Alex Weiser at the Hungry Cat. Photo by Foodwoolf.
The first time I ever saw a crosne, the grubby looking Chinese tuber known for its crunchy, earthy-sweet flavor, was at the Weiser Family Farm stand at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. I bought a bag full, along with sunchokes, from a golden-faced man in a wide-brimmed hat whose smile radiated like sunshine on stainless. I met him again, months later, in the same wide-brimmed hat, crunching through Purple Haze carrots at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, and finally introduced myself. Since 1982, Alex Weiser’s friendly face has been working the area farmers’ markets, his face as familiar as the parsnips, potatoes and sprouting broccoli he talks about enthusiastically with local chefs and foodies.
There are obsessions and then there are cooking obsessions. The first kind can land you in counseling (and occasionally behind bars), the second will blow through your kitchen like a tempest, leaving every pot, pan, knife, cutting board, baking sheet and bowl lying in your sink like debris. I developed my first cooking obsession in the seventh grade after taking Wilton Cake Decorating classes with Debbie, the woman I babysat for. I learned how to make buttercream icing and transform it into pretty pansies and roses, shells and, of course, all of my friends’ names. Every time I made I cake I left icing fingerprints—leafy green and daffodil yellow—to dry on the kitchen drawers, the refrigerator handle, the doorknob and even the mailbox. By eighth grade the obsession had started to lose its sweetness, and I started scraping every inch of that pound of powdered sugar and Crisco off of each cake before I ate it. Continue reading
Tomato season has officially begun and I’m a woman obsessed. All of the delicious, funky-looking heirloom varieties scattered across the tables at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market last Sunday tempted me like Tribbles. They were so fresh. They smelled so good intoxicating. And then I tried one, the juice dripping from my chin and between my fingers. Before I knew it, my bag was overflowing with Cherokee Purples, Golden Jubilees, Brandywines, Marvel Stripes and Black Crimsons from Tutii Frutti Farms, all bumping up against each other in the hot August sun. Continue reading
I invented the root beer float when I was five or six years old. I was at a birthday party at the Ground Round, staring into my glass of soda, contemplating how to make my plain vanilla ice cream taste better. And then it dawned on me. And I dumped the ice cream in the cup, watched the fizz build and then started to suck down the creamy soda through my straw. My friends watched on in awe. Continue reading
In college, I had one friend who still refused to eat vegetables. “I hate them,” she insisted repeatedly and with the vehemence of a five-year-old presented with a plate of cauliflower. And she meant it. In the span of fours years, the only vegetables I ever saw her eat, on purpose, were carrots cooked with cinnamon, potatoes and artichokes dipped in butter and sprinkled with salt. Believing that her aversion to veggies lay in poor parental preparation—overcooked, under-seasoned and texturally inert—I learned to cook broccoli al dente and make fresh cheese sauce for the cauliflower. But to no avail. My friend would look at the veggies with disdain, sniff them and then, with a flick of her long, brown hair, push them away. So I resigned, like a concerned parent, to slipping vegetables into dishes on the sly. There was spinach in my stuffed shells, chopped fine and mixed into the cheese and there were carrots and onions in my turkey burgers. Continue reading
Asparagus and Ricotta Ravioli with Favas and Sage Brown Butter
Never mind that the recipe was probably one of the easiest I’ve ever followed. A year ago, if you asked me whether I ever thought about making my own ricotta cheese I would have laughed, crinkling my brow like a concerned mother in a movie, and said plainly: no, never.
As frequent readers of SpicySaltySweet can attest, I do like making dishes from scratch. In fact, I get quite the kick out of deconstructing things I used to take for granted. A few years back I made a soupy mess that was my excuse for Greek yoghurt. I’ve made my own butter. I make fresh pasta almost weekly now. But cheese? Cheese is something spiritual—a vehicle for transcendence that no mere home cook could possibly concoct in her kitchen.
But when I stumbled across Julia Moskin’s article about ricotta in the New York Times two weeks ago, I became convinced that making my own would not require divine intervention.
Nature has put on her Technicolor dreamcoat and cast a verdant spell across California’s brown hills. Last weekend I found some gorgeous wild fennel tucked in amongst the daisies and sage in Runyon Canyon, it’s bright green fronds fanning the smaller plants in the breeze. I didn’t pick any, but fully intend to go back with a bag and a little gardening shovel to pluck out a licorice-scented bulb or two. I’ve also been on the lookout for ramps, the garlicky wild leeks prized by chefs; they’re bound to start popping up soon. Though, since there growing season is so short and the flavor so sought-after, I doubt any will remain in the ground long enough for me to find and pick. I’ll just have to watch restaurant menus to get a bite while I can.
The farmers market is awash in green, too. Fava tendrils hint at the broad beans to come, graceful, tender asparagus line stall after stall like crowned guards and snap peas and English peas pour out of baskets, crisp pods beckoning like the Jolly Green Giant’s fingers.
Corny-flower. Slowly pedaling toward 60, my father still won’t eat cauliflower. He calls it names and turns his nose and vehemently refuses to eat it. He hates it with a passion usually reserved for Brussels sprouts and broccoli and, not surprisingly, there’s a reason. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the cabbage family, actually, and when overcooked it emits the same sulfur compounds. You wouldn’t lick a wet dog or munch on a spent match, would you? So why would you eat vegetables that make your nose hairs curl? Continue reading