Jane and I were eating gazpacho at the farmer’s market, and I twittered back a suggestion for roasted tomatillo salsa with white fish; Jeremy Keith twittered back a fantastic chili recipe. Waving to friends and vendors who have become friends, I started thinking about possible alternatives to the two dominant terms used to describe those into food and cooking: “foodies” and “chowhounds.”
The chowhound.com manifesto articulates the difference; “Foodies eat where they’re told. Chowhounds blaze trails.” An excellent distinction, but the term still falls short—I’m not sniffing out restaurants, kicking at anyone’s heels, their tagalong BFF. I am (like most of my food-intensive friends) stealthily pursuing edible magic. I want what’s not on the menu, what the chef wants to cook for me, illegal raw milk cheese, every one of the two-inch butternut squash with attached blossoms that the suspicious market vendor cross-examined my recipe intent before selling me. I am a culinary jaguar.
I take the term from my favorite Italo Calvino work, the posthumously-published short story “Under the Jaguar Sun,” where a vacationing couple starts in Oaxaca, Mexico (where my friends Scott and Faith are traveling this week) consuming local cuisine, tradition, and each other through traditional Mexican food prepared at former convents. In postmodern fashion, the narrative fragments as the two characters seek out deeper understandings of ancient cannibalistic ceremonies, ending on a resonant note of instability, an acceptance of the symbiotic freedom/sacrifice cycle.
And so, I met my friend Chris at Oyamel a few weeks ago for grasshoppers and guacamole, eager to hear about his trip to Korea and introduce him to Jane, the action figure who lives in my purse.
The grasshoppers looked and tasted much like crunchy, yet caramelized onions; the scallops with a walnut sauce were better, and I found myself, like the characters in the story, attempting unsuccessfully to characterize individual flavors. The service was bizarre (Chris seemed more alarmed that I now carry a Jane Austen action figure) and Chris’s travel stories were fascinating; we drank red wine and explicated recent strange dreams.
Lately, I have been dreaming about cruciferous vegetables. This may have something to do with my name, and perhaps more to do with the beautiful cauliflower at the Old Town Alexandria market.
The seller promises to save me some each week in purple, and I feel this may be my signature vegetable (culinary jaguars have signature vegetables). My other Alexandria market find is the Del Ray mushroom vendor; the below mushrooms assuage my guilt about co-hosting a recent barbecue with my Alexandria roommate Ellee, and they inspired me to arrange a mushroom still life on the porch before our guests arrived and I began marinating the portobellos.
(Note: Marinated for a few hours in the refrigerator in a zipped bag of olive oil and garlic, portobellos can be cooked in foil on a grill or in the oven at 400 degrees for ten to thirteen minutes to a solidified custard state, more than adequate as an alternative to the meat requisite to barbecues. Peeling back the foil to reveal the gills adds drama for vegetarians, while respecting their dietary choices by protecting the mushroom from meat residue on the grill.)
Ellee’s tongs from her travels in Africa seemed appropriately primal as serving utensils, and she made the traditional Southern sides of baked beans and Texas corn pudding to complement her outstanding ribs.
Our friends and neighbors brought drinks and desserts, including my work colleague Chris Bishop, seen here contemplating his contribution of expired cookies (the packaging is fascinating).
Leaving Ellee’s friends with my guacamole, I drove to Charlottesville that night for Dana’s birthday party, insisting we take a group shot as they smiled, frowned, and toasted to the general merriment—
(I leave you in suspense as to what the group is looking at here).
I will tell you that Jane, draped by Jeannine in an official press pass, turned a few heads at the Tavis Smiley presidential forum on June 28th from the back of the press room where I sat watching the print journalists and bloggers alternately cackle and cheer as the democratic candidates debated minority issues in a Q & A format.
After the broadcast had ended, the press room continued to buzz as the candidates arrived at Spin Alley along with influential community figures like Cornell West.
Inspired by Cornell West’s impressive hair, I spiked mine before heading out that Saturday to the Eastern Market.
The number of Eastern Market visitors has taken a hit after the fire, but the flea market continues to have some interesting finds for those venturing out on weekends. I coveted golden buddhas and golden chairs,
stepped around the slightly frightening anonymous yard art
and considered the masks on the fence.
