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Comfort Food - Issue #18: Fancy meeting you here!

Sarah Lacy
Sarah Lacy
I’m back! Sorry about that…

This is how it's supposed to be.
This is how it's supposed to be.
Ok so I just full-on ghosted y'all. I’m sorry. Life got hard. For all of us, right?
Also, writing a newsletter about food got SUPER DEPRESSING for me. We had a minor flood that became a major reconstruction job and wound up living in hotels for two months. With two kids and a puppy. 😬
Whatever you are imagining that was like, the answer is yes.
It was luxurious and fun.
It was stressful and depressing.
It was unforgettable and “please God let me forget this.”
Paul and I both gained weight, because you cannot not living in hotels and eating restaurant food and takeout of two months in Palm Springs. This is not a city designed for daily clean healthy eating.
The worst part is – as discussed – the limit of amazing food here. I am totally fine with calories when they are delicious. But often we had undelicious massive sums of calories because we just had so many limited options.
Food became a way bigger burden than usual. Making school lunches in a hotel for two months? I don’t recommend it. (Then again, my kids giggled and spied on dozens of wedding at the Ace and charged guests swear jar fees; and the Rowan made them hot chocolate before school. It was also magical…hopefully we all remember it that way)
I’m exhausted writing those three paragraphs so you can see why rehashing that hell week after week in this space would have been terrible for all of us.
In January we went to San Francisco for three weeks and got to eat great food again. Then we moved back into our house in Palm Springs, and while the kitchen wasn’t completely done, we had a fridge and an oven and a temporary sink and that’s more than we’d had since September.
I explored a whole new world of sheet pan dinners and got back into casseroles (a little.)
Today, they are finally installing our (ORANGE!) kitchen cabinets, so I can’t think of a better time to restart this newsletter.
I’ve now got a lot of pent up things I want to write about food. BUT two things I want to talk about right this minute … My latest favorite cookbook AND the best fried chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
I LOVE love love everything about where cookbooks are going. Gorgeous full color styled photos. Stories that go with each recipe. A narrative of the author’s food journey. They’ve become so much more than cookbooks. Somewhere between magazines and memories with recipes as a bonus.
I stopped buying cookbooks for a while, because I felt like they took up a lot of space and I never really cooked from them. But now I’m so back. I have a stack in my vintage Airstream, Gladys, which is the nexus of my creative space. I sit back here and dreamily flip through them making lists and plans.
Before I buy one, I have to look through it and commit I’ll make at least five things if it’s going to take up space in my house. (Or Airstream) I’ve bought a handful recently, but my FAVORITE so far is called “Graze” by Suzanne Lenzer. I grabbed it at a small shop in Santa Monica that frankly had such an incredibly curated selection of books, I had to buy another bag to take on the plane home. (Yes I flew from LA to Palm Springs. Yes that flight exists. It’s about 20 minutes.)
Graze is about putting together combinations of delicious things to make great meals. The book is organized by complexity. Some things are basically just chopping, some light cooking all the way to things that are pretty complex and she argues are worth the effort.
It’s a good cookbook for only having half a kitchen and I have to say I’m loving paging through it and assembling meals. It’s very choose your own adventure.
Saturday night, I made a Tapas collection that included pan com tomate + blistered salty Shishito peppers + jamon + Spanish cheese. The best part I actually cobbled together myself in a Sarah version of patatas bravas: I cut a russet potato into matchsticks, tossed it with garlic, Spanish olives, paprika, salt and pepper, and some onions and roasted it for 40 minutes or so at 400.
I’m not sure what alchemy happened in the oven, and less sure I can recreate it, but something about the way it was all layered on the sheet pan yielded salty, spicy, potatoes and olives that were crispy and soft in all the right places and combinations.
Last night, I made some tostadas with black bean paste and shredded lobster/avocado/jalapeno/radish salad on top + marinated beans on toast + slow roasted cherry tomatoes. The tostadas were supposed to have crab on them, but Whole Foods didn’t have any and if Whole Foods didn’t, nowhere in the desert did. So I went with lobster. It was fine, but I want to remake this in San Francisco this summer with better access to seafood. WF did have two crab half so I got those and threw them on the side. Again, fine. I shouldn’t try with seafood here.
BUT the best part was the most unassuming. Those tomatoes, roasted for a whopping two hours with little more than olive oil and salt and garlic were absolutely incredible. I prepped the rest of dinner then did 45 minutes of a delicious restorative yoga class via Peloton while they roasted away.
I will say, my kitchen’s limitations have given me a new appreciation for meals you can put in the oven and then WALK AWAY from. We’d pop a sheet pan dinner in, and then go jump in the pool for a late night swim, get out and dinner is ready! It’s almost like having a personal chef. (New York Times has about 80 sheet pan recipes. I found 4-5 I like. They all start to blur together. Most are chicken or fish, and the fish supply isn’t great here. It’s not a steady way to live, IMHO, but a nice add.)
Lenzer’s marinated white beans were a revelation. I tossed them with fresh herbs from my garden (oregano, sage, lemon mint) and pepperoncinis, smashed garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and some cider vinegar. They sat in a mason jar all day in my fridge, then I popped them on toast and threw ‘em in the oven while the tomatoes finished.
