Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hot Tang

I've been avoiding Ina Garten for 16 years now. It's not that I don't see some similarities. We're both Winters and we share an affinity for a nice chambray to bring out the blue in our eyes. We like hostessing, though here in BFE, all I ever host are the lizards who lurk in the bushes outside my door, and dart in when I open it.  Sometimes a few 10 year-old boys who want Takis and juice show up and gulp a few glasses of whatever I hand them, and run back outside, which is what I really wish the lizards would do as well but they are reptiles and have no manners.

The Barefoot Contessa came out when I was doing private catering which is a nice way to say I was terrible on a line because the PTSD and THE TICKER are a bad combination, and I'd found some nice ladies down in Madison Park who would pay me twice as much for half the work. Lost my street cred, gained a car and a nice collection of Cole Haan loafers. 

It seems like Ina and I would be a perfect fit but I didn't think much of her recipes. All the ladies I worked for and all the girls who stole the boys I wanted to date away from me were instantly smitten with her but I thought she was just ripping off Martha and Lee Bailey and none of their recipes worked anyway so whatever and I'll just save my money for pot, thanks.

She endeavored and you all loved her. Each season brought a better-fitted shirt. I'm sure by now they're bespoke. There is possibly a tailor on Long Island whose entire shop is full of bolts of french cotton in varying shades of indigo, a rotund dressmaker dummy in each corner, waiting for a call "Ina is on The Chew and Meredith next week, she'd like Sky 14 and Bora Bora. Snaps on the 14 and knots for the Bora". And the mice start sewing.

Now that she has 170 million shirts, one for every cookbook sold, she can give it a rest. She can call down to someone and ask for a beverage. I don't doubt that Ina can't make some lemonade, but why would she? She has people for that. I have no people. I make the juice.

I don't buy cookbooks because most of them are awful. Even ones by people I like. I can read a recipe and tell you without trying it if it works or not. It's maybe the only thing I'll brag about besides Abe's cuteness. I'm a really great cook. I have technique. I'm researched in a variety of cuisines and methods from all over the world. I don't need cookbooks for anything but inspiration. My kids wear me out and I just think 'tacos' all the time or Guido Pasta  I look at the pictures in books I check out on library day. I've hardly ever tried a recipe that worked without adjustment and I hate that some crackerjack got paid to be wrong while I sit at home with scaly creatures under my couch.

But you love her. More specifically you love Barefoot Contessa. I get the draw. It's cozy, just like Ina wants it to be. It was one of the first to use pretty pictures and capture the essence of the place it came from. Workman books like China Moon and Silver Palate were useful but boring to look at, Martha's still had that weird 80's pastel vibe and her big cookbooks were like Joy of Cooking. A sliver of photos in the middle of a deep forest of dull teacakes and bean salads. Collectible, but not useful or appealing. Ina was Instagramming in 1999. Every one of those shots is as modern as anything you'd find before last year when we started gong backwards with matte pages and kale and black garlic salads.
And then Eater did a feature and you guys know how I feel about all the stories about food that don't help feed other people whether it be spiritually or really actually get the food inside of their mouths.

You guys went nutty and share-bukkaked all over her. And I didn't get it again. How could some lady who wrote a check for her future and her Lehman Brother of a husband make such smart people act like fools? What is it that makes her so lovable that every single book she churns out with a new kind of butternut squash soup and brownie sells more than the last one?  Look how happy she makes all of you. I want that kind of joy in my life. I want to be converted. And I went to Goodwill on my Friday night date with myself and there it was. Somebody, somewhere let go of a piece of heaven and the cosmos delivered it to me for $1.99. Such a small price to pay for happiness.

I don't want to pick Ina apart, I don't want to judge her but I DO want to see if this book that you hold so near and dear to your hearts is, in fact, any good. At all.

The first thing Ina wants me to do is make a nice glass of lemonade before I peruse her dips and spreads and 32 pages of tidbits about her and Jeffy-baby, who creeps me out a little to be honest. Tiny little hands. Just. No. I'm happy about the lemonade. I've got all four ingredients and don't have to go anywhere. Lemon juice, sugar, ice and water. Blend all ingredients and pour over ice.

Slow your roll, lady. Is the ice an ingredient or is the ice different from the ice I pour it over? This is pretty unclear if a person doesn't know about ratios. Four cups of water is almost too much for a cup of lemon juice so adding an extra cup of ice is going to make it almost tasteless five minutes later.  If it's the third thing listed, it's an ingredient, as far as I'm concerned. If it's the ice you're pouring it over, you save that for the service part of the recipe which comes at the end. Not third.

I did it no ice and it's fine. Still a little watery. Whatever. My hopes aren't dashed. The kids didn't mind and I heated mine up with some rum and more lemon juice.

