Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Few Druckin’ Pies

Confession time: I’ve been on a pie-baking spree. Like Betty Crocker on crack, I spend all my time thinking about, planning, baking and EATING pie, and my rapidly expanding waistline and shockingly full bottle of Belvedere tell me that I’d better go back to drinking my calories, toute suite. Let’s start with this strawberry-rhubarb fiesta:

Strawberry and Rude Barb.

It’s technically rhubarb season, but I couldn’t find any in the grocery store or the farmers’ market. (WTF, CA?!) When I asked the greengrocer at Albertson’s if he had any rhubarb, he looked at me like I was a sad, lonely person who goes around making up fake names for fruit, just so she can have personal interaction with another human being. (Okay fine so he wasn’t that far off.)

I finally found frozen rhubarb at Ralph’s. And, I’m proud to say, it worked fine:

Kitty, stop being a dildo and let me finish my pie! Mom, kitty's being a dildo.

I used this Lattice-Topped Srawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe from Epicurious, and my mom’s pie crust. (1 cup flour, pinch sugar/salt, 1/3 cup veg. oil, 3 T milk makes one crust.) I played with the fruit ratio a bit, and it turned out PERFECTLY, so I’m going to share my version here:

  • 1 lb. frozen rhubarb, thawed
  • 1 16-ounce container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
It was one of the best pies I’ve ever baked. It made me hungry for more. So I moved on to sweet cherries, in abundance at my local Ralph’s.

I popped all my cherries myself.

As a kid in Washington state, picking Bing cherries with my family was a summer tradition. My mom would can them, use them for jam, pulverize them into fruit leather, boil them into pancake syrup, and BEST OF ALL, bake pies. I’d come in from a long day of freeze tag, covered with mud and popsicle melt and dog fur, and see my mom in her apron making dinner, a fresh pie cooling on the stove. Like a Norman Rockwell painting. But better.

So even though I understand the tart appeal of the sour cherry, sweet cherries will always hold a special place in my heart. (And tummy.) But unlike my mother’s consistently perfect pies, with their crispy crust both upstairs and down and cherries that stay in your slice, my pie was less than perfect. Even though it looked a bit like this:

Not my pie. But close.

It was a lying pie. A false advertiser. The padded push-up bra of pies. My cherries were mutant huge, like mini-plums, and the crust must’ve gotten too gluten-y when I rolled it out, carefully following the instructions to keep it COLD, encouraged by the sight of tiny butter balls suspended in my sheet of dough like Han Solo in bronze. But NO.

I followed the smitten kitchen recipe for filling and crust exactly, and this blogger is AWESOME, so I know it must have been me. Sigh. I will comfort myself with this amazingly apropos Family Guy clip:

And the knowledge that tonight, I bake a blackberry crisp. Wish me luck!
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Hot as Druck in Palm Desert

There’s a reason you can get a great deal at La Quinta Resort (a Waldorf Astoria) in Palm Desert mid-July.  It’s a reward for being crazy enough to spend the weekend in the desert when it’s 115• outside. As I believe we’ve already established here, I’m pretty druckin’ crazy.

Haute water. Now I know what a poached egg feels like.

Luckily there’s an oasis that serves vodka. The water was almost as warm as the air, so it was like swimming in soup. But I loved the pool bar with its cooling mists and amazing service, such as brewing a fresh pot of coffee especially for me, chilling it over ice, then serving it poolside, already creamed and sugared. (Just like the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru used to do in Chicago. Sigh.)

At night, when temps cooled to a chilly 109•, we dined at Castelli’s, a classy strip mall Italian joint with Rat Pack flair. The garlic bread and flash-fried calamari were molto bene, and the atmosphere is pure Soprano family. Dark and cool (yay!) with big plates of pasta, a sunny front patio and a piano player softly crooning Sinatra.

Castelli's cioppino. Think that seafood is fresh? Fuggedaboudit.

And speaking of Ol’ Blue Eyes, he had a house in the area (I learned this from Next Food Network Star) called Twin Palms, and for probably a zillion billion dollars, you could even rent it for your next big event:

Ol' blue pool.

Finally, we drank WAY too much port at Morgan’s in the desert, an upscale bar/restaurant with live music and friendly bartenders. The ignominiously named ‘Rhubarb Slump” dessert was upright and outstanding, with a perfect balance of fruit, brown-sugary crumble crust, and ice cream. As you can see, Morgan’s is a pretty place to enjoy air conditioning:

Morgan's in the desert. Deserted.

The piano player told me that in season, Clint Eastwood is a regular. And I did feel like a lucky punk to be there all right, even if I was sweltering in the hot, sticky lap of luxury. Next time, APRIL.

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Fair Drucks to Ya, Hotel Erwin in Venice

Met awesome pal Lis for a drink (or three) at the High Rooftop Lounge of the Hotel Erwin last Thursday. It was the perfect summer evening for it — warm enough to be comfortable in a sweater, clear enough to appreciate the stunning 360• views of the Pacific, Venice Beach, and the sparkly lights of LA.

