Discovering My Inner Troll Through Oat-Laced Griddlecakes

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There are so many cookbooks in the world today, churned out every minute by our latest superstar chefs or directed by our palate’s latest obsessions for Paleo or gluten-free or raw or rustic French cuisines, so I tend to turn a blind eye to building my own collection because of the overwhelm. I am already behind in the few that I have. I’ve made under a dozen of the dishes in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and the collected recipes from one of our favorite restaurants in L.A., Scarpetta (heartbreakingly-deceased) glowers intimidatingly from its place on our shelf adjacent to the Cute Gardener’s French Laundry bible. These are further accentuated by my slim volumes of Middle Eastern delights and tiny glimpses into the jewels of the Mediterranean and a random Thai or grain bowl assortment bought because the deal was just to good to pass up. But the truth is I am not a big cookbook kind of girl.

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But when Clint Marsh, co-editor (along with Karima Cammell) of The Troll Cookbook asked if I would like a review copy, I was pleasantly intrigued. A book not centered on the latest fashionable food trends or embedded with highly personal musings of an egocentric Michelin-man or woman? Yes, please. What I discovered after reading the book from cover-to-cover in one afternoon, hilariously enough, is that I just might have some troll within me.

Trolls get a bad rap in polite society. Yes, they may be strange in visual appearance ranging from the gnomish to the gigantic, and yes, they may eschew participation in the regular world, but it’s only because they burn up in casual daylight! They are highly feared and disregarded due to one particular delicacy of their diet. According to the book, trolls like many people are carnivores, although unlike our human predilection for pig, duck, cow, turkey or chicken, their tastes are geared toward us—the man and woman. WE pique their biggest cravings. So yes, I understand our aversion yet to judge would position me as a hypocrite because everyone knows there is not a pig belly I can refuse. So I will not, judge that is. Yet this is apparently what renders trolls scary in all the folklore and fairy tales that are delightfully peppered throughout the book amongst the conversion tables—what does a gnome-handful equate to in person form? Or a slip, drip, flicker or fist?

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On the lighter side, trolls sing to my heart with their gleeful foraging spirits that follow the seasons of the year to plan their menus full of locally available ingredients that can be found on forest floors, in musty, mushroom filled caves, and on many a mountain side or slab of tree bark. I found myself loving every recipe in this book and finding my taste buds teased by the idea of making some old fashioned griddlecakes this past weekend. The recipe is below—it turned out three days worth of breakfast plates overflowing with oat-nutty, tart buttermilk, salt of the earth goodness. Next on my agenda? The dog-eared pages for porridge fritters, quick bread, sourdough, limoncello, creamed winter greens, spring vegetable soup, sweet carrot soup, grilled figs and cheese, beets and eggs, eggs in oil with sumac, ricotta tart, jam bars and fig salami. And of course, the complex and unique Srikund (a strained yogurt with cardamom and saffron dessert) and Rumtopf (a rum pot combining a medley of alcohol, fruits and sugar made in a crock.)

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GRIDDLECAKES
(Word for word from The Troll Cookbook with * addendum notes of mine below.)

Greasy griddlecakes made from oats (or any rolled grain) are a favorite troll meal for breakfast or lunch. The trolls show off by flipping the griddlecakes without a spatula. (Which I was tragically unable to do.)

1-1/2 c. rolled oats (or any flattened grains)
2 c. buttermilk or whole milk
2 eggs
1 spoon vanilla extract
6 spoons of maple syrup
¼ c. melted butter or cooking oil (plus more for the pan)
½ spoon salt
An open handful of flour
¼ spoon of grated nutmeg
¼ spoon cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients in the order listed. Add more flour until the batter thickens to your liking but is still runny enough to pour easily. A thin batter will give you crispy griddlecakes, and a batter that’s too thick will make your griddlecakes doughy. Add berries if you’d like.

Melt some butter in a griddle over medium-low heat and splash on scoops of batter. Flip the griddlecakes just once and only after they are riddled with bubbles. The second side of a griddlecake cooks faster, but if it offers any resistance let it cook a little longer before lifting it off with a spatula. Serve your griddlecakes as you cook. If any of your fellow trolls like greasy griddlecakes, serve them the first few from the batch, as these will have soaked up more butter.

