*B.S. (BEFORE SONODORO) and SHRIMP DEVEINE

Sex was still something I couldn’t fathom, but all the dancing and flirting senior year of college did a lot to build confidence. It was on one of hopeless romantic nights when I set up my Yahoo Personals account.
_______________________________________________________________3-28-14 Mariposa

In all of Los Angeles County there was only one place that would rent to me. I loved my first solo apartment. But, let’s be honest— It was in a questionable area.

My slumlord deemed me “a ghost.”

She explained: “You have no credit. Having no credit is worse than having bad credit.”

Her rationale made no sense. I had had a credit card for four years and a cell phone for two. I paid them off in full each month.  Surely, that should have given me credit. Apparently, it did not and that’s how I ended up living at Mariposa and Hollywood in late 2002.

Pride and lack of experience prohibited me from asking my parents to co-sign on an alternate (safer) apartment. I was excited I got Mariposa all on my own. Bonus, I could paint it any way I liked! I was the center of my own universe. If you walked four blocks east you could see the Hollywood sign. Eight blocks west I once received a rate inquiry. Ten years later I learned the area of Western and Hollywood was the unofficial Red Light District.

That explains so much! 

Welcome to Little Armenia. The area had character. And, unlike most L.A. apartments, I didn’t even need to buy a fridge! Sure, the fridge barely kept food cold enough and had exoskeletons of cockroaches emended into the rubber on the door, but I was living in Los Angeles

The city’s car culture lead to extreme isolation. I really wanted to date. Really REALLY wanted to date. Sex was still something I couldn’t fathom, but all the dancing and flirting senior year of college did a lot to build confidence. It was on one of hopeless romantic nights when I set up my Yahoo Personals account.yahoo personals

I met a tall redheaded Italian-American. (I was super excited to tell my Italian-American artist friend back home.) In the early days of internet dating, it was customary to meet in a crowded area. That’s exactly what I did with the Redheaded Italian. But, he wanted to forego the original plans and go for sushi off the 5. I hated driving in Los Angeles and the 5 is a trucking route. When he offered to drive, I didn’t question the potential danger; I was just relieved I didn’t have to drive.

When we got to the restaurant I was perplexed that it was in a strip mall. He assured me that most good L.A. sushi is in a strip mall. My doubt eased when we were seated at the sushi bar and he knew all the chefs by name. I ate all kinds of wonderful and mysterious sushi, including tempura-battered shrimp heads.

Tasty sushi prepared at japanese restaurant.

It was a good evening and as relaxed as a first date could be. He did the majority of the talking, mostly, about his ex-girlfriend. I didn’t mind; it meant I didn’t have to talk so much. Clearly he still cared about her. I figured if he could care this much about someone who cheated on him, he could care for me too. I learned that he was close to his family. I had visions of meeting them and laughed to myself how at 4′ 11.5″ I would fit in among a family of giants.

He drove me back to my car. We made plans for another date and then I drove home. Since my apartment didn’t come with parking, I had to park several blocks away. I used it to plan the dinner i would make for the Redheaded Italian, which would have to be sentimental, yet cost-effective.

Living in my very first apartment I had a very strict weekly food budget. My favorite grocery store was Food4Less (eight blocks away), followed by Jon’s (four blocks away). This dinner was going to go over my weekly budget, but I was determined to make it special.

Struggling to make ends meet sometimes, one applies for jobs they wouldn’t usually apply for. I applied for a position at a small marketing company. I made it to Round 2.

Round two was like a cage match. With our mentors, another girl and I were sent to the Pavilions at Melrose and Vine for the day-long interview.

It wasn’t marketing at all. We were carnival barkers.

carnival-barkerStep 1: Place yourself in a well-traveled area to hock stuff.
Step 2: The hook. “Hey, come see what we’re doing to help missing children.”
Step 2A: If they have a kid, offer to fingerprint it. Once the kid is ‘printed, give the parent the fingerprinted card, gratis.
Step 3: The merchandise. They’re looking at it. Hand them the item they look interested in.
Step 4: The pitch. Explain proceeds from the gifts you’re selling helps to prevent and protect missing and exploited children.
Step 5: The close. With the pitch and item in their hand, odds are the mark, I mean good citizen, will buy it.

Cha ching!

I was walking distance from Paramount Pictures, home of Sherry Lansing, Linda Obst and a myriad of other entertainment executives I looked up to and wanted to emulate. Here I was harassing people that could be potential bosses or co-workers.

I hated it.

But, my competitive streak was stronger than the other girl. I won.

Day 1: Training Day (unpaid). It was also my special dinner with the Redheaded Italian. Work was supposed to be over at 5, but my supervisor kept making us stay later. I kept calling to push back dinner. Eventually the Redheaded Italian said, “let’s re-schedule.”

He probably thought I was a flake. I didn’t care.
1. The sherbet in my icebox (in the fridge that barely kept food at a safe temperature) would turn into soft serve soon.
2. Food could potentially spoil.
3. I was over my weekly food budget.
4. There is no clear salary for my new job.

I got home at 9pm. I didn’t bother to cook. My dinner was rainbow sherbet, straight from the container.

Day 2: More training (also unpaid). An all-day lecture. At 6am I called home. My mom gave me permission to quit. (It felt silly I needed this, but it was good to have Mom’s blessing to do something so devious.) I called work, told them I was sick and quit.

Since I no longer had the job I hated and the shrimp was going to go bad, I decided to turn the Italian Redhead’s dinner into a celebration dinner for me. I was excited to learn how to devein shrimp. If it came out good, I could possibly make the meal for him. I waited for his call to reschedule.

He never called. I was a little sad for missing out on the potential for love, but I was more relieved. At his height I’m not sure how I could’ve afforded to keep feeding him. The meal lasted several days.

(It only occurred to me while writing this post that I’ve done several variations of this meal. The first time I reimagined the meal was for Sonodoro.)

INGREDIENTS
Penne Pasta
6 TBS Butter
½ medium white onion
10 shrimp
1 green bell pepper
½ red bell pepper
½ yellow bell pepper
2 Roma tomatoes
½ cup black olives, pitted & cut in half (optional)
1 lime
salt and ground pepper to taste

 2014-03-27 19.34.30

STEP-BY STEP DIRECTIONS

DEVEIN the shrimp (washed and set aside).

devein shrimp

DICE your onion. The pieces should be shouldn’t be too small. If you let them soak in rice vinegar or salt for half an hour before cooking, it will help eliminate some of their bad-breath power.

SEED & CHOP peppers into pieces that are roughly 1” by ½”. Put these in a bowl.

2014-03-27 19.59.01
Half your pitted black olives (about ½ cup) and put in a seperate bowl.

Chop the tomatoes….

PASTA
Cook according to package instructions.

SAUTEE
While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a heavy pan and slowly cook onion on a low to medium heat. When it is almost translucent, add the peppers. Let them cook. I like my veggies crisp, so I don’t do too much cooking with any of it. Dump veggies into a bowl and set set aside.

A citrus juicer helps make juicing easier.

A citrus juicer helps make juicing easier.

Melt more butter and add the shrimp. Cook until pink on both sides. Add veggies to shrimp. Stir together and add remaining tomatoes, and lime juice. Cover with lid and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Drain water from pasta and toss pasta with veggies. Cook together and keep on low heat until your company arrives and/or is ready to eat. (As an alternate to shrimp you can use pitted black olives.)

*CUTTER’S CAPRESE SALAD

I can’t remember if Cutter and I met during a fire drill or through friends. Somehow we met. What I do remember is that he lived by Fenway Park and was an easy walk to/from campus and an even easier T-ride.

Copley Square

He had a video editing internship in Copley Square and invited me to meet him for lunch at his office when his hours were over. I was excited to actually know someone who worked in one of those fancy offices and proudly walked past the throngs of people going to the grocery store that was in the same building. Too timid to go into his office and not wanting to get him in trouble for having a visitor, I waited outside the office doors. When he he came out, he greeted me with an awkward “we just started dating” hug and kiss. Then we walked to his apartment, which was about fifteen minutes away.

He lived in a second story walk up and when we got back to his place, the mid-day spring sunlight was streaming in casting beautiful light along the exposed brick walls. He offered me a chair by the wet bar so we could easily talk while he made lunch.

