5.29.2010

Gleaming the Cube


For a couple of years now I have been, shall we say, sauntering through what we will call my love life. I have not settled into anyone nor have I necessarily been very concerned about it. Yes, of course I’d like to find my person – if it actually works that way, but I also understand that it’s not up to me (apparently some self help books would disagree, but don’t get me started on that). I will say I have met a lot of interesting people and made some great friends during this stretch of time. But for the most part, bated breath, butterflies, nothing.

Every so often, this laissez-faire attitude towards romance in my life, or the people that flit in and out defining it gets shattered. My patina vanishes. I get geeky, girly, giddy, nervous, excited and frightened. My palms get sweaty. I say frightened because this means someone, to whom my stupid rules don’t apply, has made me wonder what’s happening and, moreover, what’s next. I crave definition. I’m no longer rolling with the punches, I no longer could take it or leave it. This means my Achilles heel is showing. And, oh my gawd, is that a pimple on my nose?!

My friend, Doug, with whom I was sharing all this on the phone earlier, tells me that he has always thought, in this realm of my life, that I exhibit Negative Capability which I think is sort of like philosophical pragmatism. He thinks that I am able to let things be in whatever may be their mystery, that I am capable of being in uncertainty. He must think I’m cool. Which is funny because, while I try pretty hard to wear that outfit and project that impression onto the world, inside I often feel quite the opposite.

It’s interesting to occasionally be provided with an idea of how you are perceived. It reminds me of a line from a Hal Hartley movie that was something like, I want the image of myself and my true self to become one. So, in this case, the image I am projecting is apparently effective but entirely different from either how I really am or how I perceive myself. I guess that lays out the question, is my true self how I perceive myself or is it how I project myself and appear to others?

Oh, right. Negative Capability.

The thing is, right now, I’m not exactly brimming with it. Of course, being the philosophical pragmatist I realize, logically, that I simply cannot control any of this anyway. We shall see and whatnot. I mean, what can I really do to control it? But, honestly, inside I’m in a state of agitation. And it seems to dominate conversations with a few of my friends. That can’t be much fun for them. Especially since I’m just repeating myself a bunch and acting like a dorky chick.

So I don’t continue to drive them crazy and to help my own dithery ditherness, I’m forcing this upon you. But the payoff for you, as always, is a wonderful recipe. 

A couple of years ago, while in Southern France with Chris, I would visit the farmers' market each morning and buy wonderful, fresh produce to play with. One day I grabbed up a bunch of baby, purple artichokes. My house host showed me the most beautiful and simple way to prepare them. Artichokes seem apropos here as their exterior belies what is inside, but they seem most comfortable in their mystery.


Sautéed Baby Artichokes with Olive Oil, Garlic & Lemon

Serves 4
 
1 pound baby artichokes
Juice from one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste 
Italian Parsley, chopped

Peel off outer leaves, trim stems and cut artichokes into quarters.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and garlic. When the oil is good and hot, add artichokes. Season with salt and pepper; toss well. Add juice of 1/2 lemon. Lower heat to medium and cook until artichokes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add remainder of lemon juice. Garnish with Italian Parsley and serve immediately. (These are also good at room temperature.)

5.16.2010

Lost and Found


I can’t tell but I think I lost something. Well, I’m not sure if I ever actually had it, but I’m pretty sure it’s gone now anyway. Maybe I’ll find it. Hell, I hope so. I guess I didn’t know I even wanted it that much until I lost it. I hope I didn’t accidentally throw it away.

When I was a little girl I had Weeble Wobbles. I even had the Weeble Wobble Tree House. Jealous much? I loved them. One day I got one of my Weeble Wobbles caught in the drain of the bathtub. I guess it caused a pretty major issue because I don’t remember ever getting that Weeble Wobble back. Perhaps I underestimated my Weeble Wobble. I didn’t give it credit for its strength and ability to affect change, and for this it left. I lost my Weeble Wobble forever.

There have been quite a few times that I thought I lost money, anywhere from a $1 to a $20 bill. I really wasn’t aware that anything was missing. Maybe I was for a minute, but I would usually assume I spent it on something or another and quickly forgot about the matter. Then, days or weeks later I would find a crumply, dried bill in the dryer. It’s like striking gold! Yes, maybe it was already mine and then I lost it, but forgetting about it, assuming it’s found another home, in some other pocket or some cash register somewhere, and then realizing it never left is very exciting. I took it for granted and then it gave me a second chance. It was testing me and I passed.

Sometimes I have a very precious thing that I will lend to someone or leave with someone: my favorite cookbook, signed by the author, or my baking stone, given to me as a Christmas gift from someone special, a really good pair of jeans, or just some Tupperware I sent someone home with food in at some point. I always assume this thing will find its way back to me though it may take weeks or years. More often than not this is the case. The risk however, in the approach of if you love something set it free, is that it very may well find happiness, its home elsewhere.

