Category Archives: cooking

Salt And Pay-Per-View

A couple of nights ago I ate a jar and a half of pickles. In one sitting. A jar and a half. Admittedly, it was spread out over three episodes of “Girls,” but still. That’s a lot. Enough to make me wonder, at the time, if there is such a thing as saline poisoning. And, if so, whether I had contracted it. Turns out I was fine–just really, really thirsty. A bottle and a half of Gerolsteiner later I was as right as rain. No worse for wear the next morning, either. If salt bloats me I am unaware of it. Having eaten such ginormous quantities of it, I believe I’ve become immune to its water-retaining properties. I could ingest it the way a deer does–right off of a salt lick in the middle of a frozen woods–and be completely fine. Except for the hunter gathering me in his sights.

At least I’d die unpuffy.

All of this is to say that I’ve not written in ages. But after the pickle incident I knew it was time. One can only, after all, watch so much TV–especially when such ruinous culinary conduct accompanies the endeavor. I have, since my last post, consumed not only many high-sodium foods, but also six seasons of Sons of Anarchy, half a dozen episodes of “Downton Abbey,” and an hour and a half of “Girls.” Before I start watching–or should I say shooting up–whatever brilliant entertainment comes next, I’ve got to break the cycle. I am becoming a TV junkie. A VOD fiend. The Sid and Nancy of Amazon Prime.

You may say I’m being hard on myself. After all, I’m just doing what most people do, right? This is the American Way! I work hard, I have a plethora of responsibilities, my days are full and dizzying. This gives me leave to vegetate at the end of the day. I’ve earned it. I have sold, clientelled, fundraised, cooked, cleaned, shopped, swept, laundered, counseled, bathed, and entertained. I have played “babies” with my daughter for hours. I have read multiple dinosaur books. I have walked the dog, fed the cat, made the bed. I have stain-treated, book-clubbed, bill-payed, friend-helped,  thank-you-card written,  photo-uploaded,  battery-charged,  filter-changed,  customer-service-called,  paperwork completed, password updated, breakfast-dish-washed, lint-filter-cleaned, and toilet-scrubbed for dozens of waking hours. I have fulfilled my responsibilities. No one in my charge has gone unattended. I am done.

The last thing I want to do now is concentrate. On anything.

So I watch. And watch. And man, it feels good.

But then I think of my readers, the few, the quirky, the persistent. And the historians, the ones for whom I claim to write. And my daughter, for whom I really do. And I know I need to put. Down. The. Remote.

For just five minutes.

So I have done it. Bravo! I will again tomorrow, if I can. And the day after. For if I don’t I’ve left nothing behind. Nothing. Except some empty jars, a crumpled napkin, and the scattered palpitations of other peoples’ stories. Rape? In the servants’ quarters? How could it be???

Anyway. I’m back.

And now I’m going to go watch an episode of Boardwalk Empire. Just one. Heck, I’ve earned it.

Pickle, anyone?

To Done, 12/1/13

  • On early shift. Woke up at 6:30 with MJ. Gave her breakfast, read half of “Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs.” Played six rounds of Candyland. Won more than I would’ve liked.
  • Fed both animals.
  • Put in a load of laundry.
  • Did breakfast dishes.
  • Said good morning to Mike. Apologized for forgetting to make his coffee.
  • Still didn’t make it.
  • Swept part of living room.
  • Stripped bedroom sheets.
  • Put in another load of laundry.
  • Showered.
  • Got dressed.
  • Went to put on makeup. Found cat in the toilet, where he finds his happy place.
  • Took cat out. Dropped him on floor.
  • Realized toilet was filled with pee.
  • Tried to clean up. Promptly stepped in cat-wet floor in stocking feet.
  • Realized I did not have time to change.
  • Said goodbye to Mike and MJ and ran out, cursing cat, in wet-footed haste.
  • Worked from 10:00 AM to 6:30.
  • Raced home.
  • Changed clothes.
  • Put MJ to bed.
  • Had quick dinner with Mike.
  • Washed dinner dishes.
  • Switched laundry again.
  • Worked on raffle tickets.
  • Checked weather for the weekend. Worried in spite of good forecast.
  • Wrote 23 e-mails re Saturday’s fundraiser.
  • Made a double batch of candycane cookie batter for same.
  • Talked on phone to girlfriend about her romantic problems. Her boyfriend is allergic to her cat. Told her I am allergic to mine. Or at least my feet are.
  • Put batter in fridge.
  • Checked weather for Saturday again. Still worried.
  • Wrote 21 more fundraiser-related e-mails.
  • Shooed persistent racoon away from front porch so dog would stop growling.
  • Walked said dog.
  • Checked child.
  • Put cat in back room. Away from all toilets.
  • Left pantyhose soaking in Woolite.
  • Checked weather.
  • Went to bed.
  • Worried some more.

