Indulge me if you will with this post that is quite different from the rest, except maybe it isn’t. There still is a recipe (which you can jump to now if you’d prefer to skip the words) and it is deeply personal to me which is true of so much of what I share here. You know by now that yes, I very much love food but really makes my heart flutters is the story of what happens at the table and this falls into that category.
Today I want to help you throw an Alter Ego party much like the one Gabe and I hosted on Saturday night. It was hilarious, oh so very much fun and quite frankly, life changing. Let me start by sharing a little bit about why I have become so fascinated with this idea of an alter ego, after that I’ll go over a bit of the logistics if you are serious about having a party of your own and finally Edith will share with you a favorite recipe of hers (although she isn’t one to cook it herself). Read on – it will all make sense. Maybe.
What’s an alter ego and why am I asking all my friends to introduce me to theirs?
I bought a wig.
It has soft silver strands that fall just below my chin, blunt bangs that tickle my eyelashes as I brush them aside to find the natural hairline on something that is so very unnatural.
This wig is an accessory to a conversation that I’m having with the women in my life lately. Over lunch, a couple of glasses of champagne and a view of Elliot bay out the window, I asked two of my friends, who is your alter ego? They, rightly so, looked at me with lifted brows and a slight tilt to their head.
“Say you’re out shopping for sunglasses.” I attempt to explain “There’s a pair you try on. They are big, round, black rimmed and bold. You really like them but quickly return them to the shelf because you say, I just can’t pull these off. Who is the person inside of you that can pull those glasses off?”
Over the next hour and a half we take turns describing, in great detail the woman we feel is inside of us. What she looks like, how does she live, what’s her favorite food? An alter ego is you with an exclamation point. Or maybe a better way to describe it is you without the limitations of reality. When you try on this person there is no question about logistics, judgment or practicality. You are free to simply imagine and try her on, like a wig.
My purpose in these conversations is not to leave us all wallowing in who we aren’t or making any of us feel guilty or frustrated about the life we are living but rather to give complete and absolute freedom in the imagining. Because without limitations and the voice that whispers in all of us; you can’t wear that, you can’t do that, that’s so not you, we might actually find a bit more of who we really are. With the trying on of this character we may actually embrace parts of us that really are our true selves. What I’ve found happens after we start to unleash this person through words and the discoveries of even just her mundane daily life is that parts of her become part of us.
I’m not certain what her name is, I’m pretty sure it’s Edith, but I know that she is about seventy-five. She lives in a small apartment in the city. She wakes up, makes a large pot of strong coffee and spends the next several hours putting bold streaks of blues, oranges and reds onto a sprawling canvas with a large, fraying paintbrush. The walls of her apartment are lined with dark, scuffed wood while natural light pours in through the window that overlooks the busy street below. Books line every wall and what doesn’t fit on the shelves are stacked into teetering, disorderly towers and tucked into every corner. She wears big glasses, long flowy frocks, bold accessories that she’s collected from her life of traveling and has a short, blunt silver bob.
She dabbled in theater and still loves the stage but these days she sits in the audience (although it doesn’t take much for her to be convinced to sing a show tune or two). She finds equal pleasure in dining out and dining in but often forgets to eat breakfast as she’s lured to an empty canvas. It’s about one o’clock before she realizes she’s hungry. Her dress trails her on the stairs as she heads to the French café that conveniently is located on the bottom floor of her building. She tucks a book under her arm and orders a frilly green salad, extra-crispy fries with a side of mayonnaise, and a cold glass of Lillet with a furled orange peel tipped into the glass. Sometimes she finishes her lunch with a cup of rich hot chocolate capped with a unabashed amount of whipped cream but most often she ends with another glass of Lillet.
You’ll often see her at parties (if you don’t, check the corner, that’s where she likes to observe) but never after ten o’clock. At that point she’s already in bed with a book or a good movie.
She’s a lot like me but I don’t smoke unless it’s after dinner and I’m roaming the cobbled streets of a small Italian town. And I’m not seventy five, I don’t wear nearly enough frocks as I’d like and I rarely take the time to accessorize but finding her and looking into how she lives her life has revealed to me things that I didn’t even realize were so important to me. I never judge Edith for how she spends her days nor do I make her feel guilty for, I don’t know – her unhealthy eating habits for one. Removing the voice of reason or the whispers that tell me I can’t do that has given me access of some of my purest desires. The most tangible thing she has done for me, and if this is all shes does it’s enough, is that I have been painting again. Big, bold brush strokes on large empty canvases. I’ve spent years longing for the courage to do that and she has given that to me.
The reality is I have a family and a job and I live in Seattle. There are PTA meetings, unread emails that litter my inbox, laundry, clients to respond to and recipes to develop. None of which are bad things in fact they are good, worthwhile things that I’m mostly thankful for. But in between all those tasks I’m also fighting for the time to sink into that freedom I’ve found in Edith. I’ve unleashed something and I love it. I’m painting again. I’m teaching myself how to listen to my deep desires without judgment. I’m learning about my true self; the one who speaks without fear of conflict, or what others would think, the one who doesn’t hear the whispering voices in her head. The one who understands that there is no power in guilt or shame. Without her knowing, Edith is teaching me to be me.
Most of my friends knew this party was coming so when they received a strange invite in their inbox of an animated dog transforming into a cat they weren’t too surprised (except maybe by Gabe’s amazing illustrating skills).