The most extreme case of this was one of my more personal photography books that I sent to a magazine I respected and wanted to shoot for. The protocol is to send it back once it has been viewed. I never got it back. That was 8 years ago. Sad but a reality nonetheless. I like to think the world opens up a notch when that thing and the person or place that it has found and vice versa have found each other. I figure that whoever saw my book was so impressed and touched by it that they wanted, or needed, to keep it. I like to think it sits on their coffee table and has been oohed and ahhed over by many people over the years. That it has inspired. It still loves me, in its way. But I was merely a vehicle to allow it to move on to its true role, its real place in this world. I was sad for a while. We will never forget each other. But such is life.

Something so crazy just happened while I have been writing this. Remember the thing I thought I lost, that maybe I threw away? I found it! Interestingly, it never went anywhere. It was in the same place the entire time. I just couldn’t see it. It was right behind the milk, of course. I probably should have been confident that it didn’t disappear. I think there’s even a possibility that I was a little bit nervous to find it. Maybe it had diminished. Or grown. Maybe it went bad. Maybe I wouldn’t want it anymore. But there it was, right behind that silly milk, the same as before. I never know, I may consume it too quickly, it may go bad, or hell, it could hide behind that pesky milk again. But I’m relieved to know that I didn’t lose it, or worse, callously throw it away.

The recipe I am sharing with you here is one my Grandmother, Janie, made for my dad decades ago back in Roanoke, Va. It is also a recipe my dad often made for me slightly fewer decades ago back in Richmond. I never met Janie, though we came frustratingly close. She died right before I was born. Perhaps because of all the stories I’ve heard about her, the pictures, and obviously the existence of my dad, to me she is the thing I lost but never had. But in a way, I get to find her again when I make her recipes. And when I look in the mirror.



Lima Beans in Cream & Butter

Serves 4 to 6
  • 16 ounces dried Lima beans
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 – 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Soak the beans overnight and leave them in the soaking water. Cook the Lima beans in boiling salted water for a good hour or so, until the beans are tender.
Drain well. Add the cream and butter. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Heat thoroughly. Serve hot.
 




5.15.2010

What I Used To Do.


Caroline, a friend of mine from back in Atlanta once told me, “You’re a sponge for one.” While it may sound strange as it’s seemingly out of context, and pretty random sounding, I understood perfectly. Although I have been rich with friends and friendships throughout my life, I have pretty consistently concentrated on one major friendship at a time. And I would always put the majority of my energy and stock into that friend, even to the detriment of romances running concurrently. I don’t think this quality made Caroline very happy at the time because she felt shut out. I don’t blame her. I was putting all of my friendship eggs into another basket.

My main bestest friend throughout almost all of my "adult" life, Paz, and I grew up together. In collusion we attended middle school, high school, college, and then moved to Atlanta. We planned to go to college together – in Ohio, mind you. We were dorm-mates there. We returned to Richmond together for vacations, holidays, lived in Mexico together, she videotaped my dad’s wedding, and even moved in with my boyfriend and me after college when I went to Atlanta. And in a different time and house in Atlanta, every Tuesday night, we watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then got all dressed up together before we went and worked the door at a bar where our dj friends performed. I felt badly for our various boyfriends over the years as we were almost like a package deal.

Don’t get me wrong, we also fought like Scotsmen, but Paz was my family. I would throw myself in front of a train for her.

Another thing to point out: while Paz has been very prominent and consistent, there have been quite a few other friends for which I was sponge for one-ing throughout my life. My mom tells me I was exhibiting that tendency from a very early age.

About 8 years ago I moved to Los Angeles, and – without going into too much detail because it’s irrelevant now - although Paz and I were falling apart at the seams, I think my move was the nail in our coffin. We didn’t speak or see one another for over 5 years. Until recently.

Interestingly, not long ago I had a watershed realization: in the past 5 years, slowly but surely, I am no longer a sponge for one. Not at all. In this big, scary, massively populated city I have found a wealth and abundance of friends, all very close, all very special and important. Everyone may play different roles at different moments but no one stands above anyone else.

Maybe some of this is a result of moving here without Paz - the result of being thrust into anonymity and having to swim without those puffy arm things. But I still could have just found my one super friend again, right? Now I have super friends. Together, they are my network, my team. I feel overwhelmingly fortunate to have every single one of them.

And the awesome-est thing? As mentioned above, Paz and I have recently reconnected. We literally ran into each other on the street late last Summer while I was in Richmond – on her birthday actually. Since then we have seen one another when we can, on whichever coast one of us happens to be on at any point; we email, we text, and we have phone conversations that last hours at a time. We talk about boys (men now, I suppose), our insecurities, our dogs, food, and all of our old private jokes and language have relevance again. It’s wonderful.

