Anger Burger

It Is Exactly What You Think It Is

Posted by on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I haven’t been feeling well and have only eaten oatmeal and tater tots in the last 48 hours, so here’s a photo of my dog wearing my bra:

Last week I ate a banh mi from Nom Nom, who are hugely famous due to being on TV but whose sandwiches I find to be mediocre at best.  The baguette was dry and shredded the roof of my mouth, and proportions were all off.  There were only two slices of jalapeno for the entire sandwich, and even though from the photo it looks like enough salady-bits, it was like 75% bread.  I ate at Nom Nom once before and had the same experience, and this time asked for extra veggies and the girl at the truck said “Okay, but it’s $1 extra.”

For reals?  I can buy a pound of jalapenos for a dollar at any Vallarta grocery store in L.A..  Grump.  Let’s go back and look at that bra-dog some more.

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Portrait of a Thief

Posted by on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:42 am

Ignore for a moment the guilty expression and focus on the small dot of white below the left eye (her left, not yours).

It looks a lot like a strawberry blossom petal.   And upon checking the strawberry beds, it is confirmed.  Where once were strawberries are now little mangled nubs covered in micro-teeth marks and slobber.  I’m going to go out on a forensics limb here and say that someone has been a bad dog.

In Which I Get Florid Over Spruce Tip and Rose Jelly

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Sometime last year I learned of spruce tip jelly.  Yes, spruce as in the pine tree, and tips as in the tips.  And jelly as in jelly.  Roll with me here, this carriage is leaving the stable.

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest and having a life-long obsession with foraging, I was floored to discover that the soft, pale bunches of needles that form at the end of the branches (hence: tips) in spring are not only edible, but make a fine tea and, apparently, jelly.


Ergo, this most recent Christmas I asked my mom for spruce jelly from Simple Pleasures, and despite my being a terrible Struwwelsunday of a daughter she gave me not just the spruce, but rose jelly as well.  I’ve been holding onto them for nearly five months now, waiting until the right day.  I’m not certain what made today the right day, but it was.

First, I have to tell you about the remarkable, magical, ethereal texture of this jelly.  These guys know what the fuck they’re doing.  It’s the softest, firmest jelly I’ve ever had, if that makes any sense at all.  It shimmies and shivers like water, but it is set solid.  It’s almost not spreadable, it’s so firm, but at the same time it’s so soft and in the mouth melts into nectar in a fraction of a second.  It is without question the best set jelly or jam I’ve ever had.

And the taste?  Almost impossible to describe.  First: not what you think.  It does not taste like pine, or cleaning agents, or this wretched soda.  It tastes, as best as I can articulate, like sweet, clean air.  Not too sweet, mind you, barely sweet enough to be considered jelly at all.  I can taste the small amount of lemon juice added for the balanced tang, but the aftertaste is mostly just faintly and pleasantly green and astringent, like chewing on clover blossoms as a child.  It tastes nothing like its color, I can tell you that; that peculiar shade of dusty peach belongs more to crabapple jelly than to spruce.  But bite after bite changed, sighing past with one mouthful as the scent of rosemary resin gone hot in the spring sunlight, and the next taste as icy, mineral glacier water.

It was almost reluctantly that I tried the rose jelly as well, since what could top the spruce?

I say this as gravely and with as much eye contact as I can achieve over the internet: this rose jelly is what they serve at the Faery Queen’s Midsummer Ball.

Never in my life have I tasted something so glittering and pale.  This is what it is to eat moonlight.

The jelly is barely sweet compared to fruit jellies, and stays far, far away from rose perfume.  It is to eat the puff of air behind a bumblebee laden with rose pollen.  I simply cannot imagine a finer thing served for tea on a morning in August, before the heat hits but in that hour after the sun has evaporated the dew from overgrown grasses and blackberry brambles.

I tried for almost 20 minutes to photograph the perfect diamond sparkles set off by sunlight through the jelly, and I couldn’t.  It can’t be photographed.  But I don’t need to take a picture, because you’re going to order some, and you’re going to see it for yourself.

