What I Ate: A Christmas Story

My Christmas Eve Mud Pie
Boy oh boy oh boy. I did some seriously excellent eating this Christmas. It started innocently enough at Sissy's Uptown Café in Lompoc. My grandfather took me, my brother and my sister-in-law out for lunch. I ordered the salade Niçoise, because salade Niçoise is delicious and because I was trying to be virtuous. I love the combination of oddities in a good salad Niçoise... potatoes, haricot vert (tender, especially skinny green beans), hard-boiled egg, tuna, maybe some tomato, capers, lettuce, green olives tossed with a basic vinaigrette. An anchovy if you're feeling adventurous.

I was putting away groceries the other week when I realized I had enough components to make a salade Niçoise. I hard-boiled a few eggs (there are many ways to hard-boil eggs, but I like this one: put eggs in a small pot, cover with cool water, bring water to a boil, kill the heat and let the pot sit with lid on for 15 minutes). I boiled peeled potatoes in a big pot that can accommodate a steaming thing (I can't be more specific than "thing," I hope you know what I mean), so I could cook the potatoes and steam the haricot vert at the same time. Remember this: 3 to 1, oil to acid. That is your basic vinaigrette recipe. Three tablespoon of olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, whisked together: salad dressing. I tossed still-warm cooked potatoes and haricot vert (steamed so they were cooked through, but still had a crunch) with my dressing and topped with chopped hard-boiled egg and tuna.

Salade Niçoise: it's a good lunch. And it's a good for you lunch, unless the waitress at Sissy's asks if you left room for dessert and you hear yourself say "yes!" To be fair, the waitress actually said, "our baker came in this morning, did you save some room for dessert?" I happened to know the baker at Sissy's Uptown Café, she is a friend of my grandparents and I will eat anything she is even rumored to have made.

Boysenberry Pie
This is a fragment of the boysenberry pie we ordered. It was amazing. The crust was delicate and buttery, not a mere filling delivery device, but a confection in and of itself. The filling found in so many inferior pie interiors is often too sweet and weirdly gelatinous. Not so with this boysenberry pie. The filling actually tasted like fruit. I didn't know what a boysenberry was, so I just did a bit of research: it's a blackberry crossed with a raspberry and a loganberry. I buy that. What a tasty pie.
Chocolate Silk Pie

And this is the chocolate silk pie, although "pie" doesn't seem accurate. Again, the crust was amazing, although this guy was nutty, not just buttery. The chocolate layer was truly cocoa-y, not the kind of chocolate cheat flavor so sweet it makes your teeth hurt. I have no idea how my grandparents' friend the baker created the texture. It was really thick, but also really creamy. It was essentially like eating fudge sauce out of the jar, not that I've ever stood in front of the open fridge at 3am eating fudge sauce out of a jar with my finger. I'm much too refined for such barbarity. Anyway, the chocolate silk pie was so good I ate it with four forks at once. Just kidding. I allowed my brother, grandfather and sister-in-law to get a taste. In fact, my brother ate that last bite. And some day he'll make it up to me.

After catching the pie bug at lunch and my mom bugging me about making a pie, I attempted Mississippi mud pie (pictured above) for Christmas Eve. It started with an Oreo cookie crust (an entire package of Oreos crushed to death in a food processor and then moistened with melted butter) pressed into a spring-form pan (I love the term "spring form," I hear it and picture a cheese cake jumping out of its metal prison and singing "Ta-Dah!"... I may be insane). Next came a flourless mocha cake baked inside the Oreo crust.

That was the trickiest part of the dessert, because my parents recently discovered that their oven runs hot. Like 100 degrees hot. Like it says it's two hundred degrees, but really it's three. Not a problem for a math genius like myself (ha), I just created a quick algorithm to compensate for the miscalibration... and I ended up with a cake that was much soupier in the middle than it should have been. Fortunately, it kind of made no difference. The layer on top of the flourless mocha cake was the best chocolate pudding I've ever had (and the only one I've ever made from scratch). I'm not even going to say more about it. Make it for yourself and you'll get what I'm saying.

After allowing the chilled pudding to set on top of the chilled cake and crust layers, I sprung the cake from the spring form and took a liiiiiittle too much time getting the pie onto the stand. The crust cracked in my hands and a big chunk of pie broke off. But it was easy enough to reassemble. Pudding makes great spackle. I'm much more concerned about things not tasting good than not looking good. But after smooshing it back together and topping the whole thing with whipped cream and a few decorative baubles, it really looked pretty good, eh? And sure, by the time pie was served, I'd had my share of the Central Coast's finest red wine (specifically, bottles from the good people of Ampelos, Alma Rosa and Babcock), but I thought it tasted even better than it looked. It was remarkably not oversweet, there was even a nice salty end note. Each layer contributed a different flavor and texture and that pudding really is something.

That's a small sampling of Things I Ate Over Christmas. They definitely skew toward the rich and unhealthy, but so it goes with holiday foods and as my mother said, "that's why there is January." And I'm looking forward to a lot of delicious salads next month to kind of even the score. To get us in the mood, check out this salad my mom and I put together for Christmas Eve.

Xmas Eve Salad: Harbinger of Salads to Come
Greens dressed with a pomegranate-citrus vinaigrette and topped with my dad's spicy nut mix, avocado, queso fresco and persimmons. I must admit, that salad was my first time eating persimmons. I've noticed them at the market for years, but never knew what to do with them. The last time my parents were in LA, they happened into Tavern and had a fabulous meal, including a salad with persimmons. Thusly inspired, my mom asked me to get my hands on some before I headed out to Lompoc. No problem, I said. And then, of course, it was pouring during the final Hollywood Farmers' Market before Christmas. I reminded myself I was born in Oregon and am therefore probably a little waterproof, so I headed out and got persimmons. And I was glad I did, because they added a nice spice to the salad and really complimented the queso fresco. Plus, they looked pretty.

So there you have it. I came, I ate, I celebrated. I had a fantastic Christmas, I hope you did too. And I'm looking forward to eating my way through 2011 and telling you all about it here at The Public Kitchen. Happy New Year, guys! And be safe, will ya?

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