Yum Yum Cherriums

yumyumcherrium

About nine months ago, we defected from our CSA subscription. Community supported agriculture is a really awesome way of buying produce if you don’t mind eating kohlrabi all the time. We unfortunately do mind at great deal. Our CSA totally sucked the life out of us. Too many turnip greens and too much guilt. Have you ever noticed that when food people first subscribe to a CSA it’s like “OMG, best thing ever!” You start with all kinds of horn o’ plenty photos of the CSA bounty. Then you get real busy with Chez Panisse Vegetables, Plenty, and Tender: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch. “I’m Yotam motherfucking Ottolenghi!” you roar, and you dress those vegetables with yogurt and sumac. “I’m a bacon-studded vegetarian!” you shout, to no one in particular. You’re gonna use all those beet and turnip greens if it kills you, goddamn it! You subsist on beet and turnip green frittatas and quiches for a few weeks. You roast those beets. You shred them raw, and dress them with mustard. You eat so many beets it hurts. Like, actually hurts. You realize, somewhere about two months in, that you have some kind of digestive aversion to beets. You have literally given yourself irritable bowel syndrome from all the beet-eating, but you keep going. You slog through those long winter months. You like borscht, really! Lots and lots of borscht. You go on a trip at some point, and even though you try to prepare by “gifting” your friends your turnips (“MERRY CHRISTMAS MAN!”), a fridge full of vegetables somehow rots in your absence. Somewhere along the way, you start stockpiling kohlrabi, because you don’t know what to do with it. Inexplicably, it neither rots nor improves with age. Even when you figure out what to do with it, you discover that nobody actually likes kohlrabi. Except Kashmiris, apparently. Working your way through a battery of Kashmiri kohlrabi recipes, you begin to suspect that Kashmiris don’t really like kohlrabi either. Sometime in the spring, you become delirious over a tiny basket of strawberries. “Our strawberries came in!” you announce to your friends, who don’t understand why you had to wait until your CSA deigned for you to eat strawberries. Because you are drowning in guilt, and turnip greens, and ganth gobi, friendo. After a long talk with your spouse and your therapist, you decide to quit your CSA. You send a long, apologetic email to the farm. “It’s no you, it’s us!” you write, even though there was a half-rotten plum in the last basket, and the greens were full of mites. Your ears burn with shame. If anyone asks about your CSA, as just a year earlier you talking of nothing else, you sheepishly say that it was too many vegetables for just the two of you. “If we had kids, maybe…” you say, because people with kids obviously have all the time and energy in the world to figure out how to get their kids to eat a never-ending stream of kohlrabi and turnip greens. Then you go back to the farmer’s market and bam! There are fifteen new varieties of pluot since your last visit. And you don’t ever have to buy kohlrabi again, ever.

I bet you have a really amazing CSA that isn’t at all about turnip greens and guilt. I’m so happy for you.

The farmer’s market of our fair hamlet is rather underwhelming by Southern California standards—and by that I mean, it would still murder a green market most anywhere else. So we’ve returned to shopping at the Irvine Farmer’s Market at University Center on Saturday mornings, which remains, for my money, the best farmer’s market in Orange County for fruit and vegetables. My favorite fruit stand there is Arnett Farms of Fresno, where they have taken the hybrid thing to the extreme. I have a limited attention span for fruit, and I want the Forever 21 of farm stands. At last visit, Arnett had nine different varieties of pluot in every color imaginable, and we’re only at the beginning of stone fruit season. I realize I’m totally Columbusing here, but bear with me. My most exciting discovery this week is the cherrium, a cherry-plum hybrid. About an inch in diameter with a tiny stone, they are like everything I’ve ever wanted in a fruit: tart, sweet, firm, and mouth-poppable. I’ve devoured a giant bag in thirty-six hours, and I’m nervous they will be gone by next week. You should get some before they are gone, unless of course you are beholden to your CSA for your stone fruit selections. Now if your CSA has cherriums, I think you’ve hit the jackpot.

