Thursday, March 31, 2011

Woopsie Daisy...

11 months.
44 weeks.
About 340 days, my friends.
Yes, yes, I had set my goal for one whole year, and okay, I understand that in some of your eyes I may have failed, but it felt soooooooooooo good, you can't take that away from me.  I'm sorry if I let you down, but ELEVEN MONTHS!

Can you feel the RUSH!?

I felt myself starting to cave lately, detouring into clothing stores, (which I had avoided thus far, key to my success, and yes, that's right, I consider myself successful!), eyeing the racks, gently caressing the materials, fantasizing about what I'd buy in May.  Even my mother declared, "I'm not coming to town in May!"  (Smart lady, as she knew she'd be saddled with a huge bill.)  It was when I caught myself considering a hat purchase at the CAR WASH, that I realized, maybe this has gone too far, perhaps it's time I exercise my shopping muscle again.  So finally, one recent sun-soaked day at the Grove, I just blurted out, "OH 'EF IT!  How much can one consumer take?!"
In this voracious, vulnerable state I made the mistake, (or was it?), of walking into my go-to store, J. Crew, with my brother's amazing girlfriend, Lisa,, with whom I love to shop.  (My brother, however, was bored silly after talking to the geniuses at the Apple Store about, er, uh, whatever it was, I didn't care, I WAS SHOPPING!)  Lisa felt bad that I was falling off the wagon with her in tow, but I assured her that I felt A-MAAAAAA-ZING, and that my serotonin levels thanked her.  I had no regrets on this day.  It also happened that my main man at J. Crew, Max, was working that day, (that's right, I know the sales people by name, don't you?  It's about people, people!  Sheesh, reach out to your fellow human beings, why don't cha?!)
And Max knows me, I mean really knooooooooooooooooows me.  He knows what I like, what I should like, what colors my skin tone likes, and what I should stop liking.  I harken it to a good dance partner, you move together without talking, just the language of music taking you where you want to go....except, we do talk, like, a LOT!  He's my bud.  He knows my husband's name, he asks about Henry, he's HELD Henry, you get it, THIS is a good sales person, and, if you know me at all, I'm a sucker for good customer service.  I had a blast, it was a long time coming, and, frankly, I thought I had earned it.

All jokes (and pending credit card bill) aside, I learned quite a bit this past year.  For instance:
  • I have a lot of clothes.  (I knew this, of course, but it was magnified in a different light.)
  • Waste is not an option any longer.
  • I need nothing, seriously, NO-THING.
  • Embarrassingly, I spend much of my day in workout attire.
  • I like cooking.
  • I like reading.
  • I love writing.
  • I admit, I watch too much reality television.
  • I love making a mean, healthy smoothie every morning for my family, as do they.
  • I like the feeling of wearing out my clothes.  Seeing them fall apart is surprisingly satisfying.
  • My friends and family are incredibly generous, supportive, and crafty.
  • The most important thing to me is being the best mom I can be.  Corny sounding, yes, but true.
  • I have a lot more to learn.  (Love you, Jere!)
  • I can do better. 
  • I love my life.
    Smoothie Face

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    If You Build It, They Will Come....AND EAT!

    Alright, I know, people have been doing this all over the world since the end of time.  Cavemen and women invited other cave families over for raw bison and vegetation, but had you known me in New York City, you would:
    a.)  Die of shock upon hearing I'm having a dinner party, or--
    b.)  Quickly think of other plans you have that very same evening.

    The idea of cooking for a group of people used to send me into a cold sweat.  Wait, who am I kidding?  I  didn't HAVE dinner parties, I just mooched off of others, (thanks Michael and Mary!), allowing them to feed me without ever reciprocating because I thought I was incapable.  (I assumed bringing a bottle of wine was appreciation enough.)

    Well, I have an announcement to make---I CAN DO IT!!!

    I'm always inspired and in awe of my friends when they have dinner parties.  Upon arrival, I watch intently, start drinking immediately, and wonder how they don't throw up, cut their fingers off, and have it all ready at the same time.  HOW?

    My girlfriend, Katherine, had a lovely dinner party and served a meal I thought about for months.  Yes, it was that delicious.  Sure, the ambiance was great, it was a superb group of ladies, the margaritas, laughs and conversations were flowing, and I could WALK over, (nothing better when alcohol is involved), but really, at the end of the day, for me, it's all about the food.  I brought leftovers home to my hubby, and ever since then he's asked again and again, "When are you gonna try making that pulled pork?"  Well, my Jewish brethren, I made me some spicy pulled pork, and ya know what, Rabbi?  I'D DO IT AGAIN!

    I've copied Katherine's menu completely from that night, (I hope I did her proud), and invited her along so she could see what it feels like to eat without all the prep work, relaxed...
    This dinner is time-consuming, yes, but still very easy.  (Lots of choppin')  Bottom line, I did it, so anyone can.

    It consisted of pulled pork, chopped tomato salad, avocado/mango guacamole, jicama salad, black beans, brown rice, and corn tortillas.  Can you say, "CROWD PLEASER!?"

    Katherine and Ruthie, stuffed

    Everything worked out perfectly, except...

