Tonight, I’m planning to make monkfish (the lobster of fish) cut into chunks and sautéed in olive oil, sherry, clam juice, garlic, onions, red peppers, and tomatoes, with blanched slivered almonds and parsley. I’ll serve it over boiled red potatoes, cut up and lightly doused in olive oil and kosher salt, along with a mesclun and radish salad. We have a bottle of Provencal rosé getting cold in the fridge.
It’ll be a pink-and-red dinner: who said red was the most appetizing color? Whoever it was had a very good point.
I haven’t cooked in so long, I hope I remember how. But meanwhile, I’ve been talking, writing, reading, and thinking almost exclusively for the past two or three weeks about food: in hotels, airports, on planes, in restaurants, at readings, at parties, and in cars.
On Friday, I got back from a wildly fun, exhausting book tour to promote Blue Plate Special. For part of it, I traveled with several fellow Doubleday writers and our editors, flying together from city to city, staying in the same hotels, and attending cocktail parties with booksellers in the evenings, a stroke of genius on the part of the publicists.
In San Francisco, at the strong urging of Charlotte Druckman, my friend and editor at medium.com, and the author of the fantastic book Skirt Steak, about female chefs, I took BART to the Mission District to eat lunch at Bar Tartine. I ordered the apricot soup and the Vietnamese chicken salad and drank a clean, crisp Riesling while I waited for the food to arrive. The soup was tart and creamy and cool, and I loved the hell out of it. The waitress told me it was an Eastern European specialty. The salad was equally good, but enormous, so I had half of it boxed up and stuck it in my bag.
Then I walked through the sunny, cool afternoon to Omnivore Books. Charlotte had told me that I’d love the owner, Celia, and had warned me that I would spend far too much money there. She was right on both counts; I wanted to stand in that small, clean, bright, book-lined room all day, pawing all the food literature and talking to Celia, who is a rare books collector and an expert on all aspects of culinary writing. But I restrained myself somewhat and bought the five books I didn’t think I could live without: Food and Drink in America, The Salt Book, A History of Food in 100 Recipes, Consider the Fork, and The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine.
In Seattle, two days later, my Doubleday cohorts (we nicknamed our tour Rolling Thunder ’13 with no small degree of self-mockery; we trashed not one hotel room that I know of) all flew home together and left me on my own to give a reading that night. I felt a bit blue and lonely without them all.
But then Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life, the forthcoming Delancey, and the blog orangette.com, came by in her car to my hotel and picked me up and whisked me off to lunch. We sat at the counter of The Whale Wins and drank rosé and shared several small plates – freshly made headcheese, roasted cauliflower salad, plump grilled sardines, carrot and fennel salad. It was all so good, I swooned over every bite, even though it was hard to stop talking long enough to eat. The roasted cauliflower salad in particular was so unbelievably delicious and so surprising, I kept dissecting its components mentally in order to fully appreciate it: pungent chewy cauliflower, crisp sliced radish, green garlic aioli, cilantro vinaigrette, smoked paprika oil, and a softly cooked egg on top, whose yolk added an undergirding of rich fat to the mingled flavors of the sauces and vegetables.
That night, I gave a reading at the Book Larder. I walked in to find that they had made, in advance, the bacon cheddar biscuits from Blue Plate Special to serve to the audience. The bookstore smelled of bacon fat; I gave my reading standing behind the island of the store’s kitchen. Afterwards, we all stood around, talking about food, of course. I could have stayed there all night, but I had to get to the airport for a red-eye to New York, so I said my goodbyes and flew back across the country, still smelling of fresh bacon fat.
The next night was my book party, which my generous friends, Jami and Rosie, threw for me at Jami’s loft in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Rosie made a vat of beautiful watermelon-jalapeno-lime tequila punch and assembled a spread that made me want to burst into an operatic aria of joy and gratitude: deviled eggs, a magnificent array of cheeses and sausages and olives and radishes and grapes, and “devils on horseback,” dates stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon, and baked. Jami ran around putting everything together; my friend Tavia, the actress who read the audiobook, had sent a huge bunch of beautiful lilies that perfumed the hot summer air. My friend Steve showed up with a gorgeous loaf of his garlic-rosemary bread, and Stefan brought his signature quinoa-kale-chicken-pine nut salad. I was in heaven.
As I stood there talking and reading to the crowd of good-looking, brilliant friends, feeling buoyed aloft on warm waves of goodwill, literary camaraderie, and plenty of punch, I got teary-eyed at one point. “It’s so good to see you all,” I said. “New York will always feel like home, no matter where I live.”
A few days later, I went to Chicago for a reading, and afterwards went out to dinner at the Hopleaf with my titian-haired (in homage to Nancy Drew), witty friend Gretchen, who appears in Blue Plate Special as the poet at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who took me to truck stops for midnight suppers, and several of her friends. We sat around a small table upstairs. Starving yet again, I ate grilled baby octopus with fingerling potatoes, artichoke, lemon aioli, and chorizo oil and split a carafe of Spanish white wine with Gretchen’s friend Beth. The octopus was tender and crunchy and crackled between my teeth.
The next night, in Miami, alone at the Coral Gables Biltmore (which might be the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in), after two interviews, during which I talked about nothing but food, and before that night’s reading, during which I would continue to talk about nothing but food, I found myself ravenous once again. I went downstairs to Fontana, a Mediterranean restaurant on the romantic stucco-and-palm tree inner courtyard. I drank Sancerre and ate a filet of sole with lemon butter and a simple salad. As I ate, a monsoon hit. I was sitting just under the portico by the fountain. Raindrops spattered my table; lightning flashed. I asked for another glass of wine.