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To Do or Not To Do

Who says grownups don’t have homework? We’ve got a shitload. And there’s no blaming the dog if we don’t get it done.

I’ll speak for myself. I can’t catch up. If life were a graded class I’d be scrambling for a D.

These days, with work added in, I feel unbelievably swamped. Because everything now must be squeezed into the four days when I’m home. Or the parts of those days, that is, when MJ is not demanding my undivided attention to make up for my absence the rest of the time.

Which boils down to about, oh, forty minutes a day. Into which I try to squeeze the numberless quotidian duties of a modern mom, wife and homeowner. Plus:

The fundraising. It’s always on my mind. Always. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Or the committee chairmanship. How, I ask myself, will I raise thirty thousand dollars for my kid’s school? How? I lie in bed at night worrying. Plotting. Despairing. When I finally fall asleep, I dream about car washes, bake sales, ebay auctions, bank robberies. Only the latter is effective. Because it’s carried out by three-year-olds, with sticks for guns. Riding on bananas. Who’s gonna say no to that?

Then I wake up. And we’re still at zero.

Anyway. Then there’s this blog. I love it. But it’s an obligation, too. Self-imposed, but aren’t most of them?

Next: the garden. Jesus Christ, what a time suck. A while ago, in a fit of impatience and shortsightedness, I had Mike tear out the sprinkler system. Now everything has to be watered by hand. Every other day. Because it’s 150 degrees out there. Plants wilt easily. So do people. It’s a drag. And it takes seventeen hundred hours. I hate it. But I hate looking at bare dirt, too.

Next: the lunches. If we don’t pack those the night before, the morning is a disaster. Even under the best of circumstances our days begin frantically. God forbid we should add in one more task. Especially one involving mayonnaise.

Then there are the phone calls. To friends, family, insurance companies, tax assessors, veterinarians, doctors, handymen,  exterminators, board members, possible fundraising connections, old acquaintances whom I’ve been promising to call for years and haven’t and now they hate me.

And don’t forget the straightening. And straightening. And straightening. And dishwashing, laundry, bathroom cleaning, garbage emptying, sheet changing, doghair sweeping, toy picking up, dusting, organizing, mealmaking and melted-crayon-scraping.

Once all of the above is done (hah!) there’s the book club assignment. “Gone Girl,” at the moment. I like it. But I hate it more. Especially as it has to be done by Wednesday, and I still have 100 pages to go. Each of which will drip with venom, duplicity, and perfidy. Good for the outlook! Next book: “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

Speaking of positives. There is one homework assignment I love. It’s the postcards to Myra-Jean. These are crucial now. They are the sole reason she no longer bursts into tears when I tell her I’m going to work. They actually make her glad. Glad I’m going, so she can look for them. It’s that easy. Or so it seems. It probably isn’t. But it’s helping.

And guess what? I like drawing them. I do it the night before. It relaxes me. Crayons are a cooperative medium. Unlike life.

Anyway. I imagine her face as she finds them, her tapered finger pointing as she sounds out the letters “O-W-L,” her delight at the image of a favorite planet, her soft smile as Mike reads my words. This makes me happy. I need no dog here. Nothing to snatch away this highest and most pleasurable of tasks: the lightening of my daughter’s day. I love it.

