photo Manarola-Village1_zpsd7syw2bm.jpg

I slept through most of our relatively short train ride to the Cinque Terre, missing what my husband later reported was a great, if fleeting, view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With his seat facing backwards, his view was of what the train had already passed, and he couldn’t wake me in time to see it so he decided not to. I was excessively disappointed, and I asked all about it and why not wake me, but I could tell he felt bad about it and I was just making it worse. It was a good moment early in our marriage — he repeatedly said he was sorry, but in the end, I realized I was the one who needed to apologize.

The five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso comprise the Cinque Terre, from south to north. Each is impossibly built into the craggy coastline where the top of the boot curves west toward the south of France. The region is both a national park and a Unesco World Heritage site, and because vehicle access is either limited or nonexistent, most visitors access the area and move between villages by train, ferry, or walking trail. Read the rest of this entry »

 photo Florence-Bridge_zpsrz2mfdbc.jpg
The tunnel from the Uffizi to the Medici family’s palace over the Ponte Vecchio.


My husband said he went for the upgrade to first class on our high speed train from Rome to Florence because it seemed like a good idea at the time. That time was around midnight the night after our wedding and hours before we’d fly to Italy. He had to book four separate trips from more than one rail company, and the user interfaces, not designed for Kentucky hotel wifi users (or, potentially, anyone else), caused the whole process to take more than two hours. We had complimentary wine from our hotel to help pass the time that night, and we had it again on our high speed train with almost the entire car to ourselves. First class seemed like a good idea all of the time, and when done right, it can pay for itself.

We stepped out of the train station and into Florence around midday with the rose-colored lenses that complimentary morning Prosecco so perfectly produces, until my husband realized he’d left his camera bag containing a top-of-the-line Canon 5D Mark III with professional lenses under his train seat. He dropped everything on the curb at the taxi stand and, without saying a word, took off at full speed toward our train, which the conductor told him was set to depart in exactly one minute whether he was on it or not. I didn’t even know what my husband had gone back for, so I just prayed hard enough for smoke to come out of my ears until I finally saw him emerge from the station with the camera bag strapped over his chest. The rose-colored lenses resumed.

Our cab driver had to give us a scenic route around the famous Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile of the Florence Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, to get around labor strikes, and I was in total awe. I loved the tiny cobblestone streets and seemingly ancient homes. I felt like there was a castle on every block. Read the rest of this entry »

 photo Rome-Forum1_zpsvjo8rgcs.jpg
The Forum.

My husband and I got married on October 18 in Louisville, Kentucky at St. Boniface Catholic Church, followed by dinner and dancing at 21C Museum Hotel. It was everything I could have hoped for. I just wanted to carry my gorgeous Technicolor autumn bouquet and eat endless canapes with bison tartare, quail eggs, and truffle oil, surrounded by art, with my husband, forever and ever.

But this series of posts is about my honeymoon in Italy, which turned out to be a natural extension of what we loved about our wedding. We enjoyed fall foliage in Piemonte and unfamiliar flowers and trees in Rome. At wine bars in Florence and Venice, we helped ourselves to aperitivi and cicchetti, buffets of complimentary appetizers. We ate steak tartare and eggy pastas all over Northern Italy. We visited Alba at the height of its short white truffle season. We saw so much art. And we took part in the Catholic ceremony of all Catholic ceremonies.

Almost a year has passed since the trip, but all of the details I abbreviated to a word or a couple of words in my daily log of the trip — written around 6:00 in the morning each day because I was sick for the duration and never recovered from jet lag — I still remember in full. So without further ado, the story of how I fell in love with Italy.

Read the rest of this entry »

 photo IMG_4886_zpsorlxrmmq.jpg

Just a little something I whipped up.

Earlier this year, I wrote about some of my shortcomings as a “foodie,” a term that I don’t so much call myself but rather that I get called. A lot. To which I cringe and politely acquiesce. But you know what? I am a foodie. I am such a foodie.

I’ve made pasta from scratch. Flour noodles, egg noodles, rice noodles. Tortellini, linguine, hand cut. Plain, spinach, cuttlefish ink.

