Tuesday, February 28, 2006

February Re-cap

Restaurant: Sushi King on Wilshire (not horrendous, but not good enough to write about. On the plus side, at least the sake was inexpensive.)

Recipe: Spaghetti with Neopolitan Ragu (needed more garlic) and Gateau Au Chocolat (never been a fan of bittersweet chocolate)

Book: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (Viva la Fraud!)

Culturally-Enriching Event(s): The New School of Cooking's Basic Cooking, Week 4 and the Getty Museum's Friday night series: Off the 405.

Not bad, eh? Now accepting suggestions for March 2006. We're already on Month THREE, people! Get excited!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

coming soon...

Dear Blog:

I miss you. We had a great couple of posts together. Unfortunately, the Evil Slaveowners that I toil under are forcing me to work. I'm not at all happy about it. But don't fret -- I'll be back soon. I promise. Until then, here is a list of the items I'd like to discuss with you.

  1. My newest favorite recipe: Macaroni & Cheese with Pancetta,
  2. A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey and why its still a good book, even if it didn't really happen, and
  3. Why is the Gatorade so far away from the sushi at my local Vons?

Looking forward to seeing you again soon.



Thursday, February 16, 2006


I can only compare today's quest for food to the challenges faced by the hunters and gatherers of yesteryear. I woke up at 7:30am this morning to the sound of my cell phone ringing. Like Pavlov's dog I respond, but miss the call. I listen to the whispered message: "I'm in the Van Nuys jail. My name is ____ (letters spelled out and unintelligible). I need to get bailed out."

Obviously, my first thought is to whom I'd given my number to the night before. But I'd only given out my card to a budding young congressman and it doesn't have my cell number on it. Since I didn't recognize either the voice or name, I get back in bed, this time with the phone next to me. If he calls back, I want to ask him what he did.

But it's too late for me. I can't fall back asleep. I've had four hours of sleep and now possess a headache that would kill a lesser woman, but I cannot sleep. I have one of those hangovers -- the kind that are so painful that they can only be cured with sleep, only the pain is too severe to sleep. So I turn on the TV and flip back and forth between "Back to the Future" and "30 Minute Meals." This goes on for several hours.

Eventually, it becomes time for my own personal Breakfast of Champions: 3 ibuprofen and a bottle of lukewarm water. I ate some Wheat Thins and warmed a tortilla on the burner. I was in denial of the fact that I lacked the strength to cook and my only other option was to wander out into the world. How does that saying go? Starve a fever and feed a hangover? So I went. Very, very slowly.

My journey ended at the local Vons, where for some reason (that I later regretted) sushi sounded like a good idea. The only problem? It was very, very far away from the cold Gatorade. It was exceedingly painful to have to trek back and forth, but yet, I made it. You might wonder what a description of my gnarly hangover has to do with my personal journey o' self-improvement. Some would probably argue that a hangover is the antithesis of what I'm trying to accomplish, and should go unmentioned. But I disagree. My buddy Rob once said that some famous writer once said, "You should feel a little embarrassed every time you finish writing something." That's a horrible paraphrase, but I remembered it. To be honest, I feel embarrassed most every time I write, but that's mostly a result of inferior skill level and not content or style. Regardless, my hangover ties directly into February's book of the month: James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. (How do you like that "Reading Rainbow"-esque intro?)

Over the past few months, Frey has been ripped apart by the media because his memoir isn't really a memoir. The Smoking Gun was all over him. Oprah told him that he'd lied to thousands of readers. Of course, I had no interest in reading this book prior to hearing that it was chock full of lies. It wasn't until Oprah reamed Frey on national TV and I saw the book on the 20% off table at a Target in Riverside that I wanted to read it. So I did. And I liked it.

