This week on the Tell Simmer grill: Joanne Asala, a busy writer-editor with a taste for adventure. Her blog The Box House chronicles the restoration of a 1920s Chicago-style two-flat, and she’s compiled and edited over forty books on traditional folktales, customs, and cooking, including Celtic Folklore Cooking. This culture-hopping editor at Compass Rose Horizons has hiked the Incan trail to Machu Picchu, backpacked through Vietnam and Cambodia, and explored the remote villages of Oaxaca. Does she crave exotic foods? Turns out she thinks mostly thinks about…hot dogs.
How often do you think about eating?
All. The. Time. When the fiance and I get up in the morning, our first words to each other are often, “Mmmm. What’s for dinner tonight?”
Yes. Oh, dark goddess of earthy delights, how could I face the day without you?
Favorite hometown food?
Chicago is known the world over for its deep dish pizza and hot dogs, and I’m a big fan of both! A Chicago-style dog is a steamed – sometimes boiled – beef hot dog served on a poppy seed bun with tomatoes, hot sport peppers, onions, mustard, a dill pickle, and bright, bright green pickle relish. Never, ever put ketchup on it! Yuck! Phooey!
My very first hot dog, the earliest I can remember, was at Fluky’s up on Western. I was three when I left that neighborhood, but I still remember the hot-dog-shaped gum they had for the kids. That was great stuff. Jeez – I’m looking at the homemade jambalaya that we’re supposed to eat for dinner, and all I can think is “I wish we were headed out to U Lucky Dawg tonight.”
Ever been served breakfast in bed?
Yikes. I had to ask the fiance this question, because I honestly couldn’t remember. He said, “Um, maybe once, when you were sick. If you could call that breakfast.” He’s right; I probably wouldn’t have. Really, we’re all about dinner in bed at The Box House, and the preparation is usually a joint effort.
Your absolutely reliable, go-to dish for entertaining is:
Pre-made chicken prosciutto pasta from the grocery store with basil pesto. I know, I know, it’s such a cheater. But what the crowd wants, the crowd gets.
Food that makes you gag?
Plantains. They’re the darling of South American cuisine, but in our travels, I could never quite stomach them. Yick. I love bananas, but these aren’t bananas.
Three things in your refrigerator right now:
“Hot Bitch at the Beach” pepper sauce that we stole from some Cajun place downtown and keep out of nostalgia, about twenty small bottles of Diet Coke, and what is that – sniff – last week’s Mexican carryout?
Your idea of a romantic meal is:
Steak fajitas at Fiesta Mexicana at Broadway & Lawrence in Chicago. It’s our go-to place for celebrating milestones: a new client, an old client with a second project, a client that actually pays on time…Fiesta serves the best margaritas around.
Secret snack of shame?
Nachos with cheese and jalapenos. I can’t enjoy a movie out without them.
At home? Chocolate. In cookies. In cakes. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate bars. Bottles of Hershey’s Syrup flipped open and chugged like a soft drink. Ugh. No wonder it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Size 2. Oh! And cream cheese on Saltines. I blame my mother for introducing me to that one.
Most ambitious effort in the kitchen:
I guess that would have to be the Medieval Meal I made for my cousins. It was my turn to host our Gourmet Club, and little did I know that your average roast duck has, like, five bites of meat on it. Or that certain cousins wouldn’t touch anything cooked in alcohol – and everything was cooked in alcohol for my Medieval banquet, even the dessert. Stewed pears.
It was the last time I hosted Gourmet Club.
Worst kitchen disaster:
See “most ambitious effort” above. We ended up ordering pizza.
Second-worst disaster was making homemade applesauce when I lived in La Crescent, Minnesota – up in apple country. I forgot to put the top on the blender, and had apple pulp spew everywhere – into every nook, cranny, and crevice of my 70′s green-and-gold kitchen. I had fruit flies for a week.
Best restaurant if you’re not paying:
I love sushi, but damn, that stuff adds up quickly. There’s a place in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood that we used to go where the sushi chef would make up something special for each customer, based upon his impressions of that person.
Asking the price in advance for that kind of artistry seemed tacky, so we had no clue what we were spending until the bill arrived. The chef was a bit like the Soup Nazi, and ran a pretty tight ship – we were absolutely forbidden to dip his personalized creations in wasabi.
If you were a cocktail, what would you be?
A Perfect Manhattan. Oh, wait. That’s my favorite cocktail.
If I were a cocktail? Maybe a Sazerac. It is, supposedly, the FIRST cocktail. Made of Rye, Peychaud’s Bitters and Absinthe, it is absolutely divine and appeals to my love of both history and folk traditions – my online moniker “Green Fairy” was, in fact, inspired by my love of Absinthe! I’ve included the recipe – but what if you can’t get Absinthe, you say? Then you make it! Erm. Not that I would. Because building a copper still in your kitchen would be wrong.
1 sugar cube (or 1 teaspoon simple syrup or 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar)
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 ounces Rye
1/2 teaspoon Absinthe (or Pernod or Herbsaint)
strip of lemon peel
Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice. In a cocktail shaker, moisten the sugar cube with just enough water to saturate it, then crush. Blend with the Rye and Peychaud’s Bitters. Add a few cubes of ice and stir to chill. Discard the ice from the old-fashioned glass and pour in the Absinthe. Coat the inside of the entire glass, pouring out the excess. Strain the whiskey into the Absinthe-coated glass. Twist the lemon peel over the glass so that the lemon oil cascades into the drink, then rub the peel over the rim of the glass; do not put the twist in the drink.
Extra Credit: Where is the world’s best pizza?
Ooohh. I know I’m supposed to say Chicago, being a Chicago gal and all that. And it really, truly is the honest-to-goodness best pizza in the whole United States – maybe the whole world, and I have eaten my way ’round the world, believe me. I really do get the jitters if I don’t have a deep-dish Chicago pizza, oh, every other week or so, and when I’m away from home, I miss it. Desperately.
Now that I’m up in Evanston, my new pizza love is Lou Malnati’s – your own hometown favorite, Marilyn. We usually get “The Lou” – fresh spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano, and cheddar – yes, cheddar – cheese. We add our own olives and jalapeno peppers.
That said, one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had was at Happy Herb’s in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It wasn’t actually on the menu when we were there, but we’d heard through the backpackers’ grapevine that the “extra happy” pizza came stuffed with – you guessed it- ganja! And just to be certain the waitress understood what I meant, I kept saying “I want my pizza extra happy. You know. Wink, wink, nudge nudge. EX-tra, EX-tra happy.” Well, you know what they say: “when in Cambodia…”
But I would never, ever try to duplicate that particular pizza at home. Because that would be wrong. And illegal. Keep off drugs, kids, and stay in school.
editor’s note: I’m going to let this intriguing but wrong answer pass, because the loving descriptions of both my favorite pizza and hot dogs were enough to make me cry. Thanks, Joanne!