Cover griddlecakes with syrup, honey, chocolate, fruit, jam, yogurt, whipped cream, or anything you think tastes good. If you’d prefer a savory meal instead of a sweet one, make larger griddlecakes and roll them up with slices of meat and cheese.

*
I used oats bought in the bulk bin at Whole Foods.

“Spoon” means teaspoon in troll speak.

I used a cast iron pan rather than a grill so it was important to pour tiny rounds rather than a big flapjack disc in order to get the cakes to cook nicely. The first side took about five minutes to bubble and then 30 seconds on the second side.

Use as little flour as possible as to avoid damp cakes in the middle. These are very nice that way, dependent more on the taste of the buttermilk and oats.

I threw blueberries into the raw batter and it was awesome!

I topped mine with a mere drizzle of organic maple syrup, delicious.

Fictitious Dishes Satisfies My Culinary and Literary Cravings

enhanced-26880-1396848979-9To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I know what it means to be transported through time by books-I have been doing it my entire life ever since my mother stuffed a miniature set of classics into my Christmas stocking at age eight which had me hunched in bed with flashlights trolling through my first round with Moby Dick. I also know how much scenes of food in books can tantalize. I fell head over heels with my first piece of culinary prose tumbling from the pages of an MFK Fisher tome in which she was lasciviously slurping an oyster in a French castle – or at least that’s the way my 12-year-old brain imagined it. So when I heard about Dinah Fried’s new book Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals, I just had to devour it all in one Saturday evening on the couch after an amazing Japanese dinner of unagi and uni, seaweed, rice and sake, and a salad tumbled with tiny cubes of silky tofu, cucumber and mushroom made with love by the Cute Gardener.

enhanced-9768-1396848669-1The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

With a dash of Scotch whiskey, blackberries from the garden and some dark chocolate covered almonds I pored over the exquisite pages. Each consisted of a photograph, carefully conjured by the author’s imagination of a particular food related setting from the annals of treasured literature. Each picture was accompanied by the passage of the book that had inspired it as well as some very fun tidbits about the dishes or cuisine that was being spotlighted. This tickled my word geek taste buds and brought me back to many memories of reading the same stories myself. It was lovely to see evidence of what books do best: cause people to create visuals in their minds borne from simple black words on a page, strum up entire worlds and lives in the brain, and invoke mental travel to places one might never have been before. Seeing Dinah’s table and picnic settings right down to choice of tablecloth—it was fun to compare her images with the way they looked in my own mind and it was wonderful when sometimes they turned out quite similar to the way I would have created them myself—and delicious, also, when they turned out so entirely different.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Some highlights for me:

