Sunset Salmon, Kitchen Confidential, and Other Things I Learned from Bourdain

I know, I know. The fact that I'm just now getting around to reading Kitchen Confidential is something that I should be suitably ashamed of, right? Certainly not something I should be admitting, let alone boasting about in a blog post. But here we are. I'm admitting it. I'm owning up to having missed out on a great literary, culinary work. I'm saying I was wrong for not having read this before, and I'm compelling you to do the same if you haven't already because this is not a book to miss. 

As I really hope you already know, Anthony Bourdain was the guy. The guy who exposed the world of restaurants and cooking in gritty behind-the-scenes details to the rest of us schmucks who usually only see the polished final product. The guy who brought the world the world on a plate. The guy who, although he knew he wasn't perfect, called out people in a position of power for not striving to be better. If you've seen his show, read any one of his books, or even just glanced at an interview he gave, like the one I'm about to reference, you know the deal. 

Kitchen Confidential and Sunset Salmon

In the last interview he gave, Bourdain talked about how lucky he was to have the gig he had. "To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment."

I had that quote in the back of my mind as I finished Kitchen Confidential and went to make this beautiful sunset-like salmon for dinner. Simple ingredients. Basically no recipe. Just the promise of a quiet dinner at the end of a hectic weekend, and a really good few moments. 

Do yourself a favor: read the book. Even if you've already read it once. Pick it up again, savor it for what it is, and enjoy it with a great dinner with people you love. 

Fried Potato Pancakes, Priestdaddy, and Other Things That Came in the Mail

I just finished my favorite book of the year, and it's only May. "Laura, how could you possibly know for sure that this is going to be your favorite book of the year?" you ask, because bless you, reader, you always ask the right question when I write your questions for you.

I know this is my favorite book of the year because it's funny, it's real, and it's fresh. It's content nothing like anything I've ever read before, and it deals with sobering subject matter with an attitude that is incredibly aware of how important the issues are while making me laugh until I cried on the Purple Line again. I am becoming a crying train lady, but for this book, that is okay. This book is Priestdaddy, and once again, I have Jennifer at Riverhead to thank for sending it my way. Best. Mail. Ever. 

 What a perfect afternoon.

What a perfect afternoon.

Coming a close second was the box of Imperfect Produce that contained purple potatoes, radishes, and parsnips: a lovely variety of root vegetables that I first made into mashed potatoes and then fried because I am an adult. Nab the recipe for these fried potato pancakes here

Olive Oil Plum Cake, My Life in France, and Other Things to Bask In

Today's post is full of things so good they almost make me tear up because they're just so satisfying and wonderful. I realize that might sound crazy, but hear me out: olive oil plum cake and My Life in France.

 I mean, just. Wow.

I mean, just. Wow.

Julia Child is a true gem (which Colin says is something that nobody my age says anymore), and there is no greater proof of than this book. The only reason it took me more than a day to get through was because at some points I would become so emotionally involved with how desperately I wanted to be learning about food in France that my heart would start to physically ache and my eyes would tear up on their own accord. Then you have this cake, and when it's warm and right out of the oven, the plums are so soft and steamy that they're basically jam, and you take a bite and it's lemon-y (thanks to Old Town Oil), moist, and light, and everything is beautiful. (Oh, and also there is a video.)

I'm telling you guys. Recipe for a perfect Sunday right there.  

Speaking of perfect Sundays, last Sunday, I saw my fellow CMU graduate, Haley, who's working on a great project called Tense Humanity which will consist of "doodles, illustrator scribblings, and words re: tech, design, systems thinking, and their many relations." Check it out on Instagram or on Medium , and enjoy her beautiful brain!

Page & Plate Note: Old Town Oil gave me a sampler pack of olive oil and vinegar to use for recipe testing and the purposes of this review. Thanks, Old Town Oil!

All-Day Carnitas, Rash: A Memoir, and Facing Fears

I have a thing with cooking recipes too far outside of my comfort zone. I'm really good at making pasta, and I make some damn good brownies. But put me in front of a recipe for bo ssam or macarons, and I'm like a goldfish in the ocean -- way out of my depth. That's why, when I first read through Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I was far too intimidated to try the braised pork. No way. Too scary. We'll have pizza tonight instead. (Again.)