Back on the metro, I jumped off at the Smithsonian stop, continuing the day’s international theme at the Folklife Festival, which is fronted by the intricately-tooled Smithsonian Folklife Festival bus (wouldn’t it be fun to ride this and sing Partridge Family tunes with obscure traditional folk instruments?)
I wandered through the European exhibits, looking at eel nets and marine archaeology,
settled in for a while to admire the Irish embroidery,
and was transfixed by the Asian exhibits watching silk tapestry on the loom (this is kthread),
a dance “to charm the audience,”
and the jagged outlines of Thai puppets.
The following morning I went to the market at Dupont Circle, smiling at foxglove bouquets (one of my favorite biennials from my preteen diet of Miss Marples)
and healthful piles of garlic.
I walk markets silently, but often hear the voices of food authors in my head—seeing these shallots and their descriptive sign, Anthony Bourdain’s voice snarked; “Shallots! That’s. Why. My. Food. Tastes. Better. Than. Yours.”
I left the Dupont Circle market inspired by drawings exposing someone else’s interior monologues, chalked postsecrets around the fountain, voicing desire for love, maternal and otherwise.
Pleased that I had secured sour cherries at the market, a few days later I drove to Charlottesville for a Fourth of July party at my house. Happily too late for a Sam’s Club trip, where Ben had purchased eighty hot dogs which he proceeded to boil in beer (a good idea, though the sheer number of dogs was overwhelming) while I prepped sour cherry turnovers.
The party began with friends on the porch,
and, thirty people later, moved back inside for fried green tomatoes with homemade buttermilk ranch and a roasted vegetable garnish (thanks to Ben’s mother—I walked in to find a paper bag on the counter containing squash from her garden),
a buttermilk country cake with peaches and whipped cream,
and homemade vanilla ice cream with the turnovers.
I was joined in the kitchen by friends who had also dressed for the occasion: Morgan in a patriotic shirt,
and the fabulous Steph Brown, who is in many ways a firecracker.
Steph and I toasted with Sara and Carolyn to independence past, present, and future,
and I made a fervent, silent wish for the children of my friends to someday live in a world without constant war.
Last weekend, I visited my sister Katrina in a place full of people who share that dream, the political, hyperlocally-focused community of Carrboro, North Carolina. Even the yard art makes a statement, as this giant insect attests.
Katrina and I walked to the farmers’ market where Celebrity Dairy goat cheese and Wild Will’s herbal tea blends awaited,
discovering a personable eggplant advertising heirloom tomatoes,
a box of beautiful “slightly less than perfect” tomatoes,
and friends of friends at the Cane Creek farm stand.
We then made our way to the Maple View Ice Cream store on Weaver street across from the wonderful Weaver Street Market cooperative, (.coop being one of my favorite url extensions),
passing one of the peaceful stone ladies on the way (she wears her patriotism on her dress).
Carrboro is known for its flyering, and we decided to visit the really, really free market described on posters around town that afternoon.
Katrina looked for shirts along with a townie wearing angel wings and a marabou halo,
and I watched the free patching and haircutting (very useful services),
noting an impressive hipster mullet.
We drove to Elon College, where Katrina has been directing the New Media Lab, and Katrina showed me the kombucha she has been brewing (Ben, I meant to bring some back for you—); Katkombucha will be marketed upon her return to the States in a few months.
Cooking market squash and locally-made pasta with Celebrity Dairy goat cheese, we swapped family stories with Cathryn Davis and Neeley House, who were visiting the Elon lab to do some color corrections on their documentary “Fully Awake” on Black Mountain College’s educational philosophy, which will be screened at festivals in the coming months.
I woke at five to birds outside and began the drive back to Alexandria, thinking about the goals of Black Mountain College and how the educational mission of PBS can inspire active online participation.
I flew to Los Angeles the next morning for the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton, which has been recently remodeled. The lobby walls shimmer,
and I sat outside with colleagues Jeannine Harvey and Kevin Dando, who had invited me to present at a special workshop PBS gave on practical ways to improve traffic and audience participation on their blog for the television critics in attendance.
