Monday, June 26, 2006

Can I Press Charges For Hit and Run Snarkiness?

(photo courtesy of Melissa's Produce)

Dear Anonymous Commenter:

Do not read my
post about my first experience eating Salvadorean food at Koreatown's Atlacatl and then leave me a comment that simply says:

"How did you get the impression that 'yuca' is a tuber? It definitely is not..."

By doing a little internet research in the form of articles such as
this and this, I came to the conclusion that the yuca is indeed a tuber. But if you disagree, then please, do not just do a drive-by and then run off. At least tell me what it fucking is.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who Wants Some Dirty Sugar Cookies?: The Dirty Sugar Cookies Virtual Book Tour, Day 20

I think I found my epicurean soul sister.

If "epicurean" is the right word to describe us, that is. Because the word "epicurean" implies that one is well studied in the art of food and drink--that one has, according to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, "sensitive and discriminating tastes especially in food or wine." When somebody says that someone is an epicure, thoughts of ladies and gents with eating with turned up pointy noses come to mind.

So maybe "epicurean" isn't the right word to describe my newfound (insert word pertaining to food here) soul sister
Ayun Halliday, author of Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste. To be quite honest, when Ayun first approached me and asked if I'd like to participate in a virtual book tour to promote her new book, I had no idea who she was. I never read her other books The Big Rumpus, No Touch Monkey or Job Hopper nor have I ever heard of her 'zine East Village Inky. And maybe because I hadn't, and because at that time I didn't know much about Dirty Sugar Cookies except for the fact that it was some sort of food memoir, I pictured Ayun as the stereotypical know, the type that has serious discussions about foie gras with a group of wine snobs. But I was sooo wrong! (Please forgive me Ayun!)

Ayun knows food the way I do. We like it; hell, we adore it. But come on, let's be honest here. We didn't always like what we like, or dislike what we dislike. And we weren't all born with a silver palate, but we did have curious obsessions with those that seemed like they were. Dirty Sugar Cookies takes us along the long, sometimes awkward, but certainly humorous road to culinary self-discovery. She brings us back to her chilhood and adolescence where Pop Tarts weren't just something she scarfed down at camp, but something that fit into an almost obsessive-compulsive pattern of breakfast eating where everything, including Count Chocula and the Pop Tart, had to be placed just so. I'd pretty much pushed Seventeen Magazine deep down into the dregs of my memory until Ayun resurfaces those memories of prom fashions and lip gloss in telling us what role the beloved teenage magazine and food played in her coming of age. She tells us of post-coital breakfasts and why certain neighborhood diners were more well suited for them. We go with her to Indonesia and Thailand where she shows us why we'd never want to order an Austrailian Pizza and also about how she fell in love with (but never again could find) mangosteens.

But perhaps my favorite part of Dirty Sugar Cookies is an earlier chapter titled "Fruit Basket Upset" where Ayun reminded me of my childhood definition of good cooking. Now I'm not talking McDonalds, pizza and candy; I'm talking about those things that I identified as good eats when I first realized that cooking's a process--that it's an art. With that being said, I'm not talking about miso glazed black cod or osso buco either. When I was young, I thought the most bad-ass chefs were the ones who could make some outrageously over-the-top creation like the coveted "Enchanted Castle" cake from the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook that Ayun so fondly remembers. It was a cake situated on a lawn of coconut shreds that were dyed green and that had ice cream cones as turrets; it was a cake that was big, gaudily ornate and colorful and which had a big fancy picture within the cookbook, luring both boys and girls in everytime they looked at it and making them think "Gee, when I grow up I'm going be a chef and make a cake just like that one!" Little did one know that the inside of that cake probably tasted like paste. Yet at that age, that cake stood for real cooking, dammit.

So, because I'm a sucker for sarcasm, I decided to recreate "Shitty Kitty Confection" from a cake recipe at the end of the chapter. Ayun calls it "a trompe l'oeil treat"--a bit wacky, I say, but I fucking love it. Imagine all the "oohs" and "aahs" Mrs. Happy Housewife would receive as she brought this out to the dinner table back in the day! Here the excerpt from Ayun's book...follow along, won't you? (And maybe make one yourself someday!)

"Prepare 1 large package of vanilla pudding mix according to package directions. Most likely this will involve milk. (You'll want to have some on hand anywayto wash down the horrifingly realistic finished product.) Stick the pudding in the fridge in a container of your choosing.