Then I started reading Lisa Kusel's Rash: A Memoir, which is about packing your family up and moving to Bali so your husband can teach there. And the first thing that struck me about the story was that Kusel didn't even consider how brave it was for her to do this. She just did it. Period. Done. Sure, the doubt was there before and after the move, but it was doubt. It wasn't fear. Consider me schooled.

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Back to the cookbook I went. And then to the pork section of Mariano's, where I am usually only seen as I dash by with a cart trying to remember what kind of flour I need. First of all, pork shoulders are huge. HUGE. The fear was still real. This thing was the size of my torso (alright, almost). Second of all, they're cheap, which made it a little less scary. Even if I ruined everything, I could go spend $6 and get another one. Third of all, I got it home, took a deep breath, and pushed fear aside to spend my day making a beautiful batch of carnitas that turned into some knockout tacos

All of the sudden, pork is no big deal. Moving to Bali still is. So is dengue fever. For the official record.

 

Page & Plate Note: Lisa Kusel provided a copy of Rash: A Memoir to me for the purposes of this independently written review. The views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

Broccolini Bar Food Sandwich, The Disaster Artist, and Good Food to Watch With

Honestly, what is it about watching other humans expel athletic effort that makes you so hungry? I speak specifically, at least for the purposes of this blog post, of the Olympics, which make me so hungry I could eat a whole block of cheese by myself. Is it that I know how many chicken nuggets Michael Phelps eats to keep up with his caloric needs? Is it that I expend a ton of energy wishing I could manage to get on and off the train with a third of the effort it takes for Chloe Kim to conquer the halfpipe?

Whatever the answer, I am always starving while I watch the Olympics. And if we're watching at any number of bars around the good city of Chicago, I'm often disappointed by the options available to me as a vegetarian. I don't want a salad. I don't want just fries. I want greasy bar food that makes me feel gross in an hour. (I also would just like to shout out to Bad Apple, which is my single favorite bar at which to down some 10/10 vegetarian comfort food.) (They are also having an amazing deal right now. Also what a pun!) (This is not an ad; I just genuinely love them enough to share it.)

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Lucky for me, Bon Appétit came to the rescue with this amazing broccolini bar food sandwich that they got from Chef Mike Solomonov of Philadelphia's Rooster Soup Co. This sandwich is LIFE CHANGING. It's cheesy, saucy, toasted, roasted, and dare I say, noteventhatbadforyou? 

I'm just saying, as far as what to eat while watching the premiere athletes of the world burn more calories than I probably ever have in my life, this is a quality choice. Also, it's crazy easy. Restaurants of Chicago and beyond, take note!

It would probably be well-consumed while reading (or even watching, I guess, grumble grumble) The Disaster Artist, which may actually give you a workout from how much you laugh while reading it.

Pot Pie, Riverine, and Upping the Ante

 Yay for Instagram stories that I just figured out how to work even though I am a #millennial. 

Yay for Instagram stories that I just figured out how to work even though I am a #millennial. 

If I wrote here that there was beauty in the mundane, you'd be wondering what I've possibly ingested that made me so poetic on a Thursday, of all things. I would be agreeing with you, because I've only had one cup of coffee from my brand new French press thermos, which is beautiful and perfect. I'm obsessed, but the fact remains: I did not indulge in a second cup, so there is no way I'm capable of waxing poetic about beauty in every day objects.

Instead, I'll tell you about white whole wheat flour, which I purchased in my likely-to-never-end crusade to make my kitchen as healthy as it can be. I am the kind of person who likes to have extra of everything, and as such, rarely has to put a lot of thought into when I'll run out of flour. Which, through a series of events too long and boring to be described here, leads me to the other day, when I pulled the last bag of flour and discovered that it was indeed white whole wheat.

Though this flour makes pretty sad cookies, it actually makes lovely pie crust. It's earthy and rustic, and it's perfect for the pot pie (chickenish or not) that you didn't know you were craving. Grab the recipe here, and cook yourself a thing of hearty, homemade beauty for dinner (no, you're not buying a pie crust; shut up). Do yourself one more favor, and grab the book Riverine by Angela Palm. It takes the entire genre of essay, flips it on its head, ups the ante, and does all that while managing to be entirely captivating. 

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Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies, Under the Tuscan Sun, and Internet Musts

I am not one to go out of my way to follow a trend. My closet is full of the same clothes I wear every year, I cut my hair only when I feel antsy, and I have guaranteed not seen the movie you're going to try to describe to me. I've missed the last two Star Wars, and if you think I have the patience to sit and watch that much movie to become culturally fluent, you're very, very wrong.

