Monday, September 8, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

National Lampoon's Culinary Vacation

Dear Clark,
Come on, now.
This is getting a little bit embarrassing, if you don't mind my sayin' so. 
It's FOOD.
You're having so many of them Marie Antoinette moments lately, I feel like I need to step up and piss in your  farmed and forked and fucked Cheerios and say something respectfully and with great love and encouragement and affection.


Seriously, Clark. Only an idiot would pay $1000 for something that is going to come out of their ass a few hours later and then have any kind of comment about hunger in America. Ever.  EVER, EVER. If you would like to demonstrate your superiority to me, it would be more intelligent to not purchase tiny amounts of dead, cut-up animals and bits of lettuce that grew in the ground for free. This makes you a SUCKER. I'm a chef and I am telling you that. You are a chump. 

What kind of person can, in good conscience, keep most of the money they make feeding said asshats, instead of giving most of it back to the other people who are food insecure according to every news source in the country and that includes a lot more than I get with my cable converter? Even at a 50% food cost, you're still making a fortune off of tricking people into thinking it's worth that much for future feces. Nice work, Willy Wonka.

Do you have any idea how silly it is for you to be so "involved" in food when your involvement doesn't include making sure as many other people are fed as possible, instead of a few app designers who wouldn't know what they were eating were it not for the other rich assholes before them posting thousands of Instagrams?  I know you like a tack-o, Clark, but the rise of street food as haute cuisine, meriting full tasting menus comprised of offal, is, well, awful.  It's The Emperor's Clothes at it's most entertaining.

I once worked for the catering company that does Paul Allen's Christmas party. I spent a FREEZING December afternoon in 1998, grilling what ended up being four rolling racks full of whole salmon filets on a dock. Earmuff hats are very handy for blue collar folk who have to work outside in the snow. Long johns too. You call them Silkies, I think. Cooking is FUN, btw.

We cured olives and preserved lemons months ahead of time.  Made pounds of mozzarella, smoked oysters, made biryani in rented tagines, dipped fruits in Callebaut. We cut a walk-in full of Port Salut and Humboldt Fog into wedges and spread pounds of Salumi's soppressata onto huge wooden cutting boards purchased just for the occasion The excess was as bonkers as you.

When you are a lowly cook processing all this food, things that run through your head while you hack apart chickens include the society broads who will never eat more than four bites of any of this dee-licious spread that you are going to the trouble to prepare. You also consider, in a nice way, the catering salesperson who made $5k in commission for selling all this.
Mr. Allen's hangar at Boeing Field was turned into a Moroccan tent with jeweled pillows and belly dancers. The halftime show was the man himself trying to force everyone to watch him play guitar. Good lord. 

Know what has stuck with me 15 years later? The two racks full of untouched salmon. Left AFTER the to-go containers were stuffed and servers were begged to take as much as they wanted.

The St. Rose of Lima shelter was near my apartment and I could take them a carload at a time. I'd pull up to the backdoor in a dark alley in Belltown and hand over bus tubs of salmon thrown together with the other stuff. A far cry from the display a few hours earlier. Dumpsters-full of expensive cheese and wine and steak and oysters and chocolate and things that we talk about as yum to the motherfucking yum yum yum get tossed hundreds of times every single day by people who then go on to make sad, pinchy faces about the hungry black childrens they are forced to look at sometimes in the NYT.  Or speak about SNAP benefits as if they have any idea. I don't care if your mom used food stamps to raise you. You have a bunch of restaurants and a TV show now so shut it the hell down, Baldy. For reals.

Humans are complex. I get it. Sometimes you can want to eat truffles and then go to the ghetto and teach a child what a carrot is. That is funny as fuck. Why not bring THEM to the fancy dinner that they will never, ever forget? Why not expose them to something as magical as a truffle when their mom is just going to feed them bologna later. Why exclude anyone?

It's food. No one is curing pediatric brain cancer or rescuing flood victims. You are eating things that mostly are on this planet because the planet decided this, and not because Anthony Bourdain invented olives. Capice?

There is alchemy in cooking. Duh. We are literal magicians making something out of nothing and that is something to feel pretty great about. We all fall for pictures of tattoos of eggplants, posts of perfect figs and cheese on a black granite slab.  We love reading stories of how hard that farmer had to work to get those silly goats to behave, but still.

