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The proverb goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. However, I wasn’t given the option. God knew I’m a rebel and I refuse to follow the masses. God respected it, and so instead of the above mentioned yellow, über tart fruits, he/she handed me… onions.

VERY FUNNY, GOD! I HOPE YOU’RE SHAKING UP LAUGHING ON YOUR FLUFFY, LAMB-SHAPED CLOUD UP THERE.

On my very first day at ANIMAL I was given a task of chopping onions. Thirty (30) of them. Each one to be peeled and diced into 1/4″ cubes. Roughly, because who’s measuring, right? Next, I was to caramelize the bunch, cool it, and store it away for the dinner service later that night. Shallots followed, twenty of those, with a tiny cut adjustment called brunoise. It’s a fancy French word for a VERY SMALL FOOKING DICE. (1/8″ cube to be exact, but again, who’s running around with a ruler!) Have you ever tried that? No, the French did not mean you MINCE the bulb, because that would be too easy, and sloppy, but precisely BRUNOISE them. End of story.

Three weeks later I still begin every morning at the kitchen with at least twenty onions on my chopping board turning them into a bowl of tearsome dice one head at a time. I got really good at that, thought I did not expect working at the restaurant to be that emotional. Sniff-sniff.

Luckily, during my time with the restaurant’s crew I did more than just improve my knifing skills. In a true ANIMAL spirit, I’ve seen a ZOO pass through their kitchen. Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at the menu before I move forward.

Once seated at the table, one can start with a CHICKEN LIVER TOAST, and then push it with CHICKEN HEARTS WITH LIMA BEANS, BABA GHANOUSH & YOGURT. If that doesn’t bring your testosterone levels up, there’s MARROW BONE WITH CHIMICHURRI & (my!) CARAMELIZED ONIONS available at your request.

All that is just a happy meal for your toddler when you juxtapose the starters against other treats on the menu. How about some PIG TAILS “BUFFALO STYLE” or PIG EAR WITH CHILI, LIME & FRIED EGG? RABBIT LOIN WITH COUNTRY HAM & SUCCOTASH introduces you to game I myself am a big fan of. Like the CRISPY RABBIT LEGS WITH MEYER LEMON AIOLI where the meat is so tender it melts in your mouth as fast as that cliché comes to mind.

There’s more, but you get an idea where ANIMAL comes from, and where it goes for that matter. In the morning hours of prep, I witnessed beheading of an octopus; I assisted at an autopsy of hamachi fish; I deboned smoked trout, and cooked and cleaned sweetbreads (calf’s gullet that is, and not a bread of any kind). Oh, yes, I butchered a bunny as well.

As macabre as it sounds, it’s just nature that feeds us. When plated at last, all the meats are simply fabulous. The food is the reason I chop those onions endlessly without as much as a bleep, so I can get up close and personal with the process and techniques. The kitchen is organized impeccably. Operations run smoothly like in a well oiled apparatus. The crew is friendly, professional, and welcoming–from day 2 I felt a sense of camaraderie. I haven’t met everybody yet, since I’ve been working the morning shift thus far, but beside the bosses, the TWO DUDES, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, there’s Frank and Rebecca, there’s Carlos and Dan, there’s Jose and Gaby, and there’s Raymundo.

The local legend says Raymundo was a surgeon in his native Mexico, and one day was summoned to operate on a drug lord. He butchered the surgery deliberately thus eliminating one of the top mobsters from his home turf. Consequently, he was forced to flee his country, and that’s how he got to the U.S., and became a cook.*

At least that’s what the legend claims, and you know what they say about legends, especially those very local ones…**

Raymundo has since worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, like Mario Batali to name one, before he laid out his knives in ANIMAL’s kitchen. I told you his story for I am about to share with you one of his recipes, and I want you to be able to fully recognize its value. Also, this is to show that ANIMAL is more than just the flesh and bones. Those bi-weekly trips to farmers’ markets happen for a reason. It may come as a shock but there are a few vegetarian options on the menu as well. Raymundo’s recipe would be one of those:

RAYMUNDO’S TOMATILLO SALSA (proportions adjusted):

– 5-6 tomatillos, husk off, washed and quartered

– 1-2 jalapenos, keep seeds of one for heat

– 1/2 tsp cumin

– 1 tsp red wine vinegar

– juice of one lemon

– pinch of salt

– handful of cilantro

– 1-2 garlic cloves, smashed

Place all ingredients in a food processor, or blender, and give it a solid whiz. When liquified, cut small pieces of a ripe avocado and sink them in the salsa. Drizzle a spoonful of the goods all over fresh burrata. Finish with a few sprinkles of sea salt (muy importante).

That’s how it’s served at the restaurant. However, at home, I loaded my plate with butter lettuce first, thus making a bedding for my burrata and salsa, and added a few ribbons of red onion for color and whole cilantro leaves for fun. A drizzle of good quality olive oil is an option that will bring everybody together, just like the Olympic games do.