23 Posted in Food Rant, Obsessed

Lady, Get Your Shit Together

Posted by on Apr 19, 2011 at 11:14 pm

So, Mrs. Meyer’s is doing it again.

As of literally 15 minutes ago, Mrs. Meyer’s launched a free shipping promotion – a great deal, since their products are heavier than lead.  Not to mention that all the stores around here are once again out of the Baby Blossom laundry detergent I use (the dryer sheets are totally discontinued, something I had to confirm with Whole Foods since Mrs. Meyer’s customer service wouldn’t answer my direct question) (see the link above for clarification on what I’m talking about).

Normally I’m not awake this late, but I was checking my email right when the promo notification came through.  Free shipping!  Starts right now!  Great,  I think, I’ll order some laundry detergent and maybe some of the new line of rosemary-scented countertop cleaner – which is not a seasonal product, I should add.  Ooh, and parsley hand soap?  Sounds good.

Guess what?  They’re all listed as “sold out.”

That’s right: within five minutes of a promotion starting AT MIDNIGHT, all the products I’m interested in are sold out.  I sent an email asking them to at least honor a raincheck of free shipping since the site doesn’t allow for backorders, but I’m not feeling very optimistic.

UPDATE 4/20: Customer service writes in this email to me: “We are expecting the majority of our out of stock items to be available by Friday at the latest.”  Meanwhile, at Facebook and at approximately the same time I received my email, they write this: “(…) we’re working hard to get it back in stock, however it may unfortunately be next week before it arrives.”  I interpret this as that they never intended to have it in stock in the first place, but then I always think the worst of people.

UPDATE 4/21: As of right now, the items are back in stock.  Good on Mrs. Meyer’s for making the effort, let’s hope they are prescient enough in the future to have full stocks before launching major online promotions.

8 Posted in Drama!, Pet Peeves

My Canadian “Friends”, You Have Failed Me

Posted by on Apr 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm

(The following is aimed entirely at my Canadian constituencies, whom now have a lot of explaining to do.)

Over the last few years I’ve taken it upon myself to find the perfect chocolate-peanut-cherry candy, should such a thing exist.  The following have tried and failed¹ to please me:

So riddle me this, Canadians: why did no one feel the need to mention the Cherry Blossom?

First of all, the packaging is flatly incredible.  I can’t even begin to express the thrill of delight it gives me to look upon such a weird, lurid half-illustrated image of the candy itself, or the vintagey eye-bomb of the nearly eradicated “printing foods on yellow backgrounds” design aesthetics of past decades.

Or how about the small issue that it is food, wrapped inside an unsealed piece of foil paper, which in turn is placed inside an unsealed paper box?

I don’t think that Canada just has profoundly lax food safety laws, I think it’s more that everyone has an unspoken declaration of truce with the Cherry Blossom. What kind of monster would fuck with it?

But let’s talk about the candy itself.  I think the asymmetrically lumpy top was intentionally molded to be that way, not a byproduct of a casual manufacturing process.  My heart goes pitter pat.

It’s such a large and unwieldy piece of chocolate that I’m not sure how I’m going to bust into it.  It’s too large to just chomp into (at least when you plan on photographing it – next time, when I’m alone and huddled in the closest with three or four of them, I’ll just eat them out of hand) so I carefully sliced the top off to reveal the liquid interior.

It smelled good before – mostly toasty, like peanuts – but now it smells great.  No artificially cherry flavor, though if the glace-flavor of the candied cherry bothers you, than you won’t like it anyway.  But the chocolate has a powerful peanutty and coconutty (!) odor, despite not being saturated with either inclusion.  I carved it down a little more until I felt comfortable taking a bite.

It’s delightful.  And while I can’t say it’s the holy grail of my chocolate-peanut-cherry search, it’s easily the best chocolate-covered cherry I’ve ever had.  The syrup inside might be a little too sweet (as these things generally are) and the cherry a little too unflavored, but the overall construction and retro-ness of it is nearly perfect.  Even if I could change anything about it, I’d be hesitant to, because there’s a place in the world for it.

So, Canada.  How do you explain yourself?

