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I stole food from my dog.
I am out of control.
Since I got that call about that job on that show for HBO, the one you know nothing about as it’s not yet on, it’s been raining almost consistently here in LA. That last piece of information is relevant to my story only thanks to the drip-drip soundtrack that torrential tempest provides as I type these words.
So, I’ve been working on HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA … the show, and quite literally, in life. There’s no glamour in the services I provide here, but I feel at ease and no longer experience the yearning for recognition and appreciation for my work in a corporate setting. It brings an unspoken amount of relief to have finally discovered a passion in life, which for me, aside from exploiting my life on the Internet, is defined by cooking. I have developed a skill I can offer to the world now. The minute I’m done with my current duties on the show, I’ll walk back to my kitchen, or into my clients’ kitchens and will make a living by stirring, blanching, and shocking vegetables.
In the meantime, I share offices with editors and their assistants who work hard gluing and stitching together the show you’ll be able to watch on HBO in a few short weeks. Since the office space is rather congested, everybody can hear the dialog, music score, and any other sound effects present in a given scene the editors are currently working on. Today moaning and gasping fills the air around, as the sex scenes are being patched together. I can’t help giggling under my nose as if I were 12 and caught my uncle and auntie DOING IT.
While I’ve been enjoying the on-screen sex at work, my loyal ol’ pooch goes through separation anxiety.
It must be it. How else to explain he’d gotten sick FOUR times since I left home? There’s nothing new about the wholesome dog food we’ve been feeding him forever. He’s not lethargic or sad when I come home. On the contrary, the minute I open the door he jumps at me from whichever corner of the house he’s been laying in wait and nails me straight to the wall behind me and bombards me with a shower of kisses. What that really means is that he licks my face inside out with a boy scout’s zeal and precision of a robot on Adderall. When he gets back on his fours at last, the joy dance begins and Cosmo spins right round until I get dizzy. I say he’s fine.
Still, my heart sank every time I saw my baby throw up and all this past week. It was time for me to take action. It was time to employ some drastic measures. Cosmo was about to learn of that brilliant witch that his mommy was.
I entered the kitchen, swoosh, pulled out a pot, clink, and mounted it on the stove, bang. Inside went diced pancetta, a handful, and sizzled until its fat rendered. Rice (half a cup) was next along with a tablespoon of crushed dry marjoram. Mixed with the pork juices, the rice toasted evenly just in time for a cup of grated carrots that landed right in the pot. Then I drowned it all in organic, low sodium chicken stock, because my dog deserves the best. It didn’t end there. For color, I tossed in sweet peas, then seasoned the dish with salt, and plunked a bay leaf to top that field of savory yumness.
You think dogs don’t like parsley? Just watch Cosmo.
Thus enlivened, Cosmo’s breakfast/dinner combo for the next 4 days was officially completed. Except, I tasted it. BIG MISTAKE. The food was beyond awesome, its flavor so simple and comforting, and yet robust and indisputable. I took another bite. EVEN BIGGER MISTAKE. An electric current of paramount pleasure torpedoed down my spine. My hair stood upright. ALL HAIR. Everywhere. Next thing I knew, half of the pot was empty and the wooden spatula I used to stir the goods was shoved fist-deep into my throat. I was out of control stealing my sick puppy’s meal. Suddenly, I caught his terrified look with the corner of my eye, as if he was saying: “MA! WTF?!” The spoon slipped out of my hand and dropped to the floor. The sound of it was like a slap to my unconscious self, thump. When I realized the level of devastation the hungry monster within caused I was startled. The little bit that was saved was barely enough for two doggie meals.
Cosmo sat right by my feet throughout the cooking process and the incident of mindless food absorption. He was hungry. He KNEW I was fixing food for him. I don’t know how, but he knew. I saw a shade of panic in those deeply dark eyes, not yet a full on attack, but a growing anxiety of upcoming loss. You know what I’m talking about? I could see it all in the look he gave me.
