Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hostess Hint

The party, not the cupcake. Sorry if I got your hopes up.

You all know I love to eat. I also love to feed people. Luckily, I’m a decent home cook. My stuff comes out well enough that people clear their plates and occasionally ask for seconds. That’s saying quite a bit because I believe in putting enough different dishes on the table that if somebody doesn’t like or want to eat something, they can still get uncomfortably full.

As you can imagine, I enjoy throwing the occasional dinner party. We had one tonight. (Happy Birthday again, Jim!) Here’s where the helpful hostess hint comes in. No, there’s no humor in it, just sincere truth.

I’ve thrown parties for up to 100 people, not for years, but I have. There’s one important thing about the process: no matter how late it is, or how tired you are, clear everything away that doesn’t fit into the sink before you go to bed. Trust me. There’s something so satisfying about waking up and remembering the party and not seeing bits and pieces all over the place. I’ve woken up to domestic battlefields that can retroactively spoil an otherwise lovely event.

So yeah, half the sink is full. But the table is pristine and the kitchen is clean. Let me know when you’re available, and maybe you can join us next time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stress Fracture

I remember when it became hip to be stressed. The 70s were confused and the 80s were decadent. Tension, stress and anxiety didn’t really come into their own until the 90s. Suddenly, being busy was in itself a vocation. Antidepressants, instead of being a vital treatment for a crippling condition, became a fashion statement. What you were doing was only as important as how freaked out you were by the pressure of getting it done. This is no longer true, but not because it is and always was a stupid attitude.

No, nowadays stress is logical. How much more work are you doing for the same pay after the layoffs? Fingers crossed you’re still working. I’m knocking on wood, in fact. Natural catastrophes and the constant in-your-face information flow make it impossible to stay calm. There’s too much going on, and so much of it is sad.

So, now that anxiety is normal, what can we do about it? The clichés are true. Break it down into manageable quantities and manage it. Try to focus on what you can do, but stay aware of the Big Picture. Sure, all that is good, but it doesn’t help much. It doesn’t even get me through the morning newspapers.

What does help me, and I hope it will help you, is perspective. There’s no more going on now than there ever was, we just find out more about it. Information = communication. Communication is good. For every asshole spewing hate there are groups of people coming together all over the world to fight it. More than ever before in history, we’re in a position to understand each other. It’s pie in the sky, but I have to hope that compassion isn’t far behind.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Side Of The Table (2)

Or: Nice To Meet You, Mr. Andres!

Once again, this is just what I ate. The difference is that with the new trend of small plates, some of it was shared. I have to admit, most of it wasn’t.

Sunday: Brunch was an amazing Maine crab hash, peekytoe crab layered with buttery lyonnaise potatoes topped with perfectly scrambled eggs, fresh hot French bread with Wisconsin butter and house-made blackberry jam, and a fresh bearclaw (my favorite pastry in the whole world.) Lunch at the new Fleur began with transcendent truffled onion soup a la Hubert Keller, braised hamachi over soy-roasted onions with paprika ginger foam, ahi tacos with serrano pepper and avocado cream. (Robert had good stuff with chicken and beef.) Cheesecake lollipops with kiwi-lime gingerbread wafers for crust, rolled in a tart strawberry coulis, and chilled coconut tapioca soup with freeze-dried fruit and a papaya and mango sorbet quenelle. Then on to Max Brenner’s where we had chocolate: lovely Italian thick hot dark chocolate with vanilla, and a gorgeously decadent butterscotch chocolate cream milkshake with dulce de leche ice cream. The profiterole fondue – vanilla bean ice cream filling, banana chocolate fudge skewer, chocolate sauce – was mediocre. You didn’t miss anything with that one.