It's food. To feed people with so they don't die from starving. Not so they don't die from sadness that some poor person brought a baby to a restaurant. To forget that is to forget the joy of pulling a carrot out of the ground or to cook a chicken until it turns to jelly that makes the gravy, gravy. To act like you are a special, special twinkie instead of an alien sharing some molecules with some other aliens means that you need a lesson in humanity that will not be printed on the bottom of your triple Caramel Flan nonfat (retard) latte or while your are funding your friend's kombucha kickstarter.

I don't know what we can do when we are a culture of people who wish they had more money worshipping a farmer who likely has nothing. Pig shit smells like pig shit. Not like miso-cured pork belly.

How can we say we want to feed people when most of the shows on the food channels have to do with excess, not inequality? How can social media be so much more concerned with the correct filter for composites of dots of food that no one can smell or taste? How much longer do I have to see people promoting cookbooks instead of volunteering somewhere and writing about those experiences which seems more useful than a few more recipes for a watermelon soup that no one likes or wants to eat?

I don't expect any BlogHerFood "how I saved some people with salad" contests anytime soon, but maybe you could demand more keynote addresses for this sort of thing in between all the schmoozing and duck fat at your conferences and picnics and ski fests? Maybe I could see a post or two about the kitchen you helped build on that trip to wherever you ate those fish tacos right on the boat that I had to look at 75 photos of?

I helped pick a few thousand pounds of citrus this weekend for a group that does this. These are the stories that I want to hear about.

I know you think we're cut from different cloth, you and I, but listen here

You're a lot closer to emptying septic hoses with me than you think. Shitter's full, Clark. Let's get to cleaning.



Friday, July 1, 2011

The Ghost and Mrs. S

Around the corner from my Belltown crib was a sketchy pizza joint. Right behind the statue of Chief Seattle. The kind of place where pictures of every famous Italian-American blend un-seamlessly with cheap prints of gondolas and the Coliseum. Run by the worst sort of owner, the kind who frequently appears on Kitchen Nightmares blaming the staff for his failure while GR digs rotten chicken out of the walk-in. The manager was a dead-ringer for Sly Stallone in the first Rocky, before surgery prettied him up. A few drops of sweat were always right at the end of his nose ready to season the food. I ate there once and got food poisoning which should have been an indicator that I never wanted to get behind THAT line, but for a few weeks one summer when I needed some work, I caved to the perpetual "Help Wanted" sign and joined the ranks of the rotten sauce that dwelled therein. 

There is a painting of a small bouquet of purple flowers next to the vanity in Barbara Sinatra's bathroom. They are in a vase tied with a ribbon with a sky blue background. It's inscription, in tiny crooked letters, reads "to BAS love FAS"

4th of July reminds me of beach. Beach reminds me of Malibu. Malibu reminds me of living in Frank Sinatra's house.
Let me say that again in case your jaw didn't drop and you didn't get a little impressed. I lived in Frank-to-tha-mother-effing-Sinatra's house. Cooked for his widow. An ant moves a rubber tree plant.

I spent a snowy spring driving back and forth between Pilchuck Glass School, where I was cooking and my apartment in West Seattle where I catered Friday night shabbat for the Jew Crew, when an unexpected turn in the love department sent me reeling. A certain smug son-of-a-biscuit-eater named MICHAEL DAVID NELSON (waiter/glassblower, fuck yeah, I  name names) told me I was a loser who would "stay trapped in her room forever" waiting for him. Really dude? I threw aside ten years of hard work, clients and friends and went running back to LA. Trapped in a room to be sure, but a fancy-ass one with an ocean view and a charge account at Hows where the mangoes cost $6.99 and NO ONE EVEN CARES.

I never realized the clout the name Sinatra carries until I told people where I worked. I was pretty punk rock and even though we've all heard the songs, celebrities were all the same to me. I didn't realize they have their own caste system and Ol' Blue Eyes is plunked right on the top of that heap. Even in death. Chairman of the Board for a reason, yo.

Me and the Mrs. had a routine.
When she woke up she buzzed me.
A trip down the leopard print staircase to the living room and the monster steel shades that covered the house would be lifted, the stereo flipped on with disc after disc of Guess-Who ready to go. She listened to him all day long, the sound of his voice keeping him close to her, I suppose. Imagine the greatest crooner in history singing to you daily in that magic voice. Then imagine it drowning slowly in a sea of dementia and despair until it is silenced altogether. You couldn't blame her for wanting to hear it. Except for the fact that it drove you apeshit after the third day.

