Sunday, April 26, 2020

Hunkering Down at Home with Bettina Pizza

I can't help but think of Bettina pizza as a sort of brilliant physics experiment--how thin can a crust get and still pack flavor? Brendan Smith and Rachel Greenspan have that magic down--as thin as thin can be and still hold pizza tensile strength, and as for flavor, just that sourdough....I mean, how many pizzas have legs like wine? Bettina's do. And that's before we even get to the quality of their toppings.

So, yes, if we're going to do some Coronavirus take-out, some of it had to be Bettina. We got around to it last week, finally, and it was very easy to do. They've got their to-go menu all set online, but I called anyway as I wanted to get an order in midday for a specific time pickup in the evening. Plus we hoped to score a loaf of bread, and there are only so many of those to go around each day. As you can see from the photo above--more doughy delight!

Since humans do not live by pizza alone, and we we're at the dark end of the two weeks for our Givens Farm CSA box, we had to order some green stuff, too. Luckily the usual Bettina salads are available to go, so there's the baby gems with ranch, pickled onion, and goat cheddar that we would order if we were dining at Montecito Country Mart. With the dressing on the side, it packs very well. So crisp and so cool. And thanks for being one more place that decided to rescue Ranch (since it's a Central Coast invention, after all). There's also some broccolini with capers, ricotta salata, and pine nuts, as at home we don't have a wood-fired stove that cranks over 800°, so we can't get that insta-char that makes the cruciferous veggie so extravagant.

And those pizzas also get char to the point where it's almost too much, but it also teaches you how far too much is (way further than you imagined). And somehow all that char kind of gives you the taste and time of cooking. You take the more blistered slices, pretending you're sacrificing, hoping your dinner mate doesn't know your sneaky secret.

The left pie is the heart of spring, English pea with mozzarella, ricotta cheese, sugar snaps, torpedo onion, garlic confit, lemon (and a slice of lemon for you to give another zip at home--nice touch). Oh, and actually the one on the left is the heart of spring if you had a wet winter and a mushroom forager: chanterelle, Sottocenere truffle cheese, fontina, dandelion, parsley gremolata. Just enough of each bit so you keep getting flavor bursts, but you have to be there for the crust.

Better yet, this was many meals for the two of us.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Spirits in the (Isolating) Air: Potent Potable Poetry

A shout out and thanks to the Independent for this article last week about our sixth annual, if in this case very unusual, Spirits in the Air reading. Plus, they ran one of my poems, too, so go see what drinking imported beer meant to me as a young man.... Thanks, Matt Kettmann and gang.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Home Is Where the Happy Hour Is

(Hey, please forgive our messy house in these photos--I mean, who should we be cleaning for?)

You miss your friends. We miss our friends. Heck, we even miss the people who aren't friends but just the regulars in your life, the woman who knows how many salsa cups to give you at El Zarape, the guy who never forgets that you work at UCSB, so you get that teacher-student-staff discount at Lazy Acres on Thursdays even without flashing your employee ID.* We miss 'em all.

But our friends the most, so like many of you we're doing Zoom happy hours. It's not perfect, but the faces and laughter are still the same. And now we can't even cross talk, so that focus on a single discussion is intriguing too.

I imagine many people who bother to read something called George Eats come more for word two than word one, which is why I like you all. And sure enough, that one circle of friends I'm writing about now, we're very food and drink centered--some of them even make their own very delicious garage wine. So we wanted to figure out how to share more senses than sight and sound for our Happy Hours.

To do that, Chryss and I opted to go first in this group of four couples (including us). I ordered with trusty Bob Wesley at Meritage--hooray he's got a spot to sell wine again! in the same spot as the last spot, too, if you haven't been. He had the bad fortune to open the weekend of March 7, which we might as well think of as Coronavirus Eve. Not great timing. But he's still open, and if you order and let him know you're on the way, he'll dash to the curb with your purchase. Lots of 15-minute green curb parking there on Anapamu that's not getting used with few reasons to wander downtown anymore. Easy peasy.

We got four bottles of Chapoutier 2017 Bila Haut Cotes de Roussillon, a steal at 14 bucks per. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, it has surprising depth for the price, with dark blackberry fruit. As Jeb Dunnuck put it, "It's seamless, elegant, and balanced, with both acidity and richness. Put this in a blind lineup of Northern Rhônes and shock your friends." The lineup wasn't blind (we made sure each house knew we'd be leaving a bottle at their doorstep, which we did wearing gloves), but everyone was thoroughly pleased, and drinking the same thing.

