Carbonara in the Clouds

On a recent vacation to Lake Tahoe with our friends the Heins and the Pfaffs, I planned a post-ski carbonara — a perfect simple pasta to feed a large group.

For some reason, the pasta never got made — perhaps it was the Flintstone-esque beef short ribs or the opening of Dungeness crab season that distracted us, or the mellow lull of the tequila that met us first.

Through the Mojave Desert on the road to Tahoe

Through the Mojave Desert on the road to Tahoe

So the eggs, guanciale, parmesan and spaghetti that made the 8-hour drive into the high Sierras turned around and came back home again. And made the perfect post-ski-trip dinner when we got back. Just as well, pasta is a little tricky to nail at 8,000 feet.

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Tacotopia, Episode #3: In Praise of Gringo Tacos

My family loves Taco Bell. “Can we stop at Taco Bell!?” the kids yell anytime we drive past one. And sometimes we relent, because we love Taco Bell too!

Taco shells and Taco Bell seasoning

Taco shells and Taco Bell seasoning

Not in the same way we love a good Baja fish tacos, or al pastor tacos on the street in Jalisco. But the comforting crunch of a gringo taco, as I like to call them — hard shell, spiced ground beef, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, a few tiny cubes of flavorless tomato and taco sauce — is its own piece of nostalgic heaven. More

Sidekicks

A friend of mine with a production company said he wants to make a TV show out of my food blog.

“That would be a gas,” I said. “I have good sidekicks.”

My best sidekick might be my 5-year-old daughter, Imogen. She’s foodier than many foodies I know.

Imogen at 2 years old, mistaking the serving utensils for her own

Imogen at 2 years old, mistaking the serving bowl for her own

“Something smells good,” she said the other night, strolling casually into the kitchen, gazing into the primavera I was making and zeroing in past the asparagus, kale, onion and carrot.

“”Dad, what’s that white stuff in the pan?”

“That’s lobster.”

“Do you think I would like it?” she said coyly.

That’s like the lion asking if you thought he’d like the antelope.

“Yeah, I would guess you might.”

Another night she came into the kitchen, and there was a rather large dry-aged rib eye sitting on the counter.

“Who’s that for?” she inquired.

*    *    *

What are the qualities that make for a good sidekick? For the purposes of culinary adventures, I would guess they differ somewhat from what the Lone Ranger might’ve appreciated in Tonto. You needn’t be a good scout or tracker for example — except for finding the next great snack or meal.

Sidekicks extraordinaire, Don & Bob

Sidekicks extraordinaire, Don & Bob

A culinary sidekick should bring joy to the drinking and dining experience, should have an irrepressible joie de vivre, and should be ready to follow a culinary adventure wherever it may lead.

(Although I will point out that one of my favorite sidekicks, childhood pal Gary who now lives in Portland, once winced as I dragged him toward a particularly grimy-looking roadside stand in Mexico where I discovered the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. “I’m not eating there,” he grumbled.)

It’s easier to find culinary sidekicks than it is to find a good-quality Indian tracker sidekick or a life-of-crime sidekick. Just about everyone wants to be a culinary sidekick. And the job requirements are fairly easy: Must have sense of humor; must enjoy trying new things; must not be gluten-free or vegan or lactose-intolerant or of otherwise delicate constitution; must be able to have a drink in the morning, if asked.

Patas negras under the bridge, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Patas negras under the bridge, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

A culinary sidekick anecdote: I was in Mexico once with one of my favorite sidekicks, pal Don Schneider. “We need to find patas negras,” he said emphatically as we stormed into old town Puerto Vallarta, stopping only briefly for a roadside al pastor taco en route. He had been talking of little else than these mythic black clams for days. It being a warm day out, he suggested we grab a couple Modelo beers to keep us cool while we walked. Then, as we strolled along the waterfront malecon, he stopped suddenly — as if sensing something I couldn’t, or perhaps picking up a scent on the wind.

“This way,” he said, leading me down an embankment and under a bridge, where there sat a very jovial-looking couple and a table piled to the sky with oysters and black clams.

These are the qualities I seek in a Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise sidekick. No application necessary — just grab your favorite bottle, pick up some cheese or charcuterie, a few tacos or some fresh sushi fish, and come on over for your interview.

Tacotopia, Episode #1: Chile Verde

*Tacotopia: a blissful place or state, where peace and love reign, tequila flows like rivers and tacos are plentiful, varied and delicious.

“You made a taco in Tahoe,” my pal Bob rolled poetically off his tongue, “Insane — what was that!?”

“I don’t remember,” I replied.

Upon further prodding and reflection, I did recall frying cheese and shrimp, recreating one of my most popular tacos thus far.

Bob was expressing his enthusiasm for my Year of the Taco idea — he was all behind it. (What’s not to be behind? Especially if you anticipate being one of the test subjects in this culinary experiment.)

Alex Tehrani digs in

Alex Tehrani digs in

“In Mexico,” I said to my pal Don, with whom I would be traveling to Jalisco in a couple months, “It’s going to be all about the taco. We are going to eat as many tacos as we can get ahold of. And tequila.” More

Tamale Claus

‘Twas the day before Christmas Eve, and all through the house, it was going down.

The kids were bickering and the wife and nanny cleaning, while in the kitchen a veritable assembly line of tamale production was stirring — chickens boiling, corn husks soaking, banana leaves being cut into squares, masa simmering on the stove.

Tamales steaming

Tamales steaming

I enjoy testing my ethnic and regional chops serving our very international community of friends and associates the food of their native country — as I did with our pal Brian’s Japanese girlfriend when I made a winter kaiseki dinner. Our nanny is from El Salvador, which I figured was close enough to Mexico to count her as a voice of authenticity for my Mexican tamale. More

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