Sir Kensington's Chipotle Mayonnaise

As you can imagine, it doesn't take much to fill up a mini-fridge. If your mini-fridge is an add-on to a real full-sized fridge, well, you can afford to be a little more indulgent. My mom, for example, kept one in her bedroom stocked with Moscato wine; a former boss of mine had one designated exclusively for chocolate. I, however, have to be strategic about what I'm stocking it with because that little ice-box is my only option for food storage. I'm more or less limited to the necessities–breakfast items, beverages, snacks and condiments–with some space leftover for a container of this or that from the prepared foods market. 

Mine currently contains:

  • 2 bottles of Smartwater
  • A bottle of Perrier
  • A can of Diet Coke
  • A few containers of Fage 0% Greek yogurt
  • A container with 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • A grilled turkey burger patty
  • Crackers (Jilz Gluten Free or Lesley Stowe's Raincoast Crisps)
  • A cheese end
  • A jar of Castelvetrano olives
  • A jar of raw honey (for tea)
  • A jar of champagne mustard
  • A bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce (purchased because of its slenderness)
  • A jar of anchovy-wrapped capers

Mustard and hot sauce can only do so much when it comes to jazzing things up. In that regard, my condiment department was sorely lacking. Ideally, I'd like to keep fresh aïoli on-hand because it's so versatile–Cape Seafood and Provisions sells fresh batches of theirs–but it has such a short shelf-life. Mayonnaise, on the other hand, is too blah. Then, along came Sir Kensington's Chipotle Mayonnaise! 

First of all, I love Sir Kensington's packaging. The squarish glass jar with a black lid gives it a luxurious look while the whimsically illustrated label adds a delightful touch. It adds that joyful "pop" in the mini-fridge, if you know what I mean. Secondly, the brand uses only the finest eggs, oils and seasonings in their products which comes through in the flavor. Their Chipotle Mayonnaise is simply bomb-dot-com, for lack of a better word. Smoky and garlicky with a bright lemony zest... Sometimes that's just what you need to dress a grilled turkey burger patty.

 

The Joy of Not Cooking

A small collection of dining ware essentials from Muji

A friend of mine graciously offered me to stay in her guesthouse as I transition back to civilization, which is, for now, L.A. She has a chic mid-century home situated on a hilltop in Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood steeped in a long-standing creative spirit. I love it here. It's far enough from the hubbub to feel at peace, but only a ten-minute drive away from Sunset Boulevard for when you want the hubbub.

The guesthouse has a view of the swimming pool on one side and the expanse toward DTLA on the other. It contains nothing more than an entryway, a full bathroom and a large bedroom. Instead of air conditioning, there are floor-to-ceiling louver windows which catch the cool breeze coming through the canyon and make the white curtains billow in the afternoon. It's quintessentially L.A. and it's more than I could ever ask for. I lovingly nicknamed it "The Clubhouse". 

The Clubhouse has a mini-fridge, a microwave and an electric tea kettle. I can't tell you how luxurious it feels not having to cook. At the ranch, I had to cook morning, noon and night. Here, I can pick up bits and bobs of things from the prepared foods counter, like a few slices of roast beef or a small filet of poached salmon, plus a side vegetable dish or two. I just nibble at them when I'm hungry, but more likely I am having dinner over at a friend's house or catching up with a friend at happy hour. After spending two and a half years in the middle of nowhere, I have a whole new level of appreciation for modern conveniences. (I've already tried the Postmates app a few times too–what a godsend!)

Last night, at a party at Neue House, I told my friend Alisa about how I'm back in the SGD lifestyle, full swing, with my kitchenless set-up:

Me: My mini-fridge is basically a cube.

Alisa: It's not one of those that are three-feet tall with a freezer?

Me: Nope. 

Alisa: What do you have in there?

Me: A box of Raincoast Crisps, a little jar of honey, a little jar of champagne mustard, tartar sauce, hot sauce–

Alisa: So mostly condiments and sauces.

Me: Uh-huh. Like bachelors do. A bottle of kombucha, a bottle of sparkling water, a can of Diet Coke... A cheese end–I choose from the bowl of cheese ends because they're more mini-fridge-friendly... Oh, and a jar of anchovy-wrapped capers.

Alisa: That's funny that a jar of anchovies is something you had to have in your mini-fridge.

Huh. It is, isn't it.