Monday: The chef kindly sent us a pastry basket with a bearclaw, cheese Danish and a chocolate croissant. I’m not saying “pain au chocolat” because it wasn’t, it had too much chocolate for that. I pick out the extra and give it to Robert, but the other tourists must like it that way. Silly tourists. Then perfect eggs, spinach sautéed with shallots and whole cloves of garlic, an amazing macerated composed fruit salad, croissant, jam, perfectly poached eggs with beurre-something sauce. Next more snacky-poo; hazelnut cream chocolate milk shake with vanilla bourbon ice cream and dark chocolate truffle whipped cream. An espresso. Dinner marked what I’m sure will only be our first visit to Jose Andres’ new restaurant, Jaleo. Robert and I shared: Rossejat, a “paella” of fried pasta with cuttlefish and Norwegian lobster, Cambas al Ajillo, shrimp sautéed with garlic. (It sounds so simple typed out like that. It wasn’t simple.) Tigres, breaded mussel fritters. The mussels are fried in their shells so you pick them up and dip them in the amazing sauce. Huevo Frito con Caviar – to say “fried egg with caviar” doesn’t do justice to the tableside demo and oh my dear lord, the flavor. The paella-du-jour (my sic) was vegetables! What are the odds? The food gods smiled on me. To have been there and not been able to eat the paella would have been tragic. Grilled asparagus with Romesco sauce and marinated raw shaved asparagus that crunched deliciously. A gorgeous little thing they call “tuna salad”. Dessert was olive oil ice cream with grapefruit granita, and perfect flan, and a chilled fruit soup with a sherry-soaked cake and yogurt-flavored ice cream.

Tuesday: Oatmeal with caramelized apples, eggs, cheese Danish, chocolate croissant, apple croissant. Lunch (at Fleur again) began with our good friend Juan bringing more onion soup. Happy sigh. Then ahi tacos, lemon-scallion risotto, gnocchi with San Marzano fondue and pesto, mussels in basil and parmesan, a fiery Thai-influenced rock shrimp stew with noodles, and more ahi tacos -- they’re unbelievably delicious. (Robert had two beef things and a chicken thing.) Pineapple carpaccio for dessert with edible flowers, sugared cilantro, lime sorbet and a cilantro granita. Oh, and more cheesecake lollipops. Snackies were a dulce de leche brioche and an almond croissant. Dinner was sushi, shrimp tempura with jalapeno, avocado, cilantro, tuna, kabayaki, lime and jalapeno sauce. Also striped bass with jalapeno, avocado, sriacha, lime juice and kabayaki. Not sure what kabayaki is, but it’s gooood.

Wednesday: Breakfast included fresh, hot, (made to order) little doughnuts served with bowls of nutella and cherry jam. Eggs, spinach, toast with more jam, lyonnaise potatoes which taste like equal parts butter and potato. We met our friend Paul B. (who doesn’t read blogs) at Jose Andres’ other new restaurant, China Poblano, for lunch. Yes, Chinese-Mexican cuisine. Not fusion, just simultaneous. Go, it’ll make sense to you then. The boys had pork and beef tongue and more pork. Ignore them. The guacamole was superb, the chipotle salsa had even more flavor than heat, if you can believe that. The wild mushroom tacos with guacamole were divine, but the tuna ceviche with crispy amaranth seeds and pecans was indescribably delicious. The crunch, the luscious texture, the taste --- my dears, go to Las Vegas. Eat this. You deserve it. The gazpacho was fruit; pineapple, cucumber, jicama, dragon fruit, chile pequin and queso fresco with an orange squeezed over the bowl after it’s set down in front of you. The scallop ceviche was fun. Halved limes were rubbed with chili oil, a perfect scallop with a bit of hot pepper rested on each. You pick it up by holding the lime, then tip the whole thing into your mouth at once as you squeeze. The lime juice squirts over everything inside your mouth. Dessert was called “Happy Buddha Giggling Taking A Bath”. And it was. From there we went straight back to Brenner’s for more chocolate snackies. More milkshakes, more rich, thick, hot dark creamy chocolate. Dinner was small-ish. Heirloon tomato soup with paper thin grilled cheese sandwiches. Lobster corn dogs, baby fried artichokes, cheese sampler with jellied huckleberries and Meyer lemon marmalade. Our friend Jalil hadn’t seen us in years, he was so pleased we came back that there was a procession of desserts. Toffee bread pudding with caramelized bananas, ice cream and a cookie. Berries with crème fraiche. Vanilla bean crème brulee, warm chocolate molten cake, lemon-lime pound cake, mocha brownie. Meyer lemon trio: lemon tart, warm lemon pudding cake, Meyer lemon olive gelato.