¹A special shout-out goes to reader Sara Brown and her gentle reminder that Australia and New Zealand’s Cherry Ripe is a tasty cherry confection, though made with coconut and not peanuts.  A fine substitute for the eternal lack of CPC satisfaction.

21 Posted in Food Rant, Obsessed

Like Peas in a Pod

Posted by on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

Things are starting to happen fast here at Casa Guacamole.  The nasturtiums I planted were doing well but then just one day thrived their asses off, blooming and vining out.  We ate this blossom seconds after the photo was taken.

The pea vines are also going bananas, despite a raging aphid infestation that seems to enjoy the daily soapy water bath I give them.  They’re the cleanest aphid infestation in the neighborhood.

The peas themselves are tasty, though a little starchy tasting, which is strange.  What makes the ones from the grocery store so sweet?  And staying true to form, the Viking stands in front of the vines and munches away, marauding my hard work.

This is deeply unrelated, but if you’re familiar with me in meatspace than you probably know I have a perfume addiction.  Or maybe not, because I also don’t want to be that lady on the subway that you hold your breath around because you can taste her White Diamonds like a 1990’s chemical defoliant.  I tend to wear my perfumes light, and struggle over whether a scent is “appropriate” for everything from the weather to the possible company.

Anyway, there’s a amazing perfume shop in L.A. called Scent Bar and I stopped by to torture myself and tried Tilda Swinton’s perfume Like This.  I’d wanted to try it for a long time and I set out yesterday to finally do so.  The gentleman working at Scent Bar was impeccable, too — I can’t be complimentary enough.  I walked in wearing jeans and a t-shirt, smelling like Old Spice (TRUE) and he treated me like I’d spent thousands of dollars there before.  Of course I didn’t catch his name, because I’m a jackass like that.  If you’re in L.A. and you like good perfume – not department store stuff, but classy stuff – then go there.  Anyway, Like This?  Meh.  It’s interesting at first, but dries down to what my nose only detects as roses and something vaguely clinical.  Other reviewers online call it “new car” or “inside an airplane” but I wouldn’t go that chemical… it’s just pedestrian, I guess.   Anyway, the guy was like a mentalist or something because he noticed that I leaned toward classic English perfumes and said “Saturday after next we’re having a perfume tribute to the Royal Wedding,” and I basically fainted with joy.  THE END.

5 Posted in Totally Unrelated

Little Meats

Posted by on Apr 14, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I liked when the crafty folks started demanding that old lady skills be referred to as The Gentle Arts.  I don’t jive with that whole “preserving the domestic arts” fervor (maybe ladies don’t know how to quilt anymore because they don’t want to), but I like the belief that keeping house is an art form.  It is.  But this isn’t my point.  My point is that my washing machine stopped draining and I ran crying to my landlord because there wasn’t a man in the house¹ and I’m a girl.

My brain’s daily math works like this:  I’m going to be stuck at home all day today.  What takes forever to cook? Answer: carnitas.  Also, a pie, but that’s a given.

I started thinking about making carnitas when Catastrophysicist wrote about it last month (I also made the lemongrass slaw recipe he mentions, and it’s rad, though I made it with Japanese fried chicken), but his recipe is less of a recipe and more of a brainstorm.  After some epic Google-fu, I came to the realization that there are a bazillion recipes, and I was going to have to wing it.

First, I knew I wouldn’t be using any cumin because cumin tastes to me like taco seasoning.  Instead I’d go heavy on my favorite Mexican flavoring agent, ancho chili powder.  Ancho chili powder isn’t terribly hot – no hotter than paprika – but packs a dumptruck of chili flavor in.  It’s mildly roasty, very deep and almost chocolatey.  Actually, ancho is just a dried poblano pepper, which is the pepper often used to make chili rellenos.  Just, you know, to bring you up to speed.  I don’t mean to turn this into Jeopardy or anything.

Anyway, I went as low-tech as possible.  Big cubes of pork, an orange squeezed over and torn up, lots and lots of garlic and onions, bay leaves, and (what ended up being too much) fresh oregano.  I poured a beer over it all (Kirin Ichiban, just because Japan has gotta represent) and shoved in a 300° oven for 3.5 hours.

