Popcorn for Breakfast and Other Minor Revelations

Leftover popcorn, I’ve discovered, makes a good breakfast. My wife often makes popcorn for the kids in the evening, and there it is in the morning, half a pot — the butter soaked in and coagulated. Like many things, it is better the next day.

I especially like the crunchy, half-popped ones that congregate at the bottom of the pan. My wife worries: “You’re going to break a tooth on one of those one day.” But I like to live dangerously, I guess.

I made another delightful breakfast discovery this morning. It’s soft-shell crab season — one of my most favorite of all foods. Last night, I made seven soft-shell crab sandwiches for our dinner party. I had miscounted, and there were only six of us. So my second course of breakfast was a reheated soft-shell crab sandwich. What a start to the day!

I haven’t been blogging so much lately. I’m not completely sure why — some combination of busy-ness and apathy. Sometimes I think I’ve run out of things to say about food. And then I consider: “How is that possible?” I’ve also noticed some of my other blogger friends suffering from a similar inertia (I’m looking at you, Gourmandistan!). Maybe it’s a seasonal thing.

I do periodically just tire of my own writing. “Oh my god, not that metaphor again!!” And need a break from myself.

I used to publish a post every Tuesday and Thursday. I was very consistent for several years. I don’t know how I did it. Now, I’m like, “Whatever!”

I was saddened by the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, although as a parent of young children, I also thought it was a selfish and cowardly act given that he has an 11-year-old daughter. That’s a hole in her life that can never be filled.

Leftover soft-shell crab sandwich

Like many people, my first introduction to Bourdain was through his book, “Kitchen Confidential,” which lifted the veil on the many horrors of restaurant kitchens. I worked in several restaurant kitchens and never experienced — nor perpetrated — anything too terrible.

The worst crime I ever committed against a customer was when I was a teenager working in an Italian deli. Every Saturday, around 5 p.m., the old Italian owner, Ron, would say, “Okay, let’s clean up and get out of here.” The deli closed at 5:30. And I inevitably had someplace fun to get to and was eager to split. So I would wrap up all the remaining cold cuts and cheese, put away the lettuce and tomatoes, cover the condiment tins, wipe down the counters and wash all the knives and utensils. And every Saturday, just as I finished, a skinny little plumber dude with greasy black hair would come in and order a pastrami sandwich with extra mayonnaise. Old Italian owner Ron was not one to turn down $5. So I would grudgingly get everything out again and make the skinny plumber dude his sandwich, cursing under my breath and casting daggers with my eyes.

One particular Saturday when I had something REALLY fun to get to and already practically had one foot out the door, skinny plumber dude came in and asked for his pastrami with extra mayo. “I’ll give him extra mayo,” I mumbled to myself. I was sure to hand the wrapped sandwich to the customer myself, as had it passed through Ron’s hands, he would’ve surely noticed that it weighed a good pound more than it should’ve. I must’ve used half a jar’s worth of mayonnaise.

The next Saturday when skinny plumber dude came in, he ordered a pastrami sandwich with regular mayo. Once again, I loaded his sandwich with a cup of mayonnaise, and again made sure to hand it to him myself. The following Saturday, he came in and ordered a pastrami sandwich with light mayo. This time, I barely brushed the bread with the faintest trace of mayo.

He never came in again.

Those are my thoughts and stories for a Sunday morning.

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La Ruta

I was recently in Mexico — again. (My brother when he later saw me asked, “Do you have your Mexican citizenship yet?”)

This time, it was with the family — and two of my favorite other families. My birthday this year happened to coincide with the kids’ spring break. So what better opportunity to rent a beautiful beach house half an hour south of the border to relax, cook, eat, sip tequila and celebrate?

The girls in the Valle de Guadalupe

One of the main attractions of the trip was going to be a visit to the much heralded Valle de Guadalupe — Baja Mexico’s buzzy wine region, extolled in publications from the New York Times to Wine Spectator. I’d been reading about the valley for years, had tried many of the wines, and was looking forward to a visit. More

A Remembrance of Things Past

In “Swann’s Way,” the first of the seven books that made up Marcel Proust’s famous À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), it happened this way:

The narrator, upon a taste of a madeleine dipped in tea, is suddenly flooded with a long-forgotten memory from his childhood.

Wandering North Hollywood

Here’s how it happened to me:

I had to get the car serviced, so had a couple hours to kill in North Hollywood. On the particular stretch of Lankershim Boulevard where the dealership is located, there ain’t much to see. So I set out to wandering. I had gone in and out of the 99 Cent Store, walked under the U.S. 101 overpass, glanced at the menu of an old school French restaurant housed in a small faux chateaux, and was wishing the couple of legit dive bars in the neighborhood opened a little earlier, when I spotted it: H. Salt Fish & Chips. More

A Roundabout Route to Baccalà Mantecato

My local Vallarta Mexican grocery store never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

First of all, it’s just darned cool to have a market that actually feels — smells, sounds, visuals — like you are in Mexico. And in that regard, I have yet to need a Mexican cooking ingredient that I can’t find there.

Secondly, I find countless ingredients I need for other cuisines — the fine tripe they have, for example, that I need (yes, need) for trippa alla Romana, and a dazzling variety of fresh herbs.

Newfoundland salt cod illustration from the 1700s

A recent happy discovery was baccalà, also known as bacalao, also known as salt cod — not something I ever associated with Mexican cooking. In the past, I’ve had to travel to a Spanish purveyor in Harbor City (a heck of a drive to non-Angelenos) or wait until I’m in San Francisco to visit North Beach’s famous deli, Molinari, to get some. Not only does Vallarta have beautiful European baccala, but it’s considerably less expensive than at either of those other places. More

Eating Oaxaca

Oaxaca, they say, is the culinary capital of Mexico. I was eager to put this to the test.

I am still digesting Mexico City tacos when we arrive and check into our hotel. But my pal Mike rouses me from a brief respite on my bed that could’ve easily turned into an evening in, and we are soon walking the beautiful historic streets of the old center of Oaxaca city. More

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