She and I are making roasted eggplant spread this afternoon. It has a whole red onion which is problematic but I'll try to find a small one and pretend that's what she meant so that we can save the world with our Ina love together.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pleasantville

When Sue was in seventh grade she took Home Economics. The first half of the semester was spent watching movies about procreation and the lady with no arms who drives with her feet and has a good attitude.

The second part of the term was the practicum. Socks were darned and hole-in-ones (AKA 'bulls-eyes')were constructed on the white Amana stove-tops using Wonder bread and eggs from Mrs. Reed's own backyard.

The satisfaction Sue got from flipping that piece of bread over and making her own breakfast was immense. At home she wasn't really allowed to touch ANYTHING, because her dad was very worried that any of his belongings would be ruined, so at 13, Sue had yet to change a channel on the television, or put an album on the stereo. She most certainly had never turned on an oven or used a mixer.

So when she slid the spatula underneath and turned it to reveal the whitecooked just through enough to hold it into the center of the buttered toast, she had a vision. A vision of herself in a tiny kitchen in New York, cooking a meal after a long day in the office of somewhere literary and elegant. Beige leather. Boxes tied in pink grosgrain and delivered to her Central Park-facing desk.

By the time she was a senior, she and Larry had already talked about getting married and she had started trying to decide which tract of the new development next to the mall they should move into after graduation.

Mrs. Reed would have been very proud of how well Sue adapted to the drudgery of mending all the metaphoric socks and making the equivalent of a bulls-eye three times per day for four people for over 13 years which meant somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 skillets to clean and counters to wipe after the last dish had been loaded.

Mrs. Reed would have been proud. Not Larry.

Larry called her lazy and told her she forgot the baseboards (she didn't forget) and that he preferred his chicken tacos with cheddar and not jack cheese and why did she always leave the separated laundry on the floor instead of taking it in and out of the basket (redundant and who comments on other people's chore sensibilities, anyways?)

It turned out that all those dinner dishes were perfect training for Sue's part-time gig at the Waffle House. The mats are a trick, with her slipped disc, and cleaning the toilets is her least favorite part of the job, but at least it's something, she tells herself when she takes the Advil at the end of the night and turns on the heating pad.

At least it's something.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sue Gets Paper (work)

"I need your name, an ID number, and a copy of a current utility bill as proof of address." That's what the receptionist said to Sue this morning when she got to the front of the line that began forming at the front of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry an hour before the stocky woman in the floral print skirt unlocked the glass door and propped it open with a sandbag.

It's what the clerk at the Department of Public Welfare had asked for the week before when she applied for rent assistance and food stamps. Also, the librarian, when she went to get a card to avail herself of the free internet services and computer workshops.

Had ANYTHING been in her name at all, she might not have been at their mercy, she felt like screaming, but silly old Sue had truly believed that staying home with the girls would turn out just fine so she never really questioned Larry being the only one to sign the papers. It worked that way for all the other moms on the block.

Larry is a real prick, sure, but he has a good job so there was no reason for her to go back to work when the girls were born. He's regional manager of a furniture chain and she gets got to pick out a new couch or armoire every Christmas. Things were great, financially. Plus, she figured, if they ever split up, she'd get half the house and the assets. She'd never thought about what happens if your husband leaves without bothering with the divorce part. He's still legally on the hook for all the payments, but he likes delaying them a bit, just enough for the creditors or mortgage company to start calling, which sends her blood pressure through the roof.

The good news is that since he hasn't made it official, she still has health insurance even if she doesn't have cash for the co-pays.  If she has a heart attack and lives through it, she won't have to declare bankruptcy.





Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Banana Bread. No. Really.

I worked for a freakishly rich family once who had a nanny, a chef, two maids, and this girl named Meredith who was an aspiring actress (Notebook) who came once a week to put pictures in photo albums. They were pretty self-made and not celebrities, did normal family things, and were as WASP-y as it gets. Where they were excessive was on staff. One of us for every one of them.

I replaced a girl whose previous job was asst. pastry chef at Spago so supposedly this is Sherry Yard's recipe although I've Googled the shit out of a bunch of connected words and cannot confirm this to be true. It's worth noting that there aren't that many recipes using mascarpone, which makes me believe it is indeed a unique spin, and that the Sarah girl was a goody-goody, but not a liar.

She told me to that get the kids to love me, I should make them this banana bread. The mascarpone and sour cream make it like a cake, not a quick bread. It makes a lot and you will house every bit of it, sometimes with butter, heated up in the oven, sometimes with honey-roasted peanut butter whipped with cream cheese or whatever. You can maybe give a little to someone you like so they think you're a person who has some secrets to tell them about life.