Lunch was fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar. I found it to be incredibly elegant. I also later found out it was a simple caprese salad. It doesn’t matter it was “simple.” This is the first caprese salad anyone ever made me. And, he purchased all the ingredients from Boston’s historic Farmers’ Market. (*Bonus points.)

Finished

The same spring light that made the brick look so good made Cutter look even better. With his blond hair and butter yellow shirt, he was nearly glowing. I was enraptured. I was having a great conversation with a cute boy who was making me lunch. No one had ever done this. We were at peace and we were alone.

Then, a roommate walked in from a bedroom— It was one of my friends from the Broadcast Journalism School. I’m not sure who was more shocked. My friend and I typically talked TV production and the Red Sox. The most personal we ever got career goals. We were both caught off guard that he saw this other, more vulnerable, side of me. We made small talk and then he left. My friend and I never spoke about that day.

When we were finally alone, Cutter announced lunch was ready. He continued to amaze. He opened the living room window and we climbed onto the porch a previous tenant had constructed. We were going to have a spring picnic!

Wow.

It was a perfect lunch and a warm memory, but summer was around the corner. We saw each other a couple more times, our talks got further between, and then I graduated. Neither he nor I officially ended anything. We just kind of drifted apart. I never saw any of the stuff he edited. I don’t know if he has siblings. I’m not even sure where he’s from. It’s not that he wasn’t nice, we just came into each other’s lives when we were both under the crunch of finals and life transitions. People today would classify our few encounters as “hanging out.” Heck, even then, people probably called it hanging out. But, to me it was dating, even if it was casual.

It doesn’t matter how you want to label it, what Cutter showed was kindness. And, most importantly, yes, there are guys out there who like cooking.

Epilogue
Several weeks ago (ironically 13 years to month we drifted apart), I was at an alumni event in Los Angeles and saw Cutter. We were watching a live-stream event our alma mater was webcasting. While trying to watch the screen, we kept looking at each other out of the corner of our eyes. There was a shared sense of recognition and the desperate hope we could melt into the atmosphere, hoping we weren’t really seeing each other and ostensibly leave the event unscathed.

LA Webcast

INGREDIENTS:
Your favorite in-season tomato
Fresh basil
Fresh mozzarella from the deli. (I go to Monte Carlo in Burbank)
(If can’t get to store that has it, Bel Gioioso has packaged cheese that has a wonderful flavor and texture.)
Olive oil
Nice balsamic vinegar
Ingredients
STEP-BY-STEP DIRECTIONS
Rather than topping your salad with oil and vinegar, Drizzle olive oil and balsamic on plate. It will give your presentation a cleaner look. (For a bigger presentation factor, I like breaking out a plate/bowl.)
 Base
Arrange with tomato, basil and mozzerella.
 Tomatoe and fresh ingredients
Top with more olive oil and cracked pepper. I provide my guests a small carafe of oil and vinegar so they can top how they like, but they got to see the nice presentation.

INSIDER’S TIP:
If tomatoes taste more like cardboard than tomatoes,  you can add a little salt to bring out the tomato flavor.

MUCHO GUSTO (It’s nice to meet you)

I started senior year of college mainly feeling adrift. This lasted several months and was in large part due to spending so much time with Comicbook Crook the previous year. This resulted in a rift between many friends and me. I did manage to maintain TV production friendships, and like camp I was forced to be more outgoing. I could do this for meetings, but being inherently shy, I had to step into a more gregarious version of the camp me for social situations. Comicbook Crook had done a great job providing recorded criticism, so being a more confident me was not as easy as it sounds. Nonetheless, the modicum of confidence I had, enabled me to talk with my crushes.

There was the Canadian in my Public Relations class. . .
. . . and the tall one in my comedy class with the email: AmishDanceBeats
Then, there was the one from the TV studios. I loved that he knew the etymology of the ¾ inch tape. (It was ¾ inches wide.)

(This list sounds more glamorous when read in a Audrey Hepburn/Julia Ormond Sabrina voice. Further, I still can’t believe I was enamored with etymology of the ¾ inch tape.)

All these guys could potentially be THE ONE. And, because of this potential future they all possessed, even with my shaky inner monologue, I was feeling pretty good.

It was a crisp October afternoon, when I was walking through Boston Common to my Public Relations class on Comm Ave. I was rockin’ the L.L. Bean backpack/dark glasses look. I loved the class, plus I was going to see the cute Canadian (who I had yet to figure out was gay because he hadn’t shown me pictures of his ex-boyfriend).

boston_common Fall

I was in a rush.

Someone was talking over my shoulder, but this is a city, people are always talking.

The voice kept talking.

I was in my own world.

Oh, he’s talking to me!

I turned to the voice.

Wow. Latin American. He’s super cute.  

His English wasn’t so good, but we managed. He introduced himself as Guapo and commented how pretty I was.

Yay! 

He told me that he doesn’t make it to the city often and needed directions to get back to the Orange Line. (I rarely took the Orange Line and was flummoxed that he thought I was pretty. I gave him directions, but I’m not sure how accurate they were.) Then it hit, me, if he thinks I’m pretty now, what if I took my glasses off and showed him my green eyes! I’ve received many complements on them, so I lowered my dark glasses and flased a smile.

We set up a dinner date for Friday at California Pizza Kitchen. It was convenient for me and I still thought he lived close by.

We sat in the crowded restaurant, staring at our menus and made small talk.

Very small talk.

I don’t remember his English being this poor.

In my rudimentary conversational Spanish, I learned he was originally from El Salvador and moved to Somerville, MA with his mom, grandma and sisters.

The waitress came by. She gave her waitress spiel. Guapo gave her blank stare. Clearly, he didn’t understand. I translated in my crude Connecticut high school Spanish and continued to interpret between the two for the remainder of the evening. We eventually ordered our personal pizzas. He got barbeque chicken and I ordered their Mexican Pizza. (Hey, I was trying to be inclusive. This was the closest thing they had to El Salvadorian food. I’d later learn more “traditional” Mexican pizzas resemble a flat taco.)
Mexican Flag

Despite our difficulty to have intellectually riveting conversation, the date wasn’t completely bad. Mainly, I was excited I had a date with someone who actually liked the way I looked rather than pointing out my imperfections the way my rapist did. We made plans to see each other again.

Our second date Guapo came over to watch a movie. My shared suite had a common room, but we opted for more privacy. I took Guapo into my bedroom to watch 10 Things I Hate About You.

10-things-i-hate-about-you

I love Romantic-Comedies s and really wanted to see how Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was adapted to film. I spent more time fending off advances than watching the movie. The kissing was okay, but between his grabbyness and his tongue ring, it too much for my inexperience. As we got closer, I felt something I had never felt before.

One of his front teeth was outlined with gold!

I guess it’s a cultural thing. 

Friends have since corrected me, “No, it’s a player thing.”

For a number of years I blamed myself for Guapo mauling me, rationalizing, “I guess some people take ‘watch a movie’ as a euphemism for ‘get busy.’” Now, I’d just say he is an asshole.

That afternoon, I was way in over my head. When I realized Guapo’s motives, I should’ve escorted him out of the dorm immediately, but being polite and naïve, I wasn’t sure how to navigate this. I wanted everything to stop. I hated the situation I was in and did the best I could to readjust my expectations of him and add barriers to prevent sex.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I heard the suite door open. SuperFoods said hello to an empty room and I eagerly ran to greet her. Guapo followed. The three of us talked for a bit. I’m sure she could tell my discomfort. I pointed out it was late, I needed to do school work and SuperFoods and I had dinner plans that night. I walked Guapo downstairs and signed him out.

When I came back, SuperFoods asked what I was doing with Guapo. Growing up in a city and with more experience of reading people, she probably saw the predatory aspect that I didn’t see. My parents taught my sister and me to love everyone. And I believed everyone deserved a chance at love. Somewhere, I forgot the caveat, “don’t give love to a loser.”

That afternoon was the last time I saw Guapo and I was glad for it. The next time he came to the city and tried to make plans with me, I was busy. I think I was washing my hair.

MEXICAN PIZZA
As I prepared the meal, I realized that this was likely the inspiration for another culturally insensitive meal, “Latin Fusion Pasta.