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But. One of my food-journey idols, Alison Roman, former Milk Bar worker, ex-Bon Appétit staffer, and current cookbook goddess / Insta goals recently published Dining In and by extension this recipe for chocolate chunk shortbread cookies. And then every freaking person I follow on Instagram made them and posted about how good they were. And then the pictures got even better. And tastier looking. And then I got sick and couldn't hang out with people on Christmas Eve Eve. So then this first batch happened. And my dad called them the best cookie he's ever had.

Then we moved! (Which is why it's taken me so long to read Under the Tuscan Sun). And I realized that our new neighbors are going to be stuck with us for the next 18 months. And that we occasionally go vacuum happy and have a six-pound kitten who gallops as if she weighs as much as me. And I figured that it was time for batch number two to happen. 

This recipe is just as good as the Internet says it is. Make them tonight; have neighbor friends for life. My new motto. Or it would be if I ever wanted to move again, which I don't. Plus why would we, given our neighbors hopefully love us? I hope.

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Limoncello, Bossypants, and Feeling Extra

I am impatient. I have previously discussed this, and nobody was surprised. That is not what this post is about, BUT it helps explain why Colin and I celebrated our Christmas this past Sunday, December 10. (Which, actually is a personal record. Last year I gave him his birthday present a month early.) I digress: on Sunday night I opened a total game changer: an Amazon Portable Photo Studio.

It was hard to tell who was more excited, me or Daily, who was all over that photo booth like it had been previously used to store catnip. Seriously, she was obsessed. Which is also why I had to take a million pictures of her exploring it.  

Yeah, she's pretty freaking adorable. But also THAT PHOTO QUALITY. (Except for the photo that features her trying to lick the camera.) A true game changer, if I do say so myself. It really takes the pictures (and me, to be honest) to an extra level of extra. 

Speaking of extra, how about trying your hand at making your own lemon liqueur? Part recipe, part test of patience, and part arts and crafts, it's impossible to fail. And when you indulge in your hard (eh) work, enjoy it with a re-read of Bossypants. Between Tina Fey and the booze, you'll be giggling by the end.

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Cookies, Born a Crime, and Other Things Made Possible By My Mom

Beyond having cooking utensils of all sorts and sizes that she gifts to me so I can experiment my way around the kitchen and continue shouting into the blog-void (see my post on the cookie press), my mother also has very good taste in very specific genres, namely very specific non-fiction books. She also has a kitchen that is clearing rapidly as mine expands. 

 Here is my mom with our adorable tiny puppy.

Here is my mom with our adorable tiny puppy.

Given that this is a genre that I struggle to pick up and engage with, I rely on her suggestions to vary my tastes. (And for a great many other things, including but not limited to: am I dying because my stomach hurts, are my front teeth discolored, how do I get cat vomit out of an antique rug, and am I dying because my head hurts.) She knows what she likes, and she's gotten really good at knowing what we'll like as well, expanding our bookshelves with selections from all of our wonderful local bookstores, including The Book Cellar. She's knocked it out of the park in the past with books like The Boys in the Boat, When Breath Becomes Air, and (featured this week) Born a Crime

I loved this book for many reasons, but especially because his love for his mother shines through. It's touching to read about their relationship, from the bantering to the challenges they've endured, and it makes you want to grab a cookie you made with your mom's cookie press, give her a call, and make sure that the cramp you have in your leg isn't deep vein thrombosis. 

French Onion Soup, When Breath Becomes Air, and Crying

There are some times in life when crying is unavoidable, and for me, most of those have to do with onions. I have tried every, single trick in the book, and nothing works. Yes, goggles while cutting. Yes, gum. Yes, cutting under water. Yes, I cut myself while attempting the latter. 

I don't just tear up, either, or get misty-eyed. I cry. My nose runs, my whole face turns a super pretty color of red, and my breath hitches. It gets so bad that during my senior year of college, my housemates would come running to watch the spectacle of me preparing dinner. I WAS the entertainment. 

French Onion Soup and When Breath Becomes Air.jpg

My eyes have grown no more resilient since then, but I have learned to delegate the onion cutting. Colin's eyes are not much stronger than mine, so when we prepared this French onion soup, it was an onion eye massacre. Then that night I finished When Breath Becomes Air, and I just gave up on keeping it together. I'll admit that I've grown soft in my old age, but this book would've brought even my stronger, younger eyes to their knees. It's worth a read. But not on the train. As I learned the hard way.