 

 

My Inner Picky Eater

What's the deal with hummus? I mean, seriously. When guests come to the ranch, they always bring at least two tubs of hummus. It doesn't matter if it's roasted red pepper flavor or roasted garlic with gold-leaf and white truffles, nobody ever eats it. You know why? Because there are OTHER OPTIONS. Nobody willingly goes for the hummus when there are other things on the table. (Don't be that person who brings hummus to a party.) Dieters, especially, believe that hummus is a "healthy" snack, but it's actually loaded with carbs and it tastes meh. Meh, I tell you! It's edible, but it's not fantastic, by any means. It certainly doesn't warrant all of the oohing and aahing that it gets. I've heard people gushing "Omg, I loooove hummus" as they scoop up a gob of it with a baby carrot and I just want to grab them by the shoulders, look them square in the eyes, and say: "It's OK. It's not that great. You don't have to fuss over it. Try the Doritos over there. Those are great." Dips are meant to be fun. Hot spinach and artichoke dip in a bread bowl is fun. Queso con carne with tortilla chips is fun. And, if you want something fun for your baby carrots, try whipping up a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Dip with sour cream–that's fun. Garbanzo bean paste? Not fun. It's suffice to say that I'm not that into hummus. 

Or beans and lentils, in general.

Tell me, is there anything more unappealing to look at than a bowl of mushy brown lentil soup? You can try to garnish it with a sprig of parsley, but it's like putting lipstick on a pig. It's another one of those things that's marketed as "healthy." I'd beg to differ. A bowl of simple chicken soup is much healthier for you, and your stomach won't feel like it's filled up with slop when you're done.

You know, I never thought of myself as a picky eater. I eat liver and sea urchin and anchovies and headcheese, for crying out loud. I've always kind of prided myself on being open-minded when it comes to food. Only recently did it occur to me that I might be a closeted picky eater. 

For example, whenever I order pancakes with bacon and eggs, I always ask for the pancakes on the side because I can't stand when the syrup touches the eggs and bacon. And, speaking of breakfast, I can't stand omelettes either. I think people go too crazy with the ingredients: ham, cheese, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, spinach, turkey, sausage... I've even seen chicken quesadilla omelettes on a menu! Stop the madness already! I rarely stray from soft-boiled or sunny-side up because I like my eggs yolky, with the whites barely set. When you ask for them scrambled, it's never done properly. It's either too dry or not whisked well enough. Scrambled eggs should have a certain creamy look that takes skill to achieve.

Caramelized onions? Not a fan. Just because you get caramelized onions on your hot dog or burger does not make it fancy. It just makes it complicated. I do, however, like thinly sliced raw red onions on my burger, but not lettuce–because it gets soggy–unless it's shredded, which is fine. I usually skip the tomato too, due to the sogginess factor. For the tomatoey-ness, I can get that from ketchup. Plain or sesame seed-topped hamburger buns are acceptable. As are soft potato buns. Brioche is a no for me–too sweet. And don't even think about putting a burger patty between a ciabatta roll. Are you insane? It's too chewy. 

French onion soup. I don't mind the soup part, but it's impossible to eat gracefully because when you dip your spoon into the thick blanket of gruyère, the melted cheese seems to string on forever, like an endless strand of spaghetti. Do not order this while you're on a date at a French restaurant. This sort of thing can only be eaten if you're dining alone and your table is completely shrouded by a thick curtain. 

Bell peppers. You know how Nicolas Cage is always Nicolas Cage in every movie he's in? Well, anything that a bell pepper touches tastes like a bell pepper. It doesn't enhance whatever dish it's in, it just overwhelms it. Therefore, I refrain from using bell peppers in curries, stir-fries, fajitas or pizzas. On the other hand, I like them as cold and crunchy slices on a crudité platter, or as the star of a dish, as in Stuffed Bell Peppers. Let's just say they don't do well as a member of the supporting cast.

I'm such a purist when it comes to classic dishes and this could not be more apparent than the night that Mountain Man cooked "spaghetti bolognese". You cannot put chunks of carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, blue cheese, coconut milk, curry powder, and tons of hot sauce in ground beef and tomato sauce and call it "bolognese"! A twist here or there, like adding a splash of heavy cream, can still qualify it, but not a full-on Frankenstein situation. 