Those children were entitled shitheads, who were only ever going to love prissy Sarah and her ribbon headbands, but she was right about the bread, and now that I'm a mom and I'm faced with about 40 rotten bananas a month, here is where you put them.

preheat oven to 375

2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar (I know. Beauty is pain)
1/2 tsp. each, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground clove
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder (Rumford is the only one I can't actually taste)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/2 cup mascarpone
2 bananas

I don't use nuts but if that's something you enjoy, don't use more than a 1/4 cup or it might affect the texture. Stay moist.

With a mixer or if you're fancy, IN a mixer, cream butter and sugar for 3 minutes until well-combined.

Scrape down sides of bowl and add spices. Add eggs one at a time.

In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add to butter/sugar mix in stages. Don't overwork.

Fold in sour cream and mascarpone.

Puree bananas however you see fit. Smooth, no chunks.

Fold into batter, again, be gentle. No overworking.

Spray 2 loaf pans or a 9 x 13 baking dish with evil death spray (Pam or something like it) This is why it was invented. Butter will dry the edges out in a not-good way.

Pour batter into dish or dishes

Bake until slightly set in the center. This will not carry-over cook by much so between 35 and 50 minutes depending on the size pan and type oven.





$30 Carrot Waffles

Sue is married to Larry, who left her a few months ago for Gloria. Didn't divorce her, just took the new truck and moved into Gloria's condo on the bay, leaving Sue at home with her two daughters, Cindy and Wendy. If Larry were a decent fellow, he'd give Sue some money or sign the divorce papers allowing her to apply and receive social services like food stamps.

Larry is an asshole. So when Sue goes to the local welfare office she is told that on paper she has too much money to qualify for any assistance. Today's funny joke comes at the expense of our girl who only has $11 in the bank with the mortgage due next week, and Larry is on a fishing trip, and not returning calls.

Thank goodness Sue's daughters are in middle school and can be taken care of by the public education system while she goes and gets a job with her multitude of coding experience. Or that dental hygienist program that Larry wouldn't pay for, for fear she wouldn't be home to make his dinner. She can easily lean right the fuck into that shit, AMIRITE?


Okay but see really Sue ends up at the Waffle House off exit number 3 in Bumfuck, because luckily Larry's sister knows what a shithead her brother is, and as senior waitress and sometime night manager, she is able to get Sue a dish-washing gig on the weekends. This is also pretty great since she gets a shift meal. It hardly matters to her that it's whatever the cooks deemed too rotten to throw onto the brunch buffet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Name is Sue, How Do You Do?

The thing about a restaurant is you have to have a dishwasher. Not a machine. That's the easy part.  Finding the person to put the plates and glasses and silverware onto the trays to send through. Who will also put all those dishes back onto shelves and behind the bar. Then fill the pans with ice because the sous chef is always magically doing the produce order during this part of prep, peel the case of potatoes between washes, and clean the vomit from the bachelorette party off the bathroom floor, walls and toilets. There are 20 other tasks the dishwasher is laden with during the course of a shift, and the finale is dragging several 30 lb. rubber mats covered with the scraps of the entire service out into the alley to spray and scrub clean. You let these dry while you mop. Sometimes you get to leave them for the am person, sometimes you have to drag the wet mats back into place.

It SUUUUUUCCKKKSSS to be the person who does this, but it makes you the unsung hero of the restaurant business because no place with barf on the walls is getting past Yelp these days.

You'd think this person would be one of the first considered. When building, when hiring, when planning menus and deciding what kind of service you're going to have. That's a funny joke.

The dishwasher is usually hired eleven minutes before the soft opening after somebody's cousin or brother flaked during menu-testing. I've worked for chefs who were in the dining room drinking wine while I hurled pans across the kitchen into the sink because they couldn't be bothered to lead their kitchen (thanks Lenny Rede) and I've found myself dragging those filthy mats outside plenty of times
because a kitchen is a kitchen and shit has to get cleaned no matter your rank. (Chefs find a way to avoid this always, though. Cop to it, you dicks, you do)

The dishwasher is not always named Hector.

I want y'all to meet Sue.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hector Goes to College


That's a joke.

Hector being able to afford college or having the time to go acquire skills so he isn't a lowly $8 an hour you-deserve-it-for-being-an-immigrant dishwasher* anymore is a funny, funny joke.

Hector can't do anything but work and die and eat a couple tacos in between.

American Hustle, my ass.

*this is one of the two stupid reasons people give to avoid giving Hector more money. 1) He is an immigrant. Fuck those fuckers and the fruit they pick for us and shitty jobs they do so we don't have to. HOW DARE THEY. 2) Dishwashing isn't worthy of a living wage. Only people who can code deserve to live in something besides a sewer eating turds and feathers.