This past December, I had one of the most satisfying and un-fussy meals in recent history at an artsy Christmas party. A few things made this gathering different; For starters, children peddled the spin-art they had just made in the back of the gallery while the adults mingled amidst the impeccable woodwork of artist Peter Zubiate. Along the side wall, there was a simply-set table laden with an amazing vegetarian spread that also looked like art. Each dish was elegantly labeled with a handwritten place card, and everything had a modest, farmhouse quality to it — the people relaxed, the food amazed, and for a while I forgot we were in San Antonio.
More than once, I found myself taking advantage of the fact that everyone had gathered around a conceptual Christmas tree by secretly dipping zucchini fritters in cool tzatziki and shoving them in my mouth. They were so good that I was trying to figure out a way to leave the party with them.
At the next party I went to, I was still thinking (and talking) about the food. And as luck would have it, I met the caterer — a gorgeous girl named Tim.
I asked if she’d be willing to collaborate on this column; she agreed, and we made plans to meet for lunch at her home.
When we got together, I learned a lot about Tim — why she’s here (she fell in love with the Circle School and decided her son Tappen needed to attend), where she came from (Canada, via Fairfield, Iowa, and Brooklyn, New York), and why she chose a vegetarian lifestyle (she won’t eat anything she can’t kill herself).
Setting a group of small bowls on the kitchen table, Tim said, “I’m a bit of a condiment freak. I like every bite to taste different.” Now, these were not ordinary condiments, but mysterious handcrafted concoctions. “This one’s something new I’m trying out,” she explained. “It’s oil-cured Moroccan-olive spread with toasted sesame seeds and olive oil.”
“And those two?” I asked.
“This one’s an herb paste made from cilantro, parsley, mint, ginger root, lemon juice, and olive oil. And the other one is spicy — it’s roasted Harissa chilies pureed with garlic, roasted sesame seeds, lemon juice, and za’atar `a Middle Eastern spice mixture`.” The main attraction, however, was a seasonal vegetable tagine with purple carrots, cauliflower, kale, turnips, chickpeas, dried figs, and parsley root. It was divine, and as she said, the condiments made every bite taste truly different.
I asked Tim if she had any interesting jobs coming up. “Well, I’m doing the Howard Elementary PTO meeting, which should be interesting,” she said with a grin. “Apparently, it’s supposed to sleet that day, so I may end up with a ton of food.” “And you’re cooking vegetarian for it?” I asked. “Totally, I mean, why not? The way I explain it to people is — if I can do vegetarian food it’s going to taste better than if I cook with meat. So for that job, I’m dong crostini topped with spicy white-bean purée, sautéed kale, and figs, and a roasted root-vegetable salad. I’m also doing the Middle Eastern room at the Circle School’s International Food Fair, but that’s not until April.”
For dessert, Tim served me a slice of what she described as a take on fruitcake. “My sister and I do this every year. We come up with new ways to do Christmas cakes. This one’s been basted in rum for a month.” Not surprisingly, the cake was highly unique, and like the tagine, each bite was different, thanks to an interesting mixture of dates, figs, Brazil nuts, and candied ginger.
As if this wasn’t the perfect ending to a lovely meal, Tim produced a curious little box that read “Coco Pony.” “You have to try these,” Tim said. “My sister started her own line of chocolates and they’re amazing. She does everything herself, including hand-painting each one with edible gold dust.” Inside the box, food yet again looked like art (evidently it’s a family talent), with a shimmering assortment of tiny chocolates — candied Meyer lemon peels and “burnt” almonds covered in dark chocolate, and possibly the most delightful thing I’ve ever eaten — a “salty liquid caramel cube.”
Before leaving I had to ask about the only item I hadn’t tried at the Christmas party —lamb cigars, which looked amazing even to a vegetarian. “Those were actually a bit harsh, mainly because I had to make like 300 of them. It’s not that I’m opposed to people eating meat, and I have no problem with hunting `she’s even killed a few chickens`. As a rule of thumb, if I have to work with meat, I cook outside `due to the smell`.”
Tim the Girl is available for catering jobs or as a personal chef. She can be reached at email@example.com. If you think vegetarian food is boring or bland, prepare to be astonished. And yes, it’s her real name. — Bryan Rindfuss
• Ali Baba International Food Market
9307 Wurzbach Rd. (210) 691-1111
• Central Market 4821 Broadway,
(210) 368-8600, centralmarket.com
• Pearl Farmer’s Market (Saturdays from
9am-1pm) 200 E. Grayson, (210) 212-7260, pearlfarmersmarket.com
• Coco Pony cocopony.com
6 grated smaller tender zucchinis (approx 6 cups)
Zest of one large lemon
6-8 large garlic cloves
4 diced scallions
10 sprigs of chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley (stems off)
1 c all purpose flour
2 good pinches ground sea salt
1 T baking powder
2-3 c olive/canola oil
3 beaten eggs
Mix everything together except the oil and eggs.
Add eggs. Mix well and let the mixture sit for approx 20 minutes.
Heat a medium-sized fry pan on a medium flame.
When hot, add about an inch of oil to pan.
(Tim uses a mixture of olive oil and canola or grapeseed oil).
Add a large spoonful of batter and let brown on one side before flipping and browning the other side.
Let the fritters sit on a paper towel and then arrange nicely on a platter and serve with tzatziki
One 500-gram tub of strained Greek yogurt
One medium English cucumber
4 cloves minced garlic
A few sprigs of dill
A few sprigs diced parsley
Salt and pepper
Grate the cucumber and let it sit on a few paper towels for 10 minutes to dry it out (moisture will make the dip runny).
Then add it to the yogurt with the rest of ingredients except the salt.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to serve add salt to taste.
Serve with zucchini fritters.
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