Hats off: Tuna and Goat Cheese Tartare.

Let’s say you’re a woman who never wears hats. One day you spot an outrageously stylish hat, the kind of hat Hollywood startlets from the forties wore when they put their handprints in that sidewalk wherever it is where they do the handprint thing while flashbulbs popped and adoring fans cried at how fabulous they looked in the hat. You buy the hat forgetting that your normal daily wear is ripped jeans and a faded t-shirt you bought from The Onion ten years ago. As soon as you see yourself in the mirror in this hat it hits you: You have no business wearing this hat, anything like this hat, or anything in the remote family of this hat. You dweeb.

Tuna and Goat Cheese TartareFood styling is my fancy hat. My pictures usually end up worse when I mess with the dish too much than when I leave it alone. So I do a minimum of arranging, focus on the natural state of the food, and hope one of the shots comes out okay. Besides, I’m hungry, and I don’t feel like eating cold, congealed food (unless it’s pudding).

Then I saw this intriguing recipe for Tuna and Goat Cheese Tartare in Anne Willan’s Good Food No Fuss and tried the damned hat on again. Willan describes this dish, a creation of Australian Chef Tetsuya Wakuda, as a combination of Asian and Western flavors “to brilliant effect.” I had a vision—food styling! presentation!—of the tartar molded with a criss-cross of chives on top.

Tuna tartare up closeIn my head, the smooth disk of tartare had distinct red tuna and alabaster squares of goat cheese. On the plate, the disk ended up ragged, the tuna paled to pink, and the goat cheese dissolved into white smears. If my family had been around, they would have started making fun of me around the third time I picked up the chives, wiped them off, then repositioned them. Then they would have called me a dweeb or its Korean equivalent. Babo (바보), maybe.

But never mind my herb-arrangement skills. The tartare is rich from the tuna and cheese, almost too rich. It would be great served alongside warm grilled fruit like pineapple or melon to counter the richness and provide a temperature contrast. A squeeze of orange juice in the dressing might be a good touch too. I spooned it on romaine leaves with a side of crusty bread. Endives or sesame crackers would go just as well.


Adapted from Good Food No Fuss, by Anne Willan
Serves 2-3 as an appetizer

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The kitty isn’t even wearing green.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why is there a picture of a cat on a food blog on St. Patrick’s Day? Moreover (if you’re the type of person who uses the word ‘moreover,’ which I’m not, except just now), why does the picture include an oxalis plant which isn’t even a real shamrock?”

Irish catGood questions. First, note that the cat is a redhead, a sure sign of Irish blood, if I ever saw one. You can’t tell from this picture, but he has green eyes too, and they’re a smilin’. Second, I’ve always loved the dainty oxalis plant and the shimmery purple undersides of the triangular leaves. The little white flowers constantly bloom, never failing to add pleasure to my day. Aside from the counter where my cobalt blue Artisan KitchenAid mixer sits, it’s the brightest spot in my home.

Imagine my shock when I came home one day to an overturned pot and a pile of dirt. Not one leaf, flower, or stem remained. My cats had eaten the entire plant, including the roots. Oxalis, it turns out, is not just a pretty flowering houseplant, it’s THE GREATEST CAT SALAD OF ALL TIME.

See? That’s food-related.

The best time to buy an oxalis is starting tomorrow, when stores slash the prices after the holiday. Keep them in a crowded pot and they’ll multiply like crazy. The more light they receive, the deeper the purple hue under the leaves will be. Oh, and either hang them up far away from your cats or provide a nice anchovy vinaigrette on the side. It wouldn’t hurt to keep a vacuum cleaner nearby either.

Cookies, chihuahuas, and cartwheels.

A mini-van pulled into my driveway. This could mean only one thing. I pried my butt out of my chair and flew down the hallway with the grace of a gazelle bounding across rice fields in the Orient. Are there gazelles in the Orient? It doesn’t matter. My body launched into a triple cartwheel and landed on the banister, then I slid down it with my hands in the air and landed with a back flip and a petroleum jelly smile. Ta da!

I opened my front door to the Girl Scout of Few Words and, more importantly, her cookies.

Let me interrupt this Girl Scout cookie story with another Girl Scout cookie story. When I was a nine-year-old Brownie I was so shy that the concept of selling cookies to total strangers door-to-door made me want to cry, throw up, and hide under the bed. A non-scout friend tagged along for moral support and ended up doing all the talking for me, probably because she saw my face and realized that if she didn’t, I would cry at her, throw up on her, and hide under her bed. She was a good friend, even if she did teach me new four-letter words in her spare time.

Caramel coconut bitsAt one house we sat for fifteen minutes while a woman and her elderly father pored over every cookie in the brochure. I awkwardly petted their yapping pet chihuahua on the head. It passed out to worship at the feet of the chihuahua goddess I’d suddenly become. Nervous and not accustomed to dogs, I ignored it. It loved me anyway because goddesses, even chihuahua goddesses, are always aloof, you know.

Meanwhile the woman and her father asked questions that I didn’t know how to answer. I hadn’t tasted the cookies yet and my friend had already recited the cookie sales script. Why did they have to ask me stuff? Why couldn’t they just leave me alone?

So when the Girl Scout of Few Words first showed up on my doorstep in January, I could relate to her pain. Yet I still made the mistake of asking questions that she didn’t know how to answer either. “What are the lemon cookies like?” I’d asked.

“They have, um, they’re lemon.” I’m not a salesperson, her eyes pleaded. The Organization is making do this so that I can wear a badge that will make it easy to rank my kind. Please order and let me go.

I saw the look, remembered the chihuahua, and decided not to ask a follow up question about the cinnamon cookies. We all know what her answer would have been anyway: “They have, um, they’re cinnamon,” possibly followed by a deep sigh.

When she and her dutiful parental mini-van showed up with my order, the desperate look in her eyes hadn’t changed.

“Hi!” I said, a little breathless from the few rounds I’d done on the pummel horse before I opened the door.

“Hi.” You know what to do. I know what to do. There’s no reason to bring conversation into this.

I paid and took my two boxes of Thin Mints and two boxes of Caramel de Lites off her clipboard.

“Thank you,” she said. I’m now done vocalizing for the rest of my life.

I don’t buy Girl Scout cookies because I enjoy them, although I do. I buy Girl Scout cookies because nobody did anything to me while I was selling them that warranted my crying, throwing up, or hiding under the bed. For that I’m grateful, and I owe it to other nauseated girls on the verge of tears to buy their cookies too.

By the way, I did not scrape up those gooey caramel coconut bits from the Caramel de Lites and lick them off my fingers. That’s appalling behavior that I do in secret on my own time without sharing the sordid details with readers.