I’ve made bread from scratch, with and without gluten.

I love gluten.

I love offal.

I’ve never been really grossed out by anything I’ve cooked. Cow tongue, mussels, and gluten free breadsticks have come the closest, though.

I buy all of my meat and vegetables fresh, not frozen, except for peas, because they’re hard to find fresh and are great for icing cooking burns and bruises.

I am really good at grocery shopping and cooking interesting foods on a tight budget.

I only buy organic meat and cage free chicken and eggs.

And I don’t buy organic boneless skinless chicken breasts.

I am obsessed with fish chins, cheeks, and collars.

I’ve personally killed a lot of lobsters with a knife through the head.

I stopped ordering salmon at restaurants a couple of years ago because I was unable to find salmon I liked better than my own.

I’m a certified supertaster. Which means that I bought a test a few years ago and administered it to myself and to my parents and husband to make sure the test actually worked, because I suspected there were only-average tasters among us, and there were. But not my husband. And he’s still very bitter that this shocked me so much. (Of course, this means I avoid a lot of stuff most people seem to like, like coffee, beer, classic cocktails, cola, rye bread, lemon, grapefruit, kale, raddichio, endive, and “ripe” bananas that aren’t yet brown all over.)

I drink a lot of wine, and I know a lot about California wine. Like a lot a lot.

Favorite activity when drinking wine by myself? Reading about food.

I subscribe to Lucky Peach, Bon Appetit, and Food and Wine.

And Tasting Table, Eater, Epicurious, Food52, FWx, Squid Ink, LA Times food, Time Out, LAist, InsideHook, Yelp… basically everything except UrbanDaddy, Thrillist, and Daily Candy because I outgrew them.

I read the New York Times Dining section every week. And I have strong opinions about the food critics of the last ten years. (Frank Bruni. So Frank Bruni.)

And I have almost always read the Tables for Two column in the New Yorker, before, during, and after living there.

I have a really good collection of cookbooks going. Marcella Hazan, Roberta’s, Scarpetta, Roy Choi, Edward Lee, Pok Pok, El Bulli, etc. Plus the Joy of Cooking and two editions of the Best Recipe Cookbook. And I actually use them!

But I still refer to Epicurious the most.

And when I do, I look at a few recipes and at what’s in my refrigerator and just make something up that I know I’ll like.

I basically never follow recipes unless there’s a chemical reaction involving proteins and exact amounts and times matter.

In addition to a liberal notion of what qualifies as a pantry staple, like sesame oil, anchovies, and dried ancho chiles, ingredients I always keep around include a few kinds of rice, a few kinds of pasta, fish sauce, tomato paste, shaoxing cooking wine, dry sherry, MSG, truffle salt, at least two good cheeses, at least two fresh herbs, kimchi juice, pickle juice…

No microwave for more than two years now.

I keep track of every restaurant I’ve been to in Los Angeles, and I did the same when I lived in New York. At almost four years in LA, it’s around 250. It would be higher but I like cooking too much, and besides, I’m still paying for all those New York City meals I put on my credit card. (Seriously.)

I have waited tables in New York City, Austin, and Charlottesville. Including for a James Beard recipient.

My first job was at my local library because you could work there when you were 15, but my second job was at a bagel shop. It’s always been the food with me.

 photo barsotti_zps4bc82bae.jpg
My favorite New Yorker cartoon, by Charles Barsotti.

The New Yorker recently made the full length versions of many of its articles available to all on before introducing a paywall this fall, which is at once magnanimous, historic, and TOTALLY OVERWHELMING. I’d like to offer 13 of my favorite New Yorker articles of the last ten years, for your reading or printing-and-saving enjoyment. Consider it a little birthday present (today’s my birthday) from my inner geek to yours. Read the rest of this entry »

 photo nolajazz_zps150ab61e.jpg
New Orleans has a spring in its step.

I was happy to find, over Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, that the city appears to be doing better. Much better.

As much was conveyed to me by our taxi driver, a sweet older woman in a brightly colored muumuu who hummed to the jazz music on the radio between our exchanges. I told her I had first traveled there for business in spring, 2008 and returned later that summer. Almost three years had passed since Hurricane Katrina, but the city felt like something terrible had just happened.