Bagels, South and West, and Not Quite Getting There

I'm passionate about bagels. Really, bread of any sort. And yes, that includes beer. I could never imagine living a gluten-free lifestyle, and I pray every day that I don't have to go down that dark path. More power to you if you're on that journey. 

bagel.jpg

There are some times when I'm moved to desperation in my craving for carbs, and last week was one of them. We had no bagels in the house, it was 30 degrees and pouring, and I was getting ready to play the how fast can I run in my rainboots game (one that never ends well). But good guy Colin saved the day and proposed that we try to make bagels of our own instead. As you can see from this picture, they were wonky, misshapen, and definitely not something I would ever tweet out to Gordon Ramsay, but hey. They were bagels, they had lots of carbs, and they were lifesavers. Rest in carbs. 

 YEP.

YEP.

Did those stop me from spending close to $30 on bagels from Steingold's Deli this weekend because my craving for an actual bagel had reared its head again? No they didn't. But I felt justified in that purchase because I am woman enough to admit that I know when I try and don't quite get there. 

And speaking of falling short, I don't know whether I did as a reader or Joan Didion did as a diarist, but man, was South and West a disappointment. Check out why in my first actually negative review since I started this blog. 

Funfetti Cake, Bad Feminist, and Other FUNdamental Stuff

 A layer cake fiend in the making. I swear my chin is smaller now.

A layer cake fiend in the making. I swear my chin is smaller now.

When I was little, I remember making a list of things I absolutely for sure needed to do before I graduated college. Before you get excited, let me just remind you of how utterly lame I am by telling you that item number one was 'understand budgeting.' And no, before you ask, I never quite got there. This list included things I considered (at the ripe age of 18) to be barring me from absolute adulthood and also featured two things I like to think I've accomplished by now: develop a "sense of good taste" in reading and bake a layer cake. Upon reflection, I had no idea what actual adulthood would demand of me, and should've probably stayed in high school forever. Alas.

 Disclaimer: this is the cake I made in college. It was not mini. I ate it anyway.

Disclaimer: this is the cake I made in college. It was not mini. I ate it anyway.

Fast forward to the spring before I graduated. I finally successfully made a three layer cake. It took me 48 hours, two mental breakdowns, and a bottle of red wine. The cake was beautiful, delicious, and practically perfect, and I swore I'd never make it again. Fast forward AGAIN to now. I'm older. Better. Stronger. Smarter. More beautiful? Correct answer: none of the above. 

I know this because last week, I set out to make a mini layer cake (mini because I know my limits as well as I do my aging metabolism), and discovered that I am just as bad at it as I remember. I don't have the patience to let the cake cool before icing it. I don't remember to preheat the oven. I eat so much of the icing that I need to make another batch of icing in order to actually ice the whole cake. I am an imperfect baker. I admit this. But I can come back the next day and try again. Which actually worked out pretty well (check it out here and give it a go yourself).

Turns out, I picked the perfect book to go with my incredibly taxing and girly cake: Bad Feminist. The whole book is about how even though we're all just made up of contradictions and messy parts, that's no excuse to suck. Life lesson = learned. Cake = devoured. And, for the record, Tums = taken.

When You Have to Say Yes

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There are some things you can't say no to. For example, when a guy you just met a few weeks earlier buys you David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim to make you laugh, you don't say no, even if it does have a naked Barbie on the front. And then a few months later when he offers to lend you Holidays on Ice, you don't say no to that either. Then a few years later when you live together in Chicago and he generously says you can read Theft by Finding before him, even though you were too lazy to reserve it at the library and he remembered and so got it first, you also don't say no, which is how he ends up having to reserve it all over again, because it took you too long to read it. 

If this describes you, you A) are super lucky to know that guy, B) clearly have a weak spot for David Sedaris, and C) should probably get your life together and just buy your own damn books. I digress. There are things in life that you have to say yes to, and Theft by Finding is one of them. Similarly, so was the question of whether or not we wanted to see Mr. Sedaris when he comes to town in November

 I am not ashamed. 

I am not ashamed. 

By the time I found a recipe for pumpkin donuts with maple glaze, my resistance was so low that I wasn't even bothered by the fact that I had to use an inverted popover baking tin instead of a donut tray. I was saying yes to love, yes to life, and yes to staying in and baking more