4.29.2011

FOR MILO, WHO NOW KNOWS THE WAY.


My absolute favorite book as a child, and perhaps my favorite book of all time, was/is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The book tells the story of a young boy named Milo who would rather be anywhere other than where he is, values little and considers time and all things that exist within it a waste of, well, time.

One day Milo comes home from school to find a large, mysterious and anonymously delivered package that contains a miniature tollbooth and a map of "the Lands Beyond" in his room with a note that reads "FOR MILO, WHO HAS PLENTY OF TIME". And with nothing better to do Milo assembles the tollbooth and, in his toy car, travels through it onto the road to Expectations.

As a result of not paying attention, he first travels through The Doldrums; a place where thinking and laughing is not allowed. But soon gets out (with thought and laughter, of course) and finds his way through Dictionopolis and Digitopolis and must save the two princesses, Rhyme and Reason, by helping the kings of each kingdom settle the debate on which is more important, letters or numbers. We learn, along with Milo and Tock, that both are equally important.

On his journey he meets and befriends Tock, a watchdog with an alarm clock attached to his body, the Whether Man, who contemplates whether or not there will be weather, and so many other fantastic characters. We meet The Humbug, Officer Shrift, King Azaz the Unabridged, The Mathemagician, Terrible Trivium and the Senses Taker and Alec Bings, a little boy who sees through things and grows until he reaches the ground, and he even got to watch Chroma the Great conduct his orchestra in playing the colors of the sunset.

In Digitopolis they eat Subtraction Stew, which makes the diner hungrier and in Dictionopolis they attend a banquet where guests literally eat their words.

There is so, so, so much more to this story. It’s filled with puns and has been compared to Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland.

What I love about it so very much is, as an only child, a “latch-key” kid raised by Boomers in the Reagan era – I very much related to Milo. But the moral of the story is what really got me and is something I have not taken for granted since my first reading of the book as a very young child. I learned that information, education, words, numbers, colors, experience – the world, is beautiful. Time is important and should never be wasted. Everything can be interesting.

All from a little children’s book.


I have owned at least six or eight copies of the book, all of which I‘ve either given away, loaned (never to be seen again) or lost throughout the years. Lamentably, a few of them were beautifully and emotionally inscribed by my mother. That’s okay, because I want it to be out there. I want people to read it. I just bought another copy. Used. I like that it’s used. I like that it’s been read.

Why did I buy another copy and why am I writing about The Phantom Tollbooth now?

My cat.

Yes, I have had a cat. I got him a month or two out of college when I lived with my boyfriend at the time and Paz. It was late summer, 1996. The Atlanta Olympics were going on. I named him Milo.

Milo lived with me in our many homes (one next to a crack house), and two relationships, in Atlanta, traveled across country with Mark, Besito and me, and lived with me for quite a few years here in LA, through four or five different apartments and houses. 

About five years ago my then boyfriend, Liam, and I moved into a house in Canyon with Milo and Besito. After some time Liam and I went our separate ways and not long after that Milo, Beso and I moved to a different house, higher up in the Canyon. Milo continued his predatory and manly behavior proudly depositing his dead, neatly eviscerated prey as gifts to me. He and Beso played and played. Milo could have kicked Beso’s ass in a New York minute, but he always let Beso think he won.

Then, two years ago, the three of us moved back down lower in the Canyon – a stone’s throw from the first spot with Liam. Within thirty-six hours Milo was missing. My friends were tremendously concerned. Perhaps he had been attacked by a coyote, hit by a car, kidnapped by aliens. I don’t know why but I was not worried in the least. That cat is tougher than a coffin nail. No coyote could outsmart him. Hell, he’ll outlive us all.

A few months later, on a hike, I noticed an old faded sign that read, “Lost Cat”. And there was a picture of Milo.

Guess where he was that whole time?

At our old house.

The new residents named him Claus von Boosboos. When they first found him and took him to the vet, the doctor estimated his age at six years. He was thirteen.

I tried to take him back but he would simply return to the old house. So we all decided that rather than have him running back across the street every time, risking getting hit by a car, he could continue living at "his" house -- the tenant was pleased with that decision.

When the house was sold and the owner moved we decided I had to take Milo for real. I tried everything (four times) but he kept going back. I even scaled the gate and broke into the property one time to retrieve him.

Finally I spoke to the new couple that moved into the house and we all decided – that is Milo’s house. Really, they’re just renting from him.

I think about him a lot. He was the coolest cat I’ve ever had. About a month ago I walked past the house and there he was, lounging on the stoop, in a sun-spot. Happy as a lark. I was sad, then happy, then sad, then happy.

Then I realized, Milo is Milo. It’s his adventure and his world, and he has found happiness and beauty.

Milo turns fifteen this summer and is still owning this canyon. 

Recent photo of Milo, at his house.

At the end of The Phantom Tollbooth, once Rhyme and Reason have been restored to Wisdom, Milo says goodbye and drives off, feeling he has been away for many moons. He then sees the tollbooth ahead and drives through. Suddenly he is back in his own room, and discovers he has been gone only an hour.

