Archive for July, 2008

As the kitchen workhorse in my family, I tend to keep preparations fairly simple, hoping the ingredients will speak for themselves. John, my most frequent culinary co-conspirator is a bit more daring than I am, and if we cook something that involves blow torches or skewers or reduced sauces, he’s probably the brains behind the operation. So it was with this fish, of which, I admit, I was highly suspicious. I recant entirely. I t was fun to cook and extremely tasty. When It came time to file the story, I thought John should do the honors. — Maria

In what now seems like a biennial cooking device splurge event, Maria and I recently popped for a Big Green Egg, a Kamado-style ceramic cooker that uses lump charcoal. Why the heck would we spend that kind of money on a grill? That’s a question we went around on for over a year. We were drawn to the BGE for a variety of reasons, though not primarily the ability to cook a steak at a reliable 650deg without the flames scorching it to a crisp. High heat definitely was a factor, but primarily so that we could create a stand-in for the wood-fired pizza oven I lust after but probably won’t build until we move to Orcas Island. Another reason was slow cooking—the BGE’s ability to reliably hold a low temperature for many hours on to cook things like pulled pork barbeque or brisket. That said, when it came to our regular Saturday night extravaganza, the first thing we decided to try was whole fish.

The big question was what sort of fish to cook. Definitely not planked salmon–we wanted this baby to take advantage of the BGE’s ability to create a combination of baking (without losing moisture), smoking and charcoal cooking effect. I managed to twist Maria’s arm and to get her to try a recipe for salt-baked fish. This is one that’s well-treated in Epicurious and draws on a couple of excellent recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appétit. The recipe from the BGE Forum’s cookbook helps translate the more conventional recipe to the BGE environment.

The process is exceptional in a variety of ways. With regard to the BGE, there’s the prospect of putting this odd fish preparation on a stack of seven sheets of newspaper over 400 degrees of fiery wood heat without the whole thing catching fire. Amazing. With regard to the salt crusting process, it’s the element of putting a vast amount of salt with the consistency of wet sand on a couple of fish and having the resulting fish not only not be salty, but also be incredibly moist and tasty.

I won’t try to provide the recipe here (my suggestion is to have a look at the BGE recipe and the Bon Appétit recipe, and invent something yourself), and instead to show the steps in the process.

  1. It’s worth saying, first of all, that we hit the wrong time of year to get Branzini at a reasonable price. Rather than have us spend $60 on fish for two, Monahan’s, our great fish monger directed us to a sweet couple of white bass at about 1/10th the price. No, not a great Mediterranean fish, but this process took our two humble fish and turned them into something extraordinary. Here they are, stuffed with lime slices , garlic and flat-leaf parsley.
  2. Mixing the salt with egg whites created a substance like wet sand which we used to cover the fish in two great heaping mounds.
  3. As the BGE recipe suggests, what you want to aim for is something golden and cakey. That’s a breeze with the BGE, incidentally. Just peek through the chimney occasionally. Helps to have a flashlight! It took about twenty minutes to get to this point.
  4. Now, granted, a fully-cooked and partially prepared fish is not necessarily the prettiest sight, but it should be very clear from this picture that the fish was cooked perfectly and extremely moist. The taste of the fish was stunningly good.

Combined with a nice salsa verde like the one in Bon Appétit or the one we threw together with tomatillos, it makes for a pleasant summer’s meal under the stars.

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photo courtesy of Maria

photo courtesy of Maria

My favorite DJ on WFMU once told a story about the time she spun records at the wedding of a friend who insisted that she play songs from a prescribed playlist only and refrain from taking requests. But as these things often go, one of the bridesmaids got soused and asked the DJ repeatedly to please play some James Brown, to which the DJ replied that she had none of his albums on hand. The desperate bridesmaid made a last attempt, screeching “Come on–you really don’t have any James Brown? Not even for emergencies?!”

It’s true: some emergencies call for the Godfather of Soul. Others call for more humble–yet still soulful–pleasures, like sour cherry cobbler.

I had myself a little emergency situation this past Saturday at my moving-out yard sale. Two hours in, and a mere fifty bucks richer, the skies opened up and a summer storm rained me out. My morning help had left to tend to trifles like lawn-cutting and dissertation-writing, and I found myself in the unenviable position of trying desperately to save a bunch of crap I wanted to get rid of in the first place.