This lounge is called 'High' because it's on the roof. And because it smokes weed.

I love Lisa’s hilarious expressions so I must quote her assessment of the lobby, “In fairness, it’s a bit of an effort.” She was concerned that the bar might mirror the first floor’s hippie chic meets Motel 6 vibe. But once she took in the view from the roof, the lobby was forgotten (and forgiven.)

Dude. Can you smoke that foliage or what?

Appropriately, since it’s on the ocean, High Lounge makes like a pirate and forces you to walk the plank before you can sit down, drink a bottle of yum (I mean RUM!) and admire all the beautiful booty.

$7 Coronas? Shiver me timbers, matey!

And another weird thing is that the loo is two floors down, on the fifth floor, which could prove to be a critical error in an emergency situation. As awesome pal Dan pointed out — the whole outfit seems like an afterthought — like, “Oh yeah, we have a roof! We could probably even serve drinks up there if we hose off all the seagull poop and shift a few AC vents.”

But service is good, the relaxed, beach-casual crowd is all-ages and I’m a fan of boutique hotels. Plus, the DJ was spinning a nostalgic 80s set. That, coupled with a vodka soda, a lovely catch-up session with a dear friend, and a soft ocean breeze made me feel like High is a happy place to be.

Now, if they can’t find a way to move the bathroom, I may have to wear my astronaut diaper. But I’ll be back.

UPDATE/FYI: They had a lot of ‘reserved’ tables — in fact, I shamelessly flirted with an Englishman as he was leaving and then LEAPED over a bench to snag the only ‘non-reserved’ table available. Not quite sure how that works so you might want to call ahead, or plan to wear something revealing, yet safe for vaulting furniture.

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Great Druckin Food at Gjelina in Venice

Hello, Gjelina on Abbott Kinney in Venice. I want you to understand that though Mother is very ANGRY with you, she loves you, and nothing (short of a chef switcheroo in the kitchen) is going to change that. Let’s talk about your good points. Like the FOOD:

Chickpea stew; fingerling potatoes with truffle oil.

Awesome pal Michael and I started with a gorgeous fried egg on top of grilled radicchio salad, which was gently bathed in a garlic and olive oil dressing that made it soft and comforting, as if it had been warmed by the Mediterranean sun. (What a waste of sumptuous sauce to have NO bread with which to sop it up. BAD GJELINA. But I digress.)

Our gruyere, caramelized onion, fromage blanc and arugula pizza ($13) was the perfect balance of salty/nutty, sweet/jammy, creamy/melty and zingy/fresh, respectively. And the crust — thin, crunchy, lightly blistered, artfully extracted from an oven capable of bringing the heat — made me want to cradle the chef to my bosom for all eternity.

Pizza pizza.

Finally, my perfect pillows of gnocchi with peas, prosciutto and lemon brown butter were TO DIE FOR. It reminded me of a similar dish my sister and I  loved at a pasta joint near the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. (What WAS that place called?!)

Anyway, I can’t find a picture of the pasta, but here’s a delicious picture of Gjelina chef Travis Lett, whom, if you’ll recall, I’ve promised to hold to my bosom. If he’ll let me. And not call the police or anything:

YUM.

But I was talking directly to you, Gjelina, wasn’t I? And now it’s time to take your lumps. (Lumps of pillowy, sweet, savory… NO!! FOOD IS NOT ENOUGH!) Let’s start with design. Your peaceful patio seating out back is, in fairness, spectacular and your decor is unarguably pretty:

You're GORGEOUS. Now change.

BUT. Your dining room is crowded, noisy and narrow. Tables are on top of each other to the point where it ALL feels like communal dining. We actually shared a butterscotch pudding with the complete strangers next to us. (Here’s hoping no one has a cold. Or a cold sore!)

Butterscotch pot de creme with salted caramel and creme fraiche.

You have no bar, no liquor license (!!) and no place for patrons to wait without constantly being bumped by waiters, staff, and customers-in-waiting. And another thing. Our uninterested, unsmiling, anemic-looking waiter was mediocre at best. AT BEST, GJELINA.

Our drinks went un-refilled, our entrees took too long with no explanation, and it’s not like you’re GIVING it away, girlfriend. Prices are reasonable, but they add up fast. Luckily, you’re popular with customers like these, in attendance the night we were there, surprisingly sans fanfare and entourage:

Christina Aguilera & Jordan Bratman know good gnocchi when they taste it.

So as you can see, Gjelina, we have a love/hate, agree to disagree situation here. Sigh. I’ll be back soon, because I’m weak, but in the meantime, could you at least have a chat with the people who issue licenses to serve vodka? Because if I’m going to wait an hour or so, bumped like a buoy in a sea of waiters and West Siders, Momma’s gonna need a drink.

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Gettin My Druck On At L’Ermitage Hotel

L’Ermitage Beverly Hills Hotel is an oasis of tranquility for the rich and famous. (And now, vodka-swilling Mother Druckers like ME! Take that, rich & famous.) It’s deliberately inconspicuous, and therefore difficult to find, which only adds to its mystery and charm.