INGREDIENTS
Favorite pre-made cheese pizza
½ medium green bell pepper  (chopped in large pieces)
½ medium red bell pepper (chopped in large pieces)
¼ medium sweet white onion (chopped in large pieces)
½ cup mozzarella
2 Tablespoons tequila
Couple springs Cilantro  (chopped)

Ingredients Best

STEP-BY-STEP DIRECTIONS

  1. Pre-heat oven according to package directions.
  2. On a low heat, heat oil in a cast-iron skillet. Add onion.
  3. Cook onion about one minute.
  4. Add peppers. Another two minutes. (You want them still almost raw.)
    Veggies
  5. Add tequila. Stir rapidly. Remove from heat (take it off the burner).
  6. Grab pizza from the freezer, remove from packaging and put on pizza stone or cookie sheet.
  7. With your favorite kitchen spoon, spoon peppers and tequila on top of pizza.
  8. Spread evenly.
  9. Top with mozzarella.
  10. Cook for allotted time packaging recommends.
  11. While pizza is cooking cut up cilantro using kitchen scissors.

**Ideally, you would add cilantro as soon as the pizza comes out of the oven so it sinks into the cheese. Cilantro is a divisive herb. (Some people think it taste like soap.) If you’re unsure of your guests, put the cilantro in a separate dish, and let them add it themselves.

Mexican Pizza

MEXICAN PIZZA: Red, white and green, like the Mexican flag AND it has tequila! (A close fascimile to what I had at CPK.) Yes, I realize the racism.

*MY VERY FIRST BREAKUP DINNER (AND A SIDE OF POTATO SALAD)

I had tried to turn my rapist into someone special. I had found things to love, and even had a list of reasons for not breaking up with him. Believing that list was becoming harder and harder to do. Despite my lack of conviction of love, the primary reason we stayed together so long was because the 21 year-old me lacked the fundamental skills to break up.

________________________________________________________________________________

It’s not real life, but I with love, Comicbook Crook can change. It’s not real life, but with love, Comicbook Crook can change. It’s not real life, but with love, Comicbook Crook can change.

Sigh.

Will he?

I don’t know. My mantra was losing conviction.

I tried so hard.

I tried so hard to make him love me.

I tried so hard to love him.

I tried so hard to undo what he did in that hotel room.

I was tired. I was tired of trying. Comicbook Crook had his good points. And I firmly believed everyone deserves to be loved. (I believe that to this day.) I had tried to turn my rapist into someone special. I had found things to love, and even had a list of reasons for not breaking up with him. Believing that list was becoming harder and harder to do. Despite my lack of conviction of love, the primary reason we stayed together so long was because the 21 year-old me lacked the fundamental skills to break up.

I was at a loss for what to do. When confronting breaking up, many follow their heart. I couldn’t do that. I trusted the thing I understood most. I reasoned with my head and made a list.

List

By the time I was shipping Comicbook Crook Brownies in Box, I had already stopped working at summer camp to spend more time with my family before my move to Los Angeles. I stayed home and worked for my mom this summer as well.

My mom gave me the book 10 Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives written by the incomparable Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Coming from my very liberal mother, you knew she was desperate. I read the book. While I didn’t agree with the conservative rhetoric or Schlessinger’s view point, there were truths that one could grab on to… like break up with idiot boyfriends.

I wasn’t keen hurting Comicbook Crook’s feelings and wasn’t quite sure I could stomach breaking up with him.

Maybe staying with him won’t be so bad. That way I won’t hurt his feelings.

He may have been dense, but he knew I wasn’t happy. He added to my summer reading list: Are You The One For Me by Barbara De Angelis, PhD. With conviction, he said, “It’s how my dad decided he should marry Jane. (She would never be a step-mother and only his dad’s second wife.)

I read two chapters.

One list, one book and two chapters of another, I had resolve with what I should do.

His July visit was around the corner and it coincided perfectly with his half-birthday. While most don’t celebrate half-birthdays, the Crook’s mother got him in the habit of celebrating them as his birthday is December 26. I was delighted, after a long search, I had finally found that blasted Transformers comic he had been looking for.

The visit was filled with ups and downs. Squabbles. Weirdness from him.

Did I ever mention Comicbook Crook like comics…. And sci-fi and fantasy? Well, he did. Xena: Warrior Princess was one of his favorite shows. In the early evening, in a moment of unquantifiable geekdome, he insisted on transforming his Nissan Altima into the ultimate fan car. To do this, he would pry the M & A off so the car read, Nissan Alti. He rationalized a true fan would appreciate the nod to Alti, (the Siberian Amazon Sameness that taught Xena her evil ways).

Alti

My parents held dinner.

Half an hour later, Crook still wasn’t done. Apparently, Nissan used some super strong glue for the letters on their car.

No kidding.

I was growing increasingly impatient with his behavior. He told me he wouldn’t come in until he had successfully pried the M & A off, so I left him outside while I ate dinner with my parents.

Eventually, he came in. We were already done.

nissan altima

The next day, Comicbook Crook kept trying to keep me to himself. I was annoyed. 

My family graciously invites you to their home and this is how you act?

We had more conversations. I let him know I was dissatisfied. He assured me that this was just a bump in dating.

On his second to last night I took him to celebrate his half-birthday. Before dessert, I presented him with his (parting) gifts. While I had found and purchased most of the gifts before I convinced myself breaking up was necessary, the gifts in large part were to assuage my guilt.
At least I’m doing one nice last thing for him.

The next day, he had to go back home. While we were saying goodbye, he said he wanted to work on things. I blurted out, “I just can’t take it anymore.” And like that, it was over.

I was sad but deeply relieved I managed to get through breaking up with him. He drove away. I went inside to have dinner and told my parents what happened. They tried to be sympathetic, but I’m pretty sure I caught my mom smiling.

Mom had made her famous potato salad for the Crook’s visit. She’s accustomed to making it for a party, so as often happens if she makes it for the family of four, we had extra. I had two helpings and nothing more.

Plated

That night was a milestone. And with each forkful, I celebrated I was gaining myself back.

POTATO SALAD (for 4)

INGREDIENTS:
4 Organic Russet Potatoes
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
3 Eggs
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Salt
1/4 cup Purple Onion. (Purple onions are sweet, and add some extra color)

Ingredients

STEP-BY-STEP DIRECTIONS

  1. Chop onion.
  2. Put onion in a bowl and mix in 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Fill a large pot 3/4 full with cold water.
  4. Wash, Peel, and wash potatoes again.
  5. Put potatoes in cold water. This will help them from oxidizing.
  6. Slice potatoes down vertical axis and then again the wide way. Pieces should be approximately 1 inch square or larger, but roughly the same size.Diced Potatoes
  7. Put back in cold water.
  8. When all potatoes are cubed, cover pot, put on burner and set to medium heat.
  9. Cook 20 minutes.
  10. Put eggs in a small pot of cold water. Cook 8-10 minutes.
  11. Timer will go off.
    1. Check potatoes. They should be tender. If your fork doesn’t slide in easily or they still taste starchy cook slightly longer.
    2. The eggs should be done. You want them hard-boiled. Take a slotted spoon. Remove one egg and spin it.
    3. (If the egg does not spin, it’s not done and needs to be cooked more. This egg is done.)
  12. When potatoes are done drain into a colander.*
  13. When eggs are done, carefully pour out hot water and fill pot with cold water (to stop cooking process)
  14. Put potatoes in a large bowl. Let cool about 5 minutes.
  15. Add: ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, and salted onions. Gently mix.
  16. Peel eggs.
  17. Chop eggs into large pieces.Potato Salad
  18. Add eggs to potatoes. Gently mix.
  19. Cover and put in refrigerator.

Potato Salad Mixed

*COOK’S TIP:
I like catching the water from my potatoes so I can use it to for vegetable stock later.

*VALENTINE’S LOBSTER SPECIAL ON A BUDGET

I was more excited about Part Two of our Valentine’s Day celebration. It would have the romance that we needed—  We would be celebrating it in the suburbs at his mother’s house.

_________________________________________________________________

Similar to the myriad of books Cosby Sweater’s mother had about raising a genius child, he too liked collecting. He had an abundance of comicbooks. Having a baseball card collection that included early tobacco cards, I respected the effort it takes to build a collection. But, this collection was a little too intense. The floor of his bedroom was devoted to many, MANY, banker boxes of books. They weren’t just willy-nilly organized. No, he had a spreadsheet in FileMaker. I took scrupulous mental notes of what he needed. It was safe bet to give him a comicbook for an event where giving gift is customary, especially if you paid attention. And, I did.

