A confession: In spite of my current, ongoing, seeming-like-it-will-never-ever-end condition, I don’t like traditional chicken soup. Obviously, boasting such sacrilege, I am undeserving of your sympathy. Obviously, this is why, four days in, I am still on the sofa on my second box of tissues, chugging down my 20th Brita pitcher of water, my nose as red as a rail-thin starlet at 4 a.m., the bitterness of having a SuperBowl party of one only slightly mitigated by the fact that the Giants triumph–I do not embrace everyones’ grandmother’s sworn-by home remedy.
A firm believer in the jinx-ing gods, I always pause before I say these kinds of things, but I have a pretty good life both out- and inside of the kitchen. Food is my friend. The only things holding me back from eating everything and anything in the whole world are, in descending order, my pickiness and my waistband. I don’t know what it means to have food make me consistently sick. (Well, except Spaghetti Carbonara. But that story for a different time, or on second thought, never.) I scour ingredient lists because I don’t trust them, but not because my life could depend on it. I can eat all of the bread, pasta and cake, glorious cake that I want. And it is these things I have been thinking about since I dug into Gluten-Free Girl this weekend, the new book by the food blogosphere’s own Shauna James Ahern, someone I had the fortune to meet, along with her Chef, Danny, and other friends last weekend.
Ever since we had dinner at Tia Pol for the first time six months ago, I have been bitten by the tapas bug, and with little warning this wee hallway of a restaurant on 10th Avenue replaced Tabla as my favorite in all of New York City.
I didn’t know that there were any higher small-plate callings than the Floyd Cardoz’s boondhi raita, that is until I tried Alex Raij’s garbanzos fritos, and though it makes me sad to have evolved beyond my Bread Bar obsession, I feel strongly enough about these chickpeas that if you haven’t had them yet, you should close your browser, turn off your computer, get on a plane if you must, wait patiently through the forty minutes it will take just to sit at the bar because these babies will leave your up-to-then favorite bar snack in the dust so quickly, its tasty little head will spin. Be prepared for a fast and fierce addiction.
I think it pretty much goes without saying that I wasn’t going to be allowed to show up to my parent’s seder tonight without one of these, but when my mother came down at the end of last week with both bronchitis and conjunctivitis in both eyes, did not consider this, perhaps, a sign from above that she would be given a pass on the thirteen-guest dinner tonight and insisted upon foraging ahead, she asked if I could attack the second dessert we’d decided upon–the mighty pavlova–as she wanted to wait until she was no longer contagious to start cooking. I thought that was mighty considerate of her, and of course, had been chomping at the bit to make it anyhow, so I didn’t mind.
It is clearly some sort of oversight on my part that I haven’t gotten to this before because no annals of my cooking life could ever be complete without at least a single mention of one of the greatest cakes I was introduced to growing up: the Sh*t Cake. The Sh*t Cake, you see, is a lighter-than-air chocolate roll cake with whipped cream that my mother would make each and every Passover. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever made a Yule Log or other such roulade cake knows, they crack and sever easily and often, and can be mighty frustrating because of this. A nice, sweet person like my mother, who otherwise echews displays of gutter mouth might even be so irritated by say the fourth or fifth crack or so to curse aloud while her (frankly, precious) 7-year-old daughter watches, and comes in turn to rename the cake.
It only took us over a year, but Alex and I finally had dinner at Tia Pol, a closet-sized gem of a tapas restaurant on 10th Avenue on Saturday night. We live so close, it’s embarrassing that we hadn’t eaten there yet, but the thing with the proximity is that every time we’ve popped our heads in, taken note of the mob of people crushed against the entryway and the “at least an hour and a half” wait, we’ve rationalized that we’ll go another time — later. Well, six months had passed since our last “later,” when on Saturday, so we decided arriving at the criminally early hour of 6 p.m. would outsmart the crowds. The laugh was still on us but the 45 minutes were well worth the wait, the tight space not claustrophobic but cozy on a freezing night as we snugged into a row of coats while drinking our first then second (mon dieu!) glass of their delicious sangria. At the bar, we couldn’t resist trying one of almost everything — marcona almonds, potatoes with aioli and hot paprika, ham-wrapped artichoke hearts with manchego cheese, deep-fried spicy chickpeas and thick, fork-tender white asparagus stalks again with that blessed aioli.