The Edible Architecture of Infructescence
My Christmas started in the City of Angels this year as I glimpsed poinsettias at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
I once thought red and white poinsettia flowers altogether too large, but then I learned what I thought were showy petals are bracts, a type of leaf, and the poinsettia flowers are the small center cluster of yellow nodes.
This city is like a poinsettia cyathia cluster—the closer you attend to areas within the meretricious, the more nuance you discover.
I was in LA for the Winnies, a new vlogger awards show held at Cinespace where everyone was a winner (you brought your own trophy or a trophy for someone else).
The budding vlogger community acknowledging each other’s work and accepting awards with less than seven words was a good way to begin the season of giving, and I thought of the bright green color scheme of the Winnies site and signature green drink the next morning at the market as I considered beautiful frisée.
A favorite high-maintenance lettuce, frisée insists upon being promptly frizzled in oil or torn (not cut) into a bistro salad—and I wished for a kitchen to make frisée aux lardons with a good squeeze of lemon over the top.
I admired mottled yellow and purple orchids, three and five to a stem,
baby purple artichokes and bundled asparagus,
two kinds of bok choy,
eight types of tomatoes,
baskets of chantrelles,
glistening swiss chard,
a large sack of squash blossoms I was tempted to sling over my shoulder and dash away with to distribute to good little foodies and serious cooks,
glowing, inflorescent Strelitzia,
crunchy sweet pea shoots,
and crunchier roasted corn that I ate with dried apricots as I drove to the Silver Lake market.
The smaller Silver Lake market held as many crafts as vegetables, and paused at this bag,
a pile of jícama (best eaten raw),
and sipped a persimmon sugarcane smoothie while I waited for my friend Kris to join me.
A very good tour guide, Kris led me to his friend Dave’s vintage store (across the street from Lovecraft BioFuels on Sunset Blvd) after a vegetarian brunch,
and I noticed fortuitous lemon trees as I walked into the Cheese Store and bought squid ink while Kris went to Intelligentsia (locals seem oddly obsessed with this coffee).
We examined the new mural of Silver Lake celebrities such as the Walking Man, who we later saw striding confidently through town. Then we drove around the reservoir, completing my lap of Silver Lake.
I went on to Los Feliz for Squaresville vintage and stopped into the House of Pies, deciding to take a slice of butterscotch with me to Custom,
the new boutique hotel by LAX, where I checked in to find sheep in the lobby.
On my way to dinner that night at Kate Mantilini with vlogger royalty (I sat between the Ninja and the epically gracious Zadi), I blinked at the dj spinning in the Custom lobby, drove past a bedecked Rodeo Drive, and I thought about the Biltmore Hotel lobby from the night before.
Like the child Clara in a holiday Nutcracker production, the previous night I had looked up at the enchanting tree in the Biltmore lobby that seemed to grow before my eyes,
appropriate for the hotel’s ornate interior,
and in keeping with a curious Friday where I listened to NPR caution drivers about rain (noteworthy here) as I drove to the Costa Mesa headquarters of Roadtrip Nation, the PBS show about college students roadtripping to find their life paths, and found myself meeting mustachioed staffers (part of a ‘Movember’ campaign to raise money for prostate cancer research),
climbing into the original RV now parked inside the warehouse and serving as a conference room,
and wearing Dustin the Intern’s paper hat (when in Costa Mesa…).
We made ice cream sandwiches and the RTN crew told me about their paths—a very inspiring set of stories and staffers building a national network based on informed career choices.
Similar positive construction was in progress the following weekend at Andrew and Annie’s housewarming party; Laura and I chatted with the elevator operator before arriving to find storied gingerbread houses decorating the coffee table, and Andrew poured Laura warming cider in the wonderfully big new kitchen.
And somewhere between Costa Mesa and Washington, D.C. that week it became winter, with the last leaves letting go,
ice cracking underfoot,
and morning sun illuminating snow on tree branches.
I skated through isles of snow to work,
and welcomed winter white with fragrant paperwhite bulbs at the Dupont Market
and the curious sponginess of pom pom mushrooms,
a texture I sautéed and sauced with a white wine reduction under scallops pan-seared like savory snowballs.
Mixing in other hues that weekend, I remembered the vivid color of dried apricots at the Santa Monica market and placed a macerated fruit mixture of dried raisins, cherries, and cranberries inside pork tenderloin.
Plating pork medallions next to wilted spinach with apples and pine nuts,
I made latkes with sour cream (no applesauce as we already had apples in the spinach)
and finished the circular meal with pieces of fallen chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar
while YouTube dj Helen led Dana, Stewart, and Will in an anything-but-sheepish chorus of Color Me Badd.
A study in contrasts, the next Sunday found us quite properly celebrating Jane Austen’s birthday with a lunch of tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, (which Jane will not officially sanction but enjoys very much).
And seeking a sort of old-fashioned spice cake for Jane’s birthday cake, I decided on Martha Stewart’s 2002 fruit torte with almond praline, balanced by crème fraîche ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.
Pouring bubbling amber caramel over a baking sheet strewn with almonds, I was reminded of how, as literary scholars, we attempt to situate theories in solid shards of story that we then fasten to crown narrative structures.
Revisiting the discussion last week, my friend John disagreed somewhat with the previous ha-ha framing (the mark of a worthy literary topic being multiple interesting theorizations), and offered another take on the subtle significance of ha-ha landscaping:
But it was only broccolini that was cut off, like fallen Christmas trees, at our party that night, as John and I kept Solstice with Ben, Dana, Jordan, Will, Scott, Stewart, Rob, and Keicy.
As one half of the old year gave way to the new, we ate buttermilk cake with currants after linguine with prosciutto and caviar, preparing for lengthening days with holiday greens, reds, whites, and golden sparkling apple cider.
I realized the end of the year relies on movement the following day as I drove from Charlottesville to Atlanta and had difficulty focusing the lens on my beautiful younger sisters.
A casual movement through her hair revealed Kassandra’s gyrotonic hand strength, and a quick frown her skepticism at the idea of an obstacle impossible to overcome.
Katrina unfastened her headwrap to shake out dreads that have narrowed work opportunities in the conservative area where my parents live,
only to laugh as she removed the cloth she wears when serving comfort food at The Flying Biscuit and then regally regather the dreads back into liberal coils on top of her head.
She made me laugh too as I turned away from the camera, unable to blur the shot with the curls I cut off years ago, a move that accompanied my decision to draw closer the literature and the literary friends I cannot now imagine my life without.
On Christmas morning, it was the French toast “pulling focus,” as Kassandra might say, as she appeared ready for a spa treatment and breakfast.
I topped the brioche toast with a berry compote and cream,
and ornamented soft scrambled eggs with glowing North Georgia trout roe.
Dad took this shot of the women of the family as we prepared a late lunch,
and Grandpa held a fireside chat, your moment of (chocolate) Zen, reading the back of the Vosges Creole chocolate bar box:
After lunch, Mom asked if I would like the ham bone, which of course prompted a spontaneous hambone performance,
and as Katrina and I sustained the rhythm that shook the potted Christmas cacti, I caught my breath and exhaled into 2008 as the kitchen reverberated with possibility…