Enter the across-the-street neighbor with a plastic tarp with which to cover the final few items that didn’t fit into plastic tubs.

Enter two other friends, the afternoon shift, with fixings for mimosas and helping hands to shuttle my belongings to the covered porch.

Enter a sour cherry cobbler, baked the night before, to nourish the rescuers.

Disaster averted.

All of your emergency situations will be thus easily dispensed with, if only you have sour cherry cobbler–heck, any summer fruit cobbler–at the ready.

Well, that, or a James Brown record.

Sour Cherry Cobbler for Emergencies

1) Filling, via Epicurious

4 cups sour cherries, picked over, rinsed, and drained well
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Working over a bowl pit the cherries, discarding the pits and reserving the cherries and any juices in the bowl.

Add to the cherries the cornstarch, 2/3 cups of the sugar, the lemon juice, and almond extract. Stir, and set aside.

2) Topping, via Alice Waters’s recipe for Sweet Cream Biscuits from The Art of Simple Food

Stir together:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt
4 t sugar
2 t baking powder

6 T (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

Cut butter into the flour with your fingers or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Measure 3/4 cup heavy cream. Remove 1 T and set aside. Lightly stir in the remainder of the cream with a fork until the mixture just comes together. Lightly knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl, turn out on a lightly floured board, and roll out about 3/4 think. Cut into circles or squares (I like the square shape, just to be different), re-rolling the scraps if necessary.

3) Putting it all together:

Pour the cherry mixture into a 2-3 qt. baking dish.

Carefully lay the biscuit circles or squares, depending, on top of the cherries, in a pattern that pleases you.

Brush the tops with the tablespoon of heavy cream and sprinkle a generous amount of demerara (about 2 T) on top before placing it into the oven.

Bake for about 30-40 mins at 375, until the biscuit top is golden and the sugar goes all crystallized. Serve with lots of freshly whipped cream, to which you’ve added a teaspoon or so of vanilla and sugar to your liking. Feed to heroes of all stripes, small children, lovers, or perhaps beloved pets.

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Gathered in season, served at the peak of ripeness, fruit is a perfect reflection of the moment. — Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

I know what T. S. Eliot says about April and all, but sometimes I wonder if the cruelest months aren’t the hot ones of summer. At least, that is, if you long for the produce that comes in during high summer. I mean, I do long, I yearn, I stay awake at night, fretting over unrequited desire. Each week, I throw sidelong glances at the market tables, restraining my hope, prepared for disappointment. It’s too soon, too soon, there can’t be corn yet, any tomatoes would only be regrettable and forgettable. Peaches? Surely not.

And then it happens. Really, there are hints, if you look closely. A few ears of corn shoved to one side of a table full of greens and beans and the first summer squash. Some baskets of cherry tomatoes, the early raspberries trickling in. Despite these early indicators, the true summer harvest always seems to hit for me with gale force winds, sprung up overnight. I sail right in. Swamp me, please.

I’ve waited so long, but then, and here’s the cruel part, when summer finally arrives, in all of its abundance, it’s almost too much. After those weeks of holding back, summer’s suddenly all wanton and abandoned, and I can”t keep up. There’s just not enough time, money and room in the belly to appreciate it all. I wander the aisles of the farmer’s market, a bit dazed, and within about half an hour I’m thirty dollars poorer, my bags are overflowing, and I’m not sure how I’ll ever get to really enjoy all those tastes I’ve spent ten months waiting for. Now I’m awake at night scheming menus and meal plans to use up the piles of wonderfully ripe produce that sit on my counter, always inching perilously nearer to the precipice of rot.

And of course I wouldn’t change it for the world. Summer, the real summer of the possibility of heat stroke and the infinite wonder of ice cold lemonade and slipping into wading pools and tossing off the sheets at night, that kind of summer, happened these past couple of weeks. And brought with it the produce-that-seemed-like-it would-never-come. We sliced the first tomatoes. I taught my almost-three year old how to shuck corn. I bit into the first ripe Flaming Fury peach, and really, for a moment, I wanted to cry, overcome by the taste-memory of peaches of the past, the hope of years of peaches to come, and the unalloyed pleasure of the peach of the moment. Ah, cruel summer. Torment me some more.

So. Saturday night dinner. Almost too simple to record, but I offer it here to remind that sometimes the best preparations are the simplest. With one little flourish, an espresso based rub via Bobby Flay that we made a few weeks ago and have been going to over and over to add a touch of complexity to grilled meats.

