Category Archives: cooking

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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Two Birds With One Scone

In, the end, of course, the class went fine. True, the birdhouses took up just fifteen minutes of the kids’ time–there’s only so much you can do to two square inches of cheap cardboard. Oh, they drew on them a bit, and glued a couple of pom poms on, but then they moved on to a box of Magna Tiles on the other side of the room. Who can blame them? None of them seriously believed that their completed piece would become the domicile of an actual bird. Even four-year-olds are smart enough to see that. I think it explains their lack of urgency.

Fortunately–because I didn’t have a lot of faith in the first project–I also brought in the ingredients to make scones. As well as my killer, super-secret, stolen-from-a-restaurant-I-used-to-work-at recipe. This part went great–in spite of the fact that I accidentally used wax paper instead of parchment in the oven, which should have been a disaster. In the end, though, you couldn’t taste it, especially after I’d helped the kids slather three pounds of jam on their pieces. Organic, of course.

Anyway, it was a great success. Almost every one of the kids asked to bring a second one home to eat later. Hope their parents keep a lot of preserves around.

Still, I think I should give them the recipe and encourage them to make those for their dads on Fathers Day.

As for the birdhouses? They’ll make great Christmas tree ornaments. Now that’s thinking ahead!

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