Sure, parts of the book are exceedingly melodramatic, and maybe the frequent discussion of bloody stool is a touch overdone, but that doesn't mean it's a "bad" book. Its just flawed, like any other work. Then there's that pesky little problem about calling this book a "memoir." My argument in defense of this novel (because that's really what it is) is that no one's life reads like a book. At least, not an entertaining book. He told a little white lie to get published. Does the fact that he didn't really know that dead teenage girl disqualify his description of addiction? Is his version of addiction any less horrifying because he didn't do jail time? My thoughts are this: if a guys says that he's "an Alcoholic, a drug Addict and a Criminal" -- can you really expect him to tell the truth? Shame on you for thinking he would.

I also have a confession to make. I did listen to my Milli Vanilli tapes after they were proved to be a fraud. Now I'm embarrassed.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I make chocolate cake

It's the 11th of the month, and I still haven't tried a new recipe that I haven't wanted to fiddle with. But for the first time in close to a year, I made my absolute favorite chocolate cake recipe and it was yummy. I frost it with Nigella Lawson's all-purpose chocolate frosting with a big splash of rum. She recommends dark rum, but I use whatever's on hand, and one of these days I'm going to try the vanilla vodka that's been sitting on my counter since Christmas 2004. But I digress; we were discussing cake. It's very moist, not too sweet and always satisfies my rare cravings for chocolate cake. I found it on the back of a box of Hershey's cocoa several years ago, and then a few weeks afterward saw it featured on "Martha Stewart Living," thereby cementing my belief that this is truly the best chocolate cake recipe out there.

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch round baking pans.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. (I don't have wire racks, but I hear they work well)Cool completely.

All-Purpose Chocolate Frosting
(originally from How to be a Domestic Goddess, only slightly modified)
6 T unsalted butter (I use the whole stick, because having 2 T left over is annoying)
4-5 oz chocolate (I like dark, and also I don't have a scale, but it's a little more than a half cup)
2 eggs, beaten
3 1/2 c powdered sugar (sifting is for suckers, but if you're into it...)
little splash of vanilla extract
big splash of booze (rum is good, as is Bailey's or Kahlua)

Melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave. Stir together to blend, and then add a spoonful to the eggs. (Don't worry, the heat from the chocolate and butter will kill any "bad stuff" that the eggs may have) Slowly add the butter-chocolate mixture to the eggs, stirring all the time. Once combined, add the powdered sugar and then beat for a few minutes with either a hand or stand mixer. Add the vanilla and alcohol and incorporate. Let it stand and cool.

Once cool, this amount will adequately frost the cake above. If you like a lot of frosting on your cake, increase this recipe by one-half.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Moment of Silence

For my completely inappropriate office crush...

He resigned last night. It was, as we say, "Way beyond the expected." Now there will be no more getting drunk at office functions and openly staring at him...or listening to his accent thicken as the booze starts to kick in...or having him tease me about what a chatterbox I am...

I am so very, very sad. But considering the monstrous size of my crush, as well the enormity of the inapproriateness, its probably better that he not work here anymore.

G'day, mate. Own that decision...personally. I'm sure you'll Win over their hearts, too.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

January Re-cap

Nook (good)
Senor Fred (stomachache-in-the-middle-of-the-night bad)
La Frite (mediocre, but the company made up for it)
the cafe at Surfas (good)
(Not surprisingly, this resolution as proven to be the easiest of all to keep)

Book: "Casanova in Balzano" by Sandor Marai
(I cheated. I listened to it on CD during my commute, and I didn't finish it till February 2nd. Regardless, it was over-written and grotesquely flowery and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.)

Recipe: Onion Quiche - from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"
(I cheated again. I didn't have enough onion and I added asparagus. What was I to do? If I didn't use up those frail little spears that were just barely starting to show signs of wilt, they were going to rot! Of course, I made several other food items during the month of January, but nothing of note. I only wish that my culinary skills lived up to my culinary imagination! Let's hope I have better luck in February.)

Culturally-Enriching Activity: "The Good Body" by Eve Ensler at the Wadsworth Theater in Brentwood

I purchased tickets to this event in a frantic hurry to meet my January deadline, so I ended up seeing it on the 31st. I bought the cheapest tickets available, which proved itself to be a blessing. Not because the show was bad, which it wasn't, but because it didn't sell out. Or even close to it. In fact, they closed the balcony -- meaning that even though we paid for upper balcony, we sat in the orchestra.

