Monday, September 13, 2010

Calamari: it should be served with tentacles.

Our family was too big to fit around the kitchen table, so we ate every meal at a picnic table outside (thank god for the California weather). My mother fed us fearlessly - there was no tip-toeing around vegetables or picky eaters in our household. With five children it wasn't the most expensive fares, but no one was allowed to leave the table until everyone was done so there was more than enough peer pressure to keep us from being fussy eaters. So she had room to play.

A favorite dinner was probably calamari. Before it was widely fashionable you could buy just the tentacles of the calamari for less than the price of chicken. My mom would fry it up in large batches and bring it outside hot and crispy to her waiting brood. My brother David would pretend he was being attacked by the octopus creatures as he scarfed them down. I remember after moving to the east coast being served calamari for the first time in a restaurant. I was sure that it was processed food, as I'd never seen calamari in golden rings with nary a tentacle in sight. There was something terribly wrong about it.

I soon forgave the east coast for it's lack of tentacles and ate calamari whenever I got the chance. After all, it was one of the only fried foods I grew up getting to eat. My calamari life was changed forever while I was in college in Richmond, VA. I grew to love a restaurant called Bacchus, and it was there that I had my first sauteed calamari.

Their recipe was simple, but I guessed it completely wrong the first few times I tried to recreate it. They were willing to just tell me the whole time too.

Hot olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Calamari splashed with white wine as it hits the hot oil.

With the beautiful soup of a mixture at the bottom of your bowl I realized it was far better to serve calamari with hot bread (for sopping) rather than coating it in bread for a dipping sauce. I have since discovered many beautiful variations of sauteed calamari - with tomatoes, with olives, with lemon and herbs... each of them wildly surpassing it's fried relations. But however it ends up being served, one thing remains true, calamari is always better with a large portion of tentacles in it - otherwise how are you supposed to feel like a kid again when you eat the octopus-like creatures?

Calamari with tomatoes and black olives
from Pepperoncino in Park Slope Brooklyn

*This might just be the start of my love affair with capers as well.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I am exhausted. I am drained. This past year has been a hard one for a lot of people - the economy has been in the dumps, jobs have been lost, raises have disappeared. My story is not more special than anyone else's, but I have found myself starting a new chapter. I left my life behind and ran off to New York to begin again. By the time I arrive here I feel brittle, like my bones have been drained of marrow.

My new apartment is beautiful and I hoped to be inspired to continue my potluck grocery night parties and cook for my new roommates in our open kitchen. For the first time in my adult life I have a dining room. I have used it once. I could be inspired. I should be inspired. I feel lonely and almost never hungry. I have orange juice for dinner most nights after coming home from working at a restaurant. A swig straight from the carton.

I have never liked to cook for just myself. I do not feel inspired to cook  now - but food is still my inspiration. When I taste something sharp and vinegary it's like a magic potion. I feel alive again - even if it's only on my tongue. I cling to that part of me that feels life, and have fallen in love with the hot pickled vegetables that Brklyn Larder puts on their salami and provolone sandwich.

So I have decided to spend this year nourishing myself, quite literally, back to a spiritual balance. I am going to feed myself healthy again. So I am spending an exorbitant amount every day on my sandwiches (convincing myself that I can afford it because it is my only real meal each day), and investing in that which makes me feel alive. I am going to write about what I find that is inspiring enough to my palate to bring be back to life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Beginnings

If my life were a book, the chapters would all be named after all of the phase I went through of cooking one ingredient obsessively. This blog is named for my perhaps most famous (or infamous) long lasting phase of using balsamic vinegar in just about every meal. It is still one of my favorite flavors in this world.

My sister is the kind of person who was born knowing exactly who she is. When she was three she wanted to be a fashion designer. What does she do now? She's a fashion designer. In this area I may be the polar opposite of my sister. I spent most of my life with a big fat question mark hanging over my head like a dagger. I tried several careers - each of which has made me mostly happy, but never enough to satisfy me for long once the learning curve was over. At one point, during my freshman year of college, I was a triple major. The only thing you can really say about someone who is an organic chemistry / philosophy / art triple-major is that they clearly don't know anything about what they want to do with their life.

The one thing that has always made me happy is cooking. Oddly even eating hasn't consistently done it for me, but cooking (ravaging kitchen experiments is almost more accurate)... cooking has always been my comfort zone. I take the world one piece at a time and explore it to it's limits. My pork phase lasted at least two years, until it was cut off abruptly by my older brother's remarks about whether I had the ability to cook anything else (I immediately went into a 9 month salmon phase - but that's another story). This pattern I have continued and I see no stop to it in sight. I am never satisfied to make something once. I need to make it better the next time. Since my friends and family can only handle but so much of my indulgences - here I am. Trying to share them with you. I hope they inspire you to try something new.