June in France

In June, a whim and a brand-new budget carrier took me all the way back to France.

It had been more than 20 years since the last of my childhood adventures there. I have an aunt who is very happily expatriated in Paris, and during several adventurous summers during the 1980s my intrepid parents lashed us to their luggage for global half-circumnavigation and an education in all things French. This was a thrilling treat, which reached its climax at the moment a steamed artichoke was first put into my pudgy hand, with instructions (loosely translated) to shovel mayonnaise into my face.

Perhaps it was on these trips that I began to hone this craft. A page from my 1989 voyage reads:

July 10th. Today we drove in the car to the country. My sister let me play the Gameboy. For lunch I ate steak-frites, and had to add salt. I saw a swan. At the grocery store, my parents lost all self control upon hearing that crates of artichokes had just arrived from Normandy.

The 2012 trip began in Paris, where Tante Patty did an expert job of pointing my chopsticks in all the right directions.  First stop: Marché du President Wilson, the ultraglam farmers’ market where Hollywood lettuce lies between piles of lobster on ice, mountains of peonies, and imitation Hermès necklaces. For a few coins, I stuffed my pockets with sumac and sel de Guérande, painfully passing on some horn spoons. An African merchant was baking enormous seasoned flatbreads on a half-dome griddle. I tried one smeared with half a cup of dried thyme- completely delicious.

Next stop: Ravioli Chinois Nord-Est, rue Civiale.  Approximately eight seats in this hole-in-the-mur serving only Northeastern Chinese regional dumplings and a few accompaniments.  A favorite of Patty’s and the blogs. The star here was a salad of matchsticked potatoes, steamed and then dressed in a thin robe of seasoned sesame oil. We engaged the proprietress in a little conversation; I tested my Mandarin rather well until she slipped back into French without my knowing.

Then through the fields of wheat and poppies to a centuries-old stone house on the Picardie-Normandie border.  The days were cool and crisp. No signal, no internet, no reason to rise from a pile of quilts and good books (Clementine in the Kitchen) except to disembowel tourteaux steamed in German beer and slathered in sorrel pesto (or Lao Gan Ma, hand carried from Honolulu)… to shave purple spring onions over fava bean soups… to stew fresh apricots… or roast them with salmon.  Or just to pile up all these leftovers onto a piece of toast for a little country lunch.

These home-cooked meals, all from Patty’s stove and knife, were pure magic.

Then back into Paris, where I intersected for a week with Smita, a college friend who travels through life in a cone of good fortune and incredible glamour. We were wandering around the arrondissement on our first afternoon together in search of a light lunch when she spotted, on a hunch, a promising little shop….that turned out to have a well-priced formule dejeuner and a Michelin star.

It was superb, of course; and we sought out lunch specials at other one-stars, with great success. But for the next 20 years (or however long it is until I return again to France) I don’t think it’s the monkfish cheeks in sauce Grenoble that will chase my memory so much as a haunting plate of steamed artichokes, served on a tiny kitchen table. Merci beaucoup.


Summer Catching Up

It’s been six months since my last FiF missive and I know you’ve all assumed the worst: a diet.  Nothing of the sort; in fact I have several posts in the queue now to disavow anyone of that notion.

For what a summer it was! The flash of copper river salmon in early summer. June in the French countryside, and Chinese dumplings in Paris. The slow tide of avocados and lilikois, at last finding soft spots in our backyard grass.  The annual rush of birthdays. My little tree’s first breadfruit. A new favorite hot sauce.  All this, and more…


Polenta Bar


Here are the delectable remains of last night’s polenta bar, which started as a big pot of polenta and a spread of spicy, smoky, salty, crunchy mix-ins, pulled only from the far corners of the fridge.

  • Chopped black olives in a puddle of oil
  • Roasted peppers, house-grown
  • A hill of caramelized onions
  • Lao Gan Ma chili sauce
  • Pole beans from the yard, flash-sauteed with fine grain salt and fresh dill and lemon zest
  • A little pesto, with the last of the basil and some toasted macadamia nuts
  • A soft goat cheese
  • And the bo ssam




Year of the Pork

Here we are again in February, and another birthday.  I was born in the Chinese Year of the Pork, so we feasted on David Chang’s slow-roasted ssam and a bevy of banchans.

Parents: “What would you like for your birthday?”

Me: “Oh, nothing, really.”

Parents: “Absolutely nothing?”

Me: “But maybe you could spend your whole day making that six-hour Momofuku ssam in NYT.

