We Still Are What We Once Were. Always.

My oldest and dearest friend, Paz, visited recently. She was here for ten (10) days. I was concerned, briefly, that ten (10) days would be a skosh too long. It wasn’t. It actually wasn’t nearly long enough. Well, maybe it was just right.

Although it has been many years since we’ve spent much, or any, time together, we fell right back into our stuff. Our nicknames, catchphrases, running (for a long time now) jokes. You know, our patterns.

When people visit Los Angeles they want to have (and we want to provide them with) two things: celebrity sightings and sunshine. Fortunately for both Paz and myself, we had both. Great sightings and great weather. We ate at some fantastic restaurants but we also cooked at my house on a few occasions.

It’s interesting – while Paz was here she asked me, “So, when exactly did this whole food thing happen with you?” And so I thought. And I continued to toss the question around for quite a while. The more I thought about it, as unromantic as it sounds, I realized that I don’t believe there was a defining moment. Of course, as I’ve mentioned more than once, my parents both cooked quite a bit and I did a lot of cooking and learning from Dad. Then there was the food co-op in college in which Paz was a major player.  And then there was the Atlanta period after college when Paz and I lived together on and off for about six years. This was a time when we had little to no money; certainly none to spend on eating out a whole bunch.  Even more rare was a fancy dining out night. We cooked. A lot. But it wasn’t like back home, with our parents. And it wasn’t like college in our food co-op with our friends. We cooked because we needed to eat – breakfast, lunch and dinner. And so we experimented. We flexed. I learned about dishes from her past, like tostones, tortilla de papas, and obviously her world famous rice and beans. I showed her dishes from mine, like broccoli and cheese sauce, creamy mushroom soup, rice pilaf and scallops and shrimp over linguine with baked feta. I feel like there was a lot of stir fry action as well.

And then it hit me – maybe the Atlanta era wasn’t the defining moment of all things food for me, but I sure would say that it was the defining moment for me, the cook. The cook that cooked my own meals, cooked for other people, cooked with people. The me that found my footing in the kitchen.

How about that for an answer, Paz?

So, of course, while Paz was here we had a couple of pretty fantastic meals that we collaborated on, in my kitchen, or in this case, grill. In keeping up with Paz over the past year or so, when we would chat on the phone, or text, or what have you, we would often share our culinary exploits with one another. Some of hers included cooking Gassy Larry (a lobster), and a whole snapper she named Charles. No, I don’t know why on either count. You should hear the cornucopia of names she’s coined for me.

So, needless to say, I was pretty geeked to get back in the kitchen with her after a decade or more.

The recipe I am sharing with you here is from a part of a magnificent dinner we made one night during her visit. This was a meal that we collaborated on in every way, from conception to execution to consumption. Besides Paz deciding that she was Bobby Flay in the grill mastery department (insert eye rolling here), she also found an alluring recipe for a Meyer lemon relish. She was pretty psyched about all the produce that we are fortunate enough to have here and was particularly interested in the Meyer lemon (always a favorite of mine). Although the recipe suggested it be served with pork belly or some such thing, we thought it would work beautifully with a mesquite-grilled Cornish game hen (grilling courtesy of Paz Bobby Flay).

We Bobby also grilled some fennel and onions, and I did up my stellar sautéed broccolini. We had a potato but Ms. Flay didn’t get that one quite right in time for the rest of the meal. We dined out on the patio, under the stars, and paired the meal with a luscious Donkey and Goat red wine blend (courtesy of Domaine LA) among a number of, ahem, other wines.

What a beautiful meal and what a beautiful night. Yep, we covered a lot in our ten (10) days together here in sunny California. What’s crazy is how much more there was to cover. There is just not enough time in the day, you know? But as sad as I was to see her and her little rolly suitcase walk out of my car and into the airport, I also felt really good. And I still do. Because rather than it seeming like we are thousands of miles apart, I feel like, now, we’re right next to each other again. After all these years here in LA figuring out who and what I am, as this little fish in this big sea, along comes one of the few things that reminds me exactly who and what that is. And now I see it’s never changed. And nothing can change it. That and it - is Me. 

And, I guess nothing can change our friendship either. And this makes me soften. This makes my heart swell. This makes me smile. And for this, Paz, I thank you and I love you. Always.

Not too much as changed from us, 15 years ago.

 Meyer Lemon Relish 
(Recipe adapted from Food & Wine magazine, May, 2011)

Makes about 1 cup

1 large Meyer lemon—peeled, peel very thinly sliced
1 shallot—1/2 minced, 1/2 very thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon orange muscat champagne vinegar (you can also use white wine vinegar)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons minced chives 
1 Tablespoon chopped mint
1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Finely chop the lemon pulp, discarding any seeds, and transfer to a bowl. Add the lemon peel, minced and sliced shallot, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, chives, mint, parsley, olive oil and crushed red pepper to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
*The relish can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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