You think that’s not enough for a dinner? Think again. Neither Jason nor myself had any room left even for a single chocolate chip cookie afterwards. You MUST try RAYMUNDO’S TOMATILLO SALSA. It’s to die for. (No pun intended.)

* + ** All names, dates and places have been altered in order to protect the lives and privacy of the people involved in the story. All characters mentioned and the story itself may or may not be fictional and have plenty or nothing to do with reality.

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This week I chose to do an experiment. I wanted to try how it tastes to be an adult. You know, a responsible, preventive, and prepared person. In other words – an un-spontaneous human. I sat my ass down and planned it all out – the menu, activities, Cosmo’s vaccinations, yoga, and writing. The irony is that the very first time I decided to exercise mature behavior – BAM! – lightning struck right in the middle of my sandbox disguised as a phone call from HBO asking if I could fill in for one of their guys, who fell victim of the flu.

Don’t get me wrong… getting a call like that makes me as happy as that kid from “Slumdog Millionaire” that hustles through an ocean of fecal matter when given a chance to see his Bollywood idol. Frankly, I got so excited I shaved my legs. Not that anyone in the office would ever see me in anything less then full body coverage, cape included.

On top of that, two more irresistible gig offers came in almost simultaneously – both involving work with my befriended chefs. How is it that I can practice the most comfortable couch potato position (tuchas buried deep in between the cushions, legs stretched out on the coffee table, with my mouth wide open, and a laptop rested under the chin on my two perky you-know-whats) for five months, and no job seems to find its way to me? Then one day, within less than twenty-four hours, everybody needs me at once, and I get bombarded with offers. HOW?

Yes, I have been unemployed for the last few months, I admit. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been on hiatus for that long. Two, three-weeks in between jobs happen to everyone. But five months? It’s many weeks, days, and hours (!) to fill with activities preventing one from going coo-koo. Writing helps me stay focused. (Otherwise, I get side tracked too easily, take a wrong turn, and get lost in the labyrinth of thoughts in my head.) Cooking is therapeutic. Cosmo is entertaining. Jason is understanding and supportive. Agi is convinced she’s uncovered her creative voice, and thus must exercise it at all costs.

Baby Agi

The latest fruit of my creative purging is a meal I designed in my kitchen art studio when Jason went to the Devo concert last Tuesday – SAUTÈED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND ONIONS ON A BED OF QUINOA INFUSED WITH FRESH HERBS (gasp…inhale). By far, it is the ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD with an emphasis on healthy and )))flatulent(((. Do not let the last trait stop you from following the recipe since utmost satisfaction from the meal is GUARANTEED. Simply make sure to let yourself out for a walk when the digestive process sets in to prevent turning your pad into a deadly gas chamber.

I realize not many people are friends with the above mentioned cabbage relatives. The problem lies within the cooking method. Do it intelligently and the frog will turn into a Handsome Prince for the happily ever after.

YOUR INGREDIENTS OF THE NIGHT:

–       1 cup quinoa

–       1.5 lbs Brussels sprouts, peeled and halved

–       4 oz pancetta, diced

–       1 large onion

–       3-4 cloves of garlic

–       1 tbsp dried marjoram

–       1 tbsp of unsalted butter

–       1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

–       1/2 fresh Italian parsley (or another fresh herb), chopped

–       kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

–       1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Tie an apron around your waist and let’s make you this Masterpiece In A Bowl. First things first, let’s cook quinoa in a 2:1 ratio (2 cups of liquid to 1 cup of grain).  You can use regular water and a few bay leaves with a couple of teaspoons of salt. You could go the chicken broth route. Or just dissolve a bullion cube in the pot with quinoa to enrich its flavor. Follow cooking directions from the box.

When that’s taken care of, start chopping your onion – cut it in half first, then slice both parts. Crisp the pancetta on a heated skillet, remove the cracklings and set aside for later. Add the butter to the pan, and throw in the onions along with marjoram and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Stir around to ensure even coating in grease and spices. Let the onions sauté slowly on low heat for about 10-15 minutes. When ready, remove from the pan and set aside with your cracklings.

In the meantime, blanch your mini cabbage buds for just a few minutes, and then shock them in a bowl filled with ice water. Drain immediately and set aside. When the onions are done and resting with the pig bits on the counter, chuck the Brussels sprouts onto the same skillet and brown them over a low to medium flame. Sprinkle red pepper flakes over the buds. Let them hit the bottom of the hot skillet, thus opening up their chambers of flavor.

Check on the quinoa. If it’s fully cooked, take it off the heat, and toss in all fresh herbs, previously chopped as ordered. Mix it, taste it. Is it salty enough? Don’t be afraid to fix the dish to your own liking. That’s the point after all, isn’t it?

Mix the mini cabbages in the skillet again, add your cracklings and onions, and tumble all around. Turn off the heat. Scoop a little quinoa into a bowl, cover with a layer of the Brussels sprouts and the works, twist open a bottle of beautifully chilled Blue Moon, dive into the cushions of your couch, stretch your legs over the coffee table, turn on the TV, and DIG IN.

Quinoa

And you thought you hated Brussels sprouts, silly.

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