Mongolian Buuz: A Perfect TV Snack

Eating in front of the telly is something that happens with some regularity in these parts.

When your partner is a super busy television critic, that tends to happen. And I’m certainly not averse to sitting down to lunch, dinner or brunch in front of the box. (A side of Downton Abbey with any meal? No problem at all.)

So when the Let’s Lunch crew decided on sharing perfect snacks for TV watching in our February posts, I knew I had to jump back in the fray.

What do we eat while watching something? Everything, really: Stews, noodles, omelettes, sandwiches. But I’ve learned that the ideal item is something compact — bite-sized and easy to pop in your mouth for a quick chew.

Which is what makes dumplings pretty much the perfect TV food …

Continue reading

Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style

Among the things I miss the most about my native Singapore is one simple activity: Sitting by the beach on a steamy summer evening and looking out at the water as I reach for stick after greasy stick of freshly grilled satay.

The satay expeditions of my girlhood were frequent — few things beat the smoky smells of chicken, beef and mutton marinated in a potent cocktail of lemongrass, garlic, galangal, and turmeric getting barbecued in open-air food stalls, after all.

And my family, being hyper competitive as it is, always made a sport of it. Dad would order satay by the dozens and the race would begin to see whose pile of sticks, stripped of meat, would be the largest at the end. (You would think my father, being the oldest and the only male, would always win. Well, not in this cutthroat family, he didn’t.)

So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on BBQ for our monthly virtual lunch date, satay seemed a must. I’ve only made it a few times in New York — never in Singapore, where it’s so easy to find and cheap (30 to 50 cents Singapore per stick, or 23 to 40 cents U.S.) that it makes little sense to go to the trouble of making it.

But I had just made it recently — at a little dinner one night at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

Continue reading

Djerassi Resident Artists Program: A Man Named Dan

It’s not often that I am so taken with a person that I find myself immediately professing my adoration at every turn.

Recently, however, I met one such someone — a man named Dan, a chef who fed me well for a month in the mountains of California and who wowed me each day with the meals he set on the table.

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, I just spent a month in Northern California at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, an artists colony that offers the gift of time and space to create. The program invites artists from various disciplines (musical composition, fiction, poetry, choreography, visual arts) to spend a month on the property — close to 600 acres of some of the most beautiful hills and forests I’ve seen — with nothing to do except wake up every morning, have a cup of coffee and start working.

Such colonies have been a lifesaver for me — I wrote the bulk of “A Tiger in the Kitchen” over seven weeks at Yaddo in 2010. (My book never would have made it out on time had it not been for my time there.) As many artists will testify, you can often accomplish in weeks at a colony what would likely take you months or more at home.

And this certainly was true for me at Djerassi …

Continue reading

Mama’s (San Francisco): Eggs Worth The Odyssey

I have been called “the world’s most easily bored person.” By someone who knows me well, too. (And yes, despite such insensitive name-calling, we remain married.)

And so there are very few meals for which I would happily line up more than an hour — if I’m going to subject myself to all that boredom, the food had better be nothing short of earth-shattering.

In San Francisco, the one place that commands a wait of at least 90 minutes on most days and still has my devotion is a little corner restaurant on Washington Square Park called Mama’s …

Continue reading

Alpine Inn (Portola Valley): A Place Called Zott’s

On a recent lazy spring afternoon, the sous chef and I went on a meandering drive along the winding mountain roads of Northern California.

After quite a few miles of sun-dappled trees and fetching vistas, as lovely as everything was, we realized something else had begun to occupy us. “Are you hungry?” he said, not really needing to know the answer. “I have a little something in mind …”

As he pulled into the small town of Portola Valley, the sous chef began to slow down. Amid the greenery, an empty parking lot emerged, anchored by a small wooden building that would not have looked out of place in an old Western movie.

“We’re here,” he said, stopping the car. “Zott’s!”

Continue reading

Fishermen’s Grotto (San Francisco): A Taste of The Old Wharf

It’s not every day that I look forward to eating at a cheeseball tourist trap.

The Fishermen’s Grotto in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, however, holds special meaning. Thirty years ago, when the sous chef was an undergrad at Stanford University, his father would breeze into town from their Iowa homestead and whisk him away to San Francisco.

There, the man would regale his son with stories of his own youth in 1950s San Francisco — and invariably, these trips would land the pair at a little place in the wharf. The old man would order a Shrimp Louis, remarking with prickly nostalgia that the pricey platter of creamy shrimp “used to cost just $3.50 back in the ’50s.” And over heaping plates of shrimp and fish, he would share the colorful stories of his bygone years.

So when the sous chef and I found ourselves in San Francisco last week, a visit to the old hangout became a must.

Battling sidewalks jammed with tourists and street artists offering to sketch our portraits, we wended our way along the breezy waterfront and found it: Fishermen’s Grotto, the very first restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf …

Continue reading

Taqueria Las Comadres (Oakland, Calif.): Our Little Secret

There are several things that set my stomach aflutter whenever I step off a plane in San Francisco: a simmering hot bowl of pho topped with bright pink thin slices of steak still gradually turning brown at Pho Tan Hoa in Union Square, the roast chicken at the always lovely Zuni Cafe.

Once these items have been checked off the eating list, however, a new craving inevitably sets in: Mexican. While New York does have any number of decent Mexican places, the tacos and enchiladas at California’s ubiquitous taquerias always seem — to me — far superior.

So, when a break in book events and book store visits recently led me to Oakland, where my friend Ann casually mentioned an excellent little Mexican joint nearby, I immediately said, Let’s Go …

Continue reading

New York, Paris, San Diego, Bacon


CIMG7351

It began with three women — one in New York, one in Paris, one in San Diego.

Although they lived far, far apart and had never met, they had one thing in common: a deep love for bacon.

“I was just thinking how nice a BLT would be. I only have the L & T, however,” lamented Ellise in Paris.

“And I have the B but not the L and T. Come on over-we’ll combine them … ” I, the New Yorker, said.

“You know, I already bought bacon and tomatoes and was planning on a BLT soon for lunch!” said Nicole in San Diego.

And that, folks, was how our intercontinental BLT lunchdate was hatched. 

Continue reading