Cherry Bomb

finalcobbler

If the slide into bourgeois bohemian middle age is signaled by weekly farmer’s market visits and excessive zeal for new kitchen gadgets, I am the avalanche. Unable to consume one more raw cherry and compelled to make a cobbler to address our bounty, I found myself without a cherry pitter. A quick trip to Sur La Table later, I was redecorating my kitchen in fuchsia splotches. I chose the OXO version, which while handsome, I can only partially recommend on account of the splattering and the fact that my husband nearly broke a tooth on the many pits I failed to remove.

pitter

On a side note, is totally disturbing to me that the employees at our neighborhood Sur La Table know me by name, thanks in part to our wedding registry last year. Consumer capitalism gets you good when you get hitched—I’m still receiving an unsolicited, unwelcome copy of Brides magazine each month. Little do the power that be know, I was the most disappointing participant in the wedding industrial complex of all time. This county courthouse bride didn’t even manage register for a cherry pitter!

pittedcherries

You probably already have a go-to cobbler recipe, but I thought I’d tap out mine. At some point my recipe was essentially a Joy of Cooking/Betty Crocker hybrid, one I cobbled together, wink wink. But it’s enough my own now that the specifics may be worthwhile if you find yourself with an excess of cherries, sweet or sour.

Cherry Cobbler

Filling:

4 cups of pitted fresh cherries (I used sweet, but you could use sour and up the sugar)

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Biscuit:

4.5 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons sugar

2-½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup milk

slump

Heat oven to 375º.

Pit those damn cherries. Bemoan the fact that your kitchen now looks like a shocking pink Pollack painting. Realize that you don’t have a lime. Steal a lime from your neighbor’s lime tree down the street. Mix cherries with 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, lime zest, and vanilla extract. Pour into ungreased baking dish that will fit the whole damn things with a few inches to spare for biscuit.

Cut room temperature butter into flour, 3 teaspoons sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl using a knife, until mixture look like fine crumbs. Stir in milk. By the spoonful, drop dough by onto filling mixture.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until topping is golden brown and fruit juice is oozing up and appears to have thickened. Eat with vanilla ice cream. And cobbler for breakfast is the bee’s knees, duh.

cobbler

Night Squirrel

This time with burnt toast

K:  Did you see the Eater article I posted about Jessica Koslow’s new dinnertime venture?

Me: Totally. What are they going to call it?  Night Squirrel?

***

Here’s the Eater post:

http://la.eater.com/archives/2014/06/03/sqirls_jessica_koslow_planning_dinner_spot_in_los_feliz.php

And a writeup in last month’s Bon Appetit, complete with a recipe for the sorrel pesto rice bowl of destiny:

http://www.bonappetit.com/restaurants-travel/article/sqirl-restaurant

The Bear-Garden has never been so au courant.

BLT

blt3

I know there have been some crickets chirping around here lately, but I have a most excellent excuse this time: I finished my dissertation, filed it, and am now a doctor everywhere except on flight manifests (because who wants that kind of a mess?). The whole graduation rigmarole was very nice, with my and B’s parents flying in for the weekend along with my friend MT. We ate ourselves stupid at Pizzeria Mozza (No pictures blogger! They will cut you!) and Gen Korean barbecue. If the weekend felt somewhat anticlimactic, it was probably because when I filed my dissertation at the university archives the week prior, I had felt the most obscene level of happiness humanly possible. I mean, it literally felt like a giant ray of light shot down from the sky and bathed my entire being in a sense of wellbeing and accomplishment—it was that good. I’d tell you to write a dissertation just for the sake of that feeling if you haven’t already, dear reader, but it’s surely a boneheaded way of going about it. Having a kid probably yields the same results and the gestation period is only nine months—not, gulp, nine years like in the case of my little monster spawn.