Clearly, collecting was a passion. While I didn’t share his enthusiasm for conventions or have the desire to be in a crowd, when a convention came to Boston my junior year, I went with him.  This was my first and only convention, but I saw this as an important step to learn about my man.

Oh boy, did I learn! When he didn’t want to pay the sticker price on a comic, he’d find a comic (at the same vendor) with a cheaper tag, skillfully remove the sticker and put it on the comic he wanted. I told him he was stealing. He argued the vendor was still getting his money, so he wasn’t. Marvel and DC couldn’t have written a better transformation. Right before my eyes Cosby Sweater assumed the villainous identity of Comicbook Crook. I naively hoped he’d stop stealing, but after each convention he’d gloat and show me what discount he took. I believed I had the power to change him through love.

Yes, I earnestly believed if I loved him enough, I could turn him into the man I needed, one who would be more loving (and who wouldn’t steal).  Love can conquer a lot of things, but it doesn’t conquer all, like rewriting history or changing someone’s moral fabric.

From the time I learned about his unsavory behaviors to Valentine’s Day, with my generous helping of love and affection I was still hoping he would change. He did not. But, my frustration was slightly reduced by one simple fact.

It was Valentine’s Day and I had a boyfriend!

Happy Heart

I put on my favorite jeans, ruby crushed velvet shirt and healed boots for our romantic date. Then, I bundled up to go outside. That year, we had a “wintery mix” of ice and slush on the roads. But, that didn’t stop our romantic walk to dinner. While jaywalking is customary in Boston, he neglected to remember I was navigating ice and slush in heals. We had lost our walk signal, but without hesitation, he hauled me off the curb and I stumbled into the intersection and was forced to race oncoming traffic. Clearly, he wasn’t accustomed to having someone on Valentine’s Day either.

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Nearly twisting an ankle while trying to look feminine for an oblivious boyfriend. He couldn’t figure out why I was frustrated. But, we made it to the over-crowed restaurant where we waited half an hour for our reservation.

This was not like the romantic Valentine’s Day dinners you see in movies.

I was more excited about Part Two of our Valentine’s Day celebration. It would have the romance that we needed—  We wold be celebrating it in the suburbs at his mother’s house.

After giving him the wrong Book 2 of one of the many Transformers series for Christmas, I decided on something easier and scrapped together money for a special Valentine’s Day dinner. I purchased a solitary Maine lobster. When we got home from the store, I put the lobster in the kitchen sink. Comicbook Crook peered in and named our dinner Pinchy. I’ve never named my dinner, but I thought it was a very clever name and was happy my boyfriend was so creative. While I poured through recipes, trying to figure out how to expand a lobster for one into a grand dinner for two, Comicbook Crook conversed with our meal, always referring to it by name, Pinchy.

loster in a sink

I brought a giant pot of water to a raging boil and suggested he step away so scalding water didn’t splash him when I put the lobster in. Comicbook Crook insisted he wanted to watch and learn. He said goodbye to the lobster. Then I plunged it head first into the boiling water. No sooner had I covered the pot, from the corner of my eye, I saw Comicbook Crook streak away. I found him in the dark dining room perched on a stool, crying.

A wave of emotions swept over me.

 

 

It was mostly anger.

Comicbook Crook was ruining my very first Valentine’s Day. What the hell!? I was the hatchet man for our lobster, yet I was consoling an innocent bystander. I explained the lobster was killed in the most humane way possible. I smiled and through clenched teeth told him I loved him and wished him a Happy Valentine’s Day.

I served our meal with heart-shaped toast points. Being sure that there wasn’t any crust in sight, I ate all of them for my appetizer.

Dinner Plated

My very first Valentine’s Day being part of a couple wasn’t great, but it was memorable. A few months later, I got to relive the memories while Comicbook Crook and I were watching “The Simpsons.” Homer came into possession of a lobster and named it Pinchy.

My anger was reborn.

Not only was the message of “don’t name your food” lost on Comicbook Crook, my clever boyfriend wasn’t clever at all. He had to steal the name Pinchy, much like he stole my virginity or the way he stole comicbooks.Home Cries - Pinchy in pot

The entitlement Comicbook Crook had of taking things that weren’t his bothered me, but blatant plagiarism offended me to the core. Unsavory attributes were building up. While I was gaining more self awareness, I kept trying to come up with reasons to stay together, which was becoming harder and harder to do. Nonetheless, I had made a large emotional investment and wasn’t ready to let this one go.

_______________________________________________________________

What I made for that dinner landed somewhere between lobster thermidor and lobster bisque. While the original recipe took my favorite ingredients of the two dishes from, The Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the recipe below is modified from a Lobster Thermidor Recipe from AllRecipes.com

INGREDIENTS
1 medium (1 1/2 pound) cooked lobster
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
¼ cup white wine (I prefer something sweet like Moscato)
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (can replace with Guyere)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

ingewiwnra

Alternates:
Add sprig fresh thyme
Or 1 pinch coarsely ground nutmeg… If you’re adding nutmeg, leave out the parsley.

STEP BY STEP DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook your lobster. To do this- Bring a large pot of water to a ranging boil. Add salt (about a table spoon). Put your lobster in head first and cover. Cook 15 minutes. Remove when lobster is bright red. (For more lobster cooking tips go to localfoods.about.com)
    how-to-cook-lobster-1
  2. In a large saucepan over a low heat, melt butter. Caramelize the shallots. This takes will take a long time. (This is when it’s good to have a glass of wine going.) It feels like it’s taking forever, but that’s because it is. Don’t worry about it. You’re pulling out the stops, it’s Valentine’s Day. As the shallots brown, stir more frequently.
    cooking with wine
  3. Mix in the vegetable stock and white wine. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add heavy cream, mustard, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper.
  5. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. This is a reduction sauce; again, patience is mandatory.Cream sauce
  6. Remove meat from lobster and cut into pieces slightly bigger than bite-size.
  7. Add lobster meat and Parmesan cheese to mixture. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
    simmer cream sauce

*Note: If your cream sauce is not thickening, in a seperate bowl mix 1 teaspoon corn starch with ¼ cup vegetable stock. Slowly add to your to skillet. It will thicken up. Continue cooking without a lid.

TIPS:
Variations on a theme: Serve with toast points, powdered biscuits or wrap in crepes.

Serve the dish with a lemon wedge. (Click here to learn more about the traditions and reasons why lemon and seafood are paired together.)

With all the cream and the richness of the lobster, I prefer to pair this dish with a wilted spinach salad. It complements the cream sauce while giving your eyes something more to look than just a plate of white food. To enhance the flavor, I top the salad with lemon zest.
wilted spinach salad

Budget 3-4 hours for this dish. While relatively easy, all the chopping, boiling and slow cooking makes for a time-consuming meal. Again, it’s Valentine’s Day. Go big or go home.

*THE BIG SANDWICH – A CAMPING ADVENTURE

Cosby SweaterMost people would not continue to date this guy. But, our relationship was like eating bad chocolate. You eat it because it’s chocolate. You’re disappointed it’s not great. You hope the next bite will be better. So, you take another bite, certain it will be better than the last. And, when it’s not, you keep eating until that piece of chocolate is all gone and you have a bellyache.

———————————————————

I dove into the deep end dating Cosby Sweater and did the best I could with my limited dating experience. I wasn’t sure I was ready for all the “norms” of an adult relationship. But again, I had no hymen and harbored the desire to make sex with him special. Even though there was something “off” about my first sexual experience, my conscious mind did not make the connection that it was date rape.  I had planned I would give my virginity to my husband or the man that would be my husband, so I tried to rectify this sexual experience. And yes, I now realize this was insane, but mind you, I was thinking I was going to spend the rest of my life with this guy…

…or at least make it more special than a one night stand.

There was a month left of school before Cosby Sweater would graduate. One month to organize the chaos. One month to make something happen. In that month while dealing with all this new stuff, I gladly took on the caregiver role he was seeming to require. I was twenty and it seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

While we worked through early relationship kinks, we got to know each other in the traditional where are you from sense.