And it makes me feel better about everything else that’s been left undone. At least I’ve got my priorities right.

That and thirty grand will get me a decent night’s sleep.

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Happy Meal

Happiness is:

  • Hating your new co-workers a little less.
  • Coming home to find your daughter still awake, even though it’s an hour past her bedtime.
  • Being so excited to see her that you almost break your nose on her head as you embrace her.
  • Her being so happy to see you that she doesn’t even notice the collision.
  • Lying next to her in her wee bed, your feet hanging over the endboard, talking about her day.
  • The way she says, over and over again, “Mama. You came home.”
  • Her new painting–almost miraculously beautiful–of Mina and an octopus.
  • Finding that not only has your husband prepared dinner, but the plate waiting for you is covered with paper towel then plastic, so you will not ingest hormone-disrupting chemicals after microwaving.
  • Knowing that, since said husband is going out, you can eat the aforementioned plate at the table like a zombie while binge-watching “Orange Is the New Black” on your laptop.

It is incremental improvement, even when this seems impossible.

It is knowing that you don’t have to work tomorrow. Or you do, but at home. Your favorite place of employment.

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Loaf Lost

If we were a restaurant, we’d have been shut down by the health department today.

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Yes, it’s a meatloaf. Don’t laugh.

That’s the final version. There was an earlier incarnation, which tasted mystifyingly raw inside, even though it had cooked for an hour and a half. I ate a small slice, and got so freaked out I fed the rest to the dog. It was creamy, like polenta. I don’t know much, but I know meatloaf isn’t supposed to have the “mouth feel” of creme brulee.

So I put the remaining half back in the oven. Because Mike would need dinner, too, when he got home. And I was not feeding him turkey pap.

An hour later I remembered to get it out.

“What did you do to it?” Mike said, when he saw it.

I shook my head. “I don’t know, exactly.”

“Oh, well. I’m sure it’ll taste great,” he said, in that game way people do when they know they are about to step off of a culinary cliff.

Later, after he’d eaten all of it–good man!–we talked about what had gone wrong.

“It just wouldn’t cook,” I insisted. “It was in there forever. It tasted like oatmeal. And then it got burnt.”

“Was the oven temperature right?” Mike asked.

“Yes.”

He shook his head. “Then I don’t know what to tell you.” There was a pause. “Did you follow the recipe?”

“Yes,” I snapped, rolling my eyes exasperatedly. Then I thought about it. I’d used a bit more ketchup than was called for. And a bit less meat.

I mentioned this.

“How much more ketchup?”

I counted in my head. “Maybe four times?”

His eyes widened.

“It was a mistake!” I stammered. “I read the recipe wrong. And then I forgot–and I had to–anyway. Maybe five times. Do you think that could’ve been the problem?”

“It’s a lot of extra liquid.”

I cocked my head. “Ketchup is a liquid?”

He ignored this. “Of course it tasted creamy. It was soaked.”

Whatever. What’s done is done. But I’m renewing my vow–first made after the Mark Bittman chicken debacle two years ago–to never again cook a recipe that calls for a meat thermometer. It’s not worth the pain, the humiliation, or the attendant mild nausea.

As for our home-restaurant? The one Myra-Jean is now calling “Food?” We will simply go vegetarian. Or vegan. Or better yet, raw. I suspect I have a knack for that.

Reservations, anyone?

Order Up!

Myra-Jean has a new ploy in mind to keep me home from work. Or at least keep me with her. She and I are going into business together.

She came up with this yesterday while we were sitting eating dinner.

“Mama, you need to keep working at that store forever,” she said, out of the blue.

I glanced at her, surprised. “Really? I thought you hated that I was working. Why do you want me to stay?”

MJ shoved a greenbean in her mouth. “Because then when I grow up I can work there with you.”

Ah. I smiled. “That’s a lovely idea, sweetie. Maybe some day we will work together. But it doesn’t have to be there.” (Adding, in my head: “and over my dead body will it be!”)

“Where, then?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Where would you like?”

Myra-Jean thought, chewing slowly. Then her face brightened. “How about a restaurant? Our own!”