The letdown has been epic—I basically wanted to nothing but sleep. I also somehow managed to contract a gross cold in the past few days, so I’ve been laying low and catching up on Orange is the New Black like everyone else in America. Fortunately, I’ve got a week off before my summer class starts, though it may be cancelled thanks to low enrollment. If that happens, you should expect lots of recipes this summer for rice and beans. All this other stuff aside, I mainly want to tell you about the BLTs we’ve been making around here lately.

blt1

The BLT is not only my favorite sandwich, but it’s the foodstuff I most intimately associate with independence and fresh starts. If the two great hurdles of living alone are eating in a restaurant alone and going to the movies alone, the BLT was my gateway drug. As an eighteen year old proto-emo kid living alone for the first time in New York City, I discovered that a BLT and a cup of coffee at virtually any diner rung up for less than five bucks, and that people tended not to give a loner that pitying look at art house cinemas. I spent many, many afternoons tucking into a perfect BLT at the Silver Spurs diner on Houston before shuffling over the Film Forum for a flick or two. Like most ventures into doing things alone, this routine was terrifying at first, until it became the best thing ever.

My perfect NYC diner BLT is two toasted slices of sourdough bread slathered with Hellman’s mayonnaise, topped with a few slices of thin crispy bacon, half a rosy hothouse tomato, and romaine lettuce. Bonus points if they sprinkle salt and pepper on the mayo before assembly. When I moved to California, I searched and searched in vain for Hellman’s. How could the best shelf-stable mayonnaise in the world not be readily available west of the Rocky Mountains? It took nearly a decade for me to Google the problem and discover that Best Foods mayonnaise (which Californians revere with the same intensity as New Yorkers do Hellman’s) is the same goddamn product. As if the little blue bow and the tagline “bring out the best” weren’t enough of a tip-off for this Ph.D. If just now your brain exploded from this insight into the branding intricacies of late capitalism, I’ll just go ahead and say it: “You’re welcome.”

blt2

The BLTs, or BALTs as the case may be, that I’ve been making at home lately are a slightly different animal. Toasted French bread is anointed with Best Foods on both sides, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then piled high with thick slices of applewood smoked bacon and farmer’s market avocados, heirloom tomatoes, and baby greens. The BLT is no longer the sandwich of triumphant solitude. I make one for B, and the movies we go to afterward are usually sneaky double features at the multiplex. But they still feel pregnant with the possibility of a new sort of life, one a little better than the one prior. Happy summer, dear reader. It’s good to be back.

Langer’s Deli

pastramichilicheesefries

I’ll fess up straight away—I’ve always been a Canter’s gal. Not particularly because I think that Canter’s pastrami is oh-so-special—though I do think it is quite good, and sometimes it can be amazing. No, I’m a Canter’s devotee because I quite literally don’t understand how anyone can eat an enormous pastrami Ruben in the middle of the day and still be a productive member of society. Pastrami is usually reserved for late nights in my book, preferably eaten after a few drinks and maybe a double feature at the New Beverly. I like Canter’s because I can get a Ruben and a chocolate egg cream at one a.m., and take some rugelach to-go for following morning.

pastramialmostruben

After years of hearing about the transcendent pleasure of Langer’s pastrami, however, I decided it was time to venture out of my comfort zone. As Langer’s is only open until four p.m., we decided to make a lunch of it a few weeks ago. It was an ambitious plan—heaps of pastrami to be followed by the Alexander Calder show at LACMA and an evening screening at Cinefamily. I had hot pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, while K had the same sandwich with corned beef. B, who acted as though he was on a drunken dare as opposed to a casual lunch, ordered chili cheese fries topped with a heap of pastrami. It was all of course delicious, but we were entirely bested by the beef. The rest of the afternoon was spent in a haze, and I can’t for the life of me see how anyone makes a regular lunch out of Langer’s specialties. Also, am I missing something, or is there not a proper Ruben on the Langer’s menu? To me, a Ruben is toasted rye, warm pastrami or corned beef, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. I’m not really feeling the coleslaw or spicy American cheese thing, though I’m sure I could be edumucated to change my mind. Next time I’ll try going to Langer’s when I have absolutely no other plans and can fully devote myself to a meat-coma afternoon. It’s really too bad about those fries, however. I can’t imagine a more delightful midnight snack.