A Saturday Summer Supper

  • Sliced tomato with fruity olive oil and coarse sea salt and thin ribbons of fresh basil. (Normally, I would sprinkle on a little balsamic vinegar, but I really wanted to taste just the tomato on that first one. The flavor really opens up after the tomato for a half hour or so in the oil).
  • (Tantre Farms) corn on the cob. My oh-so-secret method is to shuck, rinse, drop in boiling water, cover the pot, turn off the flame. Take out in four or five minutes. Roll around in unsalted butter and sprinkle with fleur de sel which is like fairy dust or crack for fresh vegetables. Make sure to leave a puddle of butter and salt on the plate for mopping up with a baguette.
  • Alice Water’s Swiss Chard Gratin. This was written up the other day over at The Wednesday Chef, but I swear to god I had The Art of Simple Food open to that page before I saw the post. Of course butter and cream help just about anything, but this is one of those more than the sum of the parts dishes. Easy and delicious and its creaminess a nice counterpoint to the rest of the meal. Highly recommended for those of you with CSA swiss chard languishing in the fridge.
  • Thick cut bone in pork chops, coated with espresso rub (see below). I never remember to put the rub on until about an hour before and that works fine, but I suspect longer would be better. Chops a little more than an inch thick took about twelve minutes on the grill and rested for ten (we were aiming for medium rare and these tilted toward medium, so you could be even more aggressive in pulling them off the goals).
  • For dessert, a peach. Ah.

Bobby Flay’s Espresso Rub for Grilled Meats


1/4 cup ancho chili powder
1/4 cup finely ground espresso
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ginger

Coat the meat with a bit of olive oil first and then rub all over with the mix. Works really well for pork loin and ribs, in addition to chops. Rub keeps well in a jar in the refrigerator.

From Bobby Flay’s Grilling For Life. (A very nice book, by the way, for those who are in the process of moving beyond basic burgers on the grill but still need some good advice and recipe ideas).

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Several days of vacation and intense engagement with my farm-share have made me much less cranky then when last I posted. Since the psychic and monetary cost of fuel consumption has become so crushing, we engaged in (what I understand to be) the very trendy “staycation,” Which was actually pretty great. There were potlucks, fireworks, visits to the farmer’s market, visits to the black raspberry bushes in the backyard, lots of gardening for me (with a little poison ivy to spice it up), a trip to the Toledo Zoo, DVD watching (The Spiderwick Chronicles for the kids, Knocked Up and LOTS of The Wire for the grown ups), shopping at thrift stores, hanging out at Top of the Park, splashing in the little backyard wading pool, bike rides, swimming and a little camping. (As a gratuitous aside, the day we went to the zoo we also hoped to hit a Toledo Mudhens game but we were afraid of overtaxing the kids. I was quite sorry though because it was “Prostate Health Awareness Night” at the park, and I was really curious about the give-aways.)

And of course, as with any good vacation, the question of “what shall we eat tonight” consumed an inordinate about of conversational space. The leitmotif of most of the week was a big pot of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans. These beans were featured in some pretty high-class quesadillas, in a penance (that is, after-decadence) meal of sauteed kale and beans, and in a farm-share dinner of sauteed greens, shreds of proscuitto, and a smattering of flageolet topped with softly fried eggs. All humble but worthy dishes.

Where did all this flageolet-ness come from in the first place? (And did you know that a flageolet is also a woodwind musical instrument and a member of the fipple flute family and that the flageolet register is highest register of the human voice lying above the modal register and falsetto register? But now I seriously digress and must be recalled from my pleasure in saying “flipple flute family” ten times fast.) About two months ago, the forces of the blogosphere, coupled with my nagging guilt that I was in some way cheating by always using canned beans, drove me to order a Rancho Gordo sampler (cannellini, borlotti, scarlet runner and flageolet beans). They arrived in the mail, I unpacked them with pleasure and put them away with a sense of anticipation

And there they sat. I opened the cupboard and pointedly looked past them. I reached for the pasta. Risotto is good. I feel like a salad tonight. Because, you see, dried beans scare me. I used to try to cook them in college, when I shopped in dusty hippy stores and fished beans out of deep bins, and I remember days of soaking, followed by hours of cooking, resulting in eating something resembling the surface of my driveway. Later I bought a pressure cooker, which did much better with my beans, but since I was usually recovering from heart palpitations induced by fear-of-pressure-cooker (“she’s going to blow Jim, she’s going to blow!) by the time dinner was ready, I didn’t really enjoy the results too much.