What was your childhood like?

“One time when my dad was beating up Mom, I had to call the police. The cops came and took him away. After he moved out, Mom divorced him. I saw him on weekends.”

Even prior to Cosby Sweater interceding on his mom’s behalf, it seemed he had always been a target of his father’s criticism. Calling the cops only further complicated their relationship. Anything in Cosby Sweater’s life was up for critique, including me.

Cosby Sweater was 5 feet 7 inches, 126 pounds; I was 4 feet 11 inches, 135 pounds. I was happy to still be shedding my freshman weight, but not happy to outweigh my boyfriend. Body image issues continued with his consistent reminders of his father’s potential criticisms, in addition to my writing major being a poor decision, my complexion was a favorite topic. Pointing out zits, Cosby Sweater gave them sound effects, like the sound of popcorn popping.

Seriously?

A boyfriend is supposed to give you complements, not point out shortcomings that are out of your control.

His observations (and sound effects) hurt my feelings. But, I rationalized and put it under “Idiosyncrasies I Need to Get Used To.”

Cosby Sweater

Most people would not continue to date this guy. But, our relationship was like eating bad chocolate. You eat it because it’s chocolate. You’re disappointed it’s not great. You hope the next bite will be better. So, you take another bite, certain it will be better than the last. And, when it’s not, you keep eating until that piece of chocolate is all gone and you have a bellyache.

I kept hoping moments with Cosby Sweater would get better. The twenty-year-old me was thinking he was preparing me for judgment of his father. I’ve since realized he learned how to judge and communicate the way his father did. I thought I could love him into the man I knew he could be. And while loving him into the man I knew he could be, the pride of having an honest-to-goodness boyfriend I could love outweighed any critique he could dish out. (Besides, I was still trying to make my first sexual experience mean something.) Cosby Sweater accepted my love and affection. He seemed to think he was justified in his actions. I was not perfect. My skin was not perfect. I was a poor example of quality girlfriend. Cosby Sweater seemed to worry that his father would think he wasn’t perfect either.

Sure enough, when I Mr. Cosby Sweater and step-mom during Graduation Weekend my “poor choice” of major and bad skin came up. On some level I respected Mr. Cosby Sweater wanted the best for his son, but was more hurt that he was as critical as predicted. I was still in college and needed time to prove I was good enough for the family. Cosby Sweater’s mom, however, did not criticize— She appreciated who I was, what I was doing with my life and where I wanted to go. She was also wowed by my kindness. At the family dinner, I met more relatives, including his cousin and her husband.

His cousin invited us on a couples-only camping trip. I felt so grownup.

It was just like the movies!

Camping

I was still nervous about sex and emotionally reeling from my first sexual experience. One night while laying in our zipped-together sleeping bags, Cosby Sweater leaned over and kissed me sweetly. He said, “two weeks after we met, I knew how I wanted to propose.”

Um. Gulp!

Counting my church camp boyfriend, PK, this was only my second relationship. I wasn’t quite ready for marriage, but the idea of a future proposal helped me reconcile the sex out of marriage; it made me feel like this relationship was heading somewhere… Even though I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to marry Cosby Sweater. In fact, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to marry him. Being very curious I asked him how he was going to propose. He said I would have to wait until it actually happened.

Damn!

I guess I better see if I can  actually be okay with this sex thing.

Marriage CartoonWhile erasing the bad from the my first sexual experience, this non-proposal piqued my need to understand Cosby Sweater more. It’s not real life, but I was hoping that with love he would be the man I needed. Some may consider our one month of dating would qualify him as a stranger, but I had a large emotional investment and had figured out ways to love him. Besides, a couples-only weekend was a way for us to get to know each other better. We talked to the cousin-couple about relationships, food and cooking. More importantly, I was introduced to Cosby Sweater’s Big Sandwich. Rather, the recipe was his cousin’s. As she explained her method of constructing this gargantuan sandwich, she winked and said, “it is a two hand job.”

Maybe, her husband was a two-hand job. Nothing about Cosby Sweater required two hands.  

The best thing I got from this relationship was the Big Sandwich. As with most recipes I learn, I typically find a way to make them better. I’ve tested different assembly orders of the contents, but the order below gives proper flavor balance. Some reasons are for practicality (you don’t want cheese next to tomatoes due to a chemical reaction that can happen), but the rest is for taste and presentation.

INGREDIENTS:
Round loaf of bread (about a pound; I prefer pumpernickel since it has more flavor oomph for this recipe)
Pesto
Black pitted Olives (sliced on horizontal bias)
Roasted Red Pepper
Tomato
Meat** (can replace with cucumber cut on vertical bias)
Cheese
Sweet Onion
Lettuce

ROASTED PEPPERS

Grateful I had a stash of roasted peppers!

THE REST:

1. Slice the top off the round loaf. (It’ll become a lid of sorts, so you don’t want to make it too thin/thick/uneven.)

SLICE TOP(Rather than slicing the top straight off, I turn the loaf, making a perforated cut around the circumferance of the top. By doing this, it helps to ensure that your top is even.)

2. Hollow out the bread, leaving some room for the walls.

IMG_3847(To help with hollowing out, take a cerated knife and cut along the edges. It is more efficient than grabbing fistfuls of bread innards.)

3. Layer your ingredients it the same order they’re listed above. (Don’t do more than one layer each, if you’re too generous with your ingredients, the sandwich will fall apart.)

4. Slice the sandwich like a pie. (You should be able to get 8 pie-shaped pieces.)

MIDDLE
5. Skewer each piece with a large toothpick.

IMG_3855

Featured Bread: Artisan Beer Boule

6. Keep the sandwich wedges in their circular shape; wrap the whole sandwich in aluminum foil.

7. Refrigerate. (Tastes should have time to commingle and get to know one another before having a party in your mouth- 24 hours is ideal.)

TIPS:

You can typically preorder your bread boule from your local bakery. When you do this, you can specify the size.  (You’ll want a loaf that is 1 pond or more.) Also, pumpernickel is often overlooked, and I’ve often had to special order this flavor.

Budget about 1.5 hours for prep, assembly and cleanup.

FALLING APART

While slicing, sometimes, one wedge falls apart. That’s when you eat the evidence.

*A SECOND YEAR, A SECOND THANKSGIVING (PART 2) – A Fried Chicken Celebration

” ‘…I’m breaking up with my boyfriend, and I’m worried he’s going to attempt suicide.’ I don’t remember the exact words I used (to break up with Sonodoro)…. I left… When I came back, Sonodoro was intoxicated with a concoction of whiskey and a painkiller with sleeping aid. He was barely intelligible.

Shit. I was right! . . .”

——————————————————————————————————–

A friend in Orange County called one night to invite me over (about an hour and a half-two hours in traffic). She was beautiful and hanging out with her often meant being “Red Carpet Ready.” (This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just couldn’t wear my comfortable jeans and sweatshirt to hang out with her in public.) For fear of Sonodoro’s reaction if I got glammed up at home, I put my makeup and clothes in a backpack and told him I was spending the weekend with her. When I got to her house, she handed me a stack of books and said, “Here. Break up with Sonodoro.”

I read most of them, but He’s Just Not That Into You resonated most. Each example fit to a T, except I was the guy and I was “just not that into” Sonodoro.

He's just not that into you Cover

Is dissatisfaction a good enough reason to leave?

According to Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, it is.

The book strengthened my resolve and confidence to leave.

Sonodoro was a depressive and manipulative boyfriend. He made me feel terrible with most of my decisions. To keep me from leaving, get back at me for hurting him, or to end his depression, I was worried he was going to attempt suicide when I told him it was over. I was a wreck. I was also mad. I couldn’t believe I had to factor in a possible suicide attempt into a breakup I was already uncomfortable doing.

I called the Suicide Hotline. They assumed I was depressed over a breakup and tried to counsel me.

“No, I’m not sad someone broke up with me. I’m going to break up with my boyfriend and I need advice. I’m worried he’s going to attempt suicide.”

The operator complemented me on my compassion; told me I can’t control Sonodoro’s reaction; advised me to be firm and direct and to have a place to go for a couple hours after I broke it off. I chose the day of SuperFood’s Thanksgiving party.

