anyone trying to eat it.

I did make some adjustments, and would suggest a few more.  First, I skipped the pound cake and just made three times as much filling (with six pears, one package of blueberries, and one of blackberries).  Second, maybe cause it was meant as a galette, the recipe makes way too much crust.  You could have probably gotten both top and bottom crust out of the recipe, instead of making it twice like we did.  Also, I think all the steps are unnecessary.  Just combine the dry ingredients and room temp butter, then cut in some cold butter as instructed, and then refrigerate.  No need to to keep going back and forth to the refrigerator.  And you can probably afford to use less butter, if you are one of those people.

Yum! :

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