Ha! Good one. She’s clearly forgotten my many cooking debacles. But we’re just fantasizing here, right? I shrug and nod. “Sure. We can open a restaurant.”

MJ sits up straight. “Can we do it now?”

I run a finger over her cheek. “Not now. It’s bedtime. But tomorrow we can play restaurant, how about that?”

My daughter’s brow furrows. “I don’t want to play it,” she says flatly. “I want a real restaurant. Now. In our house. So you can work here with me.”

Needless to say, I can’t accommodate her completely. But this morning, bright and early, we played a long round of “restaurant” in our kitchen. As lifelike as I could make it. Menus, order slips, steamed vegetables, the whole nine. It didn’t stop me having to leave for work at 8:30, but it did seem to soften the blow some.

And my young customer was very complementary about the service. Even when I spilled water on her nightgown.

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Annie Pall

Note to self: next time you’re in a mid-life crisis, do not pick up a Diane Keaton autobiography. I repeat. Do. Not.

This time it’s too late. No one warned me. And now I’m fully depressed.

Yes, I finished it. And no, it wasn’t bad. Not in the typical sense of the word. Rather, it was just, well, miserable. I slogged through the whole thing thinking, simultaneously, “she can actually write,” and “please let it end.” I feel sorry for Keaton. She sounds regretful about just about everything. In ways I somewhat understand, which only makes it worse. Now I feel sorry for myself.

The point being: if I jump off a bridge tonight and leave a crumpled note saying something like “it all ends in tears! Or at least Alzheimers…”

Blame Diane Keaton.

Of course I won’t jump off a bridge. Mostly thanks to Mike. He was able to pull me quickly out of my post “Then Again” ennui, and all it took was one line.

Right after I’d finished it, I walked into the kitchen looking sadder than Eeyore on quaaludes.

“I just feel so bad for her!” I moaned.

Mike turned from the pizza he was making with MJ. “Look. Most people suffer everything she’s suffered, but didn’t get to sleep with Warren Beatty.”

And with that thoughts of the bridge quickly receded.

Incidentally, the pizza Mike made was heart shaped. It ended in crumbs, of course, but while it lasted?

It was pretty damn good.

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Pesto Al Bano

There are things you swear, as a parent, you’ll never do.

Then there are the things you can’t swear you’ll never do because it would never enter the mind of any sane person that you–or anyone–would ever consider doing them.

Setting the table for dinner in a bathroom is one such thing.

Let me back up. MJ still isn’t pooping in the potty. I don’t want to make a big deal about it or anything, and if she ever, later in life, reads this blog I want her to know I am utterly at peace with her decision to stay in diapers until, well, even puberty, if that’s where she wants to go with it. As for the fact that, when she does poop, it’s invariably just when we’ve sat down to dinner? And takes an hour? I won’t even bring it up.

Except for here, where my impatience and infrequent exasperation must be allowed the occasional, um, expulsion, if you will.

Anyway. This morning it was Myra-Jean who brought it up. By suggesting that, when it was dinner time, she’d like to try something new. In her words: “We’ll bring a table to the toilet. I’ll sit at it and eat. And at the same time? Poop.”

Once I had adjusted my face appropriately I turned and responded “on the potty?”

“Yes!”

“While…you’re eating dinner?”

“Yes!”

I wrote it off as an insane fantasy.

Fast forward to tonight. I’d forgotten about it completely, and come home with MJ from a long day of activity–the library, ballet class, Trader Joes. So tired, both of us. The plan was: quick dinner, no bath, one book, bed.

I had just poured pasta into boiling water when I saw Mike–who was supposed to be leaving for a Dodgers game–walking towards the bathroom with a pile of blocks.

“Don’t start playing with her now,” I called, poking at my penne with a wooden spoon. “It’s dinner time.”

Mike stopped, turned, and stuck his head into the kitchen conspiratorially. “She wants to eat at the toilet,” he said. “I’m adjusting the table.” Then he was gone.

I stood, my head cocked, spoon hanging down stupidly. This was really happening? Now?