After the newspapers were gathered and the dogs let out for the walker to pick up, a Martha sort of moment would occur with oats and berries and hot lemon water on white porcelain and I would wait at the foot of her bed until she decided what she wanted for lunch. There was no menu planning with Mrs. S. If she said she felt like a Honey Baked Ham, then you enjoyed the hour and back drive down the coast to Santa Monica to get the lady her hunk of meat. I assure you, they have twenty different places in Malibu to get some damned ham, but it needs to be cooked on the bone, natch and she likey their cranberry mustard.  She would eat 2 whole slices before tiring of the taste and I would be forcing it on Hector and Eva the rest of the week.
Sometime after lunch she would hip me to her evening plans and I would either be back in the car in search of something special or I'd be loading up my tray with snacks from the larder for a big night in front of the TV. For reals. A larder. Have you seen one? It's a huge thing that looks like a pantry, but is humidity controlled. Built just for them to keep their cut onions wrapped in paper towels so they wouldn't lose their taste. Not kidding. I have never seen another one and I've been in a lot of fancy kitchens.

Five o'clock was crudite and cocktails. "Mr. S's Martini" Extra dirty. Of course. Forever a reminder that no matter who we are, the same three ingredients make up our mixed drinks. It's a good lesson and one of which I'm sure the Chairman would approve. A few slices of carrot, radish, jicama.  Overpriced heirloom tomatoes. I don't know how much Hows makes off their produce markups, but dollars to doughnuts that man is driving his Murcielago down PCH with a hooker right now. 

On the nights that she didn't go out, she'd bring her tray out by the beach and have me keep her company for a bit. Am I in a movie? I don't know, is Danny DeVito next door having drinks with Robert DeNiro?
Getting relationship advice from this dame was incredible. The best, paraphrased, amounts to "if you marry a cheater, instead of throwing his ass out, do your hair, put on make-up, cook him dinner and remind him why he wants to come home to you instead of that ho'".  Maybe a little fifties, but I now appreciate the sentiment as a married woman with furniture I would not want to have to split up.

One afternoon she came down to the kitchen to show me how to make pasta Mr. S's mom's way. The sacred Dolly. Who taught her son, who taught his wife who was about to teach me. It seemed very special and Italian and I am sure there are restaurant owners in Jersey who would weep at the chance to experience a cooking lesson in this particular kitchen.

I've eaten a lot of noodles, I've made quite a few. I've had them fresh from the masters, in sauces of truffle and caviar.  But Frank Sinatra's pasta sounded like the angels might be carrying that recipe card around in a gilded frame and I was lucky enough to be there for that heralding, that day.

She took off her rock of a ring, started pouring flour into a pile on the counter and instructed me in her stock method. Not my favorite. I don't think a boiled raw chicken, carrot and onion are going to get you anywhere but Ireland and who the hell eats THAT food? But I did it. I was drooling in anticipation. This was FRANK'S FAVORITE after all, it was bound to be the most italian-y pasta-y best thing ever.  God, I get my hopes up easily.

We rolled out the dough, hand-cutting scraggly long noodles, dropped them into simmering chicken stock, and fished them out a minute later. Tossed with butter and parmesan, they were the most disgusting noodles I have ever eaten.

If you Google Mrs. S, you will read many shitty things written by his daughters and jealous ex-girlfriends. Things that suggest she didn't love him, that she kept him away from his friends, that she was a gold-digger who somehow facilitated his death by not getting him the care he needed.

I would argue that the painting on the wall tells a better story about their love than these attempts to slander. I would say after living in the palace for awhile and getting to know Frank from the vibe of those who loved him, that he was a king on this earth. And I can unequivocally swear, 100 percent, without a doubt, that the best pasta I've ever had, was from that guido in Seattle with the sweat dripping off his nose.


Boil, cook, drain a pound of pasta. Whatever your kid doesn't have a fit over.
Melt half a stick of butter in a pan, saute a big clove of chopped garlic for 30 seconds, add a pint of whipping cream.
When it starts to break, add noodles and stir around for a minute.
As it starts to simmer add a cup of grated parmesan.
Stir around again to emulsify.
Add bacon iffen there happens to be any cooked laying around.
Tons of pepper, little salt b/c of cheese.

Eat it now. Right now. Don't do anything else. Especially don't consider the fat content. Next time make twice as much, because you won't want to share.