Mix 1 box of German chocolate cake mix with whatever eggs or oils it may call for, and bake according to the instructions on the side of the box in whatever pan grabs you.

(My supplies! Fortunately, everything was on sale at Albertson's.)

(Mixin' it up with Duncan Hines)

Repeat the above process with 1 box of white cake mix.

Get ready to fuck your blender up with 1 package of vanilla sandwich know, the kind you hated as a kid because they weren't dark, like Oreos. If you're the old fashioned type, get out your rolling pin and clobber them up to crumb city that way.

(Since I have a food processor, I guess I didn't have to fuck up my blender)

If you want to get really fancy, dude up 1 cup of cookie crumbs with a few drops of green food coloring. Stir them up good and set aside.

(New and improved extra deodorizing formula!)

Once the cakes have cooled, crumble them up into your largest mixing bowl with half of the undyed cookie crumbsand enough pudding to bind it all together, without turning things too boggy.

(Mix it up good!)

Line the brand new litter box you bought at the pet supply store with one of the brand new disposable litter box liners picked up on the same trip. This is one step where it doesn't pay to skimp, no matter how fastidiously you wash dishes.

Strip the wrappers off a few small Tootsie rollsand heat them in the microwaveuntil they are as pliant as if you'd tucked them into your armpits for an hour (which you can totally do if, like me, you don't have room for a microwave in your kitchen) Now that they're warm, these little brown logs are yours for the shaping. Pay special attention to the ends, which should be tapered. Make as many of them as you'd like, but at least one per guest. Follow your muse. Just work in small batches for maximum plasticity. Bury most of the doctored Tootsies in the cake mixture.

(I showed Isaac my first turd attempt. He's had a cat before (poor Isaac) and would be able to tell me if my Tootsie turds were passable. He took it from me and said I had to make 'em smaller & more dimply. The above is what the finished product looked like. )

(Carefully inserting a Tootsie turd into the cake litter)

Over this mess, sprinkle the remaining undyed cookie crumbs. fancy types can follow this up with judiciously spaced, chlorophyll green "odor crystal"crumbs.

For good measure, plop a few more Tootsies defiantly atop the "litter"--you know, the way felines do.

(The practical side of me told me to not buy a real litter box since I will never, ever own a cat. So I used my trusty 9x13 cake pan.)

("No, no, cats don't leave all their turds on the top," Isaac advised, "you gotta bury them more." I left one sticking out just for kicks.)

Serve with a pooper scooper that, if not brand new, is at least reserved for culinary purposes such as this."

(Mmm! All nice & clumpy--just like kitty would have left it! Note that I didn't have a kitty litter scoop either, so I used the next best thing.)

It tasted kinda like...paste! But oh what fun it was!

Dirty Sugar Cookies is available for purchase now through
Buy it. Now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Daily & Gluttony Go To Fatburger

I don't mean to lead you on.

I don't mean to make it sound like there were raging parties at the university with girls playing Battle-Shits in the bathroom. In fact, there were no "Extreme" guys taunting me inside the convenience store. I was not stuck at some tow yard with some scary dude with crossed-eyes, boils and missing teeth.
Doogie Howser did not steal my car while he was high on E. There was no jail, no doobage, no giant walking bag of doobage, and no riding on the back of a stoned cheetah.

No perhaps none of this happened. But just like our friends silver screen friends
Harold and Kumar, I was on a quest one Saturday night for the one thing I just couldn't get out of my mind. They wanted their White Castle and I wanted my Fatburger. And I set out on a quest to get it.

I don't know what suddenly gave me the urge to go on the hunt for this particular burger on a bun. Perhaps it was how the smokiness of the grilled beef patty seems to dance in harmony with the melted cheese and special thousand-island and relish based sauce. Or maybe it was how the top of the toasted bun gleams with the slightest bit of oil and breaks with a faint crunch when you first bite into it. Whatever it was, I was obsessed, even if only for one night.

Unlike Harold and Kumar, I had no partner in crime that Saturday night as Isaac had already made other plans. Under other circumstances, I'd normally tell myself to forget it, to wait until I had someone to go with me, but I already knew the consequences of self-denial. So I set out on my journey solo, unbeknownst of what adventures lay ahead of me.

First stop: to see where I'd be headed exactly. Because that night I'd typically been a "like totally fer sure" Fatburger Valley Girl, getting my fix at the Fatburger locations near my old office, namely, the Studio City locale or, before it closed down , the one on San Fernando in Burbank. I entered my zip code into the "Find the Nearest Location" box. Aha! What's this? There's a Fatburger near downtown on Figueroa? Of course! What USC student wouldn't want Fatburger? I'm there!