I don’t remember the exact words I used. I was firm and suggested he move in with his mother. He told me he didn’t get along with his mother and that he didn’t want to do it. I relented a little and gave him a later move out date, told him we weren’t going to discuss it anymore and immediately left for my party.

When I came back, I saw Sonodoro decided to play bartender and was intoxicated with a concoction of whiskey and a painkiller with sleeping aid. He was barely intelligible.

Shit. I was right! . . .

. . . What if he dies?

Calling 911 didn’t even cross my mind. I was angry and I panicked. At 4’ 11.5”, I manhandled the 5’ 7” 230 pounder down a flight of stairs, into my SUV and drove him to the ER.

He wasn’t aware of what was going on until I got him walking towards the building. He begged me not to leave him. He explained that he would be institutionalized for attempting suicide. This caused images of old insane asylums with straight jackets, padded walls and shock therapy to bolt into my mind’s eye.

Insane Asylum

I believed him and took him home.

Mad at myself for not having the courage to leave him at the hospital, but worried that he still might die,I made him drink water.

Then I made him drink more water.

I stayed awake and monitored him.  When I knew he was in the clear, I went to bed and made him sleep on the couch. When I woke up, he was gone. He left a note that was five parts saccharine and six parts anger. He promised that while we lived together, he’d make sure that we didn’t see each much of each other.

During this co-habitatation, our encounters were infrequent, brief and strained. When we did see each other, I urged him to move off the couch; he continually tried to push back the deadline. Among the excuses he cited was that he can’t get along with his mom. Could he get along with me any better? One of my friends reminded me that his problems were not and should not be my problems. (In fact, that Christmas she gave me a mug with the message, “You’re too good for him” emblazoned on it)

You're Too Good

I allowed Sonodoro’s problems to be my problems and I allowed him to stay until April.

In March, I met a friend of a friend at an art opening. We went out on a date. The date was terrible. When I got home, Sonodoro was there. He asked where I was, so I told him. He said he didn’t like seeing me date other men. He would be gone by the end of the week; he was moving in with his mother.

That’s all it took? Had I known getting Sonodoro to leave was that easy, I would’ve started dating a long time ago!

When he took his final box, I celebrated. Besides buying girly stuff to feminize the apartment, I indulged in quantities of fried chicken and sparkling wine while watching The OC in bed.

Often, I’ve used food to woo men. Sometimes, I’ve used it to sooth me. But, fried chicken and sparkling wine (Gewürztraminer specifically) was a pure celebration of extracting myself from a relationship that battered my soul.

FRIED CHICKEN:

Ingredients

INGREDIENTS:

BATTER:
1 egg
½ cup milk (Flax is pictured, but you can use your favorite milk)
1 cup Bisquick
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder

THE REST:
2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken breast
½ cup oil (something w a light flavor like safflower or canola)

The recipe works best if made in a heavy cast-iron pan. (It retains the heat and is best for more oil-intense recipes.) If you don’t have a cast-iron pan, you’ll be okay, but I do recommend purchasing one because you can do so much with it.

STEP BY STEP DIRECTIONS:
In a mixing bowl, beat together egg and milk.
Beat in dry ingredients until mostly smooth.

Batter

Wash Chicken

Cut chicken breasts into thirds, so they’re about the size of a deck of cards. (This makes it easier to maneuver in the pan and endures they will cook all the way through.)

Coat chicken on both sides and put on a clean plate. If you have too much chicken for one plate, use a seperate plate. (Stacking the chicken on top of each other will result in not having enough batter on each side.)

Warm pan on medium to low heat for 1-2 min.

Add oil. When oil starts to bubble drop in a spoonful of batter. If it quickly forms a little crisp pancake, the oil is hot enough for your chicken.

Test Oil

Start placing chicken breasts around the outside of the pan and then place them on the interior. (You may have to cook in batches.)

*Be careful placing the chicken in, it may splatter. Grease burns are not fun.

Cook the chicken for two minutes on one side and then flip. (If the chicken batter is not crispy, it’s not time to flip. Give it a little more time.) After the first flip, let the chicken cook for 10 minutes before flipping again and cooking another 10 minutes.

Cooking Chicken

Cut into the chicken. It’ll be moist and easy to cut into, but shouldn’t be pink. If it’s still pink, cook longer. When finished, put on paper towels to absorb extra oil. You will need to pat dry not he top and bottom.

*Cooking Tip: Tongs give you more dexterity and make it easier to flip the chicken.

Serve with Gewürztraminer. Veggies are optional.

Chicken and Wine Best

*THANKSGIVING TAMALES

“While out of our New England norm, it WAS culturally relevant to eat tamales… With all the tamales I ate on previous visits, I knew my favorite were the ones  wrapped in banana leaves. As I ate through my tamale that Thanksgiving, I got something unexpected…”

Banana Leaf Tamale

Banana Leaf Tamale

Sonodoro’s arrest put a big strain on our relationship. Sure, he was bonded him out of jail (using the car of his best friend’s fiancée). He was able to stay out because the judge gave him community service. But, somewhere before the kidney stones or after the arrest he lost his decent-paying full time job translating and transcribing Spanish commercials to English. His “I hate the world and all my managers are idiots” attitude didn’t curry favor with his supervisors and his inability to keep these jobs put added stress on the remaining “relationship” we had. I was growing increasingly frustrated he wasn’t committing to turning his life around and be the man I needed. I kept trying to fix him and love him into the man I knew he could be.

He was growing harder to love. . . and fix.

My friends who were vocal about their dislike remained steadfast in their dislike, but supported me as I dealt with his undesirable behavior. I maintained mild optimism I could fix this, but my baby sister advised me, “If there’s something you don’t like when you’re dating, it only gets worse when you’re married.” She should know; she was separated from her husband after a year and a half.

I contemplated an exit strategy.

That fall, Nature Chick, my baby sister and I decided the best thing to do was celebrate Thanksgiving together. She and her husband drove 14 hours from Salt Lake City, UT for a visit.

Despite Nature Chick and I holding our unhappiness in, we made the most of it. We still giggle about my cupboards. She marveled I arranged them by nationality. I thought it was an extremely intelligent way to organize. She thought it looked like segregation.

I had a lot to be thankful for that Thanksgiving— Sonodoro was not in jail and I had my sister with me. For dinner, the four of us piled into my SUV, with Nature Chick hiding the secret she knew about Sonodoro’s arrest. When we got to his mother’s apartment, the doors opened revealing the world of glitter and tchotchkes from quinceaneras, trips around Southern California (like Universal Studios and Sea World) and to Latin and South America. My brother-in-law’s reaction was priceless— His face was filled with wonder and fear all at once.

quincera tchotchkes

Even though Sonodoro was growing harder to love, I still loved him and I was thankful to celebrate Thanksgiving with him and his family and not by visiting a jail.  Sonodoro’s mother had a lot to be thankful for too. She thought Sonodoro and I were close to marriage, especially with the visit of Nature Chick and her husband. With the blonde hair and light complexion I looked like the All-American girl and I was her American Dream.

Despite mismanaging her diabetes and poor parenting skills, Sonodoro’s mom was a master at entertaining. She was able to turn her one-bedroom apartment into a comfortable place to feed many. Grandma’s bed was still off her corner of the common room and a banquet table took up the rest of the area. Sonodoro’s brother was there with his family of four and the15 year old sister was there with her boyfriend. All totaled, there were 12 people over the age of 15 and two kids, one seven the other eight.

The guest of honor lounged on the table, looking like the love child of a Thanksgiving turkey and Hawaiian ham. The turkey may have well just come from a Hawaiian Tropic photo shoot. The sugar glistened like it was lacquered for optimum photographic excellence and it wore accouterment of pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. This was slightly (sarcasm) different than the New England Thanksgiving Nature Chick and I grew up with and only served enhanced the deep homesickness we were both feeling.

hawaiian tropic

Sonodoro’s niece and nephew ran amuck and their parents didn’t seem to care. Nature Chick and I were appalled. Not only did the parents not encourage the children to eat with the family, they ate chicken nuggets. ON THANKSGIVING OF ALL THINGS!

Chicken nuggets were not special. They were not culturally relevant to my Guatemalan boyfriend his Mexican sister-in-law or my Jewish brother-in-law. They are boring and something you pop in the oven when you need dinner but are too tired to cook.