Swiss cheese, like the cartoon one with the holes in it. It tastes like rubber! We can also add Jarlsberg and provolone to this category. They're all flavorless. I mean, why bother? 

Meat dishes that contain cherries, dates, apples, raisins, currants, pomegranate seeds, or any kind of fruit or berry. And may I also add: no pineapples on pizza. Just not into it. Same with nuts. Nuts are totally overrated. Also, do you know how much fat is in a nut? Who can stop at six almonds? 

Rhubarb. It's so ridiculously tart and sour. Why is it used as pie filling? Blech. In the same dessert vein, toasted coconut flakes always texturally feel like they don't belong on whatever they're sprinkled on. Kind of like finding a hair that has accidentally fallen into your food.

Quinoa, buckwheat, bulgar, barley, farro, and other grains. I must not have the same tastebuds as a horse because I cannot down any of the aforementioned grains. Yet another thing labeled as "healthy". Listen, I've tried living on a macrobiotic diet for four months in my twenties, and grains were put on a pedestal, but, for slimming down, I'm all about the high protein/low- or no-carb aspects of diets like the Dukan Diet or the Paleo Diet. I can't stand when I see a "quinoa and kale salad". The kale would taste so much better on its own without those soggy clumps of quinoa!

Broccoli. Poor broccoli. It's kind of an outdated vegetable and it smells awful when you cook it, no matter whether you're steaming it or puréeing it into a broccoli and cheddar soup. My thought is, why not eat broccolini? It has a much nicer flavor and doesn't stink up the house. Or try cauliflower, which looks like an albino version of broccoli, but has a nice mellow sweetness to it. 

Chicken feet. 'Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

The Lonely World of Acquired Tastes

A page from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook

Oysters, caviar, anchovies, sea urchin, tripe, bone marrow, pâté, testa, blue cheese, chicharrones... My affinity for acquired tastes definitely comes from my mother, who I would say is my original #singlegirldinner muse. I remember very vividly catching her make her own #singlegirldinner for the first time as a child and this has always made an impression on me. 


It was an odd hour for my mother to be cooking. It was late in the afternoon—much too late for lunch and way too early for dinner. I was in my room doing my homework when I smelled a buttery and garlicky perfume waft down the hallway. What is she cooking? I wondered, and trotted down to the kitchen to investigate. 

There she was, hovering over a sizzling frying pan on the stovetop, nudging its contents gently with a wooden spatula. She spooned a steaming scoop of rice into a small bowl and scooted her secret dish onto a plate.

"Is that steak?" I asked, with my mouth watering.

"No, it's something else" she responded, carrying her little meal over to the kitchen table, "Do you want to try it?"

I examined the plate, She had cut the liver into strips and seared it with caramelized onions and crispy garlic. It looked like steak that was perfectly charred around the edges and still pink in the center. I had never had liver before, but I wanted so badly for it to taste like steak. I nodded.

She put a little bit of everything onto a fork and fed it to me. I grimaced, "Yuck! The texture is so strange! What is it?" I had expected to chew and instead it just became a paste in my mouth. I was weirded out yet intrigued.

"It's liver," she said, with a sigh, "See? I could never make this for dinner. Nobody would like it except for me."

You might protest: "But she was married! And she was a mother! She wasn't a single girl!" Oh, but it doesn't matter, you see—it doesn't matter where we are in our lives, if there is a moment to steal to ourselves to have our cake and eat it too... We will! 

It didn't stop at liver with my mother. She had her own stashes of things, like jars of homemade kimchi, blue cheese dip (which, to my own dismay, I once confused for ranch dressing) and papaya (which looks so much like cantaloupe to a child when it's all sliced up). I thought it was marvelous that she preserved her own little world, in spite of having a troop of five children.

Her snacks were particularly quirky. She would pair bananas with Laughing Cow cheese, dip grapefruit segments into chili salt, and mash soft-boiled eggs into stinky tofu so that she could dip sprigs of watercress into the mixture. I've even caught her sautéing ramen noodles with garlic and French's Yellow Mustard, which—believe it or not—became a hit with her friends. Many of her acquired tastes eventually became mine. But I draw the line at pickled chicken feet. That, I can't do. 

Now I understand why she had all of the #singlegirldinners that she did. It's not easy to find dining partners who share the same craving for those off-the-beaten-path tastes; the pungent, bitter, sour, unctuous, mineral sorts. And that's fine.

More for me.