Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Mama why is everything about Bella I can't carry this it's too heavy I wish Dash had never been born mama you are ruining my life you are the worst person ever why can't we have cotton candy you always say no why won't you get in the water you're no fun.

Times 100. For three days straight. I'm done yelling. It's time to bust out my ninth grade acting skills.

I throw down the boogie boards and leave my kids behind on the Santa Monica Beach Boardwalk. As I march away with an exaggerated sense of purpose and a smothered giggle, I can feel their astonishment in the back of my neck. I count to ten in my head and then throw my arms up in the air and yell out with pretty impressive fake tears I can't stand it anymore and I'm going home. I hit the top of the stairs, round the corner, and peek back down the path and there they are gesticulating, conferring, panicking. Then I see Bella comforting Dash by putting her hands on his shoulders, followed by a hardcore finger-wagging warning like whatever you do Dash don't cross the bike path and wait for me here and I'll see what I can do about mama. He nods and sits down on a boogie board. As she runs up the stairs to find me, she glows with a maturity that's way beyond her nine years. She's tears-in-her-eyes sorry. We hug. And our beach day begins.

Very quickly, Dash is tap dancing, arabesquing, conducting, funky chickening, and José Limóning down the beach, all the while chasing birds and smashing sand castles. Bella is way too far out, diving underneath the waves, staying out of sight a bit longer with each entry. Over and over again I inhale sharply, firming the muscles in my body to gather the strength required to jump up and run into the water and swim out in three seconds flat to save her life. And then she pops back up and I get to exhale. I start to wonder how much more my heart can take of this whole parenting thing.

Dash gets braver and takes his dance into the waves and under the water he goes and I am shit crap fuck Dash where are you running to find him and pull him up and out but he's not yet as resilient as Bella so he needs to recover from the washing machine of the Pacific Ocean. I burrito-wrap him in his towel and plunk him down on his butt between my extended legs, my knees pressing in to contain him as he presses out and the rhythm continues in out in out in out like I'm working a Suzanne Somers' thigh master because even at rest my son vibrates with movement. I give Dash the job of never ever taking his eyes off of Bella. You, Dash, are in charge of keeping her alive. He likes this job. And I'm psyched that I only need to track one child. And since I have the rare connection of my mouth to Dash's ear I decide to address a few pressing issues.

Dash, I want us all to stop yelling. And to stop hitting each other.

Yeah, mama, we need to find some love.

 And we need to stop being so naughty.

You mean like last night when I poked holes in the air mattress and when I put the glue all over the wall and at the restaurant last night when I ran away from the dinner table and locked myself into the bathroom like that like that mama?

Suddenly, all I want to discuss is food.

Oh, Dash, how I loved that dinner last night. Let's talk about the pasta sauce. How do you think you spell it?

Allamoonalabasomething. All I know is it starts with an a.
He helps me write the letters in the sand.

A L L ' A M A T R I C I A N A

It's Italian. I wonder what's in that tasty tasty tasty sauce?

I don't know, mama. Look it up on your iPhone.

No. Let's guess and then make up our own. I say tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, and some yummy fatty pig.

Mama, all I can say is I just loved slurping up that thick pasta.

And I loved watching him across the table as he maneuvered the drinking straw bucatini, sucking it in with such gusto that his lips got slammed and stained with sauce. 

I miss our kitchen, Dashi. I want to make that sauce right now.

He looks way way past Bella and out to the boats.

Mama, are pirates real? With the boat and the bird and guns and stuff?

They are real. But they don't always have birds.

Mama, do birds have eyeballs on the backs of their heads?

Before I can answer, he's tearing off down the beach to find out.

At first it's cute to watch him run. Then I realize that he's not going to stop and I need to go get him. No I don't need to get him, he'll be fine. He's just a speck now. Yes, I do need to get him. No, I don't. And then I run like a motherfucker down the beach to capture my baby boy before he completely disappears.
Full disclosure, I did look up all'amatriciana sauce on my iPhone when Dash wasn't looking. I found so many variations but decided to stick with what we had guessed with the addition of red pepper flakes and an onion. I think a few Italians might get mad at me for adding an onion. And my market was out of guanciale so I used pancetta. And it's the height of heirloom tomato excitement around here so I went in that direction. I'm trying to be flexible as a cook and a parent (it's much easier with cooking).

This is a simmer-all-day sauce; it's the kind of home cooking that takes over your apartment, seeping into your sheets and rugs and sofa pillows and summer dresses, lingering for days. But the final sauce is a wonderfully balanced red jam that's sweet, salty, acidic, and packed with disintegrating fatty nuggets of pork. It doesn't require much effort, just don't rush it.

Makes enough sauce to serve 4. It's intense so you just need enough to lightly coat the pasta. It would also make a great sauce for lasagna. Or you can freeze it to enjoy in the middle of the winter.

4 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets packed in oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
a pinch of red pepper flakes (or more if you like)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 pieces thinly sliced guanciale (pancetta or bacon), chopped or cut with scissors into 2" pieces
1 yellow or white onion, diced
1/3 cup red wine
6 large heirloom tomatoes (stick with colors in the red family for a vibrant red sauce), cored and sliced and then cut into about 1" square pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound dried bucatini (or spaghetti)
handful of salt (for pasta water)
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan, pecorino, or piave cheese
olive oil
coarse salt

Make a paste out of garlic, anchovies, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes with a mortar and pestle or food processor. Set aside.