Without a word, I grabbed a box of quinoa, 4 more carrots, a parsnip, and made a new batch of food for my pooch. This time I knew better than adding salt, bay leaves, and fresh parsley in the end. A tablespoon of lard is all any dog needs in their food to get their undivided attention. And enough to avert mine.
You don’t have a dog? What’s the problem? More food for you!
Have I mentioned how insane Jason’s work has been these days? Have I bitched about the creative folks on his show that drive me bonkers? Why? Because it’s THEM who make my man live, breathe, eat, and …ekhm…release work twenty-four-seven. There’s no room for The Daily Show, no time to walk Cosmo together, NO REASON TO COOK, and no stamina for hanky-panky. Since we don’t have a child, a stack of highly classified photos in my drawer is the only reminder of that healthy and bursting with fruit flavors sex life we once had.
Can you imagine a job (a legal one) that takes away your most powerful instincts and the urge to preserve your own kind? I’ll make it easy for you. The job is called “Important Things With Demetri Martin”.
Trust me, I’m not the only one complaining. All the producers and writers are putting in an offensive number of hours for the show. They all are blessed with significant others. It’s been reported that all SOs are NOT happy. During one of those nightly brainstorming sessions (a.k.a. shooting popcorn and spitting water at each other, as who knows what exactly happens within the production chambers) the men began to recite out loud text messages from their better halves, then comparing which one was the most offensive. At that exact moment, it must have been around midnight, Jason’s iphone honked twice and the following message appeared on the screen:
I HATE DEMETRI.
He promptly shut off the phone and sank deeper into his chair. What happened?
A few days (weeks? months?) went by, and I visited Jason at work. Truthfully, I came in to rip him out of the office for a small hour so we could share a meal together in a peaceful setting. That night I met Demetri Martin for the very first time. Jason introduced us, and as we shook hands I smiled and sputtered:
AGI. NICE TO MEET YOU.
To which Demetri replied:
DEMETRI. I’M SORRY. I’M SO SORRY. FOR EVERYTHING.
Everyone burst out laughing, me including.
The guy is so sweet, so kind, so genuine, you just can’t be mad at him. Ever. He’s like this little white lamb that runs across green meadows and utters his cheerful baa-baa. When around him, you experience that instant notion to pet his warm, fuzzy mop and scratch his pink underbelly. That’s how sweet Demetri Martin is. And then he’s funny, too, in a smart-funny kind of way. You will all understand what I’m talking about when you see his show which premiers February 4th on Comedy Central. Turn the TV on, sit comfortably on your sofa, switch on “Important Things With Demetri Martin” and be ready to laugh. It may take you a second to keep up with him at times, as, you know, his jokes are not for dull saws and blunt axes. You ought to think a little, do some brain crunches. But then when it lands, when it hits home, and you GET IT, he’s FUNNY! Each sketch, each joke, keep in mind, has been marked with Jason’s sweat and blood. It’s a great show!
Wait a second. What’s the most appropriate snack to munch on during the show? What’s the best compliment you can offer to a night of such stimulating entertainment?
SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND OLIVE TAPENADE WITH ENDIVE SPEARS
All it requires is a food processor and those easily accessible ingredients:
– 6 oz drained kalamata olives, pitted
– 2 tbsp drained capers
– 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, oil including
– 1 garlic clove
– 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1 cup (packed) fresh parsley
Throw everything into the machine and give it a spin back and forth. Next, add your olive oil and hit pulse once again. And again. That’s it. The TAPENADE is done in less than 5 minutes. Scoop it out and into a glass bowl, cover with cellophane and store in a refrigerator for an hour or so before consumption. The TAPENADE pairs beautifully with white and purple leaves of endives. Their bitterness simply dissolves in those salty Mediterranean flavors.
Oh, HBO called. Twelve hours later I was back at their desk. Chained and handcuffed to it. Darn it. Why did I say yes? Well, work is a good thing. Those folks there are good peeps, not to mention the routine is handy when it comes to my mental clarity. Since it’s only temporary, it does not count as slavery. As soon as I’m useless to HBO I shall be back in the kitchen with my beloved pots and pans.