Thursday wasn’t much. A nice breakfast (see above) with hot caramel drinks. A stop at the Mad Greek on the way home. One last blueberry doughnut infusion in Victorville. After we collected our little dog (who had as much fun and food as we did, thanks, sis!) it was home to gym penance and the usual veggies & whole grains & protein powder regime. Nothing but fragrant memories and pix to flavor our lives until the next trip, which can’t happen soon enough for me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Things I Learned In Las Vegas

1. A total stranger can break your heart.
2. No matter how swaggering the beefcake, it’s rude to point out flaws in his physique. You’re not even allowed to tell him how to improve his training technique.
3. Dueling pianos are God’s punishment for tourism.
4. You can win lots of money on slot machines. You just can’t take it home.
5. Be grateful if someone lets you out of the elevator before they try to get in. (But it probably won’t ever happen.)
6. The urban myth of pressing the floor button simultaneously with the "close door" button may be true. It worked every time.
7. If you’re too drunk to get the booze out of the glass, give up.
8. There is such a thing as a fat bicycle security guy.
9. Trophy wives are often indistinguishable from prostitutes.
10. There always is drama in the Ladies’ room.

For the record, the bride count this trip was six.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


No matter how far in advance I saw it coming, turning 50 threw me. It shouldn’t have, but it did. How else can I explain having left town without telling all of you I was going?

We just got back. There are stories and stories, and oh my dears, just wait til you hear about the yummies! Give me time to throw the clothes into the washer and get the pix developed, and I’ll tell you all the best bits.

The whole thing started with the toilet breaking ten minutes before we left, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. You’ll know soon enough.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


It was my birthday today. I didn’t go to a single gym. Instead, we went out to breakfast with a dear friend. (Potato pancakes topped with spinach sautéed with onion, tomato and garlic, topped with two poached eggs and covered with parmesan, in case you’re curious.) The woman at the next table was humming louder than the soundtrack, and not at all in time with it.

Public singing is up there with whistling on my list of peeves. Humming is tantamount to singing, thus I got quite peevish.

I was wearing a favorite shirt that happens to say “dog is good”. When they got up to leave, she saw it. She came over to me and asked if I had dogs. I said yes. She asked how many. I told her, “One now, the other died last week.” (I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you that the Big Dog is no more. He may not have lived with us, but he was part of our pack.) She teared up in sympathy, and asked his name. When I told her, she offered what amounts to a blessing for him. She used the exact same words I would have said had our positions been reversed.

That’s the lesson. It’s a timely one, now that I’ve reached an age where I’m supposed to have acquired some wisdom. What we care about determines who we are. The more we care, the more it matters. She was so gracious that I now feel like I ought to forgive public humming. Maybe, but singing is still out. Don’t even talk to me about whistling.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Pair Of Mocks

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Nah, not only has that line already been taken but it’s too histrionic even for me. I’m looking for irony, not melodrama.

For those of you just tuning in to the program already in progress, I write comedy. No, not this blog, I write other stuff that’s occasionally funny. So my ultimate goal, my desideratum (to quote the man Robert calls Mr. Pants) is to make people laugh. It’s heady stuff when it happens.

That said, my gut drops when I’m laughed at. That’s the irony. It’s only happened twice in adulthood, when someone looked at me and laughed a belly laugh because they found me somehow ridiculous, but it happened today. Quite viscera clenching, and not fun at all, but it was over fast.

No one likes being mocked. Well, most people don’t. Mr. Pants doesn’t mind. Richard is a good sport about it, luckily enough. I mean @rmangaha of course. We were mocking him rather incessantly tonight for behavior that would have been perfectly normal had anyone else done it.

Truly, it was the best of times and the worst of times. For only the second time in all the years I’ve known him, perhaps for the second time in his life, Richard stopped eating just because he was full.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Who's On First?

“Who” can be as much about “where” as it is about “what”. Think about who you are. Did you just think about what you’ve done, what you do, or what you’d like to be doing? Me, I tend to think about where I am versus where I was, and if applicable, where I’d like to be.

Confused? You’re dating yourself, youngling. If you remembered the 1970s at all, then you’d be familiar with this sort of introspection. If you only go back as far as the 80s or 90s, then who you are is determined by what you’re listening to, which is demonstrated by how you dress.

Never mind. People don’t think about identity as such anymore. We’re too busy to care. Then again, we’re also busy telling everybody what’s keeping us so busy. Maybe now we identify by our type of stress. Is it school, work, relationship, fitness or family? (If you think family is the same as relationship, then you’re a childless orphan.) Maybe your stress is more existential, which brings us back to identity, and the ultimate question, does it even matter?

The person with the blog votes yes, it matters. Because when it all comes down to it, getting through the day is just one foot after the other. Without a sense of where you are, there’s no place to go after the bathroom once you’ve gotten out of bed in the morning.