#SquadGoals in the Kitchen

 
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The future of food is definitely female.

A new wave of super cool, super smart, and super talented women are in formation in kitchens everywhere, rocking their Polka Pants, and I am completely, shamelessly in their thrall.

You could definitely single out Christina Tosi as the bellwether of this emerging girl gang. It's a digression, but I have to admit that I resisted her unique brand of junk food chic for a long time. Crack pie? Nope. Cereal milk? Ugh. Bitch, please. But when I eventually gave in and bought the first Milk Bar cookbook, I was blown away by how her creativity and whimsy was built on serious technique. And homegirl really rocks those headscarves. I'm not that into baking her achingly sweet creations, but her book has consistently been a solid reference and a jumping off point for inspiring my own ideas. In fact, I've got a birthday cake to bake this week– I'm thinking of an applesauce cake layered with vanilla-cardamom mousse, salted caramel apples, and pecan crunch, so I may just thumb through it this afternoon.

Anyway. Back to my #squadgoals.

The latest queen of the scene is Jessica Koslow, a gal who's built a cult-like following based largely on jam and, if you can believe it, burned toast. Her LA cafe, Squirl, is worshipped by the likes of Kiernan Shipka, aka Sally Draper, if that gives you an idea of the level of next-gen girl power she wields. But lest you read my remarks as standard issue Gen-X eye-rolling, not so fast, my fellow aging hipsters. Koslow is the antihero we need to lead the resistance against the #cleaneating Barbie army who are spreading an ill-informed gospel of alternative facts about diet and nutrition.

At Squirl, all the boxes are ticked: grain bowls, leafy greens, fermented stuff, eggs, avocados, etc, etc. What's missing, thankfully, is any of the dogma of how eliminating sugar is the first step to living your best life. Her cookbook "Everything I Want to Eat", which came out last year, has been true to it's name. Recipes for Squirl's signature rice bowls are beguilingly complex, but not complicated. Simple, fresh ingredients are paired in unexpected ways (sorrel pesto and preserved lemons, whaaaat?! Kohlrabi tzatziki!). Even the avocado toast is a badass, with garlic cream and cardamom-pickled carrots. I find myself returning to the pages again and again for the little details (crunchy popped rice) and layers of flavor (pickled beet powder) that can really wake up a dish with an element of surprise.

Back home to East Coast represent are besties Alyssa Wagner and Sabrina De Sousa of the deadly cool Dimes in the LES. Dimes opened just as I was moving out of NYC, so I've only admired it from afar. But you know how I like to keep my finger on the pulse. They're girls after my own heart with a focus seasonal market-driven dishes, and their menu has been a go-to for genius ideas to steal when I'm plotting out my weekly studio lunches. Right now, I'm intrigued by the elements of their "Huevos Kathmandu." Of course I have no idea exactly how the spiced chickpeas, green chutney, and date relish are meant to taste in their version, but that just leaves a lot to my imagination. And that's what seeking inspiration is all about.

I've also got my eye on what the constantly in motion Camille Becerra is up to with the recent opening of De Maria, located (of course) downtown. Becerra is a mysterious figure, a mother of dragons but without all the fire-breathing. She seems to be a quiet, subtle force with a defined and defining sense of style that flows from one place to the next– fresh, healthful, and Instagrammably colorful; there will be turmeric. Lemon focaccia seems like a gorgeous why-didn't-I-think-of-that idea, and tahini yogurt (if only it could be my beloved White Moustache) with urfa pepper, sumac, and persimmon will factor into this week's breakfast rotation.
 

It's not hard to spot that all these lovely ladies are spinning up a perfect storm of what might be thought of as "a modern way to eat," so dubbed by London's own cool girl, Anna Jones. It's not about clean versus dirty eating, a view of which was wonderfully and pointedly captured by Ruby Tandoh in this piece for Vice last year. It's more about balance and common sense, like the quote from Michael Pollan that has gratuitously made the rounds: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

As an unapologetic devotee of Bon Appetit, I'm loving how they're capturing this spirit in their delightfully on-the-nose spin-off, Healthy-ish. Even as the most staunch seasonal cook, I too hit a fulcrum of fatigue with stodgy root veg around this time every year. What pulls me out of my slump is a craving for the bright and funky flavors of Southeast Asian cooking: lime juice, fish sauce, chilis, cilantro (ahem, I mean coriander). A recent BA recipe for lamb larb was an ideal healthy-ish weeknight dinner of lettuce wraps, spicy smashed cucumbers and some of the sticky Kokuho Rose rice I'd bought for making the Squirl bowls.

This week, with a head of cauliflower hanging around (as you do in the dregs of winter), I considered it an act of serendipity that Healthy-ish posted a new take on larb featuring the ol' cruciferous workhorse, richly browned in the oven then bashed into bite-size bits to stir up with a potent mix of nuoc cham, Thai chilis and lemongrass. And don't forget the rice powder, which is a key traditional ingredient, and adds a kind of silky succulence to the dish. 

Speaking of nuoc cham, I've become mildly obsessed with cracking how to make a vegetarian/vegan version of fish sauce. For a non-vegan, this seems rather like a fool's errand. Thing is, I'd love to serve up a Thai-style feast of these lettuce wraps for one of my team lunches, but we have one veggie team member. It may surprise you to learn that I am not the sort to sneak in some fish sauce, and then look the other way. Plus, I love a challenge. (I'll have to tell you about the vegan chorizo I made a few weeks ago). I'm still in the research phase, but apparently pineapple juice is the secret.

Finally, my own lunch has been a playground of experimentation lately, adding what some sweet, delusional souls refer to as "coconut bacon." Bacon-like it is not, but I am digging the smoky, savoury chew that the tamari and pimenton-roasted coconut flakes are adding to my own heap of cubed sweet potatoes, steamed kale with tumeric-tahini dressing, pickled red cabbage, fermented beets (from making kvass for borscht!), shaved radish, and avocado with chimichurri.

This legit power lunch was itself inspired by a creation of honorary girl gang member Gerardo Gonzalez at El Rey, where I'd often take a little field trip from Brooklyn to treat myself while "working from home." Gonzalez has moved on from El Rey to open Lalo nearby, where this woke boyboss continues to bring all the girls to the yard with his cheeky classics, like a vegan caesar with cashew dressing, nutritional yeast, spirulina and dulse.

Definitely some healthy-ish ideas worth stealing from there.