He awakens the next day full of plans to return, but when he gets home from school the tollbooth has vanished. A new note has arrived that reads, "FOR MILO, WHO NOW KNOWS THE WAY."

As I recall, my Milo didn’t care much about milk, but that cat loved him some tuna fish.


Classic Tuna Salad
 (makes two sandwiches, one each for Milo & Tock) 


Ingredients:

1 5oz. can solid white tuna packed in water
2 tbsp Duke’s mayonnaise
1 tbsp chopped celery stalk
1 tbsp chopped celery leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp chopped dill pickle
1 ½ tsp capers
Juice of ½ Meyer lemon
Salt & pepper to taste


Directions:

Place the tuna in a colander and drain well.

Shred the tuna with your fingers, breaking up any clumps until it has a fine and even texture.

Fold in the mayonnaise until mixture is evenly moistened.

Put the tuna in a medium bowl and mix in the lemon juice, celery, onion, pickles, capers, salt and pepper until well blended.

Salad can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Printable Recipe



4.25.2011

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 and Wine magazine, May, 2011

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

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 

Directions

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.


4.19.2011

The Birdcage


Yes. I know. I know.  It has been too long. But I am back now. Things have been very lively in my world. Paz was in town for ten (10) days and she only just left. Don’t worry, you’ll be hearing all about that soon enough as there is much to share. But first I would be remiss if I didn’t share a story with you of an evening that took place right before Paz’s arrival.

As long as I’ve lived in my canyon, when I go on hikes and walks and such, I’ve noticed this enormous, old, antique birdcage next to some trashcans behind a house. I’ve always coveted this birdcage. I told Maggie as much.

And so we debated.

I figured if it was literally sitting next to a trash can, untouched for years, no one would really miss it. Right? It wasn’t officially wrong or steal-y. It was perfectly fine. Right?

And so we plotted.

Well, I guess we didn’t really plot – we decided to bust up there one night after dinner when it was dark. That was the long and short of it.

So one particular night, after an especially delicious dinner at home with Maggie and Michael Motorcycle during clean-up, MM and I heard a definitive, “Alright, let’s do this” from behind. We whirled around to see Maggie in full-on burgle gear: all black with black paint under her eyes. She was rocking her “menacing” pose. At that moment I think I peed my pants a little bit.

So Maggie, Michael Motorcycle and I all piled into my car and headed up the hill. Laughing hysterically. In the world’s loudest car. In the world’s quietest canyon. At about midnight.

Did I mention we neglected to plot?

We drive up past the house. We make a u-turn and go back down to idle in front of the house. Michael was on getaway driver duty, Maggie was going to hold up the back gate of my car (it doesn’t stay up by itself) and I was to be the birdcage grabber. It was my mission so, of course, I was to take the biggest risk. Why we didn’t park farther away from the house and walk up, stealth-like, I don’t know. Perhaps the lack of plotting?

Anyway, I jump out and after nearly wiping out en route to the trash can area in my Crocs (stupid choice, but I had just been cooking) and arrive face to face with The Birdcage. Now I am a tall woman and this thing was taller than me. The birdcage is massive and cumbersome and worst of all, heavy. And right when I get almost to the car I realize that the base of it had rotted away and that the top and bottom were not attached. The reason I noticed this is that the top fell, with a bang-crash-extreme cacophony, to the street. I'm talking loud. This is also right about when I notice a person a dozen or so yards away, standing in the street. But, I was unyielding. We had come this far, right?

So, while laughing even harder, next to the world’s loudest car, in the world’s quietest canyon, with a neighbor standing right up the street, I started to cram the birdcage into the back of my car. It’s so big it doesn’t fit. “Just ram it in and leave the back open! It’ll be fine! Let’s just GO!”

At this point I should, perhaps, add that wine may have been involved.

And so, while laughing even harder, in the world’s loudest car, in the world’s quietest canyon, after about five years of coveting, I have my birdcage. It really brings the garden together. Michael Motorcycle is going to put an upside down tomato plant inside – or so he says.

Oh, and that night’s dinner was a beauty: we went to Lindy Grundy on their opening day and bought a Frenched rack of lamb and some of Erika’s special pork kimchi sausage. We grilled. We served the lamb over mint-infused jasmine rice with a minted English pea puree and roasted brussels sprouts. I have actually shared this particular recipe before but with much less ado. It’s a beautiful, fresh and simple recipe and one that really showcases a truly gorgeous piece of meat.

What, you thought I'd show you a picture of the birdcage? No way! You might could send me up the river!

 *P.S. Picture of Maggie in "full-on burgle gear" may be provided upon request.


 (I hope I don’t have to go on The Lam)
 Lamb Chops with Cumin, Cardamom and Lime

Ingredients:

12-16 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp fresh cardamom
1/3 cup FRESH lime juice
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
16 rib or Frenched lamb chops

 

Directions:

In the food processor, drop garlic, add cumin, cardamom, lime juice, salt, pepper and oil.  Pour into a large bag or container to marinate (a coupla hours or up to 2 days). 

On the grill is a must, and with a medium flame they'll be done in about 4 minutes per side.  Perhaps a bit more but rarer is better.