Monday, May 16, 2011

99 Bosses. A Retrospective.

I made my big move into the glamorous world of food prep at A La Francaise Bakery in 1992. Total accident. Cooking didn't occur to me because none of the restaurants I had hostessed in had anything besides a group of derelict creep-outs behind the line.

My roommate worked at the Francaise and was forever bringing home the spoils. It really was a great bakery. The owner had spent a fuckload of her dr. husband's money to make sure they turned out authentic European bread and pastry and there were walk-in ovens and an astonishing number of tiny Asian people cranking out croissants by the hundreds. XLC (that is Shell-Sea for those of us not born with retarded hippie parents) would bring home boxes of pizzas and cinnamon rolls as big as a baby's head. The former bulimic in me was intrigued.

I don't like to share and since there were three other people in the house and Paul didn't work, he'd be right up the basement stairs as soon as he heard the garage door open. If I was lucky, when I got home I'd get a few cookies and maybe a sourdough bear or turtle.

Something needed to be done.

As luck would have, not many people enjoy the idea of getting up at 4 am to go to work. Even in Seattle, where early morning is a Port of Call fantasy, it's a challenge for a business owner to find RESPECTABLE people to be awake at the crack of dawn. It is 1992 after all and no one is not seeing every single band every single night.  The only people qualified to serve your coffee and scones are at the Hurricane or Beth's already.

Except me. We had only just moved there and so weekends were spent oblivious to the Pearl Jam around me. Josh Tate, their video director and friend lived right across the street for Jesus sake and I had no idea who those dweebuses in long johns and shorts were, I just thought their outfits were funny.

I was ready when XLC asked me if I wanted to replace someone who had decided sleeping until 6am was a God-given right and quit unexpectedly.Visions of caramel danced in my head as I said Yes. Yes I would.

Wouldn't you know, three weeks into slapping down tomatoes and chiffonading basil, I was a mutha-effing, well, maybe not cook exactly, but I was a pantry superstar .

Except for sandwiches.

I was, and still am, an abject failure as a deli spokesman. If you don't know what you want on your fucking sandwich after 40 years on this planet, then how are you qualified for anything, really? Should you be allowed to have children if you aren't sure if yellow or Dijon is your thing? You do have to teach children to make decisions, you know, and maybe we could back the fuck off the federal government because it ain't John Boehner eliciting that vacant stare when asked if you want a pickle with that. Please do not torture your sandwich maker with this nonsense. Those are, in fact, daggers they are shooting at you while they hate themselves for not going to college.

Now. At the time, the bakery was in a building on 1st and Jackson that also housed the Mariners baseball corporation and a little known coffee company. Name of Starbucks. Maybe you've heard.

The president of this small chain of coffee shops was working like crazy to expand his business and part of his deal was he wanted food. He wanted scones and he wanted muffins and he wanted my boss to be the lady to make them so he was forever coming downstairs to pilfer a croissant or moan about our Torrefazione and how it was inferior. He was like Jerry Seinfeld, except there was no Jerry Seinfeld yet, there was only this j-hole making my life hell at least once a day.

And the worst was his sandwich.  Turkey-bacon. Which is supposed to have cranberry cream cheese. Since that's what is on the menu and we get a specific amount of whipped cream cheese, all of it gets mixed with the cranberries. It's just the way it is. I didn't make that rule for fuck sake. But here we go again.

"Hi Howard, how are you today"

"Stupendous, fantastic, high as the sky in an elephant's eye" some shit like that. He's a real Tony Robbins sort of fellow.

"Turkey bacon?"

"Yes. And plain cream cheese. Whipped"  and we're off.

Because you do not tell the president of the biggest growing empire in Seattle that he cannot have what he wants, the eleven people in line waiting for their cranberry cream cheese are now going to have to wait  even longer while I haul out the Kitchen-Aid, squeeze 3 packets of Philly into it and whip it with some cream until it's fluffy enough for the master. I ask Joan repeatedly why I can't just reserve some since there is always someone who asks. She says she doesn't want to have to make nice for everyone. She's actually gone through my reach-in to check and make sure I'm not disobeying. This is my first experience with the chef-owner relationship. The chef wants to do things the logical, easy way, and the owner wants to do it in the fashion of a rich idiot who has no real life experience to base running a business on.