Eating chicken nuggets on Thanksgiving is sacrilege!

There’s something about the holidays that makes one a little more optimistic. That Thanksgiving the kernel of optimism spoke through my despair. I told Sonodoro that when we had kids they would not be permitted to eat chicken nuggets on Thanksgiving and they would eat dinner with the rest of the family. He was cranky that I was criticizing his brother (which miffed me), explained that it was easier to feed the kids first, but ultimately agreed with me.

While out of our New England norm, it WAS culturally relevant to eat tamales. I had eaten multiple tamales while visiting Sonodoro’s family and knew that my favorite were the chicken ones wrapped in banana leaves. As I ate through my tamale that Thanksgiving, I got something unexpected–

I found it to be  as empty as my relationship with Sonodoro and my aversion to continuing the relationship was renewed. Instead of finding chicken, I found an old chicken bone that someone decided to reuse after eating the chicken off.

I almost lost my dinner.

I composed myself  and pushed the rest of the tamale to the edge of my plate. Wary of what I may find if I had another tamale, I asked for a helping of turkey. Sonodoro said he thought I liked banana leaf tamales; I tried to quietly explain to  what happened, but nothing could be quiet in that family. Sonodoro was upset which made his older brother  (33 years old) upset and then the brother yelled at the mom (in spanglish), asked her where she bought the tamales and how could she buy from someone who would do that. With my high school level Spanish, I understood that she bought them from someone locally. That person needed money and she wanted to help. Sonodoro gave his exasperated, “Ma,” that he always used in situations like this (when she would use her money to help someone even though she was struggling). The family insisted that she get her money back and not buy from them other again. I tried to defuse the situation giving a “No te preocupes. Todo esta bien.” (Don’t worry about it. It’s all good.)
Thank goodness! The kids wanted dessert and we could get this conversation over with. We had pastry and sweet bread from the local panaderia.

PanaderiaIn addition to being introduced to tamales and sweet breads, Nature Chick discovered the unpredictable personality of Sonodoro’s mother. We both cleared our plates to the kitchen (while her husband and Sonodoro stayed at the table). I left, expecting her to follow me, but Nature Chick stayed in the kitchen to help. Now, many hostesses would playfully banter with their guests or use soft language if they didn’t want help. Even with a language barrier, a simple, “no thank you” (which I had her use on occasion) and gentle push out of the kitchen would suffice. Not Sonodoro’s mother. She yelled at my sister and hit her until she left the kitchen.

We left shortly after.

BANANA LEAF TAMALES WITH CHICKEN (and not just the bone)

This recipe is inspired by Joe Pastry.

INGREDIENTS:

DOUGH
1 1/3 cups Crisco
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
3 ½ cups masa harina mixed
2 ¼ cups warm water, vegetable stock, or chicken broth

FILLING
4 pounds tomatillos husked and washed
2 chilies (optional/to taste)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ TBS olive oil
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

And of course…

2 pkg banana leaves

CHICKEN FILLING: (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat broiler. Line heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatillos on prepared sheet. Broil until tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. When done, transfer tomatillos and any juices to processor and cool. Add chilies and garlic to processor and blend until smooth puree forms. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomatillo puree and cook on boil for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add broth. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until sauce coats spoon thickly and is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Season with salt. Mix in chicken and cilantro. *As an alternate filling, homemade refried black beans works well.

 

DOUGH:
Using electric mixer OR heavy spoon, beat Crisco with salt and baking powder, in large bowl until fluffy. Slowly beat in masa harina. Reduce gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups broth or stock, forming tender dough. If dough seems firm, beat in enough broth, 2 tablespoons at a time, to soften. (*If using an electric mixer, reduce speed!)

banana leaf

THE REST:

1. Cut banana leaves into pieces about 10″ x 10″ (discard stiff stems), then pass the pieces slowly over a gas or electric stove burner to soften them. They’ll become shiny as the waxes on the leaf melt — that tells you they’re done. (Please hold them with tongs so you don’t burn yourself.)

2. With one softened leaf cut strips that are 10 inches long by about 1/4 inch wide. Set strips aside. You will need these later for securing tamales.

3. In a large pot, put your steamer basket. Fill with 2 cups of water.

BUILDING EACH TAMALE:

1. On a flat work surface, place leaf.
2. Spread ¼ cup dough in 4-inch square all the way to one side.
3. Spoon heaping tbs filling in stripe down center of each dough square.
4. Now, like giftwrapping a present: Fold sides of leaf over filling and then fold top and bottom sides to cover.

 

Tamale tied

Tie with strip of leaf to secure. Stand tamales in steamer basket.

 

 

Steamer Basket SmallSteamer Basket Large

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repeat.

*Point to note- Banana leaves are not uniform and sometimes have tears and holes. Be creative using your leaf.  To be green, I try to use only the leaf, but I often see tamales wrapped in aluminum foil.

If necessary to keep tamales upright in steamer, insert pieces of crumpled foil between them.

Bring water in pot to boil. Cover pot and steam tamales until dough is firm to touch (about 45 minutes on a medium low heat). Given that each stovetop is different, at 30 minutes check water level. Add more water if necessary. Let stand 10 minutes.

Tamales can be made 2 days ahead of eating. If you’re going to use another day, Cool 1 hour before chilling. To reheat, re-steam tamales until hot, about 35 minutes. Otherwise, ENJOY!

dancing tamales

 

*SECOND LIFE CHICKEN POT PIE

I was a very enterprising home chef during my 2.5 year relationship with Sonodoro. During that time, I had three entry-level jobs and figured out how to make the little money I earned work for our best interest.

During our first year together, I was working part-time as a page at Paramount, giving tours and wrangling studio audiences. (People from all over the world visit L.A. and when they do, they often include a taping of a TV show. Sometimes groups from various half-way homes (drugs, jail etc) took excursions off campus to visit see a TV taping.) While I was paging, Paramount had a number of multi-camera sitcoms and one talk show  (Dr. Phil),  all of which had/have a studio audience.

7-25-14 Paramount

Each tape day, the personality of the audience was unpredictable, but when there was a favorite guest star, the audience would go into “Toddler Mode” (unruly, winey, rambunctious). Most notably, this would happen when Smokey Robinson was a guest star on “One on One.” As soon as his scene was done, women ALWAYS requested to use the restroom. And me standing at 4 11.5 was usually the wall that would stop them and their nefarious plans.

No, you can’t use the rest room.
Yes, I know the scene is over and Mr. Robinson left.
No, I won’t give him a message.
Yes, I think he is a very handsome man too.

7-25-14 Smokey Robinson

Besides the abundance of unpredictability, on many tape days there was also an abundance of food. Besides the meal we got to eat with the crew, sometimes we were permitted a snack from Craft Service. While the audience may have been difficult for One on One, that show had some of the best food. Their on set caterer always warned us before he threw out the leftovers and invited us to help ourselves. Sometimes this proved difficult since he did not provide to-go containers, but with a little planning, I could build several meals around these “scraps.”

During the second year of dating, I was working two jobs: A part time job working in customer service at The Museum of Television and Radio (now known as the Payley Center for Media) and a full time job as a Carrier in the Paramount Mail Room. Working as a carrier my hourly rate was $0.50 less than what I made as a page, BUT it was full time with benefits. In addition to health insurance, a benefit I often received was an extra copy or two of the New York Times, which meant, DOUBLE COUPONS! (All of the carriers were on a tight budget, so we would divvy up the papers so we each had at least one edition.)

I am too prideful to ask for help. During these times of entry-level jobs, I was also too impressed at my creativity and awesomeness that I was able to still be a good home chef and girlfriend by taking care of my man.

I’m making it work, by golly: I get leftovers from the shows I work on, special events I staff and stolen double coupons.

When Sonodoro’s mom insisted on using her food stamps to buy us food I was conflicted….

  1. I didn’t like it because she was insinuating I wasn’t able to take care of my man.
  2. I was worried that she was spending money she didn’t have.
  3. Mostly, this magnanimous act of generosity was often leveraged against Sonodoro to encourage him to do something for her (which usually involved spending more money than the charity she bestowed upon us).

I knew that she didn’t like that Sonodoro lost weight because of my cooking. (Standing at 5’7”, he went from 250 to 228 during our relationship.