Cosmo, on the other hand, is a poor loser that has to stay home all by himself, alone in his loneliness and feel very lonesome. Oy. My heart has just cringed.
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.
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.
And you thought you hated Brussels sprouts, silly.
What makes one a writer, I wonder… Having a blog exploiting one’s intimate culinary encounters? I think not.
In various social circumstances, upon meeting a new person, I am often asked what it is that I do. Since I’ve been experimentally unemployed for the last couple of months (the first time in my life), I usually simply reply:
“I’ve been writing…”
“Oh, you’re a writer!” The human somehow gathers from my ambivalent response.
And I say nothing more, as what more should I add? That I’ve been working on my knifing skills? That I’ve chopped a few onions and even made a steak in our little toaster oven? Or that I’ve been testing my neighbors’ patience with loud music, and my dog’s tolerance level with the dirty dancing that I perform to get out of my head? I don’t lie, but neither do I go into further detail.
When I finally filed my taxes a few weeks ago (I had applied for an extension, worry not), my accountant chatted me up while filling out the forms. He asked about Jason (his client as well) and how long we’ve been dating, what’s our dog’s name, and how life was in general. When he asked:
“So what do you do?”…I thought he also meant… in general, in my free time.
“I’ve been writing.” I said. “I just don’t get paid for it …yet.”
“That’s how it usually goes in this town, doesn’t it?” He concluded, the smart ass that he is.
Later, when I looked at the paper work, I noticed “WRITER” under my occupation. Now, does this make me a writer? What better proof of my trade than an IRS statement?
I heard that writers exhibit strange behaviors while experiencing creative flow. Someone told me once about this guy who could only write when sitting on top of an armoire in his tiny New York apartment. Imagine? How inconvenient! I also used to know this other guy, a writer as well, who’d store his journal in a freezer. He even told me that he tried to pull money out of his shower knob one night as if it were an ATM. Actually he may have just sleepwalked that night, in all fairness. And I’m not sure the incident had anything to do with his writing.
I have a few quirks of my own – come to think of it – when in the creative mode, like perching on my bed, laptop in front, and wearing nothing more than a pair of dangling earrings and matching panties (not the dangling part, I’m talking colors). And I also have a dog that takes in a few new words a day with his morning coffee. Does that count? Because if this doesn’t make me a writer, I don’t know what does!
If you’re here for the recipes, you must be in a real pickle thinking “How will she ever get to food after this intro???” Well, my friend, I’ll tell you a secret… Sit down, breathe and relax. I’ll be gentle… The truth is that FOOD is just an excuse to write. It’s a side effect. It’s a symptom, and not a cause. Luckily, I really do truly and fully, passionately and madly love to play in my kitchen. I’m keen to use various toys – or cooking utensils if you must – with those kinky names like a cooling rack, an egg separator, a whip whisk, not to mention a meat tenderizer, and a piping bag… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Today I’ll write about PESTO: how I make it without cheese, and how I then mix it with a salad in the place of a dressing. And the only toy tool I need for this is a food processor, well, and a toaster oven. Now, if you don’t have one of those smart ones that can also broil and sweep floors (There she goes again!), a frying pan makes for a capable ersatz. I only ask you to bear with me when I get to the amounts and measurements. It really is my Achilles Heel, my pet peeve if you will. I chronically forget to use my measuring cups and spoons when fixing a new dish, and later, when I try to retrace my own steps to tell you all about it, I’m fucked.