It turns out a lot of people don’t spend the time, as I do, thinking about their alter ego, so there were nerves and questions and probably people cursing me in their head but I had come to terms with my friends hating me for one evening (spoiler alert; no one hates me and I’m pretty certain everyone had a blast. There’s already talk of an alter ego reunion party).
The week before we hand delivered a little package for (nearly) everyone in an attempt to get them excited and maybe not as nervous as I knew many of them were. The package contained cocktail umbrellas, confetti, a noise maker, and a little bottle filled with “Alter Ego Finding Potion” (a.k.a. bourbon) for those who needed a little liquid courage or help tapping into their character. We also included a link to a website which played the video below and the words I’ve shared here today.
We kept the food very simple and perfectly themed by asking each person to bring their alter ego’s favorite snack or drink to share. Edith brought french fries and a twangy mayonnaise along with a bottle of Lillet. Gabucho baked Chimichangas and poured his friends a bit of Plantation Pineapple Rum. Such a classy guy. We discovered that the majority of the alter ego’s love to snack on chips with a few exceptions such as Maude, who wore a pillow in her “shmiddle” with great ease and used her sagging shelf as a snack holder for her fluffy white buns with butter and ham. Our southern gardening friend, Forest, brought home grown collard greens and my party-loving, gold covered friend Jackah brought a build-your-own blizzards bar complete with crumbled Snickers bars and softened ice cream.
Not knowing what the food table would be filled with we had the back pocket plan of ordering pizza or running to grab food if the need arose. Ultimately we were all content with our chips, a few vegetables, and Chimichangas.
In the middle of the chip covered table there was a jar filled with questions so that at any point in the night someone could pull a question and ask it of another’s alter ego. The karaoke boomed downstairs while upstairs we talked about our jobs, how we spend our days, where we live and future plans. For an evening we lived an imaginary life free from logistics and and fear. And now I am quite happy to be back to reality but always with a bit of Edith still in there.
This salad is just softly ruffled greens dressed simply with a toasted hazelnut dressing.
In Seattle, my favorite restaurant is a little cozy cafe that magically transports me to Paris every time I walk in. Le Pichet is where we go for our anniversary, to celebrate something special or when we just want to dip into creamy butter, baguette and a bit of wine. So quite often. This is my version of their green salad and to me, for a classic salad, it's simply the best.
6 tablespoons / 60 g hazelnuts, toasted , divided
1 1⁄2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 1⁄2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1⁄2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons water
1⁄4 cup / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 head butter lettuce, cleaned and well dried
In a food processor or blender, combine 3 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, shallot, Dijon, sherry vinegar, honey, salt, and water until well puréed, about 1 minute. Add the oil and blend for another 15 seconds.
Place the butter lettuce leaves in a large bowl and add enough dressing to coat the leaves. Taste and add more dressing, if desired. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter and finish with the remaining 3 tablespoons hazelnuts, chopping them first.
The dressing can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Date nights are the time to fry parsley. The other days, where there are five mouths to feed and several of them claim allergies to green things, are for simple food and continual reminders to eat your vegetables. But date nights, those are for long simmered risottos, chicken thighs seared to a crisp and emerald leaves fried until their green brightens and pungent grassy flavor turns deep and almost meaty.
Gabe and I tucked into April Bloomfield’s restaurant, The Breslin, during a quick book tour trip to NYC. The clock said breakfast time but our stomachs still on west coast time demanded a burger and caesar salad. There I met fried parsley. It sat high and mighty atop my salad while its statuesque figure intrigued me. Using my fingers I plucked the garnish and bit into the leaf which shattered on my tongue. “Taste this!” I demanded of Gabe with a giddy excitement that he delights in but doesn’t always seem to understand. “It’s good.” He said trying, yet failing, to match my glee.
It tasted almost like anchovy. Sure anchovy was in the salad but somehow the herb itself, light in flavor when fresh, took on a hearty, savory taste once fried.
These are the sort of things that get me excited about our date. I mean of course I love the time with my husband too but sometimes it’s the food nerd in me that marvels at the wonder of fried parsley that motivates me to bound into the kitchen to make us a meal worthy of a date.
Is it too early to imagine spring’s arrival? Perhaps but I like to think that this recipe tips to that notion. It’s comforting and hearty but not heavy. Sure there’s a good bit of cheese and a robust roastiness from the cauliflower but it’s not overly indulgent. Maybe it’s because the meal goes perfectly with a glass of chardonnay that my mind is already dreaming about crisp glasses of wine sipped slowly in the sun. Soon enough.
Crispy Chicken Thighs with Roasted Cauliflower Risotto
This dish pairs beautifully with Chardonnay.
1/2 head cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 thyme sprig
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low sodium chicken broth, warmed
1 cup grated comté or gruyere cheese
4 small sprigs Italian Parsley
2 bone-in chicken thighs
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Chef 1: Add the cauliflower to a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Roast for 20 - 25 minutes or until tender and caramelized in parts.
Chef 2: Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the shallots and thyme with a pinch of salt and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Sauté the rice with the shallots for just a couple of minutes before adding the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed then start stirring in the chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time making sure the liquid is absorbed before each addition.
Cook until the rice is tender. The risotto would be quite loose when finished. Stir in the cheese and roasted cauliflower then taste and add more salt as needed. Remove the thyme sprig before serving.
Chef 1: Sear the chicken in a hot skillet, skin side down, for 5 minutes. Carefully flip over the chicken then bake in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan to rest then very carefully add the parsley to the hot skillet and fry in the chicken grease until crisp, about 30 seconds.
Chef 2: Serve the risotto and chicken with the toasted pine nuts and crispy parsley.