No one was walking around in the Business District or Garden District, and what few drunken convention attendees and bachelor parties there were to be found in the French Quarter made the place feel all the more depressing. I stayed at a boutique hotel, a huge studio loft, and a W, all for around $100 a night, which was indicative of a weak local economy. A work contact drove me around what had once been the Ninth Ward but was then mostly cracked cement stairs leading to rotting houses or nothing at all. She showed me Habitat For Humanity’s first completed housing area, dubbed Musicians’ Village, and it was small. Philanthropic attention had long since moved elsewhere.

I started to tear up as we passed the convention center in the taxi cab, and the driver and I had a moment. But as we pulled further into the city, I noticed something was different. There were people everywhere.

Read the rest of this entry »

 photo omsoup_zpse9d0a7c8.jpg
Om curry with dill from LAcha Somtum in Thai Town.

I attended a highly educational and also highly entertaining Zocalo Public Square lecture about food fads on Monday, with journalist David Sax of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, and it got me thinking about foods that could easily become trendy. My fellow home-cook brother and I exchanged a few emails about it, and here’s my list.

My brother and I are both a little obsessed. Miso, MSG, and fish sauce have all had their moments in the food media spotlight as ways to add flavor, umami, and saltiness to food, so, we wondered, why not one of the most ubiquitous of Korean condiments? Among foodies, it’s not for lack of trying. Gochujang — also known as hot pepper paste or red chili paste or some combination thereof — is a thick, sticky paste of red chilis, sweet rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s been in (near constant) use in Korea for about 500 years, since trade routes opened up in the far east, and it is traditionally fermented in the sun. To me, it’s equal parts sweet, salty, and spicy, felt in that order. Some ascribe a fermented stink to it, but I don’t get it. It’s no kimchee. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve made it to about three hundred restaurants in four years in LA, and only one of them was vegetarian, so I’m pretty serious about these meat dishes. Pro: they’re all cheap. Con: none of them photograph well. (And in one case, photos aren’t even allowed.) So, pardon my textiness.

Rosalind’s Ethiopian Cuisine, 1044 S Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles 90019


Rosalind’s is one of my favorite Friday date-night restaurants, and my guy and I buy up Groupons for it as often as they come along. Kitfo is hand-chopped beef served nearly raw with butter, chiles, and other northern African spices. It gets sauteed for mere seconds before being delivered to the table with roll-ups of injera, the light, spongy pancake used to pick up food in Ethiopian dining, the sole utensil in this fun and casual culinary culture. We usually order fried appetizers and a lamb stew besides, and the portions are enormous, so we end up with leftovers. In the morning, we scramble eggs with the leftover tartare for breakfast. And the morning after that, I’m craving Rosalind’s all over again. Read the rest of this entry »

 photo photo-30_zps1ebbbabe.jpg
A recipe for sweetbreads in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cookbook.

Tripe Alla Parmigiana ($10)
Osteria Mozza

6602 Melrose Avenue, 90038

Tripe has enjoyed quite the rags to riches story over the last fifty years, especially for a cut I’ve heard likened to a wet rag. When my grandmother took my mom to a taping of Julia Child in the late 1960s wherein she prepared tripe, my grandmother reportedly declined to try the dish because it was considered such a throwaway. Today, it can be found on the menus of some of the best restaurants in the country. Case in point: Osteria Mozza. Read the rest of this entry »

(Iceland posts to resume soon. I just need another Christmas vacation at home to finish them, or a similar situation where I have no responsibilities for two weeks. So, basically, next Christmas.)

 photo beets_zpse14fb2ee.jpg

I’m not a perfect foodie. For as much as I cook and dine out, and research restaurants and recipes, and read chefs’ memoirs and food magazines, and bore and offend people with my meat small talk, and fall asleep in the middle of food history books and glasses of wine, there’s a lot out there I don’t know, don’t like, and don’t want to do. And a few things that I don’t care about, too. Here is a modest list. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m on Twitter!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 436 other followers