  • The jelly spread from Little Women – a book that was revered by me for my entire fifth grade year in which I played the youngest sister Amy in a play, relating to her most as she was the “artist” of the family, refusing to give up her self expression for the self sacrificing feminine norms of the time.
  • The gin and pineapple juice tableau from Lolita and recalling how Humbert had admitted that drinking it in the afternoon seemed to double his energy. Who doesn’t love the bewitching cocktail hour?
  • Feeling an internal hunger for crumpets and angel food cake while eyeing the Rebecca page and recalling my love of reading about another Rebecca when young—the one from Sunnybrook Farm.
  • Learning that the Graham cracker was first created to be a bland food as part of a bland diet to curb too many sexual urges.
  • Hankering for corn dodgers from Huckleberry Finn (of which I just had the pleasure of viewing in first edition form at the Huntington Library in Pasadena) – spread with lavish amounts of melted butter with honey.
  • Remembering how much I always crave the Indian puffed rice breakfasts that Jhumpa Lahiri always writes into her novels.
  • Being reminded of the fact that I really want a genuine yerba mate gourd.
  •  The Catcher in the Rye spread teasing my current craving for a once a year decadent butterscotch milkshake, with or without the addition of an adult liqueur.
  • Wanting to try the liverwurst and cream cheese sandwich from A Wrinkle in Time and remembering my mother always going to the convenience store when we go to Cabo San Lucas to buy deli liverwurst and white bread (of all things!) from the Mexican grocer.
  • The Madame Bovary spread, much like her extramarital affairs, and much like the movie Marie Antoinette, provoking a phantom stomach ache with the knowledge that too much of a good thing usually turns rotten.
  • Hearing To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout in my brain, proclaiming “What in the Sam Hill?” over her plate of fried chicken and tomato slices just like the Cute Gardener does whenever I pour large amounts of sweetness onto food that he feels should be kept savory, like maple syrup on cheddar biscuits.
  • Understanding that I, just like Maurice Sendak, would not really be able to trust someone who doesn’t like chicken and rice soup.
  • Heidi’s burnt toast with golden cheese bubbling on top belying two things that go well together regardless of altitude or oven versus flame.
  • Finding new inspirations in ingredients like the Swiss cheese, dill pickle, caviar, hard boiled egg, pickled herring, liver sausage, liver pate, cucumber, rye bread, mustard sauce and chive sandwich combinations from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which are bound to show up in my own kitchen soon because my honey has a love affair with German and Austrian cuisine.
  • Deciding that everyone should take off their hat of food snobbery every once in a while to enjoy a good ole platter of 1950s pigs in a blanket.
  • I used to read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe out loud to my fifth grade peers after lunch from my teacher’s high stool and podium in front of the class. Ms. Kolmel knew I loved to read so she would let me while we journeyed through the entire set of CS Lewis that year. I do not, however, recall Turkish Delight being in the book and now am determined to try the jelly-like candy because it looks jiggly scrumptious.
  • Thanks to the Motherless Brooklyn page, I realize I never ever have to actually try a White Castle burger.

enhanced-6280-1396849358-1Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Dinah Fried has taken me, like many of my favorite books, down a simply yummy trail of yesteryear in food, whimsical words and fun and I recommend this book for anyone who loves to play in these realms as much as I do.

IMG_8261An Artist and a Gardener by Kimberly Nichols

Here is a spread I created myself after being duly inspired by Fictitious Dishes. It’s from the book of my own life “An Artist and a Gardener.” An excerpt:

On any given night, the artist is spoiled when the dashingly black haired Cute Gardener cooks Italian style—picking fresh produce like fava beans from the garden and nonchalantly frying them up with funky bits of birds that have fed us nights prior. Rich chunks of liver and slices of moist giblets nestle next to piles of flat pasta spiked with tomato sauce that has long since fermented in the fridge from summer when the Momotaros burst forth from the vine. Noodles on plates with newspapers nightly—neat cocktails to coincide with dinner and plump strawberries to follow.

Existence is grand when life and art blend and become each other, fed by all the palate’s favorite things.

Millionaire Fit for a Big Blonde

IMG_7646This evening while the Cute Gardener is cooking up his famous fried chicken, I’m sitting on the couch watching Stephen Colbert and slurping on a Millionaire. No, the CG hasn’t lent me out on some bizarre Indecent Proposal in his own house; I am merely channeling one of my favorite writers and biggest sardonic influences Dorothy Parker, who once said, “I hate almost all rich people although I’d be darling at it,” which I wholeheartedly agree with. You see, I have stumbled upon “Under The Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide” by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick who also happens to be the president of the Dorothy Parker Society and am immensely enjoying a drink from the book in her honor.

BigblondeMy Big Blonde Painting

 When I was a weird little book girl in a Catholic school uniform I encountered Mrs. Parker and her Algonquin Round Table in the stacks of my public library. Imagine my glee over the fact that while wearing attire designed for me to religiously conform (blue plaid and white knee socks), I was also reading the lascivious literary social satire of a woman who loved to cocktail, chide the pretentious, and topple polite society with her on the dot wit. I loved her story Big Blonde about the boozy floozy who disturbs the otherwise perfect façades of upscale dinner party women but whose power is lost in her absolute need to be adored by men. So much so in fact that I made my best friend dress up as my version of that character complete with cigarette and Scotch glass to model for one of my earlier paintings. In my gimlet-eyed early attempts at short fiction I oftentimes had a dame in distress narrating her woes with a cocktail such as the heroine of the Five and Dime who drinks whiskey sours on her red-eye 3 AM “lunch” break in lieu of a sex life. Dorothy was one of those females who made me realize it was okay for a girl to walk into a room, be better friends with all the males than the females, and in her cutting one liners – completely one up everyone else regardless of class or circumstance. She was definitely a hero.