But vacation and its long stretches of lazy time makes one brave. I pulled the beans out and dumped them in a pot and covered them with water. I looked around a bit on the Internets and didn’t actually find much advice about what to do with flageolet except straight from Rancho Gordo’s mouth — “don’t mess with them much.” Instructions I heeded, to good effect. I soaked the beans eight hours or so (I peeked in the pot about halfway through and all the water was absorbed, so I dumped some more on). Then I turned the heat way up under the pot, looking for a hard boil. While that was going on, I sauteed some minced garlic and onion in olive oil (carrot and celery would have been good too, but there wasn’t any). After the beans had been boiling for about five minutes in their water, I turned the heat, way, way down, dumped in the aromatics, covered the pot and left it mostly alone. Oh sure, there was the anxious glance into the pot once in a while, but really, I barely stirred. After about an hour, I threw in some strips of fresh sage from the garden. After an hour and twenty minutes, I pulled out a bean and tasted, sure that I was about to experience a revelation. A pebble, albeit a tasty one. An hour and forty got me to something more like a relatively fresh peanut texture. Two hours? Very good indeed. Leftovers, after two reheatings? Magnifique. Patience is rewarded.

We had the first beans with grilled lamb loin chops and a very nice Chateauneuf de Pape that was a gift from neighbors who moved to Seattle (“we can’t take this on the plane, do you want it?” — well, gosh, if it will just go to waste . . .) and ended the evening with a broken bar of bittersweet chocolate and dark cherries just hours off the tree. There was a little firefly watching involved and much praising of the weather. Summer has many pleasures.

Don’t Mess With It Much Flageolet and Lamb

Cook the flageolet, as above. Perhaps add a half hour to the cooking time (making it closer to two and half: I understand this varies with the freshness of the beans) for a just-right consistency right out of the pot the first time.

While the flageolet are cooking, take some fresh oregano (a really good fistful; if you are a smallish person, perhaps two) and put it in the blender or food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic and some coarse salt. With the motor running, drizzle in half a cup or so of olive oil, until you have something that looks more or less like pesto. Rub this paste all over some lamb loin chops; cover with plastic and set in the refrigerator. Poke at them once in a while. Or not.

Near the end of the bean cooking process, prepare a grill, wipe the paste off the chops and cook them over a relatively hot fire for probably a little less time than you think you should unless you are devoted to eradicating all pink from your meat. These chops were a bit more than an inch thick and we grilled them for five minutes a side. Let the chops rest for ten minutes or until your patience wears thin.

Arrange the lamb as decoratively as you can on the beans. Drizzle with some lemon juice and sprinkle a little parsley on top. Sit outside, if possible. Toast the wine-giving neighbors, the soft night air and the virtues of simplicity.

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Regular readers will know that we’ve been following the developments at Everyday Cook for the past year or so, because a) we like the people over there b) we love the food and wine over there and c) we really love the way in which they/re trying to make quality food and wine and the fun that comes with it an (yes) everyday and affordable part of Ann Arbor life. We were really pleased to stop by Everyday Wines this week and see the news about their new downtown development liquor license (the first awarded!) and all the plans afoot for the Everyday Cook space — including, in the near term, takeout. I’m especially looking forward to that, hoping it might fill the hole left in my life (and stomach) left by the departure of The Jefferson Market. Congratulations to Mary and all the good folks over at EC. Read all about it on their blog.

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It’s not easy to love kohlrabi. Just look at it. It’s a stout, chubby bulb with little spindly little arms, which you must hack away in order to peel, slice, and eat the damn thing. It looks like what the Ewoks could have nibbled on when they weren’t fighting stormtroopers. An alien thing, this unlovely cousin of cabbage. I’ve honestly been a little scared of it. In fact, Maria and I pretty much ignored our kohlrabi from last year’s farm share. An e-mail exchange last July went pretty much like this:

Maria: Do you want anything extra this week from the share?
Me: Nah, but thanks. I really, really hope we don’t get kohlrabi.
Maria: I still have my kohlrabi from about a month ago. I can relieve your conscience and toss back a kohlrabi if you want.
Me: That’s hilarious, because I still have all 3 I’ve ever gotten. Every time I open the right crisper drawer, there they are, staring at me.