Clearly my cooking that minimized fat, sodium and sugar was not good for him. And, clearly Sonodoro’s weight loss was a problem for her.

I had the reverse problem with her food choices. When she took Sonodro shopping, she would choose her favorite foods, which were laden with salt, sugar and/or fat.

Knowing my discomfort at accepting help, the food stamp shenanigans of Sonodoro and his mom only happened when I was at work. I asked Sonodro repeatidly, to stop his mother’s generosity. He insisted asking her to stop would offend her. Eventually, I gave up and settled for a compromise

She can buy some of what she thinks we need and I sent him with a grocery list.

Stews or casseroles were easiest to combine vittles purchased through food stamps and table scraps from caterers. The meal I most often cobbled together from the throw-away food days was Chicken Pot Pie. Ratios and types of ingredients were contingent on the leftovers, what I had coupons for and what Sonodro’s mom purchased for us.

Insider’s tip:
Frozen piecrusts that come in their own tin.
When baking the pie or casserole, put the dish on a baking sheet.
As an alternate to pot pie, top the casserole with pull and peel biscuit dough.

INGREDIENTS:
2 carrots
2 celery
1 potato
1/4 onion
1/2 cup green beans
2 pre-made pie crusts in their own tins
1 cup cubed Chicken (I like my pie with a greater ratio of veggies)

 

Chicken Pot Pie - Ingredients

DIRECTIONS:

Sauté onion
Add cubed potato
Toss potato w onion
Cool gently for two mi
Add 1/4 cup water
Cover
Cook 10 min
Add other veggies
Cook another 5 minutes

 

Chicken Pot Pie - Sautéed Potatoes

While sautéing and lightly cooking onion and potatoes bake one pie crust for 10 minutes on 350* (middle rack).

 

Chicken Pot Pie - Gravy/Stock

In a large pot, make a roux using chicken broth.  When your roux is complete, add the rest of your veggies and lightly cook for 10-15 minutes until they’re slightly more cooked than raw.

Then add your chicken and cook a little longer.

Chicken Pot Pie - Innards Cooking

 

When your pie crust is sun kissed, take it out of the oven and fill it with your veggie and chicken concoction.
Chicken Pot Pie - Innards

Gently peel another pie crust out of its tin and top invert it onto the bottom pie and filling. Carefully press top and bottom the two crusts together. (Remember one just came from a hot oven.)

Cut ventilation slits in your top shell. (You do not want the pie building up pressure and exploding in your oven.)

Bake your pie on 350 for 45 min – 1 hour.

Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

Chicken Pot Pie - Baked

Chicken Pot Pie - Sliced

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*FAMILY ENCOUNTER ENTREE

Meeting friends and family is a big step in a relationship. Whether you’re introducing your person to these VIPs or you’re the one being introduced, question whirl about your head.

Will my person like my friends and family? 

Will his/her loved ones accept me?

Now that I’m older, I delay introductions, but I dated Sonodro when I was in my early 20s… With youth and familial proximity, I met Sonodoro’s relatives in the first two weeks we dated. After our first couple dates, Sonodoro told me he didn’t have his own wheels. When he came to see me, he took a bus.

This was not his liquor store, but this scene was common across Los Angeles.

This was not his liquor store, but this scene was common across Los Angeles during the riots of 1992. Sonodro was 17.

It was the same routine on the night of the anticipated family dinner; he took a bus to see me. When he got to my place, we jumped into my SUV and drove it to his mom’s, which was probably 4 miles southeast from my apartment. We drove past the seedy strip mall (where I purchased my defense mace, not to be confused with cooking mace), and south on Vermont, towards an area I never visited. When we parked, Sonodoro showed me the liquor store he, his brother and store owner defend during the LA Riots. (I read Twilight Los Angeles in college, but this in-person first-person account was surprising to hear.) He played tackle football on the very street we parked on and his favorite pupusaria was down the block. As I looked upon the 4-story apartment building, I noticed parakeets resting in their cages on the exterior balconies. We had chickens when I was younger and my sister’s high school boyfriend gave her a parakeet for her birthday. Despite these experiences, the desire to cohabitate with a bird is something I didn’t understand. Even if his mom didn’t have birds, the idea of living so close to people that cohabitated with birds put me ill-at-ease. I knew the evening would be an “experience.”

The evening did not disappoint.

I read about the immigrant experience in my sociology classes, but never visited my first-generation friends at their homes. When I stepped into the apartment, I witnessed step-migration and tenement living at its best. In the moderate-size one bedroom apartment lived his mom, grandma and sister. When he was younger he lived there with his brother and sister’s father. Quick math and I realized that 6 people had lived there at one point. The apartment was filled with pictures of family, relatives and friends. Memorabilia from quinceaneras and Guatemalan and Mexican chotchkies (his sister was half Mexican) hung from the ceiling and adorned nearly every inch of wall and table-top space. Despite the sharp contrast to my sheltered childhood and the previous boys I dated, this difference didn’t phase me (too much). I was more worried about being judged by my rudimentary Spanish. When his mom first met me, she exclaimed, “que bonita!”

Yay! She thinks I’m pretty.

Her complement put me at ease, and we were able to have a basic conversation of where I was from, where I lived and what my job was. Anything that required broader explanation, Sonodoro translated. His sister was still in high school so she and I were able to have some girl talk (in English).

IMG_1850

A recreation of that first meal. And yes, that white glob is mayonnaise.

Everything was going great… until dinner. I was trying to include his grandma in the basic conversation. I wanted to get her attention, but my brain couldn’t think of the (first-year Spanish) word for grandma (abuela). Too proud to ask for assistance, I called her the next thing I could think of: mamacita. She was petite, after all. She yelled at me. I quickly apologized.

Lo siento.

Between mouthfuls of food and sips of his too sweet Kool-Aide, Sonodro made small effort to get me out of the pickle for calling his grandma a fine girl/hot mama. (Thank you Urban Dictionary.) Beyond being yelled at by his abuelita, (little grandma) dinner was relatively uneventful. That is, until we got out to my car.

Right after we buckled up, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of toilet paper. He carefully unwrapped it, with tears in his eyes, he stammered something about being happy he found me and he was happy his family liked me. (Really? His grandma yelled at me.) He wanted to keep dating and needed a special way to let me know. He showed me two rings. One inscribed with my name (that he would wear) and the other inscribed with his (that I would wear). (The me of today is screaming epithets and telling the young me to run fast and run far. When on earth did he have time to purchase and engrave these rings!?)

4-22-14 Wedding Bands simple

I put it on.

Two weeks in, the gesture felt a little premature, but somehow right. I happily kissed him and accepted.

Is this what love feels like? Maybe.

This was going to lead to something. That something looked like we both had marriage on the mind.

It’s so amazing to have this kind of connection so quickly.

I eventually learned secrets to his mom’s cooking. (I also learned that her cooking techniques resulted in her acquisition of Type 2 Diabetes.) That said, these recipes come with a warning: Don’t use as much oil, cream or sugar as the recipe calls for.

Fruit Punch: Mix a pitcher of Kool-Aid to package instructions. Dissolve an extra cup of sugar in it.

Refried Black Beans: Warm a pan on medium heat. When it’s up to temperature, add butter or oil. When the grease is warm dump in Ducal Black Beans. (I tried using a different brand once and was chastised.) If you can’t find Ducal at your grocery store, fear not. You can add a splash of heavy cream to give them that more decadent or ducal (sweet) consistency.   IMG_1843
Chicken: A cooked standard roaster. Shred it.

Rice: Cook according to package instructions.

Tortillas:
These are key. You can purchase a re-heater, but I (and his mom) put them in a plastic bag (leave it open) and microwave for 30 seconds.

The all-important tortilla roll method of consuming the food vessel.

The all-important tortilla roll method. It helps you use this food vessel to shovel more beans into your mouth.

Necessary Condiments: Mayonnaise, Salsa, Hot Sauce

Beyond the vegetables found in the salsa, there were no veggies served at this first encounter meal. When building a Latin-American inspired dish, I often serve it with thinly sliced cabbage. To do this, you need a large (sharp) kitchen knife and patience. Sometimes, I dress the cabbage with a squirt of lime juice for a citrus contrast to the other entree items.

IMG_1866

Stages of shredding cabbage.