The recipe I’m sharing with you here is one that originated in some form from Paz’s mom, who is from the Dominican Republic. Paz has been making this dish on her own, with her own touches, since even before our food co-op in college. She has always referred to it as her world famous recipe. Even then.

I hope she can visit me out here again sometime soon. I want her to meet all of my friends and I know they are dying to meet her.


Although it may seem more of a hearty, Winter dish, I beg to differ. The cilantro brightens it right on up and ushers it gracefully into Spring.

This is her recipe verbatim. However, I have added my two cents in italics.


Paz’s World Famous Rice and Beans

Serves 6
 
1 can each kidney, black and white beans (drained)
1 can of diced tomatoes (for fun, try the ones with green chilies in them)
1 small onion, diced (I used a Vidalia)
1 green, red, or gold bell pepper, diced (I used a red pepper. Green peppers make me want to drive off of a cliff)
1 heaping tbsp of ground cumin
1 tbsp of Italian herbs (I used fresh thyme, oregano & marjoram from my garden)
¼ tsp of cayenne pepper (optional) (I, personally used a lot more heat, more like 3/4 tsp. Chile de Arbol would be a beautiful addition as well))
1 small bay leaf
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4-5 cloves of fresh garlic finely chopped
1 handful of fresh cilantro coarsely chopped

In a large pot, stir in beans, tomatoes, cumin, Italian herbs, cayenne and bay leaf over med-low heat. Stir until it begins to bubble, then turn the heat down to the lowest simmer ever (so it doesn’t burn). In a frying pan, sauté onion and green pepper in extra virgin olive oil until the onions become translucent and the peppers are softly browned*. Add them to the pot of beans. Add the finely chopped garlic (raw) to the beans. Slow cook beans for 45 min to one hour stirring occasionally. Add cilantro and cook in for the very last 10-15 minutes.

Serve with rice and sour cream (optional, however very good if you accidentally added too much cayenne).


*I would sauté the onion & pepper in the pot, first then add everything else. The ingredients marry better and you have fewer dishes to do.




5.08.2010

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing.


People sneak up on us. They surprise us. Sometimes beautifully and positively, and sometimes not so much.

Often when I meet men, they seem to make an effort to appear very sweet, sensitive, and attentive. Generally they turn out to be more self involved and disingenuous than at first blush. Not always, of course. And this could be an LA affectation. “Deep down I’m really shallow,” or some such thing.

But recently I met an even more interesting beast. The kind who paints himself a warrior. An animal. He claims not to care about what other people think or want.  He is predatory and self-aggrandizing. But guess what? Directly beneath this veneer is hand-blown glass. An eggshell composition. He wants desperately to be understood in spite of himself. This person wants to be swaddled by someone.

Am I that person? Do I even want to be? I highly doubt it, at least not in this instance, and that is not why I broach the subject here.

I keep thinking about Aesop’s fable:

The wolf put on the fleece and went off in search of a flock of sheep. It spied a flock of sheep just as the sun was setting and approached the flock. Just as it was about to pounce on a lamb, a shepherd came by looking for a sheep to slaughter for supper. Thinking the disguised wolf was a sheep, the shepherd quickly grabbed and killed the wolf.


So it would appear we are all disrobed in one form or another. The mask always comes off at the end of Scooby Doo. Even though the shepherd had no idea that he killed a wolf, the wolf was essentially outed and our odd sense of equilibrium, or justice, prevailed in the end.

So why do we all wear our costumes? And we do, you know. It almost seems that we literally present our anti-self, our inner opposite, when we first meet some people. Perhaps it’s like having curly hair but wanting straight hair and vice versa. Perhaps we want to be perceived as tough and resilient if we are truly sensitive and soft, and perhaps we want to be perceived as delicate and emotional if we are inherently more desensitized and crusty.

And much like the wolf and the shepherd in Aesop’s fable, without really trying, we all see and are all seen. Eventually. But we also must always continue to play our roles, wear our costumes. And not necessarily for anyone else. Not really because of how we want to be perceived, but for ourselves – how we perceive ourselves.

Kind of like orzo. Most people think it’s rice. It might think it’s rice. It acts like rice. But orzo is undeniably pasta. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Watch out for false prophets? Maybe, but mostly I think it’s important to know that everyone might be a prophet and very little is actually false.




Orzo Salad with Tomatoes, Feta, Spinach and Mint

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

12 ounces orzo
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil
¼ cup walnut oil
1 1/2 cups crumbled seasoned feta cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 /2 cup chopped red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 handful fresh spinach, lightly steamed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water, with the 2 tablespoons of oil, to a boil. Add orzo and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in oil, vinegar, lemon, garlic, spinach, feta, onion, tomatoes, mint, salt & pepper.  Refrigerate and serve cold.