Girl: It was more delicious than beans I could have spent hours simmering on a stove and way easier and make ahead. I am going to use those beans in loads of combinations in the future. They’d be a super flavorful base of a veggie burger, great tossed with a pasta. WOW.
Go buy this cookbook now. The two meals I’ve cooked have made it more than worth the investment. I am a good cook, and Paul thought both dinners were next level even for me.
OH! The best fried chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
A word about fried chicken.
I am from the South and fried chicken is very different for me than you. I was so shocked at what was considered good fried chicken when I moved here that I spent years developing my own (incredible and locally famous) recipe.
Now, a word about fried chicken sandwiches.
They’ve swept the culinary world from low class to high class places and I’m mostly here for it, in theory.
But THE VAST majority of “good” fried chicken sandwiches are terrible.
The biggest and most obvious problem is few places on the West Coast make good fried chicken to begin with so a sandwich only complicates matters.
Chicken is much juicier cooked on the bone, for one thing. If you are gonna start with a massive slab of chicken breast, you are already behind the eight ball, my friend.
Most places have chicken that’s an inch or more thick on their sandwiches. Why? That’s all but guaranteed to be dry and unflavorful and unpleasant to eat. So then you slather on a bunch of other s*** to make it work? And it all slides around and is messy and a disaster. The proportions are all off.
It’s not a good look. There are few food trends I can think of that have universally failed in execution. I’ve stopped ordering fried chicken sandwiches because even the “good” ones are terrible.
Then, Sunday we went to our new favorite place in Palm Springs, Holiday House. I hesitate to tell you about it, because we can always get in and it’s so delightful. It’s the best kept secret here, IMHO.
It’s like Sparrows, if the service was quick and the menu was more varied. (Sorry, Sparrows, you are delightful, but we cannot go there unless we’ve got two hours to burn.) It’s like that one good time we ate at the Arrive. (The Arrive is the most inconsistent place in PS, IMHO. The Ace can also be inconsistent, but I forgive it for some reason. Maybe because we lived there for a month and I just will always love it.)
Anyway, Holiday House. The club sandwich? Amazing. The nicoise salad? Gorgeous. The simple hot dog? Just what you want in a simple hot dog. The rose? The driest I’ve ever had. The margarita? As the menu says, it’s “perfect.”
The BUCKET OF VEGGIES? Maybe the best appetizer in the history of the world.
The homemade cookies? Incredible.
I even love their ice.
The fries? Fine, not as good as Tylers. The burger? A burger. But still.
But everything is consistent and the service is awesome. So when we stared down touristy lines all over downtown Sunday, we looked at each other and knew we needed to go to Holiday House for the second (or third?) time THAT WEEK.
“Welcome back,” our server said.
“We thought about going somewhere else…” I trailed… awkwardly.
“But why?” she said.
“Exactly,” we both said.
The only thing we hadn’t tried (I think?) was the fried chicken sandwich.
“Level with me,” I said to the server. “Is it good or is it like every other fried chicken sandwich?”
“It might be the best thing on the menu,” she said.
Ok. I took a risk.
I’m not totally sure how they did it. The bread was a perfect pillowy brioche. The portion? Totally reasonable. The dill-forward spread was reminiscent of the necessary pickle on a fried chicken sandwich but took it up a notch. Not overdressed, not messy.
The chicken itself was clearly marinated lovingly for 24+ hours. It was thin, juicy, seasoned all the way through. Each bite bit cleanly, a sign that marinade hasn’t just seasoned the chicken but broken it down. (Good Southern fried chicken is so broken down by marinades that you can eat the bones.) It wasn’t greasy but wasn’t dry. (That takes real sophistication, let me tell you.)
I was in awe. I kept talking about it and everyone sitting around us ordered one.
The server said they have fried chicken at night, and it’s one of their most popular meals, and the sandwich is the same chicken.
I mean, that explains it. They’ve built in a system to make fried chicken right, since it anchors two meals. They’ve put in the hours to get it right at dinner, then we get the delicious left overs day two. (Everyone knows day two fried chicken is the best.)
The only downside of Holiday House is no kids are allowed. But that’s ok. It makes it our place. Evie loves hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies and I told her we could go when she’s 18. “Or just get it to go?” she suggested.
If you come to Palm Springs, please hop in there and have a bucket of veggies and a fried chicken sandwich. ESPECIALLY if you are not from the South and don’t really understand why they aren’t as good as everyone pretends. Just don’t tell your friends, because it’s the only place that isn’t overrun by tourists (ironically, since it’s a hotel.)
See you next week. I mean it this time. And forward this to a friend!
my latest collection of cookbooks (+ lifestyle inspiration) I'm working through <3
my latest collection of cookbooks (+ lifestyle inspiration) I'm working through <3
Sunday dinner. Would you believe the tomatoes were the best bite?
Sunday dinner. Would you believe the tomatoes were the best bite?
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Sarah Lacy
Sarah Lacy @sarahcuda

I'm the founder of Pando and Chairman Mom. I live half time between San Francisco and Palm Springs, ferretting out the best food between the two. Food is my love language.

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