Spring

jacarandablossoms

As transplants have likely attested since the beginning of time, the seasons (or, rather lack thereof) in Southern California take some getting used to. I grew up in the foothills in Colorado, where long summers and winters are slightly punctuated with a short, muddy spring full of snowstorms and a week of prime aspen viewing in the autumn. I was thrilled as an adult to discover the pleasures of spring and fall in places with four distinct seasons, including New York City, where I spent my college years. It was a shock, then, to move to California and find myself confronted with an endless procession of sunny, seventy-degree days, month after month, year after year.

flameoftheforest

Yet one always finds new ways of tracking these things. Despite this terrible drought, a few seasonal markers have still come to pass this year, my favorite being the spring flowering of trees, species quite exotic to this pine tree forest bred lady. The purple blossoms of jacaranda trees now carpet our street, and a nearby block boasts the most beautiful flame of the forest that I’ve ever seen. I take a special detour on my way home every day to marvel at its primeval good looks.

jacaranda

Surely the most unpleasant seasonal symptom here is the arrival of the Santa Ana winds. They howled into town quite unseasonably yesterday, and the resulting mix is ninety-degree heat, clouds of dust, and total desiccation. We’re used to seeing them in the ‘fall’, when memories of our relatively temperate summers are scorched out by these desert winds. Sweaty and parched, I needed a reminder today of how beautiful things were last week and thought you might too, so here’s the photographic evidence. Hope you are staying cool, dear reader, wherever this finds you.

Bear Flag Fish Co.

bearflagtacos

For all my talk of near-religious devotion to the institution of Taco Tuesday, you may be surprised that I have not yet publically declared my favorite OC instantiation of that weekly rite. You can be sure I’ve done my due diligence, and there are certainly posts to come about the many fantastic places—both muy auténtico and Gringoified—where you can get a great taco nearby. But when it comes to my precious Tuesdays, I’ve become a creature of extreme habit. For the past two years, my Tuesday nights are all about Bear Flag Fish Co., the Newport-based seafood market and casual restaurant. There is a lot to recommend this place, especially if you like simple, perfectly-cooked preparations of really fresh fish—and who doesn’t? Their tuna and salmon poke is the stuff of dreams are made of, and far-flung friends and family alike often wax poetic about the sheer decadence of going at a pound of Bear Flag poke with a bag of locally-made El Toro Bravo chips.

But we’re locals, yanno? We don’t have nearly the Benjamins (or the mercury-tolerance) for weekly bouts with raw bluefin. Instead, we go to Bear Flag each week expressly for their Taco Tuesday special: panko-crusted fish tacos at two bucks a pop. A riff on the classic Baja fish taco, these beautiful, corn tortilla wrapped babies are topped with green and purple cabbage, pico de gallo, and a drizzle of mayo-based “Tommy sauce.” Add a shot or two of one of the many hot sauces available—including Bear Flag’s vinegary, house-made habanero version—and you’ve basically got the best thing ever. We get three apiece; thus for twelve dollars, we have a pretty perfect meal for two people. Even if you don’t make it on a Tuesday, they are usually only three dollars each, making it a bargain dinner in these pricey climes.

I’m probably giving away too much stalker-ammo here, but we actually prefer the newer Crystal Cove Promenade location and can be basically found there every Tuesday. It’s closer to our house and our thrice-weekly hike, and while it’s surely in the most appallingly nouveau riche shopping center in the world, the surfer guys that work at Bear Flag are super-friendly and efficient, at least to the regulars. Moreover, the parking lot of the Promenade has a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean, and watching sweeping sunsets is easy from the Bear Flag patio. Don’t get me wrong; it’s definitely an odd place. We once arrived to a row of eight (seriously, eight!) Ferrari Testarossas all parked in a row out front—a jamboree of ostentation, if you will. But Taco Tuesday is the great equalizer, and we smugly ate our six tacos while the sun set over Catalina, the light bouncing off the hoods of those many mid-life crises.