Friday, January 23, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

#20. Jim Norton Part Two

There's still a lot to cover about urine and I know it's not as sexy as some comedians want it to be but here is a public service announcement:

You may find yourself at a Target in the men's underwear aisle and you may have opened half the boxes to feel if the lycra is scratchy or smooth and see if the waistband is separate or one of those blended deals. You could be lucky enough to score the last three boxes of the extra-long, large boxer briefs in a non-offensive color like grey or black.

You'll cringe at the register when 6 pairs of men's underwear costs $60 which is approximately 10 times what your Hanes white grannies do.

When you get home there will be twenty other chores to do, so you'll probably unwrap the new man panties, take off that little piece of tape they affix to each one to keep them tidy in the box, and throw them into the washer.

Once folded and put away you will not think a thing about them until three days later when your husband is yelling loudly from the bathroom and you go to see if there is a rattlesnake in your toilet and he tells you there is no pee-hole in his underwear.

That's right.

Sometime in the last year some manufacturers have either decided that it was too expensive or just an unnecessary accessory and now you have to add that to the never-ending list of things you are supposed to remember as June Cleaver because if there is one thing I am not going to explain to the return lady at the Big Red Bullseye, it's about my man's need to easily remove his dick at a urinal, so there goes that cash right down the toilet with his wobbly pee.

Somebody call Consumer Reports.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

#15. Spackle

Sometimes you can't hold it together.

Sometimes the base is thin and tasteless and you wait and wait for it to have body and depth and salt and spice and it is just a formless pan of watery nothing.

Sometimes you have to fake it.

I don't like faking it. Never have. Not my scene.
I don't like pretending something has history and affection and breadth and range and it really is just Office re-runs and more complaining about All That is Incorrect About Marisa Miller.

Sometimes when you don't have the energy to wait for things to get thick and rich you need spackle. 

There was a guy named Dave because there is always a guy named Dave. This one was tall and red-headed and in my class at cooking school. His dad owned a fishing boat in Bellingham and he worked in the summer throwing salmon into a tank, and spent the rest of his time going to cooking school, where I met him, and working the line of a tiny, weird Italian restaurant in Wallingford.

Lots of cooks won't tell you about the hundred awful places the worked on the way to the French Laundry. Like, they went straight to ordering truffles and sampling wine and they forget all about the time they flipped patty melts at Jumbo's Clown Room for a year while the other cook puked into a trash can IN THE KITCHEN right next to the line.

Delusions of grandeur are not my thing, and it wasn't my vomit, so I'll tell you all about my guts and glory and expect you to hang in there with me. Everybody wants to bang the shit out of a crazy person. They just don't want to admit it.

I digress.

The tiny, weird kitchens I cycled through on my way to all this fame and fortune taught me some stuff that I've used on royalty, presidents, and my mother. Never knock. Just learn what you can and give back to the people.

Bizzarro Italian Cafe in Wallingford was built by its owner, David (not my BF, who was chef when he gave me the job and then told me he'd just given notice?!?) for a very small amount of money using his very own tools and buckets. The kitchen was a replica of a Eurovan, right down to the tiny under-counter refrigerators that required you to bend over every two minutes and keep your neck angled so you didn't end up head-butting someone in the dick when you came back up.10' x 10' MAYBE, and a crew that consisted of Darren and Dave, the chef and sous, Jose, the prep/dishwasher, and yours truly, pantry bitch, because I was a girl and this is where they put us on the come up. It's a testimony to something that in Seattle, the city of ever-changing eateries, that it's still in business 25 years later.

Kitchen size is no big deal if you have an 8 seat place and all the time in the world. This place had 40 seats and humped through 300 covers a night on a Tuesday. For basic pasta, a choice between Caesar and balsamic, and either Bananas Foster or bread pudding for dessert.

A few things can be done to accommodate so many in such a short amount of time.

You can serve pre-made food, which means Newman's Own dressing or sliced cheesecakes from Sysco. These are expensive and it is unlikely that man who builds his own restaurant is going to spend that money on such nonsense when there are stale bread ends everywhere.

The game is figuring out the fastest way to get the food into the dining room because Kathleen, the ancient waitress in Baby Jane Holzer/Hudson make-up who thinks she is Edith Piaf, singing for her people (they love this shit, btw, ask any old Seattleite who has been and they will have witnessed it) is timing your ass and if she isn't pulling 25% every 35 minutes, you will hear about it from Jose, whose plates will be all off and he won't have enough of something and Darren will have to come in from the alley where he smokes after every set is pushed through and rip you a third new one in addition to the two you just got.