And since they twisted my arm, I also suggested a flight of sauvignon blancs from Marlborough, New Zealand.  My absolute favorites.  Sister generously took charge of this part of the meal, making the daring choices to (1) include no New Zealand sauvignon blancs; and (2) include no New Zealand sauvignon blancs.  She also set up a big blind tasting, a sort of sport that she really enjoys, perhaps in a way that makes her a little more unique in our family.  (Aunty F: “I’m supposed to say where I think the wine comes from?“) For those of you who have never tasted wine with my family, this is the typical discursive pattern:

Father: “Hmm.  Dry, light bodied, barely acidic, very French.”

Son: “Cello rosin in fifth–no, seventh grade; Robitussin; slightest note of Tutu’s jigsaw puzzle cabinet.”

Daughter: “Mmm.  91 points Wine Spectator.  $17.99 on sale, suggested retail price $19.99.  60/31/9 blend. Delicious.”

And there we were, true to form:

Bottle #1: “Unoaked chardonnay,” pronounced my father, to great ridicule; he had been cooking for us while the rest were popping corks and learning about the sauvignon blanc tasting.  Twist!  It was an unoaked chardonnay.  Well played, Father.

Bottle #2: “Jalapeno,” said I.  “Highway 101.  Graduate school.”  Indeed- Californian.

Bottle #3: “Something Julia Child would drink,” said someone at the table.

“Or spritz on her curtains,” insisted someone at this keyboard.  French blend.

What fun! We all thanked Sister, who by the way had included no New Zealand sauvignon blancs, which happen to be my favorite thing in the world and all I had asked for for my birthday, besides elaborate pork.

And speaking of the main event: the lengthy preparation, which involved a cup (sic) of salt, brought to mind the old “Auntie Maria Lani Cooks” sketch by the late Hawaiian comic Rap Reiplinger.

“…and then you cook the chicken at 850 degrees for one minute, or 5 degrees for four days.”

In this case, the glazed pork did both: a long, slow roast, then a rest, then a blast (“into lacquer”) under the broiler.  When it came to the table, someone handed me a carving knife and a pair of scissors, but luckily when I tapped the pork’s crackly exterior with a chopstick and it kindly did the rest, melting away.  It was so good that two vegetarians ate it and one wrote to Paris about the skin of the pig.

It really was a very nice birthday.  Thank you all.




Snapshots and bites from January:

Spent a weekend on the water in Punaluu, to kick off our training for Merrie Monarch.  In between verses I snuck into the kitchen to watch Kumu’s mom make Wow Laulau: first frying lots of garlic in the bottom of a great pot, then adding a platter of pork laulau and covering with coconut milk and stock.  Good grief, it was ʻono. Here’s the moon in Punaluʻu that evening.

There’s a comment box at the bottom of every page on this blog but my family is settling into a pattern of non-verbal responses; when I wrote about substituting cayenne for a critical ingredient in Daniel Humm’s Provencal Granola, a month later half a jar of piment d’espelette arrived, bubble-wrapped, from my aunt’s own spice rack in Paris.  The more recent post about Jean Troisgros prompted this keepsake from 1973 to appear at our dinner table:

A little bit of cooking.  Best (and simplest) recipe I tried this month: blood oranges with green olives and red onion.

And gorgeous chioggia beets from MAʻO roasted into something that looked very much like striated ahi:

MA`O Farms, Hawaii

Chinese New Year came and went with little fanfare from us; the parents were in California so a friend and I celebrated at P.F. Chang’s.  It was my first visit there and I thought I was being sort of funny, but food-wise the joke was really on me.  Fortune-wise I think I did rather well:

And an experiment: eating unripe coriander berries, which are everywhere in a big tangle of bolted cilantro outside the lanai.  They are delicious.  Bright pop of cilantro and citrus.

Cilantro Berries


Troisgros and Rams

These two bites from my holiday reading struck me as very similar. The first, from the new monograph on Dieter Rams by Sophie Lovell (Phaidon, 2011); second, from Judy Rodgers’ enchanting Zuni Cafe Cookbook (Norton, 2002), in which she recalls a lesson from age 16, when a neighbor at home “prodded” her to spend the summer with his French friends–who turned out to be the brothers Troisgros.

It would all be much simpler if one could state that Dieter Rams’s work and principles arose from him alone. But Rams would be the first to say that what constitutes his ‘work’ as an industrial designer is inseparable from the systems and networks through which it was produced…. He could never have resolved his concepts without the ideas of his predecessors and contemporaries…Even beyond [the] vast network of people required to create his products, the designs themselves were modular and system-related.

I cannot make a dish without trying to conjure where it came from, and where I first had it, or read about it, or who made it, or taught me to make it. And who grew the vegetables, raised the chickens, or made the cheese. In this way, the simplest dish can recall a community of ideas and people… Jean Troisgros always insisted that cooking is not an art, but is artisanal. His distinction acknowledges the necessity of cooking, and honors the collaborative genius of community in coming up with good cooking.