Fueled by artichoke ravioli with pancetta and pecorino at the hotel’s Circa 55 restaurant (I’m told the retrofitted Trader Vic’s is less worth visiting),
we made final preparations for our “Feeding the Blogging Beast” presentation the following day. The blog session was between sessions about upcoming programs with talent like the Wired Science team, Carol Burnett, Tim Ferris, and legends of television like still-zinging Betty White and Tim Conway. The critics came, listened, and in some cases blogged about the session (e.g. Roger Catlin’s TV Eye pronounced it “weird,” but incorporated some of the practices I advocated, Ed Martin’s Watercooler TV detailed Kevin’s opening remarks (Kevin also gave SEO tips at the end)).
The JetSet Show‘s Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf (the link at left is to his PBS press tour post) made later sessions and interviewed some of the talent—watch for those interviews in upcoming episodes of JetSet (if you follow only one vlog, it should be JetSet).
I’m sending them a Jane Austen action figure of their very own, since my Jane had such a lovely time at press tour, meeting the Masterpiece Theatre team (there is an entire late winter season of Austen starting in January),
and fashioning a rag—publicist Olivia Wong of WGBH thinks my Jane needs a real headwrap, though this worked splendidly for the breakfast.
All this was after the opening event at Griffith Observatory for the upcoming science program Wired Science, the start of the PBS portion and of the Television Critics Association Press Tour itself.
In the observatory theater, the group watched one of the pilot segments of Wired Science, and then dispersed to the buffet with trays of noodles and themed fizzing beakers of flowers.
Choosing to sit outside and look at the stars, I talked with Jamie Durie, the new host of PBS’ Victory Garden (he’s Oprah’s gardening guru), and I glimpsed Jupiter through a telescope on the observatory lawn.
Walking to the shuttle, I marveled that the great minds at Wolfgang Puck Catering have engineered a way to make a fondant cookie edible (animator and producer zZalgern0n is holding the cookie) and thought about how much brighter the stars are in Charlottesville (Tim Ferris talked in his press tour session about Los Angeles’ light pollution).
On Tuesday night, Stephanie, Jeannine, and I went to Sushi Mon—a place Stephanie mentioned casually was “one of Jennifer Aniston’s favorites.” (Stephanie does this. So glam.)
Living on the East Coast, I forget what real sushi portions are and the excitement of inventive rolls prepared skillfully (re: the tuna roll below).
Jeannine and I continued our food adventures the following day, when colleague Rachael Hoffman emailed that Sprinkles Cupcakes was within walking distance of the Hilton.
We waited in line for about ten minutes, while I peered into the neighboring psychic’s and was grateful the line wasn’t like Magnolia Bakery’s.
My favorite part? The Sprinkles concentric circle menu that matches the cupcake decoration.
With my frosting shot burning a hole in the Sprinkles bag, we walked down the street to Rodeo Drive, where I was pleased to see the driver had brought the Lamborghini around for us.
The day before, I met publicist Gail Rubin who is promoting the program “Seeing in the Dark,” which is based on Tim Ferris’ book.
As her footwear indicates, she takes her job very seriously; she told me these are one of her fourteen pairs of boots.
And so I was primed for the fashionably snooty stretch of concrete (note the quirky blue shoes on the left).
Sadly, my brief stay in a fashion capital offered no help this weekend, when I wondered what would be the appropriate choice for a Friday the 13th party at the inimitable Keicy Tolbert’s with an infused vodka bar. I settled for off-the-shoulder black and cast spells with Dana.
The next morning I felt ready to embrace Bastille Day; at the market, I twittered about habanero usage, and I decided on the classic bistro dish of salmon cakes for Dana and Ben.
A slender green bottle of fortification later, we were off to nearby Henley’s Orchard, which was closed.
Still, we admired apples to be picked in coming months,
berries ripe now,
and Queen Anne’s lace orbs yet to unfurl.
Then, we were to Whitehall Vineyards for a tasting,
before turning cartwheels down the rose-lined rows of grapes.
We returned to Charlottesville (by way of a side trip crashing a party in Suburban Hell) to feed our locacraving for Wayside, comfortably dipping spoons into warm mashed potatoes and gravy and tart, chilled coleslaw, wiping our fingers from the fried chicken.
And this, too, defines culinary jaguars; nourish the voice that insists, feed the craving that continues, seek out not by blazing, but by deliberately supporting those businesses and organizations that enrich your community.
Your culinary compatriot,