LOOK AT IT.  Oh man.  Each nugget of pork is so soft that if I stabbed it with a fork it’d just split in two.  And all the stuff in the pan melted into a slurry of flavor.  I pushed the lumps aside and used some of the juice to moisten the shredded pork.

$10 worth of pork butt (heh), enough food for half a dozen people.  Excellent.

We broiled it to get crispy bits, and then of course I promptly forgot to take photos of finished tacos.  HA.  Cuh-lassic.  I made the Viking go back and make himself another taco just so I could take a photograph.

Generally speaking I’m not one of those all-pork-all-the-time nutbags.  I mean, we get it, pork is delicious and horn-rimmed glasses are cute and GET A HAIRCUT YOU FUCKING HIPSTER.  But carnitas?  This should be in your regular rotation.

Also, pie. 1/3 of this went home with the landlord for fixing the washer and I really mangled the shit out of it trying to cut it, so it’s nice to see that it was once an attractive and intact pastry.

Pork Carnitas
by all means if you like cumin, use it.  either way I stress: buy some ancho chili powder.  you’ll end up using it a lot.  also, if you don’t use cumin, you can pass off the carnitas as American pulled pork after it’s cooked by dousing it with your favorite BBQ sauce. i’m aware that the recipe appears to call for a LOT of garlic, but it does not result in an overly garlicky flavor, it all but disappears.

3 – 5 lb. pork Boston butt (heh)
1 large yellow onion, cut into thick slices
10 cloves of garlic, cut into thick slices
1 large orange
4 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
2 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 beer, your choice (water if you’re a teetotaler)

  • Heat oven to 300°.
  • Rinse and pat dry the butt (heh) and then cut into big cubes roughly 1-2 inches by 3-4 inches wide.  Don’t worry about there being big pieces of fat, these will be easy to pick off after the pork is cooked.  Or you can be super authentic and just eat them.  I picked them off.  Thoroughly salt, pepper, oregano (if dry) and ancho powder each piece and then pack them into a 9×13 baking pan.  It’s okay if it’s tight.  Between each piece of pork, smash some slices of onion and garlic.  Cut the orange in half, squeeze the halves over everything, and then tear the orange up into about 8 pieces and tuck those pieces in evenly around the pork.  Tuck the bay and oregano (if fresh) leaves randomly around too.  In summary: put everything in a pan.
  • Pour a beer over it until liquid comes about 3/4 up the sides of the pork.  Don’t submerge it.  You probably won’t even need the whole beer, so drink the rest fast before your landlord sees you.
  • Bake for 3.5 hours.  Somewhere in there flip the pieces of pork over once or twice.  They’re done when you can easily flake the pork apart with two forks.  Remove from the oven and let cool a little before setting about shredding the pork with your forks, putting the shreds over on a cookie sheet (or straight into a storage container for the fridge, if you’re making this ahead of time), picking fat off as you go.   When it’s all shredded, pour over about 1/2 to 1 cup of the delicious pan juice and toss together.  The pork will soak up all the juice.
  • When you’re ready to eat, broil the shit out of the shredded carnitas until it’s dark and crispy on the top, and then immediately consume.

¹ Mike the Viking is back to copywriting in an office.  It’s exactly like Mad Men and we’re exactly like the Drapers.

19 Posted in Make It So

Harder than it Looks

Posted by on Apr 11, 2011 at 11:05 am

For whatever reason, cupcake preferences in America are an explosive subject.  I admit to loving my country possibly only for this reason — where else is there 1,300+ comments that range from enjoying a cupcake or WANTING THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THEM TO DIE IN A FIERY PLANE CRASH?  The passion!  The indignant righteousness!  I love it, I can’t deny it.