FROM WIKIPEDIA: “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, or interjection and can logically be used as virtually any word in a sentence (e.g. “Fuck the fucking fuckers”). It hence has various metaphorical meanings. The verb “to be fucked” can mean “to be cheated” (e.g. “I got fucked by a scam artist”). As a noun “a fuck” or “a fucker” may describe a contemptible person. “A fuck” may mean an act of copulation. The word can be used as an interjection, and its participle is sometimes used as a strong emphatic. The verb to fuck may be used transitively or intransitively, and it appears in compounds, including fuck off, fuck up, and fuck with. In less explicit usages, “fuck” or “fuck with” can mean to mess around, or to deal with unfairly or harshly. In a phrase such as “don’t give a fuck”, the word is the equivalent of “damn”, in the sense of something having little value. In “what the fuck”, it serves merely as an intensive.
ALSO, YOUTUBE OFFERS ITS OWN DEFINITION OF THE WORD “FUCK”.
To make pesto sans cheese, first you want to toast some nuts. Traditionally pesto is made with pignoli, or pine nuts in English. However, recently I made pesto with walnuts due to lack of the other kind. It came out perfectly awesome. Hence, today, be my guest and use either one – pine or walnuts! And if you feel adventurous and end up experimenting with another type of nuts, come back here and do tell!
Back to PESTO: take ABOUT a 1/2 cup of raw, organic if available, pine nuts and spread them flat on a baking sheet. Then set the pan in a toaster oven and toast for about 5 minutes. If you’re going for the frying pan, or even a conventional oven (at 375 to 400˚), it will take 3 to 7 minutes (depending on which appliance you choose) before the nuts are done. You’ll know they are when you can smell them. You must then instantly remove the kernels from the oven or off the heat. Otherwise, due to the fat content, they will burn in a New York minute.
Once the nuts cool off, dump them into the food processor along with a BUNCH of fresh basil (maybe a cup?…or two? sorry!), 1-2 cloves of garlic (However much you LOVE garlic?), a SOLID PINCH of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and you can close the lid. Now pulse a couple of times to break down the nuts and greens and bring them closer together.
By the way, basil is not your only choice. You can also use arugula, and even mix it with other fresh herbs like dill, Italian parsley and cilantro.
Turn the machine back on and start pouring GOOD olive oil s l o w l y through the feeding tube. For pesto, I use the brands from a higher shelf, good quality, organic oils. You can use extra virgin olive oil on its own, or mix it with flaxseed oil, or even walnut oil for a different spin. How much, you ask. Ekhm. I say pour until all ingredients are incorporated into a coherent green mass. Be gentle, go slow with a small stream. If you like it chunkier and thicker, back off with that bottle earlier. Better be safe than sorry. Test it, and then add some more oil, if needed.
No matter what I tell you about measurements (as long as I’m not selling you a baking recipe) it’s essential, no, it is your duty to taste whatever you make as you go. Remember, YOU are going to eat it. YOU are the one that needs to enjoy what you make. And the more you taste during the process, the more familiar you become with certain spices, their flavors and properties. Hence, you train your tongue to tell you when something doesn’t tickle it the right way, directing you to add more of this or that. The more you sample, the better cook you become.
When done adding the oil, your pesto is ready. However, if you don’t mind the cheese, and those few extra calories mean nothing to you, go ahead and add half a cup or grated Parmesan. Pulse a few more times and mix it with the green paste – make it feel good. Store it in a tight container in the refrigerator. You can also add a tablespoon of oil to cover the surface of the pesto, thus preventing it from turning dark.
I use it on sandwiches, wraps, with pasta (duh), and in salads as a dressing. Simply, mix soft lettuce leaves with diced tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, chopped dill and scallions, add a tablespoon or so of the pesto, and unite everybody with a few circular motions of your salad forks. Don’t forget to season it with salt and pepper, if your pesto doesn’t do the trick. It’s all about sampling, thus learning how to please your own palette.
Here is a good spot for a photograph representing the PESTO described above.
Oops, no picture on file. In the state of utmost confusion and discombobulation, I forgot to snap one while the PESTO was still in the fridge. However, know that this article leads to a complimenting installment, which will talk about PITA POCKETS WITH GRILLED SALMON AND PESTO DRESSED SALAD. There will be photos!
See you then?