So I have eaten by myself, eh, probably four times since
I got over my phobia of dining solo several months ago, but in my pathetic mind there's just something pathetic about a girl having dinner out alone on a Saturday night, so this girl would be taking hers to go. I therefore picked up the phone before leaving my house and dialed the newly discovered Figueroa location to call in my order.




(Repeat about 20 times)

OK, there must be a mistake. What burger joint would be closed at 7pm on a Saturday? So I told myself to be patient and wait another 5 minutes to call again. I dialed. No answer. Each 5 minute wait quickly became intervals of 30 seconds, and each time I failed to get an answer. Almost half an hour had passed and though this supposed location was only a couple miles from my house, I just couldn't risk it. What if I drove all the way there and it was closed? What if it had gone out of business??? So I set out for the Fatburger that I at least knew existed.

I jumped in my little car and headed towards the 5 freeway which would take me to Los Feliz, home of the Fatburger on Vermont & Hollywood which, because I had driven past it just a few days prior, would certainly be there. Except instead of getting on the 5 North, brilliant me gets on the 5 South. And I drove...and drove...and the next closest exit seemed like an eternity away. When I finally found an offramp, I suddenly found myself in one of those seedy cities that borders downtown LA and the industrial wasteland known as Commerce. Logic would tell me that if I get off the freeway and go under whatever overpass the freeway forms, that I would eventually find a sign directing me to the freeway entrance for the opposite direction. I felt like
Fred Flinstone running through Bedrock, always passing the same palm tree and house as he kept running, only in my case, it happened to be that I was indeed passing different houses--it was just that they were all very similar. They all had crappy chain-link fences around them, they all had broken down cars out front, and they all had people and dogs that stared at you when you drove by. Uh, not a neighborhood I'd like to be stuck in.

The mere thought of Fatburger, however, kept me motivated--I still had a mission to accomplish after all--and in time, I found the freeway entrance. With one hand holding the "Fatburger Locations" printout AND holding the wheel, my eyes alternating between the road and reading the phone number, and the other hand dialing, I was well on my way to burger-land. Except...




Oh fuck me, I thought, was this a national Fatburger holiday??? Now that this newly dialed number was in the dialing memory of my cell phone, I started redialing every 20-30 seconds with no luck until I was exiting the 5 freeway at Los Feliz Blvd and SOMEBODY finally bloody answered.

"Fatburger, can I help you?" the guy on the phone answered as I had already exited the 5 on Los Feliz Blvd.

"Yeah, you can go fuc..." JUST KIDDING! I wouldn't drive all that way just to tell somebody off, would I? (Well, actually...) I figure the poor people working there were just so busy catering to other obsessive and hungry freaks like myself that they could answer the phone. He told me eight minutes; I was there within one. As I waited I fantasized about Doogie Howser returning my "love stained" car and then buying my entire Fatburger meal. Unfortunately, I had no such luck. Fortunately however, the Fatburger was in my greedy little hands after about ten minutes and I was on the way back home. I propped the bag up and open so as to not let steam get trapped inside the bag and make everything soggy.

About an hour and a half after I had originally left the house in the first place I was back at home, comfy and cozy, and quite content with Fatburger in hand. The reward in front of me was representative of my usual selection: Fatburger with cheese, hold the onions, add bacon (sorry, no egg this time). Add chili, but on the side. Skinny Fries.

I like that all the parts work together in unision; I like that the bun isn't too bready, but still substantial enough that when you bite through its slightly crispy edge, you don't get too much grilled beef patty or too much special sauce or too much cheese. I like that the lettuce is shredded and the tomato isn't too thickly sliced so as to not get pulled out in sheets with your teeth. Everyone has their own preference regarding the fries, but I prefer the crispiness of their Skinny Fries over the meatiness of their Fat Fries. And the chili, my friends, is not for the burger, but to dip the fries in. A whole order of chili cheese fries would be a little too much, so instead, I do it my way.

OK, so maybe my quest was nowhere near as interesting as Harold and Kumar's, but the outcome was the same: I got what I set out for and was completey satisfied. How far would you go for something you crave?

1611 N. Vermont Ave
Hollywood, CA 90027
(323) 663-3100
Many other locations thoughout Southern California, but I can't guarantee they'll pick up the phone!