[Well, I ignored it; she boldly did her kohlrabi duty.]

I’m happy to say that I’ve now come to terms with this oddball vegetable. Unwilling to face the guilt of throwing away good food, and determined to come up with a pleasurable way to consume it (not raw!), I did my research. I turned up many a colelsaw-like recipe, and transformed them into something I’m inclined to call “kohlrabi confetti.”


To make this slaw, you’ll need:

2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled
1 apple (preferably a tart one), peeled
4 radishes
2 scallions
a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
a handful of mint leaves
juice of 2 limes

If you have a food processor, making this coleslaw is a breeze. Just chop up the apple and kohlrabi into chunks and let the grater attachment work its magic. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate by hand. Slice the radishes into little matchsticks. Coarsely chop the parsley and mint — the exact amounts do not matter. Toss everything together in a bowl, and add lime juice and salt to taste.

This slaw is cool, crisp and refreshing, an excellent foil for spicy food. I served it with grilled jerk pork tenderloin sandwiches, on challah hot dog buns.


Other kohlrabi slaw recipes from around the web:
Kohlrabi & Apple Slaw with Creamy Coleslaw Dressing
Kohlrabi Slaw
Asian-style kohlrabi slaw

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Road Rage

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program of recipes, vignettes of everyday life and Ann Arbor food news for a brief rant about the state of dining out in America.

Photo by Jeremy Brooks

Possible appearances to the contrary, I’m not a food snob. I know I go on about the finer things in culinary life here and that I eat less junk food than your average American, but potato chips make a regular appearance in my cupboard, I’ve been known to go out for a box of Chuckles in the middle of a bad work day, and I make a point of eating chicken wings whenever I go home to Western New York. When I was pregnant, I thought longingly and often of fast food breakfast sandwiches and sometimes went in search of them. I don’t buy Cool Ranch Doritos or Cheetos, but I’m hard put to stop eating them if they are put in front of me.

In a lot of ways, I’m really pretty easy to feed. As long as there’s not too much mayonnaise involved, I’m pretty happy. But I’ve spent the past few days in a fit of food-induced rage, occasioned by the consumption of a Northwest Airlines Snack Box (the red box, for those in the know). I’ve traveled a lot in my life. I’ve spent entire nights standing up in Chinese train cars that were loaded to twice maximum capacity and where the temperature went over a hundred, and those nights were made bearable by the stops in small cities, where vendors ran to the windows and held up baskets of chicken feet, dumplings, fresh fruit, tea and Tian Jian (a rather awful Chinese cola, but at 3 a.m. on a tropical night, not bad). I usually passed on the chicken feet. The toenails are a bit much for me. I rode a bus across southeastern Turkey where we all hauled off at random military check points and the Kurdish passengers, especially the boys, were prodded with machine guns and had their pockets turned inside out before we were all allowed to go on. And after we got back on the bus, the conductor came around with cold, dark cherry juice, little yogurts that put Fage to shame and packets of almonds and dried apricots. Not luxurious travel, but no one questioned that travelers needed to be fed and that it keeps everyone in better spirits if they are fed well.

On NWA, if I eschew a lunch of Pringles or Twizzlers (the latter hard to pass up; I love Twizzlers), my choice is not a choice, it’s a snack box with a bag of Wheat Thins, a Beef Stick, a little tub of processed cheese spread and Chips A-f-ing-hoy. Thank god for the Wheat Thins, even though their ingredient list is almost as long as this blog post. I finish off the snack box by munching my way through the trail mix, laden with salt and bad chocolate. Who knew trail mix could turn into such a disaster? For a few minutes, I eye, with envy and regret, the “fresh vegetable tray” purchased by my neighbor. I didn’t know this was an option until after I had broken into the snack box. But then I realized that he’s paid seven dollars for a piece of broccoli, two sticks of celery, a baby carrot, two slices of green pepper and less than a handful of cherry tomatoes. Plus Ranch of course. Seven dollars.