THE MILLIONAIRE
1½ ounces gin
1½ ounces absinthe (or Pernod)
1 teaspoon triple sec
¼ teaspoon grenadine
1 egg white

Vigorously shake all ingredients over cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or an old-fashioned glass filled with ice cubes.

 

Susan Feniger’s Street Food

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For Christmas, I received a copy of Susan Feniger’s Street Food from a friend I had introduced to the author and chef’s Santa Monica restaurant Border Grill.

I have had a strange love/hate relationship with Border Grill ever since moving to the Los Angeles area over a year ago, which is clear from the fact that I have now been there four times which is practically unheard of in a life where I try new restaurants weekly and never repeat even the ones I love. It’s partly convenience, since it’s located right smack downtown in Santa Monica on a street where I have regularly had meetings and play rehearsals, and partly the fault of an article Feniger once wrote in Food and Wine Magazine where she lent out recipes for a party of 30 centering around Asian skirt steak that looked dynamite. I was itching to try her food.

The first attempt was a plate of simple and juicy pork carnitas, a generous and unadorned pile of scrumptious meat with piping hot tortillas and a drizzle of fresh crema that sated my lust for pig. The second attempt was at a friend’s birthday party where I stuck to a small plate of black bean and plantain empanadas, drizzled in the same signature crema that had me craving more for days. But the third time I went, I actually had an official entrée of carne asada tacos that was bland at best, not unlike any order I could pick up in a myriad of chains only accentuated again by that great crema and a trio of well-made salsas. So the fourth time I went on a whim to bide time because I was too early for an appointment, I sat at the bar not expecting much and ordered a plate of the pork nachos figuring I would stick with the pig meat that I already knew was great. I think Susan Feniger would have loved the fact that I was one of four women sitting solo at the bar that night, two of which were asking the bartender for separate sports programs on the overhanging televisions, and one, like me, who was busy writing something in a small notebook. All of us women were enjoying the happy hour prices and both eating and drinking merrily alone.  I even went off my normal pattern and ordered a Negro Modelo beer – beer being something I never drink – because the dark and freezing ale was desperately what I needed to counteract the scrumptious but super salty shredded pork nachos that were again swimming in that crema. I realized a few things then. One, I am in love with Susan Feniger’s condiments, not her actual food. Two, everything in that place is high-octane seasoned to the point that copious amounts of water are needed after every trip. Finally, entrees and dishes are not her strong point as much as the small plates and quick bites that can be enjoyed in such saturated fortifications of flavor without the palate feeling overwhelmed.

Which I guess is what’s perfect about the book Street Food. For the more globally adventurous person who wants to be creative at the cocktail party and is not afraid of spice, it is a great alternative to the normal chip and dip and onion tart fare. A jaunt around the world with Susan delivers snack-sized delights from artichokes and lemon zaatar dipping sauce in India to Tunisian chicken kabobs with currants and olives to Egyptian bus stop kushary to coconut curry popcorn. Maybe not something to pump up the average Super Bowl party but definitely items to throw into a group of dinner guests with a more exotic palate who would be great candidates for the roadside stand in any country. For those who like to sit down and eat proper at restaurants and get the willies by Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern’s Asian late night in-the-middle-of-the-road forays, this book is not for you.

Although I am a huge fan of multicultural cuisine, I am not a lover of the food truck craze. Because of this, half of the recipes in this book call to me and the other half leave me cold. I will definitely make the honey and turmeric lassi drink and the Turkish donuts with rose hip jam and report on those attempts later.

The biggest gem I took from the book was within the first few pages: a section on “Organizing the World’s Kitchen” for people who like universal tastes but are curious as to what to stock into their pantry in order to be able to whip up and achieve them on demand. Being a lover of Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern flavors this helpful list of salts, sours, sweets, hot and spicy, and mellowers and coolers became an instant grocery list for me.