Look. I don’t mean to be a naysayer. It’s just, the thing is, first, it was late. Second, I was tired. Third, I was starving. Fourth, I knew that, if MJ was going to eat and attempt to poop in the potty for the first time, not only was it going to take forever, but I would have to join her. In eating, that is. For MJ will not sup alone. That is a hard and fast rule.

Trepidation writ large across my face, I headed for the bathroom. There I found MJ, sitting on the toilet in front of a small wooden table, which had been raised by the blocks to be more her height. On the table was a book about the solar system. MJ leafed through the latter, idly jamming a strand of hair up her nose. When she heard me come in she looked up, smiling.

“Did you bring our dinners?”

“Not yet,” I sighed. “Are you really going to try this?”

“Of course!”

I went back to the kitchen, muttering to myself irately. “Be up all night…off to the Dodgers game…never going to happen…”

Gathering two plates of pesto, plus forks, napkins, a bowl of mini carrots, a glass of juice, and a saltshaker, I headed back to the bathroom and laid everything out. Then, picking up my own plate I said “do you suppose I could just…eat in the hall?”

MJ’s eyebrows veed, astonished and hurt. “But I need you to be with me.”

So much for that. Placing my plate on the table, I lowered myself onto the shower ledge. Immediately my butt was soaked. Better and better. Reminding myself that childhood is precious and fleeting, I pulled my meal towards me. I was famished. I was wiped. I was looking at a kid on the john. I could do this.

“Bon appetite!” MJ sang.

I took a bite. Then shook my head. Cognitive dissonance. I couldn’t avoid it. There’s a reason people don’t eat in bathrooms. This was wrong. This was taboo. This was gross. If she actually pooped, on the other hand? In the toilet, finally? Jesus. The victory. The milestone! The savings in diapers! We could always wean her off  the table later, I supposed. And the food, of course. If this was what would get it done, how could I say no?

“Bon appetite,” I answered, faintly.

MJ ate with gusto, simultaneously grating baby carrots with her front teeth and talking about–what else?–defecation and urination. It seemed endlessly fascinating to her. “Dogs like to poop first and then pee.”

“Oh?”

“Cats? Pee first. Owls. Poop. Daddy? I’m not sure…”

“Me neither,” I muttered, as I choked down a bite of kale. What would happen if MJ actually started pooping? I couldn’t stay here. No way. I mean, I support her, and everything. I love her. It’s unconditional. I want her to be potty trained. Fervently. But this? This was too much. I couldn’t go through with it. It would ruin pesto for me forever. As for the kale, it was pretty much ruined already. I’d neglected to season it.

There was a tinkling sound. I put down my fork.

MJ smiled theatrically. “That felt good.” She shoved green noodles into her mouth.

I pushed my chair back. Then remembered I didn’t have one. The shower ledge hulked damply, immovable. “I don’t believe this,” I muttered.

Myra-Jean, ignoring me, reached for her milk. And knocked her carrots to the floor.

“Pick them up!” she screeched. “I want them!”

“Hold on,” I groaned, reaching down.

As I turned on the cold water tap and doused the skinless, orange nubs, I suddenly saw myself–as if from the outside. A crazy person, rinsing carrots–probably coated in e-Coli from the bathroom floor–in a sink that hadn’t been cleaned in, well, a while, in order to return them to her currently dining and soon-to-be-defecating daughter. It was so. Very. Wrong.

“Have you started yet?” I asked MJ, holding the carrots behind me in one fist.

“Pooping?” there was a pause. “I don’t actually have to,” she said, looking somewhat sheepish.

“Oh, honey. That’s fine. That’s great.” I stood up. Picking up our two plates I walked into the dining room, calling back: “I’m in here. With our food.”

“I’ll join you,” she said brightly.

A moment later she appeared with her skirt back on and hopped up into her chair.

“Did you wash your hands?”

She had. And we ate. At the table. Like normal people.

As for the potty? I’m proud of her for trying. And I told her so.

I also reminded her there’s always breakfast. Maybe we’ll both get our appetites back by then.