This is spackle.

Either roux that is 'thinned' by cream, or bechamel that is cooked to death. You pick.

You've been waiting for it to make you look good at a dinner party. It's for mac and cheese and alfredo and rigatoni with butternut squash, sage, prosciutto, and walnuts if you need me to have a flashback with you. It is a perfect base for the sugar and booze sauces that are perfect on, yup, bread pudding and Bananas Foster, and also whatever else you pour bourbon caramel on. It stabilizes the food. That's it. It's like a good bra, not a fancy one. No one knows it's there, but your boobs look great in that dress all day because it is hiding underneath.

C'est voila:

1. In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven or saucepot, no bigger than 4 qt. melt 1 stick (1/2 cup, 4 ounces, 8 T, this is what I mean) of butter on low heat and add a cup of all-purpose white flour. Bleached or not doesn't matter.

2. Stir quickly until smooth and cook for about 5 minutes. If it starts to turn brown or get nutty, turn heat lower.

3. Slowly incorporate 2 cups of room temperature half-and-half, stirring constantly, so it doesn't break. Keep stirring frequently until it has thickened enough to resist the spoon. It will take about 30 minutes. Scrape into container and let cool.

If you did it right, it will have the consistency of firm ice cream. Throw a large spoonful into a hot pan, add some more cream and start experimenting with all the things that you use bechamel for and are always sorry about when you wonder how that discharge got in your mouth. A good start is spackle, cream, brown sugar, a shot of whiskey, and a bit of orange juice. Just spooge it all in a pan, crank the heat, stir a bunch till it reduces and bubbles and pour it on something sweet. Cooking is science, but not rocket science. I only seem like a genius.

This isn't meant to take the place of veloutes, beurre montes, and other a la minute methods we use in kitchens but if you don't know what those words mean, or are cooking for 300 tonight, I think you're really going to love it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

#12. The Second Agreement

"The horse is going to do what the horse is going to do" says Michael, matter-of-factly, as if this is very deep and explains anything AT ALL.

"but what if the horse is really thirsty? Why is the horse so stubborn it won't get what it needs to survive?"

"The horse is going to do........."


The easiest way to make yourself crazy is to try to figure out what goes on in people's heads.

I'm a total stress-case about all kinds of stuff, including the sky literally falling, and the likelihood of my hair growing back out in a year.

And I get my feelings hurt. I do. But I don't spend a minute worrying about the WHY of what someone else might be thinking. About me. About life. About the sky falling or my fucked-up hairdo.

It's that horse's own fucking problem if it dies of thirst.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

#7. Jam

I made a resolution two years ago to never buy jelly or preserves or pickles ever again. It was partly because we were poorer than we are now and partly because I liked the idea of using fruit that would be otherwise wasted and being able to control the amount of sugar my family was eating. I am proud to say I have, for once, stuck to my damned guns about SOMETHING, and achieved this very tiny goal.

During the summer, it's easy to glean and forage stone fruits and purple berries and there are terrific things happening on the door of our fridge, but by January, I'm busted. There might be a few jars of marmalade for making orange chicken and the kids aren't fans.

I bought 6 lbs. of conventionally grown strawberries for $6 and made a few pints of jam this morning and I feel good and bad about this but mostly okay I guess since the myth of tasteless berries doesn't apply when they are from 120 miles away and only few days old.

It's not hard, if you don't currently jam, and it's a great saver of the mushy fruit (GRAPES!!!) that your kids don't eat. Save the ones from the bottom of the bag that you throw away every single  time. Freeze them even.


Monday, January 5, 2015

#5. How I Get Down

I could never be on Top Chef.

First, the length of the application. Maybe there is a reason you never see more than 2 or 3 really great chefs each season and the reason is 26 pages of menu descriptions, videos, social media reference-getting, and essay questions. Real chefs are busy cheffing and then drinking and then sleeping so.......

Second, I cannot sharpen a knife to save my life and so I use my SaniSafe and an antler-handled steel that is about 100 years old and made out of the earth's first carbon, probably, instead of my Global and Shun, pretty much ALL OF THE TIME, because it can be kept up fairly easily, instead of feeling inferior about one's ragged vegetable cuts.
If you're a line cook you should probably be like a Renaissance bladesmith and be able to get a razor-edge from a little tiny stone with no problem. I can hone, but I'm no shaver saver. I have also never sawed an animal in half, which seems to be a requirement these days.