I myself am an equal opportunity cupcake lover.  It’s the truth, and my shame is assuaged only by liberal applications of buttercream.  Grocery store chain cupcakes with primary-color airbrushed frosting?  Sure, I’ll take one.  Or Los Angeles’ beloved Sprinkles cupcakes, who I described as sort of mediocre and subsequently received an concerned email from the company?  What they don’t seem to understand is that I’d buy them again in a second, if I found myself suddenly inside their store.  They’re not my favorite, but in the realm of cupcakery they remain leagues from a deal-breaker.  How about Crumbs, whose offensive heaps of toppings I consider to be the epitome of amateur hour?  I’d like to eat one right now, thank you very much.

The question is, given the choice, which cupcake would I pick?  Most of the time, the answer is a Magnolia vanilla cupcake.   Let me be clear:  Magnolia is not the best bakery in town.  But the simplicity of their vanilla cupcake – petite as a bake-sale cupcake and topped with just a little too much frosting – is an inarguable pleasure.  Sure 50% of humanity disagrees with me, but I don’t mind.  The cake itself is soft and tender, and their classic butter frosting is whipped until any trace of sugar grain is obliterated.  They got the basics down pat, and that is an impressive feat.

Of course I tried to make them at home and was disappointed, but let me explain why.

The cake itself is excellent.  The recipe makes for sturdy, reliable little cupcakes that dome nicely and age well — in fact, I highly encourage anyone making a mess of these to make them a day ahead of time, allowing the cake time to mellow and the frosting time to crust over.  As basic vanilla cupcake recipes go, it’s a good one.  BUT.  As a full cake I think it would be disappointing; the cake intentionally borders on blandness, and the sturdiness that works for a cupcake would quickly become tedious in large slab of cake.  (For my favorite yellow cake recipe, I can’t say enough good things about Shirley Corriher’s “Magnificent Moist Yellow Cake” found in her book BakeWise, but also online at blogs like this one.)

But then there is the small matter of the frosting.  You see, you can’t put enough on.  You really can’t.  And you nearly can’t put enough sugar in it.  Which means that if you hesitate at all it will just not be the same, and this is what happened to me.

The frosting recipe is curious, placing all of the butter and milk in with half of the sugar and beating the thin resulting product until smooth, which at 5 minutes is probably 4 minutes longer than people would normally beat their frosting.  Sugar is then added in small batches (a total of eight cups – eight! – to frost only 24 cupcakes), with subsequent long beat times, until the texture is as creamy as though it were straight butter.  HOWEVER.  I chickened out and stopped adding sugar shy of what it needed, and though plenty sweet, didn’t have that sugary heart-palpitation inducing hit that I love about it.

AND THEN.  I didn’t put nearly enough frosting on the cupcakes.  To give you an idea of the horror that is the quantity of frosting I’m talking about, watch this video with the sound off so you don’t actually have to hear Hoda and Kathie Lee’s harpy screeches.  But I swear to god, my cupcakes just weren’t the same.  They were good, but they weren’t that 5 Year-Old’s Birthday Party perfect that I love about Magnolia’s vanilla cupcakes.

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.  Someone should, because I sure don’t.

13 Posted in Food Rant

Quite Contrary

Posted by on Apr 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

How does my garden grow, you ask? Well, fine, if you don’t count the gardener who weed-whacked the strawberries I’d planted (REALLY?! IT LOOKED LIKE A WEED TO YOU?), or if you don’t count this thing:

Oh, so cute, yes?  Eating in the tree.  Want to know what it is eating?  The new leaves on the tree. There are whole branches that about 48 hours ago were covered in beautiful garnet leaves that are now bare.  Because of Captain Salad Bar here.  That’s right around the time I noticed the carrot tops of my tiny baby little carrots had been eaten off down to the soil.

I swear, you guys are going to be reading a recipe for squirrel fricassee sooner rather than later.

16 Posted in Drama!, True Story

Grandma River’s Lavender Shortbread, Round I

Posted by on Apr 7, 2011 at 8:07 am

An alternative title for this post could be:   WRITE NOTES IN YOUR COOKBOOKS, MORON.

In my defense I hadn’t made lavender shortbread in years, and from the actual cookbook the recipe came from in many years longer than that.  I hand-copied out a quadrupled version for commercial production nearly ten years ago, and haven’t looked at the original since.