If you listen vewy caweful, you can hear crisp, green Benjamins, crinkling in the breeze.

BIG DEALS take place here. FANCY PEOPLE live here. (Angelina Jolie’s mum did, for one, and James Woods is rumored to be a permanent resident.) And yet for the price of a $20 martini, you too can sit in the lap of luxury, nibbling complimentary wasabi peas and enjoying the five-star treatment. Just look. Swank, n’est pas?

Those four lit-up squares on the wall are sceenplays. Godfather, Jaws, etc. Fancy!

This particular lounge was and still is referred to as the Writers Bar. (Bona fide screenwriter sighting last night, you guys! And this cutie pie actor.) My amazing friend Herschel introduced me to it when I first moved to LA and it’s still one of my all-time favorite LA places to drink. (They probably have food too, but as you all know, I prefer my calories clear, distilled, and purposeful.)

The cocktails here are magically delicious. I had a dirty martini that was perfectly salty, and yet not polluted with a cloud of olive juice. How is that even possible? Reading the drinks menu was enough to make me throw my on-again ‘no-sugar’ policy out onto the tastefully appointed terrace.

This Moonlight Martini is so last year. But I'm sure it's still good.

Add a fancy wine list, insanely attentive staff, beautiful clientele and a surprisingly relaxed and even convivial vibe, and you’ve got the general idea.  I’m inspired to re-create this atmosphere in my own home, so that overnight guests will want to come back and stay with me again. You know what that means! All-you-can-drink-vodka-sodas, complimentary Pop-Tart breakfast and semi-fresh towels for all my friends!

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Joe’s in Venice Is A Druckin Happy Place

If you live in LA or plan to visit the Venice Beach area, you must check out adorable, boulevard-du-jour Abbot Kinney. It’s trendy, charming, artsy, expensive — it’s Melrose hipster meets surfer dude and invites a Santa Monica soccer mom to join the party.

Primary colors are pretty.

At Abbot’s Pizza (considered by many to be the best pizza in LA) body art and bulldogs abound, and the ultra-relaxed vibe is almost collegiate. A few doors down at Primitivo Wine Bistro, however, beautiful people pick at pricey small plates and pretend to hear each over the unusually intrusive roar of the crowd.

Other good choices include Hal’s Bar & Grill, Lilly’s French Cafe and Bar (Yay, homey atmosphere! Boo, food!), the newish Gjelina (more on that next week) and OF COURSE, fantastic coffee at Chicago’s own Intelligentsia. But for a reliable AK experience featuring inventive, memorable meals and a lovely ambiance of laid-back luxury, eat at Joe’s.

Joe Bama.

The salads feature the best of CA produce, and it always amazes me how a humble radish or unassuming artichoke, carefully chosen and tenderly dressed, can remind you that sometimes mother nature is the best chef of all. The menu is short, but each dish is a work of art.

Tomato dessert. Tomato, tomahto, dessert, schmessert.

Thanks to a host of helpful Yelpers (including the one who took the pretty, pilfered pic above) I now know that Joe does brunch. Does he EVER. Check it:

Maine peeky toe crab hash w/ poached egg. Oh OKAY, if you insist.

I think I may need to mix up my cheat day breakfast from chocolate chip pancakes (THE. BEST.) at Mercedes Grille to poached eggs, crispy pork belly confit and an array of fresh breads with homemade jam. Go, Joe!

Yep. You read that right. A G.I. Joe reference. I’m just gonna go take my Geritol, crank up my hearing aid and yell at some kids for playing ball in my yard. Happy weekend, little Druckers!

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Druck It to Me, Flag Cake

I’ve never been a fan of what I consider the Martha Stewart school of cooking, where appearance comes first and taste is secondary, at best. Personally, I think fondant is the work of the devil. Looks pretty, tastes like paste. So I had high hopes for Ina Garten’s flag cake, covered as it is with fresh fruit and cream cheese frosting. And as you can see, the results are fairly spectacular for a ho-made cake, if I do say so myself:

Thanks for the pic, Uncle P.O.C.!

Pretty as it is, I have to say I was underwhelmed with the cake’s texture. It just didn’t stand up to that insanely rich frosting, made with 1 lb. of butter, 1.5 lbs cream cheese, 1 lb. of powdered sugar and a defibrillator (optional).

My frosting had a greasy sheen reminiscent of beef tallow or bacon fat. It looked much prettier (and snowy white) before it came to room temperature, but you can’t let your freaky flag cake fly from inside your refrigerator, can you? Not after you spent an entire day making it. However, as my mom astutely pointed out, the slices themselves are very pretty:

Fellow food blogger, your slices are superior. As is your photography. But I bet I can drink more vodka.

In fairness, I did eat a little (tons) of frosting whilst making the cake, so maybe it’s not the frosting’s fault that I was over it before I even tried a piece. Have you tried an Ina recipe? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

And finally, apropos of nothing, a little dating advice that I must remind myself to follow: If his train can’t make one stop en route to bootytown, drop him like he’s hot.

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