I didn't see Ensler perform "The Vagina Monologues" (though I have seen it twice) but I imagine that her approach was much the same way -- conversational and engaging. She spoke about the longest committed relationship she's ever had: the one she has with her belly. She talked about Weight Watchers meetings and personal trainers and body dysmorphia. I laughed aloud at the funny bits, and was silent when appropriate. Overall, I really enjoyed the piece. I thought it was humorous and poignant -- and yet, lacking.

I haven't quite figured out exactly what it is that I was anticipating, or what it was that caused me to disengage from the piece mid-performance. Did I find her jumps from character to character distracting? Was I unhappy with the monologue format? Was I looking for a more traditional format that could provide some sort of resolution-solution? I'm not sure. But I'm going to keep thinking about it, and when I figure out what left me unfulfilled, I'll write it down.

Until then, all of this thinking is making my head hurt.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Old Hag-dom

Last night, Bri made one of the most poignant and truthful comments I’ve ever heard. Bri said, “To commandeer a quote from When Harry Met Sally, but when you suddenly realize that you want to stay home, take a bath, watch TiVo and go to bed early for the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to begin right now.” At least, that’s what I think she said. I’m not entirely sure; we were both wearing earplugs and hollering over the sounds of Cheap Chick – an all-girl Cheap Trick tribute band playing at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood.

I don’t want to bring up the fact that they are paying homage to a band that really wasn’t all that good the first time around. I’d even like to pass over the fact that ThundHerStruck, an all-girl AC/DC tribute band, was lead by a stunningly beautiful woman who was swigging beer from the bottle and channeling Angus Young with remarkable precision. I was at the Knitting Factory for Constance, because she is auditioning for the Ramonas, an all-girl Ramones tribute band. This is line-up is certainly no coincidence.

When I first imagined this blog, I thought I would improve my writing skills by reviewing restaurants, books, concerts and the like. That might not be possible, because I can do that in just a few lines: Cheap Chick is an unnecessary novelty, ThundHerStruck’s lead singer sounds too much like Angus Young to be anything other than eerie and even though the Ramonas look good, their sound isn’t.

Currently I’m most concerned with my rapid descent into “old hag-dom.” I wore earplugs at a concert for the first time in my life. I started to nod off half-way through the second band. When I went to use the restroom at the end of the night (which was actually 2:30 AM and way past my bedtime), every toilet seat of every stall was lightly splattered with vomit residue. The words “damn kids” didn’t leave my lips, but I definitely thought them.

This might be harder than I originally thought. My only consolation is that if I do decide to give it all up and resume my fabulously dull life, at least I’ll have Bri to watch TiVo with.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

better bitter blonde

My friend Marie and I have known each other since our sophomore year of college. We've studied short-story writing, moved to Los Angeles and dated younger men--not necessarily together, but definitely at the same time.

Once Marie and I found each other living in LA, we found it hard to stay in touch, as all friends inevitably do. So Marie sent me an email for this little website called "Friendster." I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but my mother certainly is a paranoid (a disease that I only partially share) and I was rather unenthusiastic about posting even the slightest bit of information about myself on the Internet. But Marie convinced me. She even wrote a comment on my profile about what a great friend I was for whoring myself out over the Internet for her.

Around the same time, Marie and I got together to attend an Open House at UCLA Extension. I was seriously unemployed (the kind of unemployed where the government sends you checks) but thought it would be fun. And of course, it was an excuse to see a college friend. We sat in on several mini-lectures, and by 3:30pm that afternoon, she'd convinced me to beg my grandparents for $450 so I could take a class from a quirky writer/musician named Rob Roberge. I was partial to a jovial, middle-aged Australian woman because I liked her accent. My thoughts are that if I'm going to shell out that kind of money, I want to be entertained as well. But Marie was adamant -- Rob was our guy.