I do not remember the particulars about this day. I'm sure it was drizzling, I'm sure that the lunch rush had started off slow, a pizza here and there, maybe a super-wet half-caff for some dumb biddy who had it the one time she went to Paris and now tortures XLC everyday if it isn't EXACTLY how she remembers it. It was probably like that. But it must have been Mercury or whatever planet governs the world of food because I could just not get the ratio of cream cheese to bread right for Mistuh and I had run out of packets.

Each time I would bring it out and hand it to him he would unwrap it from the parchment. lift up the top slice and shake his head.

I had had it. Had it.

I had not been in a real kitchen yet, so I didn't know that cooks have ways of dealing with customers who are less than complimentary. If you've seen Fight Club. Yes. Sorry.

All I had was my mouth. Which is loud. And prone to swearing.

And so, my friends, I did not realize that when I was screaming "Cocksucker" at the top of my lungs next to the dishwasher that was running, and, I assumed, covering up the noise, that the president of the biggest coffee company in the whole world heard every word of it.

You would think I might have been fired. I was promoted to manager. Good help is hard to find.

There is a beautiful moment of irony 10 years later when I am BBQing for the Schultz-man on the dock of his dear friends the Fleischmanns. Private chef beats the Jesus out of sandwich-ho.

These are the cookies we made at the bakery and they are the ones you pay a dollar for at Starbucks. Make a batch for that same dollar. Howard doesn't need your money.

1 1/2 cups oats,
1/2 cup AP flour
1/4 tsp. each soda and powder
 pinch salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light sugar
1 large egg, room temp
tsp. vanilla
6 Tbsp. butter softened
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins

 Butter, sugar, then vanilla, then egg. Mix dry and add. Chill.
325 for 12 minutes

Non-cynical baking blog brought to you by my fetus. My evil is slippin' yo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We'll See

My husband has magic sperm.

Like those beans in Jack and the Beanstalk, he plants and a vine begins to grow.

My uterus, on the other hand, is like the gingerbread cottage in Hansel and Gretel. Children go in, but they never come out. Evan is a motherfucking miracle.

I had two miscarriages after he was born and was initiated into the club of superstitious freakouts who don't even want to breathe the word pregnant lest Rumpelstiltskin crawl out of the floor and steal my fetus or whatever it is that we're afraid of.

When I got to 36 weeks with Riley I felt like I could finally talk about the impending addition and we all know how that turned out. Never count your chickens before they hatch. Apparently that means human chickens too.

Thanksgiving before last I was 16 weeks pregnant. Walt. I knew it was a boy but it was hard to tell. He popped out while I was peeing and he looked just like the fetus on those horrible signs that the Devil Christians hold up outside Planned Parenthood.  I was screaming, Nick and Evan came running, we didn't know what to do so we flushed. It only occurred to me later that it might have lived had I fished it out and had any kind of idea what to do when sort of thing happens.  I had just finally gone to the midwife to discuss a natural birth plan. Superstition.

As I write, my belly is swollen, my boobs are killing me and when I am not face deep in the toilet, all I want is Buffalo Blue potato chips.Normally Buffalo flavor anything would make me gag, but this little shrimp is a hillbilly and enjoys the finer things in life. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I am waiting until I have skipped three periods before I go and commit to a heartbeat and a name or two.

I'm sure you understand.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Still Born (or why I am so angry all the time)

the following is a public service announcement:

At least once a month someone asks me if Evan is our only child. Maybe they can't believe one child could have worn me out so thoroughly.

I never quite know what to say.

There are so many questions we ask each other without realizing how the easy answer can be so hard.

Do I say yes, because technically he is the only one who is living.

Or do I tell them about Riley?

Riley Jane Borowiec loved the Foo Fighters. She loved bagel sandwiches with the cucumber heavily salt-peppered and she woke me up every night at midnight so I could read a book in the bathroom, sitting in front of the toilet, waiting for the remnants of the pound of cherries she insisted on to come back and look like someone was trying to flush away a murder.

Riley Jane came after four miscarriages. At the end of the first trimester I was optimistic, when she got to 9 months I was ecstatic. When the doctor said I'm sorry, there's no heartbeat,  I was numb. A knot, an accident, a delivery for no purpose other than expulsion. Do you want to hear about it when you make your inquiry?

It may seem like small talk at the park or a party, but it's really an invitation for me to think of something really horrific. Lots of women have dead children and we don't all wear T-shirts because that would be AWKWARD.

So stop asking.  How would you you like if I got all up in your vag and asked how you planned to throw down with it for the next ten years?

That's what I thought.