The book is Susan Herrmann Loomis’ Farmhouse Cookbook, and my copy is so well-used that some pages are permanently stuck together.  I can’t tell you how many recipes in here have become my standards, but I can say that the recipe for ‘Barbara Fischer’s Whoopie Pies’¹ alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.

Anyway, shortbread.  The recipe is ‘Herbfarm Rosemary Shortbread’ and the recipe is very nearly not shortbread at all.  The inclusion of rice flour makes the texture not that familiar sandy, firm bite of a Walker’s Shortbread, but a very fragile, tender and light alternative.  (The color also stays a pallid, Victorian-bosom white.)  And though I’ve made the recipe probably hundreds of times, I still read through the original recipe with fresh eyes.

At the bakery we’d always weighed out the cookies ball by individual ball, smashing them with a mallet (true!) and generous coatings of granulated sugar before they went into the oven.  It was the fastest way to make them.  Now – alone in my house and the master of my own cookies – I wanted fingers of shortbread, but since the dough felt too soft and that struck me as vaguely familiar, I refrigerated the dough and came back to cut it an hour later.

The dough itself is barely sweetened, and the cookies themselves rely on a coating of extra sugar. If you really want a nearly-unsweetened cookie, this part can be skipped.

At this point, I’m not going to lie.  I’m proud of myself.  These are fine cookies, and there was a reason Grandma River loved them.

When baking, their perfume is pure sex.  The fatty odor of the butter is tempered by the peculiar dusty sweetness of the lavender, producing this big, round globe of scent.  Perfume aficionados talk about “gourmand” perfumes – those with food-like odors.  But there’s no opposite version for cooking, and there should be.  The lavender shortbread is a food odor that ambles slowly from digestible to wearable, until the only explanation is that a gorgeous French woman wearing only a satin chemise has been baking cookies in your house, her arcane perfume mingling with those of the oven.

And then, I checked on them.  And burst out laughing.

I remember why the softness seemed vaguely familiar.  The shortbread are too soft.  I had increased the flour to keep them from pooling and those notes are back in Washington state.  Result: unsightly lavender blobs.

That taste astonishing, anyway.  I just wouldn’t send them to Grandma, were she here.

Lavender Shortbread, Adjusted
as you might imagine from the original title, these shortbread are also good with fresh rosemary – to be totally honest, I have a hard time deciding which of the two herbs i prefer most.    the recipe also suggests mint or thyme, and again – just lovely.  any resinous herb will work.  and do not be tempted to increase the quantity of lavender – lavender flowers can be bitter in concentration.  look for organic lavender or lavender intended for human consumption – don’t just empty out a panty sachet or something.

1 ½ sticks (6oz) of butter, softened, but firmer than room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp dried lavender
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour (white or brown)
1/4 tsp. salt
additional sugar for the tops of the cookies

  • Cream the butter on medium speed until very pale and smooth.  Add the sugar slowly at low speed, then increase to medium again until very fluffy and light, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on low until just bound together.  It will take a few minutes.  If your kitchen is at all warm, place the dough in the fridge for 10 to 30 minutes before continuing.
  • Heat oven to 375°.
  • Form the dough into small, thick patties about 1 ½ inches across and ½ inch thick.  Dip the tops into granulated sugar, then place on a cookie sheet with at least 1 inch of room between each cookie (12 to a sheet is good).
  • Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges have just begun to turn golden brown.  The rest of the cookie will be almost white.
  • The cookies are very fragile, so allow them to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  As is so often the case, I prefer them either straight from the oven or after they’ve had a chance to sit in an airtight container or plastic bag for 24 hours.

I will be making these again soon, and will share photos of what they are supposed to look like.

¹Which I discovered way before the whoopie pie craze swept the nation, and I say this not with smugness, but with a certain level of resignation — explaining to customers what whoopie pies were was a lesson in smiling even when you’ve heard a joke one thousand million times.  The recipe also calls for not a marshmallow creme center, but a peculiar buttercream made with lemon juice and raw egg whites, the texture of which becomes both fluffy and creamy in a way that to this day boggles my mind.

6 Posted in Make It So