We also got the idea that you need some cheese with that wine. C'est Cheese is still open, taking orders online and by phone in advance. Then, you call just before you show up and they meet you at the door with your goodies. Even better they're doing a special $5 chunk of mystery cheese, something that might not be selling fast enough, but it's one of their curated cheeses, so you know it will be delicious. We asked for four of the same mystery cheese orders that would go well with a syrah-blend from the Rhône, so, again, each house would have the same bites with the Bila Haut. Each came wrapped separately.

They wound up choosing Oma, so the hills were alive with the taste of slightly stinky soft cow cheese. It comes from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, and is owned by the Von Trapps. Yep, there are real ones who made it all the way across the Alps to New England. Rumor has it they were chased by Julie Andrews. They make one yummy cheese, though, one you can ruminate over, with its tart rind and creamy center.

Happy Hour, even distanced, just got a lot more delicious.

(Note: both Meritage and C'est Cheese even deliver locally, if you order enough, etc. Call Meritage [(805) 845-0777] or check out C'est Cheese's website.)

*And yes, both El Zarape and Lazy Acres are still open, but we're doing our best to isolate, so have only been once to each in the past 4 weeks.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Loving The Lark To Go

Yes, we've been gunshy about the whole takeout thing thanks to the out part of it. We're taking physical distancing very seriously, and did one huge shopping trip on March 26 and we're hoping to eat off that for as many weeks as possible (plus our bi-weekly Givens CSA box, so we keep getting some fresh farm stuff too--so so good).

But that email from The Lark about their family dinners kept nagging at me as it sounded so delicious. And a deal--since we wanted to opt for the veggie meal, it was merely $50. How could we say no? Especially since we now had the lovely, we hope life-saving masks a great friend of ours sewed for us? (She made mine paisley--it's as nice as some of my choice ties.)

You order online, so are all pre-paid and have a time to pull into the spots right outside the Lucky Penny pick-up window (you can get their pizzas too). Since we showed up a bit early, I told them I'd go back and wait in the car--note, it's not any easier to make people understand the name Yatchisin when they hear it through a mask--and at 5:30, when the meal was supposed to be ready, it was. A server in gloves comes out with bag and it's in my gloved hands in no time.

At home, unpacked it looks like this, fancier than takeout has any right to look, so be sure you have installed the drool guard on your computer....

One of the great joys of eating vegetarian is you don't have to think in bullying ideas like mains. It's all main, and all good. So, sure, officially this is caramelized oyster mushrooms and brown butter polenta with aged balsamic glaze & Grana Padano, but it could easily (as you will see) be headlined by either of the two so-called sides. And I don't mean that to denigrate the lovely dish--it's more that the Lark is wisely making this a full meal experience, and not a star and a couple of fillers.

The polenta actually travels well (we got home and eating in probably 25 minutes, I'd guess), hearty and salty and smooth and deep, and the perfect cushion for those mushrooms, cooked to an almost-bacony texture without any hint of pig on the plate. The balsamic is both tart and a hint sweet and totally integrated into shroominess. The Lark is also so perfect at adding just the right touch of other ingredients, so you get a bit of spinach as green is spring (and delicious) and just enough shavings of the cheese to spark a desire to hunt for more but not overdo.

In our house, some nights the sambal spiced cauliflower--also with a toss of spinach, Marcona almonds, sheep’s feta, preserved lemon--might actually be dinner all on its own. The zingy sambal manages to get hot, hotter and never hottest, just peaking at where you taste it good and it doesn't start to burn your taste buds. Again, the cheese is a condiment, not a slather--there are no easy, cheap effects here. (Or in, this case, easy, sheep effects.) (Sorry.)

And then that salad, simplicity and perfection all at once, Little Gems with spicy pecans, shaved watermelon radish (the Elite model of radish), sourdough croutons, and ridiculously healthy tarragon leaves. Everything is what you'd want, but it's the smoked blue cheese vinaigrette that's what you didn't know you needed--the best blue cheese dressing I've had in years. Please bottle and sell it, Lark!

Doing this at home means we got to break out another cellar bottle not at restaurant mark-up, and that 2010 Williams Selyem unoaked chard rocked--a lean, mean laser beam of delight, lemon rind and green apple. Archie was clearly envious. And he's not much of a vegetarian or a drinker.

Oh, and when they say it feeds 2-4 people, that's not just marketing mumbo jumbo. In our house, when we make recipes, if it says "Serves 6" we know that means that the two of us will have it over 2 meals. That's an odd recipe math. But here, they really mean it. We get to have all this again, tomorrow. OK, we did eat all the salad, but we've got some romaine from that wonderful mask maker friend of ours, and we still have the second container of the blue cheese dressing, so we're good there, too.

And I forgot, you also get a bag of garam masala popcorn with curry leaf. Our movie night tonight got even better. Maybe we need to go watch some more of the old Julia Child shows on PBS on Amazon again.

But if you want takeout, get yourself to The Lark and fast!