She was correct. Rob was, and still is, brilliantly funny and a gifted instructor. His wife Gayle both stuns and dumbfounds me with her inherent "hipness." So in this case, I guess its lucky that I succumb easily to peer pressure.

We took Rob's class. Then we took another -- not quite as good as the first, but it wasn't Rob's fault that the class was chock-full of weirdos. Then I got a "real" job. I got the kind of job where you work on weekends and they don't pay you overtime. This was management, and I was salaried. Marie and I saw less and less of each other, but still kept in touch. We went to another Open House -- two hours late and mostly to say "hi" to Rob. While we were there, I told Marie that I'd signed up for a 10K. She told me she was already registered. Of course she was.

The previous summer I'd made a trip to New York City. I immediately fell in love and decided that I wanted to move. I went in the fall, and then again the following winter. When I spoke to Marie a few weeks after the 10K, she told me that her sister and college roommate were sharing an apartment in Chelsea and that she was quitting her job and going to New York. I was just beginning the process of researching companies and headhunters, and didn't anticipate a move till middle of 2006. I'm not sure if I was more impressed with her spontaneity or completely disturbed with the way I'd become Marie's Caucasian "Mini Me."

On the 31st, Marie left for Thailand for two months. She has family there, and plans to further explore what she wants to be when she grows up. Before she left, she emailed me a link to her blog, "shewannabecool." Her New Year's Resolution is to write everyday. Mine is simply to write more, among other things. After I read it, the first thing that came to mind was, "I should have a blog."

Since I don't like to think of myself as a "copycat," I've decided that Marie has inadvertently become my muse. Now, I'm not planning a trip to Thailand anytime soon, but I do plan to outline my New Year's Resolutions in my blog.

The Resolutions:
1) Read one book each month, for a minimum of twelve (12) books in 2006.
2) Try one new recipe each month.
3) Visit one new restaurant each month.
4) Attend one culturally-enriching activity each month.

The Rules:

The book must be a fictional or non-fictional work of literary merit. Meaning no books of poetry, plays, short-story or letter collections. And no crap "chick lit" including, but not limited to, books on the following: dating, how to date, how not to date, how to date like a man, how to date like a woman, how to get a man, how to lose a man, etcetera, etcetera. And under no circumstances will a romance novel count as a work of literary merit, even if it is based in some sort of historical context.

The recipe must be from a cookbook. Any cookbook will do, but the recipe must be made in its entirety with no alterations or substitutions to either ingredient or technique.

Go to a new restaurant that requires that I eat from a seated position and encourages its patrons to pay for the meal post-consumption. Food must be brought to the table by a server, and not on disposable plates. I don't anticipate this regulation to cause any problems.

Finally, and most potentially troublesome is this "culturally-enriching" activity. This is what started the whole slew of resolutions. When I was in college, I would drive to San Francisco just for the day to see theater productions. I'd get a group together to see a band in Berkeley. I went to all of my roommate's bizarre modern dance concerts -- even the one where they squawked like birds and wore tutus while standing on wooden blocks. After I graduated, I took comedy-writing classes at the local JC, organized a silent auction to raise money for a small local theater and painted my bedroom "Knockout Red" with "Scarlet Hat" accents. And then it all faded away, until it finally stopped. The sad part is that it took me two years to notice that I no longer had hobbies, and had nothing to do in my spare time. I was leading a fabulously dull life.

So I'm going to change that. I'm going to enrich myself -- culturally, mentally, artistically, physically, literally. In order to do that, I'm going to attend book-readings, theatrical productions, wine-tastings, cooking classes, concerts and the sort until I remember what it was once like to attend these events without thinking, and without having a deadline. I'm going to remind myself that even though I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, I always knew who I wanted to be: a literate, culturally-aware woman with a sense of humor and an opinion that matters.

My hopes are that with the advent of this ambitious New Year's resolution project I'll get closer to achieving that goal, and I'll become a better, bitter blonde.