Third, I like shortcuts. If something works as well or better than something else, I don't want kitchen snobbery against hillbillies to raise it's ugly head when I'm just trying to show you how the grannies do.

If you're a caterer/private chef/stay-at-home mom you can save yourself a lot of time/trouble by not trying to impress anyone and just cooking if you will spend less money on cheaper knives. This and other stories that will make food people cringe. Please come inside.

PASTA does not know if the water is hot from the faucet or the stove and the iron content is the same if your water is filtered in your kitchen so how about saving an extra 20 minutes and starting with hot to boil it? Oh fuck. Chemists can back off. I asked my Master Chef teacher this in cooking school and he had to give it to me. If you live in Appalachia and your hot water is rusty, this is not useful advice, everyone else, you are welcome.

GARLIC is so much easier handled using a microplane to grate it instead of the whole smashing it with salt all over your cutting board situation. It saves it from staining your board and is less messy all around. While we are at it, is your microplane the skinny long one? Go get the shorter, fatter one. She's better at getting the job done without your cheese or garlic or lemon or whatever slipping off the tiny little edges.

FREEZER BOUILLON  is not my idea, but I make mine with no fennel, I add four roasted portobellas and use homemade tomato paste which is just reduced crushed tomatoes with some sugar and wine. It takes a bit of time, but it makes about a quart and is worth it or I wouldn't bother telling you because you know I hate typing. When you make soup or gravy throw some in instead of a creepy packet with all the chemicals, Not having to chop and prep a bunch of vegetables as a base is a fantastic headstart on a school night when you had to run errands all afternoon and do not want to feed the people you live with pizza again. I make one with just herbs and salt too, and stir it into green soups and risotto and pasta sauce.

CANDIED NUTS AND SEEDS make a salad for children more fun and I scoffed at the nice lady that taught me how to do it with just powdered sugar but I will give it up to Carmen Cortez for this little trick: Boil 2 cups of water, blanch 1 cup of nuts for 30 seconds. I do not care which nuts. You choose. Strain, throw in bowl with 1/2 cup powdered sugar, spices if you want, maybe some chili flakes. Bake at 400 on middle rack on lined sheet pan until they are toasted. Check every five minutes. Your oven might be hotter than mine.

CREUSET BUT NEVER ALL-CLAD unless Bar-Keeper's Friend is really your friend. I know it looks so pretty on TV, but just don't. Creuset is the Meryl Streep of cookware.

I hope these things are useful to you in this New Year of our planet spinning crazy tiny in the huge Outer Space. We could all use five more minutes and a cleaner kitchen and I feel like we are taking ourselves too seriously. Make it easier by cheating.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

#3. Before Pinterest

I used to rip out bits of paper that had words I wished I'd written.

Some people, told of witness trees,
pause in chopping a carrot
or loosening a lug nut and ask,
witness to what? So while salad
is made, or getting from A to B
is repaired, these people
listen to the story
of the Burnside Bridge sycamore,
alive at Antietam, bloodiest day
of the war, or the Appomattox Court House
honey locust, just coming to leaf
as Lee surrendered, and say, at the end,
Cool. Then the chopping
continues with its two sounds,
the slight snap to the separation
of carrot from carrot, the harder crack
of knife against cutting board,
or the sigh, also slight, of a lug nut
as it’s tightened against a wheel. In time,
these people put their hands
under water and say, not so much to you
but to the window in front of the sink,
Think of all the things
trees have seen.
Then it’s time
for dinner, or to leave, and a month passes,
or a year, before two fawns
cross in front of the car, or the man
you’ve just given a dollar to
lifts his shirt to the start
of the 23rd psalm tattooed
to his chest, “The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want,” when some people
say, I feel like one of those trees,
you know?
And you do know.
You make a good salad, change
a wicked tire, you’re one of those people,
watching, listening, a witness
to whatever this is,
for as long as it is
amazing, isn’t it, that I could call you
right now and say, They still
can’t talk to dolphins
but are closer,
as I still
can’t say everything I want to
but am closer, for trying, to God,
if you must, to spirit, if you will,
to what’s never easy for people
like us: life, breath, the sheer volume
of wonder.

-Bob Hicok