    1.)  My neighbors stored the pork in their fridge because mine was filled to the brim, and they weren't home so I couldn't get MY MEATS in time!  Yikes.  I hadn't pulled/shredded the pork yet, nor had I heated it up.  I started to sweat.
    2.)  I was way behind in chopping, and our dear nanny, Isabel, refused to leave and helped me chop.  She has, once again, made herself indispensable to me.  Bless her heart.
    3.)  And now the worst fumble.  I failed to mention to one of my guest vegetarians that I had made the black beans and brown rice in chicken stock.  CHICKEN stock!  Boo me.  Julie had ingested the food already, and I was too scared to ask her the last time she had an animal product in her body, but she did turn ashen and put her fork down.  HOSTESS DOWN!  She was such a good sport about it, and did not vomit, to my knowledge, but I do hope she'll come back.

    **And a special THANK YOU to darling, Clark, who cleaned my entire kitchen after dinner for me.  What an unexpected treat!    The true test of a good man.  I thought Ruthie had trained him that way, but she said he came that way.  Very nice.  

    Here are the recipes:

    The pulled pork recipe is from "New Classic Family Dinner," by Mark Peel, the amazing chef from Campanile Restaurant in Los Angeles.  (Go there, please, if you like food and spending money on it!)

    This recipe serves 12.  I went to my butcher and ordered 5 pounds of pork shoulder (or butt), and had him trim the excess fat off, and cut it into large chunks.  You can do this yourself, but I prefer to cut fat as little as possible, thank you very much.

    Step 1:
    (Spice Rub)  This happens two or three days before you want to serve.
    1 Tbs coriander seeds
    1 Tbs cumin seeds
    2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
    1 Tbs mild or hot ground chili powder
    1/2 tsp cayenne
    1 Tbs sweet paprika
    1 Tbs kosher salt
    2 Tbs canola oil

    4 1/2 to 5 pounds pork butt or shoulder
    1/4 cup canola oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
       kosher salt
    8 garlic cloves, peeled
    1 1/2 cups water

    Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the coriander and cumin seeds.  Toast, shaking the pan often, until the spices smell fragrant and a bit like popcorn.  Add the pepper, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika, stir together briefly, and remove from the heat.  Transfer to a small bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Grind the spices in a spice mill to a coarse powder, (I used a coffee bean grinder).  Add the salt and mix together well.

    Place the meat in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons canola oil and the spice mix.  Knead the meat well to work in the spices.  Transfer to a bowl, (or ziplocs), cover and refrigerate for 1 or 2 days.  (I did this on Wednesday, cooked the pork on Friday, served it on Saturday.)

    Behold, the Marinated Pork
    Step 2:
    Now to cooking the pork.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil.  Working in batches and adding oil as necessary, brown the meat lightly on all sides and remove to a different bowl.  Turn down the heat to medium and add the remaining oil, the onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring to deglaze the bottom of the pot, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, the pork, the juices that have accumulated in the bowl, and 1 1/2 cups water.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven.
    Before going into the oven
    Cook for 2 hours in the oven, stirring from time to time, or until the meat is very tender and can be pulled apart with a fork with no effort.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, or chill overnight and lift off some of the fat if you wish, (I did not wish).

    Step 3:
    Reheat the next day before serving.  It was so tender that I just pulled it apart with my fingers and put it over a low heat for maybe 15-20 minutes.  It heated up pretty quickly.

    Jicama, radish, and pickled shallot salad with feta
    Ooof, this salad is addictive.  Crunchy and zesty in all the right places.  Listen up.  This recipe serves 4, but I tripled it.  I like me some leftovers!

    2 small shallots, cut in half crosswise and then thinly sliced lengthwise
    3 Tbs red wine vinegar
       Kosher salt
    5 medium radishes, trimmed, quartered lengthwise and then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
    1 medium jicama (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    2 Tbs fresh lime juice
    1 tsp. honey
    1/4 tsp. finely grated lime zest
       Freshly ground black pepper
       Pinch of cayenne
    2 Tbs. grapeseed oil
    1/2 cup crumbled feta

    In a small bowl, combine the shallots with the red wine vinegar and 1/4 tsp. salt; let sit until the shallots have mellowed and turned a light pink, about 15 minutes.  Strain the shallots and discard the liquid.  (I did this step the night before.)

    In a medium bowl, toss the shallots, radishes, jicama, cilantro, and a pinch of salt.

    In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey, lime zest, 1/4 tsp. salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.  Gradually whisk in the grapeseed oil.  (I also did this the night before and stored it in the fridge.)

    Toss the dressing with the vegetables. Fold in the feta and season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Nice coloring, very key

    The tomato salad is super easy:
    Chop a ton of grape tomatoes, 1/2 a white onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper, a glug of olive oil.
    Same is true for the guacamole concoction:
    Big chunks of avocado, diced mango, (about 2/3 avocado, 1/3 mango), chop 1/2 a white onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper, and a dash of chili powder for a little kick.

    I won't bore you with the black beans and brown rice, any questions, fire away, but these are things I keep in the fridge almost always, and mix with a plethora of foods.  Good stuff.

    Here's the plate.  I ate every bite.  I also heated up a skillet and warmed up some corn tortillas, offered a little shredded monterey jack cheese, and everyone served themselves, which is a perk at a dinner party, and kind of fun, I think.


    Probably the smartest thing I did at this here dinner party was invite my dear friend, Ruthie, who is sooooooooooo naturally talented in the kitchen, it's sickening.  And, thankfully, when given the choice to bring desert or wine, she chose desert.  We all benefitted.  She brought a homemade, cold lemon souffle with butter, almond cookies.  Wow.  I wish I could share a picture with you, but it was gone waaaaaaaaaaay too quickly.  Perfection.

    As is this group.  Thanks for comin'!