I know. I could have planned ahead and picked up my Zingerman’s Dancing Sandwich and Magic Brownie or even packed up a peanut butter and jelly at home, and I would have been a lot less grumpy, but I was running late, and it didn’t seem unreasonable to expect that I could get a decent sandwich at the airport. Nothing fancy. Turkey or tuna on wheat would be great, thanks. But in the airport the sandwiches at Caribou were wiped out by 11:40, so my choice was Taco Bell Express or Charley’s Grilled Sub Shop, neither appealing and both potentially messy in a small seat space. I peered at the salads at Charley’s, but the iceberg lettuce was so startling white and the chopped canned olives so flat and dull that I thought “surely the snack box will be better — some whole grain crackers, a small wedge of cheese, maybe some raisins.” Dreamer. I pay for the box because it’s been a long time since the morning pancakes and coffee, and I pay my penance by eating it all. When it’s done, I feel better because my blood sugar is back up, but I’m miserable at the crap I’ve put into my body and miserable about that way Americans allow ourselves to be treated. We’re always on our high horses about commanding the respect of the rest of the world, but we show ourselves the fundamental disrespect of eating what corporations decide we should instead of using our voices and purchasing power to demand a decent snack.

So I spend two days doing business in Anaheim, with a short break to stroll through “Downtown Disney” (far more variety in the mouse ears than the food), and by the end of the second day, I feel like I’ve eaten nothing but plastic. I try to choose wisely. On the first night, I go to a Market Broiler which features fish, and I order grilled Oregon red snapper with a chili-lime sauce and a side of steamed vegetables, hoping to cleanse body and soul of the Snack Box experience. Simple food. How far wrong can it go? And it doesn’t go wrong exactly. It tastes good enough, but just good enough. Mostly, it is soul-less. I’m sure every bit of it has been pre-measured and apportioned at corporate headquarters, and any cook who gave it love or personal attention would be violating restaurant policy. Love is not efficient. Love does not maximize profits and minimize waste.

Ditto the next night at the Alcatraz Brewing Company. Yes, I should have been warned off by the jailhouse motif and the booths made to resemble rugged rocks, but I wasn’t in pursuit of haute-cuisine, just a burger and some small batch beer. Again, how wrong can you go? And again, it didn’t go wrong exactly. It fed my stomach and it was not unpleasant, but it did not feed my spirit. No one cared about this food, either in the making or the eating. The beer was good.

Then on my last morning, unable to face either the hotel breakfast buffet or Starbuck’s, I walk along the almost-highway next to my hotel, go past a series of small strip malls and find Hof’s Hut perched on the edge of the parking lot of the surreal Crystal Cathedral (in-car worship aka a prayer drive-in? Say what?). Hof’s looks a little sixties and there’s a bunch of old guys in Hawaiian shirts in there and a sign outside says “strawberry festival — fresh pies this week” — so I go in and sink into an aqua-colored vinyl booth and get called honey by waitress and for seven dollars get a warm corn tortilla stuffed with scrambled egg and topped with some nice ripe avocado, fresh salsa and sour cream, with a small fresh-squeezed orange juice that is twice the size of the juice I paid five dollars for at the Doubletree the day before. There’s a hunk of watermelon and another of cantaloupe on the side, ripe and a bit rough cut, and peeking over the service counter and into the kitchen, I see the fifteen year old (or so) dishwasher slicing up melons. Is the food amazing? No. But it’s good, and it tastes like its been made by real people who actually care about what they produce, and I see this care in the way the cook puts chickens carefully into the rotisserie and hear it in the utterly unaffected way the waitress talks me through the slight differences between the three flavors of hot sauce that are on the table (“that one a little bit smoky, honey, that one, whoo-ee, it’s hot”). I read on the plastic menu about how Hof’s started as beach shack to feed surfers, but how Hof Père decided to move inland when he got married and needed a year round gig and how Hof Fils has grown the family business into a small chain (there are six Hof’s locations in Southern California) and tries to keep the place true to his father’s spirit. I leave with more of a hopeful outlook on life than I’ve had since the Snack Box.

Hof’s wasn’t great. It’s not a diamond in the rough or a roadside treasure. Don’t make a point of finding it next time you’re in Anaheim, unless you’ve only eaten plastic for the past few days. It wasn’t great, but it was good, and when I left I knew I had eaten food (and watching the cinnamon rolls come out of the oven as I paid the bill, I wished I had room to eat a little more).

Oh, and I stopped at Starbuck’s on the way back for a double short latte, whole milk, 150 degrees please, because I am a coffee snob.

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