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Rocket Bottom

I remember a Bozooka Joe cartoon from when I was a kid. It was just one panel, and featured a mother saying to her son: “I’ve told you a million, billion times not to exaggerate.” I didn’t get it at the time–I was, like two. Or maybe four. But I eventually did, and came to find the cartoon funny. It was my earliest exposure to–what is that–irony? Whatever. It spoke to me. I identified. It stuck with me–the humor, not the gum.

For I’m an exaggerator, and always have been.

And that’s why, tonight, I used the phrase “arctic” to describe the breeze coming through our dining room window. Mike and I had just sat down to a sumptuous meal of spaghetti and meat sauce–made by him–and arugula salad–made by me. My statement about the wind was met with a look of disbelief.

“Arctic? Really?”

So, OK. It’s not quite that cold. But it is cool by L.A. standards. For June.

This is what got Mike and I started on what I’ll call “the dinner of disagreements.” First we debated the quality of the wind. Then we got into an argument about Joni Mitchell’s “River.” (Mike finds it “on the nose,” whatever that means. I love it.) Then it was the salad.

You see, I made arugula again. I always do. When it comes to lettuce I am a one-hit wonder. I’d eat arugula for every meal, if I could. I adore it. And tonight’s batch was extra special. This was no Trader Joe’s fresh-pak. No, the rocket, this time, came from Cookbook, a super fancy artisanal-and-organic-everything store in Echo Park. I can’t generally afford to shop there, but I’d won a $50 gift certificate, so stopped in yesterday to pick up a few things. A total of eight items consumed my certificate. One of them was a medium-sized sack of my favorite lettuce. I knew it would be stellar.

And it was–better than I even expected. Spicy, tangy, peppery–everything you want arugula to be. The Platonic ideal. The ne plus ultra. The stemmy jewel in a lettuce-y crown.

“This is the best arugula I’ve tasted since I lived in the Hamptons,” I said, as I put the finishing touches on my dressing.

Mike turned from the stovetop to stare at me. “Did you really just say that?”

I made a face at him. “Whatever. It’s super good.”

He sighed, and trudged to the table dutifully. I should mention he kind of hates arugula.

And yet I keep making it. I am selfish this way. As if that’s not bad enough, I make huge portions. Where salads are concerned I have a tendency towards excess–a fear of not having enough, I suppose. So, instead of putting a modest pile of leaves in the bottom of the bowl, I fill it to the rim. I make enough for ten. Soldiers. Big ones. With scurvy.

Poor Mike is not one to leave food uneaten. Something about his childhood. So he eats. And eats. And eats.

Tonight he was on his third portion of greens when we got into an argument about whether or not I was “predictable.” Mike said that, where salad was concerned, I was. I interpreted his comment more globally, and took umbrage. Both of us shoved great gobs of serpentine leaves down our throats as we took turns rebutting the other:

“I didn’t say you were predictable.”

“Yes you did.”

“I was talking about your cooking!”

“Oh, thanks a lot!”

And so on.

We got through this eventually. But soon we were disagreeing again. This time it was about preschool graduations. Mike thinks they’re silly. I think he has a heart of granite. “How can you not see the import,” I cried, wiping oil from my lower lip, “of such rituals in a child’s life?”

He couldn’t.

“You’d better be there,” I said, folding my napkin emphatically, “on the day.”

“The day what?”

I narrowed my eyes at him impatiently. “The day she graduates.”

“From preschool? Of course I’ll be there!” he said.

“You’d better cry.”

“It’s in two years.”

“So?”

“I can’t make any promises.”

He’ll cry, alright. He’ll cry because I will make him arugula salads every single day for the rest of his life if he doesn’t. Huge bowls of them. Buckets. Barrels. Vats. Dumpsters. Corn silos. Universes. Filled with arugula. Then tossed with tomatoes, olives, and thinly sliced parmesan rinds, just like they were tonight. (That last part was a mistake. But I will repeat it if I must.)

Wow, you’re saying, you’re really the punitive type, aren’t you?

No, I’m not. I just really love my rocket. With cheese instead of rind, it’s truly a spectacular dish.

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