Cook pork over medium heat until golden and crispy on both sides. Removed with slotted spoon and place on paper towel. Pour out half of rendered fat. Place back on medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Add  cooked pork and garlic/anchovy puree and cook for about a minute, stirring the whole time.  Don't let it brown. Add wine and cook until it's mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes. When it comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer. Cook for many hours, stirring about every 30 minutes or so. When it's nice and thick (3-4 hours), taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Bring a big pot of water to the boil. Add a handful of kosher salt.  Add pasta. Cook until al dente. Before draining pasta, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water into a pitcher. Drain pasta and place pasta back in pot. Add about a cup of the sauce and a splash of pasta water. Crank heat. Stir for a few seconds until pasta is coated with sauce. You might need to add a bit more sauce or pasta water. Serve immediately with the following toppings at the table: pasta water, chopped parsley,  grated cheese, olive oil, and coarse salt.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


The boy crawls in at his parents' feet, spelunking his way through jumbled legs and sheets until he emerges at their sleepy heads with a huge involuntary inhale. Flip flop sneeze cough and he's on his back tugging at the comforter and complaining that he doesn't have enough pillow room. He closes in on the mother, grasping her face and decorating lips cheeks chin neck with kisses. He rolls over and delivers the same to the father.

"Hey, Dash," says the mother, "I think daddy got more kisses."

And he's back with thirteen more for the mother.

"Mama, can I be in the Winter Olympics?"

"There's no snow in Berkeley. You might want to try for the Summer Olympics."

"What are the sports in Summer Olympics?"

"Weightlifting, running—"

"Mama, I already know how to run."

"Right. You'd totally win that race."

The father continues the list, "Swimming, archery, gymnastics, fencing, cycling, shooting, diving—"

"Wait. Wait. WAIT!" shrieks the boy. "Shooting? Can I learn shooting?"

The mother pretends she has fallen back to sleep.

"When you're older," the father replies. "When you're much older."

The mother has so much to say and says none of it.

The father nudges the boy, "Why don't you ask that woman over there to be a good mama and get out of bed and get us some cobbler for breakfast."

"Believe it or not, we are out of cobbler. And I'll just have to be a bad mama this morning because I'm staying in bed."

"You're not a bad mama," the boy whispers into the mother's ear. "But I have a question. What are you thinking about with your eyes closed?"

"I'm thinking about my coffee," the mother whispers back.

"Mama's thinking about her coffee," the boy relays to the father.

"She's always thinking about her coffee."

The father leans in to the boy and asks, "Should we hug her?"

The mother doesn't resist as the boy and the father execute a slow motion eight-limbed envelopment.

The father murmurs, "Isn't mama delicious?"

And for a fleeting moment the mother is floating on an unfamiliar raft in the middle of a crazy perfect domestic ocean. 

The mother slips out of bed, puts on the kettle, and starts making her fifteenth cobbler of the summer.
A few thoughts on cobblers: 
Before adding any sugar, taste the fruit. In general, peaches and blackberries need very little additional sugar (only a tablespoon or two). Plums and blueberries will need need a bit more. Just try to keep the fruit tasting like it was just picked. Not like it was preserved in sugar.

Small amounts of lemon juice and zest, Grand Marnier, vanilla extract, vanilla bean, or orange flower water can help enhance the fruit flavor without dominating.

It takes a few extra steps, but I'm loving the combination of tart dough topped with streusel (made with Marcona almonds). This is a great way for kids (or grownups) to start playing with dough. Let them roll, cut, press, and tuck the dough in any way they want. Cobblers should look funky and messy.

Because the streusel topping is spread on top of the tart dough, the brown sugar sweetness doesn't dive down into the bubbling fruit. This helps maintain three very distinct layers of texture and flavor: pure fruity bottom, gooey doughy middle, and crunchy nutty sweet top. 

Remember, you can (and should) add a fourth layer of creamy and sweet with vanilla ice cream. Or crème fraîche. Or heavy cream (the best breakfast ever).

(Serves 4  for dessert with leftovers for breakfast.)
I've baked this in every possibly tart, cake, pie, and gratin pan. Just don't use a dish with a removable bottom or it will leak.

for tart dough:
1 recipe for basic tart dough (make sure dough is refrigerated for at least 3 hours; you will have leftover scraps for your next cobbler)

for streusel:
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour (for streusel)
1/2 cup finely chopped Marcona almonds (or try blanched almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts)

for fruit (totaling about 6 cups when cut up):
5 large peaches and 5 large nectarines (or any combination of pluots, plums, apricots)
1 pint blackberries (or olallieberries)
1 pint blueberries 
2-6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit and size of your sweet tooth)
juice/zest from 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 tablespoons flour (for fruit)

for egg wash:
1 egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Remove tart dough from freezer or fridge and let it soften a bit. Roll out tart dough (about 1/2" thick). With a pizza cutter or knife, cut into 1" strips or any desired shape and place flat on a sheet pan. Refrigerate until fruit is ready.

For the streusel. Melt butter. Take off heat and mix in brown sugar, flour, and nuts. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

For the fruit. It's best to peel all stone fruit (though plum skins can add nice tartness and color) by placing it in boiling water for 15 seconds and then shocking it in ice water. Skins will (usually) slide right off with the help of a paring knife. Cut 1" wedges directly into your baking dish. Add berries. Sprinkle with sugar, lemon juice/zest, vanilla, salt, and flour. Stir gently to combine.

For egg wash. Combine egg and cream.
Assembly. Place strips of dough over mixed fruit so that the pieces are overlapping a bit. You want to leave some lovely little pockets for steam and oozing juices to escape. Paint dough all over with egg wash. Spread streusel on the top of the tart dough (no need to cover all the dough).

Bake until golden brown and bubbling (about 45 minutes but check after 30). Poke the tart dough to make sure it's almost firm and crisp on top and still a bit soft on